Over the last couple of weeks I have been making my annual visit to the
LONDON FILM FESTIVAL and have seen many extremely good films.
From a story telling POV it was quite inspiring to reflect on how different the
9 films I saw were in tone and subject matter; and it’s been a real education
watching so many good films at the same time as reading so many scripts for the
C4 course – seeing so many excellent, inspiring films has been a touchstone for
the quality and originality we’re looking for in the 4screenwriting scripts.
On the way out of one of the films, CLEMENCY, I happened to be exiting next
to Mike Leigh. Weirdly I’d walked into the TV room at home the evening before
to find my wife watching NUTS IN MAY which she’d chanced upon on BBC iplayer. I
wasn’t intending to watch but after a minute I was once again hooked and stayed
for the rest of the film. Even though I’d seen it when it was first transmitted
(a very long time ago!) and a few times since, I was still absolutely engrossed
by its brilliantly uncomfortable comedy and by the wonderfully vivid characters
played by Roger Sloman and Alison Steadman. It’s barely conceivable that
Abigail in Abigail’s Party and Candace-Marie in Nuts In May are played by the
same actor – they seem to have an entirely different physicality.
What really brings NUTS IN MAY to life is the colour of the
characterisations – and the wonderful dynamics of the relationships.
It felt too much like fate for me not to button-hole Mike Leigh and come on
like a slightly crazed fan-boy, tell him that I’d watched NUTS IN MAY the night
before and on original TX and loved it just as much both times. ‘Oh that’s an
old chestnut’ he said self-deprecatingly and in an effort to rid himself of
this odd stranger.
But back to the LFF – CLEMENCY is a really powerful film about the black,
female warden of a US prison who has to oversee state executions – and about
the personal cost for her. The story is told simply but effectively and the
film’s power is undeniable. There are a couple of sequences, seen from the POV
of this lead character, that are almost unbearably intense.
GREED, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, and starring Steve
Coogan (leading a brilliant ensemble cast) is big, brash, vulgar and simplistic
– and I absolutely loved it. It’s the film that at this particular time, I
needed to see – a satirical critique of much that is sick about contemporary
capitalist society. It’s thought-provoking, shocking – but also very funny –
and has real flair as a piece of film-making and story-telling.
OFFICIAL SECRETS. Based on a true story, this is a detailed, minutely-observed
and engrossing story about one woman’s act of conscience – and the ripples it
causes (I’m trying to avoid spoilers so please excuse the vagueness!) Suffice
to say, it’s an extraordinary story told with real skill and integrity.
One of the common themes of the Q&A’s that followed some of these films
(one of the real pluses of seeing films at the LFF) was the difficulty in
trying to raise funding for lower / mid-range budget films like GREED, OUR
GIRLS, OFFICIAL SECRETS, HOPE GAP, etc. Both William Nicholson (writer/director
of HOPE GAP) and OFFICIAL SECRETS producer Ged Doherty stressed how hard it is
getting mid-range budget films like this made in the current market.
As Gavin Hood, director of OFFICIAL SECRETS said, ‘Audiences worldwide are
going through a massive transformation’.
As an illustration of this – one of my favourite films this year was Noah
Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY. The film works brilliantly on the big screen – it feels
cinematic but, like Baumbach’s previous and equally excellent film, THE
MEYEROWITZ STORIES, MARRIAGE STORY is a Netflix film.
And it seems extraordinary that Martin Scorsese’s already very well-received
epic three hour film THE IRISHMAN is also a Netflix film.
One thing that stands out about the good films is the strength of the idea /
premise/ story / agenda underlying them. When as a writer you’re thinking about
developing new ideas, one of the things you absolutely have to do is really cut
through, make a statement with your idea. There are so many producers and
writers out there battling for commissions and funding, that the most basic
requirement is that you believe passionately in your idea and can articulate
that passion. Another of the striking things about the Q&A’s I’ve been to
is how long some of these projects have been in development – ‘Our Ladies’ writer
/ director Michael Caton-Jones had the option on the book for 20 years before
finally getting it made. Guardian journalist Martin Bright had been trying to
get a film of Catherine Gun’s story (OFFICIAL SECRETS) made for ten years.
Another thing that struck me anew was just how many of the best projects come
from another source – a true story, a novel, a newspaper article etc. The brilliant
realisation of a true story was there to see in OFFICIAL SECRETS AND Jack Thorne’s
And other films – like CLEMENCY, GREED, MARRIAGE STORY, HOPE GAP – the
latter two both apparently using very particular autobiographical elements –
tapped into the zeitgeist or used true stories as an inspiration for their
OFFICIAL SECRETS is in many ways a straightforward political thriller. But
like all of the best of these films, it has real assurance and consistency of
tone. You know exactly where you are with it but it has real tension, momentum
and an admirable attention to detail that gives you a real confidence in the
story’s integrity (reinforced by what director Gavin Hood said in the Q&A
afterwards about the level of research they did).
So many of the best films are under-pinned by a compelling, specific, but
universal question that the audience asks of the story eg OFFICAL SECRETS –
would I have had the courage to do what Catherine Gun did? A simple compelling
dramatic question that is at the heart of your story.
MARRIAGE STORY. Perhaps my favourite of the 9 films I saw. Quite a familiar
cinema story – it has many narrative similarities to KRAMER VS KRAMER – but it
was nonetheless a delight. I loved the confidence and flair of the story
telling, also the way it played with form / genre – from the brilliant extended
voiceover montage sequence at the start that pulls you straight into the story
– to the two Company / Sondheim songs at the end – when the film suddenly
almost becomes a musical. I loved the unexpected detail of the story – the
little, weird, surprising details that
made this feel real. I loved the messy lack of resolution to the story. And
there were so many wonderful standout scenes – not least the long, climactic
argument scene. This was an argument that felt real – painful and hurtful. I
loved the emotional use of objects to elevate the story, eg the couples’
written positive statements about each other for their first meeting with a
mediator, that popped up at key moments of the story. For my money Noah Baumbach
gets better and better as screenwriter / director. MARRIAGE STORY comes to
Netflix in December alongside THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. It’s really worth watching
both several times to enjoy the screenwriting craft.
2 DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE October 12-13
Last weekend saw the latest of my semi-regular 2 day London weekend
screenwriting courses. These courses are limited to a maximum of 20 writers. It’s
a very packed, quite intensive two days – but it’s always a delight for me to
meet 20 fired-up, passionate dramatic writers and to hear their wonderful ideas
– so many of the ideas they pitched are still reverberating in my brain. The
mix of people I have on the courses is mind-boggling – on this particular
course we had three lawyers, a female police officer from Newcastle, an actress
based in LA, a Scottish historian, a hypnotherapist, a documentary film-maker,
a TV drama development executive etc etc – and one of the things I try to
engineer / encourage is that the writers spend a lot of time talking to and bouncing
ideas off each other. Writing is difficult because it’s so solitary and I hope
one of the things these courses do is encourage the writers who come on them to
make new writing contacts that last – and to keep encouraging and motivating
each other in the years that follow. (There are already plans initiated by the
writers on this course to start a new writing group).
I’m now looking forward to the next of these courses in mid-November
(already fully booked I’m afraid). And I will be organising more of these
courses for early in 2020.
The next newsletter will be on Friday November 1st.
Posted by admin / October 03, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – KATE TRAILL
This week a massive thank you to excellent screenwriter KATE TRAILL for her wonderfully entertaining and insightful answers to my 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS.
But before that, I would like to thank you for the wonderful and overwhelming response to what Kat Roberts and I wrote in the last newsletter. I have never received so many emails in reply to one of my newsletters and especially so many heartfelt and brilliantly articulated replies. So many in fact that they presented me with something of a dilemma because there was enough in the responses for about 5 newsletters. So what I have done is written them up as a 2nd newsletter for this week for you to read if you’d like at your leisure – I’m always wary of over-burdening you with too much material! But if the subject of boarding schools, private education and the dysfunction and inequalities that it causes in the UK interests you, then there is definitely something for you here!
Former journalist Kate Traill is a Screenwriting MA graduate of LCC and is represented by Julie Press at Kitson Press Associates. She has a Young Adult drama series in development at Bryncoed Productions and is currently developing several TV drama scripts.
1. Why do you write?
I write because it quiets the stories
in my head, momentarily at least! I write because it’s something I’ve always
done – for joy as a child, for money as a journalist and now for hope and
passion as a screenwriter (… and money again, I hope – she adds quickly).
I love stories. I love telling stories,
I love re-hashing and re-working stories and I love the reactions I get from
stories. On the flip side I hate writing crap, which I often do – I always
think I can and should and must write better. When I write something really good
I can almost taste it. I grew up as the family storyteller and it’s a part of
my identity – I write because it’s me.
