Posted by admin  /   May 30, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on RANDOM WRITING OBSERVATIONS

A one day SCRIPT EDITING course I’m running at the INDIE TRAINING FUND in London on July 19th



Hi There,

This week a few random observations on writing –


I saw this film a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s predicated on a brilliantly simple but inherently dramatic story premise. And this underlying premise generates such strong story tension with virtually no dialogue. A wonderful illustration of how often the best story-telling for screen is about ACTION not WORDS.


I’ve just finished reading the excellent BALANCING ACTS by Nick Hytner about his years as head of the National Theatre. It’s inspiring in its focus on the many new plays and original creativity he helped bring to life – and about how exciting theatre as a story-telling form can be.

Some of his most interesting observations are about the power – in the right hands – of verbatim theatre – of shaping real events, words people have actually spoken into theatre, into a compelling dramatic narrative. The principal examples are David Hare’s two plays THE PERMANENT WAY, and STUFF HAPPENS; and Alecky Blythe’s LONDON ROAD, a verbatim play about the murders of the 5 sex workers in Ipswich, re-imagined as a piece of musical theatre. I have seen none of these plays but reading about the way they were created and shaped into drama makes me regret that and makes me want to read them.

LONDON ROAD sounds like a brilliant piece of story-telling about a very particular community coming together under a terrible threat – and given a wonderful lease of life and emotional depth by adding a musical score.

THE PERMANENT WAY started as an examination of the politicization and decline of the nation’s railways but in the process of its research and creation became something else – a study of grief. It was fascinating to me to read about how the original intent and agenda of the play was transformed by the research and development that insisted it become something more overtly emotive and character-driven.

And STUFF HAPPENS was a hugely ambitious play (and brave decision by the NT to put their head above the political parapet) about the causes and undertaking of the Iraq war seen through the prism of the political decision-makers of the day (Bush, Powell, Blair etc). The play asked big questions of the motivations and actions of Bush and Blair – and Hytner says that Hare felt thoroughly vindicated that he had judged the situation correctly with the publication of the Chilcot report several years after the production.

Reading about these plays reminded me of an inspiring talk given by Tony Grisoni to the Channel 4 screenwriting course a few years ago in which he talked about some of his best writing having happened when he approached a project / story by trying to AVOID writing. He described how on some projects he has taken true events or real people as the basis for a story, interviewed the people, researched the story, and acted as interpreter, shaper of the transcripts that arise from his interviews and from his research, and done as little ‘writing’ as possible, trying to channel the characters and their stories without letting his ego come between the stories and the audience. It seems to me this is an enormously freeing, enabling idea!


I was lucky enough to see James Fritz’s brilliant, inspiring THE FALL, a National Youth Theatre production at the Southwark Playhouse before it closed on May 19th. (Incidentally a few months ago I  saw the NYT production of JEKYLL & HYDE radically and brilliantly adapted by  EVAN PLACEY – like James, an extremely excellent 4screenwriting alumnus – look out for NYT shows – they’re damn good!)

THE FALL is comprised of three short plays (of about 25 mins each in length) all linked by theme – the young’s attitude to the old and the huge social and economic issue of our aging population – and (as we only realise in the last of the three playlets) a character that links all three stories.

One of the things that was brilliant about this show was the playful, creative, imaginative treatment of narrative structure. The 2nd play for instance took us through the story of a relationship over 40 or so years in 25 minutes. The cuts between lines of dialogue, the use of repetition, the cuts between the (imagined) scenes – all of this led you thrillingly through the many changes and developments in the lives of this couple and the stresses, strains and changes in their relationship across the years. It told its story with such pace, flair and playfulness that – once you realised how it was going to work – you went along with the ride as it built to a subtle, dark, ambivalent twist that was utterly in keeping with the themes of the play as a whole. The pace and verve of this 2nd of the three sections reminded me a little of the start of the film UP – story-telling that is rooted in specific details while at the same time being thrillingly epic and emotionally compelling and universal.

The play ended with a wonderful monologue as an old person on the brink of death (played by a young actor!) looks back at one of the moments from her youth when she felt most alive – one of those thrilling theatrical moments that stays with you.


This is the week of the year when the 12 x 4screenwriting writers deliver the TV pilot scripts they’ve been working on for the course since January. It’s always a highlight for me, an exciting moment when I receive these 12 scripts into my email inbox. And this year is as good if not better than any other year. Particularly in terms of the huge range and diversity of the stories being told, the worlds the writers have taken me into that I previously knew so little about – from religious tensions and nascent capitalism in Nigeria; a family community centred round a fundamentalist Christian church in Preston; the political corridors of Westminster; a disabled man in London searching for his missing friend and carer; a drag queen who becomes a vampire – I could go on, but this will give you an impression of the mind-blowing range and imagination of the voices.

It’s exciting reading these brand-new scripts, knowing what a big splash these projects will create for these new, talented writers. And the fact that they managed to hold my attention when I spent the weekend in a state of distracted, football-based ecstasy was a compliment to their all-round excellence.

