Netflix and Sky set up a writers’ grant with Bisha K Ali

UK industry may be at the top of its game in the world, with creative talent cleaning up major awards ceremonies and anchoring themselves in Hollywood, but the UK system is far from a playground equal for those who try to stand out from different socio-economic or ethnic. various origins.

No one knows this better than Bisha K Ali, a former domestic violence support worker turned television writer, whose impressive credits include “Sex Education” and the upcoming “Ms. Marvel,” but whose career path does not. conventional lacked the cultural capital offered to those entering the industry from privileged backgrounds.

Ali is the driving force behind a new scriptwriting grant jointly backed by streaming giant Netflix and Sky, the European pay-TV operator backed by Comcast. The program will provide six UK writers with a scholarship of £ 22,568 ($ 31,820), a support network and, most importantly, a job at a Netflix or Sky writers’ room that can provide that vital first TV credit.

Ali was inspired to start the scholarship after spotting a five-year-old Facebook memoir in which she quizzed other writers on how they afford the backbone that can lead to gigs in the UK.

“I would ask other writers, ‘Are you facing these issues as well? “I don’t have the money to spend on going to meetings!” She explains, noting that she did not have the additional funds to take time off work full time and come to London to network.

“Like, how much does an oyster [travel] cost of the card? It is so expensive. And those costs just added up. How many people have the financial support to be able to get started and market themselves as a writer in our field without a large sum of money that you just have access to? Ali asks.

Hounslow-born Ali, through her agents, landed her first writing job on Netflix’s “Sex Education” before heading to the United States to work on Mindy Kaling’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” for Hulu and ultimately land the job of chief writer for “Ms. Marvel,” about a Muslim teenager raised in New Jersey who realizes she has superpowers. The show, which features the first superhero Muslim studio, is an important turning point for Marvel and representation through its franchises.

Ali was sharing his experiences with Anne Mensah, Netflix’s vice president for original series in the UK, when the former Sky executive – a longtime champion of representation in the UK industry – suggested that the SVOD with deep pockets could help to set up an initiative.

“When the fellows come out, I want it to have a real and measurable impact,” Ali notes. The scholarship makes it easier for them to focus on their craft, while the addition of Sky as a partner opens up the fellowship pool of connections within another broadcaster, which also happens to be a key national player.

The writer also wanted scholarship holders to have their first televised credit by the end of the scholarship: “Getting that first credit is so difficult,” Ali admits. “It’s one of the biggest obstacles when you break in. Within 18 months of starting the program, Ali hopes that each fellow will be able to obtain agent representation.

Ali awards credits to programs born out of the US studio system, where writers come out of programs with extensive experience and exposure to different parts of the production process.

“The advantage of the American system is integrated learning for writers. You can be a writer’s assistant or a showrunner’s assistant in a writer’s room, and you’re surrounded by writers doing the writing work for a minimum of 20 weeks, ”says Ali. “So there’s an expectation in that system, whether that assistant becomes a screenwriter for the next season, or is recommended to be a screenwriter in a later season of a different show. “

As writing rooms become more common in the UK and more apprenticeships develop, Ali hopes there will be similar opportunities. The question is whether the industry can grow without “doubling or picking up on some of the existing biases” and instead ensuring that “inclusion is built into expansion”.

As the first year of the Netflix-Sky Fellowship will focus on selecting writers from black, Asian, and ethnic and racial minorities, Ali emphasizes the importance of recognizing the barriers to social mobility and the challenges faced by those who are from the working class looking to work in film and television.

“There are walls that people who are part of the establishment, under the status quo, don’t even realize they exist,” says Ali. She notes a personal experience in which she was asked to meet a producer at a membership club, but was unsure of what a membership club was.

“I didn’t know it existed, and it’s part of the elite structure,” Ali notes. “Most of these production companies have their meetings in membership clubs or take you out for drinks or dinner. Even this space is an elitist space.

There is a mismatch in life experience, she says, and it’s a problem – not talked about enough in Britain.

“When someone who is not from this world walks into that meeting and doesn’t know what space is, and the space is a little hostile towards them, and frankly, they don’t look like the other people in these spaces, we ‘I face six other barriers to entry for a single meeting,’ says Ali.

Apply for the Screenwriters Scholarship here.
Read Netflix and Sky’s vision for the show here.