CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018 UPDATE

Posted by admin  /   November 16, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018 UPDATE

Hi There,

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

I’m finally coming to the end of my reading for the 2018 Channel 4 screenwriting course, and it’s been a long but very rewarding haul. We received considerably more scripts than in the previous few years – up from 1300 to 2040.

I have read so many good, interesting scripts, and emails have gone out to the short-listed writers, 30+ of whom we will be interviewing at Channel 4 in a couple of weeks time before selecting the final 12.

If you haven’t heard from us – sorry! This means your application wasn’t successful. I’m sorry we can’t email everyone individually – but we don’t have the resources. And thank you so much for entering. As ever the process of whittling down 2040 applications to 12 writers is painful and difficult. But the range and quality of the scripts is more and more impressive every year.

A few observations about common elements in the scripts that stood out for me –

One quality that I continue to think is in short supply when you read vast amount of scripts is the desire among writers to tell big political stories about the state of the world and the UK today. It seems to me that there is so much in the news every day that is extraordinary, that will affect our lives for years to come – the obvious examples being Brexit and Trump – and yet so few people seem to be writing about contemporary politics, social injustice, inequalities of wealth and resource, injustices in the justice system, immigration and the refugee crisis, etc, etc. Even among the short-listed writers, these sorts of scripts are few and far between.

Here are some of the other things that made the short-listed scripts stand out –

A sense of humanity – having something to say about the human condition, usually with beautifully-observed nuances of characterisation.

Connected to this sense of humanity, some of the scripts that stood out in terms of pure enjoyment (which is after all largely what it’s about) were the sunny love stories that were warm, humorous and life-affirming. The converse to this is the large number of grim, relentless stories that don’t seem to have a strong agenda – apart from depicting misery.

A really fresh, left-field perspective on a story world or group of characters that were new to me – scripts that took me into a world that felt fresh, distinctive and revealing.

Many of the most effective scripts had a refreshing simplicity – the confidence to focus on a minutely detailed story about something that was relatively simple – but had the confidence to focus intently on this situation / relationship.

…and connected to the above is a sense of clarity and narrative focus in the best scripts. The best scripts come alive immediately off the page and are easy to read. In fact, the best scripts are impossible to stop reading. There were many scripts that didn’t feel quite right for the C4 / E4 profile – but nevertheless absolutely compelled me to read to the end.

There were certain scripts that really stood out because of the flair and confidence of their story-telling – stories that hit the ground running, and that progressed with a sense of pace, surprise, economy and excitement.

Scripts that really feel like they have something to say stand out. There are certain scripts that feel grown-up and meaningful in a way too many of the scripts don’t.

W1A

I was blown away by series 3. The characterisation and dialogue are superb. A masterclass in how to write comic dialogue. Every character has their own, brilliantly-observed verbal tic / mannerism. Long dialogue scenes go by where no-one says anything of any meaning or significance – but there’s such a strong sense of sub-text between the characters – like the Ian Fletcher / Lucy / Anna triangle. And the Jack / Izzy / Will triangle. Screenwriting at its absolute best, writing of real skill and subtlety made to look deceptively simple. Written and directed by the brilliant John Morton. I’m a big advocate of inarticulate dialogue – and W1A is such a great example of that at its best.

BEGINNING by David Eldridge at the National Theatre, Dorfman.

I really recommend this play – the 3rd excellent play in succession (after OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR and CONSENT) that I’ve enjoyed at the NT Dorfman.

What was so impressive about BEGINNING as a script and production was its simplicity but also its bravery. A two-hander set in a naturalistic Muswell Hill, one-bedroom flat setting, this was in effect a single, uninterrupted scene of 1 hour 40 minutes. The two characters are ordinary, lonely, richly-drawn, and this is a really humane, charming, thoughtful piece of writing. It’s transferring to the West End in the New Year.

JANE FEATHERSTONE BAFTA speech

This is definitely worth listening to on the BAFTA Guru website – a fascinating examination of the state of writing in the ever-changing UK TV drama industry. Jane was kind enough to reference the C4 course as one of the (too) few formal opportunities for new writers to break into TV drama. She talked about how the bigger indies and broadcasters in the UK need to put their money where their mouths are – and actively commission and foster the deep well of new writing talent that exists in the UK. Among many other thing she talked about how she thinks SVOD (Netflix, Amazon etc) co-pros with UK indies and broadcasters will soon be a thing of the past – how these SVOD co’s will soon go straight to the writers and commission them directly – and how it is incumbent on the drama indies to bring through the next generation of ‘commentators’ – the successors to TV dramatists like Sally Wainwright, Jimmy McGovern and Russell T Davies; how UK indies need to nurture and commission the next generation of UK writing talent – and encourage them to tell stories that are specifically about the UK for a specifically UK audience.

This is something that really strikes a chord with me. She talks about how ten years ago on SPOOKS there were opportunities for writers like Howard Brenton and Zinnie Harris to really make their mark writing episodes on another writer’s show (David Wolstencroft), and how these sorts of opportunities are fewer and further between now. This gap is partly being filled by the opportunities that less experienced screenwriters now have in writers rooms on co-pros with a US influence (eg shows like HARLOTS  and TIN STAR – both of which have included 4screenwriting alumni in their writers rooms).

But I believe there is a space / scope for lower budget authentic, specific, regional, distinctive British shows – made specifically for the UK market, that don’t have an eye on co-pro possibilities and overseas sales. Stories that say something interesting and important about the UK today – and are not ‘High End’ but contained, pragmatic and achievable. On a very tiny scale this was part of the thinking behind my tribute podcasts (tributepodcasts.co.uk – watch this space for news about launching a 2nd series in the next few weeks).

http://guru.bafta.org/jane-featherstone-2017-television-lecture

Finally this week a shout-out for Phil Gladwin’s excellent screenwriting goldmine script competition – now entering into the final weeks of its entry period. This is a great opportunity to get your script in front of an impressive array of influential industry folk, who can really give your career a massive leg-up.

https://awards.screenwritinggoldmine.com/

The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 1st,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

November 17th 2017

 

 

 

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Posted by admin  /   November 02, 2017  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on LONDON FILM FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Hi There

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

This week – some highlights from this year’s, as ever, excellent, London Film Festival. First are my three highlights, and below, screenwriter FLORENCE KEITH-ROACH (4screenwriting 2017 alumna) has very kindly written about the best films she saw…

FUNNY COW

The Q&A afterwards revealed that this film was ten years in development – a script actor Tony Pitts wrote for Maxine Peake. In the film they play husband and wife. Maxine Peake plays a pioneering female stand-up in the North in the ’70’s. The film is raw, powerful, poignant and at times very funny.

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. IMO this is more substantial and less whimsical than his previous films – and all the stronger for it. A really enjoyable, touching and funny character study. Dustin Hoffman, is great; Adam Sandler far less mannered than in previous films and actually very good; and Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel both excellent. It’s a really enjoyable dysfunctional family comedy drama. I saw it at the LFF; the next night it came out on Netflix, and I watched it all over again – and still enjoyed it a lot.

ANCHOR AND HOPE

Spanish film in the English language, set in and around a house boat in East London. Doesn’t have the sensibility of an English film. Languid but optimistic in a way few UK films are. Small in scale but wise, witty and beautfully written, with three excellent central performances.

Over to Florence…

‘I am writing a feature film under a BFI future film award bursary in association with the SAI and so they kindly gave me a student pass to the film festival. Having only managed to watch one film at Cannes this year, I thought I would make the most of this pass and queue up with a gaggle of eager, much younger film students to see the latest cinematic output. I think I managed 17 in total, I didn’t get to see I Am Not a Witch, nor Call Me By Your Name, nor Ladybird nor a host of other highly recommended films, but of those I did see, here is a list of the films that I wholly recommend. (It might be worth mentioning that the one film I saw in Cannes, Loveless, which I was not a  huge fan of, has since won at both Cannes and the London Film Festival. So for the record my taste is at direct odds with the most discerning film boards in the world.)

120 BPM, directed by Robert Campillo. 

An incredibly moving story about Act Up, an AIDS activist group in 90s Paris. The director has drawn from his own real life experience in this group to draw rich, charismatic protagonists portrayed by an incredible cast. It is long (2hrs 40 mins) and formally experimental, drifting from story line and character, into long group dialogue heavy, meetings, that shouldn’t compel but always do. This is a film that deals with tragedy in a totally life affirming, humorous, tender and surprisingly sensual manner. Charged protests evolve seamlessly into raves, soundtracked by wonderfully warped versions of Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy, set in black stage sets that give an otherworldly quality reminiscent of the iconic dance sequences in Claire Denis’ Beau Travail.

