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WRITER FEEDBACK

Posted by admin  /   November 15, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on WRITER FEEDBACK

 

Hi There,

This week – a report back from one of  my recent script mentees, Ann Hawker, on her experiences at The Writer’s Lab 2018 Sponsored by Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman –

‘In September this year I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in The Writer’s Lab, a scheme sponsored by Meryl Steep and Nicole Kidman and hosted by Women in Film and TV in New York.

Twelve women writers and writer/directors over the age of 40 were selected from the United States, the UK, Canada and Ireland to take part in a four day intensive workshop with mentoring provided by producers, writers and script doctors from both Hollywood and New York.

The twelve of us writers met in the middle of a New York thunderstorm at Penn Station to make the four hour train journey “Up State” to the breathtaking Lake George. The retreat was held in a nineteenth century summer house built on the lake. If we weren’t already feeling inspired by our company and our mentors the surroundings alone would have been enough!

My fellow participants were an amazing group of women who combined a huge amount of writing and life experience. Most were in some way already linked with the world of drama or film. There were several actresses, documentarians, a camera operator, a lighting electrician as well as several feature film writer/directors.

We had all applied with a specific script and had been lucky enough to have been selected from a thousand applicants. (A thank you to Phil Shelley, who helped with my script!) Over the four days we received intensive one to one feedback from producers and writers on our individual scripts, as well as participating in more general group sessions.

So what did I learn? The producers and writers approached their notes differently, but both came back to the same thing; the importance of character. In my sessions with my writer mentor I found myself going deep into the back story of my characters and interrogating every last piece of their motivation. Meanwhile my producer looked at my script with an eye to casting and attracting talent. She emphasised how much top talent are drawn to fully rounded and motivated characters.

All the mentors emphasised the need for an authorial voice which comes through writing from the heart. It is this which can help create a unique script and ultimately one which might get made. It was striking how many of the selected scripts had strong personal connections with the writers.

My script, which dealt with my experience of Alzheimer’s in my family, touched a real chord with the producer I was working with, whose father was suffering from dementia. So in my case, writing from personal experience led to a strong professional bond, which hopefully will continue!

Since I was in America it was hardly surprising there was a big emphasis on pitching. Don’t go into a general meeting in the US without a carefully honed and well rehearsed pitch! No off the cuff ramblings allowed. A top pitching tip was to always start with your own personal interest in the story, why you chose to write the script and importantly why only you can write it.

Some of the producers recommended creating a look book for your project. A collection of visual reference points and inspirations which can go a long way to capturing the tone of your project. This was probably more relevant for the writer/directors, but it could be a useful exercise for writers as well.

The advice was sometimes surprisingly detailed. There were tips on how to dress for those important producer meetings… (no surprises here, not your slouch pants and a baggy jumper). Would that topic ever come up in a room full of men writers? I doubt it. I suppose this points to some of the extra hoops older women writers feel they have to jump through.

The overall message was clear. As writers we need not only an impressive and unique script, but we need to be able to sell it to producers and commissioners with professionalism and self belief. What was encouraging was that there’s also no doubt that we writers are our own best ambassadors.

We are the people who have the passion for our scripts, we know how we want them to hit emotionally, we have researched and lived what we have written in our pages and there are many commissioners, producers and executives out there eager to hear that experience.’

Thank you very much Ann.

…AND a response to something I wrote a few weeks ago about meetings, ideas, pitching etc- and about finding the best way forward for you as individual writers –

‘This is the area I feel I really suffer from. I am not a natural at fleshing out bags of ideas. I do not have a secret drawer. I learn my ideas/characters by writing them out in scripts – by giving them monologues and scenes. This makes my process lengthy and haphazard and that just doesn’t swing in this telly climate sometimes. I feel I constantly let people down.

I was never really prepared for how to go into telly meetings, and despite having now met tons of lovely script editors, producers and developers I really don’t think I’ve yet to find my groove.

I have developed a spread of stuff – sometimes really me – but more often than not – not me at all. And it’s been a horrid journey of material that falls apart in your fingers and causes hours of wasted time for everyone.

I feel it’s so important what you have said about the idea being exceptional and YOURS. I think there’s a bit of a false idea that you should have a million projects in with a million indies – but actually if you’re like me, you have to fall in love with an idea – and I find it very hard to fall in love that often – it’s just who I am. Yes, it makes it rather nerve wracking – the whole question of ‘what are you up to’ but I suppose you just have to hold that nerve and know that when you do have an idea that takes over, you will finally be able to answer that question with more than just ‘oh some stuff’.

The best time I’ve had this year and a reminder that whilst I might not come up with reams of material by myself – when surrounded by peers I am on FIRE! I just really love a writers room to be honest – think it chimes with what you said about being playful and under time pressure.’

 

NEW FREE EVENT | On 4 Dec @shootingpeoples host their final SHORT CUTS event of 2018. They will be joined by one of the UK’s most prolific and accomplished producers, the Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning, Stephen Woolley (Carol, On Chesil Beach, Interview with the Vampire) for an in-depth Q&A. It’s also their end of year Christmas party, so expect a few extra treats to boot. Get your FREE ticket before they go http://bit.ly/SPCDEC4.

 

The next newsletter will be in two weeks’ time on Friday November 30th – in which I (and my script readers) will reflect on the (very positive!) experience of working our way through the 2800 scripts that were submitted for the 2019 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course.

Until then

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

November 16th 2018

 

AUTUMN DRAMA SCRIPT HIGHLIGHTS

Posted by admin  /   October 30, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on AUTUMN DRAMA SCRIPT HIGHLIGHTS

 

Hi There,

This week a look back at some of my drama highlights from this Autumn so far –

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER

Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (adapted from one of his own short stories). Lead actor Bill Nighy was interviewed afterwards and talked about how director Kar Hunter sold the job to him – told him 3 things about the shooting process – 1. No close-ups. 2. No improvisation. 3. No shots of anyone getting in and out of cars, going in and out of houses.

I think we can all learn from no.3. There aren’t many times where these sorts of shots are anything other than dead screen-time. A good reminder that every shot, every moment, has to count. If you’re writing scenes in which characters get in and out of cars, walk in and out of houses, brush their teeth, shower, have breakfast, dial a phone number, buy something in a shop…I could go on – think very carefully about whether you need these moments. Do they tell us something vital about the characters? Do they have story meaning? Do they advance or change the story? If not, cut them out.

Screenwriting is so much about the way you cut between the different scenes, as much about what you leave out as what you include. The great virtue of screenwriting and the way you can cut between scenes is that you can leave out the boring bits and include only the interesting bits.

Screenwriting is about telling the story in the way you move between the scenes. In this way script editors and writers need to think like film editors.

