Posted by admin  /   March 08, 2018  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING – TO TRAIN OR NOT TO TRAIN?

There are still a couple of places left on my STORY, CHARACTERS & IDEAS 1 day masterclass at the Indie Training Fund in London this coming Thursday March 15th.



Hi There,

I spent last weekend running my 2 day screenwriting course and it was a lot of fun. I always feel like I learn as much as the writers from these courses – it’s great spending two days with so many sparky, creative people.

Not through any grand plan, one of the recurring themes of the weekend was the debate about how / if you train as a screenwriter / dramatic writer – and specifically whether it’s a good idea to commit to a one or two year screenwriting / dramatic writing MA; or instead go to many different events and do a succession of shorter courses (like mine!).

So many writers have responded to this – it really seems to have struck a nerve amongst the writers I know. And I’ve included some of their responses below. The result is that this newsletter is a fair bit longer than normal but I hope you’ll understand why, and that this will help inform your decision if this is an issue that you’ve been grappling with.

‘I had been desperate to make some kind of leap into changing my working life and committing more time to writing and I decided that somehow an MA “justified” making that change. It was something tangible, that would lead to a qualification (always handy) and undoubtedly provide opportunities that I might struggle to carve out for myself around meeting other people and developing industry contacts. I applied for some funding and inevitably didn’t get it as all arts funding is so limited: I resolved to just raise the money anyway. Then I stopped and thought again. How much was it? How much teaching time did you actually receive? Suddenly busting a gut to raise £10,000 for what amounted to 24 days teaching time looked like very poor value for money and I decided against it. But strangely the mental space to make this change had already been created in my head. I felt like I didn’t need to do an MA and for half the cost I could spend a year living on far less money and take full advantage of the many talks, short courses, networking opportunities and events that take place in the UK. Since September I have attended 3 short courses, a couple of festivals, talks all over the country, connected with lots of other writers, started to develop some good professional relationships with a couple of directors and one development executive, got through to a later stage of the commissioning process for “Moving On”, received some useful feedback, collaborated with both a writing partner and a group, and, of course, completed loads of projects. I’m just about half way through this first year of The New Life and it’s great! Now I can see the pace at which things can happen, I feel positive and determined to keep moving things forward…hopefully success will follow! I feel I made the right decision and avoided financial ruin…for now.’

Leah Dike

‘On the MA question; I saved for a good few years, whilst working in a very [time] demanding profession, in order to invest in my writing practice. When the time came I had enough to either do an MA course & keep working part time or to take a sabbatical & teach myself through books, workshops, short courses & just actually writing. I choose the latter because I felt it would be more akin to learning on the job & it would mean I could focus myself purely on the kind of work I wanted to write. In hindsight I’m really glad I did & would make the same decision again. It’s such a personal decision though. I was in my thirties, I already had an arts degree, a decade of experience in the industry & I’m naturally a self-starter, so it was right for me but I can absolutely see why it may not be for others.’

Jennifer Smith

‘I have been ‘flirting’ with screenwriting for the last ten years. We went on many dates together. (I was reading the relevant books, trying to write, listened to endless webinars, etc.) 

Yet no serious commitment was mentioned on either side. But, like in any relationship, there comes the time when you need to take it up a notch. So, me and my date – we decided to move together (I decided to do the MA). We needed to figure out whether this relationship had any future. The questions I was asking at the time: Is this (writing) something I would enjoy doing full time? Am I even good enough to do it? (to write)? And let’s not forget the financial commitment that ‘moving together’ represented. Yes, it was a big step. But what if this was THE ONE? The one true love you would not want to miss? Two years on and I am happy to report that our love is as strong as ever and the relationship works. I have achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve: I gained clarity (yes, this is something I want to do full time), I got confidence (yes, I can write) and most importantly, I got into a discipline of regular, every day writing. In a nutshell, more than anything, doing the MA was an act of commitment on my side and that was all I needed to stop ‘messing about’ and ‘get serious’. Some people may not need the push but I did. As in any marriage, only time will tell if we are strong enough to sustain it but since I am a sucker for happy endings, I certainly hope so!’

Natalie Ekberg

‘Sat in CSM (Central St Martins / University of London MA Dramatic Writing) and thinking why I’m here. I have to come down on the side of the MA, although a course can’t be perfect and I’ve experienced many flaws and an expectation gap. In my case there was no doubt it was the best route – I had looked at some writers I admired and saw they had done an MA plus I fancied a degree (which I didn’t have). One thing I’d say, as with any course, it can’t be all things to all people. For me it’s the regularity, discipline and schedule. I see the cost as a positive – many would disagree. The government loan which is available for most can actually work out cheaper – you can’t get a loan for other courses (?). I’m meeting my own same group every week (luckily we work well together!) and meeting course tutors with (at least) one foot in the industry and hence contacts. I see now the number of great courses – weirdly enough I didn’t know much about them till I got here! Although being proactive is the key – harder on outside courses. At least at uni there is recording equipment and a huge library. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on some great courses (yours,especially) but also some which were a waste of time and money. It’s essential to do the homework when choosing one and think exactly what you’ll get out of it. I would say have a limit on the number of courses you do – you could be at it forever. The best things I’ve learnt craft wise is read film scripts and watch good stuff – i.e. what you can’t do in class. HOWEVER a good course can be priceless!’

Jo Richards

‘I too have found shorter courses really helpful, I think the Arvon Foundation are brilliant if you want a block of time to focus on your writing. And I’ve also found that a (well facilitated) script group has kept me on track, given me vital feedback and found me a community of writers. I’d highly recommend Scriptwriting North if you are based up there. I think it does depend where you are at, and it’s worth spending time considering what you personally need to keep you writing, to focus on your strengths and weaknesses, and to fuel your confidence – we’re all different. I know some writers that have found the structure of an MA very helpful. However I totally agree with Philip and Ian that the actual qualification is immaterial with regards to progressing as a screenwriter. It’s about the scripts. The many, many scripts that you need to write in order to develop your craft. And about learning to deal with feedback on those. Which, in my opinion, is a skill in itself.’

Rachel Smith

‘Personally, I went for shorter courses and events like The London Screenwriters Festival. An MA or BA just seemed too expensive, too long and too regimented for me especially since I’d already been writing for a while. LSF introduced me instantly to a network of peers full of advice about work and the industry. I’ve been having some success and have never once been asked what my qualifications are beyond a script sample.’