Wajib, directed by Annemarie Jacir.

Tells the story of a Palestinian father, living in Nazareth, who welcomes his estranged son home from Italy for a family wedding. The two men must spend the day driving around their hometown delivering invitations to the wedding. As they drive through this occupied city, they discuss their lives and what begins as a tentative rutting of two different perspectives, descends into a deeply moving debate about the plight of Palestinians living in Israel and how different generations responded to the occupation. The two leads are brilliant, played by real father and son actors Mohammad Bakri, Saleh Bakri.

The Rider, directed by Chloe Zao.

This film is about a young rodeo, Brady, who after a terrible head injury, must reconcile himself to a life where he can no longer ride or work with horses. Horses are not only his passion but also his livelihood, and we are with him as he navigates this tragic reality. The director cast real families and friends in this piece, including Lane Scott, a paraplegic and former champion rodeo, who creates an extraordinary performance, and offers Brady (and the audience) a deeply painful insight into the price demanded of his peers and his own potential fate if he carries on riding rodeo. The exquisite cinematography contrasts the harsh reality of these young men’s lives with the epic beauty of the prairie fields, ancient rock-scapes and the magnificence of their closest allies, their horses, who are caressed on screen in visceral close ups. A powerful take on a coming of age story.

The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker.

Telling the story of a little girl, screen dominating new star Brooklynn Prince, and her young mother, newcomer Bria Vinaite, who live in a motel outside of Disney Land. Florida project is bold, bright and funny with the director initially knowingly playing up to a Shirley Temple-esque romanticism of childhood. This tone is then contrasted with a much darker subtext about the injustices of housing rights and Baker underlies this screwball comedy with a dark message about the lengths vulnerable people are forced to go to in order to survive. The rainbow landscape of the consumerism that is Florida is made full use of by DOP Alexis Zabe. The lurid purple of the castle themed motel belies a depressing reality in which residents  are scrabbling around to make rent, and bed bugs are rife.  In a great bit of unexpected casting, Willem Dafoe plays the hippy motel manager, utterly empathetic and well meaning in this saccharine chaos and heartbreak.

You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay.

When a hitman, played by Joaquin Phoenix, gets stitched up one can’t help but think same old same old. However Ramsay turns the genre on its head to magnificent effect. She places very little importance on the plot (unusual for a thriller) and all the emphasis on the psychology and past traumas of the hitman. Though the film is largely about sexual aggression and violence, we rarely see any direct, gratuitous violence, instead, Ramsay plays with angles to deny that “gratification”, creating empathy and  often and surprisingly, great comedy in the midst of utter despair.  Jonny Greenwood does a scintillating soundtrack accompanying milkshake tinted images of childhood nightmares that merge to tell a story of retribution and second chances.

Sheikh Jackson directed by Amr Salama.

I stumbled upon this film by chance and I am so glad I did. A very dark comedy about an Egyptian Cleric whose faith falters because of the death of Michael Jackson. This film is about the repression of desires, about patriarchy and effects on men (an under explored and more pressing than ever topic) and about the changing religious landscape of the muslim world. Most importantly it is about a young boy and his life-long, irrational, loyal love of dancing to Michael Jackson. Funny, daring and visually experimental, I found myself weeping for this man and his desire to moonwalk.

The Party directed by Sally Potter.

A party is being thrown to celebrate Kirsten Scott Thomas becoming health minister and interesting questions about the limitations of party politics, about gender and about ambition, are raised, largely by a delectably acerbic and pitch perfect Patricia Clarkson. But when wanker banker Cillian Murphy arrives, high as a kite on cocaine with a gun in his pocket, the day takes a drastic turn. Shot in black and white and all set on one floor, this film has a theatricality that Potter plays with to create a perfectly crafted film reminiscent of an Edward Albee great.  Maybe not the most urgent film of our time, however its incredible cast and razor sharp script make this film utterly compelling and hilarious.’

Thank you so much to Florence for this. And I now really want to see those films….

MY TWO DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE. March 3-4 2018

The good news is that I will be running this course for the 2nd time in March next year, again with the same three excellent guest speakers – screenwriters Cat Jones and Anna Symon, and literary agent Jonathan Kinnersley (The Agency).

The less good news, if you’re interested in this course, is that, even before announcing it in the newsletter, it’s sold out.

I apologise if this is frustrating news. I will run this course again in April or May IF there are enough expressions of interest. If you’re seriously interested in doing this course and would like me to run it again in April or May, please email me (at the address below), and I will put your name on a waiting list, and then get back in touch once it’s confirmed. Full information – and some very generous testimonials from the writers who attended in October – can be found here –

http://script-consultant.co.uk/2-days-screenwriting-course/

Finally this week a message from LAURA CONWAY @ Kudos North –

 Kudos North Writers Award

 Deadline – Monday 20th November @ 1000

To mark the launch of Kudos North we want to celebrate our commitment to the region by nurturing two writing talents who have the ability to author dynamic, original drama. We will invest a £2000 Award in the TWO writers with the strongest potential to develop innovative television content that truly reflects the culture of the North of England.

Over a six month period the selected writers will have access to a mentor relationship with Danny Brocklehurst and Stephen Butchard whilst they develop their original ideas with the Development Producer at Kudos North – Laura Conway. The writers will have the opportunity to develop and pitch an idea to the BBC, and potentially other broadcasters, for commission.

For this opportunity we are asking writers with at least one produced credit to apply – that could be a theatre play, a radio drama, a commissioned online drama episode, a commissioned film or a credit(s) on a continuing drama.

Whether you are fresh to the writing profession or more experienced in the industry, if you are yet to have an original TV Drama produced, we want to hear from you. This is a tangible, exciting opportunity and one that Kudos North seriously hopes will unearth and nurture the next wave of original voices of the North.

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR:

Kudos is a High End production company that values distinctive content and we are looking for writers with strong voices and bold ideas. Kudos North is specifically looking for dynamic stories and characters that radiate a northern authenticity.

We want to see a script that tells us who you are as a writer and which shows a level of professionalism and distinctive voice.

This opportunity is open to writers residing and working in the North of England on a full time basis or those writers who can demonstrate a clear understanding of the culture of the North and be confident that they can deliver authentic dialogue and relevant Northern stories in a fresh and original way.

The North of England is defined by the Boundary Commission for England which includes the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber.

All information on the award, including how to apply, can be found here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/kudos-north

The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 17th,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Nov 3rd 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITERARY AGENTS Part 2

Posted by admin  /   October 19, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on LITERARY AGENTS Part 2

Hi There,

This week a follow-up to my LITERARY AGENTS newsletter of 2 weeks ago. And thank you so much to all you screenwriters who responded.

‘I just got an agent in June this year. I hadn’t tried before then, for the reasons you wrote about. One extra reason was that I was focusing on playwrighting at the time and I think agents are less useful in cracking into theatres. You can get your play read by yourself. You might not get it read by the right/sympathetic person, but you’ll get it read. 

I tried this year as I had my professional debut with a play on BBC Radio 4 (“Foxes”). It had Tony winner Jim Norton in the lead, so I knew it would get attention in agents’ inboxes. 

I think timing is important in this. I emailed agents either a few days before broadcast or that day, including the link to where it would be on iPlayer. That was the right move I think, as they will forget about you quickly: something on in two months’ time is as well to be on in two years’ time.

I contacted all the main agencies, picking agents based on their list. But I didn’t select by writers I liked, I selected by writers at my level. I figured: if you’re interested in representing such-and-such, say, then you might be interested in me. I think that was the right move, as the opening conversations were about emulating a realistic career instead of saying ‘I really like Tom Stoppard, you’re his agent, so I emailed you.’   
 
Most of the agencies came straight back to me. Many listened to my radio play and invited me to meet them. And from here the variety was wide! Some people blew hot and then stopped responding to emails (why?!), some were cold and slow and then got hot. But most were normal, logical people! I went with Nick Quinn at The Agency. Yes, because it’s an established agency, yes because Nick is a senior agent. But most importantly because I got on with him. Immediately. In contrast, I met others agents that were very ‘hot’ in their approach, but in the room they were overwhelming. Super salesy, poor listener. But still very nice and very keen, just not for me.  

The last point worth making is to consider the breadth of the agency. In practice, you might be signing with a theatre OR TV agent. Not ideal if you do both, as the second agent didn’t choose you and arguably isn’t in love with your work. Again, Nick at The Agency straddles both camps so it made sense.’

PADRAIC WALSH

PS: Some really helpful points there – particularly about being targeted; and making sure you approach agents at the right time.

‘I found this line particularly important – 

“The bottom line is that most good agents will only consider new clients if they come with a personal recommendation from someone in the industry that they know and respect.”

