GILLIAN CLARKE – The way forward for screenwriters

Posted by admin  /   June 24, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on GILLIAN CLARKE – The way forward for screenwriters

Hi There,

This week I’m delighted to share with you a guest blog by development producer GILLIAN CLARKE. Gillian is one of the best script producers in the UK, with script-editing credits on brilliant shows like UTOPIA and FANNY HILL.

‘In the last few years, the international marketplace has become saturated with multi-million dollar shows and high-profile casting to capture an audience’s attention and/or new subscribers. I’ve spent over a decade in the industry and there have been some phenomenal changes, especially in how the way we watch TV has evolved. We’ve never had so many places to house ideas and have access to so many shows from around the world. However, it’s also clear to methat TV is flawed; our domestic industry remains London-centric, exclusive (financially, ableist, class… the list goes on) and racist, which inhibits the phenomenally rich and diverse voices of the whole of the UK. At C21’s Drama Summit in December last year, the global players talked of their expansion into new territories announcing shows from India, The Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa. It was clear that the SVODs had realised that specificity of voice sells.

When COVID-19 struck and our productions were universally shut down, UK commissioners and producers turned their full attention to development. Good ideas are the lifeblood of our industry and focusing on the future was a pragmatic and hopeful temporary solution. Filming is slowly beginning again in the UK and lessons are being shared from European sets, but this will be baby steps rather than a sprint. As Piers Wenger, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, described recently, the need for co-pros will be greater as worldwide broadcasters come out of the pandemic and international filming will remain a complicated proposition. So how do these two things – specificity of voice and international co-productions – marry up? The answer is the writer and the universal truths you want to tell. 

During lockdown, our daily lives have become smaller. Isolation might seem a counter-intuitive place from which to find inspiration for stories about the human condition, but this is a good time to pause and consider the ideas, stories and worlds that you’re truly passionate about. Because before the idea there is the writer.

When we look at the UK’s standout talent, it’s no surprise that these successes originate from truly distinctive voices – Michaela Coel’s CHEWING GUM, Malorie Blackman’s NOUGHTS + CROSSES, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s KILLING EVE, Jesse Armstrong’s SUCCESSION. The coming of age, love story, investigative thriller and family saga are all familiar genres, but each one is made fresh by the daring, emotive, playful and satirically unique perspective of these writers and all of their shows captured a universal truth about the human condition.

There has been a lot of lockdown guilt expressed online – if you’ve not been learning three new languages, exercising every hour on the hour, repainting walls while cooking up a storm, that’s ok. The world has turned upside down and many have lost someone they love or at the very least have been kept apart from them. To go on as normal would be odd. It’s come as no surprise to me to see so many writers reaching out and helping others like Luke Barnes’s initiative Liverpool Artists Coronavirus Fund, Sabrina Mahfouz’s Artists Fund Artists, Chinonyerem Odimba’s #Play Sessions or Camilla Whitehill’s Online Writer’s Programme. Writers are tapped into the world in a unique way – you are built with empathy and imagination and while the future is uncertain, seeing your response to it makes the challenges feel surmountable.

Uncertainty can also bring opportunity. While our industry adapts to new challenges, there is a chance to rewrite some of the rules and embrace more inventive ways to tell stories. Short-form doesn’t have to be the poorer cousin of the traditional TV hour and development to production doesn’t have to take years. ITV’s ISOLATION STORIES and the BBC’s TALKING HEADS are all experimenting with form and production models. I MAY DESTROY YOU and NORMAL PEOPLE shows the overwhelming appetite for 30-minute dramas. Not every great idea fits neatly around ad breaks or a BBC hour.

So as you craft your next project to share with the world, know this. The scripts that rise head and shoulders above the rest are the ones that speak the truth – the truth as seen from the writer’s unique perspective of the world. This truth is concealed in who your protagonist is, the tone of their voice, their choices and the time and place it’s set. Each decision you make that adds to the authenticity of your protagonist and their fictional world, keeps the reader wanting more and drives them to discover what truths the writer has to impart. So if you haven’t been able to write during lockdown, don’t panic. Great ideas rarely suddenly appear; they’re nearly always percolated. If all you’ve been able to do during lockdown is think about the things that are important to you, fed yourself creatively by watching, reading or listening to something new or beloved, you’ll be in a strong position to build from that when the world starts to creak back to ‘normality’.

The arts will play an important role in how we process the events and trauma of the past few months, so to tap into your truth, ask yourself:

What do you see that others don’t?

What do you want to say that others can’t?

Who do you want to see onscreen?

Who do you want to say it to?

How will you tell it differently?

This time in isolation has allowed us to recalibrate and ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our lives and our work. The personal is universal. Your story will find a home. If not here, there is a wider world out there where UK talent is lauded.

I’m hoping that the conversations that our industry is having about race and exclusion are moving things forward, but I’m aware that change has been promised numerous times before and not materialised. We are a creative industry and yet, for decades, we’ve lacked the imagination to tackle this head-on. It’s very clear what has to be done. The time has passed where Producers, Commissioners and Controllers have to be persuaded that your worldview isn’t a “risk”, “too niche” or “too urban”. If a story is well told and authentic, an audience will come. As you explore your next idea, know that the industry is defined by and depends on you, so don’t try and fit in, but ask yourself how will I stand out?

Thank you so much Gillian for those inspiring words.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 10th

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

June 26th 2020  

SCREENWRITING Q&A

Posted by admin  /   June 11, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING Q&A

Hi There,

This week, more answers to the questions I didn’t have a chance to get to on my BFI Academy session a few weeks ago.

What advice would you give early career writers on how to approach scale?

Go for it! This is one time in your writing career when you should have no limitations or inhibitions about writing a story of real scale. Without wishing to be unduly pessimistic, your initial calling card scripts are unlikely to get made. So you shouldn’t worry about being production-savvy. But readers of your script are likely to respond to a script that feels ambitious and cinematic. You have an opportunity at this point to write your passion project, to write something that really expresses your identity as a writer. So don’t hold back!

Are there any genres you would recommend sticking to (or avoiding) at the early stages of your career?

Absolutely not. As above, write what you are burning to write and don’t start pre-empting yourself with non-creative considerations about which genres are more likely to sell. Write the script that you’re excited to write even if it’s ‘niche’.

What kinds of stories do you think will be popular post quarantine?

Anything that’s not about Covid-19! I think people will be sick of talking and hearing about it and will be keen to move on.

But it’s not an issue that can be addressed simply. Of the three writers I’m working with on this year’s 4screenwriting, 2 slipped quarantine / social distancing references into their scripts. I suggested that they both remove the references because I think you either have to dramatise a world in which it is an all-encompassing reality (which has huge narrative implications) or ignore it altogether.

What are the main structural differences between a feature and a short film?

Short films are often used as testing grounds for feature film ideas; and there are plenty of examples of short films that have then inspired or been the basis of feature films (eg THUNDER ROAD).

Sometimes (and if you can pull this off, it’s very impressive) a short film is structurally intricate with a sophisticated three act structure and story of real scale told in ten or so minutes. Conversely, sometimes a short film is a single scene with a single character in a single, interior location. The form needs to complement the idea.

But a short film is undoubtedly a less daunting place to start out as a writer than a full-length feature.

Are there any script concepts that you read a lot and you would say to avoid as a new writer?

This is a tricky one because it’s at least as much to do with personal, subjective taste as it is to do with, more broadly and objectively, what works and what doesn’t work.

One area that I think has become over-familiar is dystopian story worlds set in a non-specific future in which the world has gone to shit as a result of all the terrible things that are happening now. For me, too often, trying to tell a story set in a futuristic, dystopian, fictional society that is trying to address current problems (whether it’s the climate crisis, the refugee crisis, growing economic equality, global pandemics, etc etc) actually takes the edge off the idea and becomes more about slightly cliché, over-familiar dystopian tropes and less about the huge, burning issues that the script purports to be about.

As above though I encourage scale and ambition and ideas that feel inherently dramatic and that are plucked from the headlines.

Other concepts I read a lot and I would suggest avoiding – ensemble, low-concept comedy dramas about young millennials making their way in the big city; glossy US-set thrillers written by British writers who have no first-hand experience of the US – these will inevitably feel derivative.

I would also say – think long and hard about period stories and why you want to write a period rather than a contemporary story. I’m not saying don’t write a period story. But I would say you need to think about why your period story feels like a timely and important story for a contemporary audience. Why are you telling this period story now? What is its relevance for a contemporary audience?

Philip how did you get into the industry? What was your first big break?

There is no one, recognised way of getting into the industry but if you want to work as a script editor or are interested in dramatic writing, the most common route in is as a script reader. I was an unsuccessful actor and started writing. I wrote a stage adaptation of a novel, sent it to Paines Plough theatre company. Their very kind and excellent literary manager at the time (Robin Hooper) contacted me. They didn’t like the play enough to do anything with it but he offered me reading work at Paines Plough which led onto a little bit of dramaturgical work, meeting and talking to a couple of writers about their scripts. I enjoyed this so then started looking for more reading work. Over the next year or two, I spent most of my time at home reading huge amounts of scripts for quite a few different companies (Theatre, TV, film). One of my favourite reading jobs was for an acting agency, reading the scripts that had been sent in as offers for Anthony Hopkins. For him, I remember reading and being inspired by Dennis Potter’s adaptation of Dickens’ ‘The Mystery Of Edwin Drood.’