Philip Lawrence

‘Second what Philip Lawrence says, the cost of the MA was beyond my budget (and time constraints) so chose short courses (e.g. NFTS & 2 Phils for starters) LSF, FB groups, books, self-education and ‘learning by doing’ as well as networking whenever I could online and in person route instead, until I felt I had reached a point where I could justify paying for pro feedback. However, if I had been younger (and richer) I would have loved to go on to an NFTS full time course to grow and develop within a supportive environment and along with a peer group of filmmakers as well as writers.’

Dee Chilton

‘I think specific feedback on your work is critical and worth its weight in gold be it professional feedback, feedback from competition entries or courses. I have just done a 7 week course (comedy crowd 2nd draft sitcom course with Dan Page as the tutor so pretty specific but I thought it was incredible value for money and a game changer for me) where we had online exercises and rewrites to do throughout and the feedback has been invaluable and I feel I have turned a corner. But the main thing is to write and keep rewriting. Every time I start a new project I notice how much my writing has improved.’

Cowal Pen

‘I echo Philip thoughts. Learning the skills of your trade is important and finding fellow writers and, if possible, mentors along the way to discuss your thoughts and guide your writing and career choices is far more valuable than any letters after your name. I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, both at my career level and on varying degrees above me. The camaraderie of a tribe is far more valuable than any expensive, curriculum based training. Short courses and peer review all the way!’

Victoria Taylor Roberts

‘Arvon Foundation for me. Because it’s run by writers (not teachers) so a different perspective -particularly what it’s like to work in the industry. And you get a week to immerse in writing. They read your stuff pretty much daily and give you feedback. And if they like your writing they will champion you to other people – which means other people will read your work – and then you start getting work. That’s what happened for me. Of course, they have to like your work. And realistically, out of a group of 12, there may be two or three people there that they’d think about championing. So it’s not a given. And I’d say use that week to write, write, write. Don’t use that week to drink, drink, drink, and talk, talk, talk…not if it means your pages stay blank. I would also ask the question to anyone thinking about doing an MA, or a short course, or reading a screenwriting book… why are you doing it? What are you hoping to get out of it? Because the two things that will get you work are 1) having a voice that is different (distinctive in the same way as a singer or an artist is distinctive and we instantly recognise them and are attracted to them/moved by them) and 2) having something to say about the world we live in (or what it’s like to be human) with your work. Will you learn that on a course, or from a book? Is that even on the syllabus or in the contents? I’d say (because it’s an individual choice) weigh up what you’ll be doing on the course, and how many hours you’ll spend doing that, versus all the hours you could be writing. If a course is mainly about mechanics, and structure, and analysis, and building from the outside in, I’d think about whether that will make you a good writer, or whether it will make you a good analyst of why other scripts do or don’t work. Would that time be better spent simply writing, and developing your voice, and working with a good script editor. Or doing something like the Arvon, where you’re getting feedback and straight away going back to the page, and making it better. Explore all the options and choose what’s right for you – but have a clearly defined goal. At the end of doing that course, where do you want to be? What will you have?’

Jane Eden

‘Traveling for work right now with no time to comment properly. But as someone with an MA and PhD in Screenwriting, I kind of have a lot to say… The short version is, I agree with Jane Eden. Though I would say that it is not a choice between ‘study’ and ‘writing’. If you are doing an MA in Screenwriting, then you ARE writing. A lot. It will make you a better script consultant, a better historian, AND a better writer. However, your time and money could be spent more productively elsewhere, depending on your own context and ambitions.’

Alec McAulay

‘Yes to all this! Craft can be learnt but what producers and audiences respond to is your own voice. I’ve noticed they even approach English like this in primary school which is very depressing, to kids as young as 6, it’s about ‘getting all your ingredients’ and putting them all together and that will create a good piece of writing. No attempt (or rather time) to let their imaginations soar or hook them into the joy of reading.

I turned down a place on an MA (once I did the sums I just couldn’t justify it) but have no regrets. I think if you have the time and money to do an MA, then great. But, echo-ing what everyone else here says, you can definitely create that same experience for yourself through doing short courses and immersing yourself in groups like this and other groups that meet IRL and exchange work etc. Arvon I’ve heard great things about. Phil’s courses were the best ones I’ve ever done, and I recommend them to everyone who asks. There’s so many courses on offer though that you can end up spending as much on these as an MA, and I know some ‘course junkies’ who spend more time on courses than writing. Also other stuff – watching great drama, watching bad drama and working out what you’d do to make it better, reading great scripts, reading bad scripts. I did a script reading course years ago and worked as a reader for a while, and that was great training – reading script after script that had the same mistakes. I guess investing in an MA means you are taking yourself seriously as a screenwriter. But you can do that for yourself. I think it was Phil Gladwin who said he’d watched and taken notes on the first ten minutes of dozens of pilot episodes – I think this kind of critical approach is probably just as helpful as anything you learn on an MA (and you can do it in your pyjamas).’

Sonya Desai

‘Maybe the common thread in what we’re all saying is that if you have talent, anything that gives you time to write and learn your craft and develop your voice can work. I imagine when someone’s asking which is best to do – MA or other course – they probably aren’t imagining having a qualification will help them get work. Probably what they really want to know is the best courses that have produced working writers. But like I say, if a writer has talent, they may have found their way to work whether they’d done an MA or a short course or nothing. So if someone is choosing any course, they need to research the curriculum and the reputation of the teachers. Learn your craft, develop your voice, find your champions. That’s what I say.’

Jane Eden (An excellent conclusion!)

A lot to process, I know – but I’d like to say a huge thank you to all these writers –  Leah Dike, Jen Smith, Natalie Ekberg, Rachel Smith, Jo Richards, Philip Lawrence, Victoria Taylor Roberts, Cowal Pen, Dee Chilton, Sonya Desai and Jane Eden – for their generosity in sharing and for their excellent insights.

I don’t think there is a right / easy answer to this question. The balance here seems to have come down against doing an MA. BUT I think this route (MA) can still be extremely useful if you use it in the right way. Just remember before you shell out and commit to going to uni for a year or two that in any meeting / job interview in the industry no producer / script editor / literary agent will ever be swayed by which writing course you did or what your final mark was. If you’ve written a good script, they couldn’t care less how you have achieved it.

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 23rd,

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

March 9th 2018


Posted by admin  /   February 22, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS & ANSWERS


Hi There,

A few months ago, I put out a call to you the subscribers to this newsletter for questions you may have about any aspects of screenwriting. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to them but here, finally, are my answers to your very interesting and thoughtful questions.

