A one day SCRIPT EDITING course I’m running at the INDIE TRAINING FUND in London on July 19th
This week a few random observations on writing –
A QUIET PLACE
I saw this film a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s predicated on a brilliantly simple but inherently dramatic story premise. And this underlying premise generates such strong story tension with virtually no dialogue. A wonderful illustration of how often the best story-telling for screen is about ACTION not WORDS.
I’ve just finished reading the excellent BALANCING ACTS by Nick Hytner about his years as head of the National Theatre. It’s inspiring in its focus on the many new plays and original creativity he helped bring to life – and about how exciting theatre as a story-telling form can be.
Some of his most interesting observations are about the power – in the right hands – of verbatim theatre – of shaping real events, words people have actually spoken into theatre, into a compelling dramatic narrative. The principal examples are David Hare’s two plays THE PERMANENT WAY, and STUFF HAPPENS; and Alecky Blythe’s LONDON ROAD, a verbatim play about the murders of the 5 sex workers in Ipswich, re-imagined as a piece of musical theatre. I have seen none of these plays but reading about the way they were created and shaped into drama makes me regret that and makes me want to read them.
LONDON ROAD sounds like a brilliant piece of story-telling about a very particular community coming together under a terrible threat – and given a wonderful lease of life and emotional depth by adding a musical score.
THE PERMANENT WAY started as an examination of the politicization and decline of the nation’s railways but in the process of its research and creation became something else – a study of grief. It was fascinating to me to read about how the original intent and agenda of the play was transformed by the research and development that insisted it become something more overtly emotive and character-driven.
And STUFF HAPPENS was a hugely ambitious play (and brave decision by the NT to put their head above the political parapet) about the causes and undertaking of the Iraq war seen through the prism of the political decision-makers of the day (Bush, Powell, Blair etc). The play asked big questions of the motivations and actions of Bush and Blair – and Hytner says that Hare felt thoroughly vindicated that he had judged the situation correctly with the publication of the Chilcot report several years after the production.
Reading about these plays reminded me of an inspiring talk given by Tony Grisoni to the Channel 4 screenwriting course a few years ago in which he talked about some of his best writing having happened when he approached a project / story by trying to AVOID writing. He described how on some projects he has taken true events or real people as the basis for a story, interviewed the people, researched the story, and acted as interpreter, shaper of the transcripts that arise from his interviews and from his research, and done as little ‘writing’ as possible, trying to channel the characters and their stories without letting his ego come between the stories and the audience. It seems to me this is an enormously freeing, enabling idea!
STORY / STRUCTURE – THE FALL
I was lucky enough to see James Fritz’s brilliant, inspiring THE FALL, a National Youth Theatre production at the Southwark Playhouse before it closed on May 19th. (Incidentally a few months ago I saw the NYT production of JEKYLL & HYDE radically and brilliantly adapted by EVAN PLACEY – like James, an extremely excellent 4screenwriting alumnus – look out for NYT shows – they’re damn good!)
THE FALL is comprised of three short plays (of about 25 mins each in length) all linked by theme – the young’s attitude to the old and the huge social and economic issue of our aging population – and (as we only realise in the last of the three playlets) a character that links all three stories.
One of the things that was brilliant about this show was the playful, creative, imaginative treatment of narrative structure. The 2nd play for instance took us through the story of a relationship over 40 or so years in 25 minutes. The cuts between lines of dialogue, the use of repetition, the cuts between the (imagined) scenes – all of this led you thrillingly through the many changes and developments in the lives of this couple and the stresses, strains and changes in their relationship across the years. It told its story with such pace, flair and playfulness that – once you realised how it was going to work – you went along with the ride as it built to a subtle, dark, ambivalent twist that was utterly in keeping with the themes of the play as a whole. The pace and verve of this 2nd of the three sections reminded me a little of the start of the film UP – story-telling that is rooted in specific details while at the same time being thrillingly epic and emotionally compelling and universal.
The play ended with a wonderful monologue as an old person on the brink of death (played by a young actor!) looks back at one of the moments from her youth when she felt most alive – one of those thrilling theatrical moments that stays with you.
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018
This is the week of the year when the 12 x 4screenwriting writers deliver the TV pilot scripts they’ve been working on for the course since January. It’s always a highlight for me, an exciting moment when I receive these 12 scripts into my email inbox. And this year is as good if not better than any other year. Particularly in terms of the huge range and diversity of the stories being told, the worlds the writers have taken me into that I previously knew so little about – from religious tensions and nascent capitalism in Nigeria; a family community centred round a fundamentalist Christian church in Preston; the political corridors of Westminster; a disabled man in London searching for his missing friend and carer; a drag queen who becomes a vampire – I could go on, but this will give you an impression of the mind-blowing range and imagination of the voices.
It’s exciting reading these brand-new scripts, knowing what a big splash these projects will create for these new, talented writers. And the fact that they managed to hold my attention when I spent the weekend in a state of distracted, football-based ecstasy was a compliment to their all-round excellence.
The next newsletter will be on Friday June 15th,
All the best
June 1st 2018