Posted by admin  /   May 29, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHARACTERISATION

Hi There,

With the various scripts I have been reading / working on / watching recently, I have been thinking a lot about what makes for successful, compelling characterisations. There is so much wonderful stuff on TV at the moment and three of the characters that have stood out for me in my viewing over the last few weeks have been – Suranne Jones as Ann Lister in Gentleman Jack by Sally Wainwright; Daisy Haggard as Miri in Back To Life by Daisy Haggard & Laura Solon; and Stephen Graham as Joseph in The Virtues by Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne. All three characters feel unique, charismatic, hugely conflicted and absolutely compelling.

Here is the description of a character who came out of a ‘Creativity’ course I ran recently – created out of an observation of a real person in the concourse of Euston station!

‘Isaac – an orthodox Jewish man in his mid-40’s. Dresses in traditional Jewish clothes. On the day in question he was walking around carrying more boxes than he could manage, in a sweaty, anxious state. Isaac works in his father’s longstanding, traditional hat shop in Golders Green and hates it. His father looks down on him and has always chipped away at Isaac’s self-esteem. Isaac is not good at the job and has no real interest in it. Isaac is single and very private. He is not happy. But what Isaac is good at it is gambling. He is obsessed with gambling and has a real flair for it. It is an addiction but it’s one he is in control of – and over the last few years he has made a very decent income from his secret gambling that has supplemented the paltry income he makes in his father’s milliners.’

I’m very interested in this character too – his secrets and inner conflicts are instantly engaging.

It seems to me that we can never do enough thinking about our characters and how we define them. I have compiled two slightly different lists below – of questions you can ask about your characters. In the first list, none of these qualities are absolute – but I hope all are useful in helping you assess the particular proclivities and qualities of the characters you’re creating. Above all, it seems to me that the really compelling characters are often those who are going through the knottiest internal (and external) struggles. So if your character is an introvert, force them to make an important public speech; if they’re rich, force them into a world of poverty; if they’re urban, transport them to the countryside! Etc etc


Introvert – extrovert 

Active – passive 

Gentle – aggressive

Covetous / bitter – philosophical/ accepting

Open / secretive

Rich /poor

Materialistic / thrifty

Honest / dishonest

Cruel / kind

Solitary / gregarious 

Indulgent/ self-denying

Knowledgeable / ignorant

Scared / bold

Urban / rural

Articulate / tongue-tied

Snob / person of the people

Anxious / relaxed

Self-assured / full of doubt

Religious / sceptical 

Carnivore / vegan

Drinker / teetotaller 

Fashionable / dowdy

Graceful / clumsy

Athletic / out of shape

Beautiful / ugly

Humorous / serious 

Funny / no sense of humour

Conservative / socialist

Patriot / internationalist

Royalist / republican

Sporty / studious 

Old / young

Greedy / charitable 

Fast / slow (mentally & physically)

Loving / hateful 

Animal lover / animal hater

Neat / a mess

Superficial / deep

Sly / open

Conventional / unconventional 

Slim / obese

Tall / short

Smiley / grim-faced

Short fuse / calm

Over-sexed / asexual 

Heterosexual / gay

High-status / low status

Hirsute / bald

Penetrating stare / avoids eye contact 

Energetic / sloth- like

Ambitious / unambitious 

Bully / victim

Employer / employed

Employed / unemployed 

Corporate / freelance

Brazen / discreet

Wind-up merchant / tactful 

Superstitious / rational

Challenging / conciliatory 

Meticulous / spontaneous 

Organised / chaotic

Sociable / unfriendly 

Academic / pragmatic 

Predictable / mercurial 

Ordinary / eccentric 

Vain / unselfish-conscious 

Healthy / ill

Carer / cared for

Patient / impatient

Tolerant / intolerant 

Original / derivative 

Happy / sad

Arrogant / humble


Where are they from?

Where do they live?

House/ flat / caravan / barge etc  + details of their home

Is their house cluttered or minimalist?

What is their job?

What is their height/size?

Who do they live with?

Who do they love?

Who do they hate?

Do they have pet/s?

Do they vote? Who for?

What do they eat/drink?

Where do they shop?

What newspaper do they read?

What is their sexual orientation / proclivities?

What do they wear?

What colours do they wear?

What shoes do they wear?

How do they wear their hair?

Who are they close to?

Who are their friends?

What are their interests/hobbies?

What / Who are they afraid of?

What makes them laugh?

What makes them happy / sad?

What do they watch on TV?

What mode of transport do they use?

Do they have a car? What sort?

What is their religion?

What is their ethnicity?

What public figures do they most admire / hate?

Who would be their 4 dream dinner party guests?

What are their secrets?

What secret habits do they have? Who do they tell their secrets to?

What accent do they have?

What is their significant family history?

TRIBUTE Series 2

I’m still working my way through the many excellent scripts – sorry it’s taking me longer than I expected but I haven’t forgotten about this and will get back to you once I’ve finished all the scripts – which won’t be for a few more weeks, I’m afraid.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 14th,

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 31st 2019


Posted by admin  /   May 16, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on ROBIN BELL

Hi There,

This week, very sadly, the blog is dedicated to the life of writer ROBIN BELL. Robin was writer of one of the 13 ‘Tribute’ dramatic monologues. He was a brilliant writer, as you can hear for yourself, from his ‘Tribute’ monologue. He was passionate about film and story-telling and was hugely generous with his time. He died at the horribly young age of 37. To remember Robin, this week’s blog is the interview Katy Walker did with him about his TRIBUTE podcast, BOOKMARK. Robin himself interviewed the other 12 writers and the interviews are a testament to his perceptiveness and generosity. Robin asked all of us other 12 writers searching, thoughtful questions that made us think about our work and the process and purpose of dramatic writing. They are a brilliant companion piece to the monologues and a mark of Robin as a person. They were his idea and they are an act of kindness and intelligence.