Eventually one of my script reading contacts, the wonderful Gwenda Bagshaw at Granada TV Drama, gave me a 2 week contract as researcher on a Paul Abbott series about missing people (that was never made). This contract kept getting extended and I worked for Gwenda and her boss Sally Head at Granada, London Weekend Television and Sally Head Productions for quite a few years of my career (as a team they were responsible for iconic TV dramas like Cracker, Prime Suspect & Band Of Gold, not that I worked on any of those shows!)

Would you recommend setting short term (daily?) goals for writing? Or is it better to think more long term?

Absolutely. You need to do both. To make any impact as a writer, you have to put the hours in. There is no getting round the fact that it is hugely time-consuming. So you need to get into the daily discipline of finding space and time for yourself to write.

But I also think you need to have longer-term aims. You need to strategize and think about why you write and what you want from it. From time to time you need to stand back from the daily slog of writing and think about where you want to be in three years time and how you’re going to achieve this; and to make sure that you aren’t going down unproductive forks in the road. You need to keep reminding yourself of your strengths as a writer and what you are trying to achieve.

Do you have any tips for navigating the minefield that is networking?

I think the answer is in the question! Try not to see it as a negative. One of the things I enjoy about this industry is that I get to talk about films and TV shows with like-minded people. That’s actually fun. Networking has become a pejorative word but you need to find ways to embrace and enjoy the social aspect of the industry – because it is a significant part of it. And there are a lot of nice, smart people and if you’re interested in screenwriting, TV, film etc you will have a lot in common with them. It’s a small world and there is a lot of sharing of information about scripts and writers. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. In general, people are happy to help.

FOLLOW-UP to my newsletter of 2 weeks ago, THE SOCIOPATH TEST

I had so many fascinating, heartfelt responses – thank you so much – and it motivated a thread on one of my facebook pages. Originally I’d intended to title the blog, IMPOTENT FURY and one of the main questions that came out of the collective fury and frustration at the way we’re all being mugged off was – what can we do about it? The first and obvious thing to do is make sure we write to our MPs expressing our feelings and asking them what they’re going to do about it.

Then I mentioned a tweet which struck a chord with me, ‘DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT VIOLENT PROTESTS WHEN YOU DIDN’T LISTEN TO THE PEACEFUL ONES.’

Which elicited this response, ‘The poll tax was introduced in Scotland one year earlier than the rest of the UK by Margaret Thatcher. There were protests, many protests – all peaceful. And nothing changed. When it was due to be introduced in England a year later, there were violent riots south of the border. This led to the abolition of the tax. As a young man at the time, the lesson to me seemed obvious. Still does.’

And then this very pertinent question, ‘So what is the suggestion? At the moment, we all seem to be commenting as we watch the inevitable unfold.’

This (difficult!) question seemed to bring the conversation to a bit of an abrupt full stop. That is the important question – but not an easy one to answer.

And then the protests against the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis followed, which very much fed into this debate.

The bottom line is, it’s all very well being politely middle-class and going on protest marches. But in the last few decades, even when literally millions have turned out, as they did both to protest the Iraq war and then to protest Brexit, the uncomfortable reality is they have achieved pretty much f*** all. Would you disagree with that? Is the only worthwhile form of protest something more akin to the Extinction Rebellion model of disruption and direct action? (The act of the pulling-down of the Colston statue in Bristol also feeds into this debate).

Another connected thought was triggered by a book I’ve just read – ‘Talking Theatre’ in which Richard Eyre interviews notable theatre people. One of the recurring themes that keeps coming out in conversations with the likes of Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Hare is a discussion of political theatre – from Shaw to Brecht and then Arthur Miller, and British writers who first made a splash in  the ‘70’s like Hare himself, Howard Brenton, Trevor Griffiths, Caryl Churchill.

But where are the politically-committed writers today when we need them? Will the crap that’s happened in the UK over the last few years motivate a new breed of British political writers? (Anders Lustgarten and Beth Steel are excellent examples and exceptional in this regard).

Whether it’s in the theatre, cinema or on TV, I would love to see more impassioned, angry, humanitarian, political writing.

Finally this week I’d like to draw your attention to a short documentary film made by Tallulah Self, who has been a runner on the Channel 4 screenwriting course for the last couple of years. It’s a lovely and excellent piece of storytelling –  

https://www.redbull.com/int-en/episodes/game-of-life

NB From now on, this newsletter is reverting to its fortnightly schedule, so the next newsletter will be on Friday June 26th

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

June 12th 2020

ANNA SYMON INTERVIEWS RICHARD LAXTON

Posted by admin  /   June 04, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on ANNA SYMON INTERVIEWS RICHARD LAXTON

Hi There,

This week I am so delighted to share with you this guest blog – screenwriter ANNA SYMON, a C4 screenwriting course alumna, writer of MRS WILSON and DEEP WATER, interviewing director RICHARD LAXTON.

A massive thank you to both Anna and Richard for taking the time to do this and for their generosity in sharing it.

Hello!

Hope everyone is coping with lock down as best they can. So many friends have said to me how lucky I am that, as a writer, my work life goes on as normal, and while it’s true in some ways, in most ways of course it’s not. For one, there is the existential anxiety which makes it tough to focus on sitting down and making things up, and then there are all the new ways of working, getting notes and having creative conversations via Zoom, and, by no means least, there is the issue of motivating oneself to write scripts with no clear production start date. One thing is for sure, once this is over, and filming is able to start up again, there is going to be a mini production boom. Actors, crew, directors are all going to be hugely in demand and there’ll be a proper bun fight to get the best collaborators attached to your project. All that led me to think that it might be useful to write this guest blog about how to entice a director to your script and more generally about the relationship between the writer and the director in TV drama.

I spoke to Richard Laxton whom I worked with on MRS WILSON, a mini-series I wrote for BBC One in 2018. Richard is an award-winning director who has worked with a diverse and high calibre list of writers including Abi Morgan, Emma Thompson, Neil McKay, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jed Mercurio, Brian Fillis, Simon Donald. The list goes on and on. In recent years, he has collaborated extensively with Stefan Golaszewski, directing the brilliant shows HIM AND HER and MUM. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was over the moon when he agreed to direct MRS WILSON.

How do scripts land on your desk? And what do you look for in a script?

I don’t have time to read when I’m in the middle of a job. So I start to look at scripts when I am coming towards the end of post-production on the job I’m currently working on – or soon after. My agent sends me ones she thinks I’ll enjoy (perhaps weeding a few out as she knows my taste) and I will generally read at least twenty to find one that really touches me. The first consideration is always: am I compelled to keep reading? After that its – am I intrigued enough about the world that I’m in, do I care enough about the characters? Do I believe the world of the characters is emotionally resonant and complex enough to hold an audience? Where is the humanity within the script? What does the script say about us all that is interesting and possibly confronting? This last point can be quite subtle, it doesn’t have to be something writ large in the script. Perhaps there is a theme or resonance that I can see in the script that I’d want to bring out further.

What I find really interesting about what you’ve just said is that your primary thoughts are about story-telling, not your ‘vision’ for the show.

Before I take on a project, I have to have to have a deep connection with the story. The first reading of a script is the most important one I will ever have. It is the closest I will ever get to the audience’s experience of this world.

That’s really interesting. Can you remember your first read of RIVER by Abi Morgan, for example?

Yes, I can vividly remember my first read of every script I’ve ever worked on! I was on holiday and I was exhausted from work and I really didn’t want to read any scripts at all. I knew that RIVER was a cop show and I really didn’t want to make a cop show – but my agent said “look, it’s Abi Morgan, you should read it” so I got off my teenage high horse and I can clearly remember where I was, sitting on a sun lounger on the beach. I found I just couldn’t stop reading and I was so moved and drawn into the world of this incredibly tender human being and this private and tortured condition that he lived with, all I can says is I just couldn’t stop reading it. I decided instantly that I wanted to go and meet her to talk about it.

What happens then?

I prepare for the pitch with the writer and producer. Producers often need broad brush references so they can understand what I want to achieve with the piece. For example, for MRS WILSON, I talked about CATHY COME HOME for its visceral emotion and TODD HAYNES for the suburban palette. Of course, in reality it is much more subtle and complex than that but it gives people a frame of reference. The stakes feel really, really high. If I don’t get a job I love it’s very painful because by the time I haven’t got it I’ve normally engaged a lot of myself in it to try and get the job. You end up bringing so much of your brain and thought and imagination that if you don’t get it there’s a period of withdrawal or mourning. I always connect with stories from an emotional perspective.

How about comedy? When you first read MUM, did you respond to it from an emotional/ character or a ‘laughs’ point of view?

I knew Stefan very well already because of directing HIM AND HER but MUM was a very different tone to that so, in some ways, it was like a new read. I remember being moved emotionally and I giggled. That combination is gold dust. I found the main characters incredibly touching but there was also a chorus of characters around them that were real but also extraordinary. By the end of the read, I felt like I’d been on a hell of a journey. Also the first ep is incredibly raw as it is the morning of the funeral of the lead character’s husband. As much as there were many nerves about that from a commissioning point of view, it shows you can start a comedy anywhere as long as you are truthful to that environment. That is such a big thing for me: do I believe this would happen?

Leading on from that, are there any red flags in a script, like this lack of truthfulness, that lead you to pass?

If I can see the work that the writer has had to put in to get to the joke, I see the archness of it, then I’ve no interest in that as a director. Similarly, in drama, if I can see the ‘scaffolding rig’ of the script behind the work it is a turn off. If I start to think that the genre is leading the story rather than it coming from the heart. I think it’s because if I can see the mechanics of the script, I can’t be drawn in and seduced by the world. Sometimes, I have to be honest, I get sent things that I just don’t think are ready to be made. I don’t think the writer and producer have thought hard enough about the story.

