BFI FILM ACADEMY Q&A PART 2

Posted by admin  /   May 14, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on BFI FILM ACADEMY Q&A PART 2

Hi There,

Last Saturday I did a zoom talk on screenwriting for the BFI Film Academy. The last 15 minutes of the session consisted of me answering questions from the attendees but there were so many questions that I could only answer a small selection, SO in this newsletter I will be attempting to answer a few more of the excellent questions that were posted.

Thank you to everyone who listened in and for taking the time to write these really interesting questions.

‘I am a journalism graduate – how might I apply my skills to screenwriting, do you know any scriptwriters who come from a similar background?’

Yes, I know of quite a few writers who have come from a journalism background and I think this is a great starting point for screenwriting. Screenwriting, whether your story is fictional or based on a true story, so often depends on or is greatly enhanced by a basis in research and a journalistic approach. As the writer of any story, it’s important that you take the time and trouble to immerse yourself in the world you’re writing about – so that you re writing from a position of authority and truth, rather than giving us received, second-hand perspectives of the story world. Research and how you use it and dramatise it is such an important part of good dramatic storytelling.

I think a journalistic background also gives you a strong instinct for and understanding of what makes a great story. Journalism is all about sourcing, presenting and writing stories in a compelling way – and so is screenwriting.

Some of the brilliant screenwriters we’ve had on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in the last 10 years who had a journalistic grounding – Audrey Gillan, Anna Symon (a background in documentary film-making), Jiwon Lee, Eva Wiseman, Polly Vernon.

How do you decide what scenes to cut from a screenplay?

There was actually a great ‘Scriptnotes’ podcast episode on exactly this subject very recently.

I’d say there is a basic rule of thumb to address this issue – 2 main questions – does the scene advance / change the story? Does the scene advance / change our knowledge / understanding of the character? If the answer to both of these questions is a clear ‘no’ then it may be a scene to cut – although there is one other important question – ‘is the scene funny?’ I think a funny scene is one instance that over-rides story considerations.

On a BBC script-editing course I was running quite a few years ago, I remember Ashley Pharoah talking about the first ever episode of his BBC series LIFE ON MARS, which was over-running so in the edit they did a cut that retained all the essential story-beats but cut out most of the humour. The result – an episode that simply didn’t work. It was only when all the humour was reinstated that the show regained its true (and brilliant) identity.

ON the SCRIPTNOTES podcast, there is discussion about why as a writer you can sometimes justify including the less interesting scenes.

But one of the keys to good storytelling on screen is the very simple idea of including the interesting scenes and leaving out the boring scenes. In every story, some of the key decisions you have to make as writer is what to show on screen and what to omit. I read too many scenes in which the real drama happens off-screen and is then discussed dispassionately by characters after the event. Don’t do this! The simple and much-quoted ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ has become a script-editing cliché for a reason.

I can’t remember who first came up with, ‘A scene is a unit of change in a story’ but it’s a very useful guide. If a scene doesn’t change the status quo of your story, then you should question its reason for being in your story.

As a writer you are recommended to write something everyday, does this include things like treatments and planning documents, or focus on the creative?

This should absolutely include planning, writing treatments, outlines etc – and writing these documents should feel creative! This is a really important part of any screenwriter’s work. We all have our different modus operandi. In the much-imitated words of script editor-supreme Hilary Norrish, writers are either ‘vomiters or plotters.’ Whatever works for you in accessing your creativity and enabling your best work is fine – there is no one way to do it.

For some, the  more planning you do, the more work on outlining, planning and structuring your story, then the more creative and free-flowing your writing will be when you come to the writing of the script, free of the anxiety about not knowing where you’re going from scene to scene. And even if you plan your story meticulously in outline form before writing the script, it doesn’t mean you can’t / won’t then pleasantly surprise yourself with new, better ideas when you’re in the flow of writing the script.

But you shouldn’t also under-estimate the non-writing part of writing – dreaming, ruminating, toying with ideas, spending time in the outside world with positive writer’s intent – spying, eaves-dropping, day-dreaming, people-watching, making notes about ideas and characters, stories that spring to mind – all of this is invaluable, just as important as that time tapping away on the computer keyboard. So don’t be tyrannised by computer word-count as a measure of writing progress.

Are there any books you would recommend?

I still think STORY by Robert McKee is one of the best. There are so many brilliant ideas about what makes a brilliant story, so many of the important storytelling principles.

INTO THE WOODS by John Yorke is also great.

Of lesser-known screenwriting / storytelling books, I think THE ART OF SCREENPLAYS by Robin Mukherjee is very good; and Rib Davis’s two books on DIALOGUE and CHARACTER are also excellent.

Alexander Macendrick ON FILMAKING and DAVID MAMET on directing are two other craft books that have great insights about storytelling for the screen.

THE SCIENCE OF STORYTELLING by WILL STORR is an interesting analysis of how story works with many applications to screenwriting

Other interesting, lesser-known screenwriting books: The Story Book by DAVID BABOULENE; Difficult Men by BRETT MARTIN; And Here’s The Kicker by MIKE SACKS.

But there are so many fascinating books about screenwriting and dramatic writing that it’s hard to give a short list like this. For instance, a lot of the books about writing for theatre (eg David Edgar, Steve Waters, Stephen Jeffries) are also great for screenwriters.

And don’t forget the internet and podcasts eg ‘Scriptnotes’, mentioned above has a back-catalogue of over 450 episodes all about screenwriting from two hugely experienced, outstanding US screenwriters.

Apart from short films are there other mediums you would recommend writers using to get their work out there?

I touched on this in the talk, using my dramatic monologue podcast series www.tributepodcasts.co.uk as an example of how screenwriters / dramatic writers can get their work noticed. The podcast market is booming – but even now, there aren’t that many examples of podcasts that showcase dramatic writing. If you can find the right USP / format, I still think this can be a great (and cheap!) way to get your writing noticed.

The obvious alternative to short films is fringe theatre. There are so many different venues / companies who feature new writing in many different forms (eg one of the 5 mentee writers I talked to late on Saturday had written a ‘Rapid Response’ to a Theatre 503 play and got their work put on in this way).

Using script-readings as a showcase for your work – whether it’s live or online – is another great way to get your work noticed. Having actors perform your work is invaluable and will bring out so much more in your work than a cold read off the page.

You could also think about getting your work noticed in other forms as a way of segueing into screenwriting. If potential employers like your work as a poet, journalist, songwriter, blogger, stand-up comic, they will be more likely to be interested in your work as a screenwriter. If you have something you are burning to say, some writing you want to do, then set up your own blog and put it out there on the internet. Good writing is good writing wherever it’s about and in whatever form we find it. For instance, I first became a fan of Nick Hornby’s writing in a weekly column he had in The Independent (I think – or was it in ‘The Sunday Correspondent’?) a long time ago. His article was a highlight of my week – and I have looked out for his new work ever since then.

The next newsletter will be in a week’s time on Friday May 22nd – another (really excellent) guest blog, this time by screenwriter and 4screenwriting alumnus, PAUL WILLIAMS.

I hope you have a great week in the meantime and are managing to maintain morale and creativity despite everything that’s happening,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

May 15th 2020

LAURENCE TRATALOS guest blog

Posted by admin  /   May 06, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on LAURENCE TRATALOS guest blog

Hi There,

This week, I’m absolutely delighted to share with you the first of several screenwriter guest blogs. I am so grateful to the brilliant, generous people who have written these guest blogs – and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. SO for the next few weeks, the screenwriting newsletter will be going out weekly instead of fortnightly every Friday.

The first is by screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS. Laurence has been sending me his excellent scripts for quite a few years and it’s been great seeing his screenwriting career deservedly taking off.

Laurence Tratalos became interested in script writing during his time studying Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Whilst living in Australia in 2015 he entered a script into the BBC Writersroom’s ‘Scriptroom 9’ competition. Out of 2200 scripts, he was selected as one of the ten writers to take part in a six-month development scheme with BBC Comedy. He still doesn’t know how that happened, but he enjoyed his time there.

Later, a drama script of his was chosen for Philip Shelley’s Script Showcase, an industry event where his script was performed by a cast of actors. As a result of these two experiences, he currently has a number of scripts in development with UK production companies and is represented by Independent Talent Group.

HI comedy pilot ‘EVE’ was filmed last summer https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9245214/?ref_=nm_knf_t and a short film he wrote ‘In A While, Crocodile’ can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/409883652

When not writing, he works as a carer for a friend with autism, and at a local cinema. He looks forward to being able to go back to both when all this craziness is over.

How to (not) write during a crisis

‘Philip asked me to write something, anything, vaguely related to screenwriting. And I confess I didn’t really know where to start. My life hasn’t changed that dramatically during this crisis and I felt ill positioned to comment. I wasn’t feeling particularly productive or enthusiastic about my writing either.

There’s probably a million pieces on how you should be creating your masterpiece during these times. How you should be working like normal, using this time to be inspired… Inspired? Have you seen what’s going on in the world?

You do not need to be productive.

You can give yourself time off.

You can allow yourself to be lazy.

To watch shit TV.

To miss the football.

To enjoy the weather (god really gets irony).

There is no right way to do the apocalypse (Shaun of The Dead was pretty fun though).

For the first week I got nothing done. Literally nothing. I tried to write but kept on letting the endless news stories feed my anxiety, constantly refreshing Twitter and BBC news. It didn’t help that I’d subscribed to Disney Plus and was bingeing old Simpsons episodes. Our reality had changed, overnight. My attention span was near zero. I’d start writing and then I’d be on Youtube, or listening to a song, or reading Twitter. I felt emotional all of the time: I watched Ten Things I Hate About You the other week and was bawling my eyes out. We’re living in an unprecedented time. 

In catastrophic times we question the meaning and purpose of drama. Why create something that might never get made/seen/be relevant once this is over? When major historical events take place, many artists feel that contemporary modes of expression are insufficient to express their feelings, and that new modes have to be found to address the era. Why finish my script when no one might read it/make it/give a crap about it? What role does comedy play during a crisis? What role do the arts play? Do they help us cope with our fears or do they amplify them? I certainly didn’t want to write anything even vaguely related to the coronavirus, as producers kept telling me, ‘we’ll need an escape once all this is over’. 

An ‘escape’. My girlfriend is a student nurse. She does her job for no money and, until recently, very little recognition. She and her colleagues put their lives on the line: I stare at the wall and dream up stories that will help us ‘escape’. Coming up with storylines that are funny, interesting or engaging feels hollow. It’s what I do best, but it’s just not the same as before.

And how will television change once (if) we’re past this? The nation and indeed the world will have been through a shared trauma. Not since the epidemic of 1918 has an event on this global scale occurred. How do TV and media go back to normal? Does every contemporary drama need to address the coronavirus, or do they gloss over it? Do we just write 2020 off?

I’m procrastinating again, I’m meant to be writing about writing but instead I’m focusing on the coronavirus. As Kurt Vonnegut said: ‘Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.’

