Posted by admin  /   February 17, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on C4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 1ST WEEKEND FEEDBACK

Hi There,

Jan 26th & 27th was the 1st weekend of this year’s CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE and, as ever, we had some brilliant guest speakers coming into Channel 4 to impart their wisdom to this year’s 12 writers. We had a great mix of writers (mainly) but also a director, producers, script editors, literary agents. Here is a selection of some of the instructive and inspiring things they said –


It’s good to have time to think. But it’s also good to have tight deadlines that motivate you to get work done. Don’t be a perfectionist, it’s probably already better than you think it is.

Never believe it’s real until it’s being shot. Assume it’s never gonna happen.

When working on other people’s shows – watch the show, know its characters and tone, ask to see previous scripts, be collaborative in the room and share ideas, take the opportunity to be a chameleon by showing you can ape the style of the showrunner, and be ready to be over-written. Be generous, as you are serving their vision.

Sometimes it’s healthy to make it artificially hard for yourself during the writing process, so when the “bin fire” of production starts you’re acclimatized to the stress.

Insecurity and arrogance is the odd mixture of a writer, this can sometimes be hard to manage – both for themselves and others.

In TV, writers are still the primary creative unit. However, they are often badly treated.

Remember: It is no longer mandatory for artists to be tossers of any sort.

As a writer you have a responsibility to find yourself in every story you tell.

If you have a deadline, keep it. If you can’t keep it, then be honest with your editor before the deadline so that they can manage expectations around it.

Really choose your production company well – research it, find out who its people are and what they’ve done. This is your due diligence for every meeting. Find those people that get you and bring out the best in you – and then hang on to them. Almost all your work throughout your career will be generated by your relationships with people.

If you have a project in development with a production company and it becomes apparent that they don’t get it, then run down the clock and go find your people.

A script is not literature. If it doesn’t get made, it doesn’t exist.

Writing episodes for a continuing drama series can be a great way to hone your craft and acquire the same vocabulary as those whose job it is to provide notes on your work.

Just like working in a writers’ room, working on continuing drama is a collaborative experience that teaches you to write in a pre-existing tone or style, telling stories in a voice that is not your own.

It’s not uncommon to get “note rage”. You have to step away, take a breath, then go back. You never do all the notes as written, but you always address them in your own way. Even if you don’t agree with the specifics of a note, it is usually flagging something that isn’t working (even if it’s not for the reason the note-giver thinks). You should interrogate the notes you get and it’s good to push back. But choose your battles. It takes a while to learn to pitch your rage appropriately.

Writing doesn’t stop once production begins. Working in the edit to reshape an episode or find its rhythm was a revelation, sometimes small cuts can totally change the energy of a scene, sometimes new material needs to be written to smooth out these cuts.

Working on a continuing drama series can very quickly give you a grounding in screen storytelling and teach you how to work in a machine while retaining part of yourself. Finding the tone of that machine without losing your voice is a valuable skill.

All you can ever do is try to tell the kind of stories you would want to watch.

A lot of the best writers see the world in a slightly different way which is both recognizable and original. As a producer, your job is to harness that difference rather than bash a square peg into a round hole.

Working on something you’re not passionate about really does show on the page.

If you are lucky enough to have different production companies bidding over a script, ask yourself which company’s work do you like best? Who gets it? Who has the best ideas on where to take it?

It feels mad when you’re just starting out saying “no” to people. But it’s important to be aware of your time and think about what you can do realistically.

As a professional screenwriter there are so many different levels and varieties of experience out there – story rooms, writing episodes on series, developing your own projects.

As a writer-for-hire, you need to choose your shows carefully. With which one do you think you could have the most fun? Ensure you can buy into it, but at the same time it’s not your baby so you can be objective. But if you commit to too much, or shows you’re not passionate about, you might end up having to say “no” to better projects and more interesting opportunities.

Read as many scripts as you can, for example – pdfs on the BBC Writers Room or Simply Scripts.

SVODs and British broadcasters have different approaches – the SVODs are quicker, more business-like and less interested in development; the broadcasters are slower but more hands-on.

Working on any kind of show, you have to be flexible and able to address lots of notes and sometimes make significant story changes. This is true in prep, while shooting and in post. You are utilized all the way up to the end.

I like to read scripts from some of my favourite shows.

As you go into production, you need to learn not to be precious as things always change in shooting and edit. It can be a tricky time as you will need to be on-call for tweaks and amends.

I like to watch the rushes to see what works for the actors, what they have difficulties with. Sometimes you forget that the end goal is for your work to be read aloud.

It’s good to have writer friends with whom to share advice and commiserate. But keep your bad experiences off Twitter!

Life as a writer is hard. There are very few good screenwriters. A lot of the scripts I work on (as a producer) don’t end up being good enough and that’s why they don’t get made. But if you write something good, it’s not hard to break into the industry.

On average, I’d say the ratio is 1:10 in terms of shows in development to shows that get made.

Being collaborative is very important, but you do not have to agree with everything and it’s fine to push back on notes. People respect writers with strong feelings, but don’t push back as a knee-jerk reaction. Often your collaborators will be very experienced, and their opinions will be worth listening to. But if anyone tells you they have story rules you must follow, it’s bullshit.


Your script editor is possibly the most important person you work with. Be upfront about your insecurities, state how you like to work, be collaborative, take criticism and recognize a good idea when it is offered. In return they will offer a forensic knowledge of the script which is incredibly helpful for scheduling, continuity, and amends as production nears.

The relationship with your script editor is incredibly important. So, if it’s not working, get another one. But when it does work, you can form an intimate and creative unit – which can sometimes be thrilling but can sometimes risk losing objectivity. So, as a script editor, you need to remember you work for the show, rather than the writer. Your responsibility is to the work.