2. A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d
like to tell us about.
Most of the books I love have already
been adapted for film or TV, so I’ll choose one from my childhood that I’d love
to see re-imagined for the screen (written by me, of course 😉 !)
WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech is the
story of a young girl – Salamanca Tree Hiddle (ace name) – making a road trip across America with her grandparents
to try and make sense of the disappearance of her depressed, runaway mother.
It’s a coming-of-age mystery story that deals with raw, delicate family issues
and death, and is incredibly moving.
It was the first book that really
captured me as a tween, and I can see it re-imagined as an adapted screenplay
for modern day, set in the UK with a struggling, breadline family.
I also fell in love with IF CATS
DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD by Genki Kawamura. A beautiful, modern-day
fairytale/horror about a dying man’s pact with the Devil and what it really
means to lose the things we love.
3. The best TV / film (screenplay) of
the last year and why.
Fleabag, Fleabag, Fleabag. Forever and
ever, amen. If she’s off the table, then I loved DERRY GIRLS – specifically the
final episode of Series One and its unexpected tear-jerker of an ending. The
language, references and music also chimed with my teenage years (The
Cranberries!) so it made you feel like one of the gang. Not as nuanced and
cleverly intertwined as Fleabag but re-watch-worthy nonetheless. I also really
enjoyed PURE and THE BISEXUAL. Again, little shows with kooky characters that
either tapped into universal experiences or laced humanity into the unfamiliar.
Film-wise, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME crept into my thoughts for months afterwards.
Watching it felt like witnessing something truly special. US streaming TV-wise,
HANNA had me gripped from the off.
4, 5. Which (2) writers / scripts
inspire you and why?
Not a screenwriter but author DBC
Pierre. I fell in love with VERNON GOD LITTLE fifteen years ago and have
re-read it countless times. His world-building is phenomenal and his characters
– though so extreme and grotesque almost to the point of caricature – feel
alive and vital, if tragic. His subsequent novels never quite achieved the
level of success of VGL but I still think about LIGHTS OUT IN WONDERLAND every
now and again, so it obviously planted something in my brain. Both would make
amazing film/limited series adaptations.
The most freeing, beautiful and joyful
script that fills me with inspiration and drive to write from the heart is Richard
O’Brien’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. It’s one of those bizarre, magical and
ridiculous concepts that you could never explain to anyone in a pitch or as an
idea… it just had to be written in
order to exist, without censor or inhibition.
Phoebe-Waller Bridge is just incredible
– re-watching FLEABAG S2 you notice that every tragic or comedic beat had
already been planted in earlier eps (Clare’s hair, the fox, the Priest’s
history with alcohol) – it was all there, quietly quilting itself together and
leading up to the inevitable conclusion. Utterly brilliant.
6. What are the best internet resources
/ podcasts for writers?
I have just received my copy of Stephen
Jeffreys’ book so I look forward to reading that. I feel rather lost in giving
advice on podcasts and internet resources so I will be mining recommendations
7. What are the best books for
CREATING THE SERIES and its predecessor
WRITING THE PILOT by William Rabkin. Both are quite flimsy, and oddly formatted
to the point of looking self-published, but boy are they brilliant for getting
into the nooks and crannies of what it is you’re trying to create with a
project and why. They also reference many fantastic and successful shows and
look at how they grabbed their audiences the way they did. Can’t recommend
RELEASE THE BATS: WRITING YOUR WAY OUT
OF IT by DBC Pierre is part biography/part guide to fiction writing (novels but
can also apply to screenwriting). It’s kooky and funny and filled with lessons
that Pierre has learnt the hard way – honest and inspirational.
8,9. 2 pieces of advice for writers
You are not your first draft! Get it
out, get it messy, get it over with.
Go for long walks and runs. By doing
something else and something active I find plot solutions, gorgeous dialogue
and entire scenes will simply wander into my head, whereas sitting in front of
screen sends me blank.
10. When and where do you write?
I type it all out on a laptop either on
the sofa or in bed during the day (the shame! Never at the desk I insisted I absolutely must
have), but really I write on the go –
walking the dog, driving the kids to school, in the bath. Write in your head,
then type it out.
Very disappointingly, I’ve discovered without doubt
that I cannot write whilst drunk.
The next newsletter will be on Friday October 18th,
Posted by admin / October 03, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on POSH! – YOUR RESPONSES
an addition to my Oct 4th 2019 newsletter – the pick of the
responses to my POSH! Newsletter about boarding schools, private education etc of
Sept 20th 2019.
So many fascinating, thoughtful, disarmingly truthful and constructive responses here to what is clearly a subject that means a lot to a lot of people. Thank you all very much for your generosity in responding and for allowing me to share your responses…
great, thanks. Nice to have you veering off topic – and sorry to hear about
your experiences at Boarding School.
went at 15, a shock to the system to suddenly be with all these kids who had
been away since 7… It was like they were speaking a language I did not
understand – utterly bewildering. I never understood it.
also for the tip about Stiff Upper Lip – I will read it. Alex Renton is
an interesting commentator. I read Wounded Leaders years ago – it’s very
seems to be something bubbling away in all of this thinking – something like
hope, so here’s hoping that Boris is the comic villain ending. You know what
they say about studios if they start satirising a genre…
said, my day a week job is with people who send their kids away to school as
soon as possible. One of them was delighted as he could go to the Maldives
outside of his holiday, but of course I am told the schools are “lovely and
caring now, nothing like he had to go through” when he was sent away to school.
The children are still the “lucky” ones…
I find it
hard to be sympathetic to anyone whose school listing instantly puts their CV
to the top of most piles, and whose old school chums networking rank solely in
the professional class A. I understand the down, even the dark side of
being sent away to school, but having a fucked-up psyche is a damn sight easier
to deal with, with those kind of privileges, than without. Or is it? There’s a
screenplay in this?!!
with this topic. Two observations.
Irish. I’ve been living in London for about 14 years. My first rented room was
in Balham (before it was as gentrified as it is now). I was renting in an
ex-council flat, on an estate that was still overwhelming council owned. It had
a lot of problems that were very visible. But right across the road were lovely
4-5 bedroom detached houses owned by division two footballers and the like.
What I could not – and can not to this day – understand was that the lads
causing havoc on my side of the road would never, ever cross over to the other
side of the road. There was an invisible marker down the centre of the street
and everyone policed themselves. That internalising of class values is
extraordinary. And very British. Mostly people don’t need to be told to stay in
freelance as an advertising copywriter. And in all my years of working in
advertising agencies I have never, ever met a copywriter who wasn’t white.
Heavily favouring public school boys. Advertising is one of those sectors (like
law, journalism, etc.) that is overwhelmingly ran by those from the private
school system. It’s telling that when a group people who have self-selected
themselves as the ‘brightest and best’ are asked to hire writers that they only
higher a certain type. Because public school values have shaped what competency
looks like, sounds like and behaves like. It’s a posh, ‘clever’, ‘literate’
white man. With the usual toxic ‘charming’, understated superiority. Invariably,
advertising people see themselves as daring, creative, bold – people who
challenge the status quo. Not people who ‘say in their lane’. And yet.
amazed if the other groups of the ‘brightest and best’ that run theatre and TV
don’t also have this archetype in their unconscious when they’re hiring
writers. I’d be amazed if they don’t also stay in their lane.
to say in response to your email and I’m sure others will feel the same.
congratulations on having managed to become an very empathetic person (as shown
in your work) with a happy family despite your early experiences! I know others
who were traumatised by their time at boarding school and there are survivors’
I have a
different perspective as a woman educated in state schools (grammar school then
FE College) who went to Oxford. Of course I don’t fit the Oxbridge/Brideshead
Revisited stereotype and people are often surprised that I went to Oxford,
especially as I still have a bit of a northern accent. Needless to say I met a
lot of former public schoolboys there (mainly men, one or two women) and am
very familiar with the mindset. Two of my exes were from public schools though
not boarders, which makes a big difference emotionally. Still, the mindset is
the same. Class differences were, I think, a factor in our break-ups – our
families were certainly not compatible. I wrote a poem about one break-up in
which this features.
description of your car journey to school sounds like an opening scene. Just saying…
political front, the howling emotional void is apparent, as is the lack of
understanding of ordinary people’s lives and how it feels to live on limited
income. It concerns me that not only the politicians but also civil servants
are drawn from this class, and I do feel that class divisions were a large
factor in the Brexit vote. We haven’t solved it yet. Here’s to some
solutions, which may include more class-based drama to get the conversations
PS Do you
know Hugo Williams’ poems about boarding school? He was at Eton. One of my
favourites is this very short poem, Lights Out.
allowed to talk for ten minutes
what has happened during the day,
have to go to sleep.
doesn’t matter what we dream about.
