Another weekend, another course. Last Saturday and Sunday I was running my two day screenwriting course with writer Phil Gladwin, ‘The Authoritative Guide To Writing – And Selling – A Great Screenplay‘. And I thought I’d run through some of the highlights for you….
We limit numbers on this course to 20 because it’s quite interactive and we like to have time and space for everyone to contribute. For the writers, apart from anything else, it’s a great chance to meet and talk to 19 other screenwriters in a relaxed and unpressured environment – and we try to keep this going afterwards with our Facebook page that’s exclusive to the writers who have been on our course and which is now always full of great insights and shared information about screenwriting ideas and opportunities.
We start the course on the Saturday morning with some idea-generating exercises, getting people to think on their feet, putting them under time pressure, and asking them to trust their instinct rather than their intellect. The key to this session is parking your ‘ego’ and avoiding ‘self-censorship’.
We think some of the techniques we introduce in this session can play an important role in the work of any screenwriter. Finding and then developing original and exciting ideas – and being able to enjoy thinking on your feet – is a key part of a screenwriter’s work.
And for us this session is always hugely entertaining – we’re always amazed and impressed by the quality and, above all, the sheer originality of the ideas that come out of this session.
More than one writer from our courses have taken the ideas that have come out of this hour of creative brainstorming and gone onto develop it into a fully-fledged project \ script.
The next session is Phil Gladwin’s excellent ‘What Is Drama?’ Phil introduces the outlining and writing techniques that he has honed and developed over his many years of successful screenwriting. Phil has worked with a lot of excellent people over the years and gradually developed his own planning and writing method – and he offers many fascinating and perceptive insights – about how stories work, and about how to create characters.
Our packed morning ends with a session I do about DIALOGUE, with 6 key ideas about what makes for successful dialogue. I use two wonderful clips from the BBC serial ‘Criminal Justice’ (Peter Moffat) and the movie ‘The Lives of Others’ (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) to illustrate and analyse how screenplay dialogue can work at its very best.
Early Saturday afternoon we do another (even more interactive but fun – I won’t spoil the surprise!) creative exercise. It’s about creating characters from a single line of dialogue – getting our writers to work on the principle that characters drive stories – not the other way round.
Finally, on Day One, with clips from The Sopranos, Breaking Bad or Six Feet Under, we discuss the creation and realisation of TV drama series – and how you should go about crafting your own series idea – after all, the new, original, repeatable drama series is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that all commissioning editors are looking for!
Then it’s round the corner to the very excellent Norfolk Arms where the discussions continue!
Whereas day one is more about the craft and creativity, DAY TWO is largely about the business of screenwriting – how you get yourself and your writing noticed, how you get your foot in the door – and how you sustain a career as a screenwriter.
So, for instance, Phil G talks us through his CV, analysing how he got the writing gigs he’s got – with very interesting conclusions.
I then approach this from the other side – and talk about why I have hired some of the writers I’ve hired – and why some of the best scripts of the Channel 4 entrants stood out for me – ie what is it about a script and a writer that is going to get you noticed? (and I think the fact that Phil and I both approach the business from different angles – Phil as writer, me as script editor, producer, as someone who employs & selects writers) is one of the things that works for screenwriters who do the course.
Both of these sessions are based on our many combined years of experience working in the business.
Phil G then does an excellent session about the dreaded subject of ‘networking’ – of the importance of contacts, how you approach this part of your working life in an organised and professional way and, above all, how you learn to enjoy it and see it as a virtue, rather than dread it!
I’ve heard this talk a few times now but I always enjoy it and take something fresh from it.
After a very nice Sunday lunch together with all the writers (and guest speaker) in the cafe next door to our venue, we open the afternoon with our guest speaker – on this occasion, Knight Hall literary agent TANYA TILLETT.
Tanya is an excellent agent – I’ve had clients of hers on the Channel 4 course two out of the three years – and a mine of useful tips for writers at all levels of experience. Literary agents are uniquely placed to have an overview of the writing jobs market, where the current opportunities lie.
Tanya also talked about what you should expect from your agent, what she looks for in new writers she’s thinking of taking on, and thoughts about how to conduct yourself professionally as a writer, and how to increase your chances of success.
Finally we do two sessions about PITCHING – building on the idea-generating exercises from the first day, concluding with the course writers rehearsing then pitching an idea.
Then it’s back to the pub to round things off. Which all makes for an intensive, exhausting but, from my point of view, hugely enjoyable and entertaining weekend.
…which leads me on neatly to tell you that our next course is in London on the weekend of March 16th-17th, with special guest speakers, MATT BOUCH, producer of the E4 hit show, MY MAD FAT DIARY, and Channel 4 drama commissioning editor BEN STOLL. Their double act should be highly entertaining and informative!
We have two further courses organised – May 18 – 19, and July 12-13 – special guests for these courses TBA – WATCH THIS SPACE!
Until next week,
All the best
Feb 1st 2013