HAPPY NEW YEAR COLIN BURSTEAD

Writer / director Ben Wheatley introduced the film with a self-deprecating references to Mike Leigh. ‘I’ve done my NUTS IN MAY with SIGHTSEEERS, and this is my ABIGAIL’S PARTY.’ (It may also have been something to do with the fact that Mike Leigh was in the baudience.)

This made me think about the nature of creativity. None of us start with a completely blank page. What we experience and what we watch and read can’t help but influence and inspire us. It was really interesting to be reminded of how Ben Wheatley has picked up the baton from Mike Leigh – how we all need role models, how generation passes on the creative spark to generation. However much HNYCB is inspired by ABIGAIL’S PARTY, it’s still absolutely its own thing and an expression of Ben Wheatley’s artistic sensibilities. It’s a brilliant depiction of family. I was going to say ‘dysfunctional family’ but what family isn’t dysfunctional in some way? And the brilliant observations in this film feel emotionally universal. There are so many great performances and it’s very funny.

It’s also deceptively narratively tight. It’s essentially a study of family who get together for a New Year celebration but there are a load of narrative clues and hooks that make it compelling as a piece of story-telling as well as a study of family and relationships. The ultimate message seemed to be – however difficult we find our families, we all, ultimately, need them.

Both SAN & HNYCB had strong narrative threads of ‘The Prodigal Son.’ Bible stories are a great source of universal story templates.

THE FRONT RUNNER / FAHRENHEIT 11-9

I saw these two political films straight after each other and the comparisons / contrasts were interesting. TFR is about 1988 democrat presidential Gary Hart and his campaign to become president being destroyed by a sex scandal. The film’s thesis seems to be that Hart was one of the first victims of tabloid excesses – the film dramatises Hart’s furious response to questions about his marriage and private life. On the one hand the film seems to be saying Hart was a noble man who was victimised by the press but on the other hand it’s also saying that he was a bit a sleaze-bag, who had extra-marital affairs & one-night stands with several women and brought defeat on himself (although it’s very much the first idea that dominates). While the film is objectively excellent – the acting, direction and writing are of the highest standard, ultimately I felt that this film was trying to have its cake and eat it; and that it didn’t really know what it was saying. I think it’s trying to be interestingly complex but for me, this is a classic example of a lot of time, money, talent and effort being expanded on a deeply flawed idea – and it will amaze me if this film is successful (although it’s very much worth seeing).

FAHRENHEIT 11-9 on the other hand is Michael Moore’s best film for some time (although IMO all of his films are pretty damn good – the world needs more campaigning, committed film journalists like Michael Moore). The film tries to hit a lot of targets and it could be said that it’s a bit scatter-gun in its approach – but it is undeniably powerful. It has a real emotional kick and is terrifying and inspiring in equal measure. The film covers so many completely extraordinary stories. It’s films like this that make me despair of the less good, small ideas that I get pitched. When so many terrible, jaw-dropping things are happening in the world, so many things that need to be exposed and discussed, do we really need a comedy drama about a family-run café and its owners attempt to keep it running? (NB This is MY terrible idea – NOT an idea that I’ve been pitched – but just there to show you what a low stakes drama idea looks like to me!).

And it’s not just Trump who gets both barrels from Moore – there is also some really interesting flak for Obama and the democrats.

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY – National Theatre

This is what I call a good idea – an epic 3 ½ hour play, performed by 3 actors, about the history of Lehman Brothers – from the arrival of the three brothers in the USA from Bavaria in the 1840’s to their role in the financial crash of 2008 (and the company’s liquidation) – in effect a history of US (and World) capitalism seen through the prism of a single family and their business. And the play lived up to the promise of its compelling idea – the writing is razor-sharp – never less than fascinating, often humorous and at times really powerful. Above all it feels epic – and important. The script is enhanced by the brilliant direction and performances. All three actors are outstanding, the musical accompaniment almost throughout by single piano works wonderfully and the design is also excellent – really classy, well-judged, unshowy direction by Sam Mendes. I could never claim to be the most patient audience member but I was gripped throughout the 3 ½ hours; I was even a bit surprised and disappointed when the play ended – and at that length, that’s the greatest compliment I can give it.

STORIES by Nina Raine – National Theatre, Dorfman

Beautifully-observed writing about a subject that is emotionally universal and felt all the more so because this account of it also felt so specific and personal. The story of a 39 year old woman who is determined to have a baby. As a follow-up to the wonderful CONSENT, STORIES marks Nina Raine out as one of the foremost dramatic writers in the UK at the moment.

C4 SCRIPT-READING

It’s been a very enjoyable (ongoing), thought-provoking process discussing the scripts with my team of 7 script readers. I talk a lot about the huge importance of characters with whom we can relate but one of the things that keeps coming up in many of the scripts I’ve responded to is a big, clear story hook. When you start reading a script, as a reader you need something to hold onto, something to anchor you in the story. In some of the best scripts the title points the way, but there’s also a really clear and compelling narrative idea that is evident often from the very start of the script.

It’s also been great shifting between long days of concentrated reading broken up by the occasional theatre matinee and bouts of LFF films (it’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it) and using some of the brilliant plays and films I’ve seen as a touchstone for the standard of scripts I should be looking for in the 4screenwriting submissions. And it’s been really exciting to read so many scripts that absolutely live up to the standards of shows like STORIES and HAPPY NEW YEAR COLIN BURSTEAD. It feels like a very exciting privilege to be on the front-line of discovering some of the new dramatic writing talent in the UK.

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 16th.

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

November 2nd 2018

 

STORY IDEAS & PITCHING Part 2

Posted by admin  /   October 19, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on STORY IDEAS & PITCHING Part 2

Hi There,

Following on from my newsletter two weeks ago about story ideas and pitching, here are some more related thoughts –

MEETINGS

Once you’ve written 2 or 3 outstanding spec scripts and people in the industry are starting to take notice of you, you will get a lot of meetings and you need to be ready to take advantage of what these meetings offer.

If a producer / script editor / development executive gets in touch and offers to meet up for a cup of tea and a chat, for a ‘general’ meeting – this is NOT just about a cup of tea and a chat. No script editor is going to want to meet up with you unless they genuinely like your writing and are keen to work with you. This initial meeting will be to sound you out – to make sure you and they are roughly on the same wave-length, that you come across as professional and conscientious but, most importantly, they want to know what ideas you might like to write about, and to see if there’s any common ground between your interests and theirs. So don’t rock up waiting to be impressed. You need to have done your homework, researched the person you’re meeting and the company they work for (and even the companies this script editor used to work for) and have constructive, engaged opinions about the shows made by the company you’re going to see – this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be glowingly positive about every show they’ve ever made.

