Alumni business spotlight: Nikolaus von Uthmann

Alumni business spotlight: Nikolaus von Uthmann  name

Nikolaus von Uthmann, Media, class of 2000

Freelance screenwriter


What did you study at University of Cumbria and why did you pick this course? 

In 1997, I enrolled at the then-called Cumbria College of Art & Design to study a BA (Hons) in Media. From the second year onward, I opted to follow the audio-visual production route rather than print, since I already had worked as a print journalist and magazine film critic the years before, and I wanted to learn myself what I had been writing about. Back in the days "beyond the millennium" (which was one of our assignment titles) there was an actual printed catalogue called "Media Courses in the UK", which listed every university and college programme regarding media in detail. The practical work in Cumbria was listed with 70%, which triggered my interest. I applied to five different courses via UCAS, got accepted in all but one, and took a tour around England to look at all places. My course tutor Pete Woodhouse, who sadly died while I was in Carlisle, nudged me with charm, and arguments for the college and the city to enrol there. I never regretted my choice. During my time at CCAD I learned to write screenplays (thanks to the wild teachings of the free-spirited Nick Pemberton, also RIP), direct films and multicam stage productions, edit videos, organise projects, and so much more. This college made me into a filmmaker. Winning the Royal Television Society for my final year film LET'S STAY FRIENDS, for which I actually blew up my car, was the cherry on top. 

How has your course helped your employability skills and prospects? 

I hadn't even moved away from Carlisle in the summer of 2000, when I got my first solid job offer from Munich. I organised my move within record time and started working in the commercial production company Naumann Film within a fortnight. There, I became the production manager, as well as the 1st assistant director, plus occasional copywriter, video editor – (doing every job behind the camera besides applying make-up on the way up the ladder), working all over the world on about 120+ commercials e.g., for BMW, Siemens, and Erdinger beer. I stayed there until 2015. So, I'd say my experience from Cumbria made me not only employable, but an asset to the company from the get-go. In the meantime, I continued to pursue my own filmmaking career, making a handful of short films that were screened at around 140 festivals worldwide and won some more international accolades. Also, I continued to hone my screenwriting craft, writing feature-length scripts. In 2011, I was chosen for renowned Authors’ Stipend in Nuremberg as one of only five attendees. In 2015 I dared to leave steady employment and to become a freelance screenwriter. The first skills for my current vocation I also had learned at Cumbria College of Art and Design. 

Tell us about your business, what is the name, when did it start and what do you sell/provide? 

First and foremost, I am a screenwriter for film and TV. Therefore, I come up with my own stories, as well as getting offered projects for existing programmes or time slots. It's half fully creative, half about networking, follow-ups, submissions, and canvassing. The more people you get to know, and the more people know what I can do and like, the better the chances to find the next assignment – or even sell one of my own stories.  

While I always have about two handfuls of projects to juggle, it's hard to get anything produced (which is where the big bucks lie). This year, an episode I penned for the crime procedural series WAPO BERLIN (Water Police Berlin) got produced; it'll get aired in 2023 on the German public network ARD. 

Secondly, I am offering translations for screenplays and film concepts from English to German and vice versa. This is a rather steady flow of assignments that keep the lights on and the fridge filled even in the months I'm in between writing invoices on my creative projects. I also have the chance to learn from my peers while translating, which is advancing my own creative craft. 

Who is involved in the running and development of your business? 

Although I'm a "solo entrepreneur", I’m also with the talent agency Neue Pegasus to take on some of the trickier sides of business, such as negotiating contracts with the production companies. My agent and I also speak regularly about my career plan, how I fit in the current market, and target the matching companies, producers, and network editors. That said, networking is still a big part of my everyday work: via phone, e-mail, social media, or – when there's not a plague rampaging out there – in person on festivals, conferences, and in scheduled meetings all over the country. 

Who are your target customers?  

Film and TV producers as well as network editors, and in the best case an audience down the line – who appreciate heartfelt stories told with a good sense of humour. 

Plus, there are the translation assignments for film and TV projects, which I often get through a recommendation from former clients. Apparently, I'm not bad at that – since I also have quite a few returning customers. 

How is your business developing, have you secured any major customers or contracts? 

It’s growing slowly but steadily. Besides the projects already mentioned, I’m always working on original scripts as well as being hired to develop, polish or script-doctor projects from production companies. Now and then, I get hired to work on commercials and other advertising jobs that pay well. So sometimes it feels like I made it. Yet sometimes it feels like I’m “failing upwards”, as in that the rejections are on increasingly higher levels and are better paid before the projects get cancelled. That said, I’m currently working on a handful of feature and TV series projects that – if/when they get made – would be major game-changers. For example, there’s this Cold War comedy that I’m really excited about. I already got a production company on board, as well as a well-established director and a known leading actor attached. There has been a first positive reaction from a major network: Fingers crossed! 

What are you most proud of? 

I’m still full of stories I want to tell. Besides the everyday struggle against procrastination, I really like writing (and not only the “glad to have written” rear-view relief). I dared to leave a steady and well-paid job in commercial film production to pursue my own freelance projects, which I haven’t regretted despite the rocky path that I’ve been travelling ever since.  

I’ve been working in the media for well over a quarter century and haven’t given up. Back in my student days at CCAD, one of the inescapable songs was “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba; on tougher days, the chorus could by my mantra: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.” 

What are your aspirations for the future of your business? 

Getting more of my screenplays turned into films and TV series! And getting filthy rich doing so, obviously. Since nobody knows any screenwriter names, I’m not expecting to get famous though. 

What is your advice for anyone looking to start their own business? 

Research the current situation on the market, which can start with something mundane like knowing what’s on telly on which weekdays. Meet business insiders and ask smart questions. Yet: Don’t try to know everything about your intended adventure before you start. Because if you know too much about the failures, hardships, trials and tribulations ahead, you’d never dare venturing out. Set yourself attainable goals that will pay for the basic costs of living. Expect to fail regularly and learn from defeats. Try to grow into the community. Think of networking not only as “Who can give me money?” but also as a way to meet fellow workers – as in “horizontal” rather than “vertical” networking. Those colleagues you help out will repay the favour down the line. Be the best version of yourself, but don’t fake to be someone you’re not. Be nice, but don’t swallow all demeaning stuff that gets thrown your way. And remind yourself in darker moments why you wanted to do all this in the first place. 

Anything else you want to add? 

It’s only over when you refuse to get up again. 

Find out more and follow Nikolaus here:  


If you would like your business considered for our 'In the spotlight' series, please complete our alumni business profile from here.