The skill of giving a note is that it should never be prescriptive. The skill of taking a note is listening to what is underneath it.


To get your head around the dynamics of an adaptation, it’s a good exercise to watch the finished adaptation alongside reading the source novel.

When adapting a novel, you have to be respectful of the source material, but you also bring your own agenda to it.

The next newsletter will be on March 8th and will be Part 2 of this feedback from the Channel 4 screenwriting course 1st weekend – with thoughts on literary agents, the writing process, the spec script, writers rooms & more!

All the best






February 22nd 2019


Posted by admin  /   February 07, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE WAY, WAY BACK


Hi There,

A few evenings ago I was slumped on the sofa without anything obvious to watch until I saw that TWWB was on again on Film 4. From the very first scene I was transfixed and reminded of what an outstanding film this is.

Another reason why I gravitated back to it is because it came up in conversation recently – when a producer I’m working with referenced it as the sort of story / tone / quality that they aspire to. Interestingly, they also referenced THE DESCENDENTS, another wonderful film written by TWWB writers Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

It got me thinking about WHY TWWB is such a good film and googling the writer / directors – Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (Faxon & Rash – memorable partnership name!).

One of the first things I came across was a press announcement about their next project THE HEART. Here’s the pitch / synopsis –

The Heart centers on Joe (Sam Rockwell) and Lucy (Octavia Spencer) who, while desperate for cash, take the job of delivering a human heart from New York to Florida in 24 hours. When they realize their delivery is destined for a black-market buyer who illegally skipped the donor list, they attempt to reroute it to its rightful recipient.’

As someone who hears and reads a LOT of pitches, that immediately struck me as an excellent one. Why is it so good? I recognise the idea as one that I’ve heard vaguely about in the past (I know someone who had a similar voluntary job couriering organs for transplants abroad). There is something fascinating about this – it’s essentially a simple (menial?) job but at the same time it’s incredibly important and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Even in this two sentence pitch there are several highly dramatic and identifiable character dilemmas and issues – the lead characters are desperate for money and therefore open to temptation; there is a long journey involved – a staple of film narrative and immediately appealing; there is a ticking clock element – they need to get the heart from A to B in a set time before the heart is no longer usable; the stakes change for our protagonists when they discover the heart is destined for someone morally questionable; the ultimate dilemma seems to be their desire to make quick money against the need to do the right thing; and the inference that in doing the right thing they may be placing themselves in danger from the black-market buyer – there is no easy way out of this (That’s why it’s a ‘dilemma’!).

Yes – it’s a cracking pitch. It looks deceptively simple on the page but story ideas this good – and as clearly and economically expressed as this – are gold-dust.

Onto THE WAY, WAY BACK itself. (Incidentally one of the things I’m not sure about is the title! That comma is very deliberately placed and the title is, I suppose, interestingly open to many interpretations. But I don’t think it’s a memorable title – it’s not distinctive enough, and it’s not specific enough – there is also a film called THE WAY BACK.)

One of the great things about the film is that I’ve watched it enough times now to not only enjoy going along for the ride of the story but also to notice different brilliant things each time I watch it. Here are a few random observations –

Like so many of the best films, this film illustrates how character is everything. The characterisations in this film across the board are just wonderful – so many beautifully-observed human, flawed, highly believable, engaging characters. Quite a few of them are objectively unlikeable (in particular Steve Carrell’s character) but he’s still a wonderfully believable, relatable character.


The story is clearly told from 14 year old Duncan’s point of view. Even though there are so many characters who have their own unique stories in this film, you still are in no doubt whose story this is. All the other stories just add colour and texture to Duncan’s story (rather than clouding the focus of the story). Interestingly one of the few (only?) characters who has significant on-screen time who doesn’t have much of a story / agenda as a character is that played by writer / director Nat Faxon.

It also connects to the choices the writers make about what parts of the story we see and don’t see. Sharing Duncan’s POV we also share his prejudices about certain characters and try to read between the lines as he does, trying to work out what is going on in the unfathomable grown-up world and rushing to judgement.

There is such power in this particular POV. Who of us hasn’t spent time with a teenager who hates everyone and knows best about everything? In fact which of us hasn’t been a teenager who hates everyone and knows best about everything?

The Devil is in the detail –

Duncan’s trousers tucked into his socks when he’s riding his (pink, girl’s) bike; what he (and they all) wear – costume, make-up, hair, props, design feel so significant and well-judged. The moment Duncan pulls the pink tassles off his pink female bike. His taste in music.

Character arcs –

Character is story. (Script guru Kate Leys spoke at the C4 course the weekend before last – if you get a chance to listen to her speak, take it – she is a fount of story-telling wisdom and insights. And on this one ‘debate’ about whether the best stories are ‘plot-driven’ or ‘character-driven’ she comes down unequivocally on the side of character – all the best stories start from a place of character.

In this film there are so many excellent, conflicted three-dimensional characters – so many of whom have their own emotional arc and story – Jim Rash as Lewis, Toni Colette as Pam, Sam Rockwell as Owen, May Rudolph as Catlin, Steve Carrell as Trent, Alison Janney as Betty, Anna Sophia Robb as Susanna, Rob Corddry as Kip, River Alexander as Peter. ALL of these secondary characters have their own emotional arcs but this fact doesn’t take the focus away from Duncan as central character and story POV. This is a hugely impressive feat in a 1hr 43min film – and something that we should all aspire to – pretty much all your minor characters need to have their own agenda, their own personal story. These character sub-plots should not only NOT distract from the main character story – they should add to and inform the main character story.

