fbpx
James Capel Writers Community Scribe Lounge

Why I had to create an online community for writers – James Capel, Scribe Lounge

James Capel is an actor and writer who, in 2020 decided it was time to create something he couldn’t seem to find anywhere: an online community for writers. Scribe Lounge offers writers’ forums, spaces to collaborate and Q&As with writers in film and television, all for free, along with a paid subscription service.

Scribe Lounge: the fastest-growing screenwriter community

Whilst the platform was created with screenwriters in mind, it is open to all, with novelists, playwrights, bloggers and journalists all part of the fast-evolving network.

In this interview, James explains how quickly this writing platform is growing, and how it has reminded him of his passion for connecting with, learning from and helping to guide other writers. He also touches on something all writers face: how to dealing with rejection and keep writing.

In the Writers’ Room: Cold Feet Series 9

Furthermore, James Capel provides a unique insight into working with others in a TV writers’ room, where he penned an episode from series 9 of the popular UK TV comedy drama Cold Feet (ITV/Big Talk), refining the script alongside fellow screenwriter Mike Bullen. James Capel is known for Stormhouse (2011), Interview with a Hitman (2012) and, more recently, Cold Feet (1997). He studied at Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating in 2009.

Interview with James Capel, Scribe Lounge

FF: Today I have a very special guest with me. James Capel, would you like to briefly introduce yourself?

JC: Yeah, my name is James. I’m a professional screenwriter working in the industry. I’ve been writing for about 10 years or so. Recently, I founded a website. I created an online community for screenwriters in the UK called Scribe Lounge, which has been going for six months. We’ve got a nice little host of amazing aspiring writers and professional writers all joining us. And my job is just to stay ahead of the wave really, and keep it going. So yeah, I’m currently juggling those two things and that’s what I do.

Starting out as a screenwriter

FF: What motivated you to set up Scribe Lounge in the first place?

JC: So when I started out screenwriting, it was late 2008/2009. I had trained as an actor, and when I started writing I was so hungry for information about the industry, about the craft, anything I could get my hands on. I wanted interviews from writers, I wanted interviews from producers, I wanted to know the inner workings of the whole industry, basically.

You could find it in tiny little pockets – there were some people like Danny Stack, who had a great blog over here and then later on, Debbie Moon had a great blog. You’re kind of just piecing together shreds of information. And not only that, but I just had no connection to other writers. I didn’t know where to find them or what to do. I knew a couple of actors from my training, but it wasn’t helpful for the writing industry.

So, basically, I wanted to create something now that just gave that to writers all in one place, somewhere where they could talk about it all. Because I know we have so many social media platforms; we’ve got Twitter, we’ve got Reddit, we’ve got all sorts of different platforms. But I just really wanted to have one dedicated space where writers could just get together and there was no other social media based nonsense. They could just ask their screenwriting questions, as silly as they might be, in a safe space and all interact with each other.

It was as simple as that really, could we create a space for screenwriters? Particularly in the UK as well. Because I think on a US scale, it already exists; you’ve got things like Stage 32 and Coverfly. So on a UK scale, could we create a space for screenwriters? And that’s what we do.

Creating Scribe Lounge: a creative hub for UK screenwriters

FF: We spoke briefly before we started the interview, I signed up for a Scribe Lounge account today. I was already impressed with you, your presence on Twitter, the kind of stuff you’re putting out there and who you’re chatting to, so I got an idea of what it’s about. But to actually log in and have a look around the site, I was extremely impressed with what you’ve managed to set up in just a space, at the time we’re talking, of a few months. It’s quite incredible what you’ve achieved so far.

Can you explain a bit more about what’s actually on the site and what people can expect if they do sign up and how you’ve managed to, with your co-creator, get to this point relatively quickly? I think people would be surprised that it’s only been going for a few months.

JC: Yeah, it is rapid fire. My partner in Scribe Lounge, his name’s Kieran, he specialises in building websites and launching businesses which he’s done multiple times, he’s really great at it. He was round here one night over a margarita and he said to me, ‘Have you got any ideas that would apply to your industry where we could launch something, a community?’ And I said what I just said, that there was nothing around for screenwriters and it’d be great to have a space.

While we were all talking, together with our partners, we talked about the domain name, we found Scribe Lounge and decided that was a great name for it. He bought the domain name, he built the web page, and by the morning we had the front page and we had the idea of it.

And so I said, ‘Okay, well I’ll create a Twitter account then because I think I know how to use Twitter’. So I created Scribe Lounge’s Twitter and I went through my own feed in terms of writers I knew, of all levels, from professional to aspiring, and I just started following lots of people.

