MA Screenwriting student on diversity, collaboration and finding your voice
Born and raised in Peckham, South London, MetFilm School MA Screenwriting student Raphael D’Cruz is about to finish his course and is already busy with work in a role as a Script reader, alongside research work, with production company Character 7.
Growing up, Raphael’s creative inspiration and exposure to the screen world, came from close to home, from his father, Jaimie D’Cruz (Oscar-nominated producer of the documentary Exit Through the Giftshop), and Marlon Smith (Bafta Breakthrough Writer: C4’s Run.)
During his course, Raphael wrote three short films, which were then produced through collaborations with fellow Met Film School students. Two for the MA Directing course, and another for the BA Practical Filmmaking course. One of the films: Deep Clean, is set within a world where your soul can be cleansed for a fee, at the laundrette. It follows Soap, a born killer who wishes to break the cycle.
We caught up with Raphael on his last few weeks at MetFilm School London…
Having previously studied a BA in History, what inspired you to pursue a career in the creative industries?
I learned so much studying my BA History in Manchester, yet didn’t have the heart for it. I was completely obsessed with each story; researching, and writing about impactful voices like Malcom, or Michael, X. To the point that my personally attached, story-driven view, had overcome any academic ambitions. Looking back though, I am thankful for this as it was a creative spark.
History also allowed me to dig deep into my colonial roots, which was one big story from all over (UK, India, Nigeria, Ireland) to fully understand them. It was through this deeper perspective that I could locate my own inner voice. By doing so, creating stories became a way for me to interpret and share it all.
How did you settle upon studying Screenwriting and what have been the highlights of the course at MetFilm School?
Initially I was working on documentaries at Acme Films as an entry point to the industry, but after each day I would write. I started slow, then lockdown came… During which, my second script had me thrilled, so I applied to MetFilm School.
It was one of my best decisions. On day one, meeting like-minded writers on the MA Screenwriting course was a great feeling. We share the obsession! Everyone there has been a highlight. We could discuss ideas openly in class and, over time, get to know each other’s voices. Then pitching those ideas, from shorts to features, to industry guests was key to our progression. All the feedback gained was incredibly useful. Pitching is down to practice and MetFilm School offering it early on was invaluable experience.
Diversity is a major highlight here too. I have travelled to the Cannes Film Festival with friends from France and am also headed to the Middle East to make a film. Each project I have worked on has incorporated this ethos; helping directors or producers tell stories inspired by their backgrounds. One short I worked on, titled Deep Clean, involved an Italian team at the core, whilst another, Who Are You, was inherently French in its DNA.
Tell us about your role with the production company, Character 7! What sort of work have you been involved with?
Working in development at Character 7 on a freelance basis has been amazing. My role is to work closely with a brilliant Development Exec (Carly Conway) and it includes reading and reporting on scripts, books, articles, plus research. To do this alongside learning and writing for the MA degree, has worked really well. Reading other’s scripts is always important, but to read relevant scripts from top writers, really fuels your drive. Industry awareness applied to your own scripts is massive, as it enhances your inner self-critic without even truly realising it.
Research work for some acclaimed writers has also been hugely beneficial as it allows you to glimpse their methods. Each are very distinctive and has allowed me to experience pre-production in real time. By doing so, the research scope and standards of my own projects has risen because naturally, you do learn about series requirements. Character 7 are fantastic to work with due to their aim for global appeal and seeing them attain it, is inspirational for myself as an up-and-coming writer.
Which voices & stories do you wish we were seeing more of on UK screens at the moment?
As thrilled as I am to see an increase in UK creator and on-screen diversity, I really feel that there is so much more to come. From black, Asian, and mixed writers plus countless ethnicities within. Living in Peckham, a highly diverse area, I am aware of the abundant cultures within London: from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia. The list goes on. Growth here is what I would love to see. Seeing Rapman’s feature film, Blue Story, at the Peckhamplex cinema was a proud eye opener, plus Michaela Coel’s relatable award winning, I May Destroy You. Hopefully these moments will inspire young creators.
Balancing studies and work can be a challenge – any tips for maintaining productivity?
It may sound strange but studying psychology at A-Level really helped me to devise and customise techniques that help to maintain productivity. Such as the idea of ‘chunking’, which separates information into small chunks. Then to flip this for creative purposes – breaking big pieces of work into parts (e.g. breaking a treatment into three lines, three paragraphs to three pages), is a way to make workloads manageable. Another top tip that this year’s MA Screenwriters are top advocates for is the Pomodoro technique. An excellent method used to break down a day of writing into 25 minute segments, followed by a 5 minute break. This and chunking makes writing a lot easier!
Yet even more crucial, are podcasts. That and music, plus making your desk into a clear space, so you actually want to spend the bulk of your time there. We all get stuck from time to time and the best thing to do is to reach out to some course mates, and of course we have a group chat for that…
Finally, what is something about the world of screenwriting that has surprised you? (Or, that you think people overlook/underestimate?)
When embarking on a Screenwriting course, or setting off into the industry, we often view the others we work with in accordance with their role or job title. Yet it is crucial for collaboration to view others as like-minded individuals who share your passion for the project just with different skills. Primarily as people.
Connecting with industry guests through MetFilm School, or established writers that are also tutors, has surprised me as you may learn more from ‘off script’ chats, when discussing things that you may have in common. By doing so, you come to learn that contributing through Screenwriting is a gift in itself, as you are not only sharing your raw ideas with the world, but you get to enjoy your work with some of the most fun and creative people out there. We often talk about gates in the industry but simply by talking openly, those gates can open themselves. The friendly manner of those in and around Screenwriting is surprisingly good.
Raphael D’Cruz is a current student on MetFilm School London’s MA Screenwriting.