So I decided I was going to do what I’ve done countless times before in the past, and try and write my way out of trouble. I’m lucky in that I actually enjoy writing. During times when I’ve been down in the dumps, I’ve turned to writing to get myself out of a funk. And because my other two part-time jobs aren’t possible at the minute, I can now pretend I’m a full-time writer. But if you have a demanding family/writer’s block/are struggling with profound existential angst in the face of a global pandemic, then don’t worry if you don’t feel like turning on Final Draft and staring at the blinking cursor.

I arranged Zoom and Skype meetings with producers (saving myself on train fares), set myself deadlines for competitions to enter, and edited a few projects that people wanted to read. I managed to write a new script (I’m not bragging, it’s probably crap) but it helped that I was writing something I really cared about. When you hit flow with writing and create something out of nothing there’s no other feeling like it, you leave the world – if only briefly. A quote from season one of True Detective comes to mind, it’s not about writing but it does the job: ‘…Most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.’

Write/don’t write, do what helps you, do what you need to do to cope. Write for fun. For sheer escapism. Write that thing you know will never get made but makes your soul soar. Or don’t. Just lie in front of the telly, re-watching Simpson episodes and dream about hugging random people…

Stay safe,

Laurence’

Thank you so much Laurence.

I would really recommend IN A WHILE CROCODILE – it’s a cracking short film.

The next newsletter will be next Friday, May 15th.

Until then – look after yourselves,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

May 8th 2020

INTERVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Posted by admin  /   April 28, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on INTERVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Hi There,

From this week onwards, for the next few weeks, I will be sending out this newsletter WEEKLY rather than fortnightly as I have some really excellent gust blogs that I’d like to share with you. So the next few editions will alternate from week to week between my musings and guests writing on various screenwriting-related subjects.

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE INTERVIEWS – SOME OBSERVATIONS

Having undertaken 37 x 30’ interviews over three days (and having done this now for quite a few years), I hope you will find it interesting if I observe what makes for a good interview.

Here are a few thoughts (which I hope are applicable for job interviews in general not just for 4screenwriting in particular).

As with everything, do your homework and come prepared. I send the interviewees a list of 4 things that we will ask them about – ‘We’d like to talk to you about your submitted script, your other writing work, why you want to come on the 4screenwriting course, and ideas you may be considering for the script you would write on the course, if chosen.’  – but then usually try to ask them one extra thing that I haven’t alerted them to in advance (although usually it’s a question that writers in this position should have views about anyway – a question like – who are your favourite screenwriters? What are you watching on TV at the moment? ie nothing too left-field).

I would expect writers to have read all the information available on the internet (my website, the 4talent website) about what happens on the course, what is expected of the writers on the course. We don’t go into a long explanation of what happens on the course (mainly because doing this 37 times is not good for our sanity) but we give the writers the chance to ask any questions about the course; and this is an important element of the interview – sometimes if they ask you particularly searching or difficult questions, it can bring an energy to the conversation.

Obviously the interview can be quite nerve-racking and we try to make it as informal and relaxed as possible. This is easy for me to say and sometimes hard to achieve but it’s important that you find a way to manage your nerves so that it doesn’t inhibit you – the best way to do this is to be prepared and have done your homework.

One thing that nerves sometimes does is get in the way of the interviewee ‘reading’ the room. As an interviewee you need to try to make this into a conversation rather than a monologue. It’s important that as interviewers we do all we can to help you feel at ease; but part of the ‘contract’ is that you are aware of how that works in the other direction. Occasionally a pitch will go on too long and as interviewer it’s hard to find a way that doesn’t feel rude to move onto the next question or idea.

Nerves can also sometimes mean that a question like ‘What recent TV drama have you enjoyed and why?’ can generate a complete blank. This is very common and absolutely reasonable (I know I’ve experienced brain-freeze sometimes when this question is thrown back at me). Some interviewees bring along a notebook or written notes; and at this point will often say ’Do you mind if I refer to my notes?’ My personal response to this is very positive – I’m impressed that you’re well-prepared and have made notes and have brought them with you – to me it demonstrates conscientiousness and good preparation. If you want to refer to notes in an interview that’s a positive. The only caveat I’d give is that you don’t then just read responses from the notebook or read out your pitches – try to keep in mind that the interview should be a dynamic conversation with eye contact – not just you performing a monologue to the interviewers.

One of the things that is difficult is for writers is when we ask them what they love on TV and inevitably they often come up with the same show. This year it was SUCCESSION, last year it was FLEABAG. Clearly neither of these are the wrong answer! But if someone is the 25th person to tell you how wonderful SUCCESSION is, it’s not going to be as interesting as the 1st person to say this! So even if you love the big hit show, it can sometimes be a good idea to acknowledge that show with some rapid and insightful analysis of the script’s brilliance – before moving onto a show that is perhaps less obvious and more likely therefore to feel distinctive. And it’s not just what shows you like – but being able to analyse what is so effective in the writing of those shows that makes them work.

Above all though we’re looking for the passion and individuality behind your writing; and for your ability to articulate this – because alongside your writing, it’s such an important part of the TV drama industry. We want to see your enthusiasm and passion for your own ideas, a distinctive, informed and specific response to TV drama in general and Channel 4 drama in particular; and a curiosity about what the 4screenwriting can do for you.

One of the most important parts of the interview is the writers telling us about the ideas they would be interested in writing on the course. If these ideas are exciting, then it’s an exciting prospect for us to be able to work with the writers on those ideas. Two of the three writers I’m working with this year are developing the ideas they pitched in the interview – and it’s very exciting seeing these ideas blossom into life in discussion and then on the page.

Making sure it’s a dynamic, two-way conversation – eg turning the tables, asking the interviewers questions.

It’s also great if we feel that you’ve done your research and have thought about what the course can do for you and what you as a writer can bring to the course – so, for instance, if you’ve read the course information and testimonials, even looked into the work and scripts written by former alumni of the course (done easily with a few quick google searches) or even have spoken to writers who have been on the course in the past. We want to know that not only are you a good writer but that you’re pro-active and thoughtful.

The interview process in general is very exciting. It’s great being able to put a face to the scripts that we’ve really enjoyed reading, being able to tell the writers how much you enjoyed their scripts and hearing about what inspired those scripts and how the writers came to write them. And I always come away from the interviews with a long list of recommended TV shows that I haven’t watched and would like to.

Add something about CV’s. CV’s are selling documents – they are there to sell you, to make you sound interesting, ambitious, distinctive. Like one page pitches. BUT be honest. You need to work on CVs – they are part of your application, another creative document.

I’m resistant to personal mission statements that contain nothing meaningful. We look for people with impressive writing credits but also interesting, colourful life experience that shows ambition and a sense of adventure and imagination.

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

In the absence of live theatre, there have been quite a few plays and other really interesting theatre-related stuff on the internet in the last few weeks. Here are a few of the things I have enjoyed –

LOLA ARIAS – and her way of working. I knew nothing about Lola Arias before I read about her play MINEFIELD, which was broadcast via the Royal Court Theatre website a few weeks ago for a limited period. This was a play performed by 6 Falklands War veterans – 3 British, 3 Argentine – about their experiences of the war and life since. Frustratingly I missed the live stream by a day but read a lot about the play and watched clips. It looked completely fascinating and alerted me to the journalist / theatre-maker LOLA ARIAS. I then watched her play, MY LIFE AFTER (available on youtube) ‘based on the biography of six performers who re-enact their parents’ youth during the dictatorship in Argentina.’ Which I thought was great. She comes from a journalistic background. This isn’t quite ‘verbatim’ theatre – but she seems like a really talented and very original dramatic storyteller

HAMPSTEAD THEATRE – are showing some of their archive of plays for a week each on youtube. Last week I watched TIGER COUNTRY written and directed by the excellent NINA RAINE. (She has written a number of really good plays, in particular, CONSENT and STORIES.) This was a warts-and-all examination of the stresses and strains placed on doctors and nurses working in one NHS hospital. Although originally produced back in 2011, the play feels particularly timely right now.

Two JAMES FRITZ links. James was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2015 and is a really excellent dramatist and screenwriter. If you get the chance to see one of his plays, take it. You won’t regret it.

He has written this excellent blog on the Bruntwood Prize website – this is largely about form in storytelling and is hugely insightful.

And he has done an interview about his play LAVA as part of the Nick Hern Books PLAY GROUP podcast. Nick Hern books are making a play available to read for free on their website every week, then interviewing the writer about the play and their work in general. James’s interview is really interesting, as is ANNA JORDAN’s about her play, YEN. (Anna has since gone on to write on SUCCESSION).

I haven’t yet got to the 3rd interview with Winsome Pinnock; and the latest play to read, currently available on the Nick Hern website is ARLINGTON by ENDA WALSH, with more to come.

+ Anna Jordan interview https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/playgroup

A useful checklist of many of the theatre shows online at the moment –

https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/theatre/how-to-watch-stream-theatre-dance-comedy-opera-online-a4396631.html

SCRIPTNOTES podcast has been particularly enjoyable recently, especially two zoom episodes, one in which John August and Craig Mazin talk to PHOEBE WALLER BRIDGE and RYAN REYNOLDS about their screenwriting – in particular the way both have made much use of direct address to camera in their writing.

And even more enjoyable to me was the subsequent THREE PAGE CHALLENGE episode, also on youtube – in which John, Craig and guest Dana Fox analyse the first three pages of 4 scripts, then talk to the writers about their scripts. This is such a great lesson in both how to analyse and read scripts but also an insight into writers’ working processes. An added bonus is that we can read the three pages as they’re being analysed – it’s invaluable hearing experienced, talented pro screenwriters like this respond to the detail of script pages.

Two rather wonderful examples of what is creatively possible in these restricted times. Thank you Laurence Tratalos, Adam Lavis and Tamzin Rafn for bringing a smile to my face. Some great comic writing in both of these short films –

LOCK ME UP, LOCK ME DOWN – Tamzin Rafn

IN A WHILE, CROCODILE – written by LAURENCE TRATALOS.

TELEVISION

There has been some wonderful TV drama in the last few weeks.

BETTER CALL SAUL S5 Ep8 – 10

I am a huge BREAKING BAD / BETTER CALL SAUL fan – and I think the last three episodes of Season 5 of BETTER CALL SAUL were just outstanding – gripping, intense, utterly distinctive. Dramatic storytelling at its very best, based on rich, textured characterisation, and beautifully directed. Shot after shot is a work of art. The show is loaded with visual references / call-backs which just add to the richness of watching the show (mint choc chip ice cream anyone?)

QUIZ on ITV by James Graham.

This was a very enjoyable romp. One of the things I admire about James Graham as a writer is that he has a great instinct for what makes a cracking story – he homes in on the BIG IDEAS that so many other writers shy away from. Everything he writes about is political in some sense and is often plucked from the headlines. The characterisation in QUIZ was good but what was best about it was the moral murk – the complications and unresolved mysteries at the heart of this story. It had a lot to say about Middle England and the political climate of the UK – but in a way that was entertaining and subtle.