I bet most writers found their agent thanks to a recommend as I did. It is important to be transparent about these things so un-agented writers don’t feel like they aren’t deserving! I always thought it was weird though that my writing didn’t change from the day before I was represented to the day after and yet producers considered me differently. This is nice and frustrating too!’

HANNAH KHALIL

PS: This follows on from what I was saying in my blog – don’t think literary agents can necessarily wave a magic wand! As Hannah says, you’re still the same writer, agented or not!

‘After winning a writing prize I was taken on by one of the large agencies.  Their clients were my heroes.  I felt validated as a writer but in hindsight it was an opportunity before I was ready.  I had one spec script and was working on theatre projects but I had a very specific (narrow) idea of success.   I also had no idea how to write pitches, to go to meetings prepared with ideas and to just keep writing!  I became self conscious in my writing and thought in career terms – would this be main stage rather than did I love it?  I still had plays staged and via my agent got TV work but years went by where I didn’t have a new spec script and no one pushed me to do one.   Having children also had an impact and in between having two children I focused on a theatre project rather than TV.  The theatre project wasn’t then commissioned.  I went into my second maternity leave feeling in a weak position.  When my child was two months old my agent let me go by email – after 10 years with them.  They were letting go of clients due to personal circumstances so I wasn’t the only one but I was deeply hurt.  I seriously questioned did I want to write anymore?  Was I any good?  I felt I’d lost the validation of an agent.  I’d also lost the love of writing itself.  I associated it with failure and disappointment.  It was difficult but slowly I became more proactive and arranged meetings myself, got a theatre commission and a TV episode.  I am currently working on a project I never would have thought of 10 years ago with other artists.  I wish I’d had the knowledge I have now when I’d signed with those agents as I would have known how to make more of the opportunity.  So to anyone going on that journey ensure it’s the right one for you.’

PS: More of a cautionary tale from this writer who asked not to be identified. Some really helpful, smart points. And it’s good to be aware that agents do sometimes get rid of clients unceremoniously. Which comes back to the bottom line – agents take you on to make money for them (and yourself). Some agents are quite unforgiving in this (perfectly understandable) philosophy!

Thank you so much to all three writers for taking the trouble to contribute and for making such insightful and constructive points.

 

SCREENWRITING COURSE : TELLING YOUR STORY

The weekend of Oct 7 & 8 I ran this 2 day course for the first time, and it was a very enjoyable experience (for me at least!). We had three cracking guest speakers – Jonathan Kinnersley from The Agency, and screenwriters Cat Jones and Anna Symon. We’re going to be running the course again in London in March – all the details of how to book your place will be in the next newsletter.

One of the course delegates, development executive Beth Warin drew our attention to a monthly screenwriting event in London run by the International Screenwriters’ Association –

https://www.networkisa.org/events-individual.php?id=778 

 

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 3rd,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Oct 20th 2017

THE CROWN

Posted by admin  /   September 20, 2017  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE CROWN

Hi There,

With THE CROWN season 2 due to hit Netflix soon, here are my notes from the C21 drama conference (last December!) from a session on THE CROWN with Peter Morgan (writer / exec producer), Andy Harries (exec producer) and Suzanne Mackie (exec producer).

PM: In this business, good relationships are so important. We went to see the BBC and ITV who were both interested in the show. But we needed a US partner – so we went to HBO, Fox, Showtime, Netflix – ‘The Evian Trail’! Netflix was the last port of call – and they bought it in the room. Incredibly unusual. They’d done their algorithms before we went in – and they had the play, the film, and it was a very good thing for them at a time when they are looking to roll out internationally. It eventually went out on Nov 4th 2016 to 190 countries.

PM: It felt galvanising to me to go with an organisation that was quite progressive and cutting edge and that’s been vindicated. Lots more younger people have watched it than if we’d gone out on the traditional broadcasters – maybe we’ve lost our ‘core’ audience. Netflix seem unconcerned – even if it might be a year before an older audience pick up on it. They’re very focused on sticking to their game plan. It will drive people to Netflix if it’s not available elsewhere. I thought we should do an ad with Edward Fox telling people how to use Netflix (joke).

‘What story did you set out to tell?’

The terrible impact of becoming queen earlier than you’d expect, the pressure on a young couple – and the shock that you can’t just be who you are, character split challenge.

SM: We spent so much time interrogating the psychology of the characters. And all of the locations are extraordinary. Stately homes in combination with Elstree. Obviously can’t use Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Used Ely Cathedral for Westminster, Lancaster House for Buck Palace.

AH: It is an all-British team working on it. Promoting the fact that it’s all originated in the UK – no long hand of executive control. Netflix are very supportive. It’s very refreshing and great for Peter.

PM: I took the responsibility particularly seriously. Time and energy wise I wouldn’t have been able to do it with lots of notes. When they agreed to that, I took on the responsibility for the show. I was left entirely alone – and I wanted to prove that a show of this scale could be done without execs – I took that very seriously. I thought if we screw this up, I’d feel very bad about that.

Andy’s been working on another show with lots of interference – authorship is such a precious thing.

AH: …and that’s what Netflix are buying in the first place.

SM: We talk to Netflix every week and their notes are in agreement with us – generally broad strokes notes.

AH: We always go back to shoot extra stuff when we can improve it.

PM: I plot out the season. Work it all out beforehand. Tried to incorporate other writers. But huge explosion in TV. Everybody’s got a show – all the writers we wanted to work with. There isn’t a tradition in the UK of writers giving up their lives to be part of Peter’s writing room. I don’t now regret writing it all. In spreading out the process, you do lose specificity of voice – and I think the show thrives on this. We have a researchers room – 6-8 people researching ideas that I suggest. They come to my house, we break down the story. You have to give much more thought because people watching it concurrently – eg romantic story after intense emotional story.

I don’t write cliff-hangers. And I hate ‘arcs’. From script editors, I don’t want to hear the words ‘tracking’ or ‘arcs’. I see it as a series of self-contained films that hopefully in aggregate have a through-line.

Certain historical moments mark a big change in the story – Suez, Wilson, Thatcher.

Often the first ideas are bad ideas, you have to find character-driven stories, it take a while.

Re: dialogue. We have readings and deliberately ask inappropriate people to read the parts – then if they roughly hold, it’s a good sign.

Keep the page count down. People want to binge therefore don’t let the episodes get too long. Around 52-53 minutes is the perfect episode length. 60 too long. Not a page per minute – more like a page and a third per minute. I’m trying to hand in episodes that are 51 or 52 pages. I try to avoid explaining too much. Good actors, directors, editors will trim it out. There’s a generous amount of time in production and post.

AH: Nina Gold cast the show and she’s amazing. Casting the queen was not easy. We went for big stars initially. When Claire Foy came in, it was obvious after about 30 seconds.

SM: She gives you so much by doing so little. I think she’s a great actress. Such an important thing not to bring too much to the character – Claire understands that on a deep level.

AH: We didn’t want to cast anyone in the UK who had already played Winston Churchill.

PM: There’s no record of what the characters say in private, or in the ‘audiences’. So my job is to go in there and try to join the dots. You have to put yourself in their position (ludicrous though that is).

Prince Philip was apparently asked – ‘will you be watching it?’ To which he answered – ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I am talking to people who work at the palace, people who know them. Sometimes making the intimate choice is better than making the epic choice.

I’ve loved being freed from the question of audience ratings – it’s a tyranny.

I do get pretty involved in the cutting room – because there are 4 different directors – you need one unifying voice.

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

A reminder that you only have just over a week left to get your scripts in for the 2018 course. We’ve already received a substantial amount of scripts but, if the last few years are anything to go by, we will receive well over half of the total on the last day. May I suggest that you do yourself a favour and try to get your script in before the last day and avoid the stress of scrambling to get your script in at the last possible moment? We will close the entry system at midnight on Sunday Oct 1st.

HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL Walthamstow

This year, for the 1st time, High Tide has a 2nd iteration at Walthamstow Sept 26 – Oct 1 – much more accessible to Londoners than Aldeburgh!

I spent a day at the festival in Aldeburgh last week and had a really enjoyable time. I was particularly impressed by a reading of ENGLISH, written and directed by 4screenwriting alumna, Melanie Spencer. A fascinating play about language, culture-clash and (indirectly) Brexit. It is thought-provoking, intelligent, funny and powerful – I highly recommend it. A four-hander, there are two Polish characters and Glaswegian. An indication of Melanie’s conscientiousness is that she personally went to Poland to cast the Poles and Glasgow to cast the Glaswegian.