The next newsletter will be on Friday June 15th,

All the best





June 1st 2018




Posted by admin  /   May 17, 2018  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on LESSONS FROM MY SCREENWRITING COURSE

FORTHCOMING one day COURSES I’m running at the Indie Training Fund, London – STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass (May 31) and SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS (July 19).





Hi There,

Last weekend I ran my two day SCREENWRITING COURSE in London. It’s always great to meet new writers and this course was no exception – we had such an exciting, varied mix of writers.

One of the things I try to stress about the course is the opportunity to meet and get to know 19 other screenwriters. Some lasting friendships – and working relationships – have come out of these courses. And part of the course is stressing just how important it is to work on making your own network of writer connections.

With writing being such an isolated activity, it’s vitally important for morale that you know and can compare notes with other people in the same situation. Writers Groups who meet up regularly to give feedback on each other’s work (and share a laugh and a glass of something) can really help you sustain a career. And the online equivalents can be a great help too (we have a facebook group that is only open to people who have done this course – now up to 261 members! – that enables these writers to talk to each other).

And your fellow writers can be a great source of information about work and opportunities.

I always stress that the hour or two in the pub at the end of each day should be taken just as seriously as the actual course. It’s often in the pub afterwards that the real connections are made, and the really interesting information shared!

By chance on the Saturday my old mucker Phil Gladwin also turned up in the pub with another group of screenwriters, because he had been running the latest event in his ‘Tribe’ initiative. It was great to be able to introduce the two different groups of screenwriters to each other – so that they could swap notes on their work – and on the two courses!

And it’s always really stimulating to get a sense of where each of these writers is up to in their working lives, and how they can all help each other. So, for instance, we had one writer who has a lot of experience of working on ‘constructed reality’ TV shows (eg TOWIE, Made In Chelsea) and it was fascinating to hear how these shows are created, using so many of the same story-telling principles as conventional TV drama. We had a novelist looking to move into screenwriting. We had a comedy writer who is interested in how to use her comic voice in drama. We had a writer who has started to have some success in childrens TV drama. We had a police officer from Northern Ireland who is keen to find a way to use his work experiences as the basis for dramatic stories…I could go on. But this will give you an idea of the mind-blowing range of different writers we have on these courses – and how their different agendas can be of such value to each other.

We had three brilliant guest speakers – writers Regina Moriarty and Vinay Patel, both of whom have been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course (Gina in 2012, Vinay in 2015) and literary agent Matthew Bates from Sayle Screen.

It was really interesting to hear Gina and Vinay talking about how they manage their careers – and how working as a screenwriter (or a dramatic writer in any medium) is in so many ways very demanding. One of the key ideas that came through from both (and from Matthew) was how important it is to retain a sense of your own personal voice, agenda and passions as a writer, to try to find work that played to their strengths, to work at retaining a sense of their own voices and strengths as writers on every project they take on.

Coincidentally both writers’ first big breaks came on shows from the same (BBC) stable – Gina on ‘MURDERED BY MY BOYFRIEND’ and Vinay on ‘MURDERED BY MY FATHER.’ Both shows are superb and really showcase the talents of the writers, and both these projects opened many doors for them. And it was interesting to see when I came home from the course on Sunday evening that the 3rd film in this series, ‘MURDERED FOR BEING DIFFERENT’ won a prize at this year’s TV BAFTA’s. It’s a huge compliment to executive producer Aysha Rafaele that she has made three such high-quality single films, and is always prepared to put her faith in relatively inexperienced writers. We need more producers like her! I’m not sure what it says about the industry as a whole that shows like this – pioneering, high-quality, writer-led single dramas – came out of the Factual department rather than the Drama department – but what it does say is not great!

There are so many great writers and scripts out there; and not enough producers like Aysha who are prepared to put their faith in these new writers and fight to get their work on screen.

Matthew also talked about how writers need to be in it for the long haul – and that when approaching agents, writers need to have demonstrated their own sense of initiative, that they are a self-starter who has already forged their own contacts and place within the creative industry. And how it inevitably takes time to build up a body of significant writing work, and the sort of contacts you need. He emphasised how hard it is to make a living as a creative (in any industry) and how you should only go down this path if you’re absolutely committed to it.

But (in case this is beginning to sound too downbeat!) I should also say that the main thing to come out of the weekend is just how exciting it can be to sit in a room with 20 talented writers as they talk about their work, and pitch brilliant, exciting ideas. And how inspiring all three guest speakers were in conveying a sense of how fulfilling it can be when you do break through, when you’re being paid decent money to write something you’re passionate about, and in particular when that work makes it to the screen.

I hope to be organising another of these courses for the autumn – watch this space!



I’d been looking for the Nora Ephron documentary EVERYTHING IS COPY for some time. Thank you to Xandria Horton who pointed me in its direction (Sky On Demand). It’s hard to find but very much worth seeking out. Nora Ephron was a great writer – whether of journalism, essays or screenplays.