A massive thank you to Adrienne Aiken, Tony Clare, Adam Dickson and Alec McAulay for these questions, and I hope my answers are helpful in some way to you, and everyone else who reads this. Please do get in touch and continue the debates these 4 writers have kicked-off!

What is your view on writing a treatment (or series bible) regarding adding character and quirky styling. By this I mean not being dead straight in informative and storytelling aspects, but perhaps aligning the style of the pitch with the style of the project. I’ve seen this done before, in treatments for things like “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” which is pretty quirky, and it appeals to me, but what I like isn’t necessarily what industry execs and script readers will warm to. Is this approach something reserved for more known/experienced/respected writers, and if a newer writer were to pitch this way, it would be regarded perhaps as amateurish?

PS: An excellent question about the thorny topic of treatments, pitch documents etc. I’m very happy to tackle this question for several reasons – not least because it includes a link to a polished, professional TV show proposal / bible – and this sort of document is very hard to find. I agree that this document is ‘quirky’ and I would say – be very careful before deciding to write an outline that is so self-consciously ‘wacky.’ With source material by Douglas Adams, I think there is some justification, because his stories demand a radical stylistic approach. And I do think it’s important that your written pitch tonally reflects how you want the script to read. (And ultimately I think this is a very good example of one of these documents). But what you should be concentrating on is making your story as compelling and well-thought-out as possible. These documents are hard enough to write well without also trying to do something novel and gimmicky. In my experience, too many treatments that try to stand out from the crowd by being stylistically innovative put too much emphasis on style and not enough on content. If your story is strong enough, it should speak for itself without the need for gimmicks.

This outline is 28 pages long. Be very careful that when you are submitting pitches and other sales documents like this, that they are as short as you can possibly make them while still doing full justice to the idea. And that’s a judgement only you as writer can make. But these documents are very hard to write and very hard to read. And whoever you’re sending this to (producer, script editor, agent etc) will be far keener to initially read a 2-3 page document than a 28 page document. This sort of document should give as much substance as possible (the last thing it should give is empty sales-pitch promises) but it’s never going to provide all of the answers. It should lead to interest and more questions from the reader. (I’m sure that the stage this project was at, a 28 page document was completely justified – but if it’s your initial pitch of an idea, 28 pages is way too long).


I have a drama script which a few people have read and liked. Two readers (independently of each other) both mentioned the same actor for the lead role. The actor in question is highly talented but would, I imagine, be within the reach of a low budget feature. My question is: given these opinions on the role, would it be worth me sending the script to the actor’s agent to ask whether he would be interested in playing the part if it went into production? Does this carry any weight when approaching Production Companies?

PS: That’s a tricky question! I’d say it’s entirely dependent on the box office appeal and potential influence of this actor. In general, I would advise against attaching an actor to a script before you have a producer involved. Any producer taking on your project will want to feel that they’re in on the start of the project with you, and that they would want to be involved in the decision about the lead actor. Ultimately my purist view would be that the script should speak for itself. Attaching actors (obviously there are a few ‘name’ exceptions to this!) closes down your options too early in the process. However if the actor attached has their own contacts and can open more doors for you, it may be worth considering. But again, I’d say be very careful before you go down this path. Your choice of actor may not be everyone’s choice of actor. And if a producer you like and who likes the script is then put off by the attached actor, it will be very frustrating for you.


Probably like many other readers of your Newsletter, I have completed several scripts which for the most part just sit in files on my computer. When approaching Production Companies with any of these scripts, I never know whether to send it as a Spec Script and specify this in the covering letter. Or, just send it marked for their consideration in the hope (and assumption) that if they did not want to include it in their slate but liked the writing, they would take it as a spec script anyway. Is there a best way to approach this?

PS: Every script you send out professionally should be targeted at a specific individual in a specific company. There needs to be a particular reason why you are sending a script out now. You should know when sending a script out why you’re sending it out. And sometimes it will be because you want to work on a specific show or for a specific company, and your script fits the tone / subject-matter of that show; sometimes it will be because you want to work with a particular producer / company and you think the script is a good fit for them (as a ‘spec’ / sample of your writing); or you will be entering a competition, etc etc. OR the subject-matter of the script is particularly timely and you have a clear reason for believing a particular producer / company might be interested in it.

The best way to get a script to a potential employer is through another contact – ie someone recommending your script. It’s so important to use the contacts you already have to generate more contacts. For the people in the industry actively looking for new writers, dedicating time to reading unsolicited scripts is (to be brutal) the least time-efficient part of their work. The likelihood of them finding writers who they want to work with is far higher when the script comes with a recommendation.

This may all be too obvious to be worth stating but I am reading (perhaps unfairly?) a slightly too untargeted approach of script submission into your question??


I am an aspiring writer with a lifelong love of TV, especially the classic shows thrown up by the golden age we currently inhabit, and as such I have written short films and a TV pilot. I am always reminded that a lot of writers start out in theatre, however, I have no real desire to write plays. As so many 4screenwriting alumni are theatre writers, as being someone who writes for screen exclusively, am I at a disadvantage compared to other new writers?

PS: I think it’s always been the case in the UK that a significant proportion of new screenwriters started out in the theatre. There is a much healthier new writing culture in theatre than there is in screenwriting (mainly for the simple reason that it’s easier to stage a play than it is to make a film). And this is a tradition that persists. This is another tricky but very good question! My instinct initially was to just say  – I absolutely don‘t think that, if you’re interested in being a professional, working screenwriter you need to have started as a playwright. But the more I think about it, and the more I look at the facts of the Channel 4 screenwriting course over the last few years, it is true that at least as many if not more of the writers on the course who have achieved screenwriting success have come from a theatre background than from a purely screenwriting background. Many of these writers then go on to juggle writing work across the different media – which I think is a really good thing to aim for. It’s hard enough to make a living as a professional writer without also limiting yourself to one medium. There are of course many examples of successful screenwriters who have no interest in writing for the theatre – but evidence would suggest that writing for theatre might significantly increase your chances of getting noticed. And I feel slightly uneasy saying that – because it shouldn’t have to be the case.

My main experience of these new writers breaking into TV is through the Channel 4 screenwriting course. Over the 8 years we have had a significant minority of stage writers (who have decided that they’d like to write for TV) on the course. Screenwriting is obviously a very different skill to writing a play, and some of these writers find that transition difficult – although for the most part they take to it brilliantly. There is no doubt that success in theatre will give you a certain cachet in TV and film but it’s not a pre-requisite. There are many examples of writers from the Channel 4 course who have no interest in writing a play but have achieved great success as TV dramatists.


