NFTS Stories - “I wouldn't pretend it was an easy ride, but neither is the industry, and that's the amazing thing about the NFTS"

NFTS News

NFTS Stories - “I wouldn't pretend it was an easy ride, but neither is the industry, and that's the amazing thing about the NFTS"

Jess O'Kane - Screenwriting MA Graduate

Welcome to our latest NFTS story, a series of blogs featuring our alumni talking about where they were before they came to the School and where they are now (follow the series by using the #NFTSStories hashtag across Twitter and Instagram). Jess graduated from the Screenwriting MA in 2017 and is now working as a playwright on her sell out tragi-comedy Rut and writer for BBC’s Casualty. Her first short film, Faithful, was directed by Cannes Nominee, BAFTA winner and NFTS Directing Fiction MA graduate Rory A Stewart and was nominated for Best Short Film at Edinburgh Film Festival. Her commercial work has received the Kodak NAHEMI Prize and a British Arrow nomination.

What were you doing before applying to the NFTS? I studied English at Exeter University. I finished early and moved to Berlin for a bit. I was working at a Nathan Barley-esque website over there when I was accepted to NFTS. Thank god. My only exposure to screenwriting had been a module at University, where everything just clicked and it started off a screenplay frenzy.


What are you doing now? I'm spread pretty thin over a lot of projects. My play Rut performed a sell-out run at Theatre503 after I graduated, and I've recently developed it into a longer piece. I've completed a short film called The Devil's Harmony, about an acappella group that go mad and start attacking people, starring Patsy Ferran which will be out in a few months. I'm working on a feature film about children and dogs in South East London, that I'm hoping to develop further when I take part in BAFTA Crew this year. I was selected for the ‘BBC Writers Room Shadow Scheme’ for BBC’s Casualty. My first episode, which I co-wrote with Casualty veteran Jeff Povey, aired recently. I'll be commissioned in September for my solo episode. I was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize for short fiction last year, developing a thriller idea for ITV with RED and endlessly trying to start a serious novel. Most of the time it feels like I'm just watching TV and eating biscuits, but I suppose I'm making progress!


(Still from shortfilm Devil's Harmony, directed by Dylan Holmes Williams)

How has studying at the NFTS helped you in your journey to your current career? I wouldn't have a career without NFTS. I didn't know anybody in the business, I had zero professional experience or industry knowledge. I was a foetus who hadn't even seen Bicycle Thieves. I made great friends and connections, met some really talented filmmakers and got to be creative without any constraints. The school is full time and intensive, so you learn to be disciplined and serious about your craft. That's a real gift. I wouldn't pretend it was an easy ride, but neither is the industry, and that's the amazing thing about the NFTS - by the time you come out, you've seen it all before.


(Still from Series 32 of BBC's Casualty - Episode written by Jess O'Kane)

What advice would you give to an aspiring NFTS student? Trust your gut. Believe in your choices. Avoid the canteen jambalaya.


(Still from Faithful)

If you were stranded on a desert island, which film, TV boxset or video game would you take? I still haven't seen Bicycle Thieves!


(Bicycle Thieves directed by Vittorio De Sica)

Visit our website for further information on the Screening MA - http://www.nfts.co.uk/screenwriting