So here is the interview Katy did with Robin –

‘How weird is this? I’m being interviewed on my own blog. I’ll hand over to Katy Walker who interviewed me straight away so we don’t get too bogged down in the oddness.

This week the tables are turned, as the featured Tribute writer is Robin himself, with the intriguing and evocative ‘Bookmark’, voiced by Broadchurch’s own Joe Sims. He could hardly interview himself, could he (well, maybe – he’d probably do a very good job of it, but I volunteered, with a few excellent questions from Will Mount). Here’s what we learned.

 What inspired you to write Bookmark?

I thought Tribute was a great idea. One of my all-time favourite TV shows was Six Feet Under, I loved how it faced death head on. I instantly knew who I would like to pay Tribute to. It was my Nan, who died 10 years ago. I have a note on my phone when this idea was coming together which has words to signify the stories I wanted to tell. It reads “Salad, flying rat, Gifts, long walks, fancying Darren Gough.” I didn’t find room for the last two.
I knew it was becoming a good fit when I felt my idea started exploring what a Tribute actually is, what memories are and the importance of them remaining in the past.

It seems rooted in a bygone era – of deckchairs, ‘salads’ and people called Beryl. And your description of the cat that brings ‘gifts’ is very relatable. How much is this based on your own memories of childhood?

A lot of it is based on my childhood and I wanted it to feel like a memory of childhood, so it has a storybook type feel to it. I’m sure my childhood wasn’t all deckchairs, Beryls and feasts but they are the elements which form lasting memories. I guess you highlight the elements of the past which don’t feel part of the present more because it’s distinctive to that time. The ‘gifts’ part was bigger in the first draft and had a slapstick comedy scene of a rabbit running around a bedroom, but it had to go to stay on plot.

The grandmother ignites in her grandson a great love of reading. How much of Bookmark is a tribute to books/the written word?

I’m not sure if it’s a direct tribute to books and the written word, but that element is in there to highlight how memories are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives – like the salad story that goes from disappointment to greatness or the flying rat punchline. I wanted to make that link between memories and stories. I also wanted the childhood remembered in the Tribute to be heightened and feel like it’s from a book. Kids’ books often feel like an idealised version of what childhood was like. Roald Dahl books often do this, before he throws the darkness in.

Have you ever used a peperami as a bookmark?! What else do you use?

Unfortunately, even though I’ve banged on about the truthful aspects of the Tribute, the peperami is complete comedic artifice. Can you imagine what it’d do to the pages of the book – grease stains, meat smells, urgh shudder, it doesn’t bear thinking about. I have used envelopes and football stickers as mentioned in the Tribute, also cinema ticket stubs, leaflets, bits of fallen plaster and a sock. I’d rather go with what is to hand rather than fold a corner.

Food seems to be a great comfort in this piece. Was this an intentional ‘device’? 

I wouldn’t say it was an intentional device, it was one of the true story elements I started with. I wrote the description of it before I had the story actually, and the structure it eventually gave me the answer and the ending to the piece. I love the initial disappointment of being served a salad as a kid, and then it building up to become a veritable feast. I absolutely love the verve and excitement Joe injects as he describes the food, it’s paced perfectly and really gives that moment great character.

The changes of tone and viewpoint are beautifully done. You switch between reminiscence, philosophy and eulogy and we don’t notice the joins – how conscious was this subtle movement through these transitions?

Thank you for saying that. Having written it I think you’re always more aware of the joins, but I think a lot of the reason they’re covered is in Joe’s performance. He paces the story so well, modulating his performance perfectly to deliver maximum emotion and carry the listener through at the right pace during every step of the way. I was blown away when I first heard it. From a writing point of view, the transitions weren’t something I focused on – with Twisted Showcase we move from domestic to uncanny within a heartbeat, even adding layers of ridiculous comedy on top sometimes so hopefully it is something I am used to.

Your protagonist’s invention is a fascinating idea. How did that come about?

After I had the parts which formed the memories I came up with the invention to tie the story together. As I thought of these memories it got me thinking about what memories really are, how much truth is in them, are they rose tinted, can they be corrupted, things like that. The more I thought about it, the more I began to think about where memories take place, they feel very real and powerful, but obviously, it’s all in your head. That’s when I had the idea of an invention which could take people back to their memories, and make what is in their head physically real. Once I had that idea I realised, if it existed, that there would be a high demand for that. Plenty of different uses as well, but for the purposes of the Tribute I thought I’d just focus on it being used to cope with bereavement. Basically, this is just a long-winded way of saying that I didn’t view the story as being about technology, the focus for me was it was more about memory.

The narrator doesn’t want to be transported back to the sacred memories which he describes? Would you if you could? What one memory would you choose?

After writing Bookmark I’d have to say memories should stay where they are and that I wouldn’t revisit them, but that is a boring answer. Also, I think we’d all love to go back and relive certain parts of our lives so we appreciate them more. I was just watching a Manic Street Preachers documentary on Sky Arts which follows them making the album Everything Must Go after the disappearance of Richey Edwards. It’s a great documentary, and it ends at their first stadium gig at what was then called the NYNEX, Manchester. I was there, and yes it was brilliant, but at the time I didn’t realise the importance and significance of that gig to the band and to their story. So maybe today I’d choose to go back to that gig, knowing more regarding the context with hindsight. But really memory is so powerful that we have the ability to take ourselves back: you can smell a certain fragrance which can take you back to childhood, or hear a certain song which takes you back to your early twenties etc. That’s what I wanted to explore in my Tribute.