Various filmmakers, including Neil Jordan, say you should only write what can be seen, and what can be heard. Others says you can include elements on mood, emotion etc. that indicate a character’s state of mind, in order to aid the actor. Personally, I favour the former, with a pragmatic inclusion of the latter, where necessary. Do you feel there is any consensus on this issue among script readers?

I think the answer is in the question! Reading a lot of screenplays as I do, the question of what works best in the writing of directions in screenplays is something I think about on a daily basis (sad I know). I’m with you – as a rule of thumb the directions (‘action’ as it’s called in Final Draft) should clearly and simply describe what we’re seeing on screen – whether this applies to people, objects or action. So – you should describe what a character looks like physically, what they’re physically / visually doing when we first meet them but I would say you shouldn’t describe their internal emotional state or back-story. Usually this feels to me like cheating – giving the reader access to privileged information that won’t be accessible to the audience. Too often, doing this just makes it hard for the reader to clearly work out how the story will play on screen. The experience of reading a script should be as close as possible to watching the film. The reader should only see / know what the audience will see / know. I would say this should be your starting point – and any exceptions to this should be very carefully considered!


The next newsletter will be on Friday March 9th.

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1


Aaron Sorkin BFI interview notes

Posted by admin  /   February 08, 2018  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on Aaron Sorkin BFI interview notes

Hi There,

This week notes from a BFI event in December last year – a screening of MOLLY’S GAME, followed by an interview with its writer / director AARON SORKIN –

‘I wasn’t at all interested in poker. I’m still not. Not until I met Molly Bloom that I saw there was a film that wasn’t like the book.

Hundreds of meetings with Molly. A real-life movie heroine. She’s built out of integrity – that’s what made me want to tell her story. I like to write romantically and idealistically.

One of the things not in the movie – several of the Russian mafia guys lived in Trump Tower. Very little chance that Trump didn’t know that they were members of the mob living in his apartments.

Molly and I have become very good friends. I like her very much. ‘Defining success is being able to move from failure to failure and maintain enthusiasm.’ Churchill.

I simply met Molly and wanted to tell that story. I don’t use a different font when I write for women.

Drama to it because I hadn’t seen this character in movies before. Why didn’t Brad Pitt have a girlfriend in Moneyball? Because it didn’t advance the story at all.  – same with Molly in Molly’s Game. I tried but the scene didn’t work. If you can cut a scene then you probably should cut that scene.

While writing the script I didn’t really have any actor in mind for the role. I never do – I’m playing all the parts. As a result of that it’s hard for me to see anyone playing the parts. Jessica Chastain was on a short-list, then no,1. I watched all her movies again. We had a meeting not an audition – to see if I could discover if she would be willing to take direction from a first-time director. Three minutes into the meeting she leant forward and said – this is stupid, you should just give me the part.

I never looked to move into directing. I’ve worked with some of the best directors. When I write something I want the best director to direct it. Usually that’s not me. On THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin (the producers) thought it was me. But they made a last-minute offer to David Fincher and he accepted immediately. The big reason I directed MOLLY’S GAME, I was very aware that there is a natural gravitational pull in the story towards glamour etc. I didn’t want this to swing heroism and romanticism – it’s not a poker movie – we don’t care who wins a hand of poker.

I am a sports fan. At 2am on ESPN they broadcast poker. I have a respect for the game. I never believed it was a game of skill – but it is. Molly was able to convince me of that. On set the supporting cast of poker players would play poker. The extras made money off them – they were all pro poker players.

For whatever reason – and I’m proud of it – when it comes to who gets credit / blame I’ve been sharing it with directors ie I’ve always felt the maximum amount of pressure. ‘At what point is a man going to mansplain something?’ ‘Is it Sorkinish?’ John Lennon – ‘I’d rather have a band than a rolls Royce.’ I know what he meant – I’d rather be part of a team in something of which I’m proud.

Social Network – I spend a lot of time before the actual writing begins – to the untrained eye it looks a lot like someone lying on the couch watching sports.

I need to find a tension and an obstacle. 1st scene in Social Network – in bar. It suddenly occurred to me these were the youngest characters I’d ever written and that I needed to write in their language. I did half a page in this way but it was ridiculous. I had to write in the way that I write. This is the last time I dabbled in something that was completely unnatural to me. The first time was adapting my stage play ‘A FEW GOOD MEN.’ Before this, I’d never even read a screenplay. I just read and watched every play. Climbing the walls wondering what Rob Reiner (the director) was expecting from me. The script was due. To hell with it, I found I had to just write. Don’t try to figure out what everyone wants and try to give it to them.

There are a million ways to prepare beef but if you try to please as many people as possible, it will be a Macdonalds burger every time.

Actors improvising – it’s against the law. Doesn’t happen. In comedy – Judd Apatow – a genius at it. In drama – Paul Greengrass wants controlled chaos, many takes people shouting over each other. I don’t. I like the sound of dialogue. To me dialogue sounds like music. I saw the play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ at age 9. I didn’t understand it but I liked the dialogue.

I wanted it to sound written. (Compared himself – tongue-in-cheek – to Shakespeare.) ‘Now I’m not Shakespeare but actors will find they can’t ad-lib here. I’ve never had to tell an actor that.

It’s important to me that Molly likes the movie. She trusted me with her story, and her father’s – I don’t take that lightly at all. I ended up showing her the whole thing as I was writing it. I was very proud of it. I relaxed the no-veto in the scene involving her father, but she didn’t want any changes.

Charlie the lawyer (Idris Elba) was the only fictional element. I needed that character for my own purposes. I never spoke to her real lawyer. Charlie goes from saying – ‘You don’t need me, you need a publicist’ to ‘You’re my daughter’s role model and I’m good with that.’ That was my journey as a writer with the story.’

Finally this week a couple of recommendations –

Theatre – Yous Two by Georgia Christou at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs runs until Feb 24th. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, a warm, honest study of two complicated and engaging characters.

TV – Inside Number Nine. BBC iplayer. I’ve discovered this rather late in the day and have so far only watched the first two episodes of series 2 but they’re the best two things I’ve seen on British TV in the last few months. Brilliant scripts, brilliantly acted. They show what can be achieved on a small budget in very limited interior sets as long as you have a knockout script. So much more powerful and satisfying than so many of the big-budget international co-productions I’ve been watching recently!

The next newsletter will be on Friday February 23rd

All the best




Feb 9th 2018


Posted by admin  /   January 24, 2018  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018 1ST WEEKEND


Hi There,


This past weekend was the 1st weekend of this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course, when we get together the 12 course writers, 4 script editors, 4 trainee script editors, and some very excellent guest speakers. As ever it was hugely mentally stimulating and the wonderful guest speakers and writers we had made me think so much about different aspects of screenwriting and this industry.

