Posted by admin  /   February 24, 2017  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on STORY NOTES 24-2-17


A series of 13 dramatic monologues about life and death. Please listen, enjoy and spread the word!


Hi There,

First off can I say a big thank you to all of you who have got in touch with me about the Tribute podcasts. We’ve had some really nice responses, and I hope that the word of mouth will continue to be good, and that we’ll manage to get these listened to by significant numbers. I’m very hopeful that I’ll be doing a 2nd series – watch this space!

As part of the marketing drive, we’ve decided to feature one of these monologues per week on social media etc for the next 13 weeks. The first one to be featured is Katy Walker’s wonderful VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING. As one BBC producer expressed it in an email to me this week,

Valediction Forbidding Mourning is a terrifying mystery, answered.  The release of information and the development of the sense of loss are both beautifully judged.  The writing is of a very high standard indeed…. What an original range of writing.  It’s odd listening to them so closely together as it’s a really profound meditation on death from tons of perspectives.

Thank you Steve – I couldn’t have expressed it better myself!

VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING also features a wonderful performance by FINTY WILLIAMS. Finty was a force of nature when she came into the studio for the recording, and myself, Katy and Will Mount (writer, actor, musician, studio producer!) were all blown away by her performance in the room – and it comes across even better in the recording. Will and I were both embarrassedly dabbing our eyes, hoping neither had noticed, every time we listened to it.

Can I also recommend Robin Bell’s brilliant interview with Katy Walker about the script for her monoloogue.


I’ve seen a lot of films recently, which have made me think about what works in story. One of my recent favourites was 20TH CENTURY WOMEN. It had a classic US indie sensibility – whimsical and very light on significant plot. But the characterisation was great – it was so eccentrically specific that it felt true. And it reminded me that, if you get the characters right, if you really know your characters, then, to some extent, the story will look after itself. This was about a group of characters at a very particular point in time (1979), the dynamics of their relationships, with a voiceover that told you what happened to the characters later in their lives. There was something poignant, sad and satisfyingly omniscient about this future perspective. A film that makes you look back over your own life, and think about the changes that happen (or don’t).

Another very interesting film – LION. I thought the first (Indian) half of the film was a master-class in clear, simple, affecting story-telling that was all about character action and so little about dialogue. In comparison the 2nd (Australian) half felt to me unconvincing, predictable – and verbose.


Sad to note that FRENCH’S THEATRE BOOKSHOP will be closing down in April, and that the brilliant SOHO CREATE media festival will not be going ahead this year. In these straitened times, we need to keep fighting and making a noise for places and events like this…so many good things disappear for bad, profit-centric reasons, never to reappear. In particular, so many wonderful specialist bookshops have closed down in the last 10 or so years (eg OffStage Theatre bookshop in Chalk Farm, Sportspages in the Charing Cross Rd, etc) I’m reading Alan Bennett’s wonderful KEEPING ON KEEPING ON at the moment, and there’s a furious sub-text (and text) that runs through his diaries about the barbaric closing-down of libraries and other organisations and buildings that have meaning – but aren’t obvious money-spinners, and how wrong this is.


I’ve now got a raft of writers doing my 6 month script mentorships. It’s very exciting working with writers for an extended period, rather than just giving them feedback on a single draft of a script. It’s been particularly gratifying working with writers at the ideas stage, making sure they’re building their stories on solid foundations.

For me, the biggest thing to make sure of at this initial stage is that the idea you’re pursuing as a writer has real emotional meaning for you and isn’t just your attempt to second-guess the industry. Perversely, there’s sometimes something off-putting about a polished, commercial pitch from new writers (certainly this is true if the idea feels too familiar). One of the things I think potential employers want from a calling card script by new writers is something that only that writer could write, that is unique to that writer.

Two of the more exciting projects that have arisen out of discussion with writers recently have been an epic story about an IRA informant for the British army in Belfast in the 1980’s; and a story about a daughter’s relationship with her mother, and how this relationship is changed when the mother is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Both ideas arose out of quite difficult, intense meetings, in which I challenged the writers to go beyond their more familiar, ‘commercial’ ideas – both ideas feel unique to these two writers, and I have high hope for the projects.