The casting and performances were superb. At the risk of embarrassing Melanie, this was the 2nd play-reading of a new play by her that I’ve been to in the last few months. Previously I went to a reading of her equally outstanding CONTENDER – this is about Olympic swimmers and their coaches. Melanie has researched this with equal thoroughness – spending time living with the Australian swimming team; and the reading was attended by some well-known Olympic swimmers who all gave fascinating (and positive) feedback in their response to the reading. This play is about the stresses and sacrifices involved in making it to the top of professional sport – and the temptations of performance-enhancing drugs.

I’d really advise that you look out for full productions of these two plays in the next year or so – or try to make it to Walthamstow for the reading of ENGLISH on Oct 4th.

And there are a host of other really interesting productions and readings at High Tide in Walthamstow.

https://www.hightide.org.uk/festival-walthamstow-2017?spektrix_bounce=true

The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 6th.

All the very best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Sept 22nd 2017

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

Posted by admin  /   September 06, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

Hi There,

I hope you’ve all had a great summer. I spent two weeks on the Suffolk coast, as far away as possible from all scripts – and my batteries are now fully re-charged!

I have a lot to look forward to this autumn –

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

I’m gearing up once again for the 2018 version of the course. The window for script entries is open for a relatively short three weeks – from Monday Sept 11th to Sunday Oct 1st – so don’t miss it! I’m very proud of the role-call of writers who’ve done this course – such an array of writing talent – and both writers and script editors from the course (which has been running since 2011) now make up a significant and growing sub-set of the creative TV drama industry. It may be a bit unfair to pick out individuals from the 85 writers who have done the course over the last 7 years but…

We’ve had the writers of two award-strewn BBC shows from the same strand – Murdered By My Boyfriend written by REGINA MORIARTY and Murdered By My Father by VINAY PATEL; ANNA SYMON, fresh from writing episodes on both series of INDIAN SUMMERS has had her own, authored serial, THE WILSONS, green-lit by the BBC; the script MILLY THOMAS wrote on the course last year formed the basis of her excellent, award-winning one woman show, the brilliant DUST, at this year’s Edinburgh fringe; NATHANIEL PRICE’s outstanding course script, HOUND, has just been optioned by one of the UK’s leading drama-producing indies; THERESA IKOKO’s course script (from 2016) was given a brilliant reading by Sky / Bandit Television and is in active development with Bandit; and most outstandingly, CHARLIE COVELL, after her excellent feature film debut, BURN BURN BURN (give yourself a treat and watch it on UK Netflix), 2 episodes of E4’s BANANA, and episodes of both HUMANS and GAP YEAR, has now written her own E4 series, THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD….I could go on – there are many more success stories from the course.

There is a less well-known script-editor training element to the course, which has also produced its own success stories. Two of the trainee / shadow script editors from previous years of the course have gone onto be, respectively, head of development at leading indie, Eleven Film; and BBC drama commissioning editor for Northern Ireland.

What do we look for in the scripts? – Above all, we are looking for distinctive, exciting, original writing voices – writers who have something to say, and say it in an original, exciting, engaging way. We are open to scripts from all media – screenplays (whether for TV or film), theatre and radio scripts. Every year, the 12 selected writers are a mix of writers who are diverse in every way – whether they are BAME, from one of the UK’s nations or regions, whatever gender, sexuality or class. But the important thing is that they are all chosen for their ability to tell a compelling story in a unique way – whether that’s in the form of a TV cop series pilot episode or a theatre monologue.

It’s important to be bold and original, and to really believe in what you’re writing. But at the same time, you should be philosophical if not selected. The long and the short of it is that we can only choose 12 writers from an expected 1400 submitted scripts. Frustratingly we always have to turn down very many highly talented writers. You should also console yourself with the fact that assessing which scripts are deserving of our attention – hard as we try to make the process as objective as possible – ultimately comes down to the choice of a few individuals, all of whom have different tastes. I’m constantly surprised by the huge range of responses to the same script – how one person can love it and someone else can be utterly unmoved by it. Every year I have some huge differences of opinion with my script readers – and there’s no right or wrong!

It may be helpful to tell you about a few of the successful submitted scripts from a year ago – a feature film script about a socially-dysfunctional piano-playing protégé, that stood out mainly for the characterisation of the wonderfully flawed and magnetic central character; a stage play about a middle-class parents’ decision to hire a prostitute to give their learning-disabled 25 year old son his first sexual experience – and the inter-personal social and sexual politics that ensue; a one hour film script that follows a week in the life of an aging couple after their son commits suicide; a hugely engaging, character-driven stage play about the issue of female genital mutilation. All of these scripts had a big idea at its heart – but were also accessible, character-driven, engaging and had humour and humanity.

http://script-consultant.co.uk/channel-4-script-submit/

C21 DRAMA SERIES COMPETITION

‘Turn your drama pilot script into a global hit.’

Continuing the theme of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, I’d also like to point you in the direction of the C21 drama comp, now accepting entries, until Oct 10th. Unlike the free-to-enter C4 comp, this costs money to enter – the upside being that there will therefore be far fewer entries – and the reward for being one of the finalists is significant.

http://www.c21media.net/script/

LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL

This year’s festival is running from Sept 15 – 17, and I’m running a Script Lab on drama series on the Sunday Sept 17th. I hope to also be there on the Friday. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!

My 2 day SCREENWRITING COURSE

Running over the weekend of Oct 7-8, this sold out within a couple of days of going on sale. Designed as a mini-writers festival, with three brilliant guest speakers – aforementioned writer ANNA SYMON, CAT JONES, another star of the C4 screenwriting course, and top literary agent JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, from The Agency.

I am planning to run another of these courses in Feb or March next year – and I already have a lengthy waiting list for the October course so, if you’re interested, I suggest you keep checking the website / newsletter – I won’t be announcing the new course until after I’ve run the October version.

INDIE TRAINING FUND COURSES

I’m running 2 x one day courses at the ITF in Hoxton this autumn – SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS on Sept 21st and STORY, CHARACTER AND IDEAS Masterclass on Oct 10th.

http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/

http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=4060

 

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

If you’re based in London and interested in screenwriting, don’t miss this year’s LFF – there is always a host of exciting new feature films – many of which won’t have a UK distribution deal, so this may be your only chance to see some of them.

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp

HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL

This is an outstanding festival for new theatre writing. I have a particular bias towards it because so many writers from 4screenwriting have had shows at High Tide – this year alone, there are new plays by 4screenwriting alumni Nessah Muthy, Theresa Ikoko, Melanie Spencer and Tallulah Brown. And because it takes place in the lovely Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh, from where I’ve just returned.

https://www.hightide.org.uk/

My Holiday Reading + Culture

I wanted to mention a book I (re)read on holiday – the wonderful A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh. Published in 1934, this still feels fresh, modern and relevant. The characters come off the page so vividly, and there is such moral complexity to the characters and the story. There is also one of the most shocking, eye-popping scenes you’ll find in any story.

I was first alerted to the book by a brilliant Shared Experience Theatre adaptation of the play, many years ago, in which this moment from the book drew a collective gasp / intake of breath from the audience. I defy you to read the book and not be stunned by this moment.

What I particularly love and admire about the book is how everything is dramatised, nothing explained. It’s a model of narrative concision. The characters play out their roles, and at no point does Waugh make it easy for the reader to interpret or explain the action of the story. And we’ll all take away something different from the story. I followed this book by reading a much-acclaimed new hardback novel which is a perfectly pleasant read but for the first 100 pages I couldn’t get my head round the huge gap between the plodding, uneconomical quality of the writing of this book and the genius of A HANDFUL OF DUST.

Strangely there is also one of these theatrical gasp-out-loud moments in Loudon Wainwright’s wonderful SURVIVING TWIN show, when he reads / performs his father’s columns form LIFE magazine, interspersing them with thematically-connected songs. (Happily for me, LW, one of my musical heroes, was performing at Snape Maltings while I was on holiday in Suffolk). I’ve seen this one particular reading live three times already (it still retains its emotive punch) and it was wonderful to be able to anticipate that moment of shock that induced a collective, involuntary gasp – the ultimate successful story-telling pay-off. Therein lies the secret to good story-telling!

One more thing before I go – I’m afraid I have a policy of not entering into email correspondence with entrants into the C4 course. The entry FAQ’s have been honed and developed over several years – so if there’s something that isn’t entirely clear to you, you just need to use your own initiative. I’ve learnt from experience that if we don’t take this approach, we are overwhelmed by email enquiries – and our time is far better spent reading the scripts.

As ever, I’m hugely excited by the prospect of starting the reading process and of finding the gems I know I’ll find. Thank you in advance for entering and GOOD LUCK!

