ITV’s Achievement of the Year won by MA Screenwriting alumna Beryl Richards
Beryl Richards at the BAFTA Children’s Awards 2016 with the cast of Secret Life of Boys
Words by Jyoti Mann
Beryl Richards, who graduated from MA Screenwriting in 2000, recently won ITV Studio’s Achievement of The Year for her work celebrating female directors.
Since leaving LCC Beryl has written feature film scripts, lead directed and executive produced for European Broadcasting. This involved working on ten short films a year with their writers and directors to produce a series for 6–12 year olds. She is also Chair of the Board of Directors UK, made up of working directors, who campaign for better working practices.
Speaking about her academic study at LCC, Beryl said: “The MA led me to have much greater involvement in the writing process for series I would then go on and direct, alongside creating my own scripts”.
We got in touch with Beryl, who is currently working on her feature film Wrong Planet, to learn more about her latest achievement, career and experience of professional life since graduating.
Congratulations on receiving ITV Studio’s Achievement of the Year – can you tell us about the process and how it feels to be the recipient?
You don’t know much about it until it is decided. A group of TV professionals meet to discuss a list of possible contenders and vote on the winner. It’s very nice to see your work noticed and honoured. It’s the one award I’ve won where I’ve known in advance and had to keep very quiet about it!
How does it feel to have also received BAFTAs and a Royal Television Award, and could you tell us a bit about what they involved?
As well as the Royal Television Society (RTA) award and a few others, I’ve now won 6 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs), 4 as a director and 2 as an executive producer. All are very welcome! It is always a great moment to be validated by your fellow professionals, and a surprising one.
Why do you feel it is important to promote the achievements of directors – particular female?
It’s very important to become visible, so people notice that you are there and widen the choices of whom they hire. If commissioners or executives only hire people from their own background or in their own image we have narrowed down the world and who tells its stories.
Do you find that it has been more difficult to establish yourself as a female screenwriter and director, and in what ways are the opportunities limited?
I’ve worked professionally as a director since I was 22 so it might seem that it wasn’t so difficult. But I’ve not taken any of the established paths as they were blocked for me. Like many female directors my CV has often been described as eclectic. This is largely a negative comment which tends to mean unfocused. But what your CV tends to reflect is the pattern of having to move sideways, and the opportunities you have been given. As a writer, my first break came by a female executive producer early in my career. I wish there were more like her out there…
In what way do you feel the work of female directors can differ from that of male directors, and why is there a need for more women in this role?
I think you need a range of voices and visions to give us true creativity and really good stories. With directors I tend to be able to spot the difference between the male and the female gaze, and I don’t just want to see one way of looking at the world. It can never be good to exclude 50% of the voices and visions in our world.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming feature film Wrong Planet and series The Secret Life of Boys?
The Secret Life of Boys is an interactive comedy series for CBBC. It’s about a family of 4 boys who have their Australian cousin Ginger come to stay with them. Everyone is hiding secrets, especially Ginger. The first series just won a BAFTA, and the second series of 10 episodes is due to air in March 2017.
Wrong Planet is still on its production-funding journey. I hope to continue filming it later in 2017 with release in 2018. Wrong Planet is the story of my son’s rebellious journey through a special school specialising in ADHD, autism and dyslexia.
What advice do you wish you were given when first starting out?
As a director (and maybe a writer too) the best opportunities are likely to come in your late 20s and 30s, don’t let them pass you by.
What advice would you give to prospective screenwriting students?
I think you can only get better by writing quite a lot. Make sure people know you are out there.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Not really a specific series or single film, but what I’ve enjoyed most is having control over who I work with – once you build your own family to make a series or film it can be a joy.