The best thing I’ve seen on TV in the last few weeks – a wonderful documentary about the relationship between David Baddiel and his father, who suffers from a rare form of dementia – moving, strange, thoughtful and, surprisingly, very funny – this was inspiring from a character / story-telling POV. If you missed it, you can still catch it on All 4

 I’ve also been listening to Liz Warner’s inspiring BAFTA speech about creativity and the state of TV today –

I found this talk really energising and thought-provoking. It made me think about the different ways in which we can all produce content, the different platforms now available. I recommend you download it and listen at your leisure (along with the tribute podcasts!).

Finally, in the week that non-league Lincoln City made it into the last 8 of the FA Cup, a rather brilliant quote from the late, great Anthony Minghella –

‘Football has high drama, but in the most rigid of forms. In football there is unity of time, place and action, as Aristotle recommended for drama. Very few outcomes are possible – it’s rare for more than four or five goals to be scored in a game – yet moment by moment it is very exciting. That is a real lesson to writers. I wish every film had as exciting a shape as most football matches.’

The next newsletter will be on Friday March 10th

All the best




Feb 24th 2017

Posted by admin  /   February 08, 2017  /   Posted in Recommended Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on


Hi There,

This week I’m very excited to launch my TRIBUTE PODCASTS dramatic monologue project.

The website is now up and running at and you can also access and download the recordings via itunes.

These are 13 dramatic monologues – about life and death. Each of the short monologues (they’re between 7 and 13 minutes in length) are tributes / eulogies / reflections on a recently deceased (fictional character) by someone close to them.

Over the last year or so, I have become increasingly obsessed with podcasts – there are so many brilliant podcasts available now on such a huge range of topics, but, as far as I could see, very few drama monologues. I knew these were the sort of stories I’d like to hear on my ipod when commuting, walking the dog, driving, etc.

I am delighted with the 13 finished podcasts, I have enjoyed listening to them over the last few weeks, and I hope you will too.

One of the inspirations for this project – if that’s the right word – was the series of deaths at the start of 2016 – my mother, principally, but also David Bowie, Victoria Wood, etc. And in September 2015, one of my son’s best friends, 20 years old, had died in a boating accident in New Zealand. He’d died saving someone else’s life when him and a group of 10 friends got into trouble kayaking on a lake. It was only James and one other American boy who died, the rest survived. And James may have survived if he hadn’t swum back into the lake to try and save a friend. James was the nicest young guy you could ever meet. Gentle, kind, with a smile that lit up a room, his death at such a young age has really rocked his local community and of course devastated his family – his parents and two younger brothers.

So the tribute podcasts project is dedicated to the memory of JAMES MURPHY.

While all 13 of these podcasts have a death as their starting point, I hope you’ll find them uplifting rather than depressing. I hope they’ll make you think about the value of each and every life, how every single person’s life is extraordinary and unique in some way.

Most of these mini-dramas are about the legacy of love we leave behind.

As readers of this newsletter, can I ask you a favour? First, I hope you will find the time to listen to the podcasts and read the supporting text about each of them on the website. Second, if you enjoy them could I please ask you to spread the word via social media referencing the website or using #tributepodcasts.

In advance – thank you very much!

I have many people to thank – first and foremost all of the writers and actors involved. As you may remember, I put out a call in May last year for these scripts and the response was wonderful.  I received about 60 scripts and the quality was so good. And these 12 scripts are the pick of the bunch (although it was incredibly hard to choose). They show off some really exciting writing talent. The 13th script is one I snuck in there – producer’s privilege.

Some of these scripts are more biographical than others but they’re all distinctive and written with passion and humanity.

Secondly I need to thank the actors who all did this basically for free. Every single one of them turned up on the day having done thorough preparation work and without exception brought even more to the script than I’d ever seen in them.

I’d like to name-check all the writers and actors here.

All of these actors you will have seen or heard before and I was so excited that the quality of the scripts attracted this calibre of actors – Patrick Brennan, Neil Caple, Paul Chapman, Samuel Crane, Sam Hazeldine, Will Mount, Sally Orrock, Carl Prekopp, Laura Rogers, Joe Sims, Sarah Thom, Jessica Turner, Finty Williams.

And the writers (and I hope this project acts as an effective showcase for their outstanding talents) – Robin Bell, Daniel Brierley, Tony Clare, Carol Cooper, Marilyn Court-Lewis, David Hendon, Will Mount, Sarah Penrose, Liz Taylor, Katy Walker, Louise Vale, Ben Weiner.