The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 22nd

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Sept 8th 2017

 

NEW SCREENWRITING COURSE LONDON Oct 7-8

Posted by admin  /   July 27, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSE LONDON Oct 7-8

Hi There,

2 DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE London Oct 7-8 2017 – SCREENWRITING : WRITING + WORKING

I’m delighted to announce that I’m going to be running a brand new 2 day SCREENWRITING COURSE in London over the weekend of Oct 7 & 8. Like the course I ran with Phil Gladwin, this course will concentrate on the CRAFT OF SCREENWRITING on day 1 and THE BUSINESS OF GETTING WORK on day 2.

Running these courses and the CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE for the last few years, and working with so many talented writers, I’ve learnt that it’s not enough to be a talented, technically-gifted screenwriter – you also have to be adept at treating your work like a business and running your career smartly, sensibly and with ambition and determination.

One of the positives to come out of the courses I have run over the years has been the ongoing creative relationships with writers I’ve met on my courses – which I hope can be mutually beneficial. This is the reason I keep numbers to a max of 20 – and to make the courses truly inter-active. It also enables all the writers to get to know and learn from each other over the course of the weekend.

I have kept in touch with so many of the screenwriters who have been on our 2 PHILS course and my 1 day CREATIVITY course – and getting to know the writers is one of the enjoyable parts of the course.

5 writers from the 2 Phils or my CREATIVITY courses have since gone onto the C4 screenwriting course – and the success stories from writers who have done one of these 2 courses and have gone onto prestigious, paid TV or film work are numerous.

ABOUT ME – I have run the C4 screenwriting course for the last 7 years and will be running it again in 2018. Alongside this, I am one of the 10 ‘masters’ of the teaching of dramatic writing at the new MA Dramatic Writing at Central St Martins / University of the Arts London (about to enter its 5th year). I ran the BBC’s in-house script editing courses for 10 years. This year I have run 2 courses for the team at BBC writers room (in London & Belfast). I have recently run a one day session with a delegation of writers, directors and script editors from the Chinese TV industry. And I teach regular courses at the Indie Training Fund.

On top of this I run one of the most successful script consultancies in the UK, working with many different writers, and work as freelance script editor for various indies and broadcasters (most recently script-editing a series for BBC radio).

Last December I ran an industry showcase for the pick of the writers from my script consultancy in 2016; and I will be doing the same again in 2017. The 2016 event was 100% full, packed with potential employers from many of the best broadcasters, drama-producing indies and literary agents, and there have been some notable successes from the event.

I have always hugely enjoyed working with screenwriters and helping them find their place in the industry. Earlier this year I produced and launched the podcasts series, tributepodcasts.co.uk which has acted as a great showcase for several new, exciting dramatic writers. This is another initiative I will be reprising later this year.

THE COURSE

So what is NEW about this course?

The course will be like a mini-writers festival as we will have THREE different GUEST SPEAKER sessions over the two days –

On Day One, ANNA SYMON (Channel 4 Screenwriting course 2013, with credits on 2 series of INDIAN SUMMERS for C4, and a new commission for her own original BBC TV 4 part serial THE WILSONS in the pipeline) will talk about her approach to the art and craft of writing a screenplay – from initial idea all the way through to shooting script.

On Day Two –

Literary agent, JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, The Agency, will talk about how you get an agent, what an agent can do for you as a writer, what agents look for in screenwriters, and more generally about the TV and film industries, and where the work is for both new and more experienced writers.

And finally CAT JONES (Channel 4 screenwriting course 2012, credits on HARLOTS, WATERLOO ROAD, YOUNGERS, DOCTORS, EASTENDERS etc) will talk more broadly about both craft and career – about how she creates story and screenplays, about the writing jobs she has done, and lessons to be learnt from her experience.

And there will be time for a Q&A with all the guest speakers at the end of the 3 sessions so you can get answers to the particular questions you want to ask.

OVERVIEW OF THE COURSE

 DAY 1

Introduction to the Course & What it can do for you.

Creative Exercises – a series of creative exercises that will help you in creating and generating new story and character ideas.

ANNA SYMON – Crafting A Screenplay.

Supplementing ANNA SYMON’s CRAFT session, I will also do my own sessions on –

STORY – the elements that go into creating effective, exciting, dynamic story-telling on screen.

CHARACTER- the key to writing memorable, resonant characters. Including an interactive exercise in creating CHARACTERS, and genuinely character-driven stories.

DIALOGUE – what are the elements that make for effective screen dialogue? And…

TV SERIES. The keys to developing what every single drama-producing indie is looking for – an original, compelling, returnable one hour series.

 

DAY TWO

Will cover…

PITCHING – with an interactive pitching exercise.

TREATMENTS, OUTLINES, WRITTEN PITCHES – looking at all these important pre-script documents – when you need them and how to write them.

JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, literary agent, THE AGENCY – talking about how you get an agent, what you should expect of an agent, and how to forge a career as a screenwriter.

DRIVING YOUR OWN SCREENWRITING CAREER + NETWORKING.

Lessons to be learnt from successful screenwriters’ career paths.

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE

What I’ve learnt from my experience of running the C4 course for the last 7 years – and what this means for you as professional writers.

CAT JONES – Cat will discuss her career – the writing work she has done across TV, theatre, radio, etc. She will discuss both the craft of dramatic writing, and give you tips on how to run your career.

CONCLUSION – Final session about what to take away from the course, and discuss where you go from here.

Places Are Strictly Limited at 20!

I have a strict limit on the number of delegates, because I want to make sure these are personal, in-depth seminars where you can get your questions answered and find out what you need to know without the sense of getting lost in the crowd.

If you want to come I strongly recommend you book your place now to make sure you don’t miss out.

Ten days before the course, I’ll send you full details of the course and membership of a special private Screenwriters Studio Facebook group that will continue indefinitely.

There is a FREE, recommended screenwriting book for the first 10 to sign up AND a bumper pack of invaluable HANDOUTS for all delegates on the course.

THE COST

For the two days of the course, the cost is a very reasonable £175. Based on some of the successes and feedback of previous attendees of my courses, I’m happy to say I think this is excellent value for money, and I know this course can act as a powerful weapon in your aims to fulfil your potential as a professional screenwriter.

NB The last few courses I’ve run have sold out well in advance. If you’re interested in doing this course, early booking is recommended!

You can book on my website, and get more in-depth information (especially about the three guest speakers) – http://script-consultant.co.uk/2-days-screenwriting-course/

WHEN AND WHERE?

Saturday + Sunday October 7th + 8th 2017, 10.00- 5.00, Central London – at Birkbeck College, the University of London, in Malet St, London WC1E 7HX. And I’ll be available on both days in a nearby pub afterwards to carry on the conversation! (One of the most important parts of the course IMO!)

NB The newsletter is now taking a well-earned summer break – my next newsletter will be on FRIDAY SEPT 8th. Have a great summer. Thank you for reading / subscribing – and for all the brilliant feedback you give me – it’s very much appreciated and I look forward to continuing the dialogue!

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

July 28th 2017

TREATMENTS + OUTLINES – THE WRITER’S RESPONSE!

Posted by admin  /   July 13, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TREATMENTS + OUTLINES – THE WRITER’S RESPONSE!

Hi There,

Two weeks ago my newsletter was about TREATMENTS, OUTLINES & WRITTEN PITCHES – and it also went out as a BBC writers room blog a couple of days later.

This week – the writer’s response! A massive thank you to KITTY PERCY, a wonderful screenwriter who was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015, and who has since had a number of very exciting script commissions for both film & TV – and who has had many meetings, and written many treatments & pitch documents – so she really knows what she’s talking about!

‘Dear Philip

Thanks for the article about writing treatments, a technique that remains the most important thing I never learned during two years of a screenwriting MA.

In fact, the year after I finished 4Screenwriting I spent writing nothing but pitches, outlines, treatments, series bibles, synopses, concept documents – everything and anything but scripts. And you’re depressingly correct in that if you approach the writing of your document with fear and loathing, you can bet that whoever’s reading it will smell your F&L as though you’d perfumed the page with it.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the treatment-writing advice I’ve been given along the way by various producers and development folk, both indie and BBC etc:

“I never want to see a list of characters at the front of the document. If they’re properly conceived, the characters should come alive as the story develops, without the need to spoonfeed personal information.”

“Character is plot. A treatment or outline is incomplete without a list of characters on page one, with a couple of pithy lines or a short paragraph about who they are and what makes them tick.”

“The simplest and most effective way to convey the tone and style of your project is to refer to existing films or TV shows. This doesn’t need to be crass pitch-speak, e.g “it’s SAW meets LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX” but if you can define your show as having the ‘complex family dilemmas of X’, or ‘the gross-out humour of Y,’ it all helps in communicating your idea.”