Her work was so closely inter-twined with her life. The title is something her own mother (a Hollywood screenwriter, who co-wrote with Nora’s father) used as a mantra to Nora and her three sisters. And it’s a statement / question that is at the heart of the work of all writers. The film explores this issue fascinatingly but is about so much more too – family, friendship, ambition, relationships. A really thoughtful, inspiring celebration of a hugely distinctive and very brilliant writer.


Finally this week, two exciting, newly-announced dramatic writing schemes –


‘BAFTA is seeking 15 writers from areas of under-representation within our industries for its latest Elevate programme. If you are trying to progress your writing career in film or high end television drama or comedy but you feel held back by your disability, gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background or if you know someone who is, then we want to hear from you.

Those selected by our panel of industry experts, will receive a bespoke 12-month programme of support including networking opportunities, introductions, mentoring, tailored panel discussions, masterclasses and workshops focused on professional development.

This is not an entry level programme, this series is not about teaching screenwriting. Participants are required to meet a certain level of experience to be considered and must have at least one on-screen credit or commission.’


High Tide First Commissions

‘We’re thrilled to launch this year’s First Commissions scheme, our flagship Artist Development programme.

This year, we are partnering with Coney, Eastern Angles and Tamasha to engage writers and theatre makers from a wide range of backgrounds and artistic styles. The 18 month attachment, exclusively aimed at those who have never received a commission, will support artists in securing a full commissioning fee and developing their brand new plays over the attachment period.

HighTide and each partner organisation are looking for playwrights, theatre makers or artists with a burning idea who have vivid, theatrical voices. We are also interested in artists who may not necessarily identify as a ‘writer’ but have a desire to create theatrical, relevant and innovative work.

Applications are now open and will close at midday on 14th June 2018.’




The next newsletter will be on Friday June 1st,

All the best






May 18th 2018



Posted by admin  /   May 03, 2018  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT – BEN WEATHERILL

Hi There,

This week I’m indebted to the wonderful BEN WEATHERILL. Ben is a brilliant writer (of stage and screen) who was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2016. A little while ago, he had a slight twitter-vent about the script development process and his recent experience of it. I thought it was a great read and really instructive / constructive and helpful for all of you dramatic writers who may find yourself in the same situation as Ben. Ben has very generously allowed me to share what he said with you here –

(PS Ben’s new play JELLYFISH is on at the Bush theatre June 27 – July 21 and will be excellent – don’t miss it. https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/jellyfish/ )


Over to Ben –

‘I want to share some thoughts because I wish someone had said all this to me a couple of years ago, so I may as well say it now.

This isn’t intended to patronise or tell grandma how to suck eggs. But I think it’s important to be more honest and open with each other about how we, our work and our ideas are treated so we can be better prepared.

When you first start having telly meetings, you will meet a lot of people at great companies who are making exciting stuff.

This is especially true if you are privileged enough to have completed a scheme such as 4screenwriting, or won a prize, or gathered attention from a really great play etc. It is true across the board, though. If you’ve got a good script acting as your calling card, you’ll be invited in to see what other ideas you’re working on.

I was lucky enough to be on a scheme that people respected and that helped me get through lots of doors. I am so grateful that I had this experience. This isn’t about those schemes it is about what happens after.  

I pitched lots of ideas, some good, some terrible. Lots that were probably average.

I got a few things optioned.  I was excited that people had shown interest in me. Wanted to work with me. Wanted to PAY me for my work. The holy grail.

But development can be hard. Really fucking hard. Your work should be interrogated and asked difficult questions of and it can take forever for a project to get from one stage to another. Some never make it off the ground at all.

Which is why you should find the right people to work with. Precisely because it can be so difficult and so long.

I believe I made some mistakes on those early projects. And I say I made them and not anyone else because I was new to all this and didn’t actually know any better. But there are things that I wish I had known.


Here goes…

I wish I had known it was okay to ask more questions. How exactly will this process work? Why is it they want to do this project with you? What show are we all making? What exactly do these documents you want me to produce look like?  

It is okay to speak up when you feel yourself drowning or you don’t understand. It just is. Your idea and opinions have worth. 

It is okay to ask people to explain notes, politely. Don’t confuse this with not listening to notes. You should. Many are excellent. But if you don’t understand, then you have to make sure you do. Clarify. Don’t get wires crossed.

Hold on to why you wanted to make the thing in the first place. That should always be at the heart of it. If it isn’t, you’re beating a dead horse. What is at the core of the idea that everyone loves and should be kept hold of?

Find people who you trust to confide in. Other writers. Someone who isn’t in the industry as they’ll often put things into perspective. Your agent. TALK TO YOUR AGENT. At this point it’s probably worth stating don’t say anything to an Exec down the pub that you wouldn’t want repeating to a room full of people.

People can’t take you for granted just because you fought hard to get into the room. And for minorities this fight is more than twice as hard. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You are allowed to take up space and oxygen. 

