Updated: Apr 24
Last year, I realised that I could become a screenwriter. I knew that screenwriting was a job, of course, but that year I realised that I could become a screenwriter. Or at the very least, try to become one. I’ve been telling stories since I was able to - ‘performing’ plays and writing short stories as a kid, and later I started doing standup comedy, improv and storytelling. But screenwriting…I simply never seriously considered it before.
In the beginning of 2022, on the 2nd of January to be precise, I was googling around and found out that the Dutch Public Broadcaster (NPO) was looking for new screenwriters. Application deadline: 7th of January. Meaning I had five days to apply. Well, I was working for four of those days. So, four evenings and one day. I’d never written a script before that I had shared with someone else, so, with a foolish confidence based on, well, anything but much screenwriting experience, I looked into what needed to be done before the deadline.
The application was for a regulation called Team up, where new screenwriters are coupled with existing screenwriting teams. To apply, you have to write a scene for one of the selected series broadcasted by the NPO. This meant choosing between a comedy show on young dads (Papadag), a detective/thriller show on the activities of the IRA in the Netherlands in the 1980’s (The Spectacular), a scripted reality show on first-year high school students (Brugklas) and a couple other shows. Since I’ve been doing standup for a couple of years, my interest went out to a comedy series. I also remembered that comedy is one of the harder genres to write, giving me an opportunity to stand out - if executed well. And so I decided to write a scene for Zina, a drama/comedy series I was already watching. Think Sex in the City, but in the Netherlands. And not in a city. And the main characters are five Moroccan-Dutch women. And, well, I guess it’s not really much like Sex in the City. But definitely dramatic, making it a very enjoyable and fun series to watch.
You’re not supposed to just write any scene for the application, as each series comes with a specific assignment. In this case, one of the main characters, Amal, has to tell her parents and almost-parents in law that she’s pregnant. I say almost-parents in law because her fiance died in a tragic accident before they had the chance to marry. All four parents are practicing Muslims, which brought up the first challenge for me in writing this scene: as you may have gathered from my name, I’m not a Moroccan Muslim. I’m a white woman who went to a Catholic primary school who would peek to see who else had their eyes open during obligatory morning prayer sessions. In other words, I would have to fully rely on my imagination as to how the four parents could possibly react to this pregnancy announcement of an unmarried woman. Well, I could rely on my imagination and the internet. I did consider asking an actual Moroccan Muslim person on their thoughts of how this scene could possibly play out, but considering the tight deadline I didn’t wanna have to ask someone “Hey what are your thoughts on this sensitive subject and also reply asap in a way that’s helpful to me?”. So, I decided to take the risk of completely missing the mark. I was hopeful that if at least the writing was good enough I’d be able to explain my scene in the next round of the Team up application, where the new writers get to meet the screenwriting teams.
Before any of this could actually happen though, I’d have to write. Luckily, I wasn’t completely clueless on screenwriting, as the previous year I’d taken both the Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes Masterclass (from Masterclass). With my head full of ideas and the basics of screenwriting, I started writing. In Google Docs. Reading this will most likely make any screenwriter flinch (sorry) and I quickly figured out why - it’s a real hassle to try to use screenwriting formats if you’re not working with actual screenwriting software. Fortunately, there are some free screenwriting apps that would be sufficient to write 1 scene in, so after downloading Celtx I could start writing.
And that went surprisingly well! It was hard work, of course, but lots of fun and I managed to get words on the page that, put together, made some sense. I was so satisfied with my work, in fact, that I told anyone who would listen that I was applying to become a screenwriter and I shared my scene with anyone who would read it. And those who did read my scene were pretty enthusiastic too - I was on to something! With their feedback, I would write and rewrite, remove unnecessary sentences and add punchlines.
MY FIRST SCENE
You probably wouldn’t have made it this far reading this post if you wouldn’t want to read the scene I wrote. Since this scene takes place in the middle of a series, it takes a little explanation to understand what’s actually going on (if you haven’t seen Zina). You already know that Amal has to tell her Muslim parents and almost-parents in law that, well, she managed to get pregnant before getting married to her now-dead fiance Younes. For moral support, Amal has her best friends with her: Lamya, Nisrine and Sophia. Younes’s brother, Bilal, is also present for this scene. Oh and one last thing: Bilal knows that Younes was infertile.
That’s it. My very first scene. Four pages of my imagination on paper. Do you think I made it to the next round?
I certainly hoped so, and after a couple of weeks, I got the email.
A SCREENWRITER IS BORN
I didn’t make it. I had been so hopeful and excited that I expected to be very disappointed and hurt by this news. But I wasn’t. In fact, the mail came with some information that made me even more excited: although I wasn’t invited to the next round, I was a consider. Meaning that they’d like to keep me on a list of potential writers in case the NPO is looking for new writers. Not bad for my very first scene, eh?!
Moreover, I could ask for a short report on how my scene was read. And so I did:
Highly educated (neuroscience and business) woman, who simultaneously does stand-up comedy. That’s where her feeling for dialogue, situations and characters comes from. More queer female writers in media is good anyway. Scene is well-written and in a surprising way, she knows where the pain has to be, good feeling for timing and dialogues. She could become even better really quickly in a team.
Interesting that the maker has a background in standup comedy, but not in writing film. But the scene definitely doesn’t disappoint. Good beats, humor and the dialogues are strongly written. The characters get a clear personality and their individual struggles become very lightly tangible. This is an interesting one.
I’ve never been high (yet) but I imagine that what I felt after reading the above is pretty close to being high. I felt fucking elated. Apparently I was on to something. Plus, the mail came with an NB.
NB. We’ll keep you in the loop if we’re going to do something specifically with comedy.
Cue me dancing around my living room. It never felt so good to be rejected. This didn’t really feel like a rejection - I was good, just not good enough. Yet. Meaning that with sufficient effort, energy and hard work, I might have a real shot at becoming a screenwriter...