Aaron Sorkin BFI interview notes

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

Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally this week a couple of recommendations –

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday February 23rd

All the best






Feb 9th 2018


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


Hi There,


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

Here are some random notes from the weekend –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 9th,

All the best






Jan 26th 2018


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

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



Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much Joe.

The next newsletter will be on Jan 26th.

All the best






Jan 12th 2018



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

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




Hi There,

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


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

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

JF: What are Netflix looking for?

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

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

Some examples of recent UK commissions –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C21 PITCHING Session

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

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

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

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

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

PARIS etc.

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


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


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

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

All the best






Dec 15th 2017


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


Hi There,


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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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



C21 Drama Summit

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Until then,

All the best






Dec 1st 2017


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

Hi There,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

BEGINNING by David Eldridge at the National Theatre, Dorfman.

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

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


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

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

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


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


The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 1st,

All the best






November 17th 2017





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

Hi There


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


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


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


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

Over to Florence…

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

120 BPM, directed by Robert Campillo. 

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

Wajib, directed by Annemarie Jacir.

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

The Rider, directed by Chloe Zao.

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

The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker.

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

You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay.

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

Sheikh Jackson directed by Amr Salama.

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

The Party directed by Sally Potter.

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

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


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

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

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


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

 Kudos North Writers Award

 Deadline – Monday 20th November @ 1000

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


The next newsletter will be on Friday Nov 17th,

All the best






Nov 3rd 2017









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

Hi There,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

‘I found this line particularly important – 

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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



The next newsletter will be on Friday November 3rd,

All the best






Oct 20th 2017


Posted by admin  /   September 20, 2017  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on THE CROWN

Hi There,

With THE CROWN season 2 due to hit Netflix soon, here are my notes from the C21 drama conference (last December!) from a session on THE CROWN with Peter Morgan (writer / exec producer), Andy Harries (exec producer) and Suzanne Mackie (exec producer).

PM: In this business, good relationships are so important. We went to see the BBC and ITV who were both interested in the show. But we needed a US partner – so we went to HBO, Fox, Showtime, Netflix – ‘The Evian Trail’! Netflix was the last port of call – and they bought it in the room. Incredibly unusual. They’d done their algorithms before we went in – and they had the play, the film, and it was a very good thing for them at a time when they are looking to roll out internationally. It eventually went out on Nov 4th 2016 to 190 countries.

PM: It felt galvanising to me to go with an organisation that was quite progressive and cutting edge and that’s been vindicated. Lots more younger people have watched it than if we’d gone out on the traditional broadcasters – maybe we’ve lost our ‘core’ audience. Netflix seem unconcerned – even if it might be a year before an older audience pick up on it. They’re very focused on sticking to their game plan. It will drive people to Netflix if it’s not available elsewhere. I thought we should do an ad with Edward Fox telling people how to use Netflix (joke).

‘What story did you set out to tell?’

The terrible impact of becoming queen earlier than you’d expect, the pressure on a young couple – and the shock that you can’t just be who you are, character split challenge.

SM: We spent so much time interrogating the psychology of the characters. And all of the locations are extraordinary. Stately homes in combination with Elstree. Obviously can’t use Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Used Ely Cathedral for Westminster, Lancaster House for Buck Palace.

AH: It is an all-British team working on it. Promoting the fact that it’s all originated in the UK – no long hand of executive control. Netflix are very supportive. It’s very refreshing and great for Peter.

PM: I took the responsibility particularly seriously. Time and energy wise I wouldn’t have been able to do it with lots of notes. When they agreed to that, I took on the responsibility for the show. I was left entirely alone – and I wanted to prove that a show of this scale could be done without execs – I took that very seriously. I thought if we screw this up, I’d feel very bad about that.

Andy’s been working on another show with lots of interference – authorship is such a precious thing.

AH: …and that’s what Netflix are buying in the first place.

SM: We talk to Netflix every week and their notes are in agreement with us – generally broad strokes notes.

