I’m overwhelmed and ultimately defeated by the sheer volume of brilliant screen and stage fiction now available to us all. For instance, one of the shows most talked-up in this year’s 4Screenwriting interviews was Amazon’s TRANSPARENT, which I’ve not yet seen. And I never seem to find the time to listen to radio drama. But every year for the C4 course we receive several gems of radio drama – both produced and unproduced.
So here – in no particular order – are the shows / scripts that I’ve most enjoyed in the last 12 months –
’71 – an adrenalin-driven, exciting and politically fascinating thriller, brilliantly directed by Yann Demange with a wonderfully economical, pacy script by GREGORY BURKE, and a charismatic central performance by rising star Jack O’Connell. Speaking of whom…
STARRED UP – directed by David MacKenzie, written by JONATHAN ASSER. Clearly tapping into Asser’s personal experience of working in the UK prison system, this is a very bleak but brilliantly crafted piece of story-telling – absolutely gripping.
FOXCATCHER – Released in UK cinemas on Jan 9th next year, this is really worth checking out. A fascinating example of a dramatisation of a true story, with the most compellingly flawed characterisation in the person of John du Pont, brilliantly brought to life by Steve Carrell.
TRUE DETECTIVE – two more wonderful performances, eye-catching direction by Cary Juji Fukunaga and 7 cracking scripts by Nick Pizzolato. And the prime example of how TV is taking taking over from cinema at the cutting edge of screen fiction. And that spectacular 6 minute tracking shot was a thing of beauty.
HAPPY VALLEY – just beating TRANSPARENT, the most referenced show in this year’s 4Screenwriting interviews (last year it was BREAKING BAD – nice that a British show seems to be one of the most admired TV shows of the year). A great example of complex, layered, dramatic story-telling, based on rich and hugely credible characterisation – particularly the Sarah Lancashire character at the centre of the show (another great performance).
CARTHAGE – the only theatre show on my list. For me, it’s been a slightly disappointing theatre viewing year. Perhaps I just chose badly – but CARTHAGE stood out as a dark but enthralling story, with a strong sense of authenticity. Written by CHRIS THOMPSON, who we will hear a lot more of.
Having said I had a disappointing viewing year in theatre, the number of outstanding theatre scripts submitted for 4Screenwriting 2015 that I’ve read is remarkable. So last night I went to one of the best reviewed shows this year at one of London’s top fringe theatres. I reckon I’ve read a good 15 plays in the last three weeks that were hugely superior to this play. Very frustrating. A lot of the plays that I’ve read for the C4 course I will be looking out for at UK theatres in the coming year – and one excellent show that I read and have already seen at the Hampstead theatre downstairs (which seems to showcase consistently good scripts – in my experience often stronger than the shows upstairs! Although the Kinks jukebox musical SUNNY AFTERNOON – book by JOE PENHALL – was a great night out).
THEY CAME TOGETHER
Simply the funniest film (or show in any medium) that I saw this year. A brilliant rom-com pastiche, written by DAVID WAIN & MICHAEL SHOWALTER. One of many excellent films that got the customary ‘blink and you’ve missed it’ UK release (in August), I urge you to look out for this on DVD, Netflix, streaming or wherever you can track it down.
SON OF A GUN / BLUE RUIN
Two examples of crackingly good low-budget thrillers. Both were violent, visceral object-lessons in how to craft a story so that it really grips. Look out for SON OF A GUN on its UK release Jan 16th next year.
LINE OF DUTY
Even better than the first series, definitely one of the highlights of the TV drama year. Look out for series 3 next year and JED MERCURIO’s new medical series for Sky, CRITICAL.
Comedy drama at its absolute best. Funny, moving and original, witha great cast, particularly the wonderful Tom Hollander.
A one-off on BBC2 that shone out like a beacon in a year that saw far too few outstanding one-off films on terrestial UK TV. Utterly original in tone and subject-matter, this was an uplifting, brilliant script by PETER BOWKER.
OK so this US indie movie was actually released in 2013 but I only saw it this year. Written and directed by NICOLE HOLOFCENER, this is a really affecting rom-com starring Julia-Louis Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK SERIES 2
Released in June and consumed all too quickly, this, for me, was a slow burn that started a little disappointingly and just got better and better. For any aspiring TV drama writers, this is about as good as series TV gets. So much to learn from analysing the way the stories are told and inter-cut.
