CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday Nov 15th
A course for scriptwriters in all media – TV, film, radio, theatre – designed to help you generate exciting ideas and characters, and give your creativity a boost with a day of fun, stimulating writing exercises. Run by TV drama script editor, producer and script consultant PHILIP SHELLEY with guest speaker writer CAT JONES.
This week, 20 answers to my questions from the woman herself – CAT JONES – (see above). Cat was on the 2012 Channel 4 screenwriting course. She writes for screen, radio and theatre, and has had great (and thoroughly deserved) success. In 2013 she won the Pearson Playwright Award and is under commission to the Royal Exchange Theatre and Old Vic under the TS Eliot Commissions Project. Also in 2013, new play HANG DOG was broadcast on R4.
Television credits since she was on the C4 course include DOCTORS, WATERLOO ROAD (Shed/BBC) YOUNGERS 2 (Big Talk) for which she also wrote a music track. Also in 2013 she wrote FLEA, one of the three single films commissioned by the BBC to go out on I-Player in March 2014 and four music tracks for DIXIE, a CBBC online series made by Kindle Entertainment. Original projects BANG UP! and FREYA’S LIST have been optioned by Kindle. Cat is also developing a series with BBC Inhouse Drama called PENALTY, from an idea by Idris Elba.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, a pretty formidable list of credits that Cat has built up over the last couple of years.
CAT JONES : 20 QUESTIONS
1 WHERE DO YOU WRITE ?
I used to write in an office at my house. But my partner works from home too so we were constantly fighting over it. Eventually she won and I moved to the living room. Now I fight over an armchair with my cat.
2 WHEN DO YOU WRITE?
I don’t have set times really. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to put in a full working day but it ended up being a bit counter-productive. I try to work when it feels like I’m enthusiastic and creative. Obviously in order to meet deadlines, sometimes I have to force myself to write when I don’t feel productive, but that’s just the reality of trying to hold down a job.
3 WHAT SORT OF STORIES EXCITE YOU?
Ones that are genuinely surprising. Ones where I can’t predict the outcome. Ones where the characters don’t feel like characters and I can’t sense the presence of the writer and script editor. Ones that include moments that I haven’t seen before.
4 WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF BUILDING A GREAT CHARACTER?
Real people contradict themselves and change their minds, and do things for more than one reason and do things that don’t make sense even to themselves. Sometimes we get so caught up in creating motivated characters that we forget that. The character becomes a set of attributes and motivations that she never behaves outside of. I think great characters are often unpredictable and undefinable and not always the same person.
5, 6 2 WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
I’m a big fan of Jack Thorne. He’s really good at exploring the dark side of people in a way that doesn’t make us view them as villains but makes us consider our own dark side. He’s great at capturing the darkness that exists in ordinary people living normal mundane lives. The most frightening kind. I also think he’s a writer who manages to stay distinctive in an industry that doesn’t always encourage that.
Sally Wainwright is a completely different kind of writer who’s had a very different career path. Because there’s so much of her drama on TV it’s easy to overlook her as a writer who is genuinely brilliant but she is. She has a knack for creating characters that are easy to fall in love with and a brilliant ear for dialogue. Again, she depicts normal people with ordinary lives, but finds a completely unique and distinctive way of doing it. Happy Valley was one of the best shows broadcast anywhere this year. Were it an American show, it would be considered box set cult viewing, but we don’t always treat British drama, particularly that from mainstream broadcasters, with the respect it deserves.
7, 8 2 TV SHOWS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Rather predictably, I have to say Breaking Bad because it does all those things with character that I mention above. Just when you think you’ve pinned Walter down something happens to change your perception of him. I find him terrifyingly unpredictable. The writer isn’t afraid to have him behave out of character.
Recently I’ve really enjoyed True Detective. I think it’s use of time was really interesting and unusual but didn’t feel gimmicky. Also, the lead performances were great.
9, 10 2 FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
I really like Hunger because it breaks a lot of the rules that are associated with film writing. It feels more like a stage play than a film in places. It isn’t frightened to let the dialogue do the work in a way that almost never happens in film. For similar reasons I like Hithcock’s Rope. It’s a great example of how you can keep an audience in one location in real time and keep them utterly gripped. It’s a great example of the difference between story and just a series of events.
11 1 THEATRE SHOW THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Most recently, Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Brilliant writing, a brilliant performance and although I didn’t feel its view of the world resonated with me it had something to say that I hadn’t heard said in a piece of theatre before.
12 DO YOU OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WRITING?
Yes and quite thoroughly too.
13 1 PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SCREENWRITERS JUST STARTING OUT
I think one of the most difficult things to negotiate for me, was my role as a writer on somebody else’s show. They’ve employed you for your creativity and ideas, not just to be a robot and write what’s in their head. But equally it’s somebody else’s project and they have the final say, even in your episode. I think being a good screenwriter can be as much about being flexible and serving a collective vision as it is about serving your own. That isn’t the same as selling out or being a hack, but there is a balance to be struck.
14 WHAT SHOULD THE FILM \ TV INDUSTRY BE DOING FOR SCREENWRITERS THAT IT ISN’T?
Giving them a bit more freedom to be distinctive. I think it’s harder to have an identity as a screenwriter than it is as a playwright. I think the process of getting something made can really bland out the script. There can be too many editorial voices feeding in to the script and it can have a diluting effect on the outcome.
15 WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT THAT MADE YOU START WRITING AND IF SO WHAT WAS IT?
Not really actually. I’ve always been writing in one form or another. I think some of the key moments that have moved me from doing it as a hobby to doing it professionally are (in chronological order): 1) Hearing Jack Thorne speak at an event many years ago. At the time I was more interested in writing prose than drama, but hearing him made me wonder whether the only thing about prose that I really liked writing was the dialogue. 2) Getting the opportunity to work on a show called Prisoners Wives as a prison consultant (I worked in prisons before I became a writer). 3) Taking part in the C4 Screenwriting course – which started to make the possibility of being a professional writer seem like it could be a reality.
16 WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
That sometimes producers go around the houses giving you very vague notes when the note they really want to give, but think you’re too fragile to cope with, is – this isn’t good enough!
17 WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
I think any job that you do from home on your own can be isolating, and that can be a difficult thing. Also, I think the fact that the writer has so little control over the final product can be quite hard. Sometimes the scene doesn’t look on TV like it did in your head. Sometimes the dialogue has even been amended on set – occasionally to something cringy that you would never write!
18 WHAT IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
Being finished. I’m not someone who massively enjoys the process. I think things get much more interesting and enjoyable once the script is in production.
19 WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF (AS A WRITER) FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
Working on shows I have created hopefully. Maybe directing too. I think as you build up a track record, people put more faith in you, so hopefully over time you get closer to writing the things you really want to write.
20 AND FINALLY – ONE SURPRISING (NON-WRITING RELATED!) FACT ABOUT YOU.
I’m a twin. Some people find that interesting. He’s Matt Jones and he has a very sensible job and wears a suit to work.
Thank you very much to Cat for those really thought-provoking and inspiring answers.
(You can follow Cat on twitter @_CatJones )
This is a series I will return to from time to time over the next few months – and I have a lot of really excellent 20 QUESTIONS INTERVIEWS lined up.
Until next week,
All the best
Sept 19th 2014