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Q&A with Christopher Byram; The 2020 Inroads Fellow

Christopher Byram is an award-winning script writer, producer and director hailing from the English Midlands. He specializes in episodic drama, and his wonderful TV pilot "Rednecks" just happened to unearth top prize in the 2020 Inroads Fellowship competition. After his win, Christopher signed a shopping agreement with one of the executive producers of American Gods! He was nice enough to give us some insight into his career and writing, enjoy!

1) How long have you been writing?

A long time! I’m 63 and I first tried to write scripts back in the late ‘80’s! I’ve been an actor and a director as well as a scriptwriter but I’ve also had a number of mental-health crisis that have significantly disrupted my career. Fact is I’ve screwed up more careers than most people have had hot dinners and this current foray into the business feels like it could be a last chance.

In 1989 I co-wrote a comedy theatre play called The Dig, which was produced and toured the UK professionally. But episodic TV was always my first love and in the early ‘90’s I started developing ideas as a producer. I would come up with an idea and write the pitch. Using that pitch I would get development funds from a UK broadcaster (BBC, ITV, C4) and then hire a ‘proper’ writer to write the pilot script… at which point it always went wrong.

The problem was I am a plumber’s son from Coventry and the idea that I myself could be a ‘writer’, was somehow inconceivable. Eventually I ran out of money to commission other writers but I had a great idea for a cop show and I had time on my hands because I was unemployed, so I wrote the cop show myself. This calling-card script got me a writer-for-hire gig on a UK cop-show called The Bill and my writing career started. But like a stuck record I screwed it up and at 50 I went barmy and ended up on an 8-year career break. Which brings us back to today and the Last Chance Saloon.

2) What screenwriting training have you received?

The only screenwriting training I’ve received was back in 1990 when I did Robert McKee’s three-day short course… and it changed my life! The notion of the three-act structure and stuff like the arc of rising jeopardy made immediate and instinctive sense to me and the notion that there was a language and tools with which to analyse scripts revolutionised my attitude to scripts and to writing. It wasn’t McKee’s specific ‘system’ that I found so inspiring, indeed I think much of it is as outlined in his book, Story, is so Byzantine as to be pretty useless. No, the revolutionary idea was that scripts could be rationally analysed and assessed. Having explored all this at great length I now use my own version of a classic Aristotelian three act structure based more on the paradigms described by Sid Field and John Truby.

3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions?

I write something almost every day but I’m not in ‘writing mode’ all the time as I find it too all-encompassing and exhausting. So a lot of the time I am in ‘thinking mode’ where my mind is free to flit about and my ‘writing’ will consist simply of notes and research but I try not concentrate too hard.