Finally I particularly need to thank WILL MOUNT and PATRICK BRENNAN.

Patrick has cast the actors for our day of script readings on the last 6 years of the Channel 4 Screenwriting course. As well as being an excellent actor, he is an outstanding casting director. As ever, he persuaded so many really brilliant actors to take part in this project, but as always with Patrick’s suggestions, all who turned up on the day had put some serious thought into their characters, and their performances were brave and absolutely committed to the scripts. Nearly all of the writers attended the recordings, and it was a real treat for all of them to see their scripts brought to life.

As well as doing a brilliant job of casting and persuading some very busy, very talented actors to take part, Patrick gives a wonderful performance in Louise Vale’s REX.

Will Mount is one of the writers (of the excellent AN IRRESISTIBLE FORCE) and, luckily for me, happens to run a recording studio in Whitechapel. Will – incredibly generously – gave me 5 (long) days of his time to record and edit the monologues, and then spent much of the next couple of weeks after that fine-tuning each recording.

But not only that – he also acted my piece – and, I’m sure you’ll agree – did a brilliant job – AND wrote the musical theme for the series. Truly a master of all trades and the nicest, most patient guy, to whom I am massively indebted. Thank you Will!


Finally this week – a link to a blog I’ve written – THREE STEPS TO SCRIPT EDITING SUCCESS – for the BBC Writers Room

All the best




Feb 10th 2017


Posted by admin  /   January 27, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 1st WEEKEND

Indie Training Fund – Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass London March 9th



Hi There,

We’ve just had the first weekend of this year’s C4 screenwriting course and it was a really exciting, thought-provoking couple of days.

Some observations from the weekend that I hope may be helpful to screenwriters –

I’ve been thinking about what the scripts by the 12 writers on this year’s course (selected from 1400 script submissions) had in common.

They were nearly all about big subjects, challenging ideas – female genital mutilation, a trans-gender character, racism, gender politics. If this makes the scripts sound a bit dull and worthy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As well as mainly tackling big, important, controversial topics, all of the scripts were exciting, entertaining and compelling.

Others that didn’t necessarily tackle big subjects stood out in other ways – for instance – scripts on more familiar subjects that were brilliant examples of that genre – that demonstrated outstanding story-telling ability within a familiar area, and were fresh, original takes on familiar genres and stories.

The best of the scripts created wonderfully rich, engaging and original characters, and put them in challenging, provocative and difficult situations – that forced the characters into drastic action that revealed other sides to them.

Of the writers chosen for the course this year, 6 wrote screenplays, 6 wrote stage plays. Usually the balance is more heavily weighted on the side of screenplays. But this is perhaps a reflection of the thriving new writing culture in UK theatre – a culture that doesn’t exist in the same way in screenwriting in the UK. (A topic for another newsletter!)

To the course itself – we had a brilliant line-up of guest speakers. Starting off with script guru KATE LEYS, talking about story-telling for the screen. Kate has spent her working life thinking about how story works, and has worked with many of the very best writers mainly in feature films but also in TV. She had so many pearls of story-telling wisdom – invaluable for both writers and the script editors on the course. (We have 4 script editors working on the course, each of whom work with three writers, and who are also shadowed by 4 trainee script editors.) Kate addressed the absolute fundamentals of how story works in a way that is straightforward, jargon-free and highly insightful. If you ever get a chance to listen to her talk, or work with her, take it!

Next up was director MARC MUNDEN. Marc is one the top TV directors in the UK today, his most recent work being on C4’s 4-parter, NATIONAL TREASURE, and before that on the wonderful UTOPIA. Marc showed a clip of the brilliant opening sequence of UTOPIA S1 ep1 (mass murder in a shop – if you saw it, it will be imprinted on your memory!) and scenes from National Treasure. Both were master-classes in clear, dramatic and visual story-telling, and really instructive about his working relationships with writers (in these cases, Dennis Kelly and Jack Thorne). He talked about how important it was for writers to leave interpretive gaps in their work, and about creative collaboration at its best.

