I hope you’ve all had a great summer. I spent two weeks on the Suffolk coast, as far away as possible from all scripts – and my batteries are now fully re-charged!
I have a lot to look forward to this autumn –
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018
I’m gearing up once again for the 2018 version of the course. The window for script entries is open for a relatively short three weeks – from Monday Sept 11th to Sunday Oct 1st – so don’t miss it! I’m very proud of the role-call of writers who’ve done this course – such an array of writing talent – and both writers and script editors from the course (which has been running since 2011) now make up a significant and growing sub-set of the creative TV drama industry. It may be a bit unfair to pick out individuals from the 85 writers who have done the course over the last 7 years but…
We’ve had the writers of two award-strewn BBC shows from the same strand – Murdered By My Boyfriend written by REGINA MORIARTY and Murdered By My Father by VINAY PATEL; ANNA SYMON, fresh from writing episodes on both series of INDIAN SUMMERS has had her own, authored serial, THE WILSONS, green-lit by the BBC; the script MILLY THOMAS wrote on the course last year formed the basis of her excellent, award-winning one woman show, the brilliant DUST, at this year’s Edinburgh fringe; NATHANIEL PRICE’s outstanding course script, HOUND, has just been optioned by one of the UK’s leading drama-producing indies; THERESA IKOKO’s course script (from 2016) was given a brilliant reading by Sky / Bandit Television and is in active development with Bandit; and most outstandingly, CHARLIE COVELL, after her excellent feature film debut, BURN BURN BURN (give yourself a treat and watch it on UK Netflix), 2 episodes of E4’s BANANA, and episodes of both HUMANS and GAP YEAR, has now written her own E4 series, THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD….I could go on – there are many more success stories from the course.
There is a less well-known script-editor training element to the course, which has also produced its own success stories. Two of the trainee / shadow script editors from previous years of the course have gone onto be, respectively, head of development at leading indie, Eleven Film; and BBC drama commissioning editor for Northern Ireland.
What do we look for in the scripts? – Above all, we are looking for distinctive, exciting, original writing voices – writers who have something to say, and say it in an original, exciting, engaging way. We are open to scripts from all media – screenplays (whether for TV or film), theatre and radio scripts. Every year, the 12 selected writers are a mix of writers who are diverse in every way – whether they are BAME, from one of the UK’s nations or regions, whatever gender, sexuality or class. But the important thing is that they are all chosen for their ability to tell a compelling story in a unique way – whether that’s in the form of a TV cop series pilot episode or a theatre monologue.
It’s important to be bold and original, and to really believe in what you’re writing. But at the same time, you should be philosophical if not selected. The long and the short of it is that we can only choose 12 writers from an expected 1400 submitted scripts. Frustratingly we always have to turn down very many highly talented writers. You should also console yourself with the fact that assessing which scripts are deserving of our attention – hard as we try to make the process as objective as possible – ultimately comes down to the choice of a few individuals, all of whom have different tastes. I’m constantly surprised by the huge range of responses to the same script – how one person can love it and someone else can be utterly unmoved by it. Every year I have some huge differences of opinion with my script readers – and there’s no right or wrong!
It may be helpful to tell you about a few of the successful submitted scripts from a year ago – a feature film script about a socially-dysfunctional piano-playing protégé, that stood out mainly for the characterisation of the wonderfully flawed and magnetic central character; a stage play about a middle-class parents’ decision to hire a prostitute to give their learning-disabled 25 year old son his first sexual experience – and the inter-personal social and sexual politics that ensue; a one hour film script that follows a week in the life of an aging couple after their son commits suicide; a hugely engaging, character-driven stage play about the issue of female genital mutilation. All of these scripts had a big idea at its heart – but were also accessible, character-driven, engaging and had humour and humanity.
C21 DRAMA SERIES COMPETITION
‘Turn your drama pilot script into a global hit.’
Continuing the theme of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, I’d also like to point you in the direction of the C21 drama comp, now accepting entries, until Oct 10th. Unlike the free-to-enter C4 comp, this costs money to enter – the upside being that there will therefore be far fewer entries – and the reward for being one of the finalists is significant.
LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL
This year’s festival is running from Sept 15 – 17, and I’m running a Script Lab on drama series on the Sunday Sept 17th. I hope to also be there on the Friday. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!
My 2 day SCREENWRITING COURSE
Running over the weekend of Oct 7-8, this sold out within a couple of days of going on sale. Designed as a mini-writers festival, with three brilliant guest speakers – aforementioned writer ANNA SYMON, CAT JONES, another star of the C4 screenwriting course, and top literary agent JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, from The Agency.
I am planning to run another of these courses in Feb or March next year – and I already have a lengthy waiting list for the October course so, if you’re interested, I suggest you keep checking the website / newsletter – I won’t be announcing the new course until after I’ve run the October version.
INDIE TRAINING FUND COURSES
I’m running 2 x one day courses at the ITF in Hoxton this autumn – SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS on Sept 21st and STORY, CHARACTER AND IDEAS Masterclass on Oct 10th.
BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
If you’re based in London and interested in screenwriting, don’t miss this year’s LFF – there is always a host of exciting new feature films – many of which won’t have a UK distribution deal, so this may be your only chance to see some of them.
HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL
This is an outstanding festival for new theatre writing. I have a particular bias towards it because so many writers from 4screenwriting have had shows at High Tide – this year alone, there are new plays by 4screenwriting alumni Nessah Muthy, Theresa Ikoko, Melanie Spencer and Tallulah Brown. And because it takes place in the lovely Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh, from where I’ve just returned.
My Holiday Reading + Culture
I wanted to mention a book I (re)read on holiday – the wonderful A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh. Published in 1934, this still feels fresh, modern and relevant. The characters come off the page so vividly, and there is such moral complexity to the characters and the story. There is also one of the most shocking, eye-popping scenes you’ll find in any story.
I was first alerted to the book by a brilliant Shared Experience Theatre adaptation of the play, many years ago, in which this moment from the book drew a collective gasp / intake of breath from the audience. I defy you to read the book and not be stunned by this moment.
What I particularly love and admire about the book is how everything is dramatised, nothing explained. It’s a model of narrative concision. The characters play out their roles, and at no point does Waugh make it easy for the reader to interpret or explain the action of the story. And we’ll all take away something different from the story. I followed this book by reading a much-acclaimed new hardback novel which is a perfectly pleasant read but for the first 100 pages I couldn’t get my head round the huge gap between the plodding, uneconomical quality of the writing of this book and the genius of A HANDFUL OF DUST.
Strangely there is also one of these theatrical gasp-out-loud moments in Loudon Wainwright’s wonderful SURVIVING TWIN show, when he reads / performs his father’s columns form LIFE magazine, interspersing them with thematically-connected songs. (Happily for me, LW, one of my musical heroes, was performing at Snape Maltings while I was on holiday in Suffolk). I’ve seen this one particular reading live three times already (it still retains its emotive punch) and it was wonderful to be able to anticipate that moment of shock that induced a collective, involuntary gasp – the ultimate successful story-telling pay-off. Therein lies the secret to good story-telling!
One more thing before I go – I’m afraid I have a policy of not entering into email correspondence with entrants into the C4 course. The entry FAQ’s have been honed and developed over several years – so if there’s something that isn’t entirely clear to you, you just need to use your own initiative. I’ve learnt from experience that if we don’t take this approach, we are overwhelmed by email enquiries – and our time is far better spent reading the scripts.
As ever, I’m hugely excited by the prospect of starting the reading process and of finding the gems I know I’ll find. Thank you in advance for entering and GOOD LUCK!
The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 22nd
All the best
Sept 8th 2017