Interview: Scratch Me 2020 Participants Pt. 2Discover how they found the programme & where they are now
Sian Armstrong, Steph Leigh & Chris McClure talk to us about Scratch Me 2020 and share what they have been up to since then.
With our character development lab Scratch Me returning this year, this time in partnership with Fulwell 73 and Northern Film + Media, we caught up with some of the brilliant creatives from Scratch Me 2020 to discuss why they applied to join the programme, what they enjoyed, what they found challenging and what they have been up to since the lab.
This interview is split into two parts. In this part, we hear from writer-performer Sian Armstrong and director Steph Leigh, who both worked together on the Scratch Me 2020 short STUPID, and writer Chris McClure behind Scratch Me 2020 short film, BRACKNALL. And in part one, we chat to theatre & film director Lily Levin, writer-performer Harry May-Bedell and writer & theatre-maker Melody Sproates.
Note: The deadline to apply for Scratch Me 2022 is Monday 23 May, 12pm (noon)
Sian Armstrong - Writer/Performer
Sian is a performer, theatre-maker, writer and creative practitioner. She created her one woman show STUPID (2017) which toured regionally to sell-out shows. In 2020-21 Sian was awarded a place on Scratch Me (BFI & Film Hub North) where she received mentorship from Baby Cow Productions & adapted STUPID into a short film. Sian was recently commissioned as part of The Dukes 50th Anniversary 2022. She is co-writing GOSSIPS (w/t) a comedy about the women of 1700's Newcastle supported by Live Theatre & Arts Council England. Her performance in Zoe Murtagh's film 'After The Break' is available to watch as part of (BBC4: Female Filmmakers Too) and she has recently been awarded a place on BBC Writersroom: Northern Voices 2022, where she will be developing ideas for a new TV drama. Twitter | Instagram
Steph Leigh - Director
Steph is a writer-director based in Manchester. As one half of a comedy duo, Steph adopts various roles on sketches and creative projects – including producing, writing, directing, performing, editing and scoring. Taking inspiration from the likes of Flight of the Concords, Spaced and Stath Lets Flats, Steph believes that silliness is an artform deserving of more recognition. Twitter | Instagram
Chris McClure - Writer
Chris is currently studying to become a qualified Occupational Therapist and has a keen interest in Mental Health. He has previously written and presented documentaries for NME/VICE which focused on the effect of addiction in the music industry. Chirs co-presented The Owl Sanctuary, a football-based podcast with Sheffield artist Pete Mckee. He has successfully been developing his Steve Bracknall character on social media for the past 3 years (Twitter | YouTube). You can find Chris online here: Twitter.
Why did you decide to take part in Scratch Me?
Sian: I was really interested in how the programme focused on character. When I applied for Scratch Me I didn’t have any experience writing for film & TV, but I knew I understood character really well from my theatre experience, so it felt possible for me, it felt exciting to apply what I knew about character already and adapt that for Film & TV.
I wanted to learn more about being a writer & performer for screen. I wanted to understand how those two roles could be used to my advantage in the film world. I also really wanted some really practical tools for how I could apply my knowledge in theatre-making to the TV & Film world.
Steph: I wanted to stay creative during the pandemic as I had an incredibly boring day job, so it helped me stay focused on my goals during a rather bleak time. I’d also never worked with a crew outside of my friendship circle, so it was amazing practice being on set and communicating with all types of different people.
Chris: Prior to my application I had been developing a comedy character (Steve Bracknall) online for just under 12 months. With the support of my friend I had managed to gain a significant amount of interest on Twitter and YouTube. I wanted to prove to myself that the character and videos could work at a higher production level. Scratch me seemed like the perfect opportunity to do this.
What did you enjoy most during the programme?
Sian: It’s cliché, but I honestly loved it all, I think my favourite thing though has got to be meeting and working with my Director (Steph Leigh) and Producer (Paige Nielson). Wow – what a team! I look back on our time together and I’m still shocked at the amount of work we achieved, in such a short space of time – we transformed an empty warehouse into a school – and it honestly looked like a school!! I couldn’t believe it. That was all down to both of them. I’m so grateful for how the course allowed me to collaborate with other artists interested in the film world, that experience taught me so much, & also meant I had people I could collaborate with in the future, as well as some new friends!
Also goes without saying – but getting mentorship from Megan Cruz from Babycow Productions – that was a definite highlight!