Theme –

There are many different themes – including – divorce and the way the children of divorced parents cope with it emotionally; growing up (dramatized not just through the central character Duncan – but also through the Sam Rockwell and Toni Colette characters). Above all though the film’s main theme seems to me to be the focus on the teenage years, coping with adolescence. The film feels emotionally universal (or is it just me that identifies deeply with this painfully awkward 14 year old boy?).

The importance of place –

In fact a particular place at a particular time – it evokes that feeling of summer holidays. The specificity of the water park and of this East coast US town in the summer holidays. Again this feels utterly specific and distinctive but also somehow universal.

The same character operating in different worlds –

So allowing us to see different facets of the character. (Duncan moving between his house and his – secret – job at the water park).

Sub-text –

There is, for instance, one tremendous scene in which the family play an old board game. The dialogue is entirely about the rules and progress of the board game – but the scene is laden with tension and anger and is about something else altogether. DON’T write on the nose!

There are so many gaps in audience knowledge –

In what we know about the characters and their lives outside of this temporary holiday world. Duncan’s father for instance is hugely present as someone who is referred to and his importance to the story is clear – but we never meet him and we don’t need to. In many ways it’s more powerful being asked to imagine him and bring our own interpretation to fill in this on-screen absence in the story.

And connected to the above – Exposition –

Think very carefully about what back-story information is absolutely essential to the story – it is so often very much less than you think. As far as I can remember there is NO undramatised exposition in the dialogue in this film.

If you haven’t seen the film, I would highly recommend it (as you’ll have gathered).

The next newsletter will be on Friday 22nd.

All the best






February 8th 2019


Posted by admin  /   January 25, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on BEST FILMS OF 2018

Hi There,

This week, script editor JOE WILLIAMS – in what is becoming an annual tradition for this newsletter – has very kindly written up a piece on his favourite films of 2018 –

Films of 2018

‘Happy New Year everyone! Firstly, thanks again to Philip for inviting me back again to chatter about my favourite films of the past year. Last time around, I wrote that the medium was in a state of flux, with auteur directors flocking to the small screen and Hollywood besieged by superhero films and reboots/remakes. Twelve months on, little seems to have changed! 

The main development, I think, this year has been the increasing presence of high-profile films funded by streaming services, most notably Netflix, to the point where debate has begun over where the line between ‘film’ and ‘TV film’ becomes blurred. To those who cherish seeing new titles on the big screen, it’s a potentially worrying development. I was (and still am) keen to see Alfonso Cuarón’s astonishing ROMA on the big screen but none of the dozen-or-so cinemas near me were screening it. It’s a double-edged sword though because, to Netflix’s credit, they have enabled some of the world’s most exciting directors (living and dead!) to produce and release films on their service. Last year, new films from the likes of Cuarón, Paul Greengrass, Gareth Evans, Alex Garland, the Coen Brothers, Duncan Jones, and even Orson Welles have debut on the platform. Still, as I said last year, in the midst of all this there have still been a fair few crackers released in UK cinemas 2018. 

At the top of the list is one of the very first films I saw in 2018: Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD. In spite of INHERENT VICE’s messiness (though I’m a big defender of the film, which perfectly captures its madcap source novel) and THE MASTER’s stately chill (having seen it three times, it’s easier to admire than to love) I went in with expectations pretty high. It surpassed all of them and I think it’s almost on a plain with his ‘holy trinity’ of BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. A deceptively simple story of the romance between a fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his muse (an underrated Vicky Krieps), it’s subtle, beautifully shot, fascinating, and at times achingly moving. Not that he needs any more awards, but it’s a great pity that Day-Lewis was denied an Oscar to Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill. Oldman (much as I love him) did an impersonation; with Day-Lewis, you are seeing a fully-fledged human being. I can’t wait to see what PTA has up his sleeve next.

In a close second is the aforementioned ROMA, a film that single-handedly justifies Netflix’s entry into the film world, even though it screams to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Clearly an incredibly personal film, it somehow manages to come across as quietly intimate and astonishingly epic, sometimes within the same shot. Like PHANTOM THREAD, you never feel like you’re eating your cultural sprouts while watching it. It’s left-of-centre for sure, but hits you in the gut with its credible and complex characters. It’s the work of a director at the height of his powers and, I think, Cuarón’s best film yet.

The start of the year also brought three top-notch awards contenders: THREE BILLBOARDS…, LADY BIRD, and THE SHAPE OF WATER. While debate perhaps still rages over the character arc centred on a bigoted police officer, McDonagh’s crime drama is still a fierce piece of cinema boosted by sizzling dialogue and two powerhouse performances from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. With LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig delivered a charming and, at times, heart-breaking coming-of-age film full of life, wit, and warmth. It’ll be interesting to see her forthcoming take on LITTLE WOMEN. While I preferred both of these films to the eventual Best Picture Oscar-winner, THE SHAPE OF WATER, it’s still one of Guillermo Del Toro’s most poignant and imaginative films. A fairy tale with a modern sensibility.

Perhaps proving that highbrow American cinema isn’t completely dead, 2018 delivered a slew of offbeat and imaginative non-genre titles. My favourites in this realm included: the justly-praised and quietly compelling LEAVE NO TRACE; the utterly bonkers retro revenge thriller MANDY, featuring Nic Cage in his best and ‘Cagiest’ performance in years; the darkly comic and twisty THOROUGHBREDS; Paul Schrader’s tormented FIRST REFORMED; and the truly bizarre and unique MY FRIEND DAHMER, which frames the notorious serial killer’s teenage years in the style of a Wes Anderson film.

