Hollywood loves superheroes. Audiences love superheroes. And while we all grumble about them now and then nothing beats a fantastic origin story. I have one for you. Thirty-three mild mannered screenwriters haunted by rejection and trauma are drawn together in the mythical Ealing Studios. Whilst there, as the wisest warrior mentors school them in the ancient written arts and force them to face their greatest fears, they band together to form the ultimate superhero alliance: Talent Campus.
Sounds cool, eh? Well it is cool, and will always remain so. Because Talent Campus is more than a mentoring and professional development programme. It is a mindset, a community and a way of life. More importantly, it is life changing. We are not the same people who walked into Ealing in late July. We are so much more. We are stronger, more awesome. We are unstoppable.
But our powers can be yours. What we learnt is within the grasp of any creative person. Here are five ways Talent Campus has made us superheroes, and how it can make a superhero of you too.
1. Embrace The Fear
“Why bats, Master Wayne?” “Bats frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.”
In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne is lost. An aimless soul squandering his potential and hiding from his destiny. It’s a character description that as screenwriters we’re very used to: that’s pretty much how we see ourselves. His fear of bats, and the trauma of his parents’ death, is what holds him back. It is not until he confronts his fears (entering the cave and surrounding himself with thousands of flying critters) then embraces those fears (taking on the criminal underworld as a giant bat) that he can become what he was meant to be. “A Legend, Mr Wayne!”
Talent Campus forced us all to confront and overcome our fears, both as the starting point of our journey and consistently throughout. Fears of failure, of not being good enough, of pitching our ideas, of being “found out,” even fears of success, by sharing them with the group they were dragged out of the darkness and into the light. We each saw two things: that it was all in our head, and that we were not alone. This was perhaps the most powerful and most rewarding element of the programme. The rationale was simple: it is not our talent but our baggage that sabotages our dreams. But the impact was profound. Before we were afraid to call ourselves writers. Now we will regularly walk across broken glass for flaming hot coals. And what could be more superhero than that?
If you can be honest with yourself about the fears holding you back, say them aloud and deal with them head on, you can be super too. But to do that, you will need to…
2. Build Your Own Super Team
In Batman And Robin George Clooney’s Caped Crusader infamously intoned, “This is why Superman works alone!” It’s one of many reasons the film is dreadful. It’s also not true. While the Man of Steel may fly solo over the streets of Metropolis, he is never truly alone. He is guided by the wisdom of Jor-El, has his wits matched with (and feet kept on the ground by) Lois Lane, and always gets perfect Facebook profile pics from Jimmy Olsen. The Dark Knight himself is also far from a lone wolf. The dogged Commissioner Gordon, loyal Dick Grayson and the all knowing, sage and excellent caffeinated beverage provider Alfred all push him on, and that’s even before you bring together the Justice League.
Talent Campus has encouraged us all to build our own Super Team, a group of likeminded screenwriting superheroes fighting to change the world. The community created over the last five months has been nothing short of incredible. Whether grappling with our pitches, sharing opportunities that are perfect for each other or just providing a sympathetic ear, we have bonded in triumph and disaster, helped each other through the darkest of times and challenged each other to fly even higher.
As super as that sounds, that is easily within reach for anyone. If you can assemble a peer group that picks you up when you fall, stands with you when you are tested and celebrates with you when you succeed, you will be invincible. Just don’t fight over who gets the coolest costume.
3. What Matters Is Your Plan
Every superhero needs a supervillain, but few are as focussed as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. A hulking, mask wearing revolutionary zealot, he is determined to destroy Batman and Gotham. A bit extreme, obvs. He also mumbles a lot and is almost impossible to comprehend. But his resolve is very easy to understand, and to admire. As he tells one adversary: “It doesn’t matter who we are; what matters is our plan.” Whilst it’s usually a bad idea for heroes to agree with their nemeses’ manifestoes, it’s pretty close to Batman’s world view: “It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me.” Both are perfect for screenwriters. Regardless of who you are, identify what you truly want, not what others tell you to want, be strategic about how to get it and take concrete action towards achieving it and you will reap the benefits.
Talent Campus showed the value of this time and again, but oddly enough it was the firewalk that illustrated this best of all. In order to test our mettle, and raise money for Alzheimer’s research, we were offered the chance to walk across 15ft of burning hot coals at a temperature of 1500oC. Fear presented itself repeatedly, most powerfully in my case when given the injury waiver form. But with the fire in front of me I was Fearless. I don’t remember walking across the coals; I remember having walked across them. The lesson: Once you’ve committed to it, it’s done. And so it is with writing. Fear always makes something seem much worse than it actually is, and while I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt afterwards (it’s fire for goodness’ sake) pain is easier to deal with after an achievement. It wasn’t even the most painful experience I’d had that week.
If you identify what you want, plan how to get it and take meaningful steps towards achieving your goals, not only will you succeed but you will also be flameproof. Bane would be proud.
After all, “The Fire Rises!”
4: You Need a Good Theme Tune…
As anyone who has ever been to LSF can attest, those folks are crazy! Boundless energy, overflowing with positivity and the widest smiles found in the capital. Their enthusiasm is infectious, their confidence contagious. How can you be like them? Simple. It’s all in the mind. And the music.
At the start of Talent Campus, we frequently had to jump up and down, dance around and make surely illegal amounts of noise. At first it seemed almost stupid: we’re British, thank you very much! Harrumph harrumph, terrible weather, yours disgustedly e.t.c. e.t.c. But within seconds the self consciousness evaporated and was replaced by sheer joy. The fist pumping music was merely a shortcut. It transported us to that place where we felt what we are deep down: awesome. So we could feel awesome and be awesome by listening to awesome. Superheroes know this: Superman has John Williams or Hans Zimmer flying through his head. Batman has Zimmer too, as well as Danny Elfman and Nanananananana… BATMAN!!! blaring through his brain. Your theme tune is out there too. It may be a rock ballad, a pop anthem or an orchestral score. But when you need to be your own hero, all you need is the music.
5: And A Super Pose
Chris Jones, the superhero of all superheroes and Creative Director of LSF, calls it the Wonder Woman, and it works for me! Chin up, chest out and fists on your hips: the power flows through you. It makes you smile that infectious smile and gives you the confidence to do anything. I felt nervous before a big pitch recently, and found myself impersonating Themyscira’s favoured daughter. I got two script requests out of it, so while the projects themselves are clearly super in their own right, that sense of self-belief was what clinched it in my mind.
There’s still lots of work to do, but now that Talent Campus has made me a superhero, when the door opened even a little I flew straight through it.
You can too.
Artist and Filmmaker