NORMAL PEOPLE – adapted from her novel by SALLY ROONEY (and ALICE BIRCH). I think this series is beautifully written and made. It’s an object lesson in how (contrary to what I was just saying about Quiz / James Graham!) stories don’t always have to be big, bold, headline ideas. The best stories can, indeed, be about NORMAL PEOPLE. If they’re told with this much love for and attention to detail in the characterisations, then a simple love story told over 12 x 30 episodes can be just as gripping. The show is a great reminder of the primacy of CHARACTER. If you create characters who feel textured, complicated, flawed – but above all real and relatable – people will love to spend time with them.

And to have directed so brilliantly two projects as different as ROOM and NORMAL PEOPLE is a great reflection on the talent of Lenny Abrahamson as director.

Incidentally, I don’t know about you – but the fact that this was structured in half hour rather than in traditional BBC one hour episodes, made it even more appealing to me.

As mentioned above, the next newsletter will be in a one week’s time – on Friday May 8th.

Until then, look after yourself and stay safe,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

May 1st 2020

SCREENWRITING INTERVIEW

Posted by admin  /   April 16, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on SCREENWRITING INTERVIEW

Hi There,

I hope you are continuing to cope with the weirdness of social isolation and still managing to find the headspace for writing and creativity. Here is the text from an interview I did earlier this week about various aspects of screenwriting with Hanna Peretz, a Film & TV producer based in Sweden –

‘I had the pleasure of meeting Philip when I asked him to speak at a screenwriting and pitching workshop I ran in London, back in 2008. He is currently in the 10th year of running the annual Channel 4 Screenwriting course, which is an initiative to find twelve of the most talented new writers in the UK and working with them for 6 months to develop a pilot script, then introducing them to the industry.

He has a Script Consultancy (www.script-consultant.co.uk) where he works with both freelance writers and with production companies, covering reading, development and marketing of scripts.

At the moment, in these crazy times when nobody’s really leaving their house, he gets a lot of scripts to read from both brand new writers and some very experienced writers. I wanted to take this opportunity to get Philip to share his knowledge, some tips and get us all inspired to create some great stories!

It can be quite daunting to write a script. How do you get started?

I think it’s good to start writing short content. It’s not as daunting as thinking you’ve got to write a 90 minute screenplay. I would encourage people to start small and gradually work their way up to feature film scripts. Occasionally, I get feature film scripts from first time writers and I often wish that they’d talked to me when they were developing the idea rather than sending me the full script, because if there’s something problematic with the story then it’s much easier to flag that at the outline stage than when they’ve written a full script. It’s really hard for writers to unpick it and work backwards at that point whereas if it’s just an outline, you’re more free to make changes and feel less emotionally attached.

I would also encourage a lot of people-watching. I run a Creativity for Scriptwriters course (http://script-consultant.co.uk/training/ ) which is mainly about looking outside yourself and getting out into the world; observing people and reading newspapers. Trying to get ideas from external sources rather than relying on just you in front of the computer screen which is often the least productive creative place to be.

I think we can all relate to that.

One of my issues is that I have too many ideas and find it hard to stay on track..

Yes that is difficult. I feel the same way sometimes, often thinking of ideas – but executing them is the big challenge. It’s finishing your work that’s really important. Finishing your first draft and showing it to people. I think it’s really important to have a community of fellow writers around you, making those contacts and finding people you can trust to give you an honest but constructive opinion. Often you’re writing that first draft and realise that perhaps this isn’t the idea you want to pursue and you move on to something else. But it’s so much about finding the time and having that discipline and that regular writing time.

Exactly, often you think you have a great idea, start writing and realise it doesn’t hold up.

Yes which is another great reason for outlining before you write. The way the industry works is that producers will want as much evidence as they can get that your idea will be fantastic before they commission you to write a script. So they will commission outlines with several drafts and will be reluctant to pay you a script fee until they’ve got a really well worked out outline.

It’s quite demoralising when you get two thirds into a script before it all starts to fall apart so make sure you know what your ending is for that episode or feature film and do all that planning work, because it’s invaluable. Some writers don’t like to do that and just like to get a finished first draft before going back and start moving the furniture around, but the way the industry works, you’re very much encouraged to do your planning, write an outline and demonstrate that your story is going to work before you get to script stage.

What should you include in an outline and how detailed should you be?

It depends on what stage you’re at but it should be quite detailed because as a writer you need to visualise how it’s going to play out onscreen, how the cuts will go from scene to scene. Writers often don’t like writing those documents because usually they’re only getting about 10% of their script fee and they would argue – quite rightly – that it’s probably 80% of the work of creating the script in that outline. Once you know what every scene does and what every scene contains then it should be relatively easy to write the dialogue. It’s a really important and necessary part of the process whether you’re getting paid or not and it will make the chance of you finishing that script more likely because you have that map.

But I think the key to writing good outlines is just thinking visually and cinematically. Describing the action without explaining it. The things that you read and really enjoy in terms of outlines just tell you what happens on the screen, leaving you as the reader to interpret it.

It can be hard to convey everything that you pick up more easily visually. How much description should you write?

That’s something I think about so much when I read scripts and I’m so often giving notes on that to writers. My guiding principle in terms of reading a script and writing a script is that it should as accurately as possible reflect what we’re going to see on screen. When you read a script, the experience should be as close as possible to watching the film, so I would argue that generally you shouldn’t give privileged information to the reader that’s not accessible to the audience. When introducing a character you’re meeting for the first time, you shouldn’t give a lot of backstory about their background or wealth, for instance. I think as much as possible introductions to characters should be active, so when we meet the character they are doing something that characterises them and tells you something about them in a dynamic, interesting way (which isn’t always possible). I think what you should describe about the character is everything we’re going to be seeing on screen, like their age, gender and anything in particular about them, perhaps something about their manner or the way they behave. What I think people should try to avoid is saying something like “this is John 24, he’s never come to terms with the death of his father”, which is more like writing a novel. It’s interesting but it confuses the read and it’s not screenwriting.

Can you overdo scene directions?

Yes, you can look at a script and think: there are too many big blocks of directions here. It’s going to be a hard read. It’s about being economical and maintaining a good pace, making sure the cuts from scene to scene work really well, adding energy to the storytelling.

And I would say in principle, generally you concentrate on the people rather than the objects. And that’s a rough guide, but also make the directions as active and dynamic as possible. When you read a scene heading and it starts with a detailed description of the room, the table and the number of chairs, you just think: Do I need to know all that? Unless it’s absolutely vital to the story.

And what makes a good character?

That’s a really tricky question, it’s such an instinctive thing. The character is the most important thing, it’s the reason we care about stories. I think one of the keys to that is the tension between the surface of the character and what is actually going on underneath. The characters that often don’t work are the ones where everything about them is apparent the first time you meet them and the writer has nowhere to go from that point. There has to be that tension. I think flaws are the key to good characterisation, how characters cope with their flaws. Once a character is able to articulate their problems and flaws, they immediately start to become less interesting, there’s a lessening of that inner tension.

So much of good characterisation is in the visual detail of the character as well. In the way they behave, the way they talk, walk, relate and behave with other people, the way they wear their hair, all those things are what make people interesting. Also, it’s about building a backstory of a person: thinking about their politics, what their attitude to life is, what they like eating, what they’re like with their family. But at the end of the day, characters are interesting because of how damaged they are. Often stories are about how they resolve that inner damage over the course of the story. If the character has no issues, it’s really hard to make an interesting story and narrative. That relates to relationships as well, there have to be issues with people and frictions and conflicts to make stories interesting. I think good storytelling is often about revealing stories slowly and withholding from the audience. It’s a fine balance between doing that artificially and making it feel like it’s integral to the story. But making the audience ask questions is the key to good storytelling.

I think lies, secrets and denial are absolutely fundamental to characters and story.

It’s a tough balance though, to keep the audience from losing interest!

Yes, particularly if you’re withholding a lot and then the payoff at the end isn’t worth the wait. It’s a tricky balance. One of the things I get quite concerned about is structural principles of storytelling and for me, too often when writers start thinking like that in the early stages, their stories start to be less surprising, less interesting and I think it can be quite inhibiting. We all have an innate storytelling instinct and we don’t need to think about all those points when we’re writing the story initially because your instinct does that for you. If you start thinking too much about ticking all those boxes (eg end of act one, two, story mid-point) it can be quite damaging to your creativity.

I’m always saying to new writers – don’t worry about the budget. Try writing something as ambitious and distinctive as possible because the likelihood is that the script they’re writing isn’t going to get made but they are going to get a lot of work and meetings because people liked their scripts. When they’re not second guessing the industry but they actually write really original, distinctive scripts that give strong impressions of a unique voice.

When scripts don’t work it’s sometimes because the writers are thinking too much about whether it will get made, which broadcaster may commission it, how commercial it is etc. When they’re trying to break into the industry that’s the last thing they should be worried about because what people are looking for is something original and surprising.

Looking for further guidance or inspiration?

Philip has his own script consultancy, runs quite a few courses and writes a free fortnightly screenwriting newsletter to which you can subscribe, you can check them out here www.script-consultant.co.uk

He also produced this series of dramatic monologue podcasts – www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 1st,

Stay safe and look after yourself,

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

April 17th 2020

CREATIVITY IN LOCKDOWN

Posted by admin  /   April 01, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting Reading, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CREATIVITY IN LOCKDOWN

Hi There,

I hope you are all keeping well in these strange and severely restricted times. It seems we’re just going to have to be patient, be kind to ourselves and each other and try – although sometimes it’s not easy – to keep feeding our creativity, as things we were looking forward to disappear over the horizon.

Above all, I do think it’s important that we find ways to keep talking to each other at the moment when we’re all stuck inside. I’m lucky enough to be with wife and youngest daughter but my three elder children and their partners are in various parts of London. We’ve set up a weekly quiz on zoom, set by a different family member each week. It’s a fun way of formalising continued contact.

Here are a few recommendations that I hope will be help to brighten your lives a little in the next however many weeks –

BOOKS – using the extra time we all have to read is something that has given me real enjoyment in the last couple of weeks (although I’m lucky enough to still have plenty of excellent scripts to read in weekday working hours!). This is when a kindle (or other reading device!) really comes into its own.

I have chanced upon some brilliant books in the last couple of weeks –

English Monsters by James Scudamore.

If you were interested in my musings about boarding school a few months ago, then this is the book for you. It’s beautifully written – essentially about the damage that boarding school does to people, how that damage can run through your whole life. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about family, friends and surviving trauma. I found it powerful, moving and thought-provoking. The book made me (again) think about incidents from my own years at boarding school – not just the bad moments but the good as well.

But I think this book has a lot even for people who didn’t go through the boarding school experience – it’s just a great piece of writing.