For a script editor / producer these meetings aren’t casual social events to pass the time. If they want to meet you, they have already made a significant commitment to you as a writer – and you need to make the most of these opportunities. Us Brits like to downplay things and you have to be adept at reading the sub-text of what is said.

 

GENERATING STORY IDEAS

Above all, you need to go into these meetings armed with ideas that you’re passionate about writing. The industry is hungry for your good ideas and if they are good, companies will commit to them and you will have to be continually creating and generating brilliant new ideas. As professional TV dramatists this is almost as important a part of your work as actually writing the scripts. It’s these new ideas that are going to get you new script-writing work.

Go for ideas that don’t just interest you but impact on you emotionally. Those are the stories we’re all looking for – stories that address what bothers, excites, scares, terrifies, infuriates, overjoys you. What excites and enthuses you? What are your secret passions? What / who do you love (or hate? And why?) Stories that evoke an emotional response. Stories that challenge the status quo. It’s not enough that your story is intellectually a good idea. It has to have emotional resonance.

Think about – why your story needs to be told now. Even (particularly) if it’s a period story. What does your story tell us about the world we live in today?

Don’t think that because an idea came to you easily that you should be suspicious of it. OR conversely if you have struggled working on an idea for years that that confers status on it. The opposite is more often true – the best ideas come quickly and easily.

You will feel / know when your pitch / idea is good. And it will be easy to pitch. And anyway it’s not about the delivery of the pitch, it’s about the quality of the idea.

But you have to put yourself in the right place (mentally and physically) to be open to these ideas. Look outward more than inward.

 

MAKING THE MOST OF THE OPPORTUNITIES

Sometimes the switch between no success or recognition at all in the TV drama world – and fighting off the meetings and offers – changes very quickly. The industry is quite small and producers and script editors are constantly swapping notes on who’s good. If you get onto one scheme like 4screenwriting you may suddenly find you get all sorts of other offers. You need to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of these opportunities when they do come along. And if you’re putting yourself out there and working hard at writing scripts, generating ideas and meeting people, and nothing is coming of it, then you need to be able to stand back and revaluate why things aren’t happening for you and work out what you need to do differently. Because there is an industry of people actively, hungrily looking for new writers, and if you’re working at it but not breaking through there will be a good reason for it – but perhaps one that the potential employers are too polite / cowardly to tell you. At the same time, you need to be sure that you are receptive to constructive feedback about how you can improve your chances of success.

 

WORKING RELATIONSHIPS

At a certain tipping point when you have got to know quite a few people in the industry and know who you want to work with and who you don’t, these people will start coming to you with their ideas. Sometimes it’s smart as a writer to be receptive to ideas that companies are bringing to you – this is an advantageous position to start from – when the company is trying to persuade you of the virtue of their ideas rather than the other way round. The company / script editor will already have an emotional / vested interest in the idea and you will be leaping on board momentum that has already been built up in-house without having to initially persuade them of the virtue of your idea. And hopefully the ideas that companies bring to you will already be informed by their knowledge of what is likely to get commissioned at that particular moment.

 

PITCH DOCUMENTS

These documents are very hard to write. They’re a completely different skill to writing a script but they’re really important and as screenwriters you need to embrace the challenge of writing them.

What these documents aren’t about is a detailed chronology of plot detail – we just want the absolute story essentials. Resist getting bogged down in plot when pitching – pitching is about the wider overview, not detailed plot chronology.

They are about expressing the uniqueness of your idea. What is utterly distinctive and exciting about your idea? Why does it need to be made – now? What is the emotional hook of your idea? Why are you not only the best writer for this project but the only writer who could write it? What is the compelling dramatic premise / narrative hook of your idea? Who are the vivid compelling characters at the heart of your story? What are the detailed visual images / tableaus / moments that articulate your idea?

These are the sorts of questions your document needs to address – and the document needs to address them in the shortest form possible. No reader wants an initial written pitch for a project to be 20 pages. Ideally they’d like it to be one page. But if you feel that you need 2-3 pages to do real justice to the idea, then that’s fine. But you should write this document with real economy. There should be no repetition.

The document needs to convey not just your passion / excitement but also the tone / stylistic approach. If you’re pitching a comedy, your written pitch needs to be funny. If you’re pitching a thriller, it needs to be thrilling.

And the way you write it needs to convey how excited you are about the idea. But like the best scripts, all of this needs to be sub-textual. There is nothing more off-putting in these pitch documents than empty promises – assurances that the script will be funny, heart-breaking, thrilling, without any evidence of this in the document. These documents need to deliver not tease. At the same time, these documents aren’t meant to be a complete package – they’re just supposed to pique interest and initiate a conversation and questions about the idea.

As with your scripts, get feedback on your pitches, try them out on people, work on them and redraft them before you submit them professionally. Treat them with the focus and dedication you would a script.

Identify the essence of what is exciting and unique about your idea and keep this at the heart of your pitch. The clarity of the idea is key.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 2nd,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

October 19th 2018

 

PITCHING / IDEAS

Posted by admin  /   October 05, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on PITCHING / IDEAS

Hi There,

I’ve had a hugely enjoyable week with three days of courses – on Tuesday my STORY, IDEAS AND CHARACTER ‘masterclass’ at the Indie Training Fund (who this week merged with Creative Skillset to become ‘SCREENSKILLS’ in case you’re interested); and then on Wednesday and Thursday 2 sessions with the BBC writersroom 2018 Drama Room intake (15 writers selected from their annual Drama script submissions for 6 month mentoring and script development).

On both of these courses, I asked the writers to find an idea from 2 pages of newspapers and create the best feature film or TV show pitch they could get from their particular pages. The results were astonishing – and I’ve had a very enjoyable time listening to some very exciting, imaginative pitches for a lot of shows that I would very much like to see on our screens.

I want to say a massive thank you to all the writers involved for their whole-hearted, committed approach to these exercises – they put in a lot of effort (and had the courage to pitch their ideas in rooms full of about 20 people).

I’ve used this and similar exercises many times on courses and they nearly always produce brilliant stories and pitches. It seems to me that the more parameters, the more limitations, the less time you give, the better the ideas that come out of the exercise.

But the ideas I’ve been listening to over the last three days, created through ‘artificial’ games and exercises, are also better than nearly all of the ideas that I’ve been pitched in proper writer meetings over the last year. I say this a little reluctantly. As you may have gathered I try quite hard to be positive in these newsletters. But if there’s one area of screenwriting that I’d say writers need to think more about, it’s this area – creating ideas that are likely to be picked up by producers. (This is both true of writers when they initially pitch their ideas at the start of the Channel 4 course and in development meetings I’ve had outside of the Channel 4 course).

And this is true both of verbal pitches but perhaps even more so of written pitches and outlines which seem to be fiendishly hard to get right.