You’re the brains behind the Twisted Showcase – is this Tribute a departure in terms of genre? 

If any people who have watched my Twisted Showcase episodes then listen to my Tribute they will probably see it as a departure. It shares the oddness in some respects, and it shares a twist in the tale in that it transpires this warm, cosy story about a bygone era is set in the future and based on an unbelievable piece of tech. Maybe it is more in line with my kids’ TV specs or an amalgamation of those two styles.

What’s your next project?

I’d love to have the clarity to answer this one succinctly. It always seems like I have too many plates spinning at any one time. I’ve been trying to write a feature this year but keep getting pulled in different directions with spec script rewrites on two kids’ TV scripts and an adult crime drama. I’m also working on a stage adaptation of Twisted Showcase, and a few new one page pitches. Finally, there’s a sitcom I’m co-writing with the co-creator of Twisted Showcase, Rhys Jones.

What have you learned from interviewing the other writers?

Oh wow, so much. From the many different ways that ideas come together, to how in control of what messages are told in different writers’ stories, and how they view their own work, and how different writers view the importance of death as a theme. It’s been enlightening.

Which of the other Tributes have stood out for you, and why?

They’re all great and really different from each other. Philip did a great job selecting this bunch to form the series. It’s really tough to select ones out, but I’ll be brutal and just chose one – Eulogy for Tricia Slater by Sarah Penrose. I loved how it extracted humour from the subject of death.

What would you want your tribute to be?

I’m not sure, but make sure there’s a cracking buffet afterwards that people talk about with the same glow Joe Sims gave that salad. Whenever I ask my Mum how a funeral she’s visited went she’ll always mention the buffet first – “They put on a great spread.” That’ll do me.


Thank you Katy and in particular, thank you Robin for the warmth and creativity you brought to so many people. RIP.

This should be a reminder to all of us – to write, write, write. Our time is finite and we all have a lot to say and limited time in which to say it.

This last link is to an article Robin wrote post-diagnosis about what his illness did to his perception and enjoyment of films – it’s a brilliant, profound piece of writing. about what films and stories mean to us on a personal, emotional level

As I was reading it took me back to distant memory of a film experience of my own – it was the last day of the school holidays. As usual I was dreading going back to my boarding school, counting down the holi-days at home. To treat / distract me my mother took me to see THE ALAMO a John Wayne film. I must have been 8 or 9, I remember little about the specifics of the film but a lot about the experience – the anticipation, the excitement that the film induced in me; something stirring and exotic about the scale and drama of the film and something about the whole experience of a trip to a big cinema in a big town (Canterbury I think). Also that it summons up (thanks to the thoughtful and honest trigger of Robin’s writing) a valuable affirming memory of my (now dead) mother’s love and kindness, the thoughtfulness of her act (and I think it was also a treat for her) and the deep emotional, communal power of story and the cinema experience.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 31st (when I will be at the BBC Writersroom Scottish Writers Festival in Glasgow – if you’re there, please say hello).

All the best



May 17th 2019


Posted by admin  /   May 02, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on STEALING CHARACTERS

Hi There,

A few things to recap / catch up on with you this week –

First – thank you very much indeed to all of you who have responded so insightfully and entertainingly to my 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS from two weeks ago. These mini-questionnaires will appear at irregular intervals in this newsletter over the next few months. If you’d like to submit your own answers to these questions, IT’S NOT TOO LATE and your submissions will be accepted very gratefully.

Here are those 10 QUESTIONS again –

1Why do you write?

2 A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d like to tell us about.

3 The best TV / film (screenplay) of the last year and why.

4, 5 Which (2) writers / scripts inspire you and why?

6 What are the best internet resources / podcasts for writers?

7 What are the best books for screenwriters?

8,9 2 pieces of advice for writers

10 When and where do you write?


I would also like to say a massive thank you to all 56 of you who so kindly sponsored me on my cycle ride on behalf of the Fulham FC Foundation from Fulham to Bournemouth two weeks ago. I raised £1,065 (the original target being £500). I really appreciate your generosity. It went to a very good cause, it was a great experience in beautiful weather and the icing on my personal cake was having my photo appear on the homepage of the Fulham FC website! –


I would also like to remind and update you about the 1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING COURSE that I’m running in London on Saturday May 18th. We now have 43 people signed up for this course, which is great – but there is room for more! I’m delighted at the line-up of industry guests we have for the networking / drinks event at the end of the day.

Even if I say it myself, this networking evening is alone worth the cost of the course (£95). (As well as the invaluable opportunity to meet these industry guests, it’s also a great chance for the writers on the course to meet and talk to each other – meeting and sharing experiences with other writers is such an important part of sustaining yourself as a writer). And a packed one day course including sessions with two of the outstanding, up-and-coming screenwriters in the UK as well as this networking evening is more than a bargain (it will certainly be a lot more expensive next time I run this course!)

To remind you about the two screenwriting guests, they are VINAY PATEL and ANNA SYMON. Vinay started in theatre and now moves between theatre and TV. He wrote the outstanding, epic, AN ADVENTURE, that was on at the Bush Theatre late last year. His BBC single film, MURDERED BY MY FATHER won the RTS best single drama award and was nominated for 3 BAFTA’s. And he wrote an episode in the most recent DOCTOR WHO series. Anna has a background in documentary film-making. She has written episodes on C4’s INDIAN SUMMERS. Her first ‘authored’ TV drama serial, MRS WILSON, has been nominated for a BAFTA for best mini-series; and her ITV series, DEEP WATER, is now in post-production. Both are alumni of the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course.

