My Big Break: Chris Lindsay, screenwriter

CHRIS Lindsay is a screenwriter, living in Edinburgh. He has developed original work for La Plante Productions, 2AM TV and Hat Trick. After completing a shadow scheme with BBC One’s medical drama, Holby City, last year, he was commissioned to write an episode of the show which will be broadcast in July.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

I’d always been drawn to television more than any other medium – as a kid, I devoured TV like some people do books or music. But it wasn’t until my late teens that it occurred to me that people actually made a living working in the media.

What was your first ‘media job’?

My first paid media job was writing and co-directing an educational promo for Edinburgh University about energy efficiency. I’d been making short films for about a year as part of collective and we got wind that this job was going out to tender.

We pitched them a horror pastiche – I spent days drawing up beautifully-detailed storyboards. I remember thinking, ‘they’ll never go for this’, as we had no real experience, and then being pleasantly surprised when they hired us! Pitching and getting that job was a huge confidence boost and made me think, ‘I can handle myself in this industry’.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

My heart wasn’t fully in the promos world – deep down, I wanted to be scripting TV drama. I had a ton of ideas for stories and the practice of writing started to dominate my life. From that point on, I began entering lots of competitions and schemes – as well as doing an MA in Screenwriting at Screen Academy Scotland. I took a full-time office job to be able to cover my bills, so that I was essentially working two jobs – one paid, the other not – as I built a profile in the industry.

This led to getting an agent, which ‘opened the doors’ to a number of new writer mentoring and training schemes, then being invited to pitch for places on shows and trying to interest production companies. And that led to getting my first pieces of work into development and now my commission to write for Holby City.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

Being a finalist in the Red Planet Prize, one of the UK’s biggest screen writing competition (co-run by Tony Jordan’s production company and Kudos) was a huge turning point. It provided mentoring on how to navigate the industry and gave me my first bits of paid writing work.

Getting my first original piece of drama taken into development was also a very big moment – Lynda La Plante’s production company took on a thriller of mine which was a big validation and opened a lot more doors. It was a stamp of approval from someone very well respected and helped me enormously.

However, being accepted for Holby City’s shadow scheme and then getting a full commission for the show has been the biggest break so far. The show took on six writers who hadn’t written for the programme before and gave us all a trial episode to write as a way of seeing whether we’d fit with their ethos. I wasn’t familiar with the programme before then but I fell in love with its characters. For a programme made in London, it has a large contingent of Scottish actors, so I felt at home in it pretty quick!

My shadow script went down well and I was then given a real episode to write, which will broadcast this Summer. They’ve said they want me back to do another one and it has also resulted in possible opportunities at some other BBC shows. So, this has been the biggest breakthrough moment for me.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

My agent, Lucy Fawcett, who has not just been great at promoting me but has also been a huge support in the ups and downs of getting established in the industry.

Also, Colin MacDonald – my mentor at Screen Academy Scotland. He’s a very well respected film, TV and radio writer who has really looked after me, becoming a great friend and helping me navigate this world.

And Simon Harper – the series producer of Holby City who took me on to the shadow scheme after reading a sample script of mine. He’s given me my first broadcast credit and has been championing me to other BBC shows, which has been incredible.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

You’ll need a lot of patience!

Most people in a position to employ you are really overworked and have a lot of people knocking on their doors, so any opportunities you get at first take a long time to solidify. Patience, persistence and politeness are key – don’t take knock-backs or delays personally but also keep yourself on people’s radars and let them know how passionate you are about working in this sector.