German friend who teaches English in Germany and she uses it as teaching
material to explain to the children what schools are like in England.
Hugo Williams ‘Collected Poems’.
for this, it was a brave move and one I think is entirely justified given that
today is hopefully the largest protest yet against climate change. Everything
is connected. Brexit will bring climate annihilation, death to the NHS, the end
of workers’ rights. I’ve just finished reading Vivienne Westwood’s diaries
(“Get a Life!”) in which she repeatedly spells out the message of the
need for climate revolution, that politicians are criminals and that we can no
longer be complacent and let them get away with it. Your examination of the
public school mentality ties in with this, it’s simply not possible to vote for
policies that are so anti-human, anti-environment, pro-corporation unless you
are a deeply damaged individual, who considers profit and power to be the only
worthwhile goals. Let’s not forget the disproportionate number of both
millionaires and criminal records within the Houses of Parliament – hardly
representative of the population at large! Someone with the level of privilege
that Boris Johnson has been raised with has absolutely no awareness of what
life is like for the majority of UK citizens, and how badly the cuts have
affected everyone, but the most vulnerable in particular. I could rant on and
on about disability rights, the horrendous things happening in schools, how the
removal of Legal Aid is allowing abusers to use the Family Court system as a
further tool of abuse… but I’m sure you know all this already. I’ve reached a
level where I’m angry with anyone who votes Conservative, for the damage
they’re causing to this country; you have to be spectacularly ignorant, or
spectacularly selfish to continue to vote for them.
Finland have outlawed private schools, and have one of the best education
systems in the world. Since watching a short video about it on YouTube, I’ve
often wondered whether such a thing would be possible in the UK, and how such a
policy would transform our society. One of Westwood’s principles is the need
for Culture rather than consumption – I also believe that as artists/writers we
need to take responsibility as to whether the work we’re creating is
helping/hindering the problems that society is facing, are we merely portraying
sexism, racism, elitism, capitalism etc, or are we trying to transform and
please don’t feel shame for your own education, you had no control over it. The
important thing is to have questioned it and reached your own conclusions, and
to have decided not to blindly continue with tradition. I’m a working class kid
who went to private school (not boarding) through the now discontinued assisted
place scheme, essentially a poor scholarship kid (seriously, even my underwear
was secondhand!) surrounded by the privileged. It’s meant I’ve seen both
sides of the fence, and interestingly now find it difficult to fit in anywhere.
I think Finland have the right idea.
up now, but again, thanks for having the honesty and bravery to put this out. I
attended your London weekend course several years ago, sadly personal
circumstances have since put my writing on hold for the past few years. I’m
hoping to get back to it, but age seems to count against you in TV/film/theatre
rather than bringing the bonus of wisdom and experience!
I come from that life – private school not boarding school, though many of my
friends/relations did the boarding school / Oxbridge route and much as I love
them, I wouldn’t trust a country to them.
big issue which I think stories are key to illuminating. In my opinion they get
away with it because of the weight of centuries of feudal rule, institutions
and traditions which are well past their sell by date. And I think to overcome
this, stories are the way forward to break the unspoken narrative with ideas
that challenge it.
my rant is over too now – but its heartening to find some agreement, and yes
I’m very strongly in agreement.
for the newsletter. It made for very interesting reading, and indeed I’m
responding more or less in a stream of consciousness, as my thoughts are very
confused. All I can say is, thanks a bundle for distracting me from the musical
I’m desperately trying to write. Couldn’t leave it alone, though – clearly a
problem you share.
I feel a
great deal of ambiguity on this subject, because on the one hand I think you
and certain others are making vast sweeping generalisations about a group of
people who, if they weren’t (predominantly) “posh” you wouldn’t
dare speak of with such absence of qualification and nuance. Are ALL people who
went to boarding school emotional cripples (my phrase, not yours, but I think
it’s the point you’re making)? That surely can’t be so. You wouldn’t be
pilloried for saying it to the world, though. The phrase “fish in a
barrel” comes to mind.
I can’t help thinking that you’re not far wrong, either. In contrast to
yourself, I was lucky enough just to be a dayboy at a boarding school, but
that, requiring me to be there (at the “big school”, at least) for 12
hours a day, was more than enough.
question I was unhappy, but maybe I’d’ve been equally unhappy at a state school
– I’m pretty sure I’d’ve got more of the shit kicked out of me.
point, of course, is that nobody should get any shit kicked out of them at any
school, and that speaks to the need not just to rein in the automatic privilege
afforded private school people (yes, and Oxbridge too, damn right), but also to
raise state school standards in every respect. I’ve oft dreamed of a situation
where state education had so much investment in terms of money, security
(crucial) and support both from government and from parents that in time the
private schools would wither on the vine and beg to be absorbed into the state
system. Unfortunately there seems no chance of that happening soon – here in
Brighton, the local toff school is expanding in every direction; they never
stop building – a sign, I assume, that they’re on the up and up and up and up.
The same is true of Eastbourne College, where I served my time.
seems, for all our mystification, to be no end to the aspiration for the services
of these institutions – sigh – and indeed, I wonder, if in
some fantasy world money was no object for anyone, whether the take-up would be
limited to the aristocracy and the upper middle classes?
quote from Evelyn Waugh is very much on the money, and yet that bit about the
“gay intimacy of the slums”, I like to think that was meant
ironically (it is after all a very funny book, and his humour was not designed
for puritans). I’m pretty sure that there were plenty who would gladly have
swapped the gay intimacy of the slums for boarding school (or even prison).
There are those, as you will know, who’d complain that you and I seek to deny
for others the advantages that we had as kids – though I would say in response
(as per the para above) that, on the contrary, I want to see those privileges
extended to every child in the country.
back to the thing about Curtis and Johnson, another useful study is Stephen
Fry. He noted in his autobiography that he was not at all bothered about being
sent away to boarding school at a very young age – I’m paraphrasing from
long-distance memory, but I do recall he made a point of saying that. Of
course, he may have said a lot more since about whether he thinks that
separation from his parents contributed to the severe mental health problems
he’s endured in adulthood. I don’t know – though I do know
that plenty of people without a boarding school background suffer mental
health problems. And yet I also know that I think it a really bad idea, in
principle, to send your kids away from home. I ponder why people bother having
kids, if they can’t wait to get them off their hands. There again (key
phrase here), I don’t think my dad was that bothered about being sent away from
home; I think what bothered him to the end of his days was the emotional
coldness that existed in his home long before that ever happened. Again the
question: why did my grandparents bother having kids? Perhaps cos it was what
you did if you got married – and, if you could afford it, what you did was put
them in the hands of a nanny for several years and then send them off to
I do, for
sure, think it sick and twisted to send your kids away – and, had I any of my
own, I wouldn’t be wasting my money getting them out of my sight for years on
end. But instead I’d probably devote myself to the middle-class sport of trying
to gerrymander my kids into an upmarket state school.
I do, in
the final analysis, think that at the very least, IF you’re gonna send your
kids away, you should be legally prohibited from doing it at primary school
level. Whether it should be allowed at all is perhaps a bigger issue.
case, I could go on about this all day. I won’t, cos I’ve got stuff to do and
so have you.
for the thought food, anyway.
– hope you’re well. I too have long been interested in how public/private
schools affect people, and how they then continue to act in life. I went to a
fairly tough comprehensive, but my mum and dad stopped my pocket money at 13 as
I was then legally able to work (that always sounds more brutal than it was!).
I got a paper round, but also worked every weekend, and sometimes after school
at Winchester College. I cleaned the boys’ dorms, took bread, Marmite etc. and
hot drinks to them in their studies (bizarrely called ’toys’), laid tables,
cleaned windows, swept the corridors, cleaned the loos, peeled vegetables for
their dinner and served them from the dining hall hatch and in the dining hall.
quite a strange experience as I was the same age as most of them, yet I was
serving them. This made for an odd relationship with the boys, who I mostly
felt sorry for, despite them being in a more privileged position. Some of them
were absolutely vile to deal with, and others seems to view me with something
close to awe! (no idea why). It also gave me quite a chip on my shoulder that I
carried around for many years – but now I can see (obviously) that the boys had
no choice in whether they went there or not.
remember the annual cricket match vs. Eton – I had to do extra cleaning, and
was told in no uncertain terms to keep out of the way when the Eton boys and
parents arrived as I wasn’t to be seen by anyone. I had to resist the urge to
streak across the pitch.
always quite telling when the boys came into town on their afternoon of
freedom. They were easy to spot, and used to wear an approximation of what me
and my friends would wear as we hung around up to no good. We used to laugh at
them – but all the girls went for them anyway (not that that bothered me).
