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National Film School lecturer Eilish Kent talks with IFTN
15 Dec 2020 : Nathan Griffin
National Film School Lecturer Eilish Kent.
We caught up with lecturer Eilish Kent to discuss the growing influence of Television Drama, potential career paths for aspiring writers, being named among Variety’s Top Film Schools 2020, and what people can expect from the NFS’ Writing Television Drama course.

Eilish Kent is the Associate Lecturer in Writing TV Drama at The National Film School at IADT. She has over 25 year’s professional experience in TV Drama. For many years she worked in RTÉ as a Development Executive commissioning and developing TV Drama, before that she was a Script Editor in the BBC tasked with finding Irish-originated dramas. She now works freelance as a producer, story consultant, and trainer.

For RTÉ she developed numerous series and serials, low budget to international co-productions including the IFTA-winning Paths to Freedom, EMMY-winning No Tears, and IFTA-winning Love is the Drug, Foreign Exchange, Raw, Anytime Now, and The Hardy Bucks. She script edited the feature films Spin The Bottle and Hardybucks: The Movie. She devised StoryLand to commission online content and break new talent. She also commissioned over 100 short films, several Oscar-nominated and pre-bought Irish feature films including Oscar-winner Once. For BBC, her credits include A Rap at the Door, Vicious Circle, and RTS winner The Mezone. Kent’s credits as producer include the feature documentary Under The Clock and the animated short film Abe’s Story.

She is a graduate of North by Northwest, EAVE, and the Film business School.

IFTN: Television Drama has become such a huge industry in recent years. What incentives do you see being introduced within the Irish industry that should encourage aspiring writers to pursue a career in writing?

“We’re in a time of mould-breaking, innovative Television Drama of the highest quality. And the demand for more seems to be going in one direction only. Audiences on streaming platforms has shown an appetite for more and different types of stories and settings, which makes this a time of unprecedented opportunity for screenwriters working in Television Drama.

“This growing market sees increased numbers of independent production companies in Ireland investing more in the development of Television Drama projects.  Screen Ireland rolled out enhanced slate funding for production companies earlier this year which is key for companies working in Television Drama as the market moves very quickly and producers need to be able to make fast decisions to commission writers to have an active slate of projects which is good news for writers.

There are other exciting developments for TV Drama writers including the appointment of Andrew Byrne, in a newly created role to champion Television Drama in Screen Ireland. And a number of initiatives have been implemented with broadcasters Virgin Media, RTÉ, and TG4 to co-fund the development of Drama projects. And there are moves afoot for a regionally based academy to upskill above the line talent, including writers, based outside Dublin in Television Drama. These incentives will see the emergence of a more diverse and broader-base of television writers working professionally. Over time I have no doubt that this will translate into the production of many series for international TV and the streamers from Ireland-based talent.”

Who specifically is this course tailored to and do you need to have previously worked as a writer to enrol?

“The course is part-time, it takes place one evening a week and on some Saturday mornings. It is for writers, producers, development executives, script editors, and anyone who wants to enhance their understanding of the unique elements of screenwriting for television. While areas of craft are common to writing for the big and small screen there are specific requirements in writing for series that are not demanded in writing feature films. And the approach to story is different. As a story consultant, I work on feature films as well as on series and I think that creating a series is a bigger challenge.

“The course replicates a professional development process; so that by the end of the programme the participants will have learnt how to generate lots of ideas, identify, which ideas will work well for television and how to design a series so that it has a strong story engine and episodic legs. Students will also learn how to create compelling screen characters, how to structure an episode of a series and a season, to maximise audience engagement. And, particularly important at the moment, where the quality of television drama is so fantastic, they will learn how to find something original in the execution of their idea that will give the project a unique selling point. While previous writing experience is not a prerequisite it is an advantage.”

Can you give us a flavour of some of the exciting facets of this writing course?

“The course benefits from a discursive approach, peer review and collaboration. My ambition for the participants is that in addition to originating projects that have market appeal, they develop creatively productive relationships, so that they may work together in the future. It takes a lot of resources to fuel the realisation of eight, twelve or more, hours of Television Drama. Writers’ rooms, guided by a shared creative vision, are the way most series are now written.

“Being at the National Film School is an opportunity to forge the professional relationships that can become the foundation of your career. I bring my professional contacts and industry experience of 25 years, developing and commissioning Television Drama to the course. I try to make the course as close to ‘real-life’ as possible by incorporating classes from industry experts and practitioners: screenwriters, producers, consultants, commissioners who generously share their insights and give critical feedback to the participants on their projects.”

The NFS was recently named among Variety’s Top Film Schools 2020. What is your favourite aspect of lecturing at the National Film School?

“My favourite aspect of lecturing at the National Film School is interacting with so many and diverse creative people and their ideas. While I have worked in development and commissioning in the BBC, RTÉ, the Arts Council, many other funding organisations and independent production companies in Ireland and the UK on all sorts of Television Drama and films, I have deepened my understanding of screenwriting through teaching.”

How has the course been adapted to safely work around the current COVID-19 climate and restrictions?

“Since the first lockdown, I have been teaching online on Zoom and Teams so we’re all in our own spaces, communicating remotely. We keep the numbers to a maximum of 14 so that everyone can be onscreen at the same time. Screenwriters need to become comfortable talking about ideas and the mechanics of screenwriting, which can be daunting for some initially as writing, is often an insular practice. I find the online classroom works well in giving everyone a platform.”

The industry is going through a difficult period of uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic, but there are promising signs of a return to normality on the horizon. Why is now a good time to upskill?

“While there are many, on-going challenges for production and cinemas during this pandemic, ironically it has resulted in a boom in audience numbers for broadcasters and streamers, which in turn has increased the global demand for new, episodic content. It has also afforded commissioners and producers time to appraise their development slates and initiate work on the development of new projects. In a sense, the time-out of production across the world allows us in Ireland to catch up with our neighbours in terms of having well-developed projects, with a distinctive USP market-ready.

“As an English-speaking nation with a track record in high-end production of long-running series (e.g. Vikings and Game of Thrones) we are well placed to create Television Dramas with international appeal. And it all comes down to the writing. A good sample script will open lots of doors. So, anyone who is passionate about Television Drama and feels that they understand the audience should take this time to explore and develop screenwriting skills.”

We have had so much demand to take the course this year that we are rolling out another class on Wednesday evenings.

What sort of careers can graduates of this course progress to, and what mechanisms does the National Film School have in place to help alumni make those first steps into the industry?

“While there are no defined pathways for screenwriters, in practice writers develop relationships with other talents (directors, actors, producers) by writing good scripts and committing their ideas to paper. Script editors, producers, and directors will also gain an in-depth understanding of the form and be better placed to solve problems, creatively, as they arise. The industry is always hungry for the next new talent; graduating from The National Film School shows that you are taking your craft seriously and opens up a network of other graduates already working in the industry.”

Click here to find out more about the National Film School’s course in Writing Televisions Drama.

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