You will get asked to do far too much work for free. You just will. But you should be strict with yourself about how much you are prepared to do. The working for free problem is a whole separate issue, but I wish someone had drilled in to me how much my time is actually worth. If you feel like too much is being asked of you, it is okay to have a conversation about money. It’s not a dirty word. If you’ve grafted and they’re still not willing to cough up, it’s probably better to walk away. Again: TALK TO YOUR AGENT. 

Get work off your desk and on to someone else’s. Don’t let the grass grow too green. If you’ve done your part of the heavy lifting, it means someone else has to step up. 

Speak up sooner rather than later. This is probably the most difficult thing to hear and to put in to practice in the real world. But I can’t stress this enough.  

It is okay to have things fail and make mistakes. It’s more than okay. That happens sometimes because some ideas just don’t work. 

But it should happen because the idea is bad or the project isn’t suitable; not because of any of the things I’ve just listed. Just because new writers don’t always have the confidence or experience doesn’t mean they can be treated badly and then blamed for a failure.

We need support. Nurturing. Otherwise we are just going to burn out before we’ve even got started.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of people out there in telly who are AMAZING. And to be honest, shady people don’t deserve your best ideas.

Find the people you’d go for a drink with. Who get excited by your jokes. Who make good telly. Who respond to your emails. Who you like. Who you trust.

Over and out xxx’

Ben was part of the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme and Invitation Only Group. After this, he went on to work as the Literary Manager at the Old Red Lion Theatre. During this time, he established the Old Red Lion Writers’ Group and supported two full productions of work that came directly through the department to critical acclaim.

During 2015, he was Playwright-in-Residence with Curve Theatre, Leicester. Chicken Dust won the Curve Theatre Leicester Playwriting Competition and received its premiere at the Finborough Theatre in March 2015 as well as returning home to the Curve in May 2015. Whilst at the Curve, he developed new work, ran the National Theatre’s New Views Programme and acted as dramaturg on new work commissions.

His new play Jellyfish will be at The Bush in spring 2018 and he is on attachment with the National Theatre Studio. 

Ben was on the Channel 4 Screenwriters course and has projects in development with Scott Free, Company Pictures, Channel 4 and Objective Fiction.


Thank you so much Ben for sharing this with us.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 18th

All the best






May 4th 2018






Posted by admin  /   April 19, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT FEEDBACK

FORTHCOMING one day COURSES at the Indie Training Fund, London – STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass (May 31) and SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS (July 19).





Hi There,

This week the newsletter is comprised of a debate from my screenwriters studio Facebook page (a group of screenwriters who have been on my independent courses) about SCRIPT FEEDBACK – where to get it from and what to do with it. I think the writers in question make some brilliant points about the very difficult topic of getting feedback on your scripts.

‘I find myself feeling confused about feedback. I finished a screenplay last May, left it for a week and then did some redrafts with professional feedback and started entering it into competitions and also getting more feedback from about August. Each time I worked on it and changed it as per the feedback and it went from a script getting mainly 7s to 8 -10s and quarter final places to a semi finalist place in a respected competition. Most coverage was encouraging but I’ve just had 2 bits of feedback on it from respected organisations, one of which previously gave me that semi final place and marks have gone to mainly 5s. I am so disappointed as I really think it is a better script now and I know it intimately. Plus it’s my umpteenth script but I have never sent anything out to agents or production companies because I am conscious it has to be as perfect as possible which I thought this was and now clearly not but I am also conscious it is all so subjective. Thoughts?’

‘It is indeed all so subjective. A pilot I wrote was something of a marmite script – some companies loved it, others really hated it. Getting the ‘constructive’ criticism from the agencies that hated it was really depressing as it made me feel like perhaps I needed to change my style if I wanted to be successful. Long story short, I realised that you need to be true to your writing instincts and voice, and kept doing things my way (and behold, said script has now been picked up… a happy ending). Moral of the story, if you think it’s good, and you can argue why it’s good, then stick to your guns. All the best with it.’

‘Stop attempting to please everyone, it’s crazy. It’s a knock followed by several more. I don’t do competitions for many reasons but primarily I’m not interested in someone whom I’ve never met, scoring my work. I am building a partnership with my local University, where students ‘act out’ my work. Believe me, nothing opens your eyes to flat dialogue more than it being read in front of you. Don’t forget that these young people are working some of the best plays ever written and will offer you an honest assessment. You will physically see where you’re going wrong but more importantly where you’re smashing it. Also, invite friends to watch your work being performed and tell them to be brutally honest with you, broad shoulders required for that bit. We all need a dopamine shot from time to time, to be ‘liked’ but it’s much more satisfying when it’s self-administered.’

‘The best notes come from those who get your work and want it to be a better version of what it is. Notes from people who don’t get it from the get go aren’t usually that helpful. If they don’t like what you’re broadly trying to do, then how can they help you do it better?’

‘Giving and getting feedback on scripts is so subjective. You need to work at finding someone with industry connections who you trust and who gets your work. Getting constructive, unbiased feedback from someone who understands the realities of the industry, and responding creatively and positively to that feedback is so important.’