Here are some random notes from the weekend –

In terms of story-telling, and what they look for in scripts, speaker after speaker kept coming back to the primacy of Character – how brilliant characterisation is at the heart of the best scripts.

Writing your truth – and how incredibly hard that is – but how essential.

Different methods of writing – vomiter / plotter – which are you? And if you’re very much in one camp, try to do more of the other!

Voice – integrity – maintaining your voice / identity as a writer.

A personal approach – maintaining your confidence in a tough industry.

Courtesy – we’re all human – we all make mistakes, we all give bad notes – be considerate – everyone is under pressure – it never pays to behave like an arsehole – be empathetic to those around you in a pressured working environment.

Dealing with success – (I hope this is a problem that you face!) – but there were a couple of cautionary tales about writers finding it hard to cope with the level of demand on their skills, and almost cracking under the pressure. You need to make sure you’re not taking on too much work, that you can handle and still enjoy the work you’re doing.

If you want to be taken seriously in the business an agent is important. However you need to recognise when is a good time to start looking for an agent – you only need to have one once you’re starting to connect with the industry and if you submit your work to agents and they’re not interested, then your work isn‘t good enough. You need to improve it before trying again. Because there is a great hunger for new writers – that’s another point that came out of the weekend – it’s a brilliant time for new writers to be breaking into the industry. There are a lot more places you can take your work to than there used to be – more indies all with different tastes and agendas; and more platforms / broadcasters with money to spend on producing new content. Nowadays even the big broadcasters aren’t afraid to commission brand new writers – it’s all about the script. 

And many producers positively prefer to work with new writers compared to more experienced writers – because they sometimes bring a greater passion to their work – the script is so important to them.

This is reflected in the many successes new writers have had from the last few years of 4screenwriting.

The business, the way it works at its best, is collaborative. Try and find the positives in that! Take and use the good ideas that are suggested to you – be grateful for all the people trying to make your scripts even better than they already are. You may get some bad notes, but good notes can be a wonderful gift to a writer.

Unlike feature films where the director is still king, in TV drama, the writer is the number one creative. The industry is always looking for the showrunners – the next big thing – the next Chris Chibnall, Russell T Davies, Jed Mercurio or Sally Wainwright.

Successful humour in a drama script is rare and immensely valuable.

Truth – writing, but particularly screenwriting is hard. If you want to produce quality work, you need to access deep, sometimes uncomfortable truths – this is what we as readers and viewers respond to. If your writing is true and honest, the reader will recognise and respond to that. Even if you’re writing a conventional genre script, this still applies. This is what your voice is – it’s your ability to tap into your personal truths.

This sounds obvious – but we all need to keep reminding ourselves of this – Story is Character. Speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of character in story when asked what they’re looking for in scripts, and what the best scripts have in common.

Remember this at every stage of the process. Because it is true of every stage. When the writers were discussing with us the ideas they wanted to write, the ones that leapt out were the ones about PEOPLE, about characters with whom you could relate and identify, characters with whom you can enjoy going on a journey. And the less interesting ideas were often less interesting because they were about a world or an idea but there weren’t any people in the pitch. Every story at its heart is the story of a single person (or a group of people) and these people are what we will care about. So put people in your pitch! Otherwise you’re leaving out the most important part!

Employers prefer to work with people they like. That sounds blindingly obvious but it’s always worth bearing in mind. Similarly you as writers will want to work with people you like. Part of your work as a writer is actively looking for those people.

The collaborative nature of developing a script is all about opinions. As a writer you will inevitably not always agree with all of these opinions. But work hard at understanding the sub-text of these opinions and trying not to make it about a clash of egos – it should always be about the work, not the people. Above all, work hard at not falling out with the people you’re working with. It will suck the fun out of the work and it won’t help in the bigger picture. It’s a small world and everyone talks to each other.

There are fewer mid-range 1 hour TV drama series episodes on which new writers can cut their teeth than there used to be. But there are far more writers rooms – where a lead writer will work with less experienced writers in beating out the series story. This may or may not lead to an episode writing commission – but it is invaluable experience for new writers, and a great way of getting your foot in the door.

Stand up for what you believe in. One of the writers gave an example of a line that she was asked to change but refused to change. To her, that line was about something much bigger – about culture. She articulated it brilliantly and reminded me how important and necessary it is for the quality of your script that you stand up for what is right and good in your work, and make sure you find the collaborators who will respond to this in the right way.

You need to leave room in your work for your collaborators. For instance, at its best, a director’s interpretation of your writing should surprise you and reveal things that you didn’t even know yourself were in there.

Screenwriting as a job is a long haul. There are ups and downs that you need to ride out. Don’t compare your career trajectory to other writers. ie don’t get envious of other writers’ early success. It’s about sustaining and developing both your craft and your career. You will change and grow as a writer if you keep working at it in the right way. If you have great early success, there is a danger of burn-out that you need to guard against – also the element of ‘fashion’. The industry eats up writers, and you need to find a way to retain your mystery and keep re-inventing yourself.

One of this year’s course writers got onto the course this year having submitted 3 scripts over about 5 years. She told me she was glad that she got ono the course this year rather than in 2014 because she now feels much more ready for it.

It was a brilliant weekend – absolutely exhausting by the end – mainly because of information overload – so many brilliant guest speakers throwing fascinating, thought-provoking ideas at you.

And finally some viewing recommendations that came out of the weekend – all shows that people spoke glowingly about –

Rams; Big Little Lies; In Between; Kingdom Of Us (Netflix documentary).

The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 9th,

All the best




Jan 26th 2018


Posted by admin  /   January 11, 2018  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on BEST FILMS OF 2017

My March course is now SOLD OUT but my 2 day weekend Screenwriting Course will take place again in central London on May 12-13 2018, with special guest speakers, screenwriters VINAY PATEL, REGINA MORIARTY and literary agent MATTHEW BATES (Sayle Screen). There are currently 2 places still available.


Hi There,

Happy New Year! This week I am indebted to JOE WILLIAMS for this excellent look back at his favourite feature films of 2017.

