On July 2nd I spent a day at the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, publicising the website and being on the panel for a session on ‘Showrunning’ and how this US trend is beginning to catch on in UK TV drama. The Festival was held in and around a beautiful country house near Cheltenham and it provides a great and rare opportunity for the screenwriting community in the UK to get together for three days and compare notes. It’s set up so that there’s ample opportunity for all the delegates (of whom there must have been a few hundred) to socialise (I resist using the term ‘networking’) and share experiences.
It’s an invaluable chance to meet people sharing similar experiences as well as catching up with old mates. For me it was a great chance to meet up with a lot of familiar faces and to put faces to writers with whom I’ve been working on scripts from the website. It brought home to me the added value of face-to-face meetings.
Added to all that was the attraction of some really interesting – no, more than that – inspiring, guest speakers. On the 2nd day, when I was there, there was a really entertaining talk by Julian Fellowes about the difficulties for a writer of receiving and addressing script notes – which was a salutary lesson to both writers and those on the other side like me(script editors, producers, directors etc.) as well as being very funny. There was also a pitching competition in which 10 admirably brave writers put themselves on the line and pitched to a panel of 4 industry judges and an assembled audience of several hundred. The standard of both delivery and content was really high and any one of 7 or 8 could have won.
Amongst the sessions I had to miss on the day were talks by Christopher Hampton, which again was apparently very inspiring, Barbara Machin (creator of Waking The Dead), Laura Mackie (Head of ITV Drama) and several others. On the other two days the speakers included Mike Leigh, Jane Tranter, Ronald Harwood, Stephen Woolley, Tony Jordan, Kay Mellor and many others.
If you missed it, I can thoroughly recommend this event to any screenwriters for next year.
Double Inspiration? Oh yes I spent two nights last week glued to my computer on BBC i-player watching the absolutely outstanding drama Criminal Justice. 5 hours of drama – and completely gripping from start to finish. To any aspiring TV drama screenwriters out there – this really is the standard to aspire to. Compelling story-telling, engaging, complex, flawed characters; and a piece that had something important to say about the criminal justice system in the UK. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I knew Peter Moffat was a good writer but I didn’t realise he was this good. It reminded me of just how good TV drama made in the UK can be. We spend so much time lauding the plethora of excellent shows from the US – but this was up there with the best of them, and better than most. I recommend to anyone interested in screenwriting who missed it, to seek it out – honestly it can’t fail to inspire and energise your own writing ambitions seeing something this accomplished.