“Never compare your project to other films or TV programmes in a treatment. It’s too risky – not only is there a chance that whoever you’re pitching to might hate the thing you’ve referenced, but it might have been a ratings  or box office disaster, or have any number of negative industry associations that you can’t know about.”

“Make the document strong and attention-grabbing. Carefully placed images, or a picture on the title page, can impart a ton of useful information about the tone and style of your project.” 

“Never add pictures or fancy fonts to a treatment. If the idea can’t hold its own by simple text alone, there’s something amiss in the writing.” 

Noticing a pattern?

If there’s anything to be gleaned, it’s that – as you said – definition is everything. Nowadays, if I’m asked by a production company to write a pitch / treatment / outline / postcard / whatever, I request an example of one they’ve commissioned, and use it as a guide. 

If you’re lucky they’ll send several, because it’s true; ‘real’ outlines are hard to come by, especially those that were greenlit into actual films or telly. (The sample outlines and treatments, written by notable 9 O’clock Writers, that we were given during 4Screenwriting have a hallowed place in my filing cabinet. Documents like these get shared and traded between writers like Levi’s in Communist Russia.) 

But don’t despair: I saw the brilliant Paula Milne interviewed once, and she said she’s never written a treatment. Instead she insists on pitching in the room, face to face, all guns blazing, and wins the day with passion, craft and a strong idea.

So try that.

(NB: You might have to be Paula Milne to pull it off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)’

Thank you so much Kitty.

SCRIPT HIGHLIGHTS

As ever, there have been so many brilliant scripts to catch up with recently – in film, TV and theatre.

The stand-out for me has been Jimmy McGovern’s BROKEN, which I binged on BBC i-player in a few days.

Jimmy McGovern is a master story-teller. He puts his characters under such pressure – each of his lead characters is caught on the horns of an awful dilemma. At times his writing comes close to melodrama – but he always seems to manage to pull it off – because there is such conviction, passion and rage behind his writing. He so clearly has something that he needs to say – and it’s this powerful personal agenda that makes his writing so compelling.

Father Michael’s ‘righteous anger’ speech in the final episode was a tour de force.

He’s also not afraid to be sentimental – I defy you not to watch the last 5 minutes of the last episode without being emotionally affected (alright – crying!). ‘Sentimental’ as a word has taken a bad rap. ‘Sentimental’ seems to be used as a pejorative word normally – sentimental almost always means ‘over-sentimental’. But actually isn’t sentiment something that we should strive for in our writing? Looking it up, the word is defined as ‘having or arousing feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia…’ Isn’t this often what good writing strives to achieve? Anyway – that last 5 minutes worked for me – just a lovely, life-affirming piece of writing that absolutely paid off the bleakness of the 6 hour series. As far as I’m concerned, BROKEN was a master-class in screenwriting.

I’ve also seen three outstanding theatre plays –

PUNTS by Sarah Page at Theatre 503. (which I discussed in a previous newsletter).

ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE at the Royal Court is also outstanding. As the title suggests, this tackles issues of mental health – and suicide – in three generations of the same family – with the three stories being told in parallel and simultaneously in three different parts of the stage. Sounds a bit confusing doesn’t it? But in fact the staging was both original and highly effective. The play isn’t a bundle of laughs by any means – it’s intense almost to the point of being traumatic. And incredibly powerful. Brilliantly directed by Katie Mitchell, some wonderful writing by Alice Birch and outstanding acting – particularly by the magnetic Kate O’Flynn.

SEA CHANGE by Emily White. A play reading as part of this year’s RADA Festival 2017 – an annual event that features a lot of excellent new dramatic writing. This was a play that I read as a 4screenwriting 2017 submission and loved, and which got Emily short-listed for interview for the 2017 course.

The reading featured a new, improved draft – and the play really sung off the page. Again, this was thematically rich, funny and very thought-provoking. 90+ minutes without an interval on uncomfortable seats in a hot theatre at lunchtime flew by in an instant because the play was so captivating and entrancing. A real treat.

What do these plays have in common? Well annoyingly their runs have all finished (sorry!) but secondly they’re all by female writers. Nearly every year we have more female writers on the C4 screenwriting course than male – the wealth of female dramatic writing talent in the UK really is extraordinary.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 27th.

All the very best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

July 14th 2017

 

 

TREATMENTS, OUTLINES & PITCHES

Posted by admin  /   June 29, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TREATMENTS, OUTLINES & PITCHES

Hi There,

This week, I’ve written about treatments, outlines, written pitches etc. This article should be appearing on the BBC writers room website blog in the next few weeks – so consider this a sneak preview for the subscribers to my newsletter!

 

WHAT ARE THEY?

Treatments, pitches, outlines, beat-sheets, etc etc. All of these documents are points on the journey to writing a script – and are guaranteed to make even the steeliest writer’s heart sink a little. But as writers, you need to learn to embrace them, even if you can’t quite get to love them! If you can enjoy writing these documents, and the process of creating them, it will be an enormous help to your success (and creative enjoyment) as a screenwriter.

One issue is definition. There are so many variations of these documents – both in what they get called – and in their function. And the various names seem to mean different things to different people.

It is really important that you know why you’re writing these documents, and who you’re writing them for. Every single drama producing indie will have a different brief, a different agenda, often a slightly different approach. Make sure you know what you’re being asked for. Once you’ve convinced a producer or script editor that your idea is worth pursuing, you need to know what they’re looking for in every draft you write.

You need to distinguish between selling documents (written pitches, treatments), written to convince potential employers of the power of an idea; and development documents (outlines, beat-sheets, etc) ie documents that you write, once a producer has committed to an idea, developing it on the path towards first draft script commission. These are mainly for your benefit as a writer, in planning the story, structure, tone and content of your script; but they’re also for your producer / script editor to track how the story is developing, and help you with their input and suggestions.

THEY’RE IMPORTANT

Once, as a screenwriter, you’ve written one or more cracking ‘spec’ screenplays that have started to get you noticed, and potential employers and literary agents have read the scripts and want to meet you, these shorthand documents (everything that isn’t a script) are of vital importance to you building and sustaining a career.

Working with so many writers on the Channel 4 course, I have grown to appreciate the value of these documents. From a professional POV, it’s really important for the writers on the course to get their heads round the idea that they need to nail the skill of writing these pre-script documents – they are the gateway to script commissions and an income!

And from my point of view as a script editor, and for producers and development executives working with writers on new ideas, they serve to provide evidence that very limited development bucks are going to be well-spent on a script commission. Paying for a script is often a big financial shot-in-the-dark for small, cash-strapped indies. So as writers you need to be able to provide your producer with as much evidence as possible that the story will be brilliant before you’re given the go-ahead on a first draft script.

I have come to realise over the last few years – working with so many wonderful writers – how good these documents can be at their best. There have been several outlines that 4screenwriting writers have written that I have enjoyed almost as much as a brilliant script. At their best, outlines can be gripping, exciting, emotive pieces of visual story-telling that give a clear indication that the script that follows is going to be equally wonderful. I haven’t yet read an exciting, excellent outline that doesn’t become an exciting, excellent script.

Written pitches, on the other hand, aren’t pieces of structured story-telling in the same way as outlines and scene-by-scenes are. And one of the issues is that writing a pitch is a very different skill to writing a screenplay. There are some wonderful screenwriters who are not good at writing pitches. And vice versa.

TREATMENTS / PITCHES

1 BREVITY

The bottom line is that producers and script editors want from you the shortest document possible to convince them of the strength and viability of your idea. Initially, if you can distil your brilliant idea down into a single page that is going to excite producers, your idea is much more likely to get read and taken seriously than a speculative 20 page document.

These are hard because you have to leave so much out while at the same time including everything that is important and integral to the idea.

2 THE WRITER’S AGENDA / THEME

With one page pitches and treatments, it’s really important to start off with some sort of overview that expresses the idea as succinctly and persuasively as possible, and that states your agenda as a writer for pursuing this project, and something about the story’s themes – what it’s about.

The hardest pitches to read are those that are pure plot with no sense of tone, context or writer’s approach. The plot and characters – the meat of the story – will be far more accessible if we read them knowing why you as a writer are telling this story, what you bring to it, and why it’s a story you NEED to write. It’s all about context. And remember – you’re not just pitching an idea, you’re also pitching yourself as a writer to some extent – justify why you are THE writer to tell this story.

3 CONTENT

It’s always important to really deliver on the story front – to demonstrate through story events and character action just how exciting, moving, emotive etc this is going to be (rather than just writing, ‘this is going to be the ultimate emotional rollercoaster – exciting, moving and emotive…’). Deliver – don’t tease. And if your story has the most wonderful narrative twist / reveal – tell us what it is. This isn’t the place to hold back.