On the other hand, there are some scripts that I read that I can see are very well written but they aren’t of interest to me. You have to love something so much to invest your emotional energy and time into it.

Once you take on a job, how does that relationship with the writer work?

I see my job in those early script meetings to look at the script from the audience’s point of view. What is it that I don’t understand in this scene? Why am I not interested in this bit and always skip over it in the read? Could the audience need more back story here to help them understand the character? I guess it’s about truth and clarity.

Trust is so important between writer and director as both creatives are making themselves vulnerable by talking about the work. The director may be thinking deep down inside: I don’t want to be the one to fuck up this brilliant script. The writer will be thinking: Don’t fuck up my script! So it’s a very careful conversation that can be tense. It’s so important to try and work out when there is a difference of opinion whether it’s because the script does not fulfil the writer’s intention or whether the director or other creatives just don’t get what the script is saying. It’s very useful to have other script execs or producers in the room who can steer and help make sense of this process.

So you give a lot of notes?

[said tongue in cheek… I know he does! We sat down together for two days on MRS WILSON. It was tough but worth it, as his notes hugely improved the scripts.]

Some writers hate taking notes but not the good ones. Even the most high profile writers will listen carefully and make time for notes. Due to their busy schedules, both Emma Thompson and Abi Morgan re-wrote scripts then and there in the room as we talked into the night.

At the same time as working on the script with the writer, I start internalising the story, my thoughts constantly evolving so that I can bring the piece to screen. The work then starts in practical terms with hiring the Heads of Dept (production designer, DOP etc) with the right sensibilities for the piece and, of course, casting. By the time we start shooting, everyone in the crew has to be of one voice in the interpretation of the script. In this way, the writer and director should be completely inter-dependent. Everything, everything, must always come back to the script.

Thanks Richard, very thought-provoking and hopefully will inspire us writers to make our scripts as director-ready as possible.

Thank you both!

The next newsletter will be next Friday June 12th.

Until then look after yourselves

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

June 5th 2020

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Posted by admin  /   May 27, 2020  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Hi There,

I’m really sorry that there is so little about screenwriting in this week’s blog. I’d meant for this to be a tiny footnote at the bottom of the blog, but…I got carried away. I do try to stick to screenwriting (and there are a couple of – hopefully – useful connections to screenwriting and storytelling in here). And I will be back to writing exclusively about screenwriting from next week. But I think this is important and it’s taken over my week and got in the way of work…

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

I couldn’t let this week’s blog go by without saying something about the huge and demoralising frustrations I’m (we’re?) feeling, having to live through Johnson and Cummings’s arrogance and dishonesty over the last week. I don’t know about you but I’ve been coping OK in lockdown up until recently – and then observing Johnson and Cummings and their utter contempt for us over the last week really knocked me back and demoralised me. Day after day we have been taken for mugs as they insult us with their lies. A 60 mile round trip to a local beauty spot on his wife’s birthday with both wife and son in the car, ‘to test his eyesight.’ If it took 60 miles of driving to decide whether his eyesight was up to driving, then it clearly wasn’t! And then suddenly the cabinet decided to agree that eyesight problems are a recognised covid symptom (which they’re not).

The fact is that his actions were exactly what the government advice was designed to stop – people from one area of the country with a high rate of infection (London) – who suspect they’re infected –  taking the disease to another area of the country with a low rate of infection (Durham). We all knew that if we were showing symptoms, the worst possible thing we could do was travel with those symptoms to another part of the country. To really put the cap on this, he even took his son to a hospital in Durham!

The idea that the most important government advisor, at a time when he potentially had even more responsibility because his sidekick, sorry boss, was ill, couldn’t get access to childcare in one of the biggest first-world cities on the planet is palpable crap.

And yet there was not one iota of remorse or apology from either him or the PM, despite the fact that millions of other people have brilliantly and quite rightly taken the rules as gospel and made no attempt to ‘interpret’ them to their own advantage. And the way other cabinet members are then wheeled out to support the party lines (lies) using exactly the same language as each other doesn’t even attempt to hide the transparency that this is propaganda rather than sincerely-held opinion.

When thinking about all the people who have suffered in silence and shown such forbearance, it really twists my guts in fury seeing their sociopathic behaviour. My own uncle died three weeks ago. I wasn’t close to him, but his three children and five grandchildren weren’t able to go to his funeral – just one example of many, many thousands who will be feeling hugely slighted by Johnson and Cummings’ complete lack of remorse or apology for Cummings’ crystal-clear flouting of the lockdown regulations at the time – however he (extraordinarily incompetently) tries to spin it.

As a matter of interest, I checked online the qualities that you need to be defined as a sociopath. They are –

1 Glibness and Superficial Charm.

2 Manipulative and Conning. They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviours as permissible.

3 Grandiose Sense of Self.

4 Pathological Lying.

5 Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt.  

6 Shallow Emotions.

7 Incapacity for Love(?)

8 Need for Stimulation.’

From what I’ve seen of him, that list seems to pretty accurately sum up Cummings! (I’ve crossed out the only one that doesn’t seem to apply.)

It’s an important facet of screenwriting that one tiny image can get to the nub of a scene when pages of dialogue don’t quite do it. And so it was with Cummings, caught on Sky News cameras with a nasty little smirk on his face as he walked away from his press conference, that spoke volumes about his contempt for everyone who isn’t as ‘smart’ as he is.

I’ve taken this directly from a Twitter thread by @RussInCheshire which sums up the story clearly and excellently. (Twitter has been both a comfort and a curse this last week – a comfort for its brilliant writing and being able to share in the generalised outrage; but also a curse in that it has ratcheted up my fury even further).

 1. Dominic Cummings, one of the few men to have ever been found in contempt of Parliament, moved onto contempt for everything

2. When the story broke, and he was accused of doing things that look bad, he said he didn’t

3. Then ministers said press outrage meant nothing, only the opinion of the people mattered 

4. Then polls showed 52% of people wanted Cummings to resign

5. So Cummings decided to show the public some respect, by turning up 30 minutes late to make his explanation

6. He began by saying he wasn’t speaking for the govt, which must be why he was in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street 

7. Then the self-styled “enemy of the Islington media elite” said his wife, who works in the media, had been ill in their house in Islington

8. But she was only a bit ill, so he popped home, got himself nice and infected, then went back to Downing Street for meetings with lots of vitally important people in the middle of a national crisis

9. But then he got ill too, so then it was suddenly important

10. Sadly he couldn’t get childcare in London, even though 3 immediate relatives live within 3 miles of his London home

11. So because he was carrying a virus that can cross a 2 metre distance and kill, he immediately locked himself in a car with his wife and child for 5 hours

12. He then drove 264 miles without stopping in a Land Rover that gets maybe 25 MPG

13. Then the scourge of the metropolitan elites made himself extra-relatable by describing his family’s sprawling country estate, multiple houses and idyllic woodlands

14. He explained that he’d warned about a coronavirus years ago in his blog

15. Then it was revealed he actually secretly amended old blogs after he’d returned from Durham

16. And anyway, if he’d warned years ago, why was he so massively unprepared and slow to react?

17. Then he said he was too ill to move for a week

18. But in the middle of that week, presumably with “wonky eyes”, he drove his child to hospital

19. Then he said that to test his “wonky eyes” he put his wife and child in a car and drove 30 miles on public roads

20. Then it was revealed his wife drives, so there was no reason for the “eye test”, cos she could have driven them back to London

21. Then it was revealed the “eye test” trip to a local tourist spot took place on his wife’s birthday

22. Then cameras filmed as he threw a cup onto the table, smirked and left

23. And then it emerged his wife had written an article during the time in Dunham, describing their experience of being in lockdown in London, which you’d definitely do if you weren’t hiding anything

24. A govt scientific advisor said “more people will die” as a result of what Cummings had done.

25. Boris Johnson said he “wouldn’t mark Cummings ” down for what he’d done.

26. The Attorney General said it was ok to break the law if you were acting on instinct

27. The Health Minister said it was OK to endanger public health if you meant well

28. Johnson said Cummings’ “story rings true” because his own eyesight was fine before coronavirus, but now he needs glasses

29. But in an interview with The Telegraph 5 years ago, Johnson said he needed glasses cos he was “blind as a bat”

30. Michael Gove went on TV and said it was “wise” to drive 30 miles on public roads with your family in the car to test your eyesight

31. The DVLA tweeted that you should never, ever do this

32. Then ministers started claiming Cummings had to go to Durham because he feared crowds attacking his home. The streets were empty because we were observing the lockdown.

33. And then a minister finally resigned

34. Steve Baker, Richard Littlejohn, Isabel Oakeshott, Tim Montgomerie, Jan Moir, Ian Dale, Julia Hartley Brewer, 30 Tory MPs, half a dozen bishops and the actual Daily Mail said Cummings should go

35. The govt suggested we can ignore them, because they’re all left-wingers

36. Then a vicar asked Matt Hancock if other people who had been fined for doing exactly what Cummings did would get their fine dropped. Matt Hancock said he’d suggest it to the govt

37. The govt said no within an hour. Cummings’ statement had lasted longer than that

38. And if the guidelines were so clear, why were people being stopped and fined for driving to find childcare in the first place?