Finally on day one, 4Screenwriting alumna CHARLIE COVELL talked about her writing work since the 2014 course. (You may want to catch up and enjoy Charlie’s work – her outstanding feature film BURN BURN BURN  is now on UK Netflix; and her two brilliant episodes of BANANA are on All4 – Channel 4 catch-up). And on the Sunday, we had two other 4Screenwriting alumni do a talk together – CAT JONES (2012) and ANNA SYMON (2013).

All three have enjoyed significant screenwriting success since they did the course. They are all obviously, in their different ways, outstanding screenwriters. But in itself that’s not enough to achieve success. What they also have in common is a huge passion for writing and their craft, huge intelligence, great determination to succeed, and an ability to collaborate and get on with their co-collaborators – even when things get tough. And all three talked about the pitfalls as well as the successes – the bad notes you get, the projects that don’t get green-lit, the sheer intensity of the demands that are put on you. There is a fair level of stress involved, and while all three have been very successful, all three have also had their share of frustrations – and what is impressive about all three, is how they manage to rise above these difficulties and keep focused and determined – with the focus being on the continued quality of their work.

On Sunday we opened with Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith talking about their Channel 4 serial RUN (another show to watch on Netflix). It was really interesting to hear about the pros of being a writing partnership (of which there are many) and of their work across TV and feature films. What strikes me about Dan and Marlon is that beneath their undoubted talent as writers, they are hugely determined and focused on developing their careers and the range of their industry connections. They have a number of very exciting projects in development. They also clearly enjoy passing on their experiences to the newer writers on the course – and I think this sort of generosity of spirit is something a lot of the successful writers have in common.

They were followed by Channel 4 drama commissioner Liz Lewin. Liz, also a hugely experienced producer and script editor, accompanied by writer Lisa McGee (London Irish), was a force of nature – giving off huge energy and enthusiasm for the work she does with writers. She had also (incredibly generously) done a massive email around her many industry friends and contacts the evening before to ask them for their tips for writers just starting out in the industry. The resulting 6 page document was a screenwriting master-class in its own right. And here are a few of the many insightful quotes from it –

‘Eavesdrop. I got a character today just by listening to a lad on the till at Waitrose boasting to a Saturday girl.’

‘If your characters don’t care about what’s going on, the audience won’t care.’

‘Agents like writers who as well as talented they feel are also hard working and proactive.’

‘You need to spend time thinking about how to work out what is unique about your voice.’

‘Don’t write a SINGLE line of dialogue until you have a COMPLETE, fully working outline!!!!’

‘Read as many scripts as you can. Read scripts every day.’

‘Once I’d given up the notion of trying to ‘please’ a reader, I was completely libertated. And that’s how I found my ‘voice’ as a writer.’

‘Write and write and write, and be your hardest critic, and don’t second guess, and don’t be afraid of failure.’

‘Don’t be precious. Don’t get despondent. Don’t waste all your time on twitter.’

…and so on. Six pages of this stuff from some of the most successful writers, producers and agents in the business. Absolute gold-dust for the writers and script editors on the course.

Then we had HILARY NORRISH, one of the best script editor / producers working in the UK, with a wonderful CV of outstanding shows, talking about the writer / script editor working relationship. Hilary has spoken on every year of the C4 course – she is a brilliant public speaker, a natural comedian, and hugely perceptive about how writers and editors work together at their best (based on a career of working with people like Alan Bleasdale, Paula Milne, Guy Hibbert, Simon Block etc).

At the end of both the days, the course writers sit down with their script editors to pitch the ideas they’re interested in writing about in their course script. Over the years, we’ve found that finding a really exciting idea that the writer is burning to write but that is also suited to C4 / E4 is probably the hardest part of the process. Sometimes just finding the right idea can take several weeks – but once a writer has settled on the right idea, the process is very exciting. We tried to tackle that issue this year by having a briefing evening for the 12 chosen writers before Christmas at Channel 4, where C4 drama head of development Matthew Wilson and script editor Natasha Phillips talked to the writers about the sort of ideas C4 are interested in, what constitutes a C4 idea, and the sort of ideas currently in development and production, and why they stood out from the crowd.

And the rage of ideas pitched by the writers was very exciting. I’ll report back after the 2nd weekend in June about the writing process and the resulting scripts – but for all of us working on the course, it’s the start of an exciting adventure that we hope will end up for the 12 writers with the sort of success achieved so far by Charlie, Anna and Cat.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Feb 10th – with exciting news of the launch of my TRIBUTE podcasts!