And then the important part was not just the following, it was the interacting. I started actually talking to writers and trying to give encouragement as well. Lots of people tweet all the time about their work and it’s just that nobody sees it necessarily. They will tweet things like, ‘I’m halfway through my first spec script and I’m really excited’. And my job was just to go, ‘Brilliant work, keep going. That’s really exciting’. And just to have someone say that to you is really encouraging, and that’s brilliant.

Suddenly, the writing community opened up to me. I realised through various hashtags, like the writing community hashtag and pipeline writers, which is a US thing off the back of script pipeline, I just found all these writers. And suddenly, I was able to use Scribe Lounge to string them together a little bit, and then keep interacting. And it was getting bigger and bigger, and people were commenting back and suddenly we were creating this thing.

And at the same time, I was saying that the point of the Scribe Lounge was that it is going to be a community where you can all come in, you can all log in, have your own profile, and we can all hang out here. So you can start your conversations on Twitter, and we can talk about all manner of things and all interact, but at the same time if you come and log in over here, I’ve got a free space for you where we can all just hang out and can talk about screenwriting. And you can ask your questions with no fear, or you can just lurk. A lot of people are lurkers, and they like to just read everything silently. And that’s also totally cool.

And then it happened. We built up to the launch and people got on board straight away. People got on board straight away and we were really fortunate. In fact, we had quite an important distinction in the first 24 hours. Initially, actually, the community was going to be paid completely, it wasn’t going to be free. We decided, because my partner is very business minded, he said, ‘No, we’re going to be a paid community, they’ll pay very little. But the point is, it’s paid. And we’ll go from there’.

Within the first 24 hours we realised, actually this needs to be free. This needs to be free, as much as possible, so that we can just get people through the gates and get them supporting each other. Because Twitter is free, the world is free, the internet is free. We can’t put a gate up straight away. And as soon as we did that, the whole thing just completely took shape, within days.

And then the Twitter following was easy to gather because it was all about conversation and interaction. I was meeting all these amazing people, and then they would log into Scribe Lounge and the conversations would continue. And basically, it went from there.

Making industry connections and opening up opportunities

To answer your other question as well. What Scribe Lounge actually is, it’s essentially a kind of social media space but without a feed, without other social media based topics. It is just about screenwriting. We started with a limited number of forums, things like ‘Ask the community’, or ‘share’ or ‘resources’ or ‘opportunities’. Places where anyone could post anything they see and put it in there. And of course, as the community leader, I’m posting all the time. I’m getting involved and I want to make sure that I’m encouraging people to talk and chat and interact.

We have an introductions page as well, which is really popular. You can basically put a little post there with who you are. And we give you a list of questions, you can copy and paste and give your answers to like what you’re working on and stuff like that. I love answering every single person that jumps on the site, if I’ve got time. Lately, it has gotten difficult because we’re in the hundreds now. But whenever I’ve got time, I will absolutely comment on every single one because so many different writers are joining. Just a vibrant and diverse array of writers that have come from all different backgrounds.

FF: I guess you never know who you’re going to connect with either. Yourself as the owner or anyone that joins the site, you just never know whether that one person that you connect with or comment on might actually present itself as an opportunity or open up an opportunity.

JC: Absolutely! And it’s a small world, there’s so many people out there. I live in the West Country and it’s amazing how many West Country writers have joined, or people that live in parts of London that I lived in, or worked for companies I’ve worked for, or we run in similar circles. Or people that have met on Twitter and then suddenly, they both find themselves on Scribe Lounge, and they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s good to see you here, it’s great’. And then they’re talking about collaborating and stuff like that.

Recently, we started a section called ‘writer cohorts’. Because obviously, when we get out of this pandemic, and we’re allowed to get out into the world again, loads of these writers all live near each other. So we’re encouraging people to start little cohorts in London, West Country, Northwest, North East, Birmingham, all these different places. And suddenly, all the writers are jumping into their areas and saying, ‘Hey, I’m up for a meet, I’m up for coffee, let’s collaborate’. And it’s just the most exciting thing in the world to be able to see all of that.

FF: That sounds absolutely fantastic, a brilliant creative hub that’s growing there. I’m looking forward to getting to know it a bit more and getting more involved myself, when I can allot some time to it. You don’t really need to sell it James, to be honest. I think anyone who is watching, listening to or reading the interview piece from this will get it. If they’re a writer, aspiring writer or even an established writer, who wants to connect with others, I think they’re gonna get it.

Building relationships between writers

JC: Absolutely. What you said there about professionals as well, there’s a lot of people that would look at Scribe Lounge and say, ‘I don’t need it. I’m good on my own. I know what I’m doing. I’m on my way, I don’t need it’. So we made the point that it’s not necessarily about what you can take from Scribe Lounge, it’s also about what you can give. Because there are so many writers out there that have vast experience. We’ve had people that have had whole careers that have recently joined, and they give such invaluable advice to these young writers.