James Scudamore also wrote this excellent article about the book and his own personal experiences (I would advise reading this article only after you’ve read the book)

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education-and-careers/0/dark-side-of-boarding-school/

A Bit Of A Stretch by Chris Atkins

True account of the experiences of film-maker Chris Atkins, sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for the fraudulent tax avoidance scheme that he was encouraged to use by a dodgy accountant to fund one of his (BAFTA-nominated) films. The book covers the experience of his time in HMP Wandsworth. The book is by turns moving, shocking and very funny. Above all, it’s a powerful indictment of the dangerous and destructive chaos that is the English prison system. The book has apparently been optioned by a TV production company. If this project doesn’t get picked up double-quick by a broadcaster, I will be amazed – it’s wonderfully well-suited to dramatization and a story that needs as wide an airing as possible. It also has weird parallels for us in this age of enforced lockdown! Speaking of which…

Station Eleven – by Emily St John Mandel

You may think it’s not the best book to read right now in that it’s about a pandemic that kills 99.9% of the world’s population but in the same way as the current coronavirus is making us all reconsider so much about our lives and things we have taken for granted for so long, so does this book. The quality of the writing and the storytelling grabbed me from the first few pages. One of my favourite books of the last few years. While there are many bleak images and moments in the book, at the same time, there’s also something beautiful, profound and ultimately uplifting about it.

TV / FILM

I’ve been watching a lot of comedy as an antidote to the misery of the news. Here are some of the highlights. If you haven’t seen them, some of these may well give you a much-needed smile or two –

BREEDERS written by Simon Blackwell. (Sky, Now TV)

About the experience of coping with life, work, family and everything else when you have young kids. Refreshingly sweary and foul-mouthed – and to my mind a really well-observed, honest account of the messy reality of trying (and failing) to multi-task. I have found a lot of this laugh-out-loud-funny.

THE TRIP TO GREECE (Sky, Now TV)

Another in the very productive Michael Winterbottom / Steve Coogan creative relationship. (When you get the chance I also highly recommend their feature film GREED which I saw at the 2019 LFF). Like the previous ‘Trip’s this is stunning to look at; and the weird reality / fiction crossover of having Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalised versions of themselves is really interesting and successful. A lot of it is really funny (particularly Brydon’s impersonations and the prickly, competitive relationship between the characters) and by the end the series becomes unexpectedly moving.

IN MY SKIN – written by Kayleigh Llewellyn, directed by Lucy Forbes.

All 5 episodes now on BBC iplayer, this is a superb 5 x 30’ comedy drama series. Lucy Forbes also directed THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD series 2 and came into talk to the writers on this year’s C4 screenwriting course, which alerted me to this series. The writing, direction and performances are outstanding – highly recommended. This was released onto BBC iplayer on March 29th and my household had consumed it all by March 30th. It’s so great when brilliant new voices like Kayleigh Llewellyn deservedly get their shows made – this really stands out from the crowd. I can’t wait for series 2!

https://amp.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/mar/29/kayleigh-llewellyn-in-my-skin-interview-bipolar-disorder-mum

WORK – the last couple of weeks have made me really value and appreciate the work I do. Reading and analysing scripts feels like a wonderful privilege and escape at the moment. But it’s also made me value the other parts of my work that I’m missing – the company and camaraderie of so many writers, script editors etc.

(By the way my script consultancy is very much open for business. If you’d like feedback on a script, please get in touch.)

ANIMALS – Having two dogs and a cat has been a great boon in the last couple of weeks. Having two dogs who need regular walks gives you perspective on what’s happening and makes you value their constancy and the positives they bring to your life.

MUSIC, FAMILY, NATURE and the COUNTRYSIDE are other things that have had enhanced value recently. (I’m particularly loving new album La Vita Nuova by Maria McKee).

EXERCISE – having a bicycle ride or run as part of the day is really helping my morale.

TWITTER – (and social media in general) is a bit of a double-edged sword at the moment. Some of it is worrying and depressing. But I’m finding certain people / tweets can really add to a positive mental state at the moment. Her are a few twitter accounts that might bring a smile to your face –

@brian_bilston Brian Bilson’s wonderfully humane, funny, extremely clever poems are great.

@baddiel David Baddiel speaks a lot of sense, often very funnily.

@realbobmortimer – his ‘train guy’ creation is comedy genius.

@MrMichaelSpicer – a twitter phenomenon for good reason.

I hope some of the above brightens your days a little if you didn’t already know about them. It would be great if you’d like to respond and make some recommendations of your own that I could share in the next newsletter.

2 RANDOM SCREENWRITING OBSERVATIONS

1 I think sometimes over-adherence to structural ‘rules’ can screw you up as a writer. Above all, you need to trust your innate storytelling instinct – we all have one; rather than trying to tick off structural points on the map – inciting incident, mid-point, end of act 2 etc. Above all, the best stories are surprising. Concentration on structural rules can often do more harm than good.

2 At this time, I’m finding I don’t have much engagement with ideas unless they’re two things – escapist and funny OR more particularly if they’re ideas underpinned by passion and conviction, ideas that are driven by a writer’s fire for the idea. At the moment I’m turned off by ideas that feel cynical and ‘commercial’. (The truth is, I’m always turned off by these sorts of ideas but now even more strongly). What we are all looking for in writing is honesty and that writer’s own truths – even if they’re not our truths. A particular world view / attitude. I’m not interested in what they think might be commissioned – schedule filler.

The next newsletter will be on Friday April 17th.

Keep well and creative,

All the very best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

April 3rd 2020

NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES + COURSE REVIEW

Posted by admin  /   March 17, 2020  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on NEW SCREENWRITING COURSES + COURSE REVIEW

Hi There,

I hope very much that you’re keeping safe and well and, above all, managing to remain calm, upbeat and anxiety-free in these very troubled times. I won’t go into detail about my feelings about how the situation is being ‘managed’ by the UK authorities because I am writing this on Monday and I’m sure anything I write now will seem like very old news by Friday.

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FRANCE SCREENWRITING COURSE / RETREAT Sept 16-21 – Update

6/10 places on this course / retreat have now been taken. http://script-consultant.co.uk/france-screenwriting-course-retreat/

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Review of my three recent courses

I have now come to the end of an intense but hugely enjoyable period over Feb / March in which I ran three courses (glad I didn’t schedule them for March / April!). I wanted to write about the experience of running these courses.

1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING

The second time I have run this course and once again I really enjoyed it and it seemed to go down well with the 42 writers who came along for the day. It’s different from my other courses in that there isn’t an upper limit of 20 delegates and it’s less interactive. Having said that, both times I have run it, the whole day has felt more like a dynamic dialogue between myself, my two guest speakers and the writers than like a series of lectures. There was a really good energy in the room; and the course felt like a celebration and appreciation of what is exciting and great about screenwriting rather than just a basic introduction. Inevitably, talking about what a screenplay looks like on the page, going through all the elements that go into making up a script also leads into what constitutes good screenwriting. And I use lots of examples – both with clips and in pages from screenplays – of screenwriting at its very best.

The day is long – I arrived to set up the room at 9am and didn’t leave the pub until nearly 10pm – but a lot of fun. I’m particularly indebted to my industry friends who came along to the pub to have their brains picked by the course writers and were incredibly generous with their advice. I had lots of feedback from the course writers about swapped emails and industry people offering to put writers in touch with other people in the industry who might be able to help them. The pub networking event reminds me of how many nice, supportive people there are in this industry, of how this business is so reliant on personal contacts and recommendations and of how important it is to find a way of enjoying the social side of the business. (This pub networking event also inspired one of the scripts on my ‘writing a short film course’ – a comedy about industry networking-induced anxiety!).

From a selfish point of view, it’s great for me to catch up with these industry guests and hear what’s happening with them. At the end of the evening after all the course writers had gone home, I was left in the pub with a writer and script editor from different years of the Channel 4 screenwriting course, who had originally met when working together on the writer’s feature film script at an indie to whom I’d introduced them both at different times – that’s the way this industry works.

We had two two guest speakers – first, director Tim Fywell, whom I’ve known since he directed my wife in a play on the London fringe (30 years ago?). Our paths crossed again when we both worked at Granada (me as script editor on MEDICS, him as director on one of the very best CRACKER stories) and then when he was directing and I was script-editing WAKING THE DEAD at the BBC. Tim talked about the scripts on the last two eps of series 1 of HAPPY VALLEY which he directed. Having Tim speak about this show gave me (and the course writers) the motivation to watch / re-watch HAPPY VALLEY series one. And the universal response was – what a treat. This really is one of the very best examples of drama series writing in the last ten years. It stands up to repeated viewing because the writing has such fire, passion and craft brilliance. It’s a masterclass in story and character. A lot of the course writers had also read the scripts – an equally rewarding experience. I really think these two series of HV will stand out for decades to come as the pinnacle of TV screenwriting in what is such a rich age of TV drama.

Our 2nd guest speaker was ARCHIE MADDOCKS. Archie was on the 2018 Channel 4 screenwriting course and is a force of nature. He talked about his work and how he combines dramatic writing (he is also a playwright with a play on at the Park Theatre in London in May) with a lot of work in stand-up comedy. He came in to talk late on the Saturday afternoon and from there was due to drive to Darlington for a stand-up gig at 10pm and had promised someone a lift back from there to London after the gig. Alongside the three script deadlines he had for the coming week! Archie talked about all his current development projects – about how he manages a large slate of different ideas, about how thinking / planning time is just as important as writing time; and how he makes best use of his time; for instance he told me that he has a dictation app on his phone so that he can actually speak / write as he’s driving! What was most valuable about Archie for the less experienced writers on the course was when Archie talked about the ideas he’s pursuing and why these are the stores he wants to tell. Archie speaks so entertainingly and with such passion about the ideas he’s working on. He was the perfect example of one of the things I’d been talking about in the morning – how it’s not enough to be a brilliant writer with brilliant ideas – how it’s also important that you can articulate to other people who you are as a writer, why you want to tell the stories you want to tell, and how you have to convince / persuade employers that these are stories that need to be told and will find an audience.

For me, the whole day is incredibly mentally stimulating. By the end of the day my mind is racing with all the new, interesting, energising people I have met. I go home very happy that I do the job I do.

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WRITING A SHORT FILM COURSE

A response from a lot of the courses I’ve run is writers wanting to do a course that generates a script. This is a course for only 12 people. The first three hour session contained a short discussion of what makes the best short films followed by the 12 writers articulating the ideas they were interested in writing (each of the writers came with 2 or 3 ideas). The evening was inspiring – so many great ideas pitched with such clarity and enthusiasm – and I think the energy and generosity of spirit in the room from the writers to help each other and make constructive suggestions, really added to the process. On my way home on the tube I noted down each of the writers’ ideas – and it was a very exciting list of stories that I can’t wait to see come to fruition in the next couple of weeks of intense work!

Many of the writers said they wanted to do this course to force them into finishing their scripts, to give them the structure and framework to compel them to follow through on ideas in note and bullet form.

WEEK 2 – a packed three hour session in which the 12 writers got feedback on their outlines from myself and 2 other writers (I split the 12 writers into 4 groups of 3). So exciting to see the ideas from last week begin to take shape. There was so much to fit into this session – but the level of energy and invention was a delight.