So here are some related thoughts  –

This should go without saying but I’m going to say it anyway! Particularly if you’re a new writer with no TV track record (but actually this applies all writers of any level of experience) the ideas you pitch don’t just have to be good – they have to be exceptional. No self-respecting indie is going to commission you to write even an outline for £500 unless they are genuinely excited by the idea and think that it has a hope of cutting through and being attractive to the decision-makers, the commissioning executives.

There is no allowance for the fact that you’re a newer writer. Whoever you are, you are directly competing with Jed Mercurio and Sally Wainwright. Your ideas don’t just have to be as good as their ideas (who’s going to pick your similar idea over writers with track records like theirs?) it has to be considerably better.

So the ideas you pitch have to be outstanding and exceptional. And when you pitch them you have to believe this. And if they’re not outstanding and exceptional because you haven’t fully thought them through yet, but you’re just trying them out in meetings in their early development phase, then you shouldn’t be pitching them.

Instead you should try them out on your friends, loved ones or more particularly those who you trust to give you constructive but, above all, brutally honest feedback. (You’ll find teenage children are very useful in this respect).

It’s a great time for newer writers to be pitching new ideas because there are quite a few precedents at the moment of shows from brand new writers being picked up and even made (by both traditional broadcasters and SVOD’s). But they’re only being picked up because they are outstandingly good ideas – and because the writer has gone into a meeting with an indie and managed to persuade a script editor, then an executive producer, then a commissioning editor (and probably several other people besides) of the uniqueness and excellence of their idea.

Not only that – but you also need to persuade those who hold the purse-strings that YOU are the best writer for this story – indeed that you are the ONLY writer who could tell the story you want to tell.

Listening to so many great ideas this week has really made me think about what a good TV drama idea is, what it looks and sounds like.

There were a couple of ideas that were pitched to me yesterday that were epic – stories that were spread over several years in a life and over different continents – about struggle, hardship and ultimate redemption. Be ambitious in the ideas you pitch. Don’t limit yourself and your ideas. Go for scale, ambition and the EPIC! Go for BIG ideas.

Titles. In another exercise I get writers to come up with completely random titles and then create stories from the titles. Two of the titles that generated cracking stories – THE WINTER IS COMING and SEVEN WAYS HOME. Strong, imaginative titles like this can spark strong, imaginative stories.

(So many good ideas have come up this week through (frankly) quite silly games and exercises. But I think the silliness is really important. Creativity is so much easier in a playful environment. It should be FUN, it shouldn’t be sitting staring at a computer screen until your brain bleeds.)

The devil is in the detail. Stories and characters come alive through telling detail – particularly visual detail. Memorable visual images and moments between characters can stand out (rather than more generalised descriptions of character qualities).

Following on from this was a discussion of the mundane aspects of our lives that contain insightful, defining characteristics – what we eat, what we buy at the supermarket; what we wear; what newspapers we read; our mode of transport; social media profile and activity. If you can imagine all of this for your character, you have gone a long way to creating an utterly unique, clearly-defined person. So often it’s these authentic, idiosyncratic details that bring characters to life.

I’m going to carry on these thoughts about ideas, pitching and how you generate new stories and invent new characters in 2 weeks time…

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019

The final script total for the 2019 course was (gulp) a whopping 2800 which myself and my small team of readers have now begun to read and discuss. If you entered – thank you very much. It will be a good few weeks before we have any news but we really appreciate the level of interest in the course and are delighted that so many people submitted scripts. I’ve already read several cracking scripts and I can see the choice of the final 12 is going to be ridiculously difficult. But it’s a really exciting process discovering so many talented new dramatic writers, reading so many wonderful stories.

A message from excellent 4screenwriting alumna DREW MARKE –

****FEMALE WRITERS WANTED****

A Call to Arms for our scribing sisters!

The 14th of December this year will mark 100 years since the first woman in the UK cast a vote. The first time a woman had a say in who would make the decisions that affected her. It would take another ten years for all women to be granted that right, but still, it was a momentous occasion worth celebrating, don’t you agree? Earlier this year we formed a female creative collective to develop a piece of work to commemorate this centenary, and as a response to #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement. On the 14th of December 2018, at Above the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square we will be celebrating this groundbreaking event with an evening of pieces, produced, directed, written, and performed by women.

We are still looking for some additional writing for our show and we would love submissions of monologues, duologues, songs, or spoken word which hold up a mirror to contemporary female experience, or are inspired by or based on the achievements of extraordinary women, or the gagged, mute, invisible and hidden; those who have been airbrushed from history. With that said we would really like a selection of pieces which not only examine oppression but are celebratory, that are bold and unapologetic or posit an alternative way of being; an opportunity to re-write the narrative. Each piece should be no longer than 10 minutes. At this stage in proceedings, what we can offer with regards to remuneration in that the profits from the show will be equally divided amongst those taking part.

It is our intention for this to be the inaugural event to launch an ongoing, collaborative group of creators who get together on a monthly basis to discuss issues and stories, current and historical, that matter to women, and will inspire and inform our future work as individuals and as a collective. We want to keep the conversation alive, and to make our contribution towards the issue of gender equality as well as give opportunity to women in our industry who are still woefully underrepresented. As Emmeline Pankhurst said, ‘You have to make more noise than anybody else…you have to be there all time’!

Applications are open immediately, and will be closing on October 21st at 16:00, please email them to: femaleedit@gmail.com

Thanks,

Drew

Breaking Into UK Film And TV Drama: A comprehensive guide to finding work in UK Film and TV Drama by Matt Gallagher

Finally this week I’d like to recommend a book. One of the excellent delegates on my ITF course this week was Matt Gallagher. He told me nothing about this book but I happened to come across it, had not heard of it before and, having flicked through it, I think it’s a really excellent guide to many areas of the TV and film industries in the UK.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breaking-Into-Film-Drama-comprehensive/dp/1523676000/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538730820&sr=1-3&keywords=Matt+Gallagher

The next newsletter will be on Friday October 19th

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

October 5th 2019

 

 

 

AUTUMN DRAMA HIGHLIGHTS

Posted by admin  /   September 21, 2018  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on AUTUMN DRAMA HIGHLIGHTS

I will be running my STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass at the Indie Training Fund in London on Tuesday Oct 2nd – places still available.

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=15616

 

 

Hi There,

The scripts have been pouring in for the 2019 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE since we opened for entries two weeks ago today (we’re already past the 1000 mark with another week to go). My team of readers (and me) are lined up and raring to go – it’s an exciting prospect.

It’s that time of year where we’re hit by a wave of fresh creativity – so much new drama on TV, the London Film Festival coming up very soon and lots of exciting new theatre writing.

