SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT FOR TV DRAMA & FILM
A series of two day courses, starting next week in Birmingham Oct 4th & 5th. These are the Grand Scheme Media / Creative Skillset courses I ran last summer – and are suitable for script editors, script readers, development executive and screenwriters – anyone with an interest in script development and script editing.
Each course has a distinguished guest screenwriter (at the summer London course it was the excellent CAT JONES – and last year our writer guests included MICHAEL CHAPLIN, JOHN FAY, ANNA SYMON, CALEB RANSON, STEPHEN CHURCHETT, TIM LOANE, RUSSELL GASCOIGNE and ADRIAN MEAD)
2 of the 4 trainee script editors on the 2016 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE came from last year’s course delegates.
Here are the dates and venues, and links to the eventbrite bookings page –
INDIE TRAINING FUND COURSES, LONDON
One day Script Editing course Oct 12th http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=6137
One day Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass Nov 24th http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=6159
There was an excellent section on writing in the Guardian Saturday Review a couple of weeks ago –
- from which I’ve taken these quotes (about fiction / novels, but equally applicable to screenwriting).
‘Think about how people reveal themselves through behaviour, and focus on the externals of gesture, expression, dialogue and settings’
‘The trick of fiction is to extract the ways in which other emotions affect the outer crust… making the reader feel observant, and not just laboriously informed.’
‘To do this, the beginning writer is going to have to undertake some systematic observation, notebook in hand…Fiction looks outwards.’
‘So much about a character is invisible, in fiction as in real life; but what lies beneath the surface will affect every aspect of your story.’
‘Take a risk. Work against the grain. Don’t be afraid to make a deathbed scene comic, or to show a murderer being kind to animals. Truth is surprising, and surprise is the key – surprising the reader but also, in the first place, surprising yourself.’
‘Making the decision to finish a piece of work is crucial…Respect your process and make a pact to close the deal.’
‘To improve it we need to have it, which means writing it.’
‘Write for 15 minutes every day. Set a time in advance, set a timer. Try to write at the same time every day… Writing is investigation. Just keep seeking.
There’s a brilliant quote from novelist ALAN WARNER in the programme for Lee Hall’s adaptation of his novel, OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR (National Theatre, Dorfman) –
‘You don’t need to be intelligent to be a novelist but you do have to be observant.’
The play OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR (the novel is called THE SOPRANOS – the title of the stage play was changed for obvious reasons!”) is testament to this – it is intelligent and wonderfully well observed but its intelligence is emotional rather than intellectual. I’ve seen too many plays recently that wear their intellectual credentials like a badge of honour. This is a mistake. The best dramatic writing is often about ideas but it’s about more than this. It’s about people, it’s about life in all its messy joy, despair, pain and love. In short, the best writing engages you emotionally – not intellectually. I saw one play recently that was about a very particular area of economics and politics. It was very interesting, and the depth and detail of the writer’s research highly impressive. But it would have made a much better magazine article than a play. There were no real characterisations – just mouthpieces for the ideas – and no real story. This lack of the essentials of drama was unsuccessfully masked by a lot of empty theatricality – flashy lighting cues, loud noises, actors waving their arms about in unison, attention-grabbing set design and scene changes.
In comparison OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR was full of human emotion (particularly joy). Helped enormously by the wonderful musical element of the show but successful ultimately because it was about highly believable, three-dimensional, flawed people, with so many wonderfully well-observed human moments.
Unsurprisingly, drama doesn’t add up to much without people with whom you can emotionally connect. Good writing is about emotional intelligence. ‘That was very interesting’ is not the response you look for as a writer. (In my experience ‘interesting’ as a description of a work of drama is often a euphemism for ‘boring’!)
When theatre is good, (like OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR) there’s nothing to beat it – that combination of great acting, writing, with the buzz of live performance and the whole audience completely spellbound is wonderful. But there’s also in my experience an awful lot of theatre that isn’t that great. The thing that too much theatre seems to forget is that it needs to be entertaining. It’s not enough to be politically correct, to tell us that property developers and bankers are bad. I’ve seen too much theatre recently that seems to think that the message is all – that if your message has integrity, if what you’re saying in your play will lead to making the world a better and fairer place, that that’s good enough.
Too much theatre feels like taking your medicine – it’s not that palatable but ultimately it’s going to be good for you so that’s OK.
I’ve actually lost count of the number of plays where the most entertaining part is watching audience members fall asleep – seeing people fighting that losing battle as their head drops until they jerk awake.
In no other medium does my attention wander in this way so that I spot people sleeping. (Do audiences fall asleep at the same rate in the cinema? I don’t think so)
This was all brought into sharp relief by OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR which, while having lots of interesting things to say, was also delightfully entertaining, joyous and funny.
Research is a necessary and important part of much of the best dramatic writing – but when a writer crams in the full range of their research rather than using it to serve the story, then it too often comes across as a writer showing off the range of their intellect.
Scene changes are another of my bugbears. How many plays jolt you out of emotional involvement as we watch actors moving the furniture around? In the best plays, the scene changes are an integral, seamless part of the action.
One other question, which may strike you as deliberately perverse is – why do people speak so much in plays? Too many plays are just wall-to-wall dialogue, and we are expected to accept this as one of the conventions of theatre. Too many plays are wearyingly verbose. I’ve recently been to a lot of plays, and for me the cumulative effect of being battered by ceaseless dialogue was that I (not deliberately) mentally tuned out.
I’m always suggesting to screenwriters that dialogue should be used sparingly and economically – so that what dialogue there is has real meaning for the characters and story. And I think the same applies to theatre. In theatre generally there isn’t enough concentration on physical characterisation, on actions rather than words revealing character . One of my formative theatre memories is of an early Mike Leigh play, ECSTACY, which was a work of genius. One of the actors in this original production was Jim Broadbent, and I still remember the way his character held himself and how much this revealed about him (hunched, apologetic, taciturn, low status).
I’m bored of characters who are smart writers’ mouthpieces, characters who unerringly articulate the writer’s agenda. As a massive generalisation, inarticulate characters are so often more interesting and engaging than super-articulate characters.
I long for more meaningful silences in plays!
OK, rant over, I’m off to the cinema!
The next newsletter will be Friday October 14th
All the best
Sept 30th 2016