John Finnegan on The Script Department
We caught up with one of our very own senior lecturers and MA in Writing for Script and Screen coordinator, John Finnegan, to talk about The Script Department. He discussed with us his role as the lead in this collaborative podcast and the exciting times ahead with their new feature-length piece The Parish which is coming out this week.
How would you define The Script Department?
The Script Department is a new screenwriting podcast that my colleagues and I run between Cork, Ireland and Cornwall. Each episode is a reading of a short screenplay and the story is supported by some atmospheric sound and music to create an experience that falls somewhere between listening to an audiobook and watching a movie. Most of the scripts are provided by our MA Writing for Script and Screen students, and we even have one of our (soon-to-be) graduates of the course helping in the day-to-day operation of the show. There aren’t many shows out there like this and, because we collaborate with these amazing students, there’s no end to the great stories that we can share.
You’re the lead on The Script Department. What do you do and what is the experience like?
We decided from the beginning that we were going to run the podcast like we would run a production company because, at the end of the day, the two are very similar in terms of their makeup. Our team, Ruth Hayes, Marcus Armstrong, Michela Cortese and I, came together and assembled a collection of screenplays, some written by us, some written by our students, and we put a production slate together. Then, we parted ways and started recording the episodes. Everyone works to different deadlines, depending on when their episode is due and so we are always juggling a lot of plates in the air at once. I usually take care of the editing and I work closely with the authors to make sure that we choose an appropriate graphic for the promotional posters for social media and to ensure that we get the right kind of music for the tone of the episode as well. Sundays are usually spent proofing the final episode before launching. The next day the process starts all over again. It’s so much fun because every episode is different and each one provides its own set of challenges to navigate.
What is the importance of a podcast like this?
What no one ever tells you about being a scriptwriter is that it can take years to get even the highest quality screenplay made into a movie or a TV series. Screenwriters are, far too often, judged by the size of their IMDB credit list rather than by the quality of the material they have written (whether it gets produced or not). We started The Script Department to give ourselves and the writers on our MA course a platform for their work that is respectful of the media that they are writing for, but in a way that allows the story to be told in a cost-effective and timely manner. Three months in and we have seven short scripts adapted from the page and a feature-length episode on its way. There aren’t many production companies out there with a turnaround that fast. We’re just getting started but we’re doing something special.
What would be your main advice for young screenwriters?
Be honest with what it is you want to do. If being a screenwriter is your sole aspiration, concentrate on that. A lot of people get distracted by trying to make the script into a film as well. They judge themselves by how successful they are as filmmakers rather than as writers. I came to this realisation a few years ago and it's one of the reasons I set up the podcast. I asked myself, why am I spending my time and energy trying to raise money and so on to make a movie when I don’t even want to be a film director or a producer anymore? I have two production partners who are great at that kind of stuff and so I just leave that side of things to them and I do what I do best now. So that’s a long way of saying, don’t get distracted by the other stuff. Find someone who you trust (perhaps a friend who also aspires to make movies) and let them worry about how it will get made. In the meantime, you can be working on the next script. Writers write!
Tell us about The Parish
The Parish is our first feature-length episode and has been in the works longer than the podcast itself actually. It’s a story that I initially wrote as part of my major project for my MA in Screenwriting back in 2010 but, as with most feature-length projects, it spent years doing the rounds and moving from one producer to another, never quite finding its place. In recent years, it went through some more revisions and when we eventually started the podcast, we decided this would be a great script to use as our first feature-length episode, once we had found our footing that is.
Our reader, Ruth Hayes, recorded The Parish a few weeks back and right now we are busy putting the finishing touches on Part 1 ahead of its launch on May 12th. You can check out the trailer (read by me) below.