39. Then a new poll found people who wanted Cummings sacked had risen from 52% to 57%

40. Cummings is considered the smartest man in the govt

41. And in the middle of all this, in case we take our eye off it: we reached 60,000 deaths. One of the highest per capita death rates worldwide.

42. We still face Brexit under this lot.

43. It’s 4 years until an election

As I said, it’s back to screenwriting next week with a brilliant guest blog from director RICHARD LAXTON and screenwriter ANNA SYMON.

Until then, stay safe and positive,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 29th 2020

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Posted by admin  /   May 27, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Hi There,

I’m really sorry that there is so little about screenwriting in this week’s blog. I’d meant for this to be a tiny footnote at the bottom of the blog, but…I got carried away. I do try to stick to screenwriting (and there are a couple of – hopefully – useful connections to screenwriting and storytelling in here). And I will be back to writing exclusively about screenwriting from next week. But I think this is important and it’s taken over my week and got in the way of work…

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

I couldn’t let this week’s blog go by without saying something about the huge and demoralising frustrations I’m (we’re?) feeling, having to live through Johnson and Cummings’s arrogance and dishonesty over the last week. I don’t know about you but I’ve been coping OK in lockdown up until recently – and then observing Johnson and Cummings and their utter contempt for us over the last week really knocked me back and demoralised me. Day after day we have been taken for mugs as they insult us with their lies. A 60 mile round trip to a local beauty spot on his wife’s birthday with both wife and son in the car, ‘to test his eyesight.’ If it took 60 miles of driving to decide whether his eyesight was up to driving, then it clearly wasn’t! And then suddenly the cabinet decided to agree that eyesight problems are a recognised covid symptom (which they’re not).

The fact is that his actions were exactly what the government advice was designed to stop – people from one area of the country with a high rate of infection (London) – who suspect they’re infected –  taking the disease to another area of the country with a low rate of infection (Durham). We all knew that if we were showing symptoms, the worst possible thing we could do was travel with those symptoms to another part of the country. To really put the cap on this, he even took his son to a hospital in Durham!

The idea that the most important government advisor, at a time when he potentially had even more responsibility because his sidekick, sorry boss, was ill, couldn’t get access to childcare in one of the biggest first-world cities on the planet is palpable crap.

And yet there was not one iota of remorse or apology from either him or the PM, despite the fact that millions of other people have brilliantly and quite rightly taken the rules as gospel and made no attempt to ‘interpret’ them to their own advantage. And the way other cabinet members are then wheeled out to support the party lines (lies) using exactly the same language as each other doesn’t even attempt to hide the transparency that this is propaganda rather than sincerely-held opinion.

When thinking about all the people who have suffered in silence and shown such forbearance, it really twists my guts in fury seeing their sociopathic behaviour. My own uncle died three weeks ago. I wasn’t close to him, but his three children and five grandchildren weren’t able to go to his funeral – just one example of many, many thousands who will be feeling hugely slighted by Johnson and Cummings’ complete lack of remorse or apology for Cummings’ crystal-clear flouting of the lockdown regulations at the time – however he (extraordinarily incompetently) tries to spin it.

As a matter of interest, I checked online the qualities that you need to be defined as a sociopath. They are –

1 Glibness and Superficial Charm.

2 Manipulative and Conning. They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviours as permissible.

3 Grandiose Sense of Self.

4 Pathological Lying.

5 Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt.  

6 Shallow Emotions.

7 Incapacity for Love(?)

8 Need for Stimulation.’

From what I’ve seen of him, that list seems to pretty accurately sum up Cummings! (I’ve crossed out the only one that doesn’t seem to apply.)

It’s an important facet of screenwriting that one tiny image can get to the nub of a scene when pages of dialogue don’t quite do it. And so it was with Cummings, caught on Sky News cameras with a nasty little smirk on his face as he walked away from his press conference, that spoke volumes about his contempt for everyone who isn’t as ‘smart’ as he is.

I’ve taken this directly from a Twitter thread by @RussInCheshire which sums up the story clearly and excellently. (Twitter has been both a comfort and a curse this last week – a comfort for its brilliant writing and being able to share in the generalised outrage; but also a curse in that it has ratcheted up my fury even further).

 1. Dominic Cummings, one of the few men to have ever been found in contempt of Parliament, moved onto contempt for everything

2. When the story broke, and he was accused of doing things that look bad, he said he didn’t

3. Then ministers said press outrage meant nothing, only the opinion of the people mattered 

4. Then polls showed 52% of people wanted Cummings to resign

5. So Cummings decided to show the public some respect, by turning up 30 minutes late to make his explanation

6. He began by saying he wasn’t speaking for the govt, which must be why he was in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street 

7. Then the self-styled “enemy of the Islington media elite” said his wife, who works in the media, had been ill in their house in Islington

8. But she was only a bit ill, so he popped home, got himself nice and infected, then went back to Downing Street for meetings with lots of vitally important people in the middle of a national crisis

9. But then he got ill too, so then it was suddenly important

10. Sadly he couldn’t get childcare in London, even though 3 immediate relatives live within 3 miles of his London home

11. So because he was carrying a virus that can cross a 2 metre distance and kill, he immediately locked himself in a car with his wife and child for 5 hours

12. He then drove 264 miles without stopping in a Land Rover that gets maybe 25 MPG

13. Then the scourge of the metropolitan elites made himself extra-relatable by describing his family’s sprawling country estate, multiple houses and idyllic woodlands

14. He explained that he’d warned about a coronavirus years ago in his blog

15. Then it was revealed he actually secretly amended old blogs after he’d returned from Durham

16. And anyway, if he’d warned years ago, why was he so massively unprepared and slow to react?

17. Then he said he was too ill to move for a week

18. But in the middle of that week, presumably with “wonky eyes”, he drove his child to hospital

19. Then he said that to test his “wonky eyes” he put his wife and child in a car and drove 30 miles on public roads

20. Then it was revealed his wife drives, so there was no reason for the “eye test”, cos she could have driven them back to London

21. Then it was revealed the “eye test” trip to a local tourist spot took place on his wife’s birthday

22. Then cameras filmed as he threw a cup onto the table, smirked and left

23. And then it emerged his wife had written an article during the time in Durham, describing their experience of being in lockdown in London, which you’d definitely do if you weren’t hiding anything

24. A govt scientific advisor said “more people will die” as a result of what Cummings had done.

25. Boris Johnson said he “wouldn’t mark Cummings ” down for what he’d done.

26. The Attorney General said it was ok to break the law if you were acting on instinct

27. The Health Minister said it was OK to endanger public health if you meant well

28. Johnson said Cummings’ “story rings true” because his own eyesight was fine before coronavirus, but now he needs glasses

29. But in an interview with The Telegraph 5 years ago, Johnson said he needed glasses cos he was “blind as a bat”

30. Michael Gove went on TV and said it was “wise” to drive 30 miles on public roads with your family in the car to test your eyesight

31. The DVLA tweeted that you should never, ever do this

32. Then ministers started claiming Cummings had to go to Durham because he feared crowds attacking his home. The streets were empty because we were observing the lockdown.

33. And then a minister finally resigned

34. Steve Baker, Richard Littlejohn, Isabel Oakeshott, Tim Montgomerie, Jan Moir, Ian Dale, Julia Hartley Brewer, 30 Tory MPs, half a dozen bishops and the actual Daily Mail said Cummings should go

35. The govt suggested we can ignore them, because they’re all left-wingers

36. Then a vicar asked Matt Hancock if other people who had been fined for doing exactly what Cummings did would get their fine dropped. Matt Hancock said he’d suggest it to the govt

37. The govt said no within an hour. Cummings’ statement had lasted longer than that

38. And if the guidelines were so clear, why were people being stopped and fined for driving to find childcare in the first place?

39. Then a new poll found people who wanted Cummings sacked had risen from 52% to 57%

40. Cummings is considered the smartest man in the govt

41. And in the middle of all this, in case we take our eye off it: we reached 60,000 deaths. One of the highest per capita death rates worldwide.

42. We still face Brexit under this lot.

43. It’s 4 years until an election

As I said, it’s back to screenwriting next week with a brilliant guest blog from director RICHARD LAXTON and screenwriter ANNA SYMON.

Until then, stay safe and positive,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 29th 2020

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Posted by admin  /   May 27, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on THE SOCIOPATH TEST

Hi There,

I’m really sorry that there is so little about screenwriting in this week’s blog. I’d meant for this to be a tiny footnote at the bottom of the blog, but…I got carried away. I do try to stick to screenwriting (and there are a couple of – hopefully – useful connections to screenwriting and storytelling in here). And I will be back to writing exclusively about screenwriting from next week. But I think this is important and it’s taken over my week and got in the way of work…

THE SOCIOPATH TEST

I couldn’t let this week’s blog go by without saying something about the huge and demoralising frustrations I’m (we’re?) feeling, having to live through Johnson and Cummings’s arrogance and dishonesty over the last week. I don’t know about you but I’ve been coping OK in lockdown up until recently – and then observing Johnson and Cummings and their utter contempt for us over the last week really knocked me back and demoralised me. Day after day we have been taken for mugs as they insult us with their lies. A 60 mile round trip to a local beauty spot on his wife’s birthday with both wife and son in the car, ‘to test his eyesight.’ If it took 60 miles of driving to decide whether his eyesight was up to driving, then it clearly wasn’t! And then suddenly the cabinet decided to agree that eyesight problems are a recognised covid symptom (which they’re not).

