Tips for scriptwriters from Mary Waireri talks, Filmarket Hub’s 2020 Feature Film Screenwriting Contest winner

We introduce you to Mary Waireri, British screenwriter and winner of our 2020 Feature Film Screenwriting Contest winner with her script “Exiles”.

Mary’s thriller explores the life of a British doctor who returns to Kenya, the country she fled as a young girl when suddenly her twin brother goes missing while investigating a mysterious conspiracy.

Could you tell us about your journey as a screenwriter?

I’ve always dreamed of telling stories — the problem was that I just wasn’t sure I could actually do it! Eventually, the curiosity became too much so a few years ago I started taking screenwriting classes and experimenting with short films, which I loved. However, the big breakthrough in my development as a writer was taking the screenwriting certificate at the National Film and Television school where I embarked on my first feature film project. Completing a feature that was well received gave me a lot of confidence. I then went on to be shortlisted for the BBC Scriptworks & Thousand Stories competition and was recently selected to take part in a Netflix Episodic lab for African stories. I’m still an emerging writer so the journey is far from complete but my career has progressed significantly this year and I’m excited for what the future holds!

What can you tell us about EXILES? What was the original concept behind the story?

EXILES is a conspiracy Thriller about Naomi Kamaru a British doctor who returns to Kenya — the country she fled as a young girl — after her twin brother goes missing while investigating a shadowy conspiracy. The inspiration is actually a true story about the lead poisoning of a poor rural community in Kenya and subsequent government cover-up. Like the case of Flint, Michigan and countless other examples of environmental injustice globally, it made me angry about the way in which injustice against the most vulnerable is so allowed to persist unabated but I was also inspired by the David-and-Goliath stories of regular people standing up for what’s right, no matter the cost.

Why did you submit your script to our screenwriting contest?

I’d spent a year developing and writing the script so I felt confident that I had told a story that readers would enjoy. However, I also wanted the chance to get notes from producers and execs and hopefully make new contacts.

What were your expectations after you won the contest?

I can’t say that I specifically expected anything but I was really pleased about the opportunity to meet several producers and develop my network and contacts!

One of the benefits of winning the contest was that your script was read by executives from Archery Pictures, Ecosse Films, Magnolia Mae Films, Protagonist Pictures, StudioCanal and Brian Walters (Development Executive at the BFI). What feedback did they give you?

Overall the response to my script and my writing was incredibly encouraging. I received notes around developing areas of my world and character that have really helped me elevate the script further and influenced my writing for the better.

You were also invited to our 2021 UK Pitchbox. How did you prepare for it and what were your expectations for that event?

Again, it’s hard to say I had concrete expectations beyond the chance to make new contacts but in terms of preparation, I created a pitch film for the script and focused on explaining the world, story and characters in a visual and inspiring way as possible. I also had a concise one or two sentences up my sleeve that I could use to talk about the concept concisely as I know the pitch meetings were short.

What is the current development status of EXILES?

I have expanded the feature into an episodic concept and submitted it for a Sony Pictures Episodic development lab so watch this space!

As the winner of the contest, you received a number of prizes, what was the most valuable?

Definitely meeting with execs and producers, understanding what they were looking for and how they perceived my script/writing!

Do you have any routines or writing habits you could recommend to improve one’s professional skills as a writer?

Setting deadlines is really key to keep pushing you forward. There’s always an excuse not to write (because it’s hard!) but if you have a deadline, then you just have to get something down on paper. After that, you can re-write but you need to get over that initial hurdle of putting pen to paper.

What inspires you as a writer? What would you like your legacy to be?

I’m definitely inspired by real life — I’m an avid non-fiction reader and podcast listener and love finding weird and wonderful true stories from around the world to feed my imagination.

What advice would you give an emerging screenwriter?

Try to finish things! An imperfect, flawed but finished script is worth more to you than ideas floating around unwritten in your subconscious.

Now it’s your time! Submit your script to our 2021 Feature Film Screenwriting Contest before December the 16th!

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