Guests for the networking evening have been added over the last couple of weeks; and confirmed attendees who have very kindly agreed to come along on the Saturday evening now include – seven writers who have been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in the last few years, all of whom have had significant industry successes; and development executives / producers / script editors from these companies – BBC Films, BBC Studios, Tiger Aspect, Leopard Films, Unigram, Shiny Button Productions, Bryncoed Productions, Neal Street Productions, Big Light Productions, Firebird Pictures, Conker Films. As well as the insights and information these people can give you, it will also be really helpful for course delegates to make these industry contacts.


Last week I ran one of my regular Story, Character, Ideas masterclasses at the Indie Training Fund / ScreenSkills in London. For the most part this course consists of a series of exercises / games designed to help writers generate story ideas and create characters. I’m always delighted and amazed with some of the character creations that come out of these exercises. Here are a couple of examples of the characters who came into being through the invention of the course delegates –

Isaac – an orthodox Jewish man in his mid-40’s. Dresses in traditional Jewish clothes. On the day in question he was walking around carrying more boxes than he could manage, in a sweaty, anxious state. Isaac works in his father’s longstanding, traditional hat shop in Golders Green and hates it. His father looks down on him and has always chipped away at Isaac’s self-esteem. Isaac is not good at the job and has no real interest in it. Isaac is single and very private. He is not happy. But what Isaac is good at it is gambling. He is obsessed with gambling and has a real flair for it. It is an addiction but it’s one he is in control of – and over the last few years he has made a very decent income from his secret gambling that has supplemented the paltry income he makes in his father’s milliners.

Maud – is an unexceptional woman in her mid-50’s She lives alone. She divorced 15 years ago and has no desire to enter into a new romantic relationship. She is emotionally self-contained but at the same time dependent on having people who will listen to her – Maud talks A LOT and doesn’t really care to listen. Her current interest is bee-keeping which she has been into for the last few years. She will talk endlessly about it to anyone who will listen. Mostly this is to her resentful work colleagues – she is an administrator for an addiction charity. She used to be a regular member of an all-female book club but reading has had to take a backseat to beekeeping. She’s from the Midlands originally but now lives in the suburbs of Oxford.

Both these characters grew out of initial observation and eavesdropping of a real person on Euston station forecourt. They are a demonstration of how creativity can be opened up and facilitated by looking outwards at people / stories in the real world – as opposed to staring at a computer screen until your brain bleeds.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 17th

All the best




May 3rd 2019


Posted by admin  /   April 18, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 10 SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS – AN INVITATION


Thank you to everyone who has already signed up for this course. I have booked a BIG room so there are still some places available. To recap – it will work both as an introduction for newer screenwriters but also as an inspiring refresher and kick-start for more experienced writers. We have two fantastic – both BAFTA-nominated! – screenwriters as guest speakers – VINAY PATEL (Murdered By My Father, Doctor Who) and ANNA SYMON (Mrs Wilson, Indian Summers). And the day concludes with a more informal networking event, which will be attended by several screenwriters who have graduated from the Channel 4 screenwriting course and are already making an impact in the industry; and script editors / development executives from some of the top UK productions companies (eg Tiger Aspect, BBC Films) – all of whom are there for you to meet and ask questions of. All the course details are on my website –

Hi There,

This week, I have set myself – and answered – 10 QUESTIONS ABOUT SCREENWRITING. The point of this is to inspire YOU to do the same. Please view this newsletter as an invitation. However experienced / seasoned / knowledgeable you are (or not), I would love to receive your answers to these same 10 questions so that I can include them as a regular feature in these newsletters in the future. Thank you very much!

Here are those 10 QUESTIONS –

1Why do you write?

2 A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d like to tell us about.

3 The best TV / film (screenplay) of the last year and why.

4, 5 Which (2) writers / scripts inspire you and why?

6 What are the best internet resources / podcasts for writers?

7 What are the best books for screenwriters?

8,9 2 pieces of advice for writers

10 When and where do you write?

And here are MY answers to the questions –

1Why do you write?

Hmm, well I don’t write nearly enough and I keep meaning to find the time to do more of it because when I do, I find it hugely fulfilling. Most of the (little) writing I have done in the past year or so has been on my phone on a tube train returning home from watching a show that has inspired me to write! I write when I feel inspired to, when I am in a heightened emotional state. But I understand that real writers don’t / can’t wait for that to happen – writing needs to be a daily habit!

2 A book you’ve enjoyed that you’d like to tell us about.

Two books recently that I have really connected with – Middle England by Jonathan Coe. I think Jonathan Coe is a fantastic writer. This is an ambitious book about England in the grip of Brexit paralysis – but, like all his books, is rooted in engaging, brilliantly observed characters and relationships. The other book is an autobiography A Life Of My Own by biographer Claire Tomalin. It’s beautifully written and – while quite under-stated – describes a life of huge emotional peaks and troughs. Both these books have great heart and humanity.