All the best




Jan 27th 2017


Posted by admin  /   January 12, 2017  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on SCRIPT SHOWCASE

Hi There,

For the first time, in 2016, I ran what I am now committed to making an annual event –  a script showcase where, over a 1 hour lunchtime in December, I put on readings of 10 minute sections from the 5 best scripts to come through my website last year.

I ran it because I got to September and was struck by how many excellent scripts had come into my script consultancy service in 2016.

I was a little worried beforehand that maybe I’d built these scripts up in my head as being better than they were, but the event itself couldn’t have gone much better and I was relived as I sat listening to the readings that my assessment of the quality of the scripts felt vindicated.

I managed to get 6 really outstanding actors, who, with no rehearsal whatsoever, just a 30 minute meeting with the writers beforehand to ask any questions they had about the stories and characters, brought the scripts off the page with such life. For me, and for the writers, it was a real treat to hear the scripts performed by such outstanding actors.

I have to say as I sat listening to the readings, with a completely full theatre, sensing the audience’s attention and enjoyment, I felt a surge of pleasure. Any anxiety was forgotten because I was so thoroughly enjoying the readings.

The industry turnout was fantastic – we had representatives from BBC, ITV, Left Bank Pictures, Bandit Television, Vox Pictures, World Productions, Daybreak Pictures, New Pictures, Kudos, Euston Films, Tiger Aspect and many, many other production companies. With 4 of the writers unrepresented, we also had a very good turn-out of literary agents.

We had a table by the theatre exit piled with full versions of the writer’s scripts, and it was great to see the queue that formed at the end to get copies. And I got a load of emails straight after requesting electronic copies.

Three of the writers were kind enough to write up their own take on the event –

 Philip Shelley December 2016 Showcase – Jerry Hurley

 Philip read a feature script of mine and invited me for coffee to discuss it. He’d already told me he liked the script and so I hoped that during our meeting I could solicit his advice about all the ‘next steps’ I needed to take. Namely, getting an agent and getting the script into the hands of production companies that would either make it or give me work on other things. However, I came away from our meeting with an opportunity I couldn’t have imagined.

He asked if I’d be interested in having an extract of my script performed by professional actors in a lunchtime showcase event, attended by the professionals I was hoping to reach out to – and of course, my answer was a resounding YES! Finally, it felt like that thing I was working towards might just happen.

 And twelve weeks later I found myself in the front row of a West End theatre with six actors in front of me and a house packed with industry professionals behind.

 On the morning of the showcase, Philip, the actors and writers met to go through any last minute questions with the scripts. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing and the whole atmosphere was one of gentle excitement… I must say here, the actors were all fantastic, both in terms of their performances and generosity. All of them were successful and they were there, making this effort for us and helping us to launch our careers. How fantastic is that?

 The showcase went really well. The performances ranged from dark drama to light comedy and the reactions ranged from you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence to group laughter. Piles of scripts and business cards were taken by many of the attendees, thanks were said and fingers were crossed that all the hard work would pay off. Only time will tell. But I am certain that every writer left the event feeling enormously positive and hopeful.

 The showcase was less than twenty four hours ago. Nine people took my script yesterday and several others requested it. This morning I received two further emails from production companies asking if they could read it. One even enquired if I’d be interested in coming in for coffee to discuss writing television drama… So, the early signs are good. People are reading my script and what’s more, I haven’t had to write one begging letter or twist a single arm! If there’s a lesson to be learned it’s this – if Philip Shelley invites you for a coffee, GO!


Script Showcase Review – Laurence Tratalos

When your work is performed there is always the worry that no one will laugh. For serious drama writers that would not be an issue, but as my script was a comedy I suffered from the usual chilling anxiety that my words would be met by stony silence and tumbleweed rolling past. Thankfully the audience laughed. Right from the start. I was surprised how some lines I hadn’t considered funny received big laughs whereas my favourite lines often got nothing more than a chuckle. For the most part though I was really pleased with the reception.

But the real credit must go to the cast, who were fantastic. They had read the scripts beforehand but not rehearsed. There wasn’t a single cock up, not a line dropped, and they all played multiple roles with ease. Flitting from Pakistani to Yorkshire accents, no easy feat. They call it ‘lifting the words off the page’ and it’s amazing how different your script becomes when you have a talented cast to bring it alive.