People like Clive Frayne, who wrote an amazing screenwriting book, he’s joined us recently. And we have writers like Glen Laker and Philip Lawrence and even Ashley Pharoah, the co-creator of Life on Mars (2006-2007), joined us right at the beginning and logged in and said how great it was. He’s always too busy to ever be on the site, but he’s there and he’s watching, and he’ll log in from time to time. And so that sort of stuff just makes all the difference.

FF: Is the platform solely for screenwriters or is it open to all mediums, playwrights, novelists, poets, journalists, bloggers, etc?

JC: It is absolutely open to all forms. That’s one thing that I’ve been really surprised at. Obviously, it says on the tin UK screenwriters but so often I would get messages from people saying, ‘I’m a poet, I’m a playwright. Can I come in?’ And our answer is always absolutely yes. It’s all about influencing creativity. It’s all about boosting people’s creativity.

It’s a hive of people, I think, that fundamentally understand how difficult it is to be creative under restriction, and how exciting being creative is and how there’s so many crossovers. Playwrights are even closer, that’s the closest. When it comes to playwrights and screenwriting, there’s so much crossover. A lot of guys have come from journalism and they’re crossing over into different mediums. We have a playwright and poet in there who does all sorts of amazing work. There’s hundreds of examples of people working across all mediums, definitely.

FF: That’s really, really cool.

Working with Big Talk Productions

I think it’s fair to say that your biggest writing credit to date is an episode of Cold Feet (1997 – ), which is very impressive. How did that opportunity come about?

JC: It was one of those things where it was the culmination of years of relationship building, it was a long, collaborative relationship that then led up to it. So when I first started with my agent, about six or seven years ago, one of the first companies I met was Big Talk. I always loved their work, going all the way back to Spaced which is one of my favourite shows of all time. I was so chuffed to be in that building and to be a part of that company. They’ve been amazing champions of my work and my stuff ever since I started, Kenton Allen and the guys that are there. And so I’ve just worked with them a lot on developing my own shows and we’ve taken things to broadcasters, and developed a whole host of stuff over the years.

And then, nearly four years ago, they were prepping the series before the one I wrote on, and they asked if I would be interested in potentially jumping in the writers’ room to help storyline it at that stage. I was gutted because I was doing a charity cycle ride across the country at the time, and I couldn’t go in. I just wasn’t free. I tried everything in my power. We were even cycling past Manchester at the time the writers’ room was happening and I was like, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll stop for a day and I’ll do the work. And then I’ll hop back on a bike and I’ll go’. Turns out that was logistically never gonna happen. So yeah, I had to really reluctantly decline.

But then Katherine O’Connor, the producer, said, ‘Well, you know, if it comes around one more time or two more times, whatever, we’ll ask you again’. And she did. She asked me again, and I got in the writers’ room. And that was amazing just to be sat in a room with some really talented, experienced writers, not only Mike Bullen the creator, but the other writers that were on the staff.

It was so good and I learned loads. I worked hard to contribute, I had to make sure that I didn’t sit there quietly, I made sure that I tried to be an equal in that room and give what I could. And luckily, I gave enough to be able to warrant an episode, which ended up sort of being a collaboration with Mike Bullen, because he knows the characters so well. But I did an awful lot of work on that episode, it was mostly mine. It was such a great experience. I was really lucky to do it. It was great.

FF: Can you elaborate on what you did? Just give an idea, to someone like myself who can write but has no experience whatsoever in writing for TV. How does that work in the writers’ room? So there’s a sort of a roundtable of writers who are discussing storylines and story arcs and that sort of stuff, give us an idea of the mechanics of that.

Writing an episode of Cold Feet (1997 – )

JC: So in this case, because it’s a show that’s basically led by our main characters, our main Cold Feet (1997 – ) characters, they’re really important, they’ve all got their own character arcs. So first, for the series, we will map out where each character is going to go, where they’re going to begin, where they’re starting off from last series, and where we want them to end up. Then we’ll think about the major beats in the story, the major things that are going to happen with all the characters and how all the characters are going to come together, and if they’re going to have arguments and come apart.

At the time, we had characters that had fallen out, so it was all about getting them back together. And the middle episode of the series was them coming back together. All the way along, because I was someone that was outdoors a lot and I was doing lots of things at the time, bike rides and mountain walks and stuff like that, I was a big advocate for them getting out. I was like, ‘You should absolutely do a breakaway episode where they leave Manchester for the day, they do something separate and we can see them get together and then come back to Manchester’. I was a big advocate of it and I was really excited by that idea. It sank into the other writers and they were working off it, they were excited. So we built this whole series arc with that in the middle.