sometimes wish I’d gone to Winchester College like them as I think they were
imbued with a confidence that meant they felt they could do anything in life. I
think that’s such an amazing gift to give a child. I didn’t ever have that kind
of encouragement, and I can see the effects in the time it took me to give
myself ‘permission’ to write and the self-doubt I still have.
think that the public school boys currently running us are vile, but I think
they have a choice in how they act, and for them I suspect it’s the easiest
option for them to continue in life thinking they’re ’special’.
of Crispin Odey guffawing away as he wanks on about ’the morning has gold in
its mouth’ after making multi-millions from Brexit makes me want to projectile
a really interesting read. It’s so funny you raise the issue of boarding
schools because they’re so alien to a person like me – in Eastern Europe and in
the former Soviet Union as a whole – boarding schools were not “a thing”. In
fact the only rare instance in which a child would be sent to a “boarding
school” or an “away from home school” is if that child was perhaps mentally
handicapped or required special medical attention (even in such instance if you
send your kid to a boarding school it was considered that you basically
abandoned your child). I’m not arguing for or against boarding schools at all
of course. It’s just something that is very culturally specific I think. But I
do wonder why (as you put it) you’d voluntarily separate yourself from your
interesting that a boarding school is considered to be a superior form of
education in some elite circles in the UK. I’m certain that’s why your parents
probably sent you to Harrow – they were just doing the best they could for you
and they thought it would give you a better start in life.
interesting and thanks for sharing! I thought this article was also quite
for your email – I always enjoy these updates but today’s made me stop in my
completely agree with your sentiments & have always found it such an
odd peculiarity of the British upper classes – sanctioned child
abuse dressed up as privilege. I recently wrote a project where the second
episode is told from the point of view of a powerful man who abuses a younger
woman. It was a stretch for me to fully inhabit the mindset of someone who
feels so entitled that they can justify taking whatever they please from
someone so much more vulnerable. I read a lot of books to help; including books
by people who had abused. One piece of the jigsaw puzzle that really
helped however, was understanding the trauma this character
suffered from being sent away to boarding school age 7 and
the necessity of learning to shut off emotion and empathy in those formative
years that had since become an unconscious habit. Heartbreaking.
much for this, I found it really interesting to read and it’s a topic I’m most
interested in. It reminded me to read stiff upper lip, which I bought a while
ago and is on my ‘waiting to read’ list.
family, my grandmother was sent to a kind of boarding school (it was actually
an institution for children without fathers, after her father died in what must
have been the 1930’s) This left a legacy which I’ve explored a lot in therapy –
my grandmother just didn’t have any warmth or empathy and my mother became an
alcoholic, I think as a direct result really of the terrible parenting, and in
turn was a dreadful parent to me.
had children I was determined to break the cycle and that was when I really
started to look into and to try to understand what had happened in the past and
learn a bit about child development.
very strongly that boarding school is a bad idea. My own children are teens now
and need that daily opportunity to vent things and to be heard and also to have
wanted to say thank you for writing this week’s newsletter, it’s a fascinating
read and well worth going off topic for. I’ve long been of the opinion that the
argument that private education is damaging to the privately educated
themselves is the missing link in this discussion.
know a handful of privately educated people, having gone to state school myself,
but there is a pattern I’ve noticed nevertheless that I think may well be true
more widely. Of the four privately educated people I’ve known well (most of
whom I met whilst doing my PhD) three of them are now in low-skilled, minimum
wage work, and all three of them have a very low opinion about their usefulness
to society and their chances of succeeding in more competitive fields.
they suffered a massive blow to their confidence when they left the private
school bubble and discovered how much of what they’d been told wasn’t true:
that they’re not necessarily smarter or better educated than the rest of the
country, it’s just that they’d been given opportunities that most people won’t
ever be given. I think the shock of finding that out damaged their self-esteem
quite profoundly. The sad thing is that, in the case of my friends at least,
they’re all wonderful, talented people with a lot to offer, but are now very
sceptical and cynical about their talents.
giving vastly greater opportunities to a small number of kids at the expense of
others is obviously bad for the kids who don’t get the opportunities. But for
the kids who do manage to maintain their empathy through the experience,
discovering that you’re one of the ones who has benefited unfairly would also
be very damaging.
sorry to hear you feel “ashamed to admit” you went to boarding school. This
might sound a bit trite coming from a complete stranger, but none of us are
responsible for the choices our parents made for us. It was beyond your control
and nothing to be ashamed of.
usual newsletter was well worth interrupting for that fascinating piece on
boarding school education. Unlike you, I didn’t experience the joys of boarding
school but as the parent of a child with complex needs it got me thinking.
Faced with the possibility of my child going into care, I have always resisted,
and seeing your quote by Richard Curtis (“it may be the most important 10
minutes of their day”) I feel vindicated that whatever other struggles my
child will continue to face, not being brought up in a loving family isn’t one
of them. However you managed to shake off your ‘programming’ congratulations
for having done so. From one parent to another, I certainly think you made the right
decision in rejecting a system that may have damaged them had you not had the
insight to see through it.
I was at a public school from 8 to 18. I ran away once and was expelled twice.
sixteen, I was put in charge of the house play competition as a sort of
punishment for being arty. I read all the 1950s one-acters in the school
library and decided I could do better myself. I also realised that, for 30
minutes, the whole school and the staff would have to sit and listen to
whatever we performed. I and two others wrote a piece that (we thought)
passionately denounced the unfair system we were living under. I’m not sure it
was very coherent, but the boys knew exactly what was going on, and roared
their approval. I thought that at the end of it the headmaster would be phoning
my parents to take me away, but in fact the old actor from the village who’d
been asked to come in and judge the contest said we were brilliant and gave us
audience included a future MP and a director of BP, as well as a well-known
poet. But it also included several who not long afterwards were drug addicts
and drop-outs. For every public school pupil that went on to have a successful
public life, there is another who was utterly broken by that childhood. And
very few us of came out of it without needing a lot of mending and relearning.
hereby indulged by going off-topic in the latest Newsletter! As you know
education is for me, in many ways, a catalyst to explore the dramatic and
the injustices which are fundamental in our society. The play I submitted for
last year’s Channel 4 Competition, “On the Toolz”, portrayed a
privileged and privately educated young man, rejecting his parents’ values by
signing up for an apprenticeship at the local HE College and refusing to follow
the path for which they had so carefully planned for him from birth. The
subsequent fallout, juxtaposed with the story of another young man of the same
age and life stage, but from another social class, considers the real limits of
social mobility and how no politician ever truly tackles the shocking fudge that
is the education of young people in this country. It makes me furious to see
the hypocrisy of those public figures who, on one hand, advocate equality, but
then send their own for privileged schooling – smaller class sizes together
with a carefully chosen curriculum being the reasons often given when
challenged (never enough though in my world!). They want the best for their
children they say, but then, who doesn’t? While the system exists in its
current form there will never be a significant change.
ago I remember reading about a rather radical idea which seemed to me to make
eminent sense: that every secondary school in the country (of all types) should
be offered ONE place at an Oxbridge college. If you consider the ramifications
of how that would affect social mobility, given that in every school, there
will always be one child who is capable of benefiting from truly excellent
learning (and of course it needn’t stop at Oxbridge either) the recruitment of
undergraduates from the missing 3,000 secondary schools would be solved very
swiftly…. The former education Minister, Andrew Adonis, suggested that
special Oxbridge colleges could be established for state school children to
attend, an idea that seems rather misguided to me, given that inclusion should
be at the heart of any educational reform.
I have no
experience of Boarding Schools other than reading Enid Blyton as a child! I
desperately wanted to go and begged my parents to send me to Malory
Towers. Deaf ears, and probably just as well. As a parent, I’m with
I had a
reaction to reading this so wanted to respond / weigh-in. To pack a child off
to boarding school at a formative age, and not think it will have an emotional
effect, you’d have to be mad. I’ve met a few boarding school kids or grown-up
ex-boarding school kids, and in the main, I think I could tell them apart from
find a troubling trend nowadays is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s
coming from an intention of too much parental attention and love. That is,
giving the child everything it wants. I see many parents let their children
dictate what food they eat, whether it has any nutrition content or not, to the
point of many households being tantamount to restaurants come supper time. The
same kids aren’t admonished when they’re anti-social with other kids (stealing
another child’s toy, for example). At most they will be “reasoned with.”
interesting that this upbringing also produces entitled adults, but for a
different reason. Making them the centre of the universe didn’t teach them to
be empathetic to other people. Or that we are all equal and equally valid. So
too much love can deny this lesson of empathy, and, as you point out, not
enough love can produce a defence mechanism that leads to lower than normal
character’s really come alive when they have flaws. It might be interesting to
have two characters come head to head, both lacking empathy, but for different
reasons, and everything else being equal — class, race, etc.
very much for your (& Kat Roberts) post last Friday about boarding
schools. I felt compelled to write, as it’s a subject close to my
and others, I was sent away. In my case, at age 11. My brother, at age 8. One
of the ironies is that my Dad’s company (the British Council) was willing to
pay boarding fees but not day fees – even though we only lived a mile away from
the school. To this day, I still don’t know to what extent my parents
coaxed my brother to go, to lessen the financial strain or if it was
genuinely his choice, and he really wanted to go.