This course made me realise how important outlines are. Week 1 was one page pitches, week 2 was scene by scene outlines. Even in the first week, from the one page pitch I could get a pretty clear idea of whether an idea was going to work. There were certain ideas that were extremely exciting as one page pitches – and remained exciting throughout the process. It’s very rare for a really exciting 1 page pitch not to become an exciting script.

WEEK 3 – this session was spent discussing the writers’ scripts. The diversity and overall quality of the scripts was exceptional. So many brilliant, original ideas so well executed. I look forward to seeing how these scripts develop further and I hope that the writers will find a way to get these films made.

Above all, this course felt really satisfying in the way it enabled (or forced!) writers to go from initial idea to completed first draft script within 14 days. I’m hugely impressed by and grateful to the 12 writers for their energy and commitment to this process – particularly because the results were so outstanding.

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CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS COURSE

This course took place the day before the final day of the ‘Writing A Short Film’ course and was another reminder of how artificial exercises and, most importantly, looking at the world outside of yourself rather than staring at your computer screen, can generate such great results. A few other takeaways from the day –

Having a great title is important; counter-intuitively it can also be a great place from which to start generating ideas. Here are a few of the memorable titles created on the day that generated really strong story ideas –

THE COST OF DYING – generated a 30’ comedy drama series about a funeral parlour.

JOANIE GOES WILD; LAST WOMAN STANDING; PICASSO’S MUSE; TALKING WITHOUT MOVING YOUR LIPS – it seems to me all of these titles (thought up out of nothing within 30 seconds) are instantly interesting and attention-grabbing. And more great ideas came from these and other titles.

Collaboration is key – working with other people in an unpressured, supportive environment can be incredibly creatively fertile.

The harder it has been to create an idea doesn’t equate to its quality. Conversely, in my experience, some of the strongest story and character ideas are the ones that come to you instantly and easily.

Detail is key. Beautifully-observed, visual, character detail is so effective in bringing characters alive off the page.

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Finally this week, JOHN YORKE has asked me to include this announcement about the next intake of the excellent and prestigious BBC WRITERS ACADEMY

BBC STUDIOS WRITERS’ ACADEMY 2020

Do you want a career writing TV Drama? The BBC Studios Writers’ Academy gives emerging writers the opportunity to learn from some of the biggest names in the industry, to develop their skills on the BBC’s flagship shows (EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors, and River City), and work with some of the UK’s best television drama production companies.

For the first time, the Writers’ Academy will be open to applications from all writers, including those that have neither a professional credit, nor an agent. We’re looking for writers from any level of experience, who are passionate about television, bursting with ideas and a love of popular drama.

Eight writers will be given a year’s paid training, with guaranteed broadcast commissions on the BBC’s flagship shows as well as the chance to develop an original project with an independent production company. This is an opportunity to work not just on Continuing Drama series, but also with the makers of series like The End of The F***ing World, Gentleman Jack, Les Misérables, McMafia, Brexit: The Uncivil War, Curfew, and many more.

The Writers’ Academy is led by scriptwriting expert John Yorke, and over the year you will receive training and lectures from a range of leading industry practitioners. You’ll learn all about television production alongside mentoring from some of the best writers in the business. The 2019 Writers’ Academy featured guest lectures from Russell T. Davies, Jed Mercurio, Laurie Nunn, Jimmy McGovern, Anna Symon and Matt Charman, to name just a few.

Previous graduates of the Writers’ Academy have gone on to write over two thousand hours of TV.  Their work includes everything from The Man In The High Castle, Killing Eve, Pure, and Father Brown, to My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Who, Grantchester, Shakespeare and Hathaway, Red Rock, The Victim and Deadwater Fell.

Applications open on 30th March 2020 and must be submitted by 19th April at 12 noon.

You’ll need to send in a original drama script in any medium, apart from short films, novels, poems, or short stories. You’ll also need to submit a story idea concerning a regular character on one of the Continuing Drama shows.

The course begins in September 2020.

Applications are via the BBC Writersroom E-Submissions System only.  More information and full details of how to apply can be found here:  https://www.bbcstudios.com/writersacademy/

The next newsletter will be on Friday April 3rd,

All the very best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

March 20th 2020

ONE PAGES PITCHES + FRANCE SCREENWRITING RETREAT

Posted by admin  /   March 04, 2020  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on ONE PAGES PITCHES + FRANCE SCREENWRITING RETREAT

Hi There,

I’m very pleased to announce that in September I will be running a 5 day  SCREENWRITING COURSE / RETREAT in a beautiful, rural part of South Western France, near Limoges. All the details are on my website. This does feel like a slightly counter-intuitive time to be announcing a new venture abroad (!) but there is a clear cancellation policy, which I hope covers all the bases. It will be a great opportunity to get a lot of writing done in a beautiful setting with 9 other writers to share your experiences and me there to run a one hour session on different aspects of screenwriting at the start of each day and to be on hand throughout the week to give you all the help you might need with the project you’re working on in a completely unpressured environment.

There’s quite a lot of information here to take on board – so please email me if you have any further questions about this writing retreat.

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ONE PAGE PITCHES

I have included two of the pitches I received with specific feedback; and then some general conclusions in response to all of the very many (50+) one page pitches you sent in – thank you so much and I’m sorry I can’t share specific responses to more but it would take me many weeks of this newsletter to do so! It was a real education for me to read so many one page pitches.

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duplicity.  4 x 60


Kat’s a police officer; 15 years under her belt. There’s nothing she hasn’t seen…full time job, full on trauma.  It all dances in front of her eyes, liquid red.  Every. Single. Day.  Back home, she’s got three kids under 10; four sometimes, if DAVE’s being a dick.  And 88-year-old MAUREEN next door, calling in every day waving her boils and rashes under Kat’s nose. Kat knows she’s a pressure cooker…waiting.



Her partner on the crew, ADAM, keeps her just this side of sane. He’s in charge of the playlist on their way to shouts, his dark humour finding its way into music choices; Ozzy Osbourne’s Blood Bath in Paradise on a loop last week.  Kat leans on Adam, he’s the first one she sees after dealing with the stress at home; screaming kids, scratching Maureen, stroppy Dave.  



One night, they’re called on a shout to a posh part of town. Blues and twos on, jumping red lights, they screech up the gravel drive to a huge house of glass and steel, all the lights on.  Inside, they find terrorised dinner guests and a trashed kitchen but no serious injuries other than a deep head wound to a woman, unrecognisable from the blood streaming in rivers down her face. A fight breaks out between some of the guests, it’s chaos.   



When things are calmer, the woman’s gone.  Not in the house, the garden, anywhere. Disappeared.  The other guests are saying nothing.  Kat and Adam are thrown into a full-scale missing persons investigation.  A few days later, with the woman still missing, Kat’s called in by her boss.  Tricky one this, Kats, he says, the scenes of crime boys picked up blood samples from the kitchen.  From the woman with the head wound.  All of us coppers are on the DNA database so we can be eliminated from enquiries, you know that.  But this is the weird bit – the woman’s a full DNA match to you.  You weren’t injured, it’s her blood.  Didn’t know you had an identical twin. No, says Kat, neither did I.

Finding the missing woman consumes Kat, who discovers the twins were separated at birth, brought up by different families in different parts of town.  Forced to live on her wits and her ability to manipulate men, Kat’s twin Rebekah was sucked into a dark underworld of criminality and she’s at the dinner party as a high-class sex worker infiltrating the house to uncover evidence of a conspiracy to traffic children by her boss and the homeowner, Jake.  In her search for the truth, Kat unearths dark secrets about her past which threaten to ruin her future.  Kat has to decide if she can help Rebekah or if she has to walk away to save both of them.

Rachel Evans

@ January 2020

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I very much enjoyed this. So why did this work for me? Quite simply, I think it’s a cracking story idea which is very well-written. There’s a clarity, economy and confidence to the writing. The style of the writing conveys the tone – there’s a strong vein of humour (‘back home, she’s got three kids under 10; four sometimes, if Dave’s being a dick.’) running through what is otherwise quite a hard-hitting dramatic storyline; and for me this vein of humour and humanity elevates it as a pitch.

I also really like the fact that it has the confidence to not even fill a full page (this is in fact about ¾ of a page in 12 point).

It’s clearly laid out with a lot of gaps within the text – a lot of white on the page.

Although this pitch isn’t specific about place (and generally I think the better pitches ARE specific about location and character), this does nonetheless feel rooted in a recognisable, relatable reality – Kat’s frustrations with her family, her bond with fellow office Adam. There are some engaging, telling specifics – eg Ozzy Osbourne’s Blood Bath In Paradise which, even if you don’t know the song, brings (again) a sense of humour and humanity to the characters and story.

It’s impossible in a document of this length to answer all the narrative questions you set up – but this pitch does a nice job of introducing the narrative hooks and questions that the series will pursue – and piquing this reader’s interest.

The structure of the document works well – the writer sets up the characters and setting before hitting us with an attention-grabbing, clever, high-concept plot twist. I was intrigued by this plot twist because I was already invested in the lead character.

Normally, I’m all for starting your one page pitch with an introduction that includes aspects like – genre, logline, the uniqueness of your idea in one or two sentences, your agenda  as a writer for writing this story (what you as a writer bring to this story that make this utterly distinctive and compelling) BEFORE getting into any detail of the plot. DUPLCITY doesn’t do this – it’s straight into plot but works nevertheless because of the clarity of the characters and story proposition.

It tells us – title, format (4 x 60’), writer’s name, contact details (which I removed).

—————————————–

OTHER THOUGHTS / CONCLUSIONS

SO – here are a few conclusions / thoughts that I came to after reading the 50 or so outlines submitted.

Always a good idea to send your documents as PDF’s.

Include title, writer’s name and contact details – SO MANY didn’t!

Font size – no smaller than 12 point. This isn’t an exercise to see how much text you can cram into one page BUT one page pitch means ONE PAGE – stick to the brief (a few of those submitted ran into a 2nd page). There were a few documents that were written in fonts smaller than 12point and had massively long paragraphs – it’s not a good idea to demoralise the reader before they have even started reading. Your one page pitches need to look uncluttered and have plenty of white spaces.

Layout / paragraphs / formatting – as above, print your page off and think about how it looks. Is it welcoming, well laid-out and professional-looking?

As someone who reads A LOT of non-script documents, I also have strong views about FONTS. Without going over the top with a font that is absurdly showy – make sure that your font is clear and interesting to look at. 12 point Calibri, for instance, just looks a bit….boring. (I realise this is highly subjective! But think about what font you use to make the script as engaging and easy to read as possible).

I can’t over-emphasise the importance of CLARITY in the writing. In particular, narrative clarity – making it easy for the reader to understand the story. There were quite a few that may have been good stories – but if I’m struggling to make sense of the story half a page in, my attention wanders. Also clarity and fluency of writing. Too many of the pitches included sentences that my brain tripped over – sentences that felt awkward and lacked fluency.