Last week for three days I returned to one of my favourite places, Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, to take in the 2019 HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL. And what a treat it was. The standard has always been high – but this year was by some way the best ever. (I bumped into festival director, Steven Atkinson, and we discussed similarities in taste – how so many 4screenwriting writers have also been High Tide writers – Anders Lustgarten, Nessah Muthy, Luke Norris, Milly Thomas, Theresa Ikoko, Vinay Patel – to name but a few.)

And this year was no exception. Two of the best shows I saw were by 4screenwriting alumni – SONGLINES, a lovely, warm, beautifully-written and acted two-hander about an awkward teenage relationship, with music provided by 2/4 of Tallulah Brown’s own band, Trills. The musicians were on stage throughout, and it was amusing to see the playwright on stage watching the actors interpret her own lines. Her expression was impressively inscrutable – but she must have been bursting with pride inside.

And A SUPER HAPPY STORY ABOUT FEELING SUPER BAD – a cabaret musical about depression by Jon Brittain. This was another superlative script brilliantly performed – hugely inventive, funny, moving and very thought-provoking. The show is being toured round the UK until early November by Hull theatre group Silent Uproar.

In fact this was the 2nd play in 2 days I’d seen (by a 4screenwriting alumni) about a female in her 20’s with depression, the other being Milly Thomas’s intensely excellent DUST, still playing at Trafalgar Studios in London (alongside another 4screenwriting alumni Arinze Kene’s equally brilliant, ground-breaking MISTY). DUST and SUPER HAPPY… dealt with similar subject matter in completely different ways – both had a strong streak of humour running through them, and both were highly impressive scripts, superbly performed.

Other highlights from High Tide –

– Danusia Samal’s one woman (+2 musicians) show about her experiences busking on the London Underground for ten years – like SONGLINES and SUPER HAPPY, more ‘gig theatre’ – and another example of what a rich genre this has become.

– WOKE by Apphia Campbell & Meredith Yarbrough, performed by Appiah Campbell. Another hugely powerful one woman show (again with music – Apphia has a wonderful singing voice) about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and how a young female black student gets caught up in the subsequent (continued) police brutality. It’s great when theatre this good can make an impact in a setting so massively culturally different to the place where the story’s set. It was moving to see the standing ovation that the almost exclusively white, middle-aged audience gave to this impassioned piece of theatre about the #blacklivesmatter movement. This was theatre to educate and inspire at its best.

– SPARKS written and performed by Jessica Butcher & Anoushka Lucas – more gig theatre. A narrative monologue with reflections about relationships, urban life and much, much more in both words and music. Again, this was beautifully performed and written.

– SKIN A CAT by Isley Lynn. A vibrant, very funny and poignant three-hander about relationships and female sexuality. Another cracking script. (I also went to a reading of Isley Lynn’s new play THE SWELL – which was heartfelt and intriguing.)

– MOUTHPIECE. A reading of a new play by Scottish writer Kieran Hurley. I went to this at 10.00 on Saturday morning in an unprepossessing church hall with an audience in single figures. It was read as a 1 hour 45 minute 2-hander without a break – and I was absolutely spellbound by it. It’s coming to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in December – don’t miss it!

Including DUST on Wednesday night, I went to see 10 new plays over 3+ days – I have to say I’m pretty impressed by my own stamina! – but the experience was a joy. I came away from Suffolk on Saturday inspired and creatively energised.

The good news for YOU is that the HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL is carrying on for another week, with some of these shows, and many others, at Walthamstow until Sept 30th. If you have the time, do yourself a favour and get yourself over to East London.

There’s also been a glut of new Autumn TV drama to get your teeth into – the ratings phenomenon that is BODYGUARD which, although it has some great set-piece action sequences and narrative twists and turns, I have to say I have mixed feelings about; WANDERLUST, which I’m enjoying a lot – the quality and intelligence of Nick Payne’s writing shines through (another former High Tide writer), and it’s refreshing and encouraging to see BBC1 schedule such a low-concept, character-driven, writer-led drama series in a 9pm weekday slot; the Channel 4 ON THE EDGE series is definitely worth catching up with (including a script by 4screenwriting alumna Janice Okoh).

Highlights from the summer include series 3 of UNFORGOTTEN – in many ways an utterly conventional police procedural – but Chris Lang really knows how to tease out a story – and this for me is an example of genre TV drama at its very best – it really elevates the genre, with the confidence and freshness of its storytelling.

But my TV drama favourite of the last few weeks has undoubtedly been the new Sky Atlantic series, SUCCESSION. A US-set show, with exclusively American characters, it’s fascinating to me that this is written by a largely British team of writers. Lead writer is the excellent Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Babylon, Black Mirror etc). (If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter you may remember the short piece I included a few months ago by outstanding novelist DAVID ARMSTONG – Jesse’s father). Other UK writers on the team include Anna Jordan, Lucy Prebble, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche and Jon Brown. For me, this is up there with the best US shows of recent years. Structurally this is quite a conventional family business saga – about a Murdoch-like family and their massive media empire – and what happens when the Rupert Murdoch-like patriarch’s illness causes a family and business meltdown. What is great about this series are the characterisations. The characters are a wonderfully damaged, dysfunctional, objectively unsympathetic bunch – but they’re all utterly compelling. The series is gripping and dramatic – but what clinches it for me is the wonderful vein of humour – so much of it is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a writers room set-up – and encouraging that this particular writers room is mainly populated by UK writers!

If SUCCESSION is anything to go by, more UK indies should be creating their drama series in this way.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 5th,

Best wishes

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Sept 21st 2018

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019

Posted by admin  /   September 07, 2018  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019

Hi There,

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019

I’m pleased to announce that I will be running this course again in 2019 and that entries opened TODAY at 9am!

We will be open for entries for 3 weeks – until 5pm on Friday September 28.

All the details and information you need, and the entry form, can be found on my website –

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019

I have already received quite a few emails from writers with questions about course entries. I have a policy of not replying unless it’s about something absolutely vital that isn’t covered by the FAQs section on the web page (and because I’ve been updating this information for the last 8 years, there aren’t many questions that aren’t covered).

The question I have been asked most so far is – can I include my series bible / treatment / outline or other background information with my script. The answer to this is – NO. We only need to see the script. The script and CV should speak for themselves.

Every year I am inundated with questions via email and social media – and I would far rather spend my time reading your scripts than entering into time-consuming email correspondence. Unless you think there’s a glaring omission in the information on the webpage, please use your initiative.

Can I also suggest that you read some of the past years’ writers’ testimonials and watch this short film –

…that was made about the 2017 course. They will tell you quite a lot about the way the course works and will help inform your entry.

Can I also ask that, if possible, you don’t leave your entry until the last moment. Generally we receive over half our entries on the last day, and a lot of those in the last hour! There have been many panics over scripts submitted at the last moment. We will stick to the advertised closing time with no exceptions! So do yourselves a favour and avoid unnecessary stress by entering earlier in the 3 week window.