Steph: Working closely with the lovely Sian Armstrong to bring the character to life and genuinely learning so much from the people I worked with. Even the stuff that I didn’t like about the final film has helped me learn more about my style and what I’d do differently next time.
Chris: I really enjoyed working with a script editor for the first time. The people at Film Hub North did an amazing job of pairing us with people who would understand the world our character lived in. The advice I got at the script editing stage was priceless and made me want to be less protective of my work. Script writing is a skill that should be practiced in order to improve. I absolutely loved receiving feedback from my script editor on what was working well and especially what wasn’t working so well.
What did you find challenging?
Sian: For me the biggest challenge was lack of time, I was learning so much, and processing all this new information for the first time, and then having to put it into practice straight away – whilst also at the time, juggling a full time job! … That was a challenge and a lot of pressure, and meant I had to plan my time really carefully – and sometimes meant I was on Zoom from 8am until 10pm.
At the same time, it was also a really good learning curve in understanding how the TV/Film industry actually works – and how quick you sometimes just have to get things done!... You don’t have as many tea breaks as you get in theatre – that’s for sure!
Another challenge I suppose was understanding how to manage feedback on my writing. At times I had a sea of voices all commenting and sharing their thoughts on the script (all very valuable & informative!) but it was times like this having a mentor was so useful – Megan was the anchor I needed, she gave me one clear voice to listen to, when it all felt a bit crowded in my head.
Steph: Getting a flat tyre on my way from Manchester to Newcastle at 6am on the morning of the shoot… But directing is problem solving! So it readied me for the shoot ahead, which was all uphill from there.
Chris: Steve Bracknall has been an idea of mine for nearly eight years. It is a very personal character and something that is extremely precious to me. Having trust in the director and producer was paramount to the lab being a success. This came with challenges in terms of having to explain why certain ideas wouldn’t fit within the world I was trying to create. These conversations are natural and are vital for any idea to develop. Scratch me provided us all with an opportunity to have these difficult but productive conversations. It sometimes meant letting go of old ideas that had been holding me back previously just as much as “sticking to my guns”. You have the respect for the talents of the people you’re working alongside and trust that you’re all working towards a common goal.
What have you and your character been up to since the lab?
Sian: Scratch Me really was the stepping stone I needed in developing my voice as a writer and performer for TV & Film. I felt like the programme really gave me the self-confidence I was looking for, helping me put my ideas for screen out into the world.
Since the Scratch Me programme I have continued developing STUPID to spec script stage, and I’m currently in the process of developing lots more new ideas for screen. I have recently been awarded a place on Northern Voices: BBC Writersroom 2022, which is such an exciting next step, and will help develop my screen-writing skills even further. Something I feel I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go for if I hadn’t done the Scratch Me programme!
Steph: I’ve been doing some art department work, most recently working on Gentleman Jack season 2 which has been great fun. But, directing wise, I’m working on a BFI funded short film, co-written by myself and my comedy partner, Mo.
Chris: Scratch Me provided me with the confidence that my character could work in long form. At the start of the lab, I had the classic imposter syndrome feeling. I’d never written a script before. I have recently finished writing a 30 minute pilot episode which is about to be sent out to production companies. The 3-minute short film we produced gained recognition from national radio (Talksport) and was shown at independent film festivals. It also gave me the ability to show on my social media channels that my idea works at a higher level of production. Our most recent video gained 300k views online and was shared by Gary Lineker. So it continues to grow. Scratch Me gave me confidence that working class writers with no previous opportunities could be heard and could be given a chance if their characters/script is strong enough.
Since Scratch Me I have also written 2 x short film scripts and have recently started to develop another comedy character called Kevin Mason. A recovering alcoholic who completes his community service in a charity shop.
Sian Armstrong, Steph Leigh and Chris McClure took part in the Scratch Me 2020 character development lab delivered by Film Hub North’s BFI NETWORK team in partnership with Screen Yorkshire and SIGN (Screen Industries Growth Network).
Image credit: (1) Sian Armstrong, Steph Leigh and Chris McClure. L-R. (2) Scratch Me 2020 short film, STUPID - written by Sian Armstrong, directed by Steph Leigh (3) Scratch Me 2020 short film, BRACKNALL - written by Chris McClure, directed by Beth Rowland.