‘I also think there’s a difference between feedback and notes. The former is a more broad brush reaction to your work. Does someone like your voice. Do they buy into your premise. Do they ‘get’ what you’re attempting to do. Notes are more specific. And they’re most helpful when they come from someone who a. is broadly positive in their feedback and b. understands craft. It’s great to get lots of feedback. Probably better to be choosey over who gives notes. Quality over quantity.’

‘The first script I ever wrote I sent off to 3 different (respected) feedback companies. One said it was in great shape and no reason it shouldn’t be picked up and produced, another said it had potential but needed work, and the 3rd said it was awful and absolutely slated it. If you’re happy with the script – and it sounds like you are – then definitely get it out there.’

‘I find producers are often really open to reading work. I’ve got further with them than comps.’

‘Can be so demoralising to get feedback that you feel misses the point of your script. I echo the thoughts of others to say you have to stick with your own voice and what you want to say. BUT if two or more people are commenting on a particular point, it’s worth looking at it again as you might have a problem there. Otherwise, make it the very BEST version of what you want it to be, and then send it out. You absolutely cannot please everyone, and your work will turn to sand in your fingers if you try.’

‘Great advice here. The trouble is there is never a point at which a script is “perfect”, a reader will always find something to comment on which will leave you tweaking FOREVER. You have to find courage in your own work to stop listening to feedback for its own sake and let agents / producers read it.’

‘Absolutely – ultimately you have to get your work out into the big bad world and test the waters!’

‘Definitely Phil. Kate Leys says redraft, polish, but don’t do endless tweaks. You could be tweaking forever.’

‘But it is supposed to be perfect. Otherwise you look like an idiot.’

‘Reactions are subjective – so perfection is an impossibility’

‘There is no perfect!’

‘So as an update, today I received more coverage from xxxxx, basically hugely praising my work and giving me 2 x 9, 2 x 7 and 12 x 8 so an overall score of 8 although they downgraded it to 7.9. So then I looked at the things I had fallen down on and it is hard to pinpoint as the second coverage didn’t criticise anything. So if anything I feel even more confused. So I have a 7.8 and an 8 and a 5.7. But obviously it ideally needs to be a 10. Or do I just do another read through and tweak every day for a week or do I do a full rewrite. Confused.com. Or throw caution to the wind and send it out? Think I am too much of a perfectionist for that!’

‘I would ask yourself what you are gaining from this feedback and scoring system. How is it helping your development as a writer? I would also suggest that when you send it to agents and producers you should not expect a unified response. Your work will resonate with some and not with others. It is confusing and can be deflating, but navigating through feedback is a vital skill. It will help you to take on notes effectively when you land a writing gig. It’s really hard to know when a work is ‘ready.’ I wouldn’t tweak for the sake of it. It’s important to be really clear what the focus of a rewrite is. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and risk criticism.’

‘Yes indeed. You can’t please all the people all of the time. Nor should you try to.
We’ve all read the book or watched a movie that a mate has raved about and thought really?!?’

Thank you so much to all the writers involved in this conversation – Cowal Pen, Jeff Beamer, Sonya Desai, Rachel Smith, Rachel Paterson, Phil Lawrence, Helen Black, Wally Jiagoo, Liz Cooper – for their insights and generosity in letting me share this.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 4th,

All the best






April 20th 2018



Posted by admin  /   April 05, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on NETWORKING – A NECESSARY EVIL?

Hi There,

This week, my most recent blog for the BBC WRITERS ROOM website – about NETWORKING.

To be a successful writer of TV drama, the most important thing is your ability to write (obviously!) BUT it is worth remembering that there is a whole other side to your work as a TV dramatist that shouldn’t be under-estimated.

That is – the aspect of marketing yourself and your work (I can hear your groans already), getting your work in front of the people that matter, getting yourself in front of the people that matter, and making sure you are the sort of person that other people want to work with.

Broadly speaking, all the aspects of being professional and focused about your career that are the same the world over in any business.

But writing is a very particular craft; and very often the sort of people who become writers aren’t always the sort of people to whom ‘networking’ and other related business activities, come naturally.

On the one hand you need to have the introspection and ability to live inside your own head and spend much of your life by yourself in front of your computer that enables you to get the work done – ie living a necessarily pretty isolated existence. But on the other hand you need to be comfortable going to meetings, pitching your stories and talking yourself up as a writer.

These two sides of a screenwriter’s life aren’t quite mutually exclusive – but they call on two very different sides of your personality and require different skills.

This blog is going to concentrate on the business/ networking side of your work as a screenwriter.

The principle / idea underlying this blog is – however good your script is, you’re always far more likely to be hired to write something by someone you’ve already met than by someone you’ve never met. The working relationship between writer and producer / script editor is often intense, and you get to know each almost unnaturally quickly – so if the producer in question has already met you and feels there was a rapport, that you’re going to get on and that communication between you is good – they’re far more likely to hire you.