References to other shows can be very useful if they feel specific and illustrative. I’m working on a project at the moment on the C4 course which the writer has described as ‘Fargo meets Local Hero meets Happy Valley’ which really helps me visualise what he’s trying to achieve. Sometimes though, these sorts of references become a bit of a hostage to fortune. If you’re referencing a brilliant show, there has to be an equivalent touch of brilliance and originality in your pitch.

Don’t get bogged down in extended chronology of plot – a pitch is about the essence of the idea; it shouldn’t be a detailed synopsis. And don’t get booged down in explaining the rules of your story world.

Work tirelessly to make sure your logline is absolutely gripping and distinctive.

But character is even more important than plot. Why should we care about the character at the centre of your story? What is the human / emotional connection between your characters and the audience?

You need to make us understand WHY you want to tell the story you’re pitching.

Be specific not general. Be visual rather than conceptual.

Visual details / specifics. So often, what you remember / take away from the best 1 page pitches – is a telling, memorable visual image – that expresses the lead character or story. (Actually these visual specifics is one element that isn’t so evident in DUPLICITY – although details like ‘they screech up the gravel drive…’ to denote the posher part of town are great).

Avoid empty promises. Don’t tell me, ‘This is going to be a side-splitting comedy…with the narrative tension of Jaws,’ – instead give me the specifics that illustrate this. ie If you’re pitching a comedy, the one page pitch needs to be funny – don’t just tell us the script is going to be funny. And similarly drama pitches need to be inherently dramatic.

It’s great to get a sense of the writer’s conviction and passion for the story they’re telling, their emotional investment in their own characters and story. In DUPLICITY I get the writer’s emotional investment in lead character Kat from the first paragraph.

I would suggest as a general rule that you don’t write separate character biography lists within a one page pitch (quite a few did this.) You shouldn’t have room to do this – instead the tone and context of your story should do the job of introducing and illuminating your characters (as the first paragraph of DUPLICITY does). Reading lists of characters with one or two sentences biogs is often information overload; it’s hard to then see how all of these characters will fit into the story; so these biogs are often hard to read.

—————————————-

Here is a 2nd one pitch (for a short film) that worked for me –

After a Breakup, an App to Help Breathe, Then Run – OLIVIA GAGAN

“When was the last time you breathed properly?” the therapist asked me.

His name was Allan. Thirty minutes into my first visit, I was still waiting for him to reach the part where he would help me get over the end of my relationship.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.

“Easy, open breathing. Big lungfuls of air.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I breathe all the time.” I tried steering the conversation to myself. “I just think I need to work out what happened – ”

“I’m not interested in what happened,” he said. “I’m interested in the last time you breathed normally. You’re a young, healthy woman. But your paperwork tells me you’re struggling at work, haven’t eaten a full meal in weeks and can’t sleep. You need to fix that.”

How do you cure heartbreak?

This is a true story, about my own experience getting over my first major relationship. I originally wrote it as a newspaper article for The New York Times’ Modern Love section, and it was published in December 2016. I’d like the challenge of re-writing an existing story in a short film medium.

I turned up at a counsellor’s office, chest-deep in sadness, hoping an expert would teach me how to get over my heartbreak. Or, even better, how to get my ex back. But I wasn’t allowed to talk about understanding a lost love at all. Instead, Allan asked me to download an app which would teach me how to breathe properly.

I thought this was a waste of precious therapy time. He insisted being able to breathe is important.

Over a series of weeks, however, I used the app. Learning to breathe mainly made me a) frustrated b) cry a lot in public places and c) pick arguments with Allan.

Then a miracle happened – my ex came back. On a freezing cold night on Regent Street, he told me that he missed me, that he wanted us to start all over again. But a curious thing happened over the weeks I was learning to breathe: I started getting new voices in my head. Bolder ones. Including one that told me to run as fast as I could from him. So I did.

This is an anti-love story. In the end, the girl does not get the guy. She doesn’t even learn how to cure a broken heart. But she does learn to breathe – and to choose herself over somebody else. It is a story featuring very modern methods of searching for happiness – apps, therapy, mindfulness – but ultimately, it’s about something we have always struggled with: learning to live with yourself.’

———————————–

This is a very particular, largely autobiographical story pitch. It reads like a story that is utterly specific to this writer. I’m engaged by its conviction, passion and the sense that it has something important to say but within a recognisable narrative structure – ‘This is an anti-love story.’ I’m pulled into the story but also persuaded that there is a really strong synergy between writer and subject matter – this writer is the best writer to tell this particular story.

It’s well laid out and formatted (although I’m not a fan of Calibri!). The short paragraphs and use of italics and bold text help make this a clear, easy read.

There is a clear narrative shape to it. I particularly liked the way the story moves (surprisingly but inevitably) towards the girl’s encounter with her ex. There is a clear emotional character journey over the course of the film.

Quite simply, the quality and clarity of the writing of this pitch (and the linked newspaper article) stand out in their excellence.

———————————————-

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 20th.

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@Philip Shelley1

March 6th 2020

ONE PAGE PITCHES + SCREENWRITING RETREAT

Posted by admin  /   March 04, 2020  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on ONE PAGE PITCHES + SCREENWRITING RETREAT

Hi There,

I’m very pleased to announce that in September I will be running a 5 day  SCREENWRITING COURSE / RETREAT in a beautiful, rural part of South Western France, near Limoges. All the details are on my website. This does feel like a slightly counter-intuitive time to be announcing a new venture abroad (!) but there is a clear cancellation policy, which I hope covers all the bases. It will be a great opportunity to get a lot of writing done in a beautiful setting with 9 other writers to share your experiences and me there to run a one hour session on different aspects of screenwriting at the start of each day and to be on hand throughout the week to give you all the help you might need with the project you’re working on in a completely unpressured environment.

There’s quite a lot of information here to take on board – so please email me if you have any further questions about this writing retreat.

———————————

ONE PAGE PITCHES

I have included two of the pitches I received with specific feedback; and then some general conclusions in response to all of the very many (50+) one page pitches you sent in – thank you so much and I’m sorry I can’t share specific responses to more but it would take me many weeks of this newsletter to do so! It was a real education for me to read so many one page pitches.

————————————-

duplicity.  4 x 60


Kat’s a police officer; 15 years under her belt. There’s nothing she hasn’t seen…full time job, full on trauma.  It all dances in front of her eyes, liquid red.  Every. Single. Day.  Back home, she’s got three kids under 10; four sometimes, if DAVE’s being a dick.  And 88-year-old MAUREEN next door, calling in every day waving her boils and rashes under Kat’s nose. Kat knows she’s a pressure cooker…waiting.



Her partner on the crew, ADAM, keeps her just this side of sane. He’s in charge of the playlist on their way to shouts, his dark humour finding its way into music choices; Ozzy Osbourne’s Blood Bath in Paradise on a loop last week.  Kat leans on Adam, he’s the first one she sees after dealing with the stress at home; screaming kids, scratching Maureen, stroppy Dave.  



One night, they’re called on a shout to a posh part of town. Blues and twos on, jumping red lights, they screech up the gravel drive to a huge house of glass and steel, all the lights on.  Inside, they find terrorised dinner guests and a trashed kitchen but no serious injuries other than a deep head wound to a woman, unrecognisable from the blood streaming in rivers down her face. A fight breaks out between some of the guests, it’s chaos.   



When things are calmer, the woman’s gone.  Not in the house, the garden, anywhere. Disappeared.  The other guests are saying nothing.  Kat and Adam are thrown into a full-scale missing persons investigation.  A few days later, with the woman still missing, Kat’s called in by her boss.  Tricky one this, Kats, he says, the scenes of crime boys picked up blood samples from the kitchen.  From the woman with the head wound.  All of us coppers are on the DNA database so we can be eliminated from enquiries, you know that.  But this is the weird bit – the woman’s a full DNA match to you.  You weren’t injured, it’s her blood.  Didn’t know you had an identical twin. No, says Kat, neither did I.

Finding the missing woman consumes Kat, who discovers the twins were separated at birth, brought up by different families in different parts of town.  Forced to live on her wits and her ability to manipulate men, Kat’s twin Rebekah was sucked into a dark underworld of criminality and she’s at the dinner party as a high-class sex worker infiltrating the house to uncover evidence of a conspiracy to traffic children by her boss and the homeowner, Jake.  In her search for the truth, Kat unearths dark secrets about her past which threaten to ruin her future.  Kat has to decide if she can help Rebekah or if she has to walk away to save both of them.

Rachel Evans

@ January 2020

—————————————-

I very much enjoyed this. So why did this work for me? Quite simply, I think it’s a cracking story idea which is very well-written. There’s a clarity, economy and confidence to the writing. The style of the writing conveys the tone – there’s a strong vein of humour (‘back home, she’s got three kids under 10; four sometimes, if Dave’s being a dick.’) running through what is otherwise quite a hard-hitting dramatic storyline; and for me this vein of humour and humanity elevates it as a pitch.

I also really like the fact that it has the confidence to not even fill a full page (this is in fact about ¾ of a page in 12 point).

It’s clearly laid out with a lot of gaps within the text – a lot of white on the page.

Although this pitch isn’t specific about place (and generally I think the better pitches ARE specific about location and character), this does nonetheless feel rooted in a recognisable, relatable reality – Kat’s frustrations with her family, her bond with fellow office Adam. There are some engaging, telling specifics – eg Ozzy Osbourne’s Blood Bath In Paradise which, even if you don’t know the song, brings (again) a sense of humour and humanity to the characters and story.

It’s impossible in a document of this length to answer all the narrative questions you set up – but this pitch does a nice job of introducing the narrative hooks and questions that the series will pursue – and piquing this reader’s interest.

The structure of the document works well – the writer sets up the characters and setting before hitting us with an attention-grabbing, clever, high-concept plot twist. I was intrigued by this plot twist because I was already invested in the lead character.

Normally, I’m all for starting your one page pitch with an introduction that includes aspects like – genre, logline, the uniqueness of your idea in one or two sentences, your agenda  as a writer for writing this story (what you as a writer bring to this story that make this utterly distinctive and compelling) BEFORE getting into any detail of the plot. DUPLCITY doesn’t do this – it’s straight into plot but works nevertheless because of the clarity of the characters and story proposition.

It tells us – title, format (4 x 60’), writer’s name, contact details (which I removed).

—————————————–

OTHER THOUGHTS / CONCLUSIONS

SO – here are a few conclusions / thoughts that I came to after reading the 50 or so outlines submitted.

Always a good idea to send your documents as PDF’s.

Include title, writer’s name and contact details – SO MANY didn’t!

Font size – no smaller than 12 point. This isn’t an exercise to see how much text you can cram into one page BUT one page pitch means ONE PAGE – stick to the brief (a few of those submitted ran into a 2nd page). There were a few documents that were written in fonts smaller than 12point and had massively long paragraphs – it’s not a good idea to demoralise the reader before they have even started reading. Your one page pitches need to look uncluttered and have plenty of white spaces.