3 The best TV / film (screenplay) of the last year and why.

I could say any of the episodes of FLEABAG, series 2, which IMO, has been a work of screenwriting genius – but I fear that is a bit too easy / predictable. So I’m going to cheat here and break my own rules by mentioning 4 other projects! On TV – PATRICK MELROSE and SUCCESSION, both of which in their different ways were absolutely outstanding. And in the cinema, two little-publicised films, THE FIGHT, written, directed by and starring the wonderful Jessica Hynes; and HAPPY NEW YEAR COLIN BURSTEAD, written and directed by Ben Wheatley, with a fantastic ensemble cast – a vicious, funny and very engaging dissection of a horribly dysfunctional family get-together – still available to watch on BBC iplayer!

4, 5 Which (2) writers / scripts inspire you and why?

Two random choices out of God knows how many I could have plumped for – King Of Comedy, a Scorsese film written by Paul D Zimmerman. Probably my favourite Scorsese film. I love the unsettling, warped tone and it’s a brilliant critique of celebrity / stalking that is still hugely relevant today; and one of Michael Frayn’s lesser known plays, MAKE AND BREAK, that I saw several times in the West End a very long time ago starring Leonard Rossiter and Prunella Scales. A study of a very mundane UK company that makes doors and partitions, it’s all about the wonderful characterisation and relationships. These were two of the (many) formative scripts that made me want to work in the world of dramatic writing.

6 What are the best internet resources / podcasts for writers?

John August and Craig Mazin’s scriptnotes podcast is constantly inspiring and entertaining. And the BAFTA guru website is packed full of invaluable stuff. And as I was writing this, I received another excellent email from ‘The Play Ground’ from Nick Hern books – this time advice from playwright Stephen Jeffreys (who very sadly recently died) about playwriting and his forthcoming book which I’m sure will be great – Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to Write by Stephen Jeffreys.

7 What are the best books for screenwriters?

One I came across relatively recently that I have a lot of time for is THE ART OF SCREENPLAYS by Robin Mukherjee – an excellent combo of story-telling principles and practical advice from a writer who has extensive and recent industry experience; and two books by Rib Davis that keep getting reprinted for very good reason, ‘Writing Dialogue For Scripts’ and ‘Developing Characters For Script Writing.’

8,9 2 pieces of advice for writers

Don’t second guess the market – write exactly what you want to write – ie be distinctive and be yourself.

Go out into the big, bad world to find your characters and your stories. There is so much in the world that is inspiring and infuriating – be outward-looking. Your writing needs to reflect the world you live in.

10 When and where do you write?

As above, I seem to mainly write on tube trains on my telephone!

I hope very much that my answers will inspire / spur you into writing up and sending me your own answers to these questions. Thank you very much and I will look forward very much to hearing from you.

Finally this week, a gentle reminder that as you read this, I am (hopefully) sat on my bike churning out the miles from Fulham to Bournemouth, raising sponsorship money for the Fulham FC Foundation. I want to say a massive thank you to so many of you who have sponsored me. It is very kind of you and will be a great motivating factor to get me through the pain barrier! If you’d still like to sponsor me, for a very good cause, it’s not too late!

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 3rd.

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

April 19th 2019

1 Day Screenwriting Course

Posted by admin  /   April 04, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 1 Day Screenwriting Course

Hi There,


An update on my two upcoming central London screenwriting courses. The 2 day screenwriting course on June 8-9 sold out within 10 hours of my sending out the last newsletter. Apologies to anyone who applied too late – I hope to run another of these courses in the autumn.

My new ‘1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING’ has had a lot of interest / bookings but, unlike my 2 day course is not limited to 20 people – so there are still places available. I’m very excited to be running this new course and particularly excited that writer VINAY PATEL – who was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015 and has since gone on to great success, in particular, winning the RTS Best Single Drama award for his first TV credit MURDERED BY MY FATHER (BBC) and writing on the most recent series of DOCTOR WHO (BBC) – will be analysing and discussing the script from an episode of one of my (and his) favourite TV series of recent years – BETTER CALL SAUL.

The course will not only be an introduction to screenwriting for less experienced screenwriters – with vital information about all the essential aspects (including for instance, screenwriting software, professional layout and formatting) – it will also be a celebration for more experienced screenwriters of why screenwriting is such an exciting form of dramatic writing. We will illustrate everything we discuss with inspiring clips from many different films and TV shows, covering all the essential elements of what makes for powerful, exciting screenwriting – Story, Character, Dialogue, Genre, Tone, Format, Structure, etc.

The aim of the course is not only to give you a good grounding in the essentials of screenwriting but to inspire you about the creative possibilities of the craft.

Towards the end of the day we will cover the more pragmatic side of screenwriting – how you can get your work noticed and make inroads as a professional screenwriter. I’m delighted to say that for this part of the course I have been able to add a 2nd guest speaker to the day –  ANNA SYMON, who was on the Channel 4 Screenwriting course in 2013 and has since gone onto great screenwriting success – most recently with her hit BBC serial MRS WILSON; and her new series DEEP WATER will be on ITV soon. Anna is the perfect writer to guide you through the steps you need to take to break into professional screenwriting.

And as a natural follow-up to this, the day will conclude with a social / networking event in a nearby pub where you, the writers can meet and interrogate me and other people whom I’ve invited from the screenwriting industry in a less formal setting. I will be paying for the first £100 of drinks in the pub (nothing like alcohol as an inducement!) I’m currently working on the line-up of industry people – it will be a combination of screenwriters who have done the Channel 4 screenwriting course and who are now having some success in the industry and script editors and development executives whose job it is to seek out and support new writing talent. Confirmed guests so far include  – development executives from BBC Films and Neal Street Productions, a script editor from Tiger Aspect Drama and four writers who have recently been on the Channel 4 Screenwriting course and who are now making significant strides in the industry – all of whom can give you invaluable screenwriting craft and career advice in a relaxed, informal setting. And I will be adding more of these industry guests over the coming weeks. For you writers and budding writers, it will also be a great opportunity to meet each other and share writing experiences.