I see a
deep wounded-ness in my brother – who is very out of touch with taking care of
his own emotional needs, and I also recognise it in myself to an extent. Again,
another irony, as a writer, is that in those years at boarding school I lived a
lot in my imagination, inventing worlds and living in them, because my reality
was so unbearable. I was also quite depressed during that time, but I’m
grateful that unlike the Boris Johnsons of this world, I did not shut down on
my own vulnerability – even though the depression numbed me out of it to an
experience of boarding and abandonment came back to me in my late 20s, when I
had to get through a lot of anger towards my parents for their choice to send
me away. I can’t undo that past, but I would never in a million years send my
own kids to boarding school.
irony. When I began making theatre shows in 2000, my Canadian director noted
how the performer/writers she worked with who were most effective at following
through on their own creative projects were those privately educated or at
boarding school. I think Kat’ s right – it can lead to high-performing
individuals. In my case, applying myself to write something is never really a
problem. It’s learning how to live ‘outside prison’ – to have fun, connect
deeply with others, relax… that I still struggle with.
there’s in The Storm – the script I’m submitting for C4 now – that I’ve worked
on all this year. I suppose as part of searching for ‘my voice’ as a writer it
was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up touching on those experiences in some
way, albeit from a fictional perspective.
Please indulge me this week as I go somewhat
off-topic. And be assured that I will be back talking about dramatic writing in
two weeks time! BUT the question of private education and the sort of leaders
it’s producing is painfully relevant at the moment as we’re shamefully represented
by the self-serving, mendacious cretin that is Boris Johnson.
Harking back to what I wrote about Boris Johnson and
Richard Curtis in my newsletter of July 25th, I got a fascinating
response from Kat Roberts –
‘With regards to your thoughts on Boris Johnson I was
wondering if you have come across any of the more recent research into boarding
school education and the neglectful aspects of being sent away from home at a
(PS: Yes I have! See below)
The theory is that children are given this
extraordinary privilege by being sent to public school but that their most
basic need for love from their primary carer is entirely removed. The children,
essentially traumatised by the loss, are continuously reminded that they are
privileged and so learn to behave as if they are not traumatised to avoid being
shamed and bullied. They learn not to have needs and not to feel emotion in
order to survive the experience and, therefore, never develop the empathy that
a normal child would.
This ‘survival personality’ stays with them all the
way into adulthood. They are damaged, high functioning, often very successful
individuals who are hiding in plain sight and need help.
There is an interesting book on this called ‘Wounded
Leaders’ by Nick Duffell. Also, a couple of interesting documentaries, ‘Leaving
Home at 8’ and ‘The Making of Them’ explain this very well.
(PS: Both available on youtube and very much
worth watching if this is a subject close to your heart)
The narrative of the ‘entitled’ is not going
anywhere anytime soon (and Boris certainly falls into this category) but I
wonder, if we really want to transform education and the state of the nation,
whether we need to look in more detail as to how these people end up the way
they do? Are vulnerability, empathy, compassion perhaps dangerous emotions for
these people to feel?
The example of Richard Curtis and Boris Johnson is
really interesting. I wonder if maybe one has just managed to figure this out
for themselves, which allows them to be a vulnerable and decent human being. A
quote from an article I read recently:
Allsopp said her neighbour, the film
director Richard Curtis, vetoed boarding despite having been a head boy at
Harrow. “I asked him, ‘Why are you not sending your kids to board?’ ” She said
Curtis replied that, even if he saw his children for only 10 minutes a day, it
might turn out to be “the most important10 minutes of their
(PS: And I would add – ‘of his / my day’!)
The alternative is that parents are so alarmed by the
fact of their child’s needs/ innocence that they ship them off to the same fate
trying to sustain the narrative they have been trained to comply with. To admit
that their child should be at home means to admit that they were denied their
own needs by their parents. This would be a betrayal of the institution.
Sorry to go on – I am very interested in this topic
and hope to write something about it so wanted to share my thoughts.’
Thank you so much Kat for that really excellent piece
of writing. This is something that is of great interest to me – and I hope to some
of you too, dear subscribers!
I think what Kat has written here is spot-on. And is
particularly pertinent at a time when the UK and its people are in a hazardous
and very uncertain position because of the actions of a very few, very
privileged men – nearly all of whom went through what Kat describes above – and
seem to lack proper, rounded personalities and normal empathy.
I myself (and I have actually become more and more
ashamed to admit this) went to boarding school from the age of 7 to 17 and,
while I have some positive memories of those times, ever since I’ve had my own
(4) children (my eldest daughter is 30), the idea of packing them off to
boarding school for 8 months of the year is horrendous and unthinkable. My
family are by some distance the most important thing in my life. The idea of
voluntarily sending them away from such a young age seems insane. I don’t think
my own relationship with both my parents (both now dead) ever completely
recovered from the distance this absence created at such a young age.
One of my strongest childhood memories is of the first
car journey from home to boarding school – a half hour journey that I wished would
never end – and looking at everything out of the window with a new perspective –
my last minutes of freedom! To quote Evelyn Waugh from the wonderful DECLINE
AND FALL –
‘…anyone who has been to an English public school will
always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the
gay intimacy of the slums, Paul learned, who find prison so soul destroying.’
Like Kat, I’ve read a few excellent books on the
subject recently – in particular ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ by Alex Renton and ‘Posh Boys:
How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain’ by Robert Verkaik which I found
quite stressful to read because it made me so angry. And the play POSH by Laura
Wade is a brilliant examination of the territory.
And only yesterday this fascinating article was in the
IMO the public school system in this country perpetuates
so much that is wrong with our society. A tiny strata of the UK population are
brainwashed from a very young, impressionable age into thinking that they are
superior; and this self-belief is then accentuated by Oxbridge, the military
and so many professions (law, medicine, politics, television – that’s a whole
other newsletter – etc etc). The public school system widens the economic,
social and racial divisions in a way that is deeply entrenched in UK society
and will be incredibly hard to change – the education of entitlement.
I was actually at Harrow school at the same time as
Richard Curtis. He is a little older than me and I didn’t know him – but I
still remember the school production of ‘Erpingham Camp’ by Joe Orton that he
directed, which was brilliant and hilarious – an eye-opener after the usual
turgid Shakespeare school drama. I was also at school with the infamous Crispin
Odey – of Odey Asset Management – one of the leeches who made vast profits
betting on Brexit; and someone who sums up everything that is wrong with the
class system in this country.
Thank you for indulging my rant and apologies for the
lack of screenwriting content this week. I’d be very interested to hear back
from anyone who feels strongly about this – whether in agreement or
CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020
Finally a reminder that entries for the 2020 CHANNEL 4
SCREENWRIITNG COURSE close this coming Friday Sept 27th at 5pm.
PLEASE TRY TO SUBMIT YOUR SCRIPT BEFORE FRIDAY. In the last two years the website
has crashed under the sheer weight of traffic and caused a lot of unnecessary
stress. Please try to avoid this by submitting your entry as early as possible.
And if you have entered or are going to, THANK YOU! I am very excited (along
with my crack team of 7 readers) to get started on reading your scripts.
The next newsletter will be on Friday October 4th,
After a very
enjoyable summer break I’m delighted to say that the 10th CHANNEL 4
SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020 will be accepting script entries from Tuesday Sept 10th
– up until Friday Sept 27th.
information you need about the course and submitting your entry can be found on
my website –
are a few things I’d like to add –
There is one
big change for this year – we will NOT be accepting the same script that you
have submitted in previous years. If you have entered in the past, the script
you submit this year needs to be entirely different.
information / FAQs on the web page have been re-written and developed over the
years – so I hope pretty much all potential enquiries will be covered if you
read all of this information. Please only get in touch if you have a question
that genuinely isn’t covered. I tend to receive a lot of questions / queries
either via email or social media and if I answered all of them it would be
prohibitively time-consuming. I’d far rather be reading your scripts than
answering unnecessary questions. So (as stated in the information on the web
page) I will not be answering any entry enquiries unless they are about
something that is not covered in the information.
try to enter as early as possible during the entry period and PLEASE TRY TO
AVOID SUBMITTING YOUR SCRIPT ON SEPT 27TH. In the past couple of
years we have received more than 50% of the submitted scripts on the last entry
day – and the website has crashed due to the weight of traffic. If you enter on
the last day and the website crashes, the process will be stressful! (Both for
you and me). We won’t be extending the entry deadline beyond 5pm on Sept 27th.
