I hope very much that you’re keeping safe and well and, above all, managing to remain calm, upbeat and anxiety-free in these very troubled times. I won’t go into detail about my feelings about how the situation is being ‘managed’ by the UK authorities because I am writing this on Monday and I’m sure anything I write now will seem like very old news by Friday.
FRANCE SCREENWRITING COURSE / RETREAT Sept 16-21 – Update
6/10 places on this course / retreat have now been taken. http://script-consultant.co.uk/france-screenwriting-course-retreat/
Review of my three recent courses –
I have now come to the end of an intense but hugely enjoyable period over Feb / March in which I ran three courses (glad I didn’t schedule them for March / April!). I wanted to write about the experience of running these courses.
1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING
The second time I have run this course and once again I really enjoyed it and it seemed to go down well with the 42 writers who came along for the day. It’s different from my other courses in that there isn’t an upper limit of 20 delegates and it’s less interactive. Having said that, both times I have run it, the whole day has felt more like a dynamic dialogue between myself, my two guest speakers and the writers than like a series of lectures. There was a really good energy in the room; and the course felt like a celebration and appreciation of what is exciting and great about screenwriting rather than just a basic introduction. Inevitably, talking about what a screenplay looks like on the page, going through all the elements that go into making up a script also leads into what constitutes good screenwriting. And I use lots of examples – both with clips and in pages from screenplays – of screenwriting at its very best.
The day is long – I arrived to set up the room at 9am and didn’t leave the pub until nearly 10pm – but a lot of fun. I’m particularly indebted to my industry friends who came along to the pub to have their brains picked by the course writers and were incredibly generous with their advice. I had lots of feedback from the course writers about swapped emails and industry people offering to put writers in touch with other people in the industry who might be able to help them. The pub networking event reminds me of how many nice, supportive people there are in this industry, of how this business is so reliant on personal contacts and recommendations and of how important it is to find a way of enjoying the social side of the business. (This pub networking event also inspired one of the scripts on my ‘writing a short film course’ – a comedy about industry networking-induced anxiety!).
From a selfish point of view, it’s great for me to catch up with these industry guests and hear what’s happening with them. At the end of the evening after all the course writers had gone home, I was left in the pub with a writer and script editor from different years of the Channel 4 screenwriting course, who had originally met when working together on the writer’s feature film script at an indie to whom I’d introduced them both at different times – that’s the way this industry works.
We had two two guest speakers – first, director Tim Fywell, whom I’ve known since he directed my wife in a play on the London fringe (30 years ago?). Our paths crossed again when we both worked at Granada (me as script editor on MEDICS, him as director on one of the very best CRACKER stories) and then when he was directing and I was script-editing WAKING THE DEAD at the BBC. Tim talked about the scripts on the last two eps of series 1 of HAPPY VALLEY which he directed. Having Tim speak about this show gave me (and the course writers) the motivation to watch / re-watch HAPPY VALLEY series one. And the universal response was – what a treat. This really is one of the very best examples of drama series writing in the last ten years. It stands up to repeated viewing because the writing has such fire, passion and craft brilliance. It’s a masterclass in story and character. A lot of the course writers had also read the scripts – an equally rewarding experience. I really think these two series of HV will stand out for decades to come as the pinnacle of TV screenwriting in what is such a rich age of TV drama.
Our 2nd guest speaker was ARCHIE MADDOCKS. Archie was on the 2018 Channel 4 screenwriting course and is a force of nature. He talked about his work and how he combines dramatic writing (he is also a playwright with a play on at the Park Theatre in London in May) with a lot of work in stand-up comedy. He came in to talk late on the Saturday afternoon and from there was due to drive to Darlington for a stand-up gig at 10pm and had promised someone a lift back from there to London after the gig. Alongside the three script deadlines he had for the coming week! Archie talked about all his current development projects – about how he manages a large slate of different ideas, about how thinking / planning time is just as important as writing time; and how he makes best use of his time; for instance he told me that he has a dictation app on his phone so that he can actually speak / write as he’s driving! What was most valuable about Archie for the less experienced writers on the course was when Archie talked about the ideas he’s pursuing and why these are the stores he wants to tell. Archie speaks so entertainingly and with such passion about the ideas he’s working on. He was the perfect example of one of the things I’d been talking about in the morning – how it’s not enough to be a brilliant writer with brilliant ideas – how it’s also important that you can articulate to other people who you are as a writer, why you want to tell the stories you want to tell, and how you have to convince / persuade employers that these are stories that need to be told and will find an audience.
For me, the whole day is incredibly mentally stimulating. By the end of the day my mind is racing with all the new, interesting, energising people I have met. I go home very happy that I do the job I do.