The less good pitches deal in empty promises. It’s a good idea to convey your sense of excitement as a writer in a project – but it needs to be backed up by hard evidence.

So, if you’re pitching a comedy, your one-page has to be funny – and that’s tough.

OUTLINES / STORY DOCUMENTS

1 VISUAL STORY-TELLING

For me, the important principles of writing effective outlines are to write visually and explain nothing. The outline has to work in the same way as the script will do. It needs to dramatise the story, and leave interpretation of the story action up to the reader – in the same way as the best scripts / films.

2 DON’T EXPLAIN

When writers fill outlines with explanation of character motive, it gets in the way of the story action, and defeats the purpose of the document – which is to show how the story is going to be dramatised.

LEARNING FROM THE BEST….

…is a problem because really great examples of these documents are very hard to come by. Unlike screenplays they don’t seem to very often make their way onto the internet for public consumption.

I’m not exactly sure why this is – except for the fact they’re so very hard to get right! And because, even more than screenplays, they’re just seen as a step towards something else – (script, film). Not being an art form in their own right, there don’t seem to be many examples in the public domain of how to write these documents.

And they’re so damned hard to get right. Condensing an idea to its shortest possible form while also trying to do it full justice is almost asking the impossible.

On the whole writers hate writing these sorts of documents. Because they’re so hard to write. Because they’re considered not creative in the same way as writing the screenplay. And because often you don’t get paid for them. And even when you do, the money you receive is often an inadequate reflection of the work you have to put in to get them right.

Particularly when you get onto the advanced structure stage of these documents (detailed outlines, beat-sheets, scene-by-scenes) often writers are doing 75% of the writing / creation process for only 10% of their script fee.

But here are some examples of these documents, and how they can work at their best –

  1. In this case, (in a one page pitch) in expressing the themes, the writer’s agenda

SPOILED is about generational responsibility – should we leave the world a little better than we found it, should we do everything we can to ensure our children have a better future than we had? Should parents give up their savings, or even their dreams, to help their kids succeed? But what if they then, in turn, do the same for their children?

A clear, economical expression of something that seems to be quite zeitgeisty – but also universal. And the story itself – about a father trying to protect his son, after the son has been responsible for killing a pedestrian in a road accident – clearly dramatises those themes.

  1. A writer articulating her agenda for telling a story –

THE CONTRACT is about the takeover of the British state by multinationals such as G4S and Serco. Although entirely fictional, it is inspired by real stories and the result of intensive research.

Between them, G4S and Serco not only provide a vast swathe of the UK’s security services (running prisons, immigration, Olympics security etc) they are also increasingly involved in health and care provision. As the state is slowly run down, the government will become increasingly subservient to the corporations.  Quite simply, one day soon, the country will not be able to run without them.

These multinationals have tentacles that stretch into all of our lives. Who are they accountable to? If things go wrong, where does that leave us, the users of these services?  It’s certainly in the interest of these global providers to keep any ‘blunders’ under wraps. Running old people’s homes and hospitals is big business; providers seem to be willing to go to almost any length to keep their contracts.  Are these companies, like the banks, now simply too big to fail? Will they – with the government’s help – do anything to continue to serve us?

I think the writer passionately and articulately expresses her reasons for writing this thriller. There is a strong political agenda and a clear sense of moral indignation – which instantly made me buy into this story.

  1. And finally, an excerpt from a story outline, a project at a more advanced stage. This is from a 6 page outline for the first 1 hour (46mins) of a C4 3-part serial, ie the final story document by the writer before she wrote the 1st draft script –

Laurie and George sit in the headmistress’s office. They have three black eyes in a row. Laurie looks totally numb. They listen to a recording George made of a group of boys shouting ferocious abuse at him. The headmistress shifts uncomfortably in her seat.  She tries to turn the recording off but can’t.  The abuse escalates. She pushes at the buttons trying to turn it off. The volume increases. George turns it off.

The flustered headmistress says it’s not acceptable to record other pupils without their knowledge. She talks about procedures, protocols and counselling. She says that she thought Laurie was ‘on the same page’ as the school on this matter and is frankly surprised that they would jeopardise the mediation process in this way. 

As they leave, Raymond Raisin, who is the size of a man, is sitting outside the headmistress’s office. He makes a gun gesture at George’s head as they pass and mouths ‘snitch’.

Laurie and George drive home in silence.’

I like many things about this outline – it is a shining example of how these story documents can work at their best. When I first read this, I was hooked – I was immediately engaged by the two lead characters, Laurie and George, and I wanted to know what would happen next. Even this short section gives a clear example of the slightly heightened tone – drama with a hint of dark comedy, but all rooted in a recognisable reality.

This section shows how the story will cut from scene to scene – and these cuts energise the story-telling effectively eg the cut from Raymond Raisin’s threat, to the silent car journey.

The headmistress’s office scene shows a strong sense of original, comic, visual story-telling (the three black eyes in a row) and an appreciation of character dynamics within a scene (the headmistress ‘shifts uncomfortably in her seat’, can’t turn off the tape recorder). There’s a pleasing irony to the way the child George has the status,  controls this scene. And the characters’ emotional states are dramatised rather than explained

A big thank you to writers SARAH PAGE, ANNA SYMON and REGINA MORIARTY for allowing me to share their work.

 

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 14th.



Until then,



All the best



Phil



PHILIP SHELLEY



www.script-consultant.co.uk


www.tributepodcasts.co.uk



@PhilipShelley1



June 30th 2017

 

 

4screenwriting, Ken Loach + Your Questions please

Posted by admin  /   June 16, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 4screenwriting, Ken Loach + Your Questions please

SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS. One day course this coming Thursday June 22nd at the Indie Training Fund in Hoxton – still 2 places available.

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=9933

 

Hi There.

The last couple of weeks have been mainly taken up for me by the 2nd weekend of the 2017 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE, culminating in the drinks evening at C4 that took place on Tuesday, at which we introduce the 12 course writers to potential employers (and agents) from the industry.

The 2nd weekend of the C4 course consists of a day of 15 minute readings by actors from the 12 course scripts, followed by a day of feedback for the writers from 4 guest script editors.

Here are a few thoughts from this final weekend of 2017 4screenwriting events –

 As ever, the positive energy flowing between actors and writers was powerful and invigorating; and it’s interesting to note the differences in perception between reading the script on the page and hearing it read – how you pick up on different things. This reminds of how difficult screenplays are to read (and consequently write!). Reading a script is hard – so you need to do all you can to make it sing off the page, make it easy to read, enable the reader to play it as a movie in their mind’s eye. Don’t have anything come between the story and the reader.

Being a writer can be very exciting but also very tough. We try our best to put the writers at their ease – but at the same time they’re under a lot of pressure on the course. 5 months is not long to create a brand new series or serial, and it’s testament to the quality of the course writers that they achieve it so excitingly. The range and quality of scripts this year was remarkable – from a story about a female boxing club (with a Jehovahs Witness sub-plot!) and a ‘western’ set in deepest rural Wales; to a story of a father and son covering up a dreadful accident in which the son is involved; and 2 scripts set slightly in the future, with different – but equally striking – portrayals of how the future will look. (Not good!)

At the drinks evening on Tuesday, the 12 course writers are in the room to be met by about 200 eminent industry people – it’s nerve-racking! Because there is so much to be gained by these writers, there’s a lot at stake for them. It’s great to also see at this event writers from previous years who can now come back to this drinks evening in a slightly more relaxed frame of mind and who are able to enjoy it more while also connecting with industry people who they now know and like, as well as meeting new people, and trading experiences with the writers from this year’s course.

When we choose the 12 writers from 1400 scripts, we unequivocally love those 12 scripts – we’re so spoilt for choice – so we know that we have 12 hugely talented writers every year. But one of the things the course teaches us each year is that there is more to becoming successful in the industry than being a good screenwriter (although that is clearly the most important thing). Aside from the demands and mysteries of the craft of dramatic story-telling, being successful as a screenwriter is like being successful in any other career – in other words being focused, ambitious, strategic and smart in the way you run your career. An example from this week’s drinks evening – I was talking to one of the best and most successful writers from the 7 years of the course, the one who for me most epitomises an attitude of focused professionalism. She (very politely) broke off her conversation with me because the new C4 head of drama was hovering nearby and this writer wanted to talk to her, so she went over and started up a conversation. As far as I’m concerned, this is the sort of determination and initiative you need as a writer to be successful. Once when I was at a BAFTA screening with the same writer, soon after she’d finished the C4 course, she went up to Olivia Coleman in the BAFTA bar to ask if she’d like to read her course script because the lead part was just right for her (and it was). Ultimately nothing came off this – but it’s another great example of what you need to do to be successful. Importantly this writer is always charming, courteous, respectful, sensitive to the social situation and modest – but she has an admirably steely determination and inner confidence, which, combined with her talents as a screenwriter have brought her richly-deserved success.