Layout / paragraphs / formatting – as above, print your page off and think about how it looks. Is it welcoming, well laid-out and professional-looking?

As someone who reads A LOT of non-script documents, I also have strong views about FONTS. Without going over the top with a font that is absurdly showy – make sure that your font is clear and interesting to look at. 12 point Calibri, for instance, just looks a bit….boring. (I realise this is highly subjective! But think about what font you use to make the script as engaging and easy to read as possible).

I can’t over-emphasise the importance of CLARITY in the writing. In particular, narrative clarity – making it easy for the reader to understand the story. There were quite a few that may have been good stories – but if I’m struggling to make sense of the story half a page in, my attention wanders. Also clarity and fluency of writing. Too many of the pitches included sentences that my brain tripped over – sentences that felt awkward and lacked fluency.

References to other shows can be very useful if they feel specific and illustrative. I’m working on a project at the moment on the C4 course which the writer has described as ‘Fargo meets Local Hero meets Happy Valley’ which really helps me visualise what he’s trying to achieve. Sometimes though, these sorts of references become a bit of a hostage to fortune. If you’re referencing a brilliant show, there has to be an equivalent touch of brilliance and originality in your pitch.

Don’t get bogged down in extended chronology of plot – a pitch is about the essence of the idea; it shouldn’t be a detailed synopsis. And don’t get booged down in explaining the rules of your story world.

Work tirelessly to make sure your logline is absolutely gripping and distinctive.

But character is even more important than plot. Why should we care about the character at the centre of your story? What is the human / emotional connection between your characters and the audience?

You need to make us understand WHY you want to tell the story you’re pitching.

Be specific not general. Be visual rather than conceptual.

Visual details / specifics. So often, what you remember / take away from the best 1 page pitches – is a telling, memorable visual image – that expresses the lead character or story. (Actually these visual specifics is one element that isn’t so evident in DUPLICITY – although details like ‘they screech up the gravel drive…’ to denote the posher part of town are great).

Avoid empty promises. Don’t tell me, ‘This is going to be a side-splitting comedy…with the narrative tension of Jaws,’ – instead give me the specifics that illustrate this. ie If you’re pitching a comedy, the one page pitch needs to be funny – don’t just tell us the script is going to be funny. And similarly drama pitches need to be inherently dramatic.

It’s great to get a sense of the writer’s conviction and passion for the story they’re telling, their emotional investment in their own characters and story. In DUPLICITY I get the writer’s emotional investment in lead character Kat from the first paragraph.

I would suggest as a general rule that you don’t write separate character biography lists within a one page pitch (quite a few did this.) You shouldn’t have room to do this – instead the tone and context of your story should do the job of introducing and illuminating your characters (as the first paragraph of DUPLICITY does). Reading lists of characters with one or two sentences biogs is often information overload; it’s hard to then see how all of these characters will fit into the story; so these biogs are often hard to read.

—————————————-

Here is a 2nd one pitch (for a short film) that worked for me –

After a Breakup, an App to Help Breathe, Then Run – OLIVIA GAGAN

“When was the last time you breathed properly?” the therapist asked me.

His name was Allan. Thirty minutes into my first visit, I was still waiting for him to reach the part where he would help me get over the end of my relationship.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.

“Easy, open breathing. Big lungfuls of air.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I breathe all the time.” I tried steering the conversation to myself. “I just think I need to work out what happened – ”

“I’m not interested in what happened,” he said. “I’m interested in the last time you breathed normally. You’re a young, healthy woman. But your paperwork tells me you’re struggling at work, haven’t eaten a full meal in weeks and can’t sleep. You need to fix that.”

How do you cure heartbreak?

This is a true story, about my own experience getting over my first major relationship. I originally wrote it as a newspaper article for The New York Times’ Modern Love section, and it was published in December 2016. I’d like the challenge of re-writing an existing story in a short film medium.

I turned up at a counsellor’s office, chest-deep in sadness, hoping an expert would teach me how to get over my heartbreak. Or, even better, how to get my ex back. But I wasn’t allowed to talk about understanding a lost love at all. Instead, Allan asked me to download an app which would teach me how to breathe properly.

I thought this was a waste of precious therapy time. He insisted being able to breathe is important.

Over a series of weeks, however, I used the app. Learning to breathe mainly made me a) frustrated b) cry a lot in public places and c) pick arguments with Allan.

Then a miracle happened – my ex came back. On a freezing cold night on Regent Street, he told me that he missed me, that he wanted us to start all over again. But a curious thing happened over the weeks I was learning to breathe: I started getting new voices in my head. Bolder ones. Including one that told me to run as fast as I could from him. So I did.

This is an anti-love story. In the end, the girl does not get the guy. She doesn’t even learn how to cure a broken heart. But she does learn to breathe – and to choose herself over somebody else. It is a story featuring very modern methods of searching for happiness – apps, therapy, mindfulness – but ultimately, it’s about something we have always struggled with: learning to live with yourself.’

———————————–

This is a very particular, largely autobiographical story pitch. It reads like a story that is utterly specific to this writer. I’m engaged by its conviction, passion and the sense that it has something important to say but within a recognisable narrative structure – ‘This is an anti-love story.’ I’m pulled into the story but also persuaded that there is a really strong synergy between writer and subject matter – this writer is the best writer to tell this particular story.

It’s well laid out and formatted. The short paragraphs and use of italics and bold text help make this a clear, easy read.

There is a clear narrative shape to it. I particularly liked the way the story moves (surprisingly but inevitably) towards the girl’s encounter with her ex. There is a clear emotional character journey over the course of the film.

Quite simply, the quality and clarity of the writing of this pitch (and the linked newspaper article) stand out in their excellence.

———————————————-

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 20th.

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@Philip Shelley1

March 6th 2020

BEST FILMS OF 2019 – Joe Williams

Posted by admin  /   February 18, 2020  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on BEST FILMS OF 2019 – Joe Williams

Hi There,

This week, huge thanks to ace script editor JOE WILLIAMS for this encyclopedic look back at 2019’s best films – a real celebration of the best feature film screenwriting of last year – 

Firstly, thanks Philip for yet again letting me write about my favourite films of 2019! Despite constant talk of whether TV has superseded film (an argument easy to make given the likes of CHERNOBYL, FLEABAG, and SUCCESSION – all told with a bold and authorial vision), 2019 proved to be a bumper year for cinema with the year boosting a strong and eclectic mix of titles. I also visited the cinema more times than any other year in my life, clocking up over fifty big-screen trips, thanks to now living ten-minutes away from x2 cinemas. Here are a few of my favourites…

Top of my list is Quentin Tarantino’s epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, a film that seems both venerated and vilified (I know Philip despised it!) in near-equal measure. For me, this is Tarantino’s most accomplished film since PULP FICTION – lovingly crafted, audacious, and authored. It’s almost an ‘immersive experience’, with the LA of 1969 feeling like a fully-fledged world to get lost in. There are sequences that serve no narrative purpose and exist simply to let Tarantino wallow in the world he so clearly loves. I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who says it’s indulgent, it is, yet it’s indulgence on a scale we rarely see on a $100m+ film (and a commercial success to boot) and pulled off in a way that commands attention and radiates confidence. Yet, it displays a kind-of maturity that we’ve not seen in QT before, from the elegiac build-up to its final act to the leathery and world-weary performances of Leonardo Di Caprio and especially Brad Pitt at its centre…two dinosaurs who win battles but are aware the cultural war against them is about to be lost. I saw it twice in the cinema (both times in 35mm) – the first time I’ve done this for a film in many years – and found it even more compelling second time round, like an album whose charms keep giving with familiarity. I can’t wait to see it again.

Running a very close second is Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY, which had a brief cinema release in November before moving onto Netflix. It’s a both a simple and complex tale of a marriage unravelling, brought vividly to life by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanssen – both of whom benefit from a beautifully written script in which every character is sketched with care and nuance. It runs the gauntlet of emotions and I found myself howling with laughter and holding back tears in the blink of an eye. To those of us who have long-followed Baumbach since his hilarious and poignant post-college debut, KICKING AND SCREAMING, MARRIAGE STORY feels like an accumulation of everything he has done over the past twenty years and a vindication of his talent.

Despite its occasionally punishing running-time, Netflix’s other and nosier awards contender, Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN, by and large delivered on its much-hyped promise. Once you lose the notion that the film will be a rollercoaster ride like GOODFELLAS or CASINO it’s a compelling slow-burner – very much the work of a great filmmaker in the twilight of his career looking back on what has come before, as reflected by its ‘greatest hits’-style cast. While on the topic of Netflix, I’ll also tip my hat to DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a wonderful reminder of how terrific Eddie Murphy was and still has the ability to be.

Other American films that caught my attention this year: Bo Burnham’s charming EIGHTH GRADE; Jonah Hill’s low-key and pleasantly-nostalgic MID-90S; the indulgent, yet at times dangerously compelling DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE; the sci-fi epic AD ASTRA which, despite its clunky voiceover and episodic plot, hits home thanks to its emotional core and (another) great performance from Pitt; and the much-reviled psychedelic mystery UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, which was disliked by most critics yet won me over with its LONG GOODBYE-style execution and Andrew Garfield’s most assured performance to date. On the more genre end of the scale, I also enjoyed: Ari Aster’s neo folk horror, MIDSOMMAR; Jordan Peele’s creepy/hilarious US; and Alexandre Aja’s no-frills killer crocodile popcorn ride, CRAWL. Blockbuster-wise, AVENGERS: ENDGAME somehow managed to bring about resolution to its multiple cinematic arcs in a way that felt coherent and even quite moving at times. And while I didn’t love JOKER as much as many seemed to, it still carried a dangerous and relevant aura, helped by Phoenix’s commanding performance.

While clearly there is a very long way to go towards any kind of gender balance, 2019 also was a record year for films by female directors, something also sadly not reflected in this year’s award ceremonies. While it has its detractors, Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN to me was a literary adaptation told with cinematic flair, passionate performances, and a personal vision; it felt timely and relevant but never in a way that felt on-the-nose. It’s also the strongest of the x4 adaptations of the book I’ve seen. BOOKSMART – to me, the best and funniest comedy of the year – also marked Olivia Wilde as a breakout director and breathed new life into the high-school comedy genre. THE FAREWELL was a low-key and charming family drama boasting a finely-tuned and characterful screenplay from writer/director Lulu Wang. Joanna Hogg’s SOUVENIR also clicked for me in a way her other films never quite did, thanks to its heartfelt autobiographical story and true-to-life performances from Honor Swinton-Byrne and Tom Burke at its centre.