SO I would please urge you to submit your entry as early as possible in the 17
we are looking for exciting, distinctive, original and ambitious writing
voices. Passionate writers who have something to say – and are saying it in
unexpected, striking ways. We are looking for as broad a range of voices as
possible in our selected 12 – in terms of gender, age, class, regionality, ethnicity,
sexuality, subject matter.
and, in advance, thank you for entering!
TRIBUTE SERIES 2
finally managed to read all of the 80+ scripts submitted for this project and
have now responded to everyone who sent me a script. Many apologies for taking
so much longer than I initially said to get through all of the scripts. Reading
all of the scripts was a great pleasure. There was a mind-boggling range of
stories and the standard was remarkably good. I decided to limit this 2nd
series to a maximum of 8 scripts which made the final choice even harder. But I’m
delighted with the 8 scripts that I’ve chosen and excited to start working with
these 8 writers on their brilliant stories.
the books I read and very much enjoyed on my break was THE GOLDFINCH by DONNA
TARTT. Reading it on my kindle, I was some way into it before I realised it was
a whopping 784 pages! But I loved its scale and ambition – and it reminded me
that two of my favourite recent stage plays were also big, international epics –
SMALL ISLAND by Helen Edmundson, adapted from the book by Andrea Levy; and THE
LEHMAN TRILOGY by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power. Both weighed in at considerably
over 3 hours – but in both the time flew by because the story-telling was so
a lot to be said for really BIG, epic, ambitious stories.
Goldfinch – epic story-telling is something more writers should aim for. The
universal in the specific.
that there is shortly to be a Hollywood film adaptation of THE GOLDFINCH made
me think about the differences between how you read a book and watch a film and
why watching the film after you’ve read the book is so often disappointing. When
reading the book, we fill in the pictures and gaps for ourselves, take
possession of it in a way that’s not so easy with a film. But this idea of
imaginative gaps and empowering the reader to fill them in for themselves is equally
important in screenwriting. You need to trust and invest in the imagination and
intelligence of your audience / reader.
person narrative is another important element in the way the story is told in
THE GOLDFINCH. The narrator’s perspective – how reliable / artful are they in
what they give you? Lines in the book like ‘…and it would be a long long time
before I heard anything from Boris again’ are few and far between but vital
moments in piquing our intrigue and maintaining narrative tension.
EUPHORIA / SUCCESSION Series 2
the two TV viewing highlights for me over the last few weeks. SUCCESSION maintains the brilliant levels of series 1 –
it’s funny, shocking and the characters, although objectively hateful, are so
engaging. EUPHORIA is not an easy watch – the way the story is told is
challenging and disturbing but the characters and their stories grow on you
with every episode; there is such visual flair and the series has some really
important, difficult things to say about what it is to be a teenager growing up
in our current over-saturated world of social media and sexualisation.
writing is political – SUCCESSION and EUPHORIA in their different ways are brilliant
examples of really politically-engaged, committed, impassioned writing. How is
your writing political?
observations – there is so much narrative inspiration for your fictional work
in the real world. For anyone into cricket, the last few hours of the Headingley
Test Match were the most exquisite narrative roller-coaster (and another piece
of epic story-telling – in that the tension was all the greater in that it had
taken five days to build to that brilliant last hour).
watching events unfold in the House of Commons on Tuesday was also brilliant theatre.
There were so many compelling character moments – Theresa May very deliberately
sat next to Ken Clarke, looking like an entirely different, more relaxed person
than when she was prime minister; the arrogant, patronising verbal and body
language of the vile Rees-Mogg, and the fury he generated; Rory Stewart finding
out by text that he had been sacked by his own party while at the GQ awards to
receive his prize as ‘politician of the year’! So many extraordinary, rich character
moments. TV drama has a hard job in coming up with anything as compelling.
thought for this week – Indulge yourself. It’s so important to find that time
to read, to plan, to dream, to strategise.
newsletter will be on Friday September 20th
Posted by admin / July 25, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES
2 DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE LONDON Oct 12-13
& Nov 16-17
I am very pleased to announce that I will be running
my 2 DAY WEEKEND SCREENWRITING COURSE in London twice this autumn.
As before these two-day courses will focus on both
craft and career and will each include three guest speakers.
On October 12-13 the three guest speakers are
screenwriters NATHANIEL PRICE and ANNA SYMON and literary agent JULIA TYRRELL.
Nathaniel and Anna are both alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting course.
Nathaniel has written on TIN STAR, the BBC’s forthcoming NOUGHTS & CROSSES and
has loads of projects in development; Anna is another of the rising stars of UK
TV drama screenwriting. She wrote the critically-acclaimed and BAFTA-nominated MRS
WILSON and has her own series DEEP WATER debuting on ITV in August. Julia runs
her own very excellent boutique literary agency, Julia Tyrrell Management, and
will be able to offer an in-depth insight into the industry and where the
opportunities are for screenwriters.
On November 16-17, the guest writers are also
4screenwriting alumni – ARCHIE MADDOCKS and CHANDNI LAKHANI. Archie is hugely
in demand as both a stand-up comic as well as a screenwriter and theatre writer.
He has written on Sky’s forthcoming sci-fi series, INTERGALCTIC and has a
number of really interesting projects in development with some of the top UK
production companies. Chandni has written on the forthcoming THE DUBLIN MURDERS
(BBC/RTE) and formerly worked as script editor for Charlie Brooker’s company,
House Of Tomorrow – where she worked on BLACK MIRROR. The agent for the
November weekend is still TBC.
All the details about both courses are on my website,
as well as testimonials from my previous 2-day course from June. This last
course sold out within a day of the newsletter being sent out. I had a long waiting
list from the June course so, as of 11am on Thursday, I had already sold 15 of
the 40 places on these two courses. Each course is limited to a maximum of 20
people – so that the courses can be as inter-active as possible – so EARLY
BOOKING is advised. Based on past form, these two courses will sell out very
I don’t normally wander into politics BUT – the horror and outpouring of collective grief on social media in the last few days has been hard to ignore. How the f**k did we as a country get to a point where we are represented by this public school charlatan? Troubled times. I refuse to believe that this is who we are as a country – but we have to do something about it because the horrific mess created by the Etonian scumbags should not be what this country is about. End of sermon.
Film and tv drama has a lot to live up to. I was lucky enough to be at the cricket World Cup final at Lords on July 14. The one thing all those around me agreed at the end was that there has never been another cricket match like it and there will never be. Not in the World Cup final, the ultimate high stakes game. The narrative development of the game was so well plotted. Brilliant tension that just kept ratcheting up. Several of the events in the last half hour of the game were beyond the imagination of the most fantastical script. One more example of the wonderful dramatic complexities of the narrative of sport.
I’ve been reading a lot of scripts recently trying to clear the decks for my summer break and wrestling with trying to help writers improve their work.
We all need inspiration and my inspiration came from the film YESTERDAY. Discussing the film with a group of budding script editors in a course this week at Fremantle we were forced to observe / acknowledge the defensiveness and reluctance with which people in the world of TV praise a Richard Curtis script. Lots of sentences beginning ‘Well I have to say….’ ‘I know it’s very silly but…’
But whatever you say about him (yes I’m doing it too) he is a brilliant story teller who has written several films which – despite what the critics might say – have become movie staples, modern classics, the sort of films we return to for viewing after viewing – 4 Weddings, Notting Hill, About Time – and now Yesterday. His films are funny, charming, sentimental (and I mean that very much as a compliment) and they have an underlying humanity and optimism which – in the current desperate political climate – is so welcome. But above all, they are beautifully-crafted examples of story-telling.
His films have life-affirming messages. Yesterday seemed to be saying that the world would be an infinitely poorer place without The Beatles and other great artists who are so deeply embedded in our daily lives that we take them for granted – which IMO is true of Richard Curtis. His back catalogue is deeply impressive and his TV shows and films (not to mention his charitable work through Comic Relief) are a brilliant achievement- but he tends to be looked down on because his films are comedies (and because he and his films are posh?). Richard Curtis and Boris Johnson represent the two very different ends of the scale on the spectrum of posh!
I was also lucky enough to get a ticket for Helen
Edmundson’s adaptation of Andrea Levy’s SMALL ISLAND at the National Theatre.
At 3 hours 20 mins, this started slowly but grew and grew and by the end I was
absolutely riveted. It was a beautiful, epic but intimate piece of
story-telling that had a real resonance for today. The scenes in which the
newly-arrived, optimistic immigrants arrive in London and are told by their
work colleagues to fuck off back home were chilling – and doubly so in the
light of recent events. (It was a story that inspired you to continue the fight
against the racists and fascists.)