WRITING A SHORT FILM COURSE
A response from a lot of the courses I’ve run is writers wanting to do a course that generates a script. This is a course for only 12 people. The first three hour session contained a short discussion of what makes the best short films followed by the 12 writers articulating the ideas they were interested in writing (each of the writers came with 2 or 3 ideas). The evening was inspiring – so many great ideas pitched with such clarity and enthusiasm – and I think the energy and generosity of spirit in the room from the writers to help each other and make constructive suggestions, really added to the process. On my way home on the tube I noted down each of the writers’ ideas – and it was a very exciting list of stories that I can’t wait to see come to fruition in the next couple of weeks of intense work!
Many of the writers said they wanted to do this course to force them into finishing their scripts, to give them the structure and framework to compel them to follow through on ideas in note and bullet form.
WEEK 2 – a packed three hour session in which the 12 writers got feedback on their outlines from myself and 2 other writers (I split the 12 writers into 4 groups of 3). So exciting to see the ideas from last week begin to take shape. There was so much to fit into this session – but the level of energy and invention was a delight.
This course made me realise how important outlines are. Week 1 was one page pitches, week 2 was scene by scene outlines. Even in the first week, from the one page pitch I could get a pretty clear idea of whether an idea was going to work. There were certain ideas that were extremely exciting as one page pitches – and remained exciting throughout the process. It’s very rare for a really exciting 1 page pitch not to become an exciting script.
WEEK 3 – this session was spent discussing the writers’ scripts. The diversity and overall quality of the scripts was exceptional. So many brilliant, original ideas so well executed. I look forward to seeing how these scripts develop further and I hope that the writers will find a way to get these films made.
Above all, this course felt really satisfying in the way it enabled (or forced!) writers to go from initial idea to completed first draft script within 14 days. I’m hugely impressed by and grateful to the 12 writers for their energy and commitment to this process – particularly because the results were so outstanding.
CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS COURSE
This course took place the day before the final day of the ‘Writing A Short Film’ course and was another reminder of how artificial exercises and, most importantly, looking at the world outside of yourself rather than staring at your computer screen, can generate such great results. A few other takeaways from the day –
Having a great title is important; counter-intuitively it can also be a great place from which to start generating ideas. Here are a few of the memorable titles created on the day that generated really strong story ideas –
THE COST OF DYING – generated a 30’ comedy drama series about a funeral parlour.
JOANIE GOES WILD; LAST WOMAN STANDING; PICASSO’S MUSE; TALKING WITHOUT MOVING YOUR LIPS – it seems to me all of these titles (thought up out of nothing within 30 seconds) are instantly interesting and attention-grabbing. And more great ideas came from these and other titles.
Collaboration is key – working with other people in an unpressured, supportive environment can be incredibly creatively fertile.
The harder it has been to create an idea doesn’t equate to its quality. Conversely, in my experience, some of the strongest story and character ideas are the ones that come to you instantly and easily.
Detail is key. Beautifully-observed, visual, character detail is so effective in bringing characters alive off the page.
Finally this week, JOHN YORKE has asked me to include this announcement about the next intake of the excellent and prestigious BBC WRITERS ACADEMY
BBC STUDIOS WRITERS’ ACADEMY 2020
Do you want a career writing TV Drama? The BBC Studios Writers’ Academy gives emerging writers the opportunity to learn from some of the biggest names in the industry, to develop their skills on the BBC’s flagship shows (EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors, and River City), and work with some of the UK’s best television drama production companies.
For the first time, the Writers’ Academy will be open to applications from all writers, including those that have neither a professional credit, nor an agent. We’re looking for writers from any level of experience, who are passionate about television, bursting with ideas and a love of popular drama.
Eight writers will be given a year’s paid training, with guaranteed broadcast commissions on the BBC’s flagship shows as well as the chance to develop an original project with an independent production company. This is an opportunity to work not just on Continuing Drama series, but also with the makers of series like The End of The F***ing World, Gentleman Jack, Les Misérables, McMafia, Brexit: The Uncivil War, Curfew, and many more.
The Writers’ Academy is led by scriptwriting expert John Yorke, and over the year you will receive training and lectures from a range of leading industry practitioners. You’ll learn all about television production alongside mentoring from some of the best writers in the business. The 2019 Writers’ Academy featured guest lectures from Russell T. Davies, Jed Mercurio, Laurie Nunn, Jimmy McGovern, Anna Symon and Matt Charman, to name just a few.
Previous graduates of the Writers’ Academy have gone on to write over two thousand hours of TV. Their work includes everything from The Man In The High Castle, Killing Eve, Pure, and Father Brown, to My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Who, Grantchester, Shakespeare and Hathaway, Red Rock, The Victim and Deadwater Fell.
Applications open on 30th March 2020 and must be submitted by 19th April at 12 noon.
You’ll need to send in a original drama script in any medium, apart from short films, novels, poems, or short stories. You’ll also need to submit a story idea concerning a regular character on one of the Continuing Drama shows.
The course begins in September 2020.
Applications are via the BBC Writersroom E-Submissions System only. More information and full details of how to apply can be found here: https://www.bbcstudios.com/writersacademy/
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 3rd,
All the very best
March 20th 2020