CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Sunday Feb 7th 2016
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 PHIL SHELLEY with guest speaker REGINA MORIARTY writer of the award-winning MURDERED BY MY BOYFRIEND (BBC).
Last weekend was the first weekend of this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE, when the 12 writers, 4 script editors and 4 trainee script editors get together for the first time to discuss the ideas the writers are going to write, and listen to a series of talks by people from the UK TV drama industry. It was the beginning of a journey for the writers that I hope will lead to successful scripts and careers as TV dramatists.
Even though some of the speakers are people who I’ve heard speak on the course before, as with every year, I got a huge amount from the weekend – inspiring and re-energizing my own work.
First speaker was script guru KATE LEYS, who employed me as a script reader many years ago when she worked as head of development for Film Four. As always she was fascinating in analysing the way stories work in screen drama. At the heart of what she says is the primacy of character – how well-realised characters generate story (rather than the other way round). And having worked with so many writers, she had some brilliant practical advice to the 12 course writers about developing their own work (including the idea, for instance, of making an extensive check-list of things that can go wrong for your character). Because at the heart of her ideas about story is – we only really discover who people truly are when things go wrong for them, when they’re faced with challenges. Her 2 hour session was a mind-boggling sprint through how story-telling works on screen.
Next up was writer TONY GRISONI. Tony has written some of the best TV drama of recent years – particularly on C4 – shows such as the RED RIDING trilogy, THE UNLOVED and SOUTHCLIFFE. SOUTHCLIFFE is available on the All4 website. Highly recommended if you haven’t see it. Tony talked about Southcliffe, and about the development process of that script – how it came out of a desire to write about grief, and the aftermath of a terrible event, and how some of the story detail came from interviews with people who had witnessed mass shootings at Hungerford and in Cumbria.
‘WOOS’ (‘getting the writer out of the script’ from last week’s Chip Johannessen notes) resonated listening to Tony. He is deeply interested in other voices, and (modestly) sees himself almost as an interpreter, a conveyor of story rather than a creator. Reflected in the fascinating way he and Michael Winterbottom created the film IN THIS WORLD about the journey of two refugees from Afghanistan to the UK. He told some fascinating stories about how the ‘fiction’ of the film became blurred with the reality of one of the characters in the film.
And he talked about a project that he’s currently developing about the Kurdish community in North London, based on many conversations and interviews with the members of that community. He talked about the importance of the producer / writer bond – how producers (and script editors) support writers, and how these relationships can help shape stories. He talked about the development of Southcliffe in this respect – and also the contribution that director Sean Durkin made to the story – he emphasised the collaborative nature of film-making, and how important it is for writers to thrive in this environment by finding the right people to work with.
Another question that he talked about – which was a recurring theme through the day – was about the writer’s ‘voice’ and what this means. Like both Kate Leys and Hilary Norrish, he discussed how it’s important as writers not to get too hung up about what your ‘voice’ is, to just concentrate on telling the stories that you want to tell as well as you can.
The next guest speaker was script executive / producer HILARY NORRISH. Hilary has worked with writers on some of the best TV and film drama of recent years. Shows like OMAGH, COMPLICIT, THE SHOOTING OF THOMAS HURNDALL, the feature film, THE BOYS ARE BACK, and many other shows. Both the depth and quality of her CV are hugely impressive. Hilary talked about the writer / script editor relationship with insight and her usual unique humour! She divides writers into two camps – vomiters and plotters. The vomiters who splurge their first drafts out and then try to reshape them; and the plotters who plan and structure everything meticulously before they go to script. She said that both methods are equally valid.
On the Sunday, first up was Channel 4 Drama head of development, Surian Fletcher Jones, who talked about the fierce competition for viewers , how this is something Channel 4 have to address (unlike the subscription channels like Netflix), and what this means for you as writers. It’s about coming up with ideas that cut through, that bring unique angles to familiar subjects, that stand out from the crowd. And about making your first episodes as impactful as possible, and grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck. As writers you have to hit the ground running, and lay out your dramatic proposition in the first 12 minutes of a show, before the first ad break.
She talked about how Channel 4 drama has repositioned itself in the last couple of years, so that their big drama series (INDIAN SUMMERS, HUMANS, NO OFFENCE) now play at 9pm rather than 10pm. C4 Drama are now working on the 2nd series of these returning shows, as well as a whole raft of newly commissioned shows, including an E4 commission that will also play on Netflix, and that has been co-financed by Netflix – a show that will therefore have 2 x the budget of previous E4 shows. – it’s an exciting and rapidly-evolving time for C4 + E4 drama. And it was particularly pleasing to hear about the role being played in creating new C4 / E4 drama by alumni of 4Screenwriting from previous years.
I’ll continue this feedback on the Channel 4 Screenwriting course in subsequent newsletters,
Al the best
Jan 29th 2016