My Big Break: Eddie Harrison, film writer and screenwriter

EDDIE Harrison is a writer and screenwriter who has reviewed films for The List magazine and the BBC, as a freelancer since 2003.

What was your first media job?

I wrote my first piece for Metro newspaper in 1999. At the time, I was just starting out as an aspiring screenwriter, and had just made my first short film, which had provided me with an income of nothing at all. Within a few weeks, I was a contracted employee in Metro’s Scottish office, which was in Glasgow’s St Vincent Street.

I wrote general arts coverage, film, theatre, music, food and drink: whatever landed on my desk. Metro were at that point expanding nationwide from their London base, and the newspaper had a booming readership: a syndicated article reached an estimated readership not far short of two million.

Working for Associated was an ideal chance to get ‘access all areas’ in the media. I was able to pull big-name interviews. One-on-ones with, among others, Daniel Craig, Terry Gilliam, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Malcolm McDowell, John Hurt, Neil Tennant, Gerry Butler, Paul Greengrass, Sigourney Weaver, Paul Schrader, Suzanne Vega, Sydney Pollack and Jesse Eisenberg. All people with whom it was an education to spend time with.

Phone interviews with David Hasselhoff , Shane McGowan from The Pogues and Basil Brush were other highlights. I also got to attend film festivals worldwide, from Cannes to Venice, The Hamptons to LA and Moscow. You got a chance to build up a strong portfolio. It was a perfect job, and I only had to work three days a week, so I could balance it out with creative writing for film.

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

The prominence provided by Metro provided me with a platform for an expanded media presence via The List, where I as lucky enough I work under two very different but perceptive film editors in Paul Dale and Gail Tolley, and a tolerant owner in Robin Hodge whose jacket I inadvertently trod on at a party.

I also enjoyed a long run at the BBC radio Scotland in the labyrinthine environs of Queen Margaret Drive and later in Pacific Quay, where I enjoyed the atmosphere of Good Morning Scotland and particularly the banter with Janice Forsyth on the Movie Cafe, now the Culture Studio.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

The ironic thing about my media career is that it’s completely unplanned. I never set out to expand my work as a freelance journalist, and I was immensely fortunate in that producers, editors and commissioners were so generous with the work they gave me.

The breaks I sought were within the field of film, where opportunities are even harder to come by than they are in journalism.

Winning the Scottish New Talent BAFTA in 2010 was certainly a career break which helped me find work abroad, but even awards don’t get your foot in the door in Scotland. So there was no magic moment in terms of media work: the goal is to form the best possible relationships with the people you are working with, and always remember that there’s a long queue of people behind you just as keen to do the job you’re doing.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

Sir Richard Attenborough was my original mentor. He backed my first short film and gave me moral and financial support when I was starting out. At that point in time, journalism was not in the state that it is now, and his advice was, “You know so much about film, you would be well cut out for a job in film journalism. You’ll need one because it’ll take you five years to make a living as a writer.”

His advice was completely accurate, and set me on this path. Working in journalism teaches a writer something about discipline and deadlines, and although it was meant to be a stepping stone to other work, I’m loathe to give up on the constant pulse of film-going, writing and interviews that film journalism has provided, and intend to keep my hand in for as long as possible.

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

I wish I had known that there was no future in journalism, and that there was no money in it. Actually, that’s a joke, but it barely disguises my genuine disappointment that the Scottish print media has receded in the last few years, denying anyone else the chance to have the same positive experience that I had.

It seems to me that many media brands missed the boat when it came to adapting to the new challenges of online publishing, and Scottish journalism didn’t produce many talents capable of bucking that worldwide trend.

Readers are still out there, but the number of trusted independent sources are dwindling: as George Orwell said: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed : everything else is public relations.” To my mind, all journalists have a responsibility to keep that spirit alive.