This year also delivered two superb and very different horror films. While I’m aware not everyone was on-board with Ari Aster’s supernatural breakthrough HEREDITARY, for me it was a genuinely unsettling and completely unpredictable chiller. I went into it cold and was hooked from start to finish. The same was also true of tremendously suspenseful A QUIET PLACE, a film much-lauded for its atmosphere and brilliantly simple premise (in which survivors have to stay silent to avoid monsters who prey on noise). Famously, people were warned against eating snacks in the cinema in order to preserve its tense ambience and in the screening I went to everyone was compliant. It was a true big-screen experience that I can’t imagine works as well at home. It also marks former OFFICE star John Krasinski as an unlikely director to watch for the future. 

Moving into more mainstream territory, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT, by far the most fun I’ve had in the cinema all year long. It’s nearly two-and-a-half hours long yet never drags and is stuffed with seemingly dozens of terrific action set-pieces and eye-popping stunts. It’s all held together brilliantly by Cruise, now in his fourth decade as a Hollywood A-lister, delivering what could be his best action film yet. While on the action front, the acclaimed BLACK PANTHER proved to be one of the strongest entries in the Marvel canon, helped significantly by its charismatic and complex villain, Killmonger, played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan. Two very different ‘guilty pleasures’ I’d also like to mention: READY PLAYER ONE and A STAR IS BORN. The former, a joyous retro romp from Spielberg (it’s my favourite of his since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN); the latter, an unexpected delight that is sure to do well in the forthcoming Oscars.

Three animated titles stood out for me this year: COCO, a glorious return-to-form from the increasingly-patchy Pixar featuring eye-popping animation and a touching coming-of-age story at its centre; Aardman’s EARLY MAN, which in spite of its traditional narrative is a frequently-funny and always charming work; and the unexpectedly brilliant SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, a funny, imaginative, visually stunning, and post-modern take of the most covered of all superheroes that somehow manages to be the strongest instalment in its long-running and oft-rebooted saga.

Moving closer to these shores, there were plenty of intriguing British films – though not all of them were set in the UK. Alex Garland’s sophomore Netflix thriller ANNIHILATION was a confident and compelling step-forward for one of sci-fi’s most engaging voices. WIDOWS, while not as weighty as Steve McQueen’s previous films, was still a smart, layered, and suspenseful thriller. FUNNY COW, featuring a terrific lead performance from Maxine Peake as a struggling comedian in the 1970s, mixed hilarity and heartbreak convincingly; while the bleak drama BEAST marks its star Jessie Buckley and director Michael Pearce as big names to watch.

Sadly, I didn’t see as many foreign films as I would have liked to in 2018 (I missed out on THE SQUARE, LOVELESS, SHOPLIFTERS and A FANTASTIC WOMAN), I did manage to catch a few standout titles such as: THE GUILTY, an astonishingly suspenseful and unpredictable crime drama set entirely in a police despatch room; the lush and romantic COLD WAR from Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowksi; and the predictably bonkers CLIMAX from French cinema’s greatest provocateur, Gaspar Noe.

Lastly, I’d like to tip my hat to a few film documentaries that caught my eye this year: MCQUEEN was a harrowing and affecting portrait of the famed and tragic fashion designer that never shied away from his faults; Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD utilised genuinely draw-dropping VFX to bring the real-life trenches of WWI to life in a way that has never been done before; FILMWORKER was a fascinating portrayal of Stanley Kubrick’s long-suffering right-hand man Leon Vitali and a must-see for fans of the master; and, finally, there was AFTER THE SCREAMING STOPS, the hilariously awkward Bros documentary that took the country by storm when it appeared on TV over Christmas. Much has been made (not unfairly) of its SPINAL TAP-like quirkiness yet beneath that there’s a strange sadness to its bizarre heroes that gives the film a strange sense of poignancy. And, yes, it is ridiculous you can’t play conkers in Britain anymore!’

Thank you so much Joe – I have a lot of films to catch up on!

The next newsletter will be on Friday February 8th.

All the best






Jan 25th 2019

TRIBUTE Dramatic Monologues SERIES 2

Posted by admin  /   January 09, 2019  /   Posted in New Scriptwriting  /   Comments Off on TRIBUTE Dramatic Monologues SERIES 2


Hi There and Happy New Year,

If you’ve been reading these newsletters for some time, you may know about the series of podcasts I put out a couple of years ago – 13 dramatic monologues about death.


I’ve finally got around to planning the 2nd series and I’ve decided to go in a different direction this time – LOVE rather than DEATH!

SO – here is an invitation to all of you dramatic writers out there – I am looking for 10 x approximately 10-minute (approx 2000 words max) audio dramatic monologues under the umbrella title LOVE – FIRST CONNECTION.

DEADLINE for entries: March 17th 2019. Please email the scripts as PDF attachments to – philip.shelley@script-consultant.co.uk

This starting point, the ‘first connection’ could be the whole story OR it could be just the catalyst to a story about a much longer relationship.

This could be the positive start of something that turns into something far less positive. Or it could be the very unpromising start of a long, deep, rich relationship. And the nature of the relationships could cover anything from lovers, siblings, parent and child, husband and wife, work colleagues, etc etc.

I’m looking for as much variety and diversity as possible in these stories – in terms of sexuality, age, gender, class, region, nationality, race, wealth etc etc.

And as much variety as possible in the range of stories told – highly unlikely combinations, stories that tackle taboos, but also some straightforwardly beautiful love stories.

Some thoughts about what makes (in my opinion) good dramatic monologues –

You need to think about the perspective of the person delivering the monologue. What is their perspective on the story they’re telling? What is their involvement? What attitude / agenda do they bring to the story they’re telling? What defines their distinctive voice and attitude?

What is the time structure of your story? Is this all told in one block? Or is this a story told over several different scenes and several different timeframes? (In this way you can helpfully keep much of the story alive in the present.)