So – you need to try and MEET as many potential employers as you can. Although I hope this goes without saying, while pursuing this idea professionally, there is a fine line between professional ambition and courtesy on the one hand; and desperate pushiness on the other hand. Don’t be that (admittedly very rare) writer who people will do anything to avoid, the writer who pins you in a corner, invades your personal space and won’t let you get out until they have spent half an hour on a rehearsed pitch monologue.

This networking aspect of your life as professional writer has to be constantly ongoing, in the same way as your writing. You can’t spend 6 months concentrating furiously on the networking side and then think you’re done. You have to be able to enjoy this side of the business, and make sure you’re constantly putting yourself and your ideas out there.


An example that is fresh in my mind – recently I went to see the very excellent PARLIAMENT SQUARE by 4screenwriting alumnus James Fritz at the Bush Theatre in London. In the bar before or after the play, I (by chance) met and talked to 10 people I knew there – mainly writers, also two script editors.

Thinking back, without exception, all the people I met there are successful writers and editors. They’re all talented, smart people. But they’re also successful because they are sociable and outward-looking. They are excited to see new writing work, and to meet people.

It’s a cliché – but often the most important connections you can make are not at the formal events (the play) but in the bar afterwards. This is something I’ve learnt from years of running the Channel 4 course and other screenwriting courses.

 However good you are at writing, if having a drink with your fellow writers and industry professionals is your idea of Hell, it will without doubt negatively impact on your career potential. (And I’m not saying here that you have to be a big drinker. Alcohol is not an essential part of the equation!)

Here is a checklist of other networking-connected aspects you should be thinking about to enhance your screenwriting career –


Your aim, once you have two or three ‘spec’ scripts which you feel really do your talents justice, should be to get these scripts read by as many influential industry people as possible.

Having someone (or as many people as possible!) in the industry who will champion your work is a very powerful thing.

The world of TV drama is quite small and script editors, producers, agents etc are constantly talking to each other and swapping notes. It’s also important to remind yourself that, although this may not appear to be the case, we script editors and producers are all looking for good writers, for the NEXT BIG THING.


The world of TV drama is expanding and changing at an unprecedented rate. And it’s up to you to be aware of all the potential opportunities out there. So you need to be looking at where you fit into the industry and what opportunities you should be trying to take eg writing competitions. There are more and more of these. You need to decide which are worth entering, which aren’t, which in particular are a good fit for you as a writer.

Probably the two most visible ways-in as a TV dramatist are the BBC Writers Room and the Channel 4 screenwriting course. BUT because so many people know about these schemes, a lot of people will enter and – however brilliant your script is – the odds of breaking through via these schemes are not good. (We received 2040 scripts for the 2018 C4 screenwriting course and from that chose 12 writers). So – think laterally. Don’t necessarily go for these more high-profile entry points but find other competitions and initiatives where your odds are better and where you could stand out (eg regional schemes).

And use the internet to research the industry – and your craft (although if you’re reading this on the BBC writers room website I’m preaching to the converted!)


Off the top of my head – here are some organisations – BBC writersroom (of course), London Screenwriters Festival, BFI, BAFTA, RTS, BAFTA Rocliffe, Indie Training Fund, Creative Skillset, Shooting People, In Development, LFF, Writers Guild, Creative England – that hold screenwriting events. And there are many, many others. This list (because of where I’m based) is London-centric – but there are events all over the UK – and brilliant organisations that bring writers together – like NI Screen, Scottish Screenwriters, Scriptwriting North, New Writing South, Writers Centre Norwich – in most regions of the UK.

Not only will these events stimulate your creative imagination, they are also a really useful way to meet like-minded creatives and potential employers.

 And then there is the vast and growing plethora of film & literary festivals around the UK and the world; Guardian talks, Writers & Artists events, events at universities, theatres, bookshops, etc etc. All great ways to get away from your computer and out into the world and meet other writers.


Writing is by its very nature a lonely business. There is great value in solidarity between writers – for sharing experiences about craft and the industry, swapping notes on people you’re working with / want to work with. And, importantly, for finding out about opportunities. If you have a network of writer friends, it can be invaluable. But above all, it’s great to have a trusted network of fellow writers with whom you can meet regularly and swap work and give each other feedback. Having your own writers group who are committed to meeting regularly and sharing work is invaluable.

Here’s a link to a guest blog from my website that illustrates what I’m talking about. http://script-consultant.co.uk/2015/11/20/writing-groups/


Twitter in particular (also facebook and linked-in) can be very powerful in helping to cultivate your network and find out about events and opportunities you’d otherwise not know about. Twitter is a great way to identify like-minded people in the industry. It’s a weird and rather wonderful thing that if you follow and enjoy someone on twitter, when you actually meet them face to face, it’s a whole lot easier, and you already have loads to talk about with them. (@PhilipShelley1)


You may well find that – without realising it – you know people who work in TV or film – or you will know people who know people. Use them shamelessly. If they don’t want to help they will say no and you can move on. But in my experience people actually like to be asked for your help – it flatters them. Contacts are all important. Scour your brain and your address book for potentially useful contacts.