‘Firstly, thank you, Philip, for allowing me the opportunity to share my ramblings with you! To introduce myself, I work as Head of Development for Vox Pictures, a film and TV production company based in Cardiff and London, run by veteran producers Pip Broughton and Adrian Bate. In the past year, we produced ‘Keeping Faith’ – a bilingual 8-part drama for S4C and BBC Wales starring Eve Myles, which I also script edited. The series ran on S4C before Christmas and is due to appear on the BBC in February. Prior to ‘Keeping Faith’ we produced ‘Aberfan: The Green Hollow’, a drama in verse commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster, which was nominated for a Best Single Drama BAFTA. This year, through our sister company Cliff Edge Pictures, we are producing ‘Eternal Beauty’, Craig Roberts’ second film as a director, which will star Sally Hawkins. We are currently working on a number of film and television projects, including Maxine Peake’s directorial debut, ‘Caravan’, written by the excellent Katie Wimpenny, who I first met while working as a Shadow Script Editor on the 2014 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course. 

At the end of 2017, the medium of film seems to be in a state of flux: mid-budget films are becoming a rarer commodity, auteur directors are increasingly swapping the silver screen for the small screen, while Hollywood appears to be in a state of existential crisis through its frequent reboots and reliance on superhero movies. Nonetheless, in this turbulent climate, great content is still being made and last year saw the release (in the UK) of a number of striking, distinctive and thought-provoking works from across the world…

Top of the list for me last year was David Lowery’s singularly offbeat and profoundly moving supernatural drama, A GHOST STORY. I went in knowing little about it – to the point where I thought it was a horror film – and was knocked for six by its sombre and at times devastating depiction of grief. If you know about it, it’s likely for two things: Casey Affleck spending most of the film wearing a sheet, and Rooney Mara spending an absurdly long time eating a pie. Both of which, I promise, make sense in the context of the film! In today’s world when it’s so easy to get distracted by phones and tablets (and I’m guilty as charged here), it’s a film that demands absolute concentration and immersion. As a result, it’s not for everyone, but those who can get onto its wavelength will be rewarded by a rich and humbling cinematic experience.

Equally challenging, though in completely different ways, I was shaken to the core by two outstanding French films: veteran Paul Verhoven’s so-called ‘rape comedy’ comeback, ELLE, and Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age horror debut, RAW. Featuring a magnetic central performance by the always-excellent Isabelle Huppert, when I saw ELLE about a year ago, I tweeted that I still needed time to process the thematic implications of it. I’m not sure that time has yet come to an end. I have seen very few films that can pack in so many abrupt shifts in tone, yet can still come across as coherent. It’s the type of film where you can’t sit on the fence; you need to have an opinion on it. With RAW, Ducournau breathes life into the horror genre, delivering the requisite scares and violence, combined with intelligence, thematic richness and even grace. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Staying with horror for a moment, I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, which reaches AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON heights in balancing horror and comedy, while delivering more insight into race and prejudice than all of last year’s ‘Oscar films’ put together (yes, including MOONLIGHT).

While Hollywood continues to eat itself with endless superhero films (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and LOGAN) it was encouraging to see that the US can still deliver the goods in regards to comparatively ‘intimate’ fare. I particularly fell for the charms of THE BIG SICK thanks to its winning central pairing of Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, along with its ability to leap from charm to heartbreak in a single stroke. On the more serious end of the scale, THE FLORIDA PROJECT established Sean Baker as one of the American’s most promising and visionary filmmakers, while Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, cements his reputation as a master chronicler of downtrodden working men, comparable to Richard Yates and Philip Roth. While I have predictable issues with the running time of BLADE RUNNER 2049 there’s no doubt it’s an important and visionary film that stays true to the spirit of its seminal predecessor. On a similarly hyped scale, now that the fuss and ensuing backlash has died down over LA LA LAND, further consideration actually reveals it to be a genuinely charming film that houses a subtly buried subversive streak. I’m keen to watch it again soon.

It was also an interesting and eclectic year for British films, across all budgetary levels. Arriving as an early Christmas treat, PADDINGTON 2, completely charmed the pants off me; featuring a warm and witty script, strong performances (particularly from Hugh Grant as the baddie), and remarkable special effects, it’s the best family film I’ve seen since, well, PADDINGTON. This year also saw three excellent off-beat comedy films in the shape of: Alice Lowe’s low-budget directorial debut, PREVENGE; the hilarious crime/comedy spoof, MINDHORN; and Armando Ianucci’s razor-sharp DR STRANGELOVE-esque THE DEATH OF STALIN. Regarding more serious fare, I was also impressed with the darkly comic DAPHNE and especially by Hope Dickson’s Leach striking debut, THE LEVELLING, featuring a powerhouse performance from Ellie Kendrick (herself, a very talented writer and C4 Screenwriting alumnus). The final moments of the film are among the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve come across this year.

As is often the case, many of the most interesting and complex films released in 2017 came from abroad. TONI ERDMANN, while unfortunately sold to viewers as a ‘comedy’ was an alternately quirky and devastating family drama that beautifully deconstructed the parent/child relationship. The same can also be said of the equally excellent GRADUATION from Christian Mungiu, a masterclass in depicting a simple story with extraordinarily complex themes below the surface in a manner that would make Di Sica and Rossellini proud. Truly a ‘world film’ if there ever was one, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, was a beguiling, stylish and hypnotic film that deserves every award coming for it in the forthcoming gong season. Lastly, I’d like to single out two charming and singular animated titles: THE RED TURTLE and MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE. The former, a beautiful, yet complex tale of loss and regret; the latter, an outrageous, charming and sensitive little film, set in a children’s’ home.

All in all, 2017 proved to be an eclectic and varied year for film across all countries, budgets, and cultures. I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for us.’

Thank you very much Joe.

The next newsletter will be on Jan 26th.

All the best




Jan 12th 2018



Posted by admin  /   December 14, 2017  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on NETFLIX, PITCHING + MY NEW COURSE

My March course is now SOLD OUT but my 2 day weekend Screenwriting Course will take place again in central London on May 12-13 2018, with special guest speakers, screenwriters VINAY PATEL, REGINA MORIARTY and literary agent MATTHEW BATES (Sayle Screen). Still some places available



Hi There,

This week, more from the C21 International TV Drama Summit, which was held in London at the end of November.


JANE FEATHERSTONE interviewed ELIZABETH BRADLEY, vice-president of content for Netflix.

EB: Netflix now have more than 104m subscribers worldwide – and for the first time, more outside the US than in the US. Netflix are now very conscious of that in their programming.

JF: What are Netflix looking for?

EB: We have to make content that is appealing to every audience. So, for instance, shows like GODLESS and STRANGER THINGS appeal across age and gender ranges. But for every different group, we want to be making your 5 favourite shows. What all shows should have in common is the quality of the story-telling. Something that’s compelling and addictive.