This one day course & networking event costs a very reasonable £95 –

I am also running a one day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass at the Indie Training Fund / Screen Skills in London on April 25th.

TRIBUTE Series 2 Update

Thank you so much to all 80 of you who submitted scripts for the 2nd series of my dramatic monologue podcasts. I am having a very enjoyable time working my way through the scripts – I am reading every word of all 80 submissions. I’ve currently read nearly half of them. The standard is very impressive and the choice of the scripts I’d like to develop further and record will be very difficult. It will take me a few more weeks to finish reading them all and make a decision about the short-listed scripts. I probably won’t be able to get a definitive response to writers until the end of April / start of May. Apologies for the delay but I want to do the scripts justice and not rush them.


There have been some cracking new TV shows recently. Like everyone else (it seems), my highlight at the moment is series 2 of the incomparably excellent FLEABAG. The writing is so original, fresh, subversive, touching and above all funny. What a talent Phoebe Waller-Bridge is! And what a brilliant cast.

The first episode of the new LINE OF DUTY series didn’t disappoint. I was very taken by Lucy Mangan’s Guardian review of it –

‘It’s ridiculous, unbearably tense and instantly addictive. As ever, nothing is wasted; not a scene, not a line, not a beat. It fits together flawlessly – you can imagine Mercurio sitting like a watchmaker at his table with the parts spread before him and fitting the loupe to his eye before assembling the whole thing and listening for its perfectly regulated tick.’

There is something ridiculous about it. (If you do twitter, there’s a brilliant spoof scene by @iron_madin). But it has such flair, pace and drama, and Jed Mercurio is a master story-teller, so I buy into the ridiculousness and just enjoy the ride. I particularly concur with Lucy Mangan’s view that ‘nothing is wasted; not a scene, not a line, not a beat.’ A real mark of quality story-telling.

Although general response seems to be less unanimous on this, I greatly enjoyed RUSSIAN DOLL on Netflix. It’s a slow burn so I’d urge you to stick with it if you find it slow going initially. It gets better and better and I loved its imagination and ambition. A show this adventurous and unique feels like a real antidote to some of the stodgier recent fare on UK terrestrial TV.

And there have been some brilliant, event-TV documentaries recently, Louis Theroux’s THE NIGHT IN QUESTION but in particular, Dan Reed’s Michael Jackson doc, LEAVING NEVERLAND. This was TV story-telling at its best. It absolutely justified its 4 hour running time. It was compelling and important – and had a lot of lessons for fiction storytellers and screenwriters about subject matter and story structure. The way key information was withheld and teased out was so well-judged.

If you’re looking for a good theatre show, can I recommend Kieran Hurley’s outstanding two-hander MOUTHPIECE, which has transferred from the Traverse Edinburgh to the Soho Theatre in London. And I have heard excellent things about Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s GHOSTS STORIES at the Lyric Hammersmith.

GHOST STORIES is featured in the most recent Nick Hern Books ‘The Playground’ blog about theatre writing. If you’re interested in any form of dramatic writing, ‘The Playground’ is consistently interesting and insightful.

A (late – excuse the pun) nod to two great screenwriters / film-makers who have died in the last few months – William Goldman & Nicholas Roeg.

Between them they were responsible for some of the most memorable films of the last 50 years. Goldman – Butch Cassidy, The Sting, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, All The President’s Men, Misery. Roeg – Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Walkabout, Performance, Insignificance, Eureka.

An incredibly impressive list of  memorable, ground-breaking films.

They both also wrote brilliant books about screenwriting / film-making – Nicholas Roeg, ‘The World Is Ever Changing’ and William Goldman, ‘Adventures In the Screen Trade’ and ‘Which Lie Did I Tell?’

Finally a slightly cheeky request – please feel free to ignore this completely. On April 19 & 20 I have foolishly committed to cycle from Craven Cottage, Fulham FC’s ground to AFC Bournemouth – 140 miles over 2 days for a very worthwhile cause – raising money for FFC’s charity, the Fulham FC Foundation, that does great work in SW London – recently featured on Match Of The Day

They run schemes for Disability (including one of London’s first Downs Syndrome football teams), Social inclusion (see the MOTD video about working with refugees and asylum seekers), Health and Education, engaging with more than 12,000 people each season. As I say, please feel free to ignore this but if you would like to make a donation to this very worthwhile cause, perhaps you can see it as a favour in return for all the screenwriting newsletters! Thank you!

Here is the link to my ‘justgiving’ page –

The next newsletter will be on April 19th. Until then,

All the best




April 5th 2019


Posted by admin  /   March 22, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 2 NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES

Hi There,

I’m very pleased to announce that I will be running two courses in central London in the next few months.

A brand new one-day Introduction to – and Celebration of – the wonderful craft of SCREENWRITING on May 18 and my 2 day SCREENWRITING course – about Craft and Career – over the weekend of June 8 & 9.


This one-day course is designed for entry-level screenwriters. You don’t need to have any screenwriting experience to take this course BUT it is ALSO suitable for more experienced screenwriters – it will be an inspiring and re-energizing refresher – reminding you of everything that is exciting about screenwriting.

This will not be as interactive and participatory as my two-day course – but there will be an opportunity to ask questions of the speaker at the end of every session.