And what a wonderful narrative form TV drama series are at their best. THE MISSING (IMO) has been a very good series without being quiet as excellent as the very best. But it’s wonderful the way that an 8 hour series like this rewards your viewing investment – I found the last episode hugely emotionally gripping, and there were scenes in it as good as any TV drama this year – some wonderful, moving, complex, honest moments of drama. A real achievement by relatively new writers JACK & HARRY WILLIAMS. And congratulations to Channel 4 Screenwriting course alumnus, script editor Tommy Bulfin!
This week and last we held interviews for the 2015 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course. About 30 writers \ scripts were short-listed but it could have been a lot more. The standard this year has been the best ever and it’s made the last few weeks very difficult (in a good way). With the number of scripts we receive, and the fact that we can only take 12 writers out of 1300 submitted scripts, I try my best to be quite ruthless when I’m reading the scripts, to give up reading some scripts after 20 or so pages if a script clearly isn’t going to be a top 12 contender. But that’s been very difficult this year – there has been script after script that I was compelled to finish, scripts that I couldn’t put down, so many scripts, however quickly I read them, that have stayed with me long after I finish them. This makes the 2015 course a very exciting prospect – but it’s also very frustrating. There are so many good writers out there, and so few avenues open for them. But there are grounds for optimism. Both the means of production and the platforms for viewing & distribution (mainly through the all-embracing reach of the internet) are more and more accessible – even if making a living as a script writer (or indeed any sort of writer) is as hard as it’s ever been. Clearly there are no easy answers to this conundrum – but there will always be a huge, universal hunger for exciting stories told with flair and imagination. And I’m firmly of the belief that if you have the talent and – importantly – the professional focus, ambition and an enthusiasm for meeting and working with other like-minded people – that you will succeed.
NB If you haven’t heard from me, I’m afraid this means you didn’t make the short-list for the 2015 course. But to everyone who entered, a huge THANK YOU. With the range and quality of scripts we received, I could have very happily filled several years of courses.
And here is another exciting opportunity…
A message from DAVID COLLIER at CBBC, who is starting an admirable initiative for less experienced screenwriters that should be of huge interest –
CBBC NEW VOICES INITIATIVE
CBBC is setting up an intensive, skills-based programme designed to give emerging writers valuable insights into writing for an ongoing children’s TV series, covering all stages of the scripting process with input from experienced writers, producers, script editors and executive producers. The aim is to find and support writers so they kickstart an ongoing relationship with the CBBC drama team. The project lasts around six months. Up to 15 writers will be invited to attend a ‘Writing Children’s Television’ workshop at MediaCityUK next February. Travel, accommodation and hospitality will be provided and writers will be paid a workshop attendance fee. From this group, between 3-6 writers will be selected to follow the scripting process of a CBBC show as well as completing writing exercises. The emphasis at all times is on developing the practical craft of the participating writers, it is not to generate ideas for any particular show. It is imagined that there will be up to four days of face to face training during this period, alongside contact via email.
Writers wishing to apply need to demonstrate a level of professional experience in writing narrative drama but this need not be for children’s television. It can include stage, radio, gaming and online as well as film and TV. Applicants, however, should not have written more than two hours of broadcast television. Writing will be considered from all stylistic genres, comedy and more serious drama.
CBBC recognises that diversity is vital for innovation and to reflect the modern audience. The dept encourages, particularly, applicants from areas that are currently under-represented at CBBC – female writers and/or writers from a diverse background including BAME writers, writers with a disability and LGBT writers.
TO APPLY, WE WOULD LIKE WRITERS TO SEND IN:
1. A recent sample script – this does not need to be a children’s television script, it can be any medium or genre but it must be at least 20 pages of standard screenplay format and must be complete, not a section from a longer work. Please add to the front title page your name and a synopsis of the work of 150 words maximum.
2. A covering letter giving: i) contact details; ii) a short biography of your career to date; and iii) an indication of why you are applying to the scheme, what you would bring to it and what you would hope to achieve by attending. Please make clear why you would like to write for children’s television.
3. An equal opportunities monitoring form. This is optional and completely anonymous. You may have been sent this form already, if not we will send one when we process your application. It will be separated from the application, but we encourage you to complete it as it helps us gain a better understanding of whom we are attracting to our schemes.
These materials are to be sent to Hannah.Rodger@bbc.co.uk by Monday 12th January 2015.
Please format the subject line of your email: CBBCNVI – your name – your script title.
Writers may have a literary agent but it is not a requirement. Applications should in all cases come directly from the writer.
I’m now on a break for the next two weeks. The next SCRIPT CONSULTANT NEWSLETTER will go out on Friday Jan 9th 2015.
In the meantime I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a hugely successful writing year in 2015,
All the very best
Dec 19th 2014