AH: We always go back to shoot extra stuff when we can improve it.

PM: I plot out the season. Work it all out beforehand. Tried to incorporate other writers. But huge explosion in TV. Everybody’s got a show – all the writers we wanted to work with. There isn’t a tradition in the UK of writers giving up their lives to be part of Peter’s writing room. I don’t now regret writing it all. In spreading out the process, you do lose specificity of voice – and I think the show thrives on this. We have a researchers room – 6-8 people researching ideas that I suggest. They come to my house, we break down the story. You have to give much more thought because people watching it concurrently – eg romantic story after intense emotional story.

I don’t write cliff-hangers. And I hate ‘arcs’. From script editors, I don’t want to hear the words ‘tracking’ or ‘arcs’. I see it as a series of self-contained films that hopefully in aggregate have a through-line.

Certain historical moments mark a big change in the story – Suez, Wilson, Thatcher.

Often the first ideas are bad ideas, you have to find character-driven stories, it take a while.

Re: dialogue. We have readings and deliberately ask inappropriate people to read the parts – then if they roughly hold, it’s a good sign.

Keep the page count down. People want to binge therefore don’t let the episodes get too long. Around 52-53 minutes is the perfect episode length. 60 too long. Not a page per minute – more like a page and a third per minute. I’m trying to hand in episodes that are 51 or 52 pages. I try to avoid explaining too much. Good actors, directors, editors will trim it out. There’s a generous amount of time in production and post.

AH: Nina Gold cast the show and she’s amazing. Casting the queen was not easy. We went for big stars initially. When Claire Foy came in, it was obvious after about 30 seconds.

SM: She gives you so much by doing so little. I think she’s a great actress. Such an important thing not to bring too much to the character – Claire understands that on a deep level.

AH: We didn’t want to cast anyone in the UK who had already played Winston Churchill.

PM: There’s no record of what the characters say in private, or in the ‘audiences’. So my job is to go in there and try to join the dots. You have to put yourself in their position (ludicrous though that is).

Prince Philip was apparently asked – ‘will you be watching it?’ To which he answered – ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I am talking to people who work at the palace, people who know them. Sometimes making the intimate choice is better than making the epic choice.

I’ve loved being freed from the question of audience ratings – it’s a tyranny.

I do get pretty involved in the cutting room – because there are 4 different directors – you need one unifying voice.


A reminder that you only have just over a week left to get your scripts in for the 2018 course. We’ve already received a substantial amount of scripts but, if the last few years are anything to go by, we will receive well over half of the total on the last day. May I suggest that you do yourself a favour and try to get your script in before the last day and avoid the stress of scrambling to get your script in at the last possible moment? We will close the entry system at midnight on Sunday Oct 1st.


This year, for the 1st time, High Tide has a 2nd iteration at Walthamstow Sept 26 – Oct 1 – much more accessible to Londoners than Aldeburgh!

I spent a day at the festival in Aldeburgh last week and had a really enjoyable time. I was particularly impressed by a reading of ENGLISH, written and directed by 4screenwriting alumna, Melanie Spencer. A fascinating play about language, culture-clash and (indirectly) Brexit. It is thought-provoking, intelligent, funny and powerful – I highly recommend it. A four-hander, there are two Polish characters and Glaswegian. An indication of Melanie’s conscientiousness is that she personally went to Poland to cast the Poles and Glasgow to cast the Glaswegian.

The casting and performances were superb. At the risk of embarrassing Melanie, this was the 2nd play-reading of a new play by her that I’ve been to in the last few months. Previously I went to a reading of her equally outstanding CONTENDER – this is about Olympic swimmers and their coaches. Melanie has researched this with equal thoroughness – spending time living with the Australian swimming team; and the reading was attended by some well-known Olympic swimmers who all gave fascinating (and positive) feedback in their response to the reading. This play is about the stresses and sacrifices involved in making it to the top of professional sport – and the temptations of performance-enhancing drugs.