And then because I’d kind of given so much to that middle episode and was so passionate about it, that ended up being the one that they gave me, which I was so excited about because it was such a big episode. It was a lot to take. A lot happened in that series, but that episode in particular because it was led by something I was passionate about. So then I went away, I wrote an entire first draft. Then my son was born after my first draft which, as you know, is a manic time. So I took a few weeks off while we had a newborn and I was all over the shop and the production was very calm and wonderful with me.

We came back with a round of notes from Mike and from production and I jumped straight into the second draft and beyond. So I shaped the whole episode as to how it was going to go beat by beat, and the majority of what was there. Then at that stage, that’s when Mike would get involved we would collaborate on the script itself, he’d do a pass where he tightened some of the characters and sprinkle some Mike Bullen magic on it, because he knows it so well. And it would come back to me and I’d always go, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea’. And then he’d allow me to then do my own pass. So I would go back over it again and always try to add on top new things or new ideas or new tweaks. And eventually we just sort of did that, to and fro, until we got to the final production draft. I don’t know how many drafts, the changes got smaller as you went along.

That was basically the journey. In that sense, I was fortunate because I had a hand in the idea itself. I had a hand in the idea for the episode and I think that’s not necessarily always the case if you’re in a writer’s room, but in that case it was really great. I was really lucky.

FF: I really appreciate that insight thank you, I think that will interest a lot of people who are just starting out or have no experience of that side of things. So that’s really cool.

Advice for aspiring screenwriters: ‘It’s going to take time’

What do you wish you’d known when you first started writing? I think you started about a decade ago or so. And you’ve obviously had a fair bit of success, and not just Scribe Lounge, but Cold Feet (1997 – ) and other bits and pieces that you’ve done. So yeah, what do you wish you’d known when you very first started out?

JC: That is such a great question, Rich. Loads of things for a start, loads of things. But I think it would be, this is going to take time. This is going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of work.

As writers, we know about rejection, we know that rejection is going to come often. But the sheer number of rejections, the volume of it, I think I would warn myself to be ready for it. Because invariably, when you get going writing professionally, you create more. Once you get that agent and you have some scripts in your back pocket, the first job for them is to introduce you to everyone in town.

Suddenly, you’re introduced to everyone that you’ve ever loved, all their companies that make all your favourite shows. And your job is to pull an idea out of your back pocket, perfect for them, and create something. And so because you create so much, obviously that means more things get rejected, because you’re throwing more mud at the wall, seeing what sticks. There’s going to be so much more rejection. Especially the further down the line you get as well, when you get to broadcaster stage, and you get to streamer stage.

For me, my biggest battle has been getting my first original over the line. That’s my 100% focus and it’s something I still do to this day with lots of different people and lots of different projects. And they’re getting rejected all the time.

So I would absolutely say to myself at the beginning, ‘Look, this is gonna take some time, and you need to be prepared for that and be prepared for that rejection. And don’t be disheartened by it. It’s just about volume. It’s just about sheer volume. That’s all’.

FF: What you’ve just said makes complete sense.

What’s the next step?

Last question. What would you be if you weren’t a writer? So if that didn’t happen for you, if you didn’t have that particular talent, what do you think you would be otherwise?

JC: Do you know what, it’s funny, isn’t it? Because probably like yourself, it’s changed a million times over the years. Because when I was an actor, if they said if you weren’t an actor, what would you be? I would have said a screenwriter. And so to now say, if I wasn’t a screenwriter, what would I do?

FF: I guess acting would be the obvious answer.

JC: Well, you know what, it wouldn’t actually. I don’t think I would go backwards, I think I would probably go forwards. In a sense that Scribe Lounge has taught me how much I adore working with other writers and seeing their material and watching it evolve, watching it get better. As part of what we do at Scribe Lounge, we run monthly writing groups as part of our memberships and writers submit the first 10 pages of their script every month. And then we put them in different groups and sometimes those scripts get re submitted each month in a different group. But I’m in every group as part of the feedback so I get to read it every time. And to watch their work evolve and get better, and some of these writers are fantastic, it’s so exciting to see that happen.

As part of my screenwriting career, I’ve always wanted to produce. I would love to produce, I would love to exec produce, I would love to have a production company and make stuff. That would be amazing, that sort of real top end stuff. And so, in all honesty, if I wasn’t screenwriting, I think I would be developing. I think I’d be execing, I think I’d be producing. That’s what I would end up doing naturally, I should imagine.

Credits

Video Editor & Visual Effects: Richard Williams
Transcription & Editor: Keren Davies