What are we looking for?

We are looking for 12 talented, distinctive dramatic (or comic) writers who don’t already have a TV broadcast or feature film writing credit (A short film credit, a produced radio play or stage play are permitted). We try to get as broad and diverse a mix of writers as possible – in terms of gender, age, regionality, ethnicity, disability and – most importantly – in voice.

We are looking for writers who are distinctive, exciting, challenging and entertaining. We are looking for writers with a sensibility that fits the profile of Channel 4 (and E4) drama, and who have a broad knowledge and appreciation of UK TV drama in general and Channel 4 drama in particular. We are looking for collaborators – for people who relish the opportunity to work with script editors and are excited about entering the intensely competitive world of TV drama. And we are looking for writers who are excited about telling their stories on screen – who are fascinated and excited by the craft of screenwriting.

We also try to get a range of different levels of experience in the writers we select. We will always have some writers who already have agents and are already beginning to make their mark and build a reputation in the business, often writers, for instance, who have already written some successful fringe theatre plays – but we will always try to balance this by having some writers who are brand new, who don’t have agents and are completely unknown to the industry. And we are always, for instance, keen to work with writers who don’t live in London, who have a specific regional / national voice to their writing. Essentially we want as many fresh, unexpected and distinctive writing perspectives as possible.

In advance, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who enters. It’s always enormously exciting (and a little daunting) receiving so many scripts (last year we received 2040) and incredibly hard to choose 12 writers from such a huge number of scripts. I work with a team of script readers (from whom we choose our 4 course shadow script editors – there is also a script editor training element to the course). I give all the readers as much information as possible in terms of what we are looking for (see above!) and while we try to be as objective as possible, there is inevitably a degree of subjective taste (and disagreement!) in the scripts we all respond to. If you don’t gain a place on the 2019 course, you should accept it as philosophically as you can – unfortunately, even for the most successful writers, rejection and disappointment are a big part of the business – and the successful writers are the ones who can retain their self-belief and keep bouncing back from disappointment. You should also console yourself with the fact that every year some of the writers we select for the course have applied for several years and only get selected at their 3rd or 4th year of entry. From the 2018 course, for example, this was true of Emily White, Abi Hynes, Matilda Ibini and Chandni Lakhani.

Information about an upcoming FREE screenwriting event –

On 2 Oct at Rich Mix (London), Shooting People will be hosting their free SHORT CUTS October Event and are very excited to be joined by the award-winning actor, writer and director, Alice Lowe. Best known for her 2016 directorial debut Prevenge and as the co-star and co-writer of Sightseers, Alice has also appeared in some of the best British comedy features of the past few years. Her new feature Timestalker is due to film next year. Book your FREE ticket here [link: bit.ly/SCR4EB].

AND I will be running my STORY CHARACTER & IDEAS Masterclass at the indie training fund in London on Oct 2nd. This is a course designed for writers and anyone who works in the creative industries that will hopefully work to inspire and energise your creative instincts and make you think about how story works, what makes for memorable and resonant characters, what constitutes an exciting story idea, where good story ideas come from and what makes for a successful pitch.
The day is usually a lot of fun and I can honestly say it always seems to generate a load of exciting and distinctive story ideas.

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=15616

The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 21st

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Sept 7th 2018

WRITERS’ RETREAT FRANCE Sept 16-22

Posted by admin  /   June 29, 2018  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on WRITERS’ RETREAT FRANCE Sept 16-22

Hi There,

 

WRITERS’ RETREAT France Sept 16 – 22 2018

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been asked to run a WRITERS’ RETREAT in France at the home of writer Katy Walker. (Katy wrote the excellent TRIBUTE PODCAST ‘Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ http://tributepodcasts.co.uk/podcasts/valediction-forbidding-mourning-katy-walker/ and has just graduated with a distinction from the MA Dramatic Writing at Central St Martins / University of the Arts London).

https://www.scriva.org/

As you’ll see from the photos in the above link, it’s a lovely house in a beautiful, peaceful part of rural France. The idea of the writers’ retreat is that over 5 days (from Monday to Friday) there will be classes / feedback sessions in the morning, and a chance to concentrate on your writing in the afternoons.

A select group of 8 writers will get the chance to either work on an idea they’re already developing or (ideally) settle on a brand new project and begin to develop it over the week of the course.

Working one-to-one with writers is for me the most satisfying part of my work so I was delighted when Katy asked me to run this course.

We particularly want to concentrate on helping you to develop / write a project that really shows off your unique abilities as a writer to their very best – ideas that tap into your unique voice as a writer, idea that really bring out the best in you as a writer.

This week away from it all – in beautiful surroundings with some lovely food (Katy is an excellent cook and grows a lot of her own fruit and veg) is designed to really give your writing the time and focus it deserves, with my encouragement and support.

Please contact Katy by email (via the above link) if you have any questions about this writers’ retreat.

 

MA DRAMATIC WRITING SHOWCASE London July 5 + 6

…and speaking of Katy’s graduation, here is information about the MA graduates showcase. I taught these graduating students in their first year, and there is some real talent amongst them, so I would very much recommend the show. An added attraction is the theatre’s location inside the wonderful Granary Building in re-generated Kings Cross – it really has become one of the places to visit in London (although it’s still not that well-known).

DRAMA CENTRE LONDON

MA DRAMATIC WRITING SHOWCASE

Thursday 5 July 7pm

Friday 6 July 3pm

Many thanks to those of you who have already arranged tickets. This is a reminder invitation for those who might now have a free window next week. 

You are warmly invited to the MA Dramatic Writing Showcase, a fantastic programme of short rehearsed readings from the work of this year’s MA Dramatic Writing graduates, performed by Drama Centre London students. Featuring extracts from plays, radio plays and screen plays, this is a chance to celebrate the work of one of the UK’s leading new writing courses and meet writers.

RSVP: drama.performance.events@csm.arts.ac.uk

 We look forward to seeing you there!

 The Drama Centre London team’

 MA DRAMATIC WRITING SHOWCASE 2018

Thursday 5 July 7pm

Friday 6 July 3pm

2 ½ hours including interval. Refreshments will be served.

Directions: Studio Theatre, Platform Theatre, Handyside Street N1C 4AA

 Drama Centre London is part of the Drama and Performance Programme at Central Saint Martins

Website:         arts.ac.uk/csm/drama-centre-london/ 

Facebook:      /dramacentrelondon 

Twitter:           @dramacentreldn   

Instagram:      @dramacentrelondon

 

SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS COURSE, Indie Training Fund, London, July 19th

I am running this one-day course at the ITF in Euston on Thursday July 19th.