I’d really advise that you look out for full productions of these two plays in the next year or so – or try to make it to Walthamstow for the reading of ENGLISH on Oct 4th.

And there are a host of other really interesting productions and readings at High Tide in Walthamstow.


The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 6th.

All the very best






Sept 22nd 2017


Posted by admin  /   September 06, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018

Hi There,

I hope you’ve all had a great summer. I spent two weeks on the Suffolk coast, as far away as possible from all scripts – and my batteries are now fully re-charged!

I have a lot to look forward to this autumn –


I’m gearing up once again for the 2018 version of the course. The window for script entries is open for a relatively short three weeks – from Monday Sept 11th to Sunday Oct 1st – so don’t miss it! I’m very proud of the role-call of writers who’ve done this course – such an array of writing talent – and both writers and script editors from the course (which has been running since 2011) now make up a significant and growing sub-set of the creative TV drama industry. It may be a bit unfair to pick out individuals from the 85 writers who have done the course over the last 7 years but…

We’ve had the writers of two award-strewn BBC shows from the same strand – Murdered By My Boyfriend written by REGINA MORIARTY and Murdered By My Father by VINAY PATEL; ANNA SYMON, fresh from writing episodes on both series of INDIAN SUMMERS has had her own, authored serial, THE WILSONS, green-lit by the BBC; the script MILLY THOMAS wrote on the course last year formed the basis of her excellent, award-winning one woman show, the brilliant DUST, at this year’s Edinburgh fringe; NATHANIEL PRICE’s outstanding course script, HOUND, has just been optioned by one of the UK’s leading drama-producing indies; THERESA IKOKO’s course script (from 2016) was given a brilliant reading by Sky / Bandit Television and is in active development with Bandit; and most outstandingly, CHARLIE COVELL, after her excellent feature film debut, BURN BURN BURN (give yourself a treat and watch it on UK Netflix), 2 episodes of E4’s BANANA, and episodes of both HUMANS and GAP YEAR, has now written her own E4 series, THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD….I could go on – there are many more success stories from the course.

There is a less well-known script-editor training element to the course, which has also produced its own success stories. Two of the trainee / shadow script editors from previous years of the course have gone onto be, respectively, head of development at leading indie, Eleven Film; and BBC drama commissioning editor for Northern Ireland.

What do we look for in the scripts? – Above all, we are looking for distinctive, exciting, original writing voices – writers who have something to say, and say it in an original, exciting, engaging way. We are open to scripts from all media – screenplays (whether for TV or film), theatre and radio scripts. Every year, the 12 selected writers are a mix of writers who are diverse in every way – whether they are BAME, from one of the UK’s nations or regions, whatever gender, sexuality or class. But the important thing is that they are all chosen for their ability to tell a compelling story in a unique way – whether that’s in the form of a TV cop series pilot episode or a theatre monologue.

It’s important to be bold and original, and to really believe in what you’re writing. But at the same time, you should be philosophical if not selected. The long and the short of it is that we can only choose 12 writers from an expected 1400 submitted scripts. Frustratingly we always have to turn down very many highly talented writers. You should also console yourself with the fact that assessing which scripts are deserving of our attention – hard as we try to make the process as objective as possible – ultimately comes down to the choice of a few individuals, all of whom have different tastes. I’m constantly surprised by the huge range of responses to the same script – how one person can love it and someone else can be utterly unmoved by it. Every year I have some huge differences of opinion with my script readers – and there’s no right or wrong!

It may be helpful to tell you about a few of the successful submitted scripts from a year ago – a feature film script about a socially-dysfunctional piano-playing protégé, that stood out mainly for the characterisation of the wonderfully flawed and magnetic central character; a stage play about a middle-class parents’ decision to hire a prostitute to give their learning-disabled 25 year old son his first sexual experience – and the inter-personal social and sexual politics that ensue; a one hour film script that follows a week in the life of an aging couple after their son commits suicide; a hugely engaging, character-driven stage play about the issue of female genital mutilation. All of these scripts had a big idea at its heart – but were also accessible, character-driven, engaging and had humour and humanity.