This and THE LEHMAN TRILOGY (another 3 hour+ National
Theatre epic) are by some way my two favourite theatre show of the last few
months. It’s strange how 3+ hours can pass in a flash whereas I’ve been to a
few 90-minute plays in the last few months that have felt never-ending.
HIGH TIDE THEATRE FESTIVAL Aldeburgh, Suffolk Sept 10-15
I have once again booked to see a whole host of shows
at the always excellent High Tide Theatre festival – a brilliant showcase for
new theatre writing in the UK. The line-up for this year once again looks
outstanding. BUT sadly Walthamstow Council pulled the plug on their part of the
festival at very short notice so the week in Aldeburgh is the only chance to
take in High Tide this year. I highly recommend it.
Vinay Patel – Patelograms. I have recently subscribed
to Vinay’s weekly musings – and it’s always a cracking read. A couple of weeks
ago, for instance, one of the things he talked about was the writing of treatments
and outlines for TV – which was fascinating and really helpful.
This will be my last newsletter until Friday September
6th – I am giving myself a summer break and also cutting back on my
script-reading until September. I hope you all have a relaxing summer and I’ll
be back in September!
One of the things I am aiming to do over the next
month is finish the TRIBUTE series 2 submissions. Apologies it’s taken me so long
to read them but it’s been a very busy few months,
Posted by admin / July 11, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on SCREENWRITING CONNECTIONS
It’s been a busy and enjoyable last couple of working
weeks. We finished this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE with the annual
drinks evening at Channel 4 where we invite people from the industry – literary
agents, producers, development executives, script editors – to meet the year’s
The following morning it was up to Manchester for Sky
Drama’s 2nd Script Editor’s Forum – a chance to meet and swap notes
with fellow script editors and listen to a load of excellent guest speakers.
Along with their monthly table reads, this is another brilliant initiative from
Sky Drama – and just the sort of thing that all the broadcasters and leading
drama-producing indies should be doing to encourage new talent and get drama
practitioners together to discuss how working practices, creativity and the
quality of ideas hitting our screens can be improved.
With these two events straight after each other, it
felt like about a year’s worth of networking was crammed into 36 hours!
It’s been very exciting seeing this year’s
4screenwriting alumni already starting to have some significant successes – the
morning after the drinks evening one of the writers told me she’d got a gig in
a writing room on a prestigious new Sky Atlantic Show; another has had her
course script optioned by a leading drama indie and has also been asked to
write an episode on one of their series. Several of the unrepresented writers
have had offers from literary agents. The end of the course and the annual
drinks evening reminds me every year just how hungry the TV drama industry is
for new writing talent (even though it may not look like that from the
BBC Writers Room Scottish Writers Festival, May 31st
This was a really enjoyable day spent in Glasgow.
There was a fantastic turnout – several hundred screenwriters. I did a talk and
a filmed interview for BBC writers room (now available on their website!)
One of the things that we have discussed about the
Channel 4 Screenwriting course is the need to try to work with more writers
from outside of London – something we haven’t done very well on in the last few
years, despite our best intentions. And the importance of doing so was brought
home to me by the huge sea of faces that confronted me in Glasgow!
The TV drama industry in the UK has gone on an odd and
circular, dysfunctional journey in this regard over the last few years. When I
first started working at Granada TV drama, then at London Weekend Television
and Carlton, there was at that time (late 90’s, early 2000’s) a relatively
thriving diversity in terms of the regions and nations. When I joined Granada,
all their drama was produced in and around Manchester – I worked on an
excellent long-running medical drama series, MEDICS, on which many of the
writers (eg Neil McKay, Paul Abbott) were based in the North. The show’s
production office was in Manchester and that’s where the show was shot. The
shot had a definite and distinctive Northern flavour. The same was true of
other, more high-profile Granada / ITV shows of the time – CRACKER, PRIME
SUSPECT, BAND OF GOLD.
And when I first joined Carlton, which had grown out
of Central TV, it still clung onto a strong regional identity in the Midlands.
Crossroads was revived and run out of Nottingham while I was at Carlton; and,
for example, I was on the judging panel for the excellent annual Eileen
Anderson award (long since defunct) – a
substantial prize for the writer of the best new play performed at a Midlands
theatre, a prize that helped launch the career of writers like Lucy Gannon.
But once ITV had become one big company operating out
of London, so much of the industry became centralised around London.
Things are slowly beginning to turn back in the other
direction – it’s to the credit of the BBC writers rooms that they now have hubs
and writer initiatives in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the North.
There are now ever-growing production bases in Cardiff and Belfast. And Channel
4 has committed to moving much of their operation to Leeds, with other creative
hubs in Bristol and Glasgow.
Distinctive regional and national voices need to be an
important element in the increasing diversity of TV drama – as it was in the
I met up with legendary producer Ruth Caleb last week
(If you don’t know about her, look her up – the quality of her work over 60
years is extraordinary – and she still has a hugely exciting list of projects
in development). She was talking about how, with the increased budgets and
enhanced production values of all TV drama now, there seem to be great
opportunities (as ever) for the A-List writers – who are generally booked-up
and busy for months / years ahead AND for the new, exciting writers breaking
into the industry (and my experience with writers from the Channel 4 course reflects
this). But where things are tricky for writers is with that 80% of writers who
are not ‘star’ / A-List writers but who are also not brand new. At the moment
there don’t seem to be the same opportunities for this large group of writers
in the middle. There are fewer series like THE BILL, fewer mid-range,
long-running series like NEW TRICKS or WAKING THE DEAD, where proven writers
can tell their own stories within established formats, and make a decent living
on episodes on other people’s shows while simultaneously developing their own
distinctive, ‘passion’ projects. And this is particularly true for these
mid-level writers who live out of London. The industry has become more and more
London-centric over the last 20 years – but the tide does seem to be turning,
slowly, back the other way.
Some other quotes / observations form the last couple
of weeks –
script editor’s forum reminded me of just how important / helpful the energy a script
editor brings into the room can be.
you’re a writer or script editor, make sure you read for pleasure every day.
often the enemy of creativity – make sure it doesn’t get in the way.
important of the whole production process is what happens in the development of
the script ie tackle problems at script
Larder gave an excellent talk – and talked about how, whether we’re producers,
script editors or writers – we are all trying to find a way to express ourselves
through story telling.
mentioned above, Sky Drama has also been running, for the last couple of years,
a series of monthly table reads of new screenplays by BAME writers, each
reading organised by the production company backing and working with these
particular writers. I have been to a few of them – and they have been without
exception outstanding – and a brilliant opportunity for these writers to
showcase their work to a wider audience, in the hope that this will eventually
lead to production.
writers, this sort of table read, whether it’s for a broader industry audience
or if it’s just for you the writer and selected friends, getting a group of
actors to come together to bring your script alive off the page, is enormously
powerful and affirming – and it will also teach you a lot about what works in
your script, what doesn’t and what work you need to do on the script.
exciting and enjoyable day on the Channel 4 screenwriting course is the day in
June when we get a group of 10 actors together to perform / read 15 minute
sections of each of the 12 course scripts. We get outstanding actors every year
(largely thanks to the brilliant brains and connections of actors Joe Sims and
Patrick Brennan). There is nothing more exciting and vindicating than hearing
actors bring scripts alive and realising that what you thought was brilliant on
the page is indeed brilliant in the flesh.
Posted by admin / June 27, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – TIM ATACK
This week the first of the responses to my TEN SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – answered by the excellent TIM ATACK.
Tim was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015. He is a
brilliantly original writer. He wrote the environmental thriller FOREST 404 for
BBC Sounds and is part of a team adapting the sci-fi series HUMANS for Chinese
TV. His play HEARTWORM won the 2017 Bruntwood Prize for playwriting and he’s
currently developing TV projects with Echo Lake in the US and Bryncoed in the
Why do you write?
hope to find a door in the room that no-one’s noticed before. I’m also a
musician and the motivation’s kind of the same there: to transport people
somewhere new, to show different possible worlds, variations on what we could
never thought I’d end up writing for screen because the collaborative act is so
profound, and I’m an awkward bastard when making music. But I was surprised to
discover I can work really well as a problem-solving writer in a way that just
doesn’t interest me when I’m composing. So there’s an act of balance, too.
A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d like to tell us about.
BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS, a novel by Michel Faber about a Christian
missionary who travels to an alien world – a human colony – to preach to the
dominant non-human native species. It’s a luminous and deeply moving story
about grief for things still living, about distance between lovers. It was
adapted as a pilot for Amazon a couple of years back and I got very excited,
imagining a great existential TV sci-fi with echoes of UNDER THE SKIN or
INTERSTELLAR – but the production changed one fundamental aspect of the book’s
proposition that meant it told a totally different story to the novel…
The best TV / film (screenplay) of the last year and why.