The fact is that his actions were exactly what the government advice was designed to stop – people from one area of the country with a high rate of infection (London) – who suspect they’re infected –  taking the disease to another area of the country with a low rate of infection (Durham). We all knew that if we were showing symptoms, the worst possible thing we could do was travel with those symptoms to another part of the country. To really put the cap on this, he even took his son to a hospital in Durham!

The idea that the most important government advisor, at a time when he potentially had even more responsibility because his sidekick, sorry boss, was ill, couldn’t get access to childcare in one of the biggest first-world cities on the planet is palpable crap.

And yet there was not one iota of remorse or apology from either him or the PM, despite the fact that millions of other people have brilliantly and quite rightly taken the rules as gospel and made no attempt to ‘interpret’ them to their own advantage. And the way other cabinet members are then wheeled out to support the party lines (lies) using exactly the same language as each other doesn’t even attempt to hide the transparency that this is propaganda rather than sincerely-held opinion.

When thinking about all the people who have suffered in silence and shown such forbearance, it really twists my guts in fury seeing their sociopathic behaviour. My own uncle died three weeks ago. I wasn’t close to him, but his three children and five grandchildren weren’t able to go to his funeral – just one example of many, many thousands who will be feeling hugely slighted by Johnson and Cummings’ complete lack of remorse or apology for Cummings’ crystal-clear flouting of the lockdown regulations at the time – however he (extraordinarily incompetently) tries to spin it.

As a matter of interest, I checked online the qualities that you need to be defined as a sociopath. They are –

1 Glibness and Superficial Charm.

2 Manipulative and Conning. They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviours as permissible.

3 Grandiose Sense of Self.

4 Pathological Lying.

5 Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt.  

6 Shallow Emotions.

7 Incapacity for Love(?)

8 Need for Stimulation.’

From what I’ve seen of him, that list seems to pretty accurately sum up Cummings! (I’ve crossed out the only one that doesn’t seem to apply.)

It’s an important facet of screenwriting that one tiny image can get to the nub of a scene when pages of dialogue don’t quite do it. And so it was with Cummings, caught on Sky News cameras with a nasty little smirk on his face as he walked away from his press conference, that spoke volumes about his contempt for everyone who isn’t as ‘smart’ as he is.

I’ve taken this directly from a Twitter thread by @RussInCheshire which sums up the story clearly and excellently. (Twitter has been both a comfort and a curse this last week – a comfort for its brilliant writing and being able to share in the generalised outrage; but also a curse in that it has ratcheted up my fury even further).

 1. Dominic Cummings, one of the few men to have ever been found in contempt of Parliament, moved onto contempt for everything

2. When the story broke, and he was accused of doing things that look bad, he said he didn’t

3. Then ministers said press outrage meant nothing, only the opinion of the people mattered 

4. Then polls showed 52% of people wanted Cummings to resign

5. So Cummings decided to show the public some respect, by turning up 30 minutes late to make his explanation

6. He began by saying he wasn’t speaking for the govt, which must be why he was in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street 

7. Then the self-styled “enemy of the Islington media elite” said his wife, who works in the media, had been ill in their house in Islington

8. But she was only a bit ill, so he popped home, got himself nice and infected, then went back to Downing Street for meetings with lots of vitally important people in the middle of a national crisis

9. But then he got ill too, so then it was suddenly important

10. Sadly he couldn’t get childcare in London, even though 3 immediate relatives live within 3 miles of his London home

11. So because he was carrying a virus that can cross a 2 metre distance and kill, he immediately locked himself in a car with his wife and child for 5 hours

 

12. He then drove 264 miles without stopping in a Land Rover that gets maybe 25 MPG

13. Then the scourge of the metropolitan elites made himself extra-relatable by describing his family’s sprawling country estate, multiple houses and idyllic woodlands

14. He explained that he’d warned about a coronavirus years ago in his blog

15. Then it was revealed he actually secretly amended old blogs after he’d returned from Durham

16. And anyway, if he’d warned years ago, why was he so massively unprepared and slow to react?

17. Then he said he was too ill to move for a week

18. But in the middle of that week, presumably with “wonky eyes”, he drove his child to hospital

19. Then he said that to test his “wonky eyes” he put his wife and child in a car and drove 30 miles on public roads

20. Then it was revealed his wife drives, so there was no reason for the “eye test”, cos she could have driven them back to London

21. Then it was revealed the “eye test” trip to a local tourist spot took place on his wife’s birthday

22. Then cameras filmed as he threw a cup onto the table, smirked and left

23. And then it emerged his wife had written an article during the time in Durham, describing their experience of being in lockdown in London, which you’d definitely do if you weren’t hiding anything

24. A govt scientific advisor said “more people will die” as a result of what Cummings had done.

25. Boris Johnson said he “wouldn’t mark Cummings ” down for what he’d done.

26. The Attorney General said it was ok to break the law if you were acting on instinct

27. The Health Minister said it was OK to endanger public health if you meant well

28. Johnson said Cummings’ “story rings true” because his own eyesight was fine before coronavirus, but now he needs glasses

29. But in an interview with The Telegraph 5 years ago, Johnson said he needed glasses cos he was “blind as a bat”

30. Michael Gove went on TV and said it was “wise” to drive 30 miles on public roads with your family in the car to test your eyesight

31. The DVLA tweeted that you should never, ever do this

32. Then ministers started claiming Cummings had to go to Durham because he feared crowds attacking his home. The streets were empty because we were observing the lockdown.

33. And then a minister finally resigned

34. Steve Baker, Richard Littlejohn, Isabel Oakeshott, Tim Montgomerie, Jan Moir, Ian Dale, Julia Hartley Brewer, 30 Tory MPs, half a dozen bishops and the actual Daily Mail said Cummings should go

35. The govt suggested we can ignore them, because they’re all left-wingers

36. Then a vicar asked Matt Hancock if other people who had been fined for doing exactly what Cummings did would get their fine dropped. Matt Hancock said he’d suggest it to the govt

37. The govt said no within an hour. Cummings’ statement had lasted longer than that

38. And if the guidelines were so clear, why were people being stopped and fined for driving to find childcare in the first place?

39. Then a new poll found people who wanted Cummings sacked had risen from 52% to 57%

40. Cummings is considered the smartest man in the govt

41. And in the middle of all this, in case we take our eye off it: we reached 60,000 deaths. One of the highest per capita death rates worldwide.

42. We still face Brexit under this lot.

43. It’s 4 years until an election

As I said, it’s back to screenwriting next week with a brilliant guest blog from director RICHARD LAXTON and screenwriter ANNA SYMON.

Until then, stay safe and positive,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 29th 2020

PAUL WILLIAMS guest blog

Posted by admin  /   May 20, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on PAUL WILLIAMS guest blog

Hi There,

This week, the 2nd of my guest blogs, this one from screenwriter PAUL WILLIAMS.

Paul is a graduate of the Channel 4 Screenwriting course 2016; the script that he developed on the scheme was optioned by Bandit Television.  He is currently writing episodes of DOCTORS and developing original ideas with independent producers.  His feature film screenplay A CURE, is in development with Conker Films. Paul has an MA in TV Scriptwriting with Distinction from Leicester DeMontfort University.

“In these strange times….” Our current go-to catchphrase as we all fail to know what to say about the situation and times we’re in.

Surprisingly (or not) the 2011 film Contagion has suddenly resurfaced, re-entered film download charts, and has been shown on ITV2 during an actual pandemic. I watched it after lockdown had started, why? Some sort of morbid curiosity? To see what it got right? To try and understand our situation? Probably all of the above. It’s interesting we seek out a story similar to the situation we’re actually living right now.

That’s the power of stories. They can take us away from reality and/or give us a way to reflect on it. I’ve just binged VISIBLE: Out on TV (Apple TV+). It’s a docu-series that tracks the LGBTQ+ movement through representation on television. It’s brilliant. Watch it. It really hammered home to me how television is able to reflect the world we live in but also how through stories and characters we can enter hearts and minds, and help overcome prejudice and fear. It can make the unfamiliar familiar.

It reminded me of the films and TV shows that were a lifeline to me growing up gay in rural Leicestershire. The main things I knew about being gay were according to my Catholicism it was wrong, the newspapers told me I’d get HIV, and the school playground told me no-one would like me. Good times. But then one day in my year 10 form room some girls started talking about a TV drama they’d been watching that showed men having sex! They were scandalised! I joined in their joyful outrage ‘There’s men having sex!? What’s it called?’ Of course, it was the seminal Queer as Folk. Nonchalantly I continued ‘And… what channel and time is it on?’ Subtle Paul, really subtle.

I tuned in on the small TV in my bedroom and due to the useless aerial on top of it – maybe I am old?! – watched through the static. Squinting and cross eyed like viewing a magic eye picture, and despite the warning I couldn’t believe what I was actually seeing. It spoke to a part of me I wasn’t ready to acknowledge so I switched off. But it stayed with me.

Queer as Folk sent ripples through the country. It was divisive. Not just from the perspective of heteronormative society but also some gay people felt misrepresented. Which brings us to the dilemma of minority story-telling – the burden of responsibility. We crave these stories, we want to see people like us, living lives like us, facing issues like us, so we bring a lot of expectation to the table as an audience, and that pressure then lies on the storytellers.

Whatever group we find ourselves subcatergorised by gender, race, sexuality, class, disability, religion… we may have shared experience and commonality but also personal and individual experiences within that. Also taking into account intersectionality we have to realise that the experience of a gay white man can be very different to that of a gay man of colour, for example. So how can a drama possibly represent all of any of us? Can drama represent a whole community through one or a handful of stories? Should it even try to? We’re lucky to live in a time where more minority led dramas are happening, but this pressure still exists because we don’t get as many chances. We’re still viewed as ‘niche’.