In CONCLUSION – this is all about the less mysterious – and frankly less difficult – part of being a writer – where the same rules apply as in any other line of business. It’s about the obvious things – like being polite, communicative and considerate. But it’s also about being ambitious – and not seeing that as a dirty word. Potential employers will want and expect you to be focused and serious about your work as a writer.

If you can’t puff your chest out and tell the world you’re a writer, and believe that your work is good enough to be taken seriously by people in the industry, then you make it very hard for them to take you seriously.

Don’t apologise for yourself or your work. Demonstrate your self-belief, communicate your strengths as a writer – if you can’t do this, no-one is going to do it for you. It’s about being ambitious, hard-working, organised, polite and positive. But above all, it’s about finding a way to enjoy this social side of the business. This is an industry full of people with similar interests to you, all of whom want to make the best, most exciting work they can. What’s not to like about that?

The next newsletter will be on Friday April 20th,

All the best






April 6th 2018


Posted by admin  /   March 22, 2018  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on TWO WRITERS

Hi There,

I was delighted to see that ANN HAWKER came 2nd in Phil Gladwin’s 2018 screenwriting goldmine awards.

I worked with Ann on this script through my script consultancy as one of my 6 month script mentees. It was a process I really enjoyed, and I was so delighted with the script Ann wrote. I’d like to tell you a bit about the process because I think it might be of interest. I’d known Ann for a while and read a few of her scripts and, while I had always admired and enjoyed her writing, I’d have to say I’d never really engaged with any of her scripts on a really emotional level. For me there was always something about them that felt like she was trying to write what she thought the industry wanted, that she thought had commercial potential, rather than projects that really told me enough about her as a writer (and a person). I admired the competence of her scripts without being excited about them. So our first meeting was in all honesty a slightly awkward, difficult one in which I very nosily quizzed her about her personal life, and tried to get her to talk about the things that really meant something to her on a deep, personal level – the sort of things that didn’t just interest her, but bothered, moved, angered or thrilled her. The thing Ann spoke about with the most passion was her own mother’s recent diagnosis with Alzheimers. So between us we decided that she should write a film (very loosely) based on her own emotional experience. From the first outline this story came off the page brilliantly – it had such rich emotional texture, and the finished script is the same – an outstanding example of Ann’s ability as a writer and a script that is deeply moving and committed.

I’m not saying that every script you write has to be based on your own emotional life, or that every story you write has to be taken from your own personal experience. But I do think everything you write needs to be rooted in something you feel strongly about. Your passion and the intensity of your feelings needs to come across in your writing. You always need to be asking yourself – why am I the best writer to be telling this story? And I think one of the reasons AN AUSTRIAN HOLIDAY works brilliantly is because at that time Ann was the very best person to be telling that particular story.

Ann’s response – ‘It’s very interesting, but it made me think quite hard about my writing and motivation.  While I agree with you that my writing became so much better as I wrote from a more personal point of view, I have a slightly different perspective on what was going on. 

I know you felt that in my previous scripts I was trying to write what the industry wanted. That wasn’t my motivation.  I certainly never consciously tried to write what I felt the industry wanted.  In fact, as far as I was able, I was trying to do the opposite and seek out original, untold stories that interested me.   However, your sense of a lack of originality in those scripts came I think, because on some level I wasn’t completely emotionally engaged with the story.  I have been trying to unpick why.  I certainly felt I was totally involved with my characters as I was writing, but clearly for you as a reader something was not clicking in place. Perhaps some of this was due to my background as a documentary maker and I was unknowingly constrained by a distanced, observational approach to my characters and situations? On top of that I was probably not willing to really lay myself emotionally on the line. It is a little exposing to say the least!  I am not sure of the exact combination of reasons, but I think this, for me, is a really important thing to unpick. because it relates to how I continue to write.   Have I found a way to unlock my stories to make them feel as if they are utterly mine?  I don’t know yet is the answer.  The next script might tell.   Finding a true level of emotional engagement with what you are writing is not always as easy as some writers might think. It can be quite easy to kid yourself into thinking “I’m really in the moment with this story,” when in fact the emotional core of has still not been reached.  

I’m also intrigued that you found the meeting we had uncomfortable.   Strangely, my memory of the meeting was that I quite enjoyed being probed about what was going on in my life, maybe because it was necessary.’


And here is a lovely piece of writing by one of my favourite writers, crime novelist David Armstrong (not only a brilliant writer but father of the equally excellent Jesse!). I can highly recommend all of his novels; and he’s written a really good book about the craft and business of writing – ‘How Not To Write A Novel.’


‘David taught English for nearly twenty years before his first novel was taken by HarperCollins. He’s since had published a further eight crime novels as well as the non-fiction guide to the miseries (and occasional joys) of being a midlist writer, How Not to Write a Novel. He’s also written poetry, journalism and a couple of stage plays; he was a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society at Aston University for three years and has tutored several Arvon Foundation courses. His books are all on Amazon and Kindle. If you would like a signed copy of any of them contact him directly at:

49, Hampton Rd, Oswestry, Shropshire SY11 1SW

‘Losing Heart’

March 23rd 1994


 I think we may not make our first anniversary.  I blame Andrew Motion.  And the Four Fountains Greek restaurant on Muswell Hill.