The 10 -5 day will be followed up by a relaxed, non-pressured networking event in a nearby pub – where you can meet and share experiences with each other and meet the guest speakers (and other specially invited industry professionals) in a more relaxed setting and ask any further questions that you have. Full details of this post-course event TBC. This one-day course costs £95.


10.00 INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE – and a celebration of the best screenwriting.

10.30 WHAT IS SCREENWRITING? A nuts-and-bolts examination of how to write a screenplay – from outlines, treatments & pitches, script development – to formatting and laying out your script.

11.30 BREAK

11.45 – 1.00 SCREENWRITING PRINCIPLES & TIPS – how story-telling works on screen – with a series of clips to illustrate the principles discussed. Covering all the elements of a screenplay – story, character, dialogue, structure, genre / tone, stylistic devices, format, etc.

1 – 2    LUNCH


Screenwriter / playwright VINAY PATEL (DOCTOR WHO, MURDERED BY MY FATHER, THE GOOD KARMA HOSPITAL, TRUE BRITS) will undertake a SCRIPT-TO-SCREEN analysis and appreciation of an episode of TV show, BETTER CALL SAUL.

Vinay will also answer questions about his own work as a screenwriter.

3.30 BREAK


Peer support – Knowing the industry – Educational & Inspirational Opportunities — Showcasing your work – Networking.

4.30 – 5.00 Conclusion / Q & A session – your chance to ask any screenwriting question – either following up on issues raised during the day or any questions on issues not covered.

BUMPER COURSE HANDOUTS available on the day for each delegate.


This is a course I have run three times in the past (see the testimonials on the web page) but not for a year or so. I’m very pleased to be able to run this course again.

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

On Day One, NATHANIEL PRICE – alumnus of the Channel 4 Screenwriting course 2017, with credits on TIN STAR, BBC3’s FIVE BY FIVE and THE BREAK – as well as a raft of other projects in active development. In a previous life Nathaniel was a professional footballer on Crystal Palace’s books, whose career was cut short by injury.

Nathaniel will be talking about CRAFT – his observations about story, crafting a screenplay and the process of screenwriting in general.

On Day Two –

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

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

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


 DAY 1

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

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

NATHANIEL PRICE – Crafting A Screenplay.

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

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

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

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

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


Will cover…

PITCHING – with an interactive pitching exercise.

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

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


Lessons to be learnt from successful screenwriters’ career paths.


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

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

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

Places Are Strictly Limited at 20!

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

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

There is a FREE, recommended screenwriting book for everyone who signs up AND a bumper pack of invaluable HANDOUTS for all delegates on the course.


For the two days of the course, the cost is a very reasonable £195. Based on some of the successes and feedback of previous attendees of my courses, I’m happy to say I think this is excellent value for money, and I know this course can act as a powerful weapon in your aims to fulfil your potential as a professional screenwriter.

You can book on my website, and get more in-depth information (especially about the three guest speakers) –


Saturday + Sunday June 8th & 9th 2019, 10.00- 5.00, Central London – And I’ll be available on both days in a nearby pub afterwards to carry on the conversation. (One of the most important parts of the course IMO!).

NB I already have a long waiting list of people who have expressed an interest in this course and the last few courses I’ve run have sold out well in advance. If you’re interested in doing this course, early booking is recommended!

PS As of 8am today there are now only 14 places still available on this 2 day course.


Finally this week please can I point you in the direction of a short but excellent screenwriting book that is published this week. I read an advance copy and I thoroughly recommend it –

The book is called THE WALL WILL TELL YOU by celebrated US screenwriter Hampton Fincher. It’s slim and pithy, full of wise, thought-provoking epithets.

The publisher’s blurb – ‘As a producer and screenwriter, Hampton is perhaps most famous for writing Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. In this, his first non-fiction book, he shares his thoughts and experiences on script-writing in his own unique style. The Wall Will Tell You is written in short, considered paragraphs, his words of wisdom offering guidelines to aspiring script-writers while also giving a glimpse into his creative mind…’ – is accurate.

All the best




March 22 2019


Posted by admin  /   March 05, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE GUEST SPEAKER NOTES Part 2

Hi There,

This is Part 2 of the notes from the guest speakers talks at the 1st weekend of the Channel 4 screenwriting course in January.


If beat sheets don’t come naturally to you, then get used to faking it.

In your first draft you should aim to get it all out, get what it is on the page, the heart of it. This is the key responsibility of the writer and script editor. Your second draft will constitute the heavy-lifting of honing, re-shaping and improving. Subsequent drafts should be more about fiddling with the edges, with tweaks and amends.

Expensive adjectives often get cut in shooting scripts.

The process of TV writing starts publicly with pitching (which most writers hate and find difficult but is essential as it is the communication of a complex idea in its most simplified form). Then the process becomes intensely private and lonely. Before becoming extremely public again. These transitions are difficult as everyone has an opinion about what should happen in your work.

It’s important to learn structure, and then unlearn it.

Stories are about people. You have to find the beating heart and pull those threads into a wild brave form.

It’s a good idea to cut things that make it too easy for your characters.

I hate exposition. Can’t bear it. I try everything to strip it out in the edit. That’s my bugbear, when you’re telling people things, or the plot is overlaid instead of being derived from character. It can cause problems on set with actors if they don’t feel it is real, their instinct is to resist it and then you need to change things on the fly.

When characters are worn and flawed is when it really works. When plot is like a breath.

The thing that I’ve learnt from editing is that a lot of dialogue always gets cut, no matter how much you love it. I often encourage writers to cut unnecessary dialogue. Sometimes things work well on the page but don’t fit with the visual tone of a piece.