‘Turn your drama pilot script into a global hit.’

Continuing the theme of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, I’d also like to point you in the direction of the C21 drama comp, now accepting entries, until Oct 10th. Unlike the free-to-enter C4 comp, this costs money to enter – the upside being that there will therefore be far fewer entries – and the reward for being one of the finalists is significant.



This year’s festival is running from Sept 15 – 17, and I’m running a Script Lab on drama series on the Sunday Sept 17th. I hope to also be there on the Friday. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!


Running over the weekend of Oct 7-8, this sold out within a couple of days of going on sale. Designed as a mini-writers festival, with three brilliant guest speakers – aforementioned writer ANNA SYMON, CAT JONES, another star of the C4 screenwriting course, and top literary agent JONATHAN KINNERSLEY, from The Agency.

I am planning to run another of these courses in Feb or March next year – and I already have a lengthy waiting list for the October course so, if you’re interested, I suggest you keep checking the website / newsletter – I won’t be announcing the new course until after I’ve run the October version.


I’m running 2 x one day courses at the ITF in Hoxton this autumn – SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS on Sept 21st and STORY, CHARACTER AND IDEAS Masterclass on Oct 10th.





If you’re based in London and interested in screenwriting, don’t miss this year’s LFF – there is always a host of exciting new feature films – many of which won’t have a UK distribution deal, so this may be your only chance to see some of them.



This is an outstanding festival for new theatre writing. I have a particular bias towards it because so many writers from 4screenwriting have had shows at High Tide – this year alone, there are new plays by 4screenwriting alumni Nessah Muthy, Theresa Ikoko, Melanie Spencer and Tallulah Brown. And because it takes place in the lovely Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh, from where I’ve just returned.


My Holiday Reading + Culture

I wanted to mention a book I (re)read on holiday – the wonderful A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh. Published in 1934, this still feels fresh, modern and relevant. The characters come off the page so vividly, and there is such moral complexity to the characters and the story. There is also one of the most shocking, eye-popping scenes you’ll find in any story.

I was first alerted to the book by a brilliant Shared Experience Theatre adaptation of the play, many years ago, in which this moment from the book drew a collective gasp / intake of breath from the audience. I defy you to read the book and not be stunned by this moment.

What I particularly love and admire about the book is how everything is dramatised, nothing explained. It’s a model of narrative concision. The characters play out their roles, and at no point does Waugh make it easy for the reader to interpret or explain the action of the story. And we’ll all take away something different from the story. I followed this book by reading a much-acclaimed new hardback novel which is a perfectly pleasant read but for the first 100 pages I couldn’t get my head round the huge gap between the plodding, uneconomical quality of the writing of this book and the genius of A HANDFUL OF DUST.

Strangely there is also one of these theatrical gasp-out-loud moments in Loudon Wainwright’s wonderful SURVIVING TWIN show, when he reads / performs his father’s columns form LIFE magazine, interspersing them with thematically-connected songs. (Happily for me, LW, one of my musical heroes, was performing at Snape Maltings while I was on holiday in Suffolk). I’ve seen this one particular reading live three times already (it still retains its emotive punch) and it was wonderful to be able to anticipate that moment of shock that induced a collective, involuntary gasp – the ultimate successful story-telling pay-off. Therein lies the secret to good story-telling!

One more thing before I go – I’m afraid I have a policy of not entering into email correspondence with entrants into the C4 course. The entry FAQ’s have been honed and developed over several years – so if there’s something that isn’t entirely clear to you, you just need to use your own initiative. I’ve learnt from experience that if we don’t take this approach, we are overwhelmed by email enquiries – and our time is far better spent reading the scripts.

As ever, I’m hugely excited by the prospect of starting the reading process and of finding the gems I know I’ll find. Thank you in advance for entering and GOOD LUCK!

The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 22nd

All the best






Sept 8th 2017