 Last week, calling in at Prospero’s Books, I saw that Motion and Jeremy Treglowan were giving a reading there tonight.  This is what I had always hoped – and even imagined – that being in London might, ideally, be like.

The talk is good.  It’s better than good.  These writers, talking respectively about their newly published biographical subjects, Philip Larkin and Roald Dahl, are the goods.

Motion keeps it short – fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.  Plenty of good, amusing, anecdotal stuff.  He knew Larkin well, and the two men obviously liked one another.

He is attractive, colloquial and erudite.  He’s wearing black jeans, a deep blue shirt over a black tee shirt and a black short-sleeved cardigan.

Treglowan has a hard act to follow, but his subject is so interesting – the Norwegian monster, a children’s writer who seems to dislike children – that he copes well, speaks interestingly and keeps it to twenty minutes.

I’m in heaven; Jacqueline is close to Morpheus, but looks very pretty in her slumbers.

The question and answer session is always tricky, with the mandatory nutcase off the street, (an Australian woman on this occasion,) and the obligatory show-off who wants to be a writer or critic, but is probably a schoolteacher, and uses words like ‘rebarbative’.

There’s some points-scoring between this particular show-off and the biographer, but it’s no contest: after all, it’s Motion who has the pile of books in front of him.  And, as always, the audience, whilst relieved that someone is saying something, is actually innately hostile to anyone who has the effrontery to ask anything.

Jacqueline buys me a copy of the paperback Larkin.

Motion inscribes it, and we have the few mandatory stilted words before shuffling off into the night.


We don’t want Chinese.  We don’t want Indian.  I fancy Italian.  We peer in at a Greek.  It is inauspicious with red-plush booths and very bad paintings of ‘Greek’ scenes.  Three dispirited couples are eating.

We order the twenty ‘mezes’ for nine pounds-fifty, as per ‘special menu’ on the window.  Jacqueline’s ‘domestica’ is deep yellow, and she says it tastes like sherry.  The waiter brings a new bottle.

We pick our way through sad saucers of chopped beetroot, taramasolata, tsatziki, hummus, potato salad and cucumbers.

Some incubus makes me introduce a bit of prickly nonsense about the previous evening’s row, when Jacqueline had spent two hours cleaning the kitchen floor and I sat upstairs watching the Oscars on TV.

She says that my ‘conscience’ is my problem.  I get bullish.  She does her hands on forehead number, headache, stressed out etc.  I get more bullish.  She starts to shout.

The calamari arrives.  It is tough; the sardines stale.  I look at her, feel no affection, and make no effort to disguise it.

The other diners have ceased their desultory chat; the old man who is murdering the food behind the hatch – eight or ten dishes of which are still due – has come out and taken a seat in the adjacent booth to feign cigarette smoking whilst he listens to the English couple rowing.

A final platter arrives:  halloumi; chicken legs; pork steaks and skewered lamb.  The argument flickers in and out of life, punctuated by Jacqueline’s asking repeatedly whether I really love her.

I leave the table to wash my hands.  When I return, she has paid the bill and is standing.  We have a few minutes’ very awkward silence while we wait for the minicab.  The other couples have given up any pretence of conversation and simply observe our discomfiture in silence.

Back at the house, in the kitchen, over tea (Jac) and whisky (me), there is a deal more scratchy fighting.  I know only one thing: I have had this row with other women before (or something very like it), and that it is me who is wholly culpable.’


Thank you so much to DAVID ARMSTORNG and ANN HAWKER for their brilliant contributions to this newsletter.

The next newsletter will be on Friday April 6th.

All the best






March 23rd 2018


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

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




Hi There,

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

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

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

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

Leah Dike

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

Jennifer Smith

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

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

Natalie Ekberg

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

Jo Richards

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

Rachel Smith

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

Philip Lawrence

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

Dee Chilton

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

Cowal Pen

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

Victoria Taylor Roberts

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

Jane Eden

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

Alec McAulay

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

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

Sonya Desai

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

Jane Eden (An excellent conclusion!)

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

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

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 23rd,

All the best





Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

March 9th 2018


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


Hi There,

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

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

What is your view on writing a treatment (or series bible) regarding adding character and quirky styling. By this I mean not being dead straight in informative and storytelling aspects, but perhaps aligning the style of the pitch with the style of the project. I’ve seen this done before, in treatments for things like “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” http://www.zen134237.zen.co.uk/Dirk_Gently/Dirk_Gently_-_Bible.pdf which is pretty quirky, and it appeals to me, but what I like isn’t necessarily what industry execs and script readers will warm to. Is this approach something reserved for more known/experienced/respected writers, and if a newer writer were to pitch this way, it would be regarded perhaps as amateurish?

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


The next newsletter will be on Friday March 9th.

All the best





Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

E: philip.shelley@script-consultant.co.uk

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