First Love

Guest post by Alexander Kay (22), Freelance Scriptwriter

The first scripts I ever wrote were on a typewriter…

No, sorry, maybe I’d better start from the very beginning.

The first television screenplay I ever read was when I was 13. It was part of a compilation book of scripts from the TV series Little Britain and was a birthday gift from a very good friend of mine who was not unaware of my desire to enter the TV industry as a writer.

Apart from being enthralled by the layout of the script (which made use of strange abbreviated words such as EXT. and INT.), I remember being fascinated by the font that was used. It was like nothing I’d seen before in the countless scripts I’d had to learn for school plays and that I assumed was universal. 

From conducting some research (asking my father), I learnt that this peculiar font was the same used by typewriters. This befuddled me. Surely Matt Lucas and David Walliams, along with all the other writers working in television weren’t still using slow, ancient typewriters to do their work? What about the reliable PC? Or the much hyped and sought after Apple Macintosh? We were in the 21st Century after all!

It seemed if I was to be taken seriously in my future career I would have to learn to use this strange, aged contraption that seemed to be so widely used by professionals in the industry I was so intent on entering.

So, for the next five years I spent as much time as I could bashing out scripts on a typewriter that had been recovered from the attic. Alas it was not a vintage model but one from the 1980s. No matter, it was still a typewriter, yes? Surely as long as my screenplays were type written my chances of getting my work seen by the people who matter were high, weren’t they?

I soon decided that I rather liked using a typewriter. There is something gloriously decisive and final about writing on it, as opposed to a Word document which can be edited and re-edited any number of times, with just a few ‘clicks’. With a typewriter however, I found that to save the most time it is necessary to have a fairly decisive idea of what you’re going to write before you write it. The ideas and words you are going to commit to paper have to be really thought out before you launch an assault on the keyboard. There was something strangely enthusing about this added sense of responsibility, and it helped me to feel all the more professional as a result. I was really doing it! I was a scriptwriter, armed with a proper ‘writer’s tool’, ready to take TV by storm!

Of course, I later found out through further reading, as well as actually studying scriptwriting as part of my first degree, that in fact typewriters stopped being used in scriptwriting ages ago. Whilst the font remains exactly the same, it’s a standard requirement; computers are now widely used by scriptwriters. It even enables them to access this great thing called the internet which they can use for procrastina… I mean… research.

Although I quickly learnt to accept this shocking revelation, I had no choice, my future profession depended on it, to this day I still have a soft spot for the typewriter. It was using this clunky but marvellous device to type out my first ever TV screenplays that helped to further develop my passion to become a scriptwriter, and actually ‘do it’. The process of using it really helped to build up my early skills and my confidence, so when the time came for me to accept that there was in fact a more modern, and admittedly easier, method of writing scripts, I honestly felt like I had graduated. I had trained using a device of the old masters I so respected (legends such as Jimmy Perry and David Croft who wrote Dad’s Army, for instance) and was now ready to join my colleagues and write scripts the 21st Century way.    

However I will never forget where I first started, my roots, my training ground… the typewriter.