UK industry may be at the top of its game in the world, with creative talent cleaned up at big awards and taking a foothold in Hollywood, but the UK system is far from a level playing field for those who try to emancipate themselves from different socio-economic or ethnic aspects. various horizons.
No one knows this better than Bisha K Ali, a former domestic violence support worker turned television writer, whose impressive credits include “Sex Education” and the upcoming “Ms. Marvel, ”but whose unconventional career path lacked the cultural capital offered to those entering the industry from privileged backgrounds.
Ali is the driving force behind a new scriptwriting grant jointly supported by streaming giant Netflix and Sky, the European pay-TV operator backed by Comcast. The program will provide six UK writers with a scholarship of £ 22,568 ($ 31,820), a support network and – most importantly – a job at a Netflix or Sky writers’ room that can provide that vital first TV credit.
Ali was inspired to start the scholarship after spotting a five-year Facebook memento in which she asked other writers about how they would afford the basic networking that can lead to gigs in the UK.
“I would ask other writers, ‘Are you facing these issues as well? I don’t have enough money to attend meetings! She explains, noting that she did not have the extra funds to take time off work full time and come to London to network.
“Like, how much does an oyster [travel] cost of the card? It is so expensive. And those costs just added up. How many people have the financial support to be able to get started and market themselves as a writer in our field without a large amount of money that you simply have access to? Ali asks.
Hounslow-born Ali, through her agents, landed her first writing job on Netflix’s “Sex Education” before heading to the United States to work on Mindy Kaling’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” for Hulu and ultimately land the chief writer concert for “Ms. Marvel, ”about a Muslim teenager raised in New Jersey who realizes she has superpowers. The show, which features the studio’s first Muslim superhero, is a significant turning point for Marvel and its portrayal through its franchises.
Ali was recounting his experiences to Anne Mensah, Netflix’s vice president of the original UK series, when the former Sky executive – a longtime champion of UK industry representation – suggested that the SVOD with deep pockets could help to set up an initiative.
“When the fellows come out, I want it to have a real, measurable impact,” Ali notes. The scholarship makes it easier for them to focus on their craft, while the addition of Sky as a partner opens up the fellowship pool of connections within another broadcaster, which also happens to be a key national player.
The writer was also keen for scholarship holders to get their first TV credit at the end of the scholarship: “Getting that first credit is so hard,” Ali admits. “It’s one of the biggest obstacles when you break in.” Within 18 months of launching the program, Ali hopes that every fellow will be able to obtain agent representation.
Ali credits programs born out of the American studio system, where writers emerge from programs with extensive experience and exposure to different parts of the production process.
“The advantage of the American system is integrated learning for writers. You can be a writer’s assistant or a showrunner’s assistant in a writers’ room, and you’re surrounded by writers who do the work of writing for a minimum of 20 weeks, ”says Ali. “So in this system you would expect that assistant to become a writer for the following season, or to be recommended to be a writer for a later season of a different show.”
As writers’ rooms become more common in the UK and more apprentices develop, Ali is hopeful there will be similar opportunities. The question is whether the industry can grow without “doubling or picking up on some of the existing biases” and instead ensuring that “inclusion is built into expansion”.
As the first year of the Netflix-Sky Fellowship will focus on selecting writers from black, Asian, and ethnic and racial minorities, Ali emphasizes the importance of recognizing the barriers to social mobility and the challenges faced by women. working class people seeking to work in film and television.
“There are walls that people in the establishment, under the status quo, don’t even realize exist,” says Ali. She notes a personal experience in which she was asked to meet a producer at a membership club, but did not know what a membership club was.
“I didn’t know it existed, and it’s part of the elite structure,” Ali notes. “Most of these production companies have their meetings in member clubs or take you out for drinks or dinner. Even this space is an elitist space.
There is a lag in the experience of life, she says, and it is a problem – a problem that is not talked about enough in Britain.
“When somebody that’s not from this world goes to this meeting, and doesn’t know what space is, and space is kinda hostile to them, and frankly they don’t look like other people in those spaces, us ‘relating to six other barriers to entry for a single meeting,’ says Ali.
Apply for the Screenwriters Scholarship here.
Read Netflix and Sky’s vision for the show here.