Be careful when taking a note. Don’t do so unquestioningly and lose the good stuff. Gauge whether you’re at the revolution or evolution stage.

There’s no such thing as a bad note. You don’t have to accept all notes though. You can challenge them, but you must have a reason why. Even if you don’t agree, they are signalling that something is wrong. If someone is asking a question of your script, listen to it, but you don’t have to agree with the answer.


In relationship-based shows, finding a hooky pitch is one of the hardest things in TV.

I suspect that long-form big story dramas told in shorter episodes will be a coming trend as telecommunication companies around the world are looking to commission new dramas.

There is so much demand for content now, that there is a lot of interest in new writers. There are many more places nowadays that want dramas for younger audiences. With the amount of drama out there, a good clear grabby concept that differentiates itself from the rest is vital.

There is no science to the commissioning process. Commissioning Editors develop relationships with writers and producers but usually they don’t know what they want until they see it. They then help develop it to suit their channel and lobby for it with the head of the channel – arguing both on grounds of commercial viability and taste. Once commissioned, the Commissioning Editor will work like an uncredited Executive Producer giving notes at every stage.


Meetings are very important – go with a) ideas and b) an open mind and see where the conversation takes you. Is there chemistry and rapport? It’s so important to be able to talk and communicate well to cement relationships.

At meetings have ideas ready, it would be weird as a new writer if you came to a meeting without ideas to pitch. Sometimes people don’t want you to pitch. If the production company likes you and resonates with you, they might invite you to pitch. If they don’t, it’s fine to ask if they want you to pitch or ask what kind of thing they are looking for and then follow it up after you’ve thought about it.

When meeting producers or broadcasters, it’s always helpful to have ideas. But not so fully-formed an idea that they don’t feel they could have any input.

Meetings in the UK tend to be more relaxed than those in the US, often it is just a general chat. But it’s good to clarify at the beginning if you have any ideas that you are working on. Don’t forget to ask about them – do your homework and discuss their shows. You’re both trying to work out if you’re the kind of people they want to work with! If they mention they are playing with an idea, you could offer to send them a short pitch doc as follow-up from the meeting.


Increasingly the UK is adopting the American writers’ room model. But the British version is still a work-in-progress. By comparison we do not pay as much and nor are our writers as empowered.

Writers’ rooms can be great, but in this country we’re still working out how to do them properly. Not all writers’ rooms are created equal. You have to judge where you are and what you can get out of it – is it a good opportunity for you? On the one hand, collaboration can be fun, on the other, you will have your ideas harvested for little pay or credit.


Choosing an agent is about chemistry, like finding a therapist. Go with your gut. It’s better to have an agent than not. But it’s awful to have one you don’t get on with. So be choosy and shop around. Do they get your work? Do they understand your ambition? Do they care about your well-being? It’s okay to ask other writers with an agent what they think of them.

I said ‘yes’ to the first agent that approached me. But the relationship just wasn’t productive and so I ended up moving agents which was horrible. Production companies read work from agents they respect and not from those they don’t. A good agent will do a lot of the work for you, but you also must put in the hours – at networking events and being prepared when you go in for meetings with producers.

Don’t waste your time chasing agents, put your energy into your craft and at the right time an agent will come to you. When that “right time” is, is different for every writer. Every writer has their own journey.

If you’re determined to approach an agent, then do your research – use Google, imdb, the agent’s website, even call the agent’s assistant and inquire about what kind of people they work with and the type of writers they might be looking for. If you approach an agent yourself, you should be respectful and knowledgeable – say you think you might be a good fit because they represent X, Y & Z. A little bit of research goes a long way.

The relationship with an agent can be intense – both lovely and horrible at times. It can be exhausting and amazing. Therefore you need to trust them.

Your agent is there to read first drafts before they are first drafts. To give an opinion on what it is or should be or if there’s already similar work out there.

As an agent you’ve got to show your writers all the opportunities open to them and advise them what to do. But, ultimately, it’s the writer’s decision how much work to take on or whether to say “no”.

If an agent thinks a production company does good work and will treat their clients well, that would drive the decision to try and match producer and talent to see if they can grow and develop from there.

The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) offer free advice for un-agented writers.

If you haven’t got an agent, don’t worry. Take your time and choose who’s right for you. You’re allowed to take your time and make a decision.

Agents are really, really important. The most common way a production company is introduced to new writers is through agents. You should put a lot of energy into work that will get you an agent.

If you write well, an agent will want you. If an agent rejects you, you might not be good enough yet. So keep writing.


Your spec script is really important. If possible have more than one so you can show off your range. If not, then write one that contains both comedy and drama.

It’s healthy to have more than one spec script and/or idea in development, because then you’ll be less heart-broken when one project founders.

If producers don’t see you as a particular type of writer, but you think they’re wrong, then it’s not a bad idea to write a spec script that puts you in the light you want to be seen in.

Your calling card script is probably the most important thing you will ever write – even if it never gets made.

If you can write funny, try and write funny. If you are a new writer who can make a reader laugh, they won’t care about your lack of experience.

Choose your spec script carefully. Don’t write a comedy script if you don’t want a career in comedy. The kind of show you want to make should be your calling card script.

A huge thank you to the excellent Ray McBride for writing up these notes!

Finally a brief reminder that the deadline for TRIBUTE podcast series 2 – a series of dramatic audio monologues under the umbrella title, ‘LOVE – FIRST CONNECTION’, is midnight on March 17th. I won’t be accepting any scripts after then. To all of you who have already submitted a script or who are going to – thank you so much.

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 22nd.

All the best




March 8th 2019


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