Tell us a little bit about yourself; how are you involved in the television industry and what are some of your achievements?
I’m from London. After studying law at Oxford, I broke into Television by working in script development. I worked in Script Development at BBC Children’s Drama for 3 years before I left to focus on writing. As a writer I have written for shows including Eastenders, Casualty and Holby City. I also wrote for the children’s series The Story of Tracy Beaker. In 2010, I wrote The Future WAGs of Great Britain for Channel 4 and I also wrote the television movie Three Wise Women for Hallmark US, adapted from an idea by the best-selling author Cecelia Ahern. I currently have film and TV projects in development and a commission for Channel 4. In 2008 I was selected by Broadcast Magazine as one of the top writers under 30 working in the industry for its annual Hotshots feature. I am currently based in New York.
How did you get started?
There weren’t many TV executives around where I was growing up in Edmonton and I knew nobody in the industry so I got started by writing a lot of letters and sending a lot of CVs that never got responses. So I sent more letters until a few people replied and I got some unpaid script reading gigs. While at University, I also did unpaid work experience at ITV and SKY and applied for TVYP at the Edinburgh festival (now called The Network), which was a good way to network and learn more about the industry. I also read every book about screenwriting and script development that I could lay my hands on.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
There isn’t a great deal of job security and often to get ahead or get into the specific area that you want to be in, you might need to take sideways moves or work for nothing to get the necessary experience to do what you really want to be doing. There is no one path so you need to grab the opportunities that come your way, or take a time out and create your own opportunities when none are forthcoming.
How did you get yourself and your work seen and heard?
This is an ongoing battle – you do it one script at a time and hopefully along the way you meet producers you like and trust and form creative relationships and collaborations that can last for a long while. In terms of writing, it’s important to keep writing and keep finishing scripts and generating new ideas and also learning with each new script. Waiting for someone to come knocking on your door with a commission is just not an option at this stage. Having an agent helps but particularly when starting out, I simply had to go to as many relevant events and meet and network with people in the kind of area that I wanted to be in.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Start writing regularly, read scripts, read blogs about screenwriting, read books on script and story writing. Go to a writing class or group and start learning to get feedback and receive criticism from development people and from other writers. Learn to revise and re-draft your work after getting notes. Find ways to get your work seen and read, enter competitions and start meeting people in the industry. Watch films and TV – start to learn the names of the key producers and production companies and email them; try to get a foot in the industry any way you can. It is imperative you learn about the business and how things work so you can effectively target people. It’s also useful to be clear about what you want – do you want to write hard-hitting dramas or romantic comedies – clarity will help focus your efforts.
How has the online arena and technology had an impact on your career? What are your thoughts on new/digital media?
In terms of online advances and technology, I think both can be helpful to new entrants in the industry. Cheaper digital cameras and the ability to edit with iMovies means that new filmmakers can cheaply produce content and get it seen by a growing online audience. Social networking like Twitter or Facebook groups can be a good way to get people to see your work and can be great marketing tools. We had a great response to The Future WAGs of Great Britain on Twitter because many Twitterers helped publicize our film and bring it to the attention of a wider group of people than word of mouth alone would have achieved. For writers, online scripts and screenwriting blogs are a great resource. I learn a lot from reading blogs by American writers and producers; you can learn from successful writers without the cost of film school or flying to LA.
Finally, what does ‘diversity’ mean to you?
In regards diversity – to quote Kurt from an episode of Glee “Being different made me stronger.” The produced work that I am most proud of, in my career so far, is the script for The Future WAGs of Great Britain and the resulting film, which was directed by Destiny Ekaragha. I wrote that script absolutely from my own cultural perspective. I once read somewhere that writers should “write the stories that only they know.” With the Future WAGs script, my experience, my Nigerian upbringing, the fact that I am from a “diverse” background were strengths. This continues to be my approach in my work – to tell the stories that I want to tell and to recognise the value of my background and experience.
The only way to see real progress is for individual filmmakers to forge their own path and use the tools that they have to find a market and audience for their work. Real and lasting change isn’t going to come from above.
A big thank you to Abby for speaking to SceneTV and sharing her experiences.
Click here to read Abby’s contribution to an article in Broadcast Magazine which discusses the experiences of women in the television industry:
Also, if you haven’t seen The Future Wags of Great Britain, it is still showing on 4 On Demand.
Last but not least, you can follow Abby on Twitter: @abbyajayi and learn more about her work at www.abbyajayi.co.uk
Look out for more of the SCENE PROFILES series to hear from a variety of people within the television and film industry, find out how the digital space has had an impact on their work and what ‘diversity’ means to them.