When any of us feel we haven’t been represented correctly we worry what prejudices, misunderstandings, and negative perceptions it might either create or re-enforce. But are these always questions of representation or are they questions of drama?

I revisited Queer as Folk in my early 20s. I was now out to close friends but not my family, but my cousin had the DVDs and she insisted on lending them to me. OK, so in hindsight perhaps some of my family knew. I binged the entire first series alone in my bedroom but on DVD and a better TV. Ah, progress. But… I hated it. Don’t worry I’m also shouting at my 22 year old self – what an idiot he is – but I didn’t connect to it. I’d never been to a gay club, I’d never taken drugs and I was annoyed. Did everyone who’d watched this show now think this is exactly what all gay men were like? Was I not like other gay men? In reality it was just outside my direct experience at the time and having revisited again (on more than one occasion) I realise how brilliant it is, what it achieved, and it’s what I’d brought to the viewing experience that affected my opinion. Because despite the things I hadn’t known then, Russell T Davies had magnificently captured so much of the gay experience in a fun and unapologetic way.

Just recently I rediscovered the controversy around Sally Wainwright having killed off Kate in Last Tango in Halifax and also the uproar when Patsy’s girlfriend Celia was knocked off her bike in Call The Midwife. Lesbian viewers felt let down. Their hopes dashed at for once seeing a same-sex female relationship not end in tragedy. A trope that has been seen all too often.  But what is happening here? Is it just ingrained lazy tropes that continually reinforce this negative message of same-sex relationships being doomed? Or could it be that story-telling and narrative structure is to blame?

Different genres inform certain elements of story – in Shakespearean terms is it a comedy or a tragedy? Romeo and Juliet is considered the epitome of a tragic romance. They love each other so much that they are willing to die for it. And it could be argued that we as audiences respond more passionately to a tragic love story because their love is finite, it becomes eternal. What would the impact have been if Rose and Jack had made just a bit more effort to balance that damn door?! Would it have been as epic if they’d both made it to shore, had kids, and got divorced ten years later? OK, they could have lived happily ever after, but you get my point. Without that feeling of sacrifice, loss, and a cost, would it feel as monumental?

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a tragic romance, that’s what you get for growing up on Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, and such. But, of course, love stories can feel just as powerful with a happy every after. Do I feel less for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr D’Arcy? No. I was as profoundly affected by Brokeback Mountain as I was Love Simon, or God’s Own Country. But it does seem that minority storytellers have to ask themselves some tougher questions about the impact their story choices could have compared to (for want of a better word) the “mainstream”. Especially as the mainstream has also been telling our stories to various levels of success.

Film is also a different beast to series television. Whatever the sexuality of your characters you have to ask what will you do with a relationship to keep it interesting once they do get together? Where will the drama come from? And personally I tend to think this is where most of these decisions have come from, to create drama but perhaps we do need to work harder…..

Minorities have often found themselves in strange times so we don’t always need reminding of the harsh reality of that. We sometimes need a message of hope to counter that and show our lives are not tragic or just one thing. But we also need drama to serve us in a way that explores our reality for us, exploring the good, the bad, and even the tragic. As much as I understand the unhappiness of viewers over the death of Kate in Last Tango I also can’t help but wonder if there was a woman who watched that who may have lost her partner and found comfort in seeing Caroline going through what she had.

What’s the answer? Is it impossible to have positive representation that also doesn’t trap us in to only being allowed to tell certain stories? Well, I do not profess to be any kind of oracle, or a spokesperson for any other minority let alone my own community, but what I think we need is the decision makers, the commissioners, and people in power to be aware of these things and to give space to all the different types of stories that we have to tell. And we need to write them! Also, other writers that include characters from any minority need to be aware of these tropes so they can consider the choices that they decide to make.

Representation across the board still has some way to go and show different people at the centre of a variety of stories.  Let’s see what tropes we can turn on their heads. I was listening to a Shonda Rhimes talk where she suggested purposefully playing with the expected gender or race or sexuality of a character and go against expectation to see how that changes things and makes a character feel more original but also authentic. I also listened to a David Mamet masterclass where he fervently states that our primary job as storytellers is solely to entertain, but, with the impact of storytelling surely we also have to be aware of our responsibility too. 

I’ll always remember how I felt when I first watched the film Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey. I cried when Jamie came out to his mum and articulated the fears that were also mine, and I cried happy tears when Jamie and Ste dance with each other at the end. Here was a film that changed my world by simply speaking my truth and giving me hope.

So back to Contagion. People have proclaimed how accurately it predicted elements of this pandemic. But it didn’t really predict it spoke the truth of a situation. In the same way people have watched that and said ‘How did they know?’ It’s the same emotional truth we’re looking for in any drama. “How did they know that’s exactly how I feel?” That’s powerful and that also makes people who haven’t experienced it feel it too as it taps into something universal. And in the words of someone undoubtedly better to pay attention to than me:

“Things don’t change until you tell the truth about yourself, and television now has many more artists and creators willing to do that”

  • Armistad Maupin, Visible: Out on TV

Oh, and we should probably take heed of the great David Mamet too – ENTERTAIN!

A massive thank you to PAUL for this excellent piece.

The next newsletter will be out next Friday May 29th.

Until then, look after yourselves,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

May 22nd 2020

BFI FILM ACADEMY Q&A PART 2

Posted by admin  /   May 14, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on BFI FILM ACADEMY Q&A PART 2

Hi There,

Last Saturday I did a zoom talk on screenwriting for the BFI Film Academy. The last 15 minutes of the session consisted of me answering questions from the attendees but there were so many questions that I could only answer a small selection, SO in this newsletter I will be attempting to answer a few more of the excellent questions that were posted.

Thank you to everyone who listened in and for taking the time to write these really interesting questions.

‘I am a journalism graduate – how might I apply my skills to screenwriting, do you know any scriptwriters who come from a similar background?’

Yes, I know of quite a few writers who have come from a journalism background and I think this is a great starting point for screenwriting. Screenwriting, whether your story is fictional or based on a true story, so often depends on or is greatly enhanced by a basis in research and a journalistic approach. As the writer of any story, it’s important that you take the time and trouble to immerse yourself in the world you’re writing about – so that you re writing from a position of authority and truth, rather than giving us received, second-hand perspectives of the story world. Research and how you use it and dramatise it is such an important part of good dramatic storytelling.

I think a journalistic background also gives you a strong instinct for and understanding of what makes a great story. Journalism is all about sourcing, presenting and writing stories in a compelling way – and so is screenwriting.

Some of the brilliant screenwriters we’ve had on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in the last 10 years who had a journalistic grounding – Audrey Gillan, Anna Symon (a background in documentary film-making), Jiwon Lee, Eva Wiseman, Polly Vernon.

How do you decide what scenes to cut from a screenplay?

There was actually a great ‘Scriptnotes’ podcast episode on exactly this subject very recently.

I’d say there is a basic rule of thumb to address this issue – 2 main questions – does the scene advance / change the story? Does the scene advance / change our knowledge / understanding of the character? If the answer to both of these questions is a clear ‘no’ then it may be a scene to cut – although there is one other important question – ‘is the scene funny?’ I think a funny scene is one instance that over-rides story considerations.

On a BBC script-editing course I was running quite a few years ago, I remember Ashley Pharoah talking about the first ever episode of his BBC series LIFE ON MARS, which was over-running so in the edit they did a cut that retained all the essential story-beats but cut out most of the humour. The result – an episode that simply didn’t work. It was only when all the humour was reinstated that the show regained its true (and brilliant) identity.

ON the SCRIPTNOTES podcast, there is discussion about why as a writer you can sometimes justify including the less interesting scenes.

But one of the keys to good storytelling on screen is the very simple idea of including the interesting scenes and leaving out the boring scenes. In every story, some of the key decisions you have to make as writer is what to show on screen and what to omit. I read too many scenes in which the real drama happens off-screen and is then discussed dispassionately by characters after the event. Don’t do this! The simple and much-quoted ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ has become a script-editing cliché for a reason.

I can’t remember who first came up with, ‘A scene is a unit of change in a story’ but it’s a very useful guide. If a scene doesn’t change the status quo of your story, then you should question its reason for being in your story.

As a writer you are recommended to write something everyday, does this include things like treatments and planning documents, or focus on the creative?

This should absolutely include planning, writing treatments, outlines etc – and writing these documents should feel creative! This is a really important part of any screenwriter’s work. We all have our different modus operandi. In the much-imitated words of script editor-supreme Hilary Norrish, writers are either ‘vomiters or plotters.’ Whatever works for you in accessing your creativity and enabling your best work is fine – there is no one way to do it.

For some, the  more planning you do, the more work on outlining, planning and structuring your story, then the more creative and free-flowing your writing will be when you come to the writing of the script, free of the anxiety about not knowing where you’re going from scene to scene. And even if you plan your story meticulously in outline form before writing the script, it doesn’t mean you can’t / won’t then pleasantly surprise yourself with new, better ideas when you’re in the flow of writing the script.

But you shouldn’t also under-estimate the non-writing part of writing – dreaming, ruminating, toying with ideas, spending time in the outside world with positive writer’s intent – spying, eaves-dropping, day-dreaming, people-watching, making notes about ideas and characters, stories that spring to mind – all of this is invaluable, just as important as that time tapping away on the computer keyboard. So don’t be tyrannised by computer word-count as a measure of writing progress.