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=14248

The course is suitable for anyone who’s interested in script-editing, script reading and working with dramatic writers.

 

HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL

….and while you’re planning for writing events for this summer and beyond, can I recommend the High Tide theatre festival in Aldeburgh Sept 11-16 – at which you can always catch some really exciting new writing in a lovely part of the world.

https://www.hightide.org.uk/aldeburgh-festival-2018?spektrix_bounce=true

 

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

This is another brilliant event – a great opportunity to see so many new, exciting films, many of them with Q&A’s with the key creatives. This year’s LFF runs from Oct 10-21.

JELLYFISH by Ben Weatherill, Bush Theatre June 29th – July 21st

If you enjoyed Ben’s excellent blog (in my newsletter May 3rd http://script-consultant.co.uk/2018/05/03/script-development-ben-weatherill/ ) you won’t want to miss his new stage play – on at the Bush Theatre. I predict with confidence that it will be a real treat.

https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/jellyfish/

 

NB This is my last newsletter until FRIDAY SEPT 7th. I hope you all have a relaxing – but creative! – summer and I look forward to talking to you again with batteries re-charged in September,

 

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

June 29th 2018

 

SCRIPT CONSULTANCY + CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE

Posted by admin  /   June 15, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT CONSULTANCY + CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE

 

Hi There,

SCRIPT CONSULTANCY

I’ve been running my script consultancy for quite a few years now and have always thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s particularly exciting to see a project develop and improve over several drafts, especially when I then feel able to recommend that script to suitable industry people. But there comes a point when the batteries need refreshing and I’ve decided to give myself a couple of months proper break over the course of this summer. I have a very full list of scripts to feed-back on up until the end of this month and then I’ve promised myself a script-free July and August. You are still very welcome to send me your projects in the meantime to secure your place in the script queue – but on the understanding that I won’t get to them until after Sept 1st.

And my final NEWSLETTER before Sept 7th will be in two weeks time on June 29th.

CHANNEL 4 COURSE 2018

The Channel 4 course is over for another year. Please come back to the newsletter at the start of September for more news about the 2019 course and for details of when the entry period will be open.

Last weekend saw the 12 writers and their script editors come together at Channel 4 with the results of their labours from the preceding 5 months. 12 hugely exciting scripts. On the Saturday a day of readings of a section of each script by some brilliant actors to give the writers the chance to hear their words come to life off the page; and on the Sunday 4 eminent guest script editors came to give their feedback to the writers. On both days the response to the scripts was deservedly and overwhelmingly positive.

I couldn’t feel more confident that these 12 writers are going to make a big splash in the industry, which has led me to think about what it is about these particular writers that will make them successful (and in quite a few cases they are already well on the way) and what lessons can be learnt from them.

First, they all have something powerful and particular to say. All of their scripts feel distinctive and unique. The stories they are telling feel personal to them, they all feel like they have a strong personal agenda, and from reading each of the scripts you get a strong sense of the writer’s voice and identity. Consequently the scripts feel challenging, like they’re pushing back boundaries rather than being constrained by them.

And as people and writers there is a collective and individual confidence to these writers. In general they have strong opinions about what they like and don’t like, and there is a steely but also playful determination about them. I also think (if it’s possible to generalise about 12 such different writers) that there is a quiet well of humanity at the heart of their writing. It’s exciting to see such a talented group of writers launching themselves into an industry that is hungry for new voices.

—————————————-

On 5 July at Rich Mix (London), Shooting People will be hosting their free SHORT CUTS Summer Event and are very excited to be joined by the award-winning writer, director and actor, Desiree Akhavan. Desiree will explore her journey from making hit web series The Slope to critically acclaimed features Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival this year. This event also marks the next round of SHORT CUTS, a career development competition that gives filmmakers the chance to win £1k in film funding, industry mentorship, filmmaking equipment and prize packages. Register for your FREE ticket.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/short-cuts-summer-event-with-desiree-akhavan-tickets-46182302510

—————————————

RECENT TV DRAMA HIGHLIGHTS

What A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL teaches us about DRAMA IDEAS – this is a story that has been in the public domain for a long time. An absolutely extraordinary story that has so much to say about this country, the establishment, prejudice, intolerance, ignorance and political hypocrisy – a story that was out there, waiting to be told. It took writer / journalist John Preston to shine a light on it before the BBC commissioned the Russell T Davies version. And the first showing of the 1979 documentary about the case was also fascinating.

The 4 part serial was a delight in many ways – in particular for the flair and humour of RTD’s writing.

When you watch this, a big question is – why has nobody told this absolutely mind-blowing true story before? It feels like a story that demands to be told; and even though it happened in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, it stills feels so relevant to today. But there are SO MANY of these sorts of stories out there in the public domain, begging to be told. True stories that absolutely captured the public imagination and that are ripe for dramatization and further exploration. As writers you should be seeking out stories like this.

PATRICK MELROSE.

This 5-part adaptation of the novels of Edward St Aubyn by David Nicholls has, IMO, been one of the best bits of drama on UK TV for some time. It has great production values – the direction and acting are superb – and the writing is wonderful. These are dark, difficult stories but I thought all 5+ hours were completely compelling. Here’s a very interesting video interview with David Nicholls about the process of adapting the novels –

http://www.goldderby.com/article/2018/david-nicholls-patrick-melrose-writer-interview-benedict-cumberbatch-news-375924680/

And here’s a very good review / appreciation of ep 3 (although probably advisable not to read this until you’ve watched the episode!)

https://readysteadycut.com/2018/05/27/patrick-melrose-episode-3/

—————————————————–

TIM ATACK / BRUNTWOOD PRIZE

And finally this week, an excellent article by 4screenwriting alumnus TIM ATACK about his writing, about his winning of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize, and about ‘being an emotional artist, about thinking of emotion as a kind of driving logic when making stuff.’ This is a cracking piece of writing about writing. And Tim’s success is hugely deserved. His writing is original in the extreme and very brilliant. And he’s wonderfully modest with it.

https://www.writeaplay.co.uk/tim-x-atack-development-diary/

The next newsletter – and the last one before Friday Sept 7th – will be on June 29th.

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

June 15th 2018

 

 

 

 

 

RANDOM WRITING OBSERVATIONS

Posted by admin  /   May 30, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on RANDOM WRITING OBSERVATIONS

A one day SCRIPT EDITING course I’m running at the INDIE TRAINING FUND in London on July 19th

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=14248

 

Hi There,

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.

BALANCING ACTS

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

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

June 1st 2018

 

 

LESSONS FROM MY SCREENWRITING COURSE

Posted by admin  /   May 17, 2018  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on LESSONS FROM MY SCREENWRITING COURSE

FORTHCOMING one day COURSES I’m running at the Indie Training Fund, London – STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass (May 31) and SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS (July 19).