1st place films – ROMA and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, which
sounds like I’m being ‘woah, look at my range’. But thinking about it, they had
loads in common. As soon as both began I thought “This is going to annoy me”
then was proved wrong pretty much instantly. And I think they’re both about
finding out who you are in situations where it looks like you don’t have much
of a choice.
5 Which (2) writers / scripts inspire you and why?
tucker green, for the heart and depth and sheer electric potential of her
I can’t stop going back to THE WIRE, time after time. I think I’m on the 7th
or 8th viewing of the entire series. The 5th time I could see that a
huge amount of the structure simply involves showing a scene where one group of
people are dealing with something, then following it with a scene of the
equivalent problem happening to their adversaries. I’ve been mercilessly
nicking that technique ever since.
What are the best internet resources / podcasts for writers?
started using Workflowy to organise my thoughts around future projects. It’s
served me really, really well – a kind of responsive organic list I can chop
and change and re-frame whenever I need to. I use it pretty much exclusively
for pitches at the moment, and tap through it before any meetings I have, to
get my brain in gear.
What are the best books for screenwriters?
WRITER’S TALE by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook (showrunning, dealing with
pressure, redrafting, staying true to a vision vs pragmatic realism.)
IN THE DARK by Rebecca Solnit (not about writing per se, but deeply wonderful
on how new ideas take hold – and on how to feel empowered in the margins,
especially when you’re despairing at ever being ‘successful’.)
WEATHER by David Toop (full of brilliant tangential ideas on how to describe sound
2 pieces of advice for writers
your lines in the sand. What might you be asked to alter in your script that
would instantly change its heart and soul? Saying it clearly to yourself makes
compromise so much easier. Knowing the non-negotiable implies you also know
what you can negotiate if it becomes really important to your
second suggestion is a blood-pressure one: never get angry or frustrated if
partners and collaborators don’t seem to have as open an imagination as you for
what something could be. Because it’s your job to have that scope, that
reach. Making a clear case for what I really, really want to write has made me
a better writer… I hope…
When and where do you write?
much anywhere. I’ve had to, in recent years, for all kinds of reasons, and
found I’m particularly fond of writing on trains. But I’m also really lucky:
I’ve got a desk at home in an office shared with my partner, and space at a
studio in Bristol surrounded by people doing amazing things in the world of
creative tech. The rules are you have to be interruptible and interact whenever
you’re able to… and, against instinct, it’s put my productivity through the
roof. Writing doesn’t feel like a solitary pursuit at all.
when I have a looming deadline I usually lock myself away at home…
you very much Tim – I will be sharing more of these excellent writer interviews
in the coming months. Can I say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed
– and to all of you writers out there, if you would like to submit your
answers, it’s not too late.
the 2019 course is now over. I’m immensely proud of the 12 writers we had on
the course this year and it’s very gratifying to see the positive response that
the writers are already receiving from people in the industry. I’m now planning
for the 2020 course and we’ve decided that there will be one notable difference
in script submission rules. For 2020 we will not be accepting the same
script that you have submitted in the past. Ie if you enter for 2020 it
will need to be with a script that you have not entered before. I wanted to
flag this up ASAP. We will be open for submissions via my website for two weeks
from mid-September. I will confirm all of the dates in the next few weeks.
Posted by admin / June 13, 2019 / Posted in Uncategorized / Comments Off on THE POWER OF STORY
The following story was put out on twitter last week
by @sixthformpoet and quickly went viral – it’s even made its way onto The Sun
website! I have to confess I knew nothing about @sixthformpoet before last week
but she/he seems to be a rather wonderful story-teller.
I read the following story thread on twitter during
the lunch break on my two day screenwriting course at the weekend and then read
it aloud to the 20 writers on my course and it got the engaged, animated
response I expected. Here it is –
‘My dad died. Classic start to a funny story. He was
buried in a small village in Sussex. I was really close to my dad so I visited
his grave a lot. I still do. [DON’T WORRY, IT GETS FUNNIER.]
I always took flowers
and my mum visited a lot and she always took flowers and my grandparents were
still alive then and they always took flowers. My dad’s grave frequently
resembled a solid third place at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Nice but I felt bad for the guy buried next to my dad.
He NEVER had flowers. Died on Christmas Day aged 37, no one left him flowers
and now there’s a pop-up florist in the grave next door. So I started buying
him flowers. I STARTED BUYING FLOWERS FOR A DECEASED MAN I’D NEVER MET.
I did this for quite some time, but I never mentioned
it to anyone. It was a little private joke with myself, I was making the world
a better place one bunch of flowers at a time. I know it sounds weird but I
came to think of him as a friend.
I wondered if there was a hidden connection between
us, something secretly drawing me to him. Maybe we went to the same school,
played for the same football club or whatever. So I googled his name, and ten
seconds later I found him.
His wife didn’t leave him flowers BECAUSE HE’D
MURDERED HER. ON CHRISTMAS DAY. After he murdered his wife, he murdered her
parents too. And after that he jumped in front of the only train going through
Balcombe tunnel that Christmas night.
THAT was why no one ever left him flowers. No one
except me, of course. I left him flowers. I left him flowers every couple of
weeks. Every couple of weeks FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS.
I felt terrible for his wife and her parents. Now, I
wasn’t going to leave them flowers every couple of weeks for two and a half
years but I did feel like I owed them some sort of apology.
I found out
where they were buried, bought flowers and drove to the cemetery. As I was
standing at their graves mumbling apologies, a woman appeared behind me. She
wanted to know who I was and why I was leaving flowers for her aunt and
I explained and she said ok that’s weird but quite
sweet. I said thanks, yes it is a bit weird and oh god I ASKED HER OUT FOR A
DRINK. Incredibly, she said yes. Two years later she said yes again when I
asked her to marry me because that is how I met my wife. [END]’
What is your response to this story? What is it that
makes this a brilliant piece of storytelling?
‘Every scene needs to change the story’ is something I’m
often banging on about. And in this story almost every sentence seems to send
it in a different, unexpected direction.
Tonally it’s very distinctive – in particular, there’s
a very clear sense of humour / humanity to the story. It’s essentially a
serious, highly dramatic story but it’s lit up by brilliant shafts of humour.
Much of it is genuinely funny.
Point of View – you get a clear sense of the personality
/ sensibility of the person telling the story. Their surprise / shock becomes
our surprise / shock.
The story hits the ground running. You’re immediately
hooked into the story by the unlikely, wry juxtaposition of the first two
And sentence 3, 4 & 5 cause you to engage with the
narrator and feel you are in the hands of an accomplished, confident
Rhythm – the rhythm of the story is distinctive – short,
snappy sentences that give this a dynamic feel, the sense of a rapidly-developing,
escalating story. And the use of capitals adds to the nuances of the
story-telling. I’ve broken the story up into paragraphs as it appeared as separate
tweets in a thread. This structure also helps to make it more enthralling and digestible
as a story.
I have no idea whether nor not this has any basis in
truth – but the important thing is that it feels real. Details like the Balcombe
tunnel lend it an air of authenticity.
It’s got a great twist at the end. The last sentence
brings the story to a brilliantly unexpected and resolved conclusion.
Two quotes from a Q&A with Charlie Brooker and Annabel
Jones that appeared in a recent Guardian supplement –
Whose TV writing do you admire?
Recently, anyone and everyone who hammered out words for Succession, Catastrophe,
Inside No 9, Fleabag, Better Call Saul, Russian Doll, I Think You Should Leave,
Derry Girls, Back To Life, Blood, A Vewry English Scandal … I mean I could go
on. I bet Years and Years is really good too; I’ll probably be too jealous to
I’d add Mum to that list. The writing is small, beautiful, funny and painfully
PS: A reminder of the screenwriting
riches on TV at the moment and recently.
What do you think is most important to
think about when writing and developing a character?
CB: I honestly don’t know.
You just kind of picture someone and start imagining what they’d do. This
sounds unbelievably trite, but coming up with a name is an important first
step. Somehow, the moment I’d thought of the names “Yorkie” or “Colin Ritman”,
I had a sense of who they were. I really can’t explain why. Get a name that
fits and you start hearing how they might speak. Then you cast an actor in your
mind’s eye and start describing the film you’re imagining they’re in. And don’t
just write dialogue – spend a lot of time describing what they’re looking at,
how they’re reacting non-verbally to things.
PS: I really like this. And
I think the same is often true of titles. Get a brilliantly memorable, quirky
title and sometimes it will spark an equally quirky, interesting story.
SCRIPTNOTES podcast – Please can I draw your attention
to ep.399 which is all about the tricky business of NOTES – mainly from the POV
of writers receiving notes, what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s also
really helpful for those who give notes to writers. One of the best, most