SCRIPT-EDITING / DEVELOPMENT COURSES
Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running a series of very affordable 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters, around the UK between now & July 16th (in Bristol, Salford & Glasgow and Cardiff). The next one is in Bristol June 17-18, with guest screenwriter CALEB RANSON. More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website
GUARDIAN MASTERCLASS / LONDON WRITERS WEEK
As part of LONDON WRITERS WEEK at Central St Martins / The Drama Centre / University of the Arts London, I’m running a three hour Guardian Masterclass on ‘SCREENWRITING & SCRIPT-EDITING’ on Thursday July 9th 6.30 – 9.30.
There are quite a few really interesting-looking sessions on dramatic writing in this first London Writers Week – including John Yorke on ‘The Secrets Of Screenwriting’, Fin Kennedy leading a panel on ‘The Future of Verbatim Theatre’, ‘Writing for Theatre’ with Ola Animashawun and ‘Exploring Gender in Writing’ with Lucy Kerbel
A couple of weeks ago I went to see new British rom-com MAN UP and thoroughly enjoyed it – I think it’s a really good example of its genre. And I think it’s very heartening that a relatively new writer got this script produced as a mainstream movie with major distribution and marketing.
I was particularly keen to see this film because I’d read a lot of the pre-publicity and it was very refreshing to see that in the marketing the writer TESS MORRIS was put centre stage. And the way she wrote / spoke about the film and her experience in writing it, made me really interested to see it. It was great that all of the promise of the marketing was delivered in the finished movie.
Predictably, though, many of the British broadsheet critics were pretty qualified in their assessments – they simply don’t understand the level of craft and expertise that goes into a successful rom-com like this, for some reason choosing to believe that some serious drama that is hard to watch (probably because it isn’t well-crafted) is more deserving of their attention and praise than a comedy that is as well-crafted and enjoyable as MAN UP.
It also made me think about the ROM-COM genre as a whole, and the whole notion of genre. I love the rom-com genre, I’m a sucker for films like MAN UP but I think it’s fascinating looking at all the conventions of the genre and thinking about why the best rom-coms work.
One of the interesting aspects of rom-com is how you deal with audience expectations – the expectation / knowledge that the audience KNOW that the couple are going to end up together at the end of the story – and how to keep them hooked anyway, how to throw enough rocks at your characters, put enough obstacles in the way of the relationship, that the anticipated happy ending feels earned and surprising in some respect.
Interestingly two of my favourite rom-coms (actually two of my favourite films of all time) – ANNIE HALL & MANHATTAN – subvert this (most central?) tenet of the rom-com bible – the couples in question in neither film end up together at the end of the story – which still leaves us somehow with a pleasingly bitter-sweet sense of narrative closure.
The last rom-com I saw before MAN UP was the Hugh Grant vehicle THE REWRITE which was very enjoyable but ultimately didn’t quite work. Somehow there just weren’t enough obstacles in the way of the happy ending, the story didn’t make things difficult enough for the lead characters. Although there were some lovely moments of reflection on the rom-com genre (Hugh Grant plays a Hollywood screenwriter whose career is in crisis – and so travels to New England to teach screenwriting in college (!) – and learns some valuable lessons from his less jaded students.)
Thinking about MAN UP, about the rom-com genre, also made me think more broadly about genre and story-telling.
Some scripts I read think it’s a badge of honour to try and exist outside of a recognised genre – but most of the time these scripts are fighting a losing battle – you’re making things very hard for yourself if you think ‘genre’ is a dirty word. ‘Genre’ is about screenwriting heritage – it’s about learning from both the best and the worst, and bringing your own individual voice to a genre, making it your own.
There are usually very good reasons why genres develop – it’s about deep-seated story archetypes; and so many scripts I read would be greatly improved by writers’ awareness of the genres they’re writing in, of the rich history of films / TV shows in that genre –and then thinking about what you as a writer can bring to that genre to rework it, bring fresh questions and approaches to it.
Here are some links to the best articles related to MAN UP –
This is actually Part 7 of a 7 part interview with Tess Morris from the excellent GO INTO THE STORY website. At the bottom of this section you will find links to the other 6 parts of this epic interview.
There are so many interesting discussion points in all of these articles / interviews – here are a few of the things I took away from them –
In 1997, Tess Morris won the Lloyd’s Bank Channel Four Film Channel for her short film Beer Googles. A great vindication for these sorts of New Writer / Director schemes – of which there aren’t enough!
Screenwriting is a ‘long game.’ It took TM ‘15 years to have overnight success.’
TM did a lot of script-reading work, and has read a lot of screenwriting books.
The book ‘Writing The Romantic Comedy’ by Billy Mernit changed her writing life. ‘I read Billy Mernit’s book, and it just unlocked the whole rom com structure, and world, for me.’ (I’ve since invested in a copy and am very much enjoying it!)
There’s really interesting stuff about how, even if you think you’re ‘subverting’ the genre, you still have to pay attention to the principles of the genre. And there are thoughts about the use of ‘montage’ sequences – something that seems to have come up a lot on my recent script development courses for some reason!
And then TM references ‘They Came Together’ which is an entire movie that brilliantly and hilariously spoofs the rom-com genre (and montage in particular!).
And they very interestingly discuss the use of set-ups, payoffs, callbacks (something else we seem to discuss a lot on my script development courses!)
In Part 6 TM talks about working with her script editor / producer at Big Talk Productions, Rachael Prior, and how creatively positive the relationship is (How nice to hear a writer talking up script editors!) and about how she generates and works up ideas.
Thinking about MAN UP and the rom-com genre has also made me think about other film genres – in particular sports movies, because I saw a really interesting film on a plane a few weeks ago – MACFARLAND USA – about a Californian high school cross-country running team and its coach (played by Kevin Costner). This is a Walt Disney film that hasn’t yet got a UK release date – but for a Disney film, it had a surprisingly left-wing political agenda! It’s about the children of Mexican immigrants in Southern California, and how they take it to the rich white kids! It absolutely conforms to the tropes of the sports movie genre – but does so excellently, and has some important and interesting things to say as well.
This led me to checking out US football series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS on Netflix. I watched the first 6 episodes in 2 days, and I’m hugely impressed by the quality of the story-telling – the first two episodes in particular are an object lesson in how to kick off a new series. They have real emotional impact, and it’s a brilliant depiction of a small-town Texan community. I’m now hooked – 6 episodes down, 70 to go!
I can see I’m going to be switch-binging between FDL and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK series 3 for the next few weeks! Happy days.
Until next week
All the best
June 12th 2015