CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE ENTRIES 2013 + OTHER THOUGHTS
I’ve finally finished working my way through the 1600 script entries for the 2013 Channel 4 screenwriting course. It’s been a time-consuming but hugely rewarding process – so many good scripts, so much great writing. But the fact that there are so many good scripts makes choosing the ‘best’ 12 a very tricky process.
My self-imposed mid-December deadline has slipped a little I’m afraid but I will be letting the successful applicants know early next week.
Doing this sort of intensive, high-volume reading is always really educational for me as script editor, producer and writer.
There is such a wonderful array of imaginative, entertaining human stories. My mind is spinning with the number of stories that have passed in front of my eyes in the last few weeks. Picking the top 12 is a really privileged but at the same time difficult position to be in. I know I’m going to be lucky enough to be able to work with some really exciting writers over the next 6 months – but that I’m going to be disappointing many, many more probably equally talented writers.
As I said, there are so many good scripts – but at the same time, one thing that I’ve noticed is how relatively rare are those scripts that tackle really huge, headline-grabbing stories. I’d have to say there aren’t that many scripts where I could pitch the idea behind them in one pithy sentence that makes you think, ‘Wow, what a great, original idea, I wish I’d thought of that.’ And the ones that do have this quality really stand out. Obviously, it’s then also about the execution of that idea. But finding a completely compelling, wonderfully dramatic (or comic) idea is so much at the heart of a successful script.
And while reading all these scripts, at the same time this week I’ve been struck by the range of completely extraordinary and inherently dramatic stories there have been in the press, stories that are almost too jaw-dropping to be true, but that could inspire all sorts of dramatic ideas.
For instance –
The nurse who committed suicide, after the Australian radio station prank call to the King Edward VII hospital, where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was staying.
A mother took her young son into hiding to avoid him having the radiation treatment the doctors say he needed for his brain tumour. This is an extraordinary, emotive story – that touches on so many issues – medical ethics, mother \ child relationships, divorce, going into hiding, life and death – the dramatic possibilities are endless. And it all stems from a ‘dramatic premise’ that is simple yet compelling.
And tucked away on the inside pages of several papers…Ex-Head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn settles out of court with the maid in the NYC Hotel whom he allegedly brutally sexually assaulted. Again this story is so extraordinary you couldn’t make it up. A once hugely powerful political figure – tipped to be in the running for the French presidency – having to pay off his accuser. And he still has to face charges in France of ‘aggravated pimping related to an alleged prostitution ring’.
These are just a few examples of completely extraordinary stories from one week’s news – an illustration of how we all as writers and creatives need to keep our ear to the ground, and tap into the extraordinary and dramatic events that happen every single week.
ITV – THE TOWN
I’m hugely encouraged when a script as smart, funny and reveling in humanity as Mike Bartlett’s ‘The Town’ appears in a peaktime ITV 9pm weekday slot. Particularly when it’s by a writer brand new to television.
Despite how it often appears to those on the outside, the world of TV drama really is constantly on the lookout for the sort of new, exciting talent that Mike Bartlett represents.
COMEDY RULES by Jonathan Lynn
I read this book recently – a mix of autobiography and ‘rules of comedy writing.’
There are some great screenwriting insights in this book from someone who has done some great work (co-creator of ‘Yes Minister’) and clearly knows what he’s talking about.
And nearly all of his ‘comedy’ rules apply equally to drama.
Here are a few of his ‘rules’ –
5 ‘In all comedy the driving force of the story must be a hideous dilemma for one or more of the characters.‘
…which applies equally strongly to drama.
6 ‘The audience won’t care if the characters don’t.‘
…something that occurs to me so often when I’m reading scripts. So simple but so true.
15 ‘The audience laughs because it recognizes something truthful.’
…ie the best comedy (and drama) is rooted in a recognizable reality.
25 ‘Romantic comedy requires a good reason why the man and woman cannot be together.‘
Again, simple but so true.
33 ‘If you want to be a writer, start writing and keep writing.’
36 ‘There is no such thing as bad taste.’
45 ‘At the start of your career, take any job you can get.‘
48 ‘Don’t trust producers you don’t know‘ (!)
…and many, many more such pearls of wisdom.
Oh yes, and rule no.1 ‘There are exceptions to every rule in this book.’
I thoroughly recommend this book. As well as being very wise, it’s also very funny.
Until next week,
All the best
Dec 14th 2012