ScreenSkills explains how the New Writers Programme, funded by the High-end TV Skills Fund, helped bring BBC drama The Responder to the screen.

The drama The Responder is not only a hit with BBC viewers – it was a masterclass in offering training opportunities from its very inception.

The Liverpool-based show, starring Martin Freeman as a first responder police officer, began life thanks to the ScreenSkills’ New Writers Programme. Funded by the High-end TV Skills Fund and delivered by Dancing Ledge Productions who went on to produce this series, it saw emerging writers awarded a bursary and an industry mentor with the clear aim of getting scripts onto screen.

Tony Schumacher was mentored by Jimmy McGovern who encouraged him to develop an idea based on his own experience as a police officer in Liverpool. ”Those few months working with Jimmy and ScreenSkills changed my life,” Tony said.

“The bursary meant that I could focus fully on the script that became The Responder, while the advice and encouragement from Jimmy meant that I could polish a rough idea into a piece of high-end TV. That wasn’t all though. ScreenSkills, Dancing Ledge and Jimmy were like a magic key when it came to opening doors at the BBC, where The Responder finally found its home. I’ll be forever grateful.”

When it came time for production, the High-end TV Skills Fund supported further opportunities for new and existing talent in the North West.

Barrington Robinson had been making short form content for years, but had found it difficult to break into high-End TV. When Liverpool Film Office told him about the ScreenSkills’ High-End TV Co-Producer Programme, he seized the opportunity.

He said: “If you have a film background, it’s really hard to get into HETV. ScreenSkills has given me a route into something I may not have had access to if I hadn’t been part of this programme. I looked at TV like the castle beyond the moat, but the drawbridge was up! This programme provides direct access. It was a perfect match, particularly as it was being made in my home city of Liverpool.”

There was a placement, too, for Charlotte Manifold, stepping up to the role of assistant production coordinator through ScreenSkills’ HETV Make a Move programme which helps crew advance to a more senior role. “Make a Move gave me the confidence to step up to assistant production coordinator and was a great help in taking that important step in my career,” she said.

Natalie Anderson,  from Garston in Liverpool, was a prop trainee on the ScreenSkills Trainee Finder paid placement programme. “I had no film or TV background before and didn’t know anybody who worked in the industry. If it wasn’t for ScreenSkills and my uni giving me the opportunities they have, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have. I’d still be trying to get in.”

Several ScreenSkills alumni also worked on the series. Jay Kishan Patel had been on the Trainee Finder programme in 2017-18, making contacts who helped him secure a first assistant editor role on The Responder as well as editing one of the episodes. ”ScreenSkills gives people the tools to get into it, but also enables people of different backgrounds to come into the industry and develop their career,” he said.

Jon Creamer

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