Monologues aren’t easy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all the normal principles of dramatic story-telling don’t apply. But they do! There needs to be a particular and interesting relationship between the narrator and the story they’re telling. Often the ones that don’t quite work are where the POV of the narrator is too neutral and so the exposition is too straightforward and uninflected. We have to get an understanding of, and ask questions about, why the narrator is telling this story. And there needs to be a strong sense of the narrator living in the moment of the scene – rather than just relaying information.

The narrator shouldn’t necessarily be armed with all the information they need / want.

Monologues often work well if you break them up and tell a story over a period of time. Think about the chronology / time sequence of your story.

It’s important that you find a way to give the story and character distinctive lives of their own.

And it’s great if you can be surprising. The umbrella title offers a pretty broad brief – so it’s great if your script can approach the subject in odd, inventive and unexpected ways. I hope you enjoy the challenge. I’m very excited to read your scripts. And if you do submit one – THANK YOU!

As I say, I’m looking to find about 10 of these monologue scripts. Once I have them, I will start planning how to produce them. At this point I can’t guarantee that there will be any money in this project for the writers (or actors) – although I will work hard to see if I can secure some funding – but what I hope I can guarantee is some very useful exposure for the writers whose scripts I choose, and an enjoyable, fulfilling creative journey.

Here are some words from some of the writers who wrote the original TRIBUTE PODCASTS, which I hope will encourage you to want to submit a script for this 2nd series –

I so nearly didn’t send in my entry for the Tribute project.  I was struggling with confidence, and I convinced myself that what I had written was not what was being asked for.  The experience proved to be just so positive, in every way, from Phil’s perceptive and sensitive script editing to the experience in studio (and with the wonderful Sarah Thom, who brought it to life) and then hearing the range and emotional depth of the other pieces.  I am so glad I overcame that self-doubt and submitted my piece, which now sits amidst some extraordinary writing, and I feel really honoured to have been included.


Tribute was fun! A great chance to work on a project with super talented actors and Phil, of course, and see it produced in rapid time. It can be really tough working on long form projects which take an age (if ever) to see the light of day, so Tribute was a real highlight for me and I’d definitely recommend other writers to get involved.


It was a surprise and a major boost to be selected for the first series, particularly when I heard the other pieces of work. They were brilliant! (Listen if you haven’t already!).  It also gave me a much-needed broadcast credit and a way back in to get the conversation started again with people who have liked my work in the past. I think it’s most definitely contributed to interest in my work and certainly opened a few doors.


Having my monologue selected for the Tribute Podcast series came at a time when I was just beginning to doubt my writing ability and boosted my confidence immediately. Seeing the production process from beginning to end was simply a fantastic and valuable experience, giving me a great insight into the collaborative aspect of the creative process. Being part of Tribute knitted me into a wider writing network, helping me to make new friends and strengthening my ties in the industry. It was just fantastic to be involved in.


I’d thoroughly recommend submitting for the next series of TRIBUTE PODCASTS.  I loved it. Phil’s generosity in the way he works meant I felt really valued as a writer and learned a lot, from editing to a deadline, through being in the studio hearing an amazing actor bring my words to life, to the demands of post-production and publicity – and I got to know some awesome people too.  Phil put together a brilliant team and a cracking project and I’m very proud to be a part of it’.


I was a first-time writer on the first series. To have your work expertly edited by someone with a sensitive ear and clear eye is one thing but to then follow the process through to the performing, recording and production of the piece was an exceptional experience. As you can hear, the actors were all excellent and if you haven’t heard your work performed by a first class actor then you are missing half the fun!


My experience of writing and being involved in the recording of Tribute was wonderful from start to finish. My piece was adapted from the eulogy I wrote for my mother who had died only a year before and as such it could have been quite a raw and difficult process, but as ever Phil’s notes on the first draft were helpful and courteously conveyed and the emotional recording was brilliantly handled by himself and Will Mount. Phil is very good at connecting people with each other and building communities. He gathered together a very jolly family of Tributers and there were two or three great pub socials. From the subject of death he created something full of life and joy.


I was very proud to be part of the first series of Tribute. The podcasts were professionally produced with some very talented actors and I enjoyed being part of the community responsible for bringing them to life. As a writer, whenever you see or hear your work you learn something about it that you can’t get just reading the words on the page, and you also of course have the chance to have other people hear and respond to it. I would recommend writers submitting for series two.


From working on the script with top-notch collaborators, to being present at the recording with a terrific actor, the process of bringing the TRIBUTE PODCAST to life was an absolute pleasure. Without doubt, the most fulfilling part is being one of thirteen tributes written by and performed by a talented bunch of writers and performers. I am proud to be part of series one, which is a kaleidoscopic collection of fictionalised eulogies. I cannot wait to listen to the next series. I might be biased, but I think there is little else like it.


I would also like to point you in the direction of a series of interviews by one of the TRIBUTE writers, Robin Bell, with the other 12 writers about each of the scripts. I think these interviews are really good reads (especially if you’ve listened to the monologues under discussion) and will tell you more about the writing process – and what the writers all got out of this process.


The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 25th,

Until then,

All the best






Jan 11th 2019



Posted by admin  /   December 10, 2018  /   Posted in TV Drama script editing  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT MENTORING

SCRIPT MENTORINGhttp://script-consultant.co.uk/script-mentoring/


Hi There,

This week I’m delighted to announce that I’m re-launching and expanding my SCRIPT MENTORING service through my script-consultant.co.uk website (link above).

Apologies to those of you have been enquiring about this part of my script feedback service in the last few weeks and apologies that I have been stalling you!

Before I launched this initiative I wanted to be clear about exactly what it is I am offering. AND in expanding the service, I am delighted to say that three outstanding industry professionals have agreed to be part of this new initiative – with the prospect of more additions in the next few months – so that we can work with more writers (see below for details).