Are there any books you would recommend?

I still think STORY by Robert McKee is one of the best. There are so many brilliant ideas about what makes a brilliant story, so many of the important storytelling principles.

INTO THE WOODS by John Yorke is also great.

Of lesser-known screenwriting / storytelling books, I think THE ART OF SCREENPLAYS by Robin Mukherjee is very good; and Rib Davis’s two books on DIALOGUE and CHARACTER are also excellent.

Alexander Macendrick ON FILMAKING and DAVID MAMET on directing are two other craft books that have great insights about storytelling for the screen.

THE SCIENCE OF STORYTELLING by WILL STORR is an interesting analysis of how story works with many applications to screenwriting

Other interesting, lesser-known screenwriting books: The Story Book by DAVID BABOULENE; Difficult Men by BRETT MARTIN; And Here’s The Kicker by MIKE SACKS.

But there are so many fascinating books about screenwriting and dramatic writing that it’s hard to give a short list like this. For instance, a lot of the books about writing for theatre (eg David Edgar, Steve Waters, Stephen Jeffries) are also great for screenwriters.

And don’t forget the internet and podcasts eg ‘Scriptnotes’, mentioned above has a back-catalogue of over 450 episodes all about screenwriting from two hugely experienced, outstanding US screenwriters.

Apart from short films are there other mediums you would recommend writers using to get their work out there?

I touched on this in the talk, using my dramatic monologue podcast series www.tributepodcasts.co.uk as an example of how screenwriters / dramatic writers can get their work noticed. The podcast market is booming – but even now, there aren’t that many examples of podcasts that showcase dramatic writing. If you can find the right USP / format, I still think this can be a great (and cheap!) way to get your writing noticed.

The obvious alternative to short films is fringe theatre. There are so many different venues / companies who feature new writing in many different forms (eg one of the 5 mentee writers I talked to late on Saturday had written a ‘Rapid Response’ to a Theatre 503 play and got their work put on in this way).

Using script-readings as a showcase for your work – whether it’s live or online – is another great way to get your work noticed. Having actors perform your work is invaluable and will bring out so much more in your work than a cold read off the page.

You could also think about getting your work noticed in other forms as a way of segueing into screenwriting. If potential employers like your work as a poet, journalist, songwriter, blogger, stand-up comic, they will be more likely to be interested in your work as a screenwriter. If you have something you are burning to say, some writing you want to do, then set up your own blog and put it out there on the internet. Good writing is good writing wherever it’s about and in whatever form we find it. For instance, I first became a fan of Nick Hornby’s writing in a weekly column he had in The Independent (I think – or was it in ‘The Sunday Correspondent’?) a long time ago. His article was a highlight of my week – and I have looked out for his new work ever since then.

The next newsletter will be in a week’s time on Friday May 22nd – another (really excellent) guest blog, this time by screenwriter and 4screenwriting alumnus, PAUL WILLIAMS.

I hope you have a great week in the meantime and are managing to maintain morale and creativity despite everything that’s happening,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 15th 2020

LAURENCE TRATALOS guest blog

Posted by admin  /   May 06, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on LAURENCE TRATALOS guest blog

Hi There,

This week, I’m absolutely delighted to share with you the first of several screenwriter guest blogs. I am so grateful to the brilliant, generous people who have written these guest blogs – and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. SO for the next few weeks, the screenwriting newsletter will be going out weekly instead of fortnightly every Friday.

The first is by screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS. Laurence has been sending me his excellent scripts for quite a few years and it’s been great seeing his screenwriting career deservedly taking off.

Laurence Tratalos became interested in script writing during his time studying Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Whilst living in Australia in 2015 he entered a script into the BBC Writersroom’s ‘Scriptroom 9’ competition. Out of 2200 scripts, he was selected as one of the ten writers to take part in a six-month development scheme with BBC Comedy. He still doesn’t know how that happened, but he enjoyed his time there.

Later, a drama script of his was chosen for Philip Shelley’s Script Showcase, an industry event where his script was performed by a cast of actors. As a result of these two experiences, he currently has a number of scripts in development with UK production companies and is represented by Independent Talent Group.

HI comedy pilot ‘EVE’ was filmed last summer https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9245214/?ref_=nm_knf_t and a short film he wrote ‘In A While, Crocodile’ can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/409883652

When not writing, he works as a carer for a friend with autism, and at a local cinema. He looks forward to being able to go back to both when all this craziness is over.

How to (not) write during a crisis

‘Philip asked me to write something, anything, vaguely related to screenwriting. And I confess I didn’t really know where to start. My life hasn’t changed that dramatically during this crisis and I felt ill positioned to comment. I wasn’t feeling particularly productive or enthusiastic about my writing either.

There’s probably a million pieces on how you should be creating your masterpiece during these times. How you should be working like normal, using this time to be inspired… Inspired? Have you seen what’s going on in the world?

You do not need to be productive.

You can give yourself time off.

You can allow yourself to be lazy.

To watch shit TV.

To miss the football.

To enjoy the weather (god really gets irony).

There is no right way to do the apocalypse (Shaun of The Dead was pretty fun though).

For the first week I got nothing done. Literally nothing. I tried to write but kept on letting the endless news stories feed my anxiety, constantly refreshing Twitter and BBC news. It didn’t help that I’d subscribed to Disney Plus and was bingeing old Simpsons episodes. Our reality had changed, overnight. My attention span was near zero. I’d start writing and then I’d be on Youtube, or listening to a song, or reading Twitter. I felt emotional all of the time: I watched Ten Things I Hate About You the other week and was bawling my eyes out. We’re living in an unprecedented time. 

In catastrophic times we question the meaning and purpose of drama. Why create something that might never get made/seen/be relevant once this is over? When major historical events take place, many artists feel that contemporary modes of expression are insufficient to express their feelings, and that new modes have to be found to address the era. Why finish my script when no one might read it/make it/give a crap about it? What role does comedy play during a crisis? What role do the arts play? Do they help us cope with our fears or do they amplify them? I certainly didn’t want to write anything even vaguely related to the coronavirus, as producers kept telling me, ‘we’ll need an escape once all this is over’. 

An ‘escape’. My girlfriend is a student nurse. She does her job for no money and, until recently, very little recognition. She and her colleagues put their lives on the line: I stare at the wall and dream up stories that will help us ‘escape’. Coming up with storylines that are funny, interesting or engaging feels hollow. It’s what I do best, but it’s just not the same as before.

And how will television change once (if) we’re past this? The nation and indeed the world will have been through a shared trauma. Not since the epidemic of 1918 has an event on this global scale occurred. How do TV and media go back to normal? Does every contemporary drama need to address the coronavirus, or do they gloss over it? Do we just write 2020 off?

I’m procrastinating again, I’m meant to be writing about writing but instead I’m focusing on the coronavirus. As Kurt Vonnegut said: ‘Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.’

So I decided I was going to do what I’ve done countless times before in the past, and try and write my way out of trouble. I’m lucky in that I actually enjoy writing. During times when I’ve been down in the dumps, I’ve turned to writing to get myself out of a funk. And because my other two part-time jobs aren’t possible at the minute, I can now pretend I’m a full-time writer. But if you have a demanding family/writer’s block/are struggling with profound existential angst in the face of a global pandemic, then don’t worry if you don’t feel like turning on Final Draft and staring at the blinking cursor.

I arranged Zoom and Skype meetings with producers (saving myself on train fares), set myself deadlines for competitions to enter, and edited a few projects that people wanted to read. I managed to write a new script (I’m not bragging, it’s probably crap) but it helped that I was writing something I really cared about. When you hit flow with writing and create something out of nothing there’s no other feeling like it, you leave the world – if only briefly. A quote from season one of True Detective comes to mind, it’s not about writing but it does the job: ‘…Most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.’

Write/don’t write, do what helps you, do what you need to do to cope. Write for fun. For sheer escapism. Write that thing you know will never get made but makes your soul soar. Or don’t. Just lie in front of the telly, re-watching Simpson episodes and dream about hugging random people…

Stay safe,

Laurence’

Thank you so much Laurence.

I would really recommend IN A WHILE CROCODILE – it’s a cracking short film.

The next newsletter will be next Friday, May 15th.

Until then – look after yourselves,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

May 8th 2020

INTERVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Posted by admin  /   April 28, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on INTERVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Hi There,

From this week onwards, for the next few weeks, I will be sending out this newsletter WEEKLY rather than fortnightly as I have some really excellent gust blogs that I’d like to share with you. So the next few editions will alternate from week to week between my musings and guests writing on various screenwriting-related subjects.

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE INTERVIEWS – SOME OBSERVATIONS

Having undertaken 37 x 30’ interviews over three days (and having done this now for quite a few years), I hope you will find it interesting if I observe what makes for a good interview.

Here are a few thoughts (which I hope are applicable for job interviews in general not just for 4screenwriting in particular).

As with everything, do your homework and come prepared. I send the interviewees a list of 4 things that we will ask them about – ‘We’d like to talk to you about your submitted script, your other writing work, why you want to come on the 4screenwriting course, and ideas you may be considering for the script you would write on the course, if chosen.’  – but then usually try to ask them one extra thing that I haven’t alerted them to in advance (although usually it’s a question that writers in this position should have views about anyway – a question like – who are your favourite screenwriters? What are you watching on TV at the moment? ie nothing too left-field).

