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Interview with Sal Rowberry: From screenwriting student to agent

salrowbI’ve worked with Sal on various script reading assignments and have always admired how she went from screenwriting student to top notch agency assistant. I’m delighted to welcome her to the Writesofluid blog to tell us all about it!

Welcome, Sal!

So, first thing’s first – had you always wanted to study screenwriting? How early on in life did you discover a passion for writing/stories?

I had a keen interest in writing and storytelling from a very young age. I wrote a book called Clumsy Bear when I was about 5 which my mum still has the only copy of. I’m pretty sure it’s still the best thing I’ve ever written. I originally wanted to study journalism or something more English language based.

I discovered screenwriting degrees whilst flicking through a few university prospectuses. That, along with my desire to be involved IN ANY WAY with Green Wing, fuelled the scriptwriting fire.

The course you chose to study was Scriptwriting for Film and Television at Bournemouth University. What made you choose this particular course, and how did you find it?

I had my heart set on studying in London because I was desperate to move to the capital, and I was keen on studying at the London College of Communication. On a whim, my mum suggested we visit the Bournemouth open day as they had a screenwriting degree course. I was taken in by the town and by the course content, and instantly changed my mind. My mum also fancied the lecturer a bit so she really pushed the Bournemouth option.

Did you know right from the start that you wanted to move into the development side of things, or was the aim to be a screenwriter?

I went into the course with every intention of making it as a screenwriter. Whilst I loved the course, I soon realised that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, and that being creative full time wasn’t for me. I loved the industry and the creativity, but I missed the structured, business aspect of life, which is what led me to the development side of things.

How did you approach the big wide media industry world during/after finishing your degree?

Mostly by being scared shitless of failing, so I went at it all guns blazing with job applications.

I woke up a little bit in my second year of university and starting working more on extra curricular work that would help to boost my CV and networking skills.

That’s where the Southern Script Festival came from, amongst other things.

You landed a pretty awesome job in London straight from Uni! Tell us about that – how did you land the gig, and how did it feel to be moving to London?

One word: networking. I was applying to as many media assistant roles as I could when I finished university and heard back from none of them. Nick Turner from Linda Seifert Management had been to Bournemouth to talk a few times, and his experience with the course echoed mine. I stayed in touch with him and invited him to talk at the SSF which proved to be an invaluable decision when they were looking for a new assistant around the time that I left university.

Was being a literary/agent’s assistant as you expected? What did you find easy, and what did you find hard?

The job was just as I expected actually. I found it easier than anticipated learning about clients and their work as well as absorbing information about producers etc; you become a sponge very quickly.

Initially I found it tough to reject writers because I felt as though I was crushing dreams.

I took that very personally to begin with, but it becomes second nature soon enough. The job should really be titled ‘Talent Scout and Heartbreaker.’

You’ve now moved onto another assistant position. This must be a sign that this is the career ladder you are dedicated to climbing. What’s your big goal?

I still don’t know that this is exactly what I want to do long-term, but I do love this side of the business. If I change paths it will probably be more into the development side of things, as that really interests me. Script editing is something I’d like to explore more, too. Very occasionally I’m drawn to the idea of writing again, but only time will tell on that one.

Describe your typical day as an assistant.

A typical day consists of answering phones (often to writers hoping to submit work), raising and chasing invoices, paying clients and checking the bank, logging client work in and out, diary management, reading client work, writing up notes, filing and other general admin as well as keeping tabs on industry news via Broadcast etc.

What would you say are the biggest no-nos you face as an assistant when reading scripts/communicating with writers? Any amusing tales to tell?

I’ve still got a copy of the first really angry rejection response that I received. I was just out of university at the time and it shook me up.

Looking back now it makes me laugh, but this particular gentleman had tried (and failed) to find me on IMDB and therefore didn’t think I was qualified to reject his work.

My strongest advice is to be normal. Let your work do the talking, check the website of the agency to make sure it’s the appropriate place for your work, spell the agent’s name correctly and send what they ask for. If they want a synopsis and the first ten pages then send exactly that. If they don’t represent overseas writers and you live in Italy, don’t waste your time.

Also treat assistants well, one day they’ll be agents and people remember being treated badly. My other pet hate is the inclusion of ‘First Draft’ or ‘Second Draft’ on the front page of a submission. At least give the impression that you’ve spent time working and reworking. Oh, and never send a blanket email to all of the submission emails you can find. BCC was invented for a reason!

Do you still write yourself? If so, how do you fit this in around work and social life?

I don’t write at all anymore. I can’t remember the last time I opened Final Draft. I keep meaning to get back into it, but life gets in the way. It also feels a little like a busman’s holiday. We’ll see though; never say never (a la Justin Bieber.)

You also curate an awesome blog – Sunday Opening Hours – where we can read about writers’ Sunday habits. What gave you the idea? How’s it going?

The idea came about as I’m a huge Saturday Night Live fan and I really wanted to start a blog about how the cast and crew unwind on Sundays, and then that kind of morphed into a UK based idea about writing habits. I inquisitively looked into buying a domain name and it spiralled from there. It’s going pretty well at the moment, and I feel it’s slowly gathering momentum. I’ve given it an overhaul in the past few weeks which you can see here: www.sundayopeninghours.co.uk

Looking good! What would you say are the qualities needed to be a good literary/agent’s assistant? Any top tips for aspiring assistants?

Efficiency, patience, a good memory and a sense of humour will definitely put you in the right direction. Get used to reading and reporting on scripts as quickly as you can, as that’s a good skill to be able to do promptly and efficiently. It can be hard work, and sometimes thankless, but it’s a great job that I hugely enjoy.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us!

Read Sunday Opening Hours HERE, and follow Sal on twitter HERE.

Sally Rowberry joined Micheline Steinberg Associates in 2013 from Linda Seifert Management. She studied Scriptwriting for Film and Television at Bournemouth University, graduating in 2011. She now works assisting Micheline, across television, theatre, radio and film. She also curates the writing blog Sunday Opening Hours as well as reading for script competitions and initiatives.

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