SO – here is an outline of what this SCRIPT MENTORING service will be about –

Why ‘SCRIPT MENTORING’? Having a long-term relationship (rather than just getting one-off feedback on single scripts) will allow for a closer working partnership and will enable you as writer to get continuous feedback on one or more projects and help you to hone your scripts so that they are ready to go out to the industry.

The relationship will allow for a combination of written feedback and face-to-face meetings. It will also combine feedback on specific projects (whether pitches, outlines, scripts) with professional / career advice, according to your need, and as the working relationship evolves.

I hope working on a longer-term basis with someone who you trust and get to know (and who is speaking from a position of real industry knowledge, experience and expertise) will mean that we can go deeper into your projects and be more helpful, constructive and creative in the way we work with you.

Mentoring relationships will last 6 months – 12 months.

The mentorships will comprise of 7 hours of meetings + 10 hours reading and written feedback from your mentor.

In general, meetings should follow on ASAP after you receive written feedback.

All meetings are to be held in agreed public venues in central London – unless otherwise agreed between writer & mentor.

If mutually convenient, Skype meetings are also possible – but face-to-face meetings are preferable. (We are very happy to work with writers who don’t live in London and are happy to work via Skype, phone and email). And while we think face-to-face meetings are always preferable, logistics and cost of travel are up to you).

The exact make-up of the mentoring relationship will be discussed at the initial meeting and as part of the developing writer / mentor relationship (eg whether you work on already existing scripts or start on a brand-new project).

At the end of the mentorship, we hope to be able to connect you (if so desired) to development executives, producers and literary agents – but this cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on your mentor’s assessment of your project/s at the end of the mentoring period. This will be assessed on a project-by-project basis. We cannot give you a guarantee at the start of the process that we will be able to help you promote and market a project.

COST – £1900. (payment details on the website page)

The maximum period for the mentorships is 1 year. This will only be extended if, at any stage, the mentor takes more than three weeks to get feedback to you. The aim will always be to get feedback to you within 3 weeks, hopefully quicker.

SCRIPT MENTORSHIP places are limited. Interested writers need to submit a sample script and writing CV to apply for a mentorship to philip.shelley@script-consultant.co.uk. We will let you know either way within 3 weeks of receipt of application email, CV & script. Covering emails should explain why you want to take up one of the mentorships and what you want to gain from it. (NB We won’t charge for assessing your application). You don’t need to be an experienced screenwriter to be accepted onto the script mentoring – we aim to work with both new and more experienced writers. But we will assess your level of ability – we want to work with writers who we feel we can help.

Please state in your application which mentor you would like to work with.

I will be working as a script mentor but I am delighted that KITTY PERCY, JAMIE HEWITT and JOE WILLIAMS will also be mentoring writers. Here is a brief introduction to all 3 (there is a more in-depth biog of each of them on the website) –


I first met Kitty when she was on the 2015 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course. She wrote a brilliant script to get onto the course, a brilliant script on the course and has continued in that vein ever since. Without a doubt one of the most talented – and generous – emerging screenwriters in the UK at the moment.


I also met Joe though the C4 screenwriting course. He worked as development co-ordinator in the Channel 4 drama department and was a shadow script editor on 4screenwriting 2015 (and – I’m delighted to say – will be one of the 4 script editors on the 2019 Channel 4 Screenwriting Course). He has since gone onto become head of development at Vox Pictures. For Vox/BBC he script-edited the first series of smash-hit series, KEEPING FAITH and is currently working on KF series 2.


Jamie is someone else I met through the Channel 4 screenwriting course – as a script reader, shadow script editor and then as script editor, Jamie has been involved in the 4screenwriting course for several years and always seems to help the writers he works with to maximise their talents. As well as all his work on the Channel 4 course, Jamie has worked on some of the most intense, productive UK TV shows – DOCTORS, HOLBY (BBC), STRIKE BACK (Left Bank/ Sky).

Jamie and Joe have both worked with many new (as well as experienced) writers and (IMO) are two of the most talented, thoughtful script editors working in the UK today.

I have also been talking to other writers and script editors and we will be adding further names to the script-consultant SCRIPT MENTORING in 2019.

All the details – in more depth – are now on my website –




Please can I point you in the direction of screenwriter CHRIS LANG’s new website – https://www.chrislang.co.uk/

Chris is the Real Deal – successful writer of very many UK TV dramas including the perennially excellent UNFORGOTTEN. Chris’s website is a mine of useful information but the ‘Scripts’ section is particularly good. As well as the scripts, there are quite a few treatments and outlines – I think the UNFORGOTTEN series 3 outline is particularly good – a really good example of how to write these incredibly difficult documents. (Thank you Deborah Lewis for bringing this to my attention!)

And – a discussion between screenwriter HOSSEIN AMINI and screen/stage writer CONOR MCPHERSON – which is fascinating about the craft of dramatic story-telling. (Thank you Nigel Pilkington!)



And here’s a link to an excellent article on the Bruntwood Prize website by 4screenwriting alumna SOPHIE WOOLLEY thank you Sophie!




This is the last of my newsletters before Christmas. The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 11th 2019, when I am excited to be telling you about my plans for series 2 of my TRIBUTE dramatic monologues podcast series.

I hope you have a great Christmas & New Year. I wish you the very best for all of your writing endeavours in 2019.

And I’d like to say a massive thank you to all of you for reading these fortnightly newsletters. And a particularly big thank you to all of you who, either by email or in person, have given me positive feedback about the newsletters. It’s very much appreciated and a great motivating factor for me to continue to write them. Thank you!