2019 also produced its fair share of quality British films across a variety of genres. These included: the deliriously enjoyable ROCKETMAN, by far the most entertaining in the recent crop of music biopics; THE FAVOURITE, justifiably lauded for Colman’s Oscar-winning performance, as well as its biting script; the unsettling, timely and highly original BAIT, showcasing Mark Jenkin as a breakthrough (and now BAFTA-winning) talent; WILD ROSE, in which Tom Harper’s direction, Nicole Taylor’s script, and Jessie Buckley’s performance collide with terrific results; Simon Amstell’s hilarious and cringe-inducing sophomore film BENJAMIN; the heartfelt and hilarious film adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s Scottish rave play BEATS; Peter Strickland’s darkly delicious IN FABRIC; and Ken Loach’s SORRY WE MISSED YOU, whose tale of zero-hours drivers is so compelling and urgent that it single-handedly made me return a pair of trainers that a courier wrongly delivered to me (so, mission accomplished, Ken).

Away from the Anglosphere, I was enormously impressed by Lee Chang-dong’s BURNING. Adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story, it’s a true showcase in suspense, acting, and narrative ambiguity. Also terrific was Alejandro Landes’ MONOS, a nightmarish LORD OF THE FLIES meets APOCALYPSE NOW nightmare in the jungle told with cinematic flair and storytelling skill. PAIN & GLORY was also a minor-key, yet delightful reunion between Pedro Almodovar and a justly Oscar-nominated Antonio Banderas.

Documentary-wise, FOR SAMA deserved all the praise it got; it’s a gut-wrenching in-the-trenches look at the direst of circumstances, yet is shot through with warmth and humanity through its co-director and ‘subject’, Waad al-Kateab. I was fortunate to catch APOLLO 11 on the big screen and though I’ve seen a fair few moon landing documentaries, never before has it been portrayed with such sheer wonder and impressiveness. DIEGO MARADONA also proved a fitting conclusion to Asif Kapadia’s ‘trilogy’ over troubled young talents. Lastly, a documentary that unexpectedly knocked me sideways was MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENSE, a touching portrait of the doomed INXS singer, that cut through the tabloid noise and revealed him to be a tortured and much-misunderstood figure.

However, in spite of all these terrific films, some of my most joyous, revelatory, and surprising cinematic experiences this year has been revisiting old classics on the big screen. No matter how many times you may have seen one of your favourite films at home, there’s really no comparison to seeing it projected – free of any distractions, particularly these days where there are distractions aplenty at home. It’s the true test of a film that reveals its greatest strengths and hidden failures. I saw around twenty ‘older’ films in the cinema this year and these included…

THE THIRD MAN – which remains after 75-years a daringly prescient study of long-distance murder and tortured friendship.

THE APARTMENT – a truly wonderful film that feels timelier than ever through its depiction of corporate sleaze and abuse of power in the workplace.

MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO – Studio Ghibli’s simple, yet enchanting and iconic early classic, which despite its age and minimal plot still bewitched a sold-out showing occupied mostly by parents and children.

THE LONG GOODBYE – one of the most stylish, moody, slickest, and original adaptations of all time. Often imitated, never bettered.

APOCALYPSE NOW – which I saw in its so-called ‘final cut’ at the BFI IMAX; an awe-inspiring experience, even if the 1979 original remains the definitive version of Coppola’s haunting masterpiece.

A series of Stanley Kubrick films during the BFI’s retrospective in the spring. Most of these simply reconfirmed their masterpiece status to me (2001, DR STRANGELOVE, and BARRY LYNDON, for me, his finest work). Others – THE SHINING and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – feel strangely dated and tonally misjudged. Yet the true revelation for me was EYES WIDE SHUT, a film I’d dismissed for years yet now feels like one of the master’s most vital and most daring works.

But the greatest cinema trip by far I had this year was revisiting JAWS on the big screen. Like ALIEN (which I also saw in the cinema), its remarkably restrained horror set-pieces were amplified to the max but what really stood out was the inter-character dynamics with the three leads during the extended dual with the shark – a masterclass of writing, directing and acting if there ever was one. All three leads brilliantly sketched as characters and snarling at each other in increasingly desperate circumstances. Despite having seen the film dozens of times before, I was so excited when I left the cinema, it took me two hours to get to sleep that night. It’s experiences like these that remind me why I love the form so much and show that new pleasures are still possible from revisiting older classics, as much as new treats.  

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 6th.


All the best


Phil


PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.ukwww.tributepodcasts.co.uk


@PhilipShelley1


February 21st 2020

DREAMS & STORIES

Posted by admin  /   February 04, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on DREAMS & STORIES

COURSE UPDATE – WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT COURSE – SOLD OUT. CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS, March 8th – still a few places left. http://script-consultant.co.uk/training/

Hi There,

DREAMS + STORY

Are dreams part of your creative process? I remember dreams quite often and like to think about my dreams. It’s frustrating how they have that elusive quality. They seem so clear and fresh in your mind but then the moment you’re out of bed and into your day they fade from your grasp.

I love the way dreams so often play not just like scenes from films but like sequences, how there is a logic to the cutting between these scenes but how this logic is warped and unexpected. I do think dreams can play a part in your creative process, can give you story and an insight into what is going on in your psyche, your subconscious mind – even (particularly?) if it’s something that your conscious mind is resisting. I’m desperately scribbling this down on my Phone Notes before it disappears.

This is how the conversation normally goes of a morning –

Me: I had a weird dream. Can I tell you about it?

Wife: No! You can’t. Your dreams are the most boring thing.

Me: Oh go on I need to tell you.

Wife: No!

Me: I’m going to tell you anyway…

In this scenario dear reader I’m afraid you play the role of my wife.

The dream I remembered as I woke just now – it was a few scenes but only two I currently remember with any clarity. The basis of the dream was that I had got into a prestigious university- a sort of romanticised, idealised version of Oxbridge. The first image I recall is if three students finding their new university rooms but the doors to their rooms are in some sort of beautiful field / forest in a weird rural idyll. I’m not an active participant in this scene but I’m listening to these new students who – in an entirely believable and engaging way – are talking about how they as new English students are looking forward to when they will be successful novelists.

In the next part of my dream I am now starting at this or some other prestigious university and have a smug feeling knowing that I know more about what I am doing than the other new students. I talk to people who’re going to floor 5 but I know with confidence and certainty that I am going to floor 4. I have found my name etched into a silver sign on the list of room occupants (what a brilliant visual detail – carved confirmation of my rightful place in this superior society!) (Wow as I’m writing / recalling this it’s telling me so much about my deep-seated lack of self-worth! Ha!) I find the door to my room on a rather beautiful, characterful, spiral staircase and turn round to meet the father of one of my 4screenwriting script readers from a couple of years ago (this is a real person to whom I have been introduced but don’t know and whom I have subsequently passed in the street, seen in various situations and avoided because I’m sure he doesn’t know / remember who I am. This man also happens to be one of my favourite contemporary novelists). In my dream he is effusive in his friendliness, knows exactly who I am, is delighted to see me. I realise that the fact I know his daughter who is moving into the room on the same spiral staircase and therefore starting at the university at the same time as me puts me in a strong social position and I continue to feel smug and happy that I have a place in this Superior Educational Establishment.

So that’s about it with my memory of the dream.

At this point my wife will respond: ‘Is that it? Christ that is so f***ing boring. Please DO NOT TELL ME YOUR DREAMS.’

I imagine you now may be feeling something similar.

My justification, what this dream evokes for me, what it tells me about story and about myself –

Although I try not to be, I am a snob. (Interesting internal character conflict?)

In the dream I feel like I am 18/19 ie student age and that I am the contemporary of my script reader (the reality is that she is 35 years younger than me). In my dreams I am nearly always a far younger version of myself (Is this a normal dream in older people? – an expression of our desperate desire to hold back time?).

But the main thing this dream makes me think about and its main application to story – is the importance of First Days in one’s life, of how some of my sharpest memories are of my first days in new places, new stages in life.

At 17 I sat the Oxford entrance exam, was interviewed but didn’t get in. I don’t remember much about this process but do remember the moment I didn’t get in and sharing that moment with my mother (for some reason I opened the letter at the National Theatre – English Institutions have loomed large in my life).

Oxford University has been a factor in my life and maybe trying and failing to get in has caused me subconsciously to romanticise it. Several of my friends / contemporaries from school, my sister went there and my son went there (and didn’t have a particularly happy time. For quite a while I think I had a bit of an anti-Oxbridge bias (hard to sustain when my son went there although the fact he didn’t think much of the place was strangely reassuring!).

The drive to my first boarding school in Broadstairs, Kent – my earliest memory of a First Day. My self-contained focus in looking at and appreciating the scene flying by from the car window, knowing the outside, ‘free’ world was to be denied me for the next 12 weeks (an unimaginably long period of time to a 7 year old). Another vivid memory is returning there many years later to find the playing fields of which I had so many positive memories, an anonymous Barrett housing estate).

I don’t remember the journey but I remember first moments at public school at age 13. The strangeness of it, of my anxiety- but most of all I remember being introduced to and shown round by house prefect Lionel de Rothschild. I remember (although this is something that crystallised as I considered it later) my parents being so taken and impressed by the fact we were being shown round by a member of one of the best-known Jewish financier families (my mother was also from a Jewish family with history). This was a detail that must have gone right over my head at the time but has taken on meaning since.

After failing to get into Oxford and by a circuitous route I arrived at what was then Ivy House, Middlesex Polytechnic to study drama. My very first encounter was sitting at a table in the canteen with Clive Ward and my future wife. I remembered little about the conversation but Cindy (my wife) told me I told them about my summer working at camp in America. She said it made an impression (although not that much of an impression- she didn’t show much interest in me for the next few months – not until we were on a TIE tour together right at the end of term) and my most vivid memory then is of my forcibly and presumptuously introducing myself to her father – which seemed very important to me because I had become so besotted with his daughter. It’s funny to think back to that moment. He is now dead but was one of the most important people in my life, part of so many wonderful memories.

I remember another moment in my first term when I was in a car with a few fellow first year students. Laura Cooney told me there was someone in the first year who fancied me. I hoped very much this was Cindy but she eventually told me who it was and suffice to say I was disappointed. I have a lot of positive memories about Laura Cooney, she was a huge personality. She died only a year after leaving college, hit by a bus in a road accident.

The takeaways – so many of the memories that imprint themselves on your brain are those first encounters when we are emotionally vulnerable and receptive.

It’s also about the different roads we take or don’t take. A tragically short road for Laura Cooney. If I’d got into Oxford I would never have met Cindy (we’ve been married 40 years), would not have had the 4 children we have. My mother mentioned / talked about me not getting into Oxford once (I can’t remember the context) and said ‘But then you wouldn’t have met Cindy which is unthinkable.’

‘Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you’

Paul Simon, Bookends Theme.

PS My wife’s response to this piece of writing – ‘The dream isn’t any good, as usual.’

PPS My wife has just reminded me that my mother used to say to me that it was unlucky to recount your dreams before breakfast (her subtler strategy for getting me to shut the f**k up about my dreams).

PPS Thank you for indulging me.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 21st,

All the best

Phil

PHILIP SHELLEY

www.script-consultant.co.uk

www.tributepodcasts.co.uk

@PhilipShelley1

Feb 7th 2020