I would expect writers to have read all the information available on the internet (my website, the 4talent website) about what happens on the course, what is expected of the writers on the course. We don’t go into a long explanation of what happens on the course (mainly because doing this 37 times is not good for our sanity) but we give the writers the chance to ask any questions about the course; and this is an important element of the interview – sometimes if they ask you particularly searching or difficult questions, it can bring an energy to the conversation.

Obviously the interview can be quite nerve-racking and we try to make it as informal and relaxed as possible. This is easy for me to say and sometimes hard to achieve but it’s important that you find a way to manage your nerves so that it doesn’t inhibit you – the best way to do this is to be prepared and have done your homework.

One thing that nerves sometimes does is get in the way of the interviewee ‘reading’ the room. As an interviewee you need to try to make this into a conversation rather than a monologue. It’s important that as interviewers we do all we can to help you feel at ease; but part of the ‘contract’ is that you are aware of how that works in the other direction. Occasionally a pitch will go on too long and as interviewer it’s hard to find a way that doesn’t feel rude to move onto the next question or idea.

Nerves can also sometimes mean that a question like ‘What recent TV drama have you enjoyed and why?’ can generate a complete blank. This is very common and absolutely reasonable (I know I’ve experienced brain-freeze sometimes when this question is thrown back at me). Some interviewees bring along a notebook or written notes; and at this point will often say ’Do you mind if I refer to my notes?’ My personal response to this is very positive – I’m impressed that you’re well-prepared and have made notes and have brought them with you – to me it demonstrates conscientiousness and good preparation. If you want to refer to notes in an interview that’s a positive. The only caveat I’d give is that you don’t then just read responses from the notebook or read out your pitches – try to keep in mind that the interview should be a dynamic conversation with eye contact – not just you performing a monologue to the interviewers.

One of the things that is difficult is for writers is when we ask them what they love on TV and inevitably they often come up with the same show. This year it was SUCCESSION, last year it was FLEABAG. Clearly neither of these are the wrong answer! But if someone is the 25th person to tell you how wonderful SUCCESSION is, it’s not going to be as interesting as the 1st person to say this! So even if you love the big hit show, it can sometimes be a good idea to acknowledge that show with some rapid and insightful analysis of the script’s brilliance – before moving onto a show that is perhaps less obvious and more likely therefore to feel distinctive. And it’s not just what shows you like – but being able to analyse what is so effective in the writing of those shows that makes them work.

Above all though we’re looking for the passion and individuality behind your writing; and for your ability to articulate this – because alongside your writing, it’s such an important part of the TV drama industry. We want to see your enthusiasm and passion for your own ideas, a distinctive, informed and specific response to TV drama in general and Channel 4 drama in particular; and a curiosity about what the 4screenwriting can do for you.

One of the most important parts of the interview is the writers telling us about the ideas they would be interested in writing on the course. If these ideas are exciting, then it’s an exciting prospect for us to be able to work with the writers on those ideas. Two of the three writers I’m working with this year are developing the ideas they pitched in the interview – and it’s very exciting seeing these ideas blossom into life in discussion and then on the page.

Making sure it’s a dynamic, two-way conversation – eg turning the tables, asking the interviewers questions.

It’s also great if we feel that you’ve done your research and have thought about what the course can do for you and what you as a writer can bring to the course – so, for instance, if you’ve read the course information and testimonials, even looked into the work and scripts written by former alumni of the course (done easily with a few quick google searches) or even have spoken to writers who have been on the course in the past. We want to know that not only are you a good writer but that you’re pro-active and thoughtful.

The interview process in general is very exciting. It’s great being able to put a face to the scripts that we’ve really enjoyed reading, being able to tell the writers how much you enjoyed their scripts and hearing about what inspired those scripts and how the writers came to write them. And I always come away from the interviews with a long list of recommended TV shows that I haven’t watched and would like to.

Add something about CV’s. CV’s are selling documents – they are there to sell you, to make you sound interesting, ambitious, distinctive. Like one page pitches. BUT be honest. You need to work on CVs – they are part of your application, another creative document.

I’m resistant to personal mission statements that contain nothing meaningful. We look for people with impressive writing credits but also interesting, colourful life experience that shows ambition and a sense of adventure and imagination.

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

In the absence of live theatre, there have been quite a few plays and other really interesting theatre-related stuff on the internet in the last few weeks. Here are a few of the things I have enjoyed –

LOLA ARIAS – and her way of working. I knew nothing about Lola Arias before I read about her play MINEFIELD, which was broadcast via the Royal Court Theatre website a few weeks ago for a limited period. This was a play performed by 6 Falklands War veterans – 3 British, 3 Argentine – about their experiences of the war and life since. Frustratingly I missed the live stream by a day but read a lot about the play and watched clips. It looked completely fascinating and alerted me to the journalist / theatre-maker LOLA ARIAS. I then watched her play, MY LIFE AFTER (available on youtube) ‘based on the biography of six performers who re-enact their parents’ youth during the dictatorship in Argentina.’ Which I thought was great. She comes from a journalistic background. This isn’t quite ‘verbatim’ theatre – but she seems like a really talented and very original dramatic storyteller

HAMPSTEAD THEATRE – are showing some of their archive of plays for a week each on youtube. Last week I watched TIGER COUNTRY written and directed by the excellent NINA RAINE. (She has written a number of really good plays, in particular, CONSENT and STORIES.) This was a warts-and-all examination of the stresses and strains placed on doctors and nurses working in one NHS hospital. Although originally produced back in 2011, the play feels particularly timely right now.

Two JAMES FRITZ links. James was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015 and is a really excellent dramatist and screenwriter. If you get the chance to see one of his plays, take it. You won’t regret it.

He has written this excellent blog on the Bruntwood Prize website – this is largely about form in storytelling and is hugely insightful.

And he has done an interview about his play LAVA as part of the Nick Hern Books PLAY GROUP podcast. Nick Hern books are making a play available to read for free on their website every week, then interviewing the writer about the play and their work in general. James’s interview is really interesting, as is ANNA JORDAN’s about her play, YEN. (Anna has since gone on to write on SUCCESSION).

I haven’t yet got to the 3rd interview with Winsome Pinnock; and the latest play to read, currently available on the Nick Hern website is ARLINGTON by ENDA WALSH, with more to come.

+ Anna Jordan interview https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/playgroup

A useful checklist of many of the theatre shows online at the moment –

https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/theatre/how-to-watch-stream-theatre-dance-comedy-opera-online-a4396631.html

SCRIPTNOTES podcast has been particularly enjoyable recently, especially two zoom episodes, one in which John August and Craig Mazin talk to PHOEBE WALLER BRIDGE and RYAN REYNOLDS about their screenwriting – in particular the way both have made much use of direct address to camera in their writing.

And even more enjoyable to me was the subsequent THREE PAGE CHALLENGE episode, also on youtube – in which John, Craig and guest Dana Fox analyse the first three pages of 4 scripts, then talk to the writers about their scripts. This is such a great lesson in both how to analyse and read scripts but also an insight into writers’ working processes. An added bonus is that we can read the three pages as they’re being analysed – it’s invaluable hearing experienced, talented pro screenwriters like this respond to the detail of script pages.

Two rather wonderful examples of what is creatively possible in these restricted times. Thank you Laurence Tratalos, Adam Lavis and Tamzin Rafn for bringing a smile to my face. Some great comic writing in both of these short films –

LOCK ME UP, LOCK ME DOWN – Tamzin Rafn

IN A WHILE, CROCODILE – written by LAURENCE TRATALOS.

TELEVISION

There has been some wonderful TV drama in the last few weeks.

BETTER CALL SAUL S5 Ep8 – 10

I am a huge BREAKING BAD / BETTER CALL SAUL fan – and I think the last three episodes of Season 5 of BETTER CALL SAUL were just outstanding – gripping, intense, utterly distinctive. Dramatic storytelling at its very best, based on rich, textured characterisation, and beautifully directed. Shot after shot is a work of art. The show is loaded with visual references / call-backs which just add to the richness of watching the show (mint choc chip ice cream anyone?)

QUIZ on ITV by James Graham.

This was a very enjoyable romp. One of the things I admire about James Graham as a writer is that he has a great instinct for what makes a cracking story – he homes in on the BIG IDEAS that so many other writers shy away from. Everything he writes about is political in some sense and is often plucked from the headlines. The characterisation in QUIZ was good but what was best about it was the moral murk – the complications and unresolved mysteries at the heart of this story. It had a lot to say about Middle England and the political climate of the UK – but in a way that was entertaining and subtle.

NORMAL PEOPLE – adapted from her novel by SALLY ROONEY (and ALICE BIRCH). I think this series is beautifully written and made. It’s an object lesson in how (contrary to what I was just saying about Quiz / James Graham!) stories don’t always have to be big, bold, headline ideas. The best stories can, indeed, be about NORMAL PEOPLE. If they’re told with this much love for and attention to detail in the characterisations, then a simple love story told over 12 x 30 episodes can be just as gripping. The show is a great reminder of the primacy of CHARACTER. If you create characters who feel textured, complicated, flawed – but above all real and relatable – people will love to spend time with them.

And to have directed so brilliantly two projects as different as ROOM and NORMAL PEOPLE is a great reflection on the talent of Lenny Abrahamson as director.

Incidentally, I don’t know about you – but the fact that this was structured in half hour rather than in traditional BBC one hour episodes, made it even more appealing to me.

As mentioned above, the next newsletter will be in a one week’s time – on Friday May 8th.

Until then, look after yourself and stay safe,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

May 1st 2020