I’ve had a packed last few weeks. Two weeks ago I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the week running a 5 day scriptwriting course. Going so far away for such a short time is a real cultural jolt (in the best possible way) and I’ll dedicate an entire newsletter to that experience sometime in the next few weeks.
I got home from that late on a Sunday evening and the next day was on a panel at the excellent LONDON WRITERS WEEK, which was this year looked at theatre writing, and the teaching of writing for the theatre. I was on a panel on Monday lunchtime with John Yorke (ex head of drama at both BBC and C4 and writer of the excellent INTO THE WOODS) and Ola Animashawun (founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme). It was fascinating hearing their views about the teaching of dramatic writing.
Then on Wednesday and Thursday I ran the first of this year’s SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT 2 day workshops, organised by Grand Scheme Media and Creative Skillset, in London. Our guest speaker on day 2 was the brilliant writer Cat Jones, a shining light of the 4Screenwriting scheme, who has had great success in TV drama, and now has a hugely impressive list of credits. She talked fascinatingly about her craft, concentrating on one particular development script, and also talked about the other projects she has worked on, and is currently working on. One of the very positive things from my POV, was the importance she places on working with a good script editor, and how important the script editor has been to her in the work she’s done. She also talked about the different sorts of writers room set-ups she’s worked in – and what a growing part of the creative process this has become in UK TV drama. Also about how much international co-production money is now coming into the UK TV drama market.
We had a great combination of very sparky script editors, development executives, script readers and writers on the course.
This was the first of several of these courses I’ll be running around the UK in the next few months (from Sept – Nov). Once dates are venues are finalised, I’ll let you know the exact details via this newsletter and my website.
One of the aspects that I always seem to discuss on my courses – because it’s so important and an area that fascinates me – is what make a GOOD IDEA. What are the ideas that compel and engage an audience? There are three true stories that have come to my attention recently that I have found completely compelling. They are all missing persons stories – and combine extraordinary mysteries with deeply touching character stories. I could see all these three stories (or dramatised versions) working brilliantly as dramatic stories, in their combination of mystery, detailed investigation and compelling character –
I love the way this story is presented on the BBC website. It throws up so many questions about who this man is and why he chose to kill himself in this extraordinary way. It’s an object lesson in how to structure / tell an investigative / crime story.
Another extraordinary story about a female author who ‘made herself disappear’. Like the ‘Saddleworth Moor’ case, this remains unsolved. Questions of character – of her relationship with her partner, with her mother, her identity as an author of two very different types of writing, and the fact that she had written about this idea of ‘disappearing oneself’ add to the intense mystery of her disappearance. (A man was arrested and released on bail earlier this week).
Unlike the previous two stories, this story provides more – if incomplete – answers. Apart from anything else, this is a brilliant piece of writing by journalist Anders Fjellberg. It’s a grim story that raises profound political and humanitarian issues.
There are so many extraordinary, emotive and compelling elements to all three of these stories – whether you’re telling the story from the POV of the missing persons, the loved ones left behind, or the investigators looking for them (police or journalists). These stories seem to have all the elements to make wonderful dramatic stories – above all, a huge character / narrative question that demands answers – where is the disappeared person? And why have they disappeared?
I’ve long thought there is a place for a mainstream UK drama series about missing persons investigations, like the excellent US series WITHOUT A TRACE. New Pictures’ excellent THE MISSING, which is returning for a 2nd series, is the closest we’ve got.
LONDON SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 : GOAT
Adapted from the memoir by Brad Land. The original script was written by David Gordon Green in 2004.
The film was followed by a talk by director / co-writer ANDREW NEEL. The film is an exploration of male bonding, testosterone – and violence – in the context of a US college fraternity house initiation ritual. In his Q&A after the film, Neel talked about the prevalence of this in the States, of the trauma – and deaths – caused by the ‘hazing’ that is a deep-rooted part of US collegiate culture.
He discussed the graphic initiation scenes of ritual and humiliating violence, how he kept the actors playing the ‘fraternity’ characters away from the ‘pledge’ characters, so that the initiation scenes had that uncertainty of fear and violence – ‘I pushed the limits a little bit. I wanted to make them truly uncomfortable – this is going to suck.’
He discussed how it was harder to get the ‘hazers’ to do what they had to do than the ‘pledges’ / victims. Most of this on-screen action was ‘on book’ but he talked about moments where new situations spontaneously arose, and how he let the actors improvise in these big, confrontation / humiliation scenes. ‘Once we ran a take for 14 minutes…it was exciting, compelling and harrowing at the same time…’ – and that’s pretty much the audience experience of the film too!
I think this is an excellent movie – really worth catching if you get the chance. Aside from the fact that it’s a well-made, well-written and well acted film, Andrew Neel clearly had a powerful agenda as a writer / director – to cast some light on this shockingly pervasive culture that is infamous in the US – but is also apparently on the rise in the UK. The film throws a welcome light on a very dark world.
Neel discussed how the film’s two lead characters are based on real people – Brad Land, on whose book the film is based, and his brother, Brett, the other lead character in the film. He discussed how the film differed in certain respects from the reality of the book – he chose to heighten and intensify certain events – but that the intention and spirit of the book was honoured. Apparently Brad Land himself wasn’t interested in involvement in the film – and if you see it, you’ll understand why.
It was really interesting to see this so soon after the new Richard Linklater film, ‘EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!’ The closeness in subject-matter was picked up on by an audience member in the Q&A at GOAT. The two films explore exactly the same world – but tonally are poles apart. Where EWS! is a good-natured, comic celebration of the excitement of freshman week, GOAT is the exact opposite – it’s about the living hell that is freshman week for too many. It made me think about the importance of TONE to a story – how in this case the contrasting tonal approaches can generate two such different movies about the same subject – both equally valid in their very different approaches – and impossible to compare in terms of quality.
Where EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! is life-affirming, silly and very funny, GOAT is uncomfortable, disturbing – but highly watchable and compelling.
BBC TV DRAMA WRITERS FESTIVAL
I went to the 2015 version – and it’s definitely worth attending if you have an interest in writing for TV drama. There are many excellent speaker sessions – and it’s also a great networking opportunity. (I appreciate this is short notice if you hadn’t already heard about it – they tend to put up videos + transcripts on the BBC Writers Room website after the event).
‘The TV Drama Writer’s Festival is the only festival led by writers for writers. For one day only, it’s a unique opportunity for you with your peers to join commissioners and execs to reflect, agitate and debate. With 22+ different sessions and a reception to close the day this is the event for working writers.
This year’s festival theme is ‘Unheard Voices’ and we will be focussing on this idea for some of the main sessions; as well as viewing and discussing a broad range of other issues relevant to today’s television industry.
Now in its sixth year, the TV Drama Writer’s Festival has proved to be an indispensable event not to be missed by television writers.
Led by Kay Mellor, the stellar line-up already includes: Jed Mercurio, Danny Brocklehurst, Russell T Davies and Alice Nutter.
WHEN: Monday 18th July 2016. From 9.30am to 7.30pm
WHERE: Central St Martin’s, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA
TICKETS: Tickets are priced at £30.00. If you would like to apply* for a ticket fill out
the attached application form and return to firstname.lastname@example.org
*please note you must have at least one television writing credit in order to apply.’
** PS – There seems to be some flexibility with this ‘one television writing credit’ rule – it’s definitely worth applying even if you don’t have a TV credit.
The next newsletter will be on Friday July 29th.
All the best
July 15th 2016