All the best






Dec 14th 2018





Posted by admin  /   November 25, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2019 : SCRIPT READER FEEDBACK



Hi There,

This week I’m indebted to my very excellent team of readers for the 2019 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE for sharing their thoughts and responses about what has been an intense reading process that we’ve all just undergone in finalising the shortlist of 34 writers for interview.

I’m hugely impressed by my readers’ insights – I think their observations are highly perceptive and will be of great value to screenwriters.


Every reader reads 100+ scripts. Each script is only guaranteed a 20-page read. With 100+ scripts, finite hours in the day, and a dwindling lifeforce, a reader is only going to read beyond page 20 if a script has engaged them. There are several tips one could offer here. But I am going to focus on one: have a meaningful premise and then plot it in such a way that its dramatic question keeps evolving.

For example, let’s say my series is a romcom about two characters called, I dunno, “Ray” and “Philip”. As the writer, I have also decided two things: 1) By Episode 6, I want my randomly named characters to consummate their relationship; 2) At the start of Episode 1, they don’t know each other.

Many scripts submitted this year would write Episode 1 as a bunch of incidents and verbal exchanges in which characters are introduced and by the end of which Ray and Philip are aware of each other’s existence. What does this mean? It means the story for the whole episode is “Ray meets Philip”. Hardly a dynamic, dramatic or gripping premise – really, just one beat stretched over dozens of pages.

So, I need to break down the journey to Raylip’s consummation into interesting or meaningful staging posts. Perhaps a more useful story for Episode 1 is “Philip realises there is something special about Ray”. Well, it gives us something to play with. However, many of the scripts submitted this year would plot this story as: 1) Ray meets Philip; 2) They have a long conversation; 3) As Ray walks away, Philip realises there is something special about him. Again – hardly dynamic, dramatic or gripping.

Although the story of the episode (Philip realises there is something special about Ray) is one piece of the series arc (Ray and Philip Get It On), how that episode’s story is plotted can to an extent be self-contained and deploy all of the usual story-telling tools (e.g. inciting incident, turning point, complication, resolution, etc.) so that its beats take place in a plot that develops, has movement, and maybe surprise. Consequently, Episode 1 keeps you turning the page and is a satisfying narrative experience whilst also establishing the characters, tone, style, and premise of the overall series.

To illustrate: Philip turns up to the first Script Reading meeting late, apologising for the Nutella* fingerprints on his notes, he was throwing out an old jar that was past its best-before date; nervous before his master, sweet-tooth’d Ray can’t believe anyone would let a jar go out-of-date; Philip jokingly suggests Ray would drink a jar down in one go, Ray scoffs that of course he can, Philip thinks he’s lying, an argument escalates and Philip challenges Ray to prove it next week or else get thrown out of the Script Reading Members Club; despite counsel from fellow readers, Ray goes into training but can never manage a whole tub; meanwhile, Philip attends a Channel 4 H&S course and begins to regret his actions; Ray realises he will fail and be thrown out of the script reading circle, he weeps as he reads his last few scripts; at the next meeting, defiant Ray disgorges a tub of Nutella into his mouth, but dehydrates quickly and begins to struggle, H&S trained Philip springs into action and tips the undried tears from the scripts into Ray’s throat for lubrication; Ray thanks Philip, his status as script reader safe for now and… as Ray walks away, Philip realises there is something special about him.

Obviously, this is nonsense and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. But the point is: 1) You can plot a story a million different ways, but many of the submissions don’t plot they simply parse out a premise; 2) A pilot episode needs to introduce characters, its world and series questions, but a good way to do this is through the prism of a self-contained narrative serving a broader arc; 3) With the plot settled on, you can organise your script along a series of evolving questions that help propel the reader forward (e.g., will Philip get to the meeting on time? Will nervous Ray make an idiot of himself at the meeting? Will Ray get kicked out of the Script Reading Club? Can Philip stop Ray from doing something foolish? Will Ray die eating a jar of Nutella?) – thus maximising your chances of a reader reading beyond page 20.

*N.B. Yes, I am eating Nutella as I write this.

Ray McBride


How to write a winning script in 5 cliches

1) Write what you know

This doesn’t mean that if you run a bakery in Brighton, you can only write Brighton based bakery dramas. It means everyone knows something— grief, loss, shame— in a way that nobody else does, and that something-only-you-know is the magic ingredient to any script. The best scripts I read were the ones that were the most honest about this something, whether the setting was post-apocalypse England or a hospital or an office. If it’s real to you, it’s real to me, and if it’s real to me I’m going to care.

2) Get in late, leave early

Every line on the page is precious space, don’t waste it. If the point of the scene is that Annie is pregnant, I don’t need to see Annie going to the pharmacy, getting the test, finding a toilet, waiting for it to be free… just show me the test. Get in, get out, keep moving. A slow pace is the first thing to stop me reading on in a script.

3) Tell your story in the simplest way possible 

There’s a fine line between complex and complicated. There seems to be an urge for new writers to prove themselves by adding time jumps, multiple character threads and dream sequences, but this doesn’t actually prove you can write. Good stories generally know how they want to be told, and good writing is learning how to tap into that. If a story needs a flashback, it will tell you so.

4) First impressions count

Frankly, when I open a badly formatted script, I mark it down in my head. Good formatting not only makes the reading easier, but gives me a sense of the writer’s professionalism and commitment to their craft. Not everyone can afford Final Draft, but free alternatives like Celtx are easy to use and come out beautifully.

Good formatting also means giving me a maximum of five lines of action description per paragraph, labelling your time jumps, and proof reading to make sure you’ve put all the right character names in the dialogue. These kinds of mistakes slow down my reading of the script, and even if the story is good it’ll be hard to shake the negative first impression.