We have diversity of content, and a diversity of business models.

Some examples of recent UK commissions –

The End Of the Fucking World (with Clerkenwell / C4) (written by 4screenwriting alumna Charlie Covell!).

Wanderlust written by Nick Payne. Co-produced with Drama Republic / BBC, starring Toni Colette.

Requiem written by Kris Mrksa, Co-produced with New Pictures / BBC.

Collateral written by David Hare. Co-produced with BBC / The Forge.

On Netflix we have to work harder to get you to a show, and to persuade you to trust us. Sometimes the on-screen talent helps in that (eg the casting of Toni Colette in ‘Wanderlust’).

We have multiple teams at Netfix and we work hard at identifying really strong story-telling.

So we go after really strong film producers who want to work in TV; or good TV producers – like Jane Featherstone.

We don’t take ideas directly from writers. Only from producers. We’re very conscious that it’s a collaboration – we look for people who know the story they want to tell. First off, we like to see a script, and people who know why and how their story is compelling, and then we try to give them the best creative partnership. A light creative touch, but really strong guidance.

JF: How do you make sure that the shows you make are supported and found?

EB: We try to address a specific audience with each show. Target and find subscribers based on their experience inside Netflix. You start to evangelise the content in a much more focused way eg River – a show much loved by a particular audience.

We love a well-formed idea, something that has been thought through carefully – so for instance a series that has a narrative arc over several seasons. HOUSE OF CARDS was a very good example of this  – they came to us with a strong, 3 season arc.

99% of the time we like to read a script. We’ve no interest in doing pilots to test an idea out.

Netflix is global – in 190 countries. We’re conscious of what the means for budgets. The budgets are based on trying to work out the size of the audience over several years. The competition is forcing prices up.

JF: There is no data available for producers. How do you reward success?

EB: We want producers to have a very good creative experience. We pay up-front.

Incredibly well-told stories always travel. But what resonates, and travels across borders, is something very specific eg NARCOS

JF: How do you keep finding the best stories outside of the US?

EB: An example – new commission – ‘Sex Education’ from Eleven Film in UK, written by new writer Laurie Nunn. About a boy in the 6th form whose mum is a sex therapist. About adolescence, sex and love. Very relatable globally. A specific, local show that will go global.

Finding agreement with fellow broadcasters and producer on transmission and release date involves a lot of conversations. We’re always open to different models of what is shown when. Eg Netflix is doing series 3 of TOP BOY*.

Our appetite for global commissions out of the UK and other territories is increasing

(*PS Scrotal Recall – now Lovesick, Black Mirror & Top Boy are all shows not re-commissioned by Channel 4, then picked up by Netflix).

Although it may not come across in my notes, this session was dynamic and exciting, There was a real sense of energy to the conversation, and a sense of excitement about the sort of work Netflix is commissioning in the UK.

C21 PITCHING Session

Always interested in pitching, I went to this session in which 8 different production companies were pitching in order to find production partners and partial financing for projects that already seemed to be at an advanced stage of development. I listened to the first 4 (of 8) and was pretty gobsmacked by how bad the pitches were.

The first one was an English producer pithing a thriller series set in a wealthy, seaside New Zealand town (set to be produced and shot in New Zealand). The idea was deeply conventional, and the pitcher could not have sounded less interested in what he was reading (always a mistake!) if he’d tried. My heart wept for the poor writer from New Zealand. If she’d seen what this producer was doing to her idea, she would have been distraught.

The 2nd idea was about an ordinary family man in Iceland who has a secret life as a male escort. (He’s gone into this line of work because he has an – also secret – terminal illness, and is determined to make money for his family before he goes) ie a bare-faced rip-off of BREAKING BAD. The pitcher compared their show to Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Mad Men – another pitching no-no – blandly comparing your show, with no justification at all – to some of the best TV series ever made.

The 4th pitch was presented as a Q&A between pitcher and stooge. But their script and performances were so wooden that you were just transfixed by the awfulness of the presentation (‘Go on, what happens next?!…‘Ah yes, I’m glad you asked that…) and forgot to listen to their pitch (although to be fair that too was pretty shocking – a costume / period Euro-pudding).

After 4 pitches, I couldn’t take anymore, but in some ways I wish I’d stayed for the 2nd half. It was a real education in How Not To Pitch.  

PARIS etc.

I went to a screening of this new TV series for French TV. I was stuck by the different rhythms and story approach, different culture and fresh take on stories. It’s about 5 women in contemporary Paris – sort of, a French version of Cold Feet. One of the joys of foreign language screen drama is that it sometimes gives you a whole different perspective on dramatic story-telling – and shows up some of the stale, lifeless, conservative conventions of some of the less good UK TV drama and (particularly) Hollywood movies. This show was a delight – the situations and characterisations felt idiosyncratic, original and really engaging.


This sense of a fresh, different perspective also goes for Michael Haneke’s new film HAPPY END. (A German director, but a film set in France – upper-middle-class Calais to be precise). This was thought-provoking, at times funny, disturbing but always compelling.


Listening to my i-pod on shuffle mode in my car, I came by accident on a radio play (I was trying to listen to music), a play I had forgotten was on there, FIRE IN THE WEST by Michael Butt. The acting and writing was so good that for the first minute or so I thought I was listening to a documentary. It was utterly compelling and the most beautiful, heart-breaking character study, of real depth and believable complexity. I arrived at my destination and risked being late because I had no choice but to sit and listen to the remaining 20 minutes.

This is my last newsletter before Christmas – so have a great one, and I’ll be back with the next newsletter on Friday Jan 12th 2018,

All the best




Dec 15th 2017


Posted by admin  /   November 29, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on 2 DAY SCREENWRITING COURSE May 2018


Hi There,


As I mentioned in my last newsletter, my 2 day screenwriting course on March 3 & 4 is now sold out.

 SO I am running this course again in London over the weekend of May 12 & 13. And I’m delighted to say I have three new, equally exciting guest speakers for the May course – screenwriters REGINA MORIARTY, who will be talking about the craft of screenwriting, and VINAY PATEL, talking about the business / career side of screenwriting. Gina and Vinay are both alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting course and both made stellar TV writing debuts – with MURDERED BY MY BOYFRIEND and MURDERED BY MY FATHER respectively. Both have gone onto more success since, and they both have a real insight into working successfully as screenwriters in the UK.

The literary agent on this course will be MATTHEW BATES of the Sayle Screen agency. Matthew is a very experienced and highly-regarded agent with a hugely impressive list of writer and director clients. Matthew has spoken on my courses before, and he is always really instructive and generous with his advice.