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=12576

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=14248

 

 

Hi There,

Last weekend I ran my two day SCREENWRITING COURSE in London. It’s always great to meet new writers and this course was no exception – we had such an exciting, varied mix of writers.

One of the things I try to stress about the course is the opportunity to meet and get to know 19 other screenwriters. Some lasting friendships – and working relationships – have come out of these courses. And part of the course is stressing just how important it is to work on making your own network of writer connections.

With writing being such an isolated activity, it’s vitally important for morale that you know and can compare notes with other people in the same situation. Writers Groups who meet up regularly to give feedback on each other’s work (and share a laugh and a glass of something) can really help you sustain a career. And the online equivalents can be a great help too (we have a facebook group that is only open to people who have done this course – now up to 261 members! – that enables these writers to talk to each other).

And your fellow writers can be a great source of information about work and opportunities.

I always stress that the hour or two in the pub at the end of each day should be taken just as seriously as the actual course. It’s often in the pub afterwards that the real connections are made, and the really interesting information shared!

By chance on the Saturday my old mucker Phil Gladwin also turned up in the pub with another group of screenwriters, because he had been running the latest event in his ‘Tribe’ initiative. It was great to be able to introduce the two different groups of screenwriters to each other – so that they could swap notes on their work – and on the two courses!

And it’s always really stimulating to get a sense of where each of these writers is up to in their working lives, and how they can all help each other. So, for instance, we had one writer who has a lot of experience of working on ‘constructed reality’ TV shows (eg TOWIE, Made In Chelsea) and it was fascinating to hear how these shows are created, using so many of the same story-telling principles as conventional TV drama. We had a novelist looking to move into screenwriting. We had a comedy writer who is interested in how to use her comic voice in drama. We had a writer who has started to have some success in childrens TV drama. We had a police officer from Northern Ireland who is keen to find a way to use his work experiences as the basis for dramatic stories…I could go on. But this will give you an idea of the mind-blowing range of different writers we have on these courses – and how their different agendas can be of such value to each other.

We had three brilliant guest speakers – writers Regina Moriarty and Vinay Patel, both of whom have been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course (Gina in 2012, Vinay in 2015) and literary agent Matthew Bates from Sayle Screen.

It was really interesting to hear Gina and Vinay talking about how they manage their careers – and how working as a screenwriter (or a dramatic writer in any medium) is in so many ways very demanding. One of the key ideas that came through from both (and from Matthew) was how important it is to retain a sense of your own personal voice, agenda and passions as a writer, to try to find work that played to their strengths, to work at retaining a sense of their own voices and strengths as writers on every project they take on.

Coincidentally both writers’ first big breaks came on shows from the same (BBC) stable – Gina on ‘MURDERED BY MY BOYFRIEND’ and Vinay on ‘MURDERED BY MY FATHER.’ Both shows are superb and really showcase the talents of the writers, and both these projects opened many doors for them. And it was interesting to see when I came home from the course on Sunday evening that the 3rd film in this series, ‘MURDERED FOR BEING DIFFERENT’ won a prize at this year’s TV BAFTA’s. It’s a huge compliment to executive producer Aysha Rafaele that she has made three such high-quality single films, and is always prepared to put her faith in relatively inexperienced writers. We need more producers like her! I’m not sure what it says about the industry as a whole that shows like this – pioneering, high-quality, writer-led single dramas – came out of the Factual department rather than the Drama department – but what it does say is not great!

There are so many great writers and scripts out there; and not enough producers like Aysha who are prepared to put their faith in these new writers and fight to get their work on screen.

Matthew also talked about how writers need to be in it for the long haul – and that when approaching agents, writers need to have demonstrated their own sense of initiative, that they are a self-starter who has already forged their own contacts and place within the creative industry. And how it inevitably takes time to build up a body of significant writing work, and the sort of contacts you need. He emphasised how hard it is to make a living as a creative (in any industry) and how you should only go down this path if you’re absolutely committed to it.

But (in case this is beginning to sound too downbeat!) I should also say that the main thing to come out of the weekend is just how exciting it can be to sit in a room with 20 talented writers as they talk about their work, and pitch brilliant, exciting ideas. And how inspiring all three guest speakers were in conveying a sense of how fulfilling it can be when you do break through, when you’re being paid decent money to write something you’re passionate about, and in particular when that work makes it to the screen.

I hope to be organising another of these courses for the autumn – watch this space!

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EVERYTHING IS COPY

I’d been looking for the Nora Ephron documentary EVERYTHING IS COPY for some time. Thank you to Xandria Horton who pointed me in its direction (Sky On Demand). It’s hard to find but very much worth seeking out. Nora Ephron was a great writer – whether of journalism, essays or screenplays.

Her work was so closely inter-twined with her life. The title is something her own mother (a Hollywood screenwriter, who co-wrote with Nora’s father) used as a mantra to Nora and her three sisters. And it’s a statement / question that is at the heart of the work of all writers. The film explores this issue fascinatingly but is about so much more too – family, friendship, ambition, relationships. A really thoughtful, inspiring celebration of a hugely distinctive and very brilliant writer.

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Finally this week, two exciting, newly-announced dramatic writing schemes –

BAFTA ELEVATE

‘BAFTA is seeking 15 writers from areas of under-representation within our industries for its latest Elevate programme. If you are trying to progress your writing career in film or high end television drama or comedy but you feel held back by your disability, gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background or if you know someone who is, then we want to hear from you.

Those selected by our panel of industry experts, will receive a bespoke 12-month programme of support including networking opportunities, introductions, mentoring, tailored panel discussions, masterclasses and workshops focused on professional development.

This is not an entry level programme, this series is not about teaching screenwriting. Participants are required to meet a certain level of experience to be considered and must have at least one on-screen credit or commission.’

http://www.bafta.org/supporting-talent/bafta-elevate

High Tide First Commissions

‘We’re thrilled to launch this year’s First Commissions scheme, our flagship Artist Development programme.

This year, we are partnering with Coney, Eastern Angles and Tamasha to engage writers and theatre makers from a wide range of backgrounds and artistic styles. The 18 month attachment, exclusively aimed at those who have never received a commission, will support artists in securing a full commissioning fee and developing their brand new plays over the attachment period.

HighTide and each partner organisation are looking for playwrights, theatre makers or artists with a burning idea who have vivid, theatrical voices. We are also interested in artists who may not necessarily identify as a ‘writer’ but have a desire to create theatrical, relevant and innovative work.

Applications are now open and will close at midday on 14th June 2018.’

 

https://www.hightide.org.uk/get-involved/playwriting/firstcommissions?dm_i=1GRF,5MYYJ,9VBQNW,LX7XQ,1

 

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 1st,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

May 18th 2018