5) Trust your reader, have confidence

Cut your adverbs. Cut any line that starts with ‘he/she feels’. Cut any recapping of the plot so far, or reminding of the stakes. Don’t tell me what’s happening in the story, tell me your story. If it’s strong enough, I’ll get it, and I’ll like it all the more for trusting me to get it

Lily Shahmoon


Think really hard about who your characters are and why your reader or audience will want to spend time with them. Will they have seen a character of this description (eg, a disillusioned millennial stuck living with their parents, a lonely middle aged male detective) before, and if so, how is this version different? Perhaps they’re in a completely unfamiliar setting, or genre? The key is to be distinct without feeling contrived: if you’re having to work too hard to distinguish your character from their cinematic predecessors, it might be a sign that you need to choose someone else as a focus for your story.

Don’t neglect plot. Compelling characters and good dialogue alone won’t keep us hooked – or, crucially, suggest an aptitude for writing TV, which demands scope. And don’t let the plot fizzle out, either: structure your writing carefully to ensure that the characters’ circumstances need to keep evolving right until the end.

Finally: the submissions that stood out were those that left the strongest emotional impact. This doesn’t need to mean high drama, either: some of the most touching moments were in the quietest scripts. What those scripts shared, however, was a degree of focus in the writing that allowed us to become completely absorbed by the story and characters. Without this, it’s impossible to let your critical faculties relax enough to be really moved.

Nancy Napper Canter


Conversation vs. Dialogue:

Lots of dialogue fell into the trap of just being conversational. Of course you want your dialogue to give the illusion of two (or more) people talking naturally but it has to do more for your story than just that, because dialogue in drama (and comedy) is not just people talking. There was a trend in the scripts I read for lots of ‘banter’ (for want of a better word) between characters. The problem with a lot of this type was that there was a sense of fun in these scenes for the writer writing it but it wasn’t adding anything to the scene or the overall story. If you’re a fan of this style then go back to a TV show or film you admire that does it and analyse how it’s done within the context of the scene as a whole. Don’t take into account just the dialogue but all the elements of the scene in how this works.

For the purpose of making a point about dialogue, and this is a really basic example; think of a conversation between two people about a cup of tea and how they like it, which probably at face value isn’t going to be interesting or dramatic, but it could be depending on the characters, the situation, and your voice as a writer.

For example; A wife comes home to her husband and he hides his mistress under the bed and the unsuspecting spouse begins a conversation about if he wants a cup of tea, now there is dramatic impetus to what otherwise would be a mundane conversation. Then what if perhaps the unsuspecting spouse actually knows about the mistress under the bed but still starts this conversation, there are so many elements to play with. The situation informs how the characters act and speak, they’ve got motives, and you’ve got the opportunity for subtext, tension, and therefore; drama.

Or for comedy you only have to think about how well something like The Royle Family tackled seemingly mundane life and conversations and turned them into comedy gold – mainly through absolute clarity of character and their relationships and interactions with each other.

What’s it about?

The less successful scripts I read were unclear what they were about. When we write our reports for Philip we are asked to write a simple Logline or synopsis of what we’d read and there were quite a few occasions where this was difficult because there was a lack of clarity and purpose to the beginning of the scripts. Even if you’re dealing with a complex or surprising plot the premise, generally, should be clear in the opening pages. As a reader (and/or viewer) we want to know what we’re signing up for.

What’s the point?

As a side note to that there were quite a lot of scripts inspired by the politics of our time. If you’re tackling an issue you really need to be clear what your message is and if your plot is really the best vehicle to explore that issue. There were some writers that tackled issues such as #metoo and #timesup, and racism, and sexism, but although their intentions were sincere they missed the mark in actually communicating what I think they were trying to say. If you’re going to tackle anything like this you really have to be clear on what your message is and interrogate how you tell that as a dramatic story.


I’d say one of the main weaknesses in the unsuccessful scripts was plot. There could be a great premise and characters but the plot itself wasn’t engaging or told in an interesting or surprising way. Most writers could have afforded to push themselves harder in finding the best plot to tell their story in a more original way.

And from someone far more prolific and worth listening to than me….

A really useful and concise piece of advice on writing is David Mamet’s memo to the writers of The Unit. Read it, it’s really useful, and be honest with yourself about your own writing and where it could improve and if you’re doing these things.   https://gideonsway.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/david-mamets-letter-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/

Paul Williams


I will keep this brief, as the wise words of the other readers have covered much of our experience. The main thing to say is essentially:

Create characters that you care deeply for, and the reader will care too. This will root them in your plot, ensuring you make the right decisions for their story.

Slightly off topic but important, one pattern that it would be great not to see repeated:

Please treat your female characters with the same respect as you do male characters. If I have to read another character description along the lines of ‘she’s 40 but looks good for her age’, I may scratch my eyes out.

It was a pleasure reading so many inventive, moving scripts – please keep writing!

Amy Chappelhow


Thank you so much to Ray, Lily, Nancy, Paul and Amy for taking the trouble to share their insights – and for the brilliant work they have done as readers for the 2019 C4 screenwriting course. And thank you to all you writers who have had the courage and commitment to your craft for submitting your scripts and giving us the privilege of enjoying your stories.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 14th – in which I will let you know about a new SCRIPT MENTORING initiative I’m starting through my website.

Until then

All the best






November 30th 2018




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


Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much Ann.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Until then

All the best






November 16th 2018



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


Hi There,

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY – National Theatre

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

STORIES by Nina Raine – National Theatre, Dorfman

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


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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 16th.

All the best






November 2nd 2018



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

Hi There,

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 2nd,

All the best






October 19th 2018



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

Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here are some related thoughts  –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A message from excellent 4screenwriting alumna DREW MARKE –


A Call to Arms for our scribing sisters!

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

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

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

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



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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday October 19th

All the best






October 5th 2019