Meet Rachael Alford, Master of Screenwriting graduate, University of Melbourne

Actor and writer Rachael Alford. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Actor and writer Rachael Alford. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

An actor and writer, Rachael Alford recently graduated from the Master of Screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts. Here, she talks about her approach to work, her passion for the creative arts, and what it’s like to delve into fictional worlds of her own creation.

You need a lot of self-discipline to do this course – it’ll prove to you very quickly if you actually do want to write or not. Luckily for me, it proved that this is exactly what I want to be doing. A lot of the work we did in this course was done at home or in our own time. I’d have classes on the craft and business of screenwriting on Mondays and Tuesdays and met with my mentor once a fortnight – but other than that, I’d be at home or wherever I could find a quiet spot, writing in every free moment I had.

Stories about real people, with real lives, told through great writing and great acting, inspire me. I love a great family drama – especially a television family drama, in which you can follow the characters on a longer journey than you can in film.

I am easily distracted by too much noise – I have to use big sexy noise cancelling headphones or be in a completely silent space to be able to concentrate fully. This isn’t always achievable when you live in Melbourne!

It can be a challenge to stay excited and inspired by what you’re writing. You have to love it, because in this course you’re working on the same project basically for 18 months. If you don’t love your characters or your story, they’ll drive you crazy.

Your friends and family will probably take second place to your script during this course. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to fit everyone in. Luckily for me, I have an incredibly supportive boyfriend and family. They weren’t offended when I said I had to spend time writing instead of seeing them. Having good, supportive people around you during a course like this is so important.

I love delving into a completely fictional world that I have created from scratch. There’s an incredible sense of satisfaction and achievement you feel working on a world that didn’t exist before you thought it up in your own head. The characters begin to take on characteristics and minds of their own and, even though it sounds a little weird, they end up guiding you and telling you where they want to go and what they want to do. When this flow is happening, there’s nothing quite like it.

The moment I handed in my final pilot script and bible for my television show was the course highlight for me. All the work that had lead me up to that moment was done. I could finally take a breath and pat myself on the back. I had created something from scratch and I was proud of it. It was a very sweet feeling.

I don’t know what the next few years hold for me. I’d love it if my television show was picked up and produced here in Melbourne. I’m also going to London for a while, so I’d like to be working on some British television over there, both as an actor and writer. If I can make a living from doing the two things I love most – acting and writing – I will be happy.

The connections I have made during my time at the VCA will be really helpful over the next year. People everywhere know the VCA, so even when I’m travelling, I know I’ll bump into people who will know the institution and the course, and we’ll be able to have common connections. Also, the basic craft tools I’ve learned will always stay with me and will continue to help me to become a better writer.

If you have a passion for anything in the creative arts industry, you have to do it – but be sure that it’s actually your passion and not just a pipe dream. If you want to do it for fame or money or accolades, get out quick and get yourself a “normal” job. But if it really is your passion, then be prepared to work two, three, four jobs at a time that aren’t your passion – I call them “money-making jobs that allow me to pursue my actual career”. It’s not easy. But when you’re doing what you love, and if you can eventually make a career out of it, it will be the best possible life you could have ever dreamed of.