In fact, modesty and humility (combined with an inner self-confidence) are qualities that all the successful C4 course writers have in common. They all have that necessary self-doubt, introspection and sensitivity you need to be a successful dramatic writer – alongside a tough persistence and passion for their craft.

As one of my (quite drunk) fellow course script editors said to me at the drinks evening, ‘This is the best night of your life!’ I wouldn’t go that far but this drinks evening is definitely always one of the highlights of my year – a celebration of the year’s 12 course writers, a chance to catch up with writers from previous years of the course; and the course feels so vindicated by the presence at the evening of representatives of pretty much all the big players in the world of UK drama producing indies and top literary agencies. It’s also a great chance for me to catch up with friends and former colleagues – there were 6 or 7 ex-colleagues from the Carlton TV drama department. It was great to catch up with all of them, and for them to catch up with each other.

Another moment from the course weekend that struck me – which made me think about ‘What does good screenwriting look like?’ Here’s a scene that does it for me from one of this year’s 12 4screenwriting scripts. This scene was part of the 15 minute actor readings last Saturday. I’d already read and hugely enjoyed this extremely impressive piece of story-telling. But during the actors’ reading, this scene in particular thrilled me – it leapt off the page as a beautifully nuanced piece of characterful, sub-textual writing, laden with deep, suppressed feeling.

INT. GRACE’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT.

ROB returns home. He enters the house and JAN comes down the stairs.

JAN

Where have you been?

ROB

Nowhere.

JAN isn’t convinced.

JAN

What’s happened?

ROB

Nothing. Go back to bed.

It doesn’t look like much on the page does it? Part of its power is in its simplicity, in what isn’t said, in how inarticulate it is. It’s impossible to get a full sense of the power of this one short scene without reading the whole script – but let me assure you – this is what good screenwriting looks like.

It’s about tension, sub-text, clear but complex characterisation, and a sense of mystery; and, as with so many of the best scripts, characters that find it impossible to articulate their feelings. Good screenwriting doesn’t need to be flashy – just truthful.

Quotes from the KEN LOACH interview at Wednesday’s London Screenwriters Festival launch –

About the election result – ‘This is the most encouraging political development in my lifetime.’

Asked about Hollywood blockbusters – ‘What I find interesting is not what the industry finds interesting….The sub-text is shaped by the people who provide the money. And that subtext is – a man with a gun can solve your problems. It’s about the intentional use of money and violence to get what you want….It’s reflective of US foreign policy. Multiplex films are about commodification – and about fetishising bodies – what you should look like – but they forget what it means to be human.’

What makes good writing – ‘You need to look for a spark in the dialogue. The idea of structure has been elevated way beyond its importance.’

He discussed some of the writers who he had worked with time after time – Neville Smith, Bill Jesse, Barry Hines, Jim Allen and Paul Laverty.

He discussed how all the writers he’s worked with have a sense of comedy – comedy being about what makes people idiosyncratic, odd, unique, special. And good writing is about these people – how they relate to each other, their social background.

‘Most of the screenwriters I’ve worked with aren’t rich.’

Finally, thank you so much for the SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS you’ve sent me. Some really fascinating questions that I’m looking forward to answering in a future newsletter – but pleased keep them coming. It would be great to have several more so that I can fill a whole newsletter with this Q&A session.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 30th,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

June 16th 2017

LONDON WRITERS WEEK 2017

Posted by admin  /   June 02, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on LONDON WRITERS WEEK 2017

Hi There,

Two events that I’m part of in the next couple of months –

LONDON WRITERS WEEK 2017

This takes place over the week of July 3 – 9 at the lovely Granary Building in Kings Cross (campus for Central St Martins, University of the Arts London & Drama Centre London).

Here is some information about it –

‘The 2017 line up for London Writers’ Week, the week-long celebration of new writing across all platforms in the UK, has been announced.

The initiative, which takes place at Central Saint Martins, brings together a host of partners to explore new writing for aspiring and established writers in the UK.

Events, debates and talks will be available to writers for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media as well as teachers.

This year London Writers’ Week takes place between 3 and 9 July and will involve contributions from Oscar and BAFTA-nominated writer and president of The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Olivia Hetreed, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation John Kampfner and Australian Academy Award nominee David Evan Giles.

WhatsOnStage, who is partnering with London Writers’ Week, will be hosting an exclusive event with Royal Court literary manager Chris Campbell. WhatsOnStage critic Matt Trueman will hold an hour-long discussion with Campbell on new writing submissions, the Court’s new writers’ groups and top tips for scripts.

Writers will also have access to advice from the BBC, Tamasha Theatre Company, Boundless Theatre, writer Al Smith, Philip Shelley – head of Channel 4’s screenwriting course – Playwrights Studio, Scotland, The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, BBC Writersroom, and the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre.

Director of London Writers’ Week Jennifer Tuckett said: “We hope this year’s theme of Digital Media and Cross Platform work will provide access to and showcase some of the best new ideas going on in digital media in the UK.

“With BBC Three moving online, The Space, and projects like the Royal Court Theatre’s collaboration with The Guardian and podcast series and cross-platform work, it is increasingly important writers consider digital media as a possible area to write for and with.’

With the focus of the week being on story-telling in digital media, I’m involved in a session on Saturday July 8th, looking at my www.tributepodcasts.co.uk series of dramatic monologues, focusing on how the project was initiated and developed, how it showcases new writers; and looking at the lessons we learnt from making the podcasts, and how you as writers can empower yourselves through digital media projects.

Here’s a link to my session,

http://londonwritersweek.com/event/philip-shelley-writing-for-podcasts/

but there are a load of really interesting sessions over the week by some excellent people, in a great location at a very reasonable price! As well as the above-mentioned, there are also sessions involving the BBC Writers Room, John Yorke, the Bush Theatre and Fin Kennedy from Tamasha Theatre.

I hope to see you there.

INDIE TRAINING FUND : SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS

And on Thursday June 22nd I’m running this one day introduction to script-editing course at the Indie Training Fund in Hoxton.

http://indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=9933

 

LOST IN LONDON

I went to see this at picturehouse central last week. It’s a very good movie in its own right – a largely autobiographical film, written by, directed by and starring Woody Harrelson about a very bizarre and eventful night he spent in London some years ago. It’s very funny – with some great cameos, particularly by Owen Wilson as himself. But what is remarkable about it is that it was the first ever feature film that was screened live, ie as it was being shot it was shown across several screens in London and around the world. It’s also shot in a single take. I was in awe of the logistical achievement – the film involves several car / taxi trips across London, a packed night club sequence, fight scenes and several more huge set-ups, with a huge cast. To have shot this in a single take – knowing this was a once-only chance (I believe they shot 3 versions of VICTORIA, the other single-take movie!) – and for it to have been screened live is mind-boggling. And Woody Harrelson, playing a version of himself, is in the entire movie and has a huge number of lines. His performance is remarkable considering the pressure he must have felt – with only one minor line fluff that I noticed. A pretty extraordinary achievement, that seems to have rather gone under the radar.

 

PUNTS

A new play by writer SARAH PAGE, that has just opened at Theatre 503 in Battersea, London. This is the script that got Sarah onto this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course, and it’s an excellent piece of writing. Funny, clever and thematically rich, I highly recommend it. Now booking!

https://theatre503.com/whats-on/?spektrix_bounce=true

FOOTBALL : SARAH KANE

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter you will know that every now and again I mention football, and occasionally attempt to draw analogies between football matches and story-telling. Many thanks to TOM MAXTED for pointing me in the direction of this excellent article by writer SARAH KANE. (Sarah sadly died in 1999 – she was a remarkable writer, who made a huge impact in the theatre in the ‘90’s with some of the darkest, bleakest, but most powerful plays – plays that are still widely produced).

Sarah was a big Manchester United supporter and this piece from The Guardian is entitled ‘Why can’t theatre be as gripping as footie?’!

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/jan/12/sarah-kane-theatre-football-blasted

And here’s a link to another more recent, and very interesting, Guardian article about the links between sport and dramatic story-telling

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/mar/05/floodlights-footlights-sports-theatre

 

QUESTIONS

Do you have any questions about SCREENWRITING or SCRIPT-EDITING that you’d like me to answer? I’ll be dedicating a future edition of the newsletter to answering your questions – so please FIRE AWAY! (You can email them to me – Philip.shelley@script-consultant.co.uk)

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 16th

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

June 2nd 2017