WRITING & SELLING A GREAT SCREENPLAY
My two day screenwriting course with Phil Gladwin, running in London on the weekend of Oct 10-11 with guest speaker ESTHER SPRINGER (newly promoted to Head of Development, BBC DRAMA).
NB Have a look at the web page for testimonials from our May course.
SCRIPT-EDITING / DEVELOPMENT COURSES
Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running 2 more 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters in Glasgow Adrian Mead), around the UK between now & July 23rd (in Glasgow and Cardiff). The next one is in Glasgow July 15-16. More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website
RULES FOR LIVING
I saw this play at the Dorfman, National Theatre earlier this week. A very traditional middle class comedy of manners but a very superior example of the genre. It really shone a light on the madness and sadness of family life, as well as being very funny. The play made me think back to one of the things I was writing about last week – genre. Because this play existed within such a familiar UK theatre genre.
There was a strong element of slapstick / farce to the play – but at the same time it felt very real and well-observed.
One of the last lines of the play was mother to son, ‘Oh Adam…please use a coaster.’ It may not read like it – but in the context of the moment in the play and the lives of the two characters – it was dripping with meaning and emotion. A great example of brilliantly-written dialogue that was all about the sub-text. Weirdly, one of the most moving sentences in the play! So real and unresolved. The opposite of ‘on the nose’ dialogue.
Initially I thought the play was almost too conventional in form and content. It invited comparisons to Ayckbourn (and some far less interesting playwrights). But it did what it did very well. There was a really effective heightened tone – with some interesting and very (comically) effective stylistic devices.
And structurally and rhythmically it built really effectively to the climatic farce scene at the end of the play – before the more reflective coda.
Sam Holcroft is clearly a hugely talented writer. The play also made me realise how high the bar is raised for dramatic writers. This was on a par with Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s equally outstanding THE WASP which I saw at the Hampstead Theatre downstairs earlier this year.
Initially I tried hard to resist this play, In the opening few minutes I was thinking – how many times have I seen this sort of play? – another dysfunctional English middle-class family gathered for uncomfortable (but gently comic ) Christmas celebrations – for a middle-class audience. In fact I saw this exact set-up in another play at the Hampstead Theatre downstairs about 6 months ago. And I was thinking – there are so many amazing stories out there – is this the best our National Theatre can do? – another bourgeois Xmas comedy? The middle class family of lawyers, the dysfunctional, neurotic wife and ditzy actress girlfriend gather for Christmas and enforced jollity. A story I’ve seen too many times.
But these scruples were rapidly overcome by the brilliance of the writing, the complexity and emotional truth of the characterisations and relationships. It threw a light on my own family – if you’ve seen the play, this may make you worry for me (!) But, like all the best writing, I emotionally connected to it – and reflected on family dynamics, family traditions and celebrations.
And the specifics of the play brought really interesting idiosyncrasies to the genre – the references to cognitive behavioural therapy, that threw a light on the characters’ foibles, the family tradition of a playing a different game together every Christmas – which lead to a brilliant set-piece sequence in which they played the card game ‘Bedlam.’ In fact this was the first of two brilliantly staged and written ‘tour de force’ comic set-piece sequences – both of which, although highly stylised, at the same time felt real, and part of a remorseless narrative logical progression – which is what also made them so funny.
That’s the thing about the best stories – every scene needs to progress the story, to change the situation. Like Woody Allen’s shark / relationship metaphor (see ANNIE HALL) a story has to keep moving forward with momentum – or it dies.
There was a self-conscious stylistic device where the action kept freezing for the audience to read the ‘scoreboard’, listing each character’s specific quirks(another CBT reference) eg ‘Matthew must sit and eat to tell a lie.’ These moments, highlighting the absurdity of real human behaviour, heightened the comedy. Somehow the absurdity of all of these character behavioural tics felt true.
The direction by Marianne Elliott was outstanding, as were the performances by Miles Rupp, Stephen Mangan, Claudie Blakely, Maggie Service and Deborah Findlay. But then, what a gift a cracking script like this is to good actors.
What the play made me think about is – how damaged we all are, what flaws, prejudices and inadequacies we all have – and how endlessly fascinating this is! Like all the best dramatic writing, it shone a light on the human condition.
I would urge you to go and see the play – but I’m afraid it closed on Wednesday! But I would really encourage to get a copy of the text and read it.
UIntil next week
All the best
July 10th 2015