I’m delighted to have all three of these guest speakers on board and I know their sessions will be fascinating and hugely helpful for screenwriters.

Running this course in October was a lot of fun and we had some great feedback from the 20 writers who came on that October course, all of which you can find on the web page –

In October this course sold out within 24 hours of the newsletter going out so, if you’re interested, I’d recommend you book ASAP.



I got a fair amount of feedback after my observations about the script submissions to the Channel 4 screenwriting course two weeks ago. Without wanting to come across as defensive (!) I’d like to emphasise the necessarily subjective aspect of assessing the scripts, of having to compare the quality and ‘value’ of so many wildly different scripts. AND the simple fact that we received 2040 writer submissions – but only have 12 places on the course.

It may be worth mentioning some of the other elements we think about when choosing the writers for interview – their potential suitability to writing specifically for Channel 4 and E4 drama; and the desire to get as broad and diverse a mix of writers as possible, that reflect the range of voices across writers and communities in the UK – whether that be in terms of gender, ethnicity, regionality, agenda, age, etc. But what we absolutely do look for is the strength, originality and distinctiveness of the writer’s voice.

Director Zoe McCarthy made a short film about the CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2017, which may be of interest – I’m sorry this wasn’t available before the application process


C21 Drama Summit

I spent a couple of days this week at this conference about TV drama and I gained some really interesting insights into the world of TV drama –


I went to a session aboutt his forthcoming BBC drama serial. A Euston Films production for the BBC, written by LUTHER creator Neil Cross. The show is a thriller about an establishment conspiracy / cover-up of the fact that the world is going to end in 5 years. Neil Cross talked about being inspired by the David Bowie song ‘Five Years’ – an interesting example of a screenwriter taking inspiration from another form of story-telling.

Elizabeth Kilgarriff, the BBC executive producer on the show, talked about what a brilliant pitch Neil Cross gave for the show at the outset of the project.

Jessica Scott from Hulu talked about Hulu’s involvement with / investment into the show. They were attracted by the fact this was a Neil Cross project and backed it on the strength of the episode one script which she described as, ‘a noir-ish cop show, grounded but with a sci-fi twist – a script that stood out in a crowded marketplace.’

NC was asked if he had the whole plot mapped out when he started writing episode one, to which he answered, ‘I think the trick is to pretend you do’. (!)

Producer Kate Harwood (this is the first production for her newly re-formed Euston Films) talked about the strength of NC’s writing of characters. ‘The characters come fully formed with Neil. But once cast Neil writes to the actors’ strengths…he’s very organic in that way.’

Actor Jim Sturgess: ‘Neil writes these incredibly complicated, damaged characters.’

Actor Nikki Amuka-Bird: ‘What is lovely is that Neil loves his characters – whatever they’re like, you get a sense of their humanity.’

NC: The writing process allowed the series to become more and more character-oriented as the story progresses. I find that intensely satisfying. Watching dailies from the first block of filming, to see what the actors do with the characters, gives you the ingredients to inhabit and steal so that you can use what the actors bring when writing the subsequent episodes….Apocalyptic stories like this aren’t so much about death – they’re transformational stories, stripping away the quotidian, everyday aspects of life – it’s just the characters being allowed to express who they really are, and to express love and the urge to survive.’

EK: ‘Actually an incredibly life-affirming story. About the lengths people will go to, to protect what and who they care about. It’s very moving.’

NC: ‘It’s complex but not complicated.’

Jessica Scott, Hulu: ‘We want shows to be noisy and gripping right from the start.’

NC: What the show’s about – ‘At the moment it’s becoming hard for optimists like me to not be blanching with fear at our immediate future. There is a general sense of anxiety and unease bordering on outright fear’ – this is partly what the show is about / taps into.


Interestingly, like HARD SUN, this is another SVOD / UK broadcaster / UK indie co-pro – this time between Netflix, Channel 4, Kindle Entertainment and Balloon Entertainment.

Adapted from the novel by Lottie Moggach, the adaptation has substituted the internet chat rooms of the novel for a virtual reality / parallel world, so that the story cuts between the live action characters and their animated, avatar equivalents.

Writer Brian Elsley: ‘My main inspiration was MARY POPPINS. I loved it when I first saw it, the way it took you into another world.’

Producer Melanie Stokes: Channel 4 took the project into development initially, with Brian as writer. Brian was in LA, talking to Netflix, who had bought and screened his C4 show SKINS. Netflix were interested in the combination of the book and Brian as writer, partly based on the success of SKINS for Netflix.


A Norwegian co-production. A 5 part series (5 hours) that follows in real time a couple meeting for the first time on a blind date. Writer / director Oystein Karlsen talked about the creation and production of the show – the USP of the show is that it plays out in real time, that you never cut away from the couple on the blind date. They made sure that the actor and actress hadn’t met at all before they started shooting; and they weren’t allowed to talk to each other between takes – so that the sense of the awkwardness of the first date was as real as possible. It was shot in very long takes – as long as 11 minutes, again, to replicate the reality and awkwardness of the situation. There was a lot of use of Steadicam – Karlsen described it as a ‘walking road movie.’

It was an attempt to shoot something small, with limited budget – but to somehow make it big. In the story-telling there is no foreshadowing, no flashbacks – we stay on the two actors the whole time. One of the reasons the show was commissioned was to try to attract the 28-35 year old age group back to linear TV.

To make things even more challenging it was shot in both English and Norwegian. The actress was the same for both shoots but the actor was different.

(All the above three shows looked really interesting and definitely worth watching when they hit our screens.)

More from the C21 drama summit – including a fascinating interview by Jane Featherstone of Netflix VP, Elizabeth Bradley, in two weeks time,

Until then,

All the best




Dec 1st 2017


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

Hi There,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

BEGINNING by David Eldridge at the National Theatre, Dorfman.

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

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


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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 1st,

All the best




November 17th 2017





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

Hi There


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


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


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


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

Over to Florence…

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

120 BPM, directed by Robert Campillo. 

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

Wajib, directed by Annemarie Jacir.

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

The Rider, directed by Chloe Zao.

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

The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker.

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

You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay.

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

Sheikh Jackson directed by Amr Salama.

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

The Party directed by Sally Potter.

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

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


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

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

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

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

 Kudos North Writers Award

 Deadline – Monday 20th November @ 1000

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 17th,

All the best




Nov 3rd 2017









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

Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

‘I found this line particularly important – 

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


The next newsletter will be on Friday November 3rd,

All the best




Oct 20th 2017