The journey to success of a budding screenwriter
The journey to success of a budding screenwriter
Award-winning LJMU graduate Jenna Campbell shares the ups and downs of her journey to becoming a screenwriter.
Jenna first joined LJMU in 2010 to study Creative Writing and Film Studies at Liverpool Screen School, later returning to the University to pursue a Screenwriting MA. After completing her postgraduate studies and achieving a first, Jenna has been working hard to break into the world of television as a screenwriter. She caught up with us to share her journey so far, touching on both her successes and her setbacks.
“From a young age, I always knew that attending university was something that I wanted to do and TV has always been a huge passion of mine. When I was a little girl, I would sit and watch the credits at the end of films and TV shows, reading the various roles involved. My parents love to remind me of that! It was always my dream to be a part of the television industry, but I just wasn’t sure which role I would be best suited to. I hoped that university would help me figure that out a little more.”
However, the path to higher education wasn’t an easy one for Jenna at first:
“Despite wanting to attend university as soon as I could, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in the middle of my A-levels, aged 17. I subsequently spent months in a critical care unit. Following a long recovery, I was finally able to begin my degree at LJMU aged 25. Being able to study at last was amazing and my time at LJMU became a life-changing experience for me.”
After hitting the ground running at LJMU after her recovery, Jenna began to really thrive in her classes and realise her creative potential:
“During my three-year undergraduate course, my passion for scriptwriting grew with every module. I thoroughly enjoyed the screenings of classic films and television series and then studying them in detail. I loved writing and producing films with my classmates, but most of all I loved being a part of the screenwriting classes, as they pushed me out of my comfort zone and really developed my writing ability.
“I’ll never forget sharing my work for the first time, my anxiety levels were sky high but I quickly understood why taking part in workshops was so valuable. It opened my eyes to the benefits of feedback and allowed me to see the strengths and weaknesses of my scripts. You never really know if you’ve successfully achieved what you intended until someone else reads your work and offers you their insight. I also got to read some fantastic scripts from fellow students that had some really original ideas that pushed me to do better myself.”
After taking some time out after graduating from her first degree, Jenna soon knew she wanted to return to LJMU to further pursue her creative ambitions:
“I returned to LJMU to study for my Screenwriting MA when my eldest son Clark was just two-months old. I was extremely happy in my personal life, but career-wise I knew I really wanted to write and was sure that the course deadlines of another university course would push me to get the work done. As I was able to study flexibly for just two evenings a week, the MA gave me a great balance between being a mum and indulging my love of screenwriting.
“The course helped me in a lot of areas, particularly when it came to developing my understanding of story structure and character development. Everything just seemed to click for me during my MA, and I truly understood how the use of little things – such as how settings and character habits could impact how you tell a story. I could really feel myself developing, thanks in part to the learning support that I had access to and work experience opportunities.”
Speaking of opportunities, Jenna has seized as many of them as possible along the way when it comes to getting her work seen by influential people in the industry, even when some of them have resulted in knockbacks.
“In 2017 I entered my feature script from my MA (a mystery/thriller set in the Outback) into the Academy Nicholl Fellowship Awards. The script progressed into the top 10% of applicants and I received very detailed feedback from three of their judges. However, that was ultimately as far as I got which felt a little crushing at the time. The feedback was incredibly useful though and helped to better shape my script, which I’m still working on now.
“I also entered a competition with a local production company, LA Productions. It was a call for ideas for Jimmy McGovern’s BBC series ‘Moving On’. Their script editor contacted me to say they were interested in my idea and we collaborated to develop it into a detailed outline. I spent weeks redrafting and it eventually made it in front of Jimmy McGovern himself to read. Ultimately, I was again unsuccessful this time. So after weeks of working and pinning my hopes on it being my break, I was pretty devastated. But I still remain really grateful for the experience and another chance to do what I love.”
Despite these setbacks, Jenna’s hard work soon began to really pay off:
“I was recently contacted by The Northern Writers’ Awards to say my script and application had been shortlisted for the Lime Pictures Writing for Television Award. After an interview via Zoom with series producers at Hollyoaks and Channel 4, I was told that I had won! I can’t even put into words what it’s meant to me and the hope that it’s brought. I feel like I’ve finally been given the chance I've been waiting for. The prize is a £3,000 bursary and the opportunity to work with Lime Pictures and Channel 4 for a year on popular soap Hollyoaks, which I can't wait to get started on!”
When it comes to rejection in the industry and how to deal with it, Jenna has this to say:
“Every knockback takes its toll, it’s the same for anyone who puts themselves out there with anything. It leaves you feeling defeated, but I try to draw upon my experiences of being ill when this happens. I force myself to remember that you have to keep pushing on. For me, I thought my life was going to take a certain path, but at 17 that changed. It’s the same with entering script competitions. When I’m in my pit of despair mode my hubby likes to remind me of the quote, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’. So I’ve kept on working hard and I seem to be getting luckier!”
Jenna remembers her time at LJMU fondly, particularly the amazing work experience opportunities she was able to take advantage of during her studies:
“The work experience at LJMU was brilliant. They had a fantastic team who would seek relevant work experience in and around Liverpool. At the end of my first year, a content sourcing company came in and chose four students to accompany them to the Cannes Lions Festival. I was lucky enough to spend a week in the south of France filming. In my second year, I spent two weeks as a runner for the Channel 4 Kudos production, Utopia. I’m really happy that now looking back I feel I made the most of all the opportunities on offer during my degree.”
Looking to the future, Jenna has big plans for her career – as well as considering another return to LJMU to further enhance her amazing academic achievements:
“My hopes and ambitions for the future are to have a career as a professional screenwriter. I would like to work in the television industry writing for a soap opera or a serial drama. I’d also like to continue developing my own original work, I have a few feature scripts that I’m working on and so many ideas for television too. I think my ultimate ambition is to have a feature film produced. I’d also like to return to LJMU to gain a doctorate focused on screenwriting.”
When it comes to words of wisdom to anybody considering studying Screenwriting at LJMU or wanting to break into the industry in general, Jenna’s advice is:
“There’s no easy way into the screenwriting industry, but studying for a relevant degree can give you a brilliant start. My advice to anybody considering joining LJMU would be to do it because you won’t regret it. Work hard, take every opportunity and also remember to enjoy your time at university too! Three years for an undergraduate course or two years of further education might seem like a long time right now, but it’ll pass by before you know it and you’ll look back and be so glad that you went for it. Take the leap.”
If Jenna’s achievements have inspired you to consider a career in screenwriting, visit Liverpool Screen School to take a look at the courses we have on offer. We have a range of both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees that can nurture your creativity and put you on the path to great things.
LJMU has been confirmed as the education partner at the Littlewoods Film and TV Studios – find out more.