It’s to Philips’s immense credit that so many industry people were willing to spend their lunch break in a small theatre in central London. The theatre was full to the brim and the atmosphere was brilliant. Since the reading I have received positive emails from several agents and also production companies. All in all a great experience and I sincerely hope Philip has the time to do another showcase next year. No pressure there Philip!


Script Showcase – Helen Seymour

I sent my radio script ‘The Beginnings of My Life’ to Philip back in April 2016 via his script consultancy, with no idea what might happen. Part of me was expecting to be gently put out of my misery, a bit like during X-Factor auditions, with a polite but firm ‘writing is not for you’.  Luckily his response was fantastic – encouraging while also constructively critical, really drilling down into the script and pinpointing exactly what worked and what didn’t.  I was thrilled when he said he liked the play and thought it could find a home with the BBC.  Getting recognition from someone as knowledgeable as Philip was just the confidence boost I needed.

So that was that, for a while – then in September, I heard from Philip again who said he was organising a script showcase of the best five scripts received through his consultancy that year, and would I like to be part of it? I almost bit his hand off.  Philip organised the event at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, which he filled with around sixty industry professionals – producers, agents and others.  The kind of people new writers would kill to get their work in front of!

I turned up on the day nervous but excited, having devoured the superb scripts of the other writers (Laurence Tratalos, Jerry Hurley, Brian Lynch and Kevin Di Biasio) and feeling suitably intimidated. I needn’t have though – everyone was incredibly nice.  The event comprised of a series of ten-minute excerpts performed from each script.  The actors were incredible, performing a dazzling array of characters in a short space of time with little time for preparation.  It was a huge privilege seeing them perform my script – if a little surreal! – and they were able to find nuances I’d never thought about when writing it.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.  It is too early to tell what the outcome will be for me as a writer, but I have been contacted by a few production companies – including NoHo Productions, Working Title TV and Conker Films – asking for my script and for more information about me as a writer.  It is also a great addition to my writing CV – a ‘stamp of approval’ from Philip is a huge credibility boost in the industry.  Who knows where it will lead, but it was certainly a wonderful end to 2016, and perhaps will lead to even better things in 2017.


Thank you so much to Jerry, Laurence and Helen for writing these accounts of the event. And, like these writers, I would like to say a particular thank you to the amazing cast we managed to get for the event  and who did such a great job – Nicholas Gleaves, Taj Atwal, Karla Crome, Will Howard, Gina Bramhill and Carl Prekopp.


Finally this week a word from screenwriter / script editor Phil Gladwin about his excellent SCREENWRITING GOLDMINE AWARDS –

‘We’re in the last couple of weeks of the entry period. Back in 2012 we started out with just eight people on the panel, but now there are 35.

I believe the Screenwriting Goldmine competition is one of the few independent script competitions with this diversity of reach in the British TV industry. The five finalist scripts do get strong access to senior people from many different production companies, broadcasters and agencies.

To get into that final five, well, don’t over analyse it, just write us a really good script. It can be any genre, TV drama, or feature film, and must be between 45 and 125 pages long. Scripts strong on character with a cracking narrative probably stand a better chance, but don’t get too hung up on what you think we’ll like, we are really looking for your own vision to hit us hard.

Basically there are no rules other than the Prime Directive of all dramatic writing: Be Entertaining!

If you’ve got a script ready to go then you can read more information at or feel free to email me direct with any queries at

Entries close on Jan 31st.

Good luck!

Phil Gladwin’

Thank you Phil – and I’d like to add my own personal stamp of approval to Phil’s course. Being one of the 5 winners is likely to be a huge boost to your screenwriting career.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 27th

All the best




Jan 13th 2017



Posted by admin  /   December 23, 2016  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   3 Comments

Hi There,

…and I wish you all a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS. As I’ve done for the last couple of years, in my final newsletter of the year, here’s a rundown of the scripts – whether in TV, film or theatre – that I enjoyed most in the past 12 months. And I’d love to hear back from you with your additions and disagreements!


Probably the theatre show I enjoyed most this year was the wonderful OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR, a National Theatre of Scotland production at the National Theatre in London. A semi-musical (mostly old ELO songs) performed by a completely unknown (to me!) teenage, female, Scottish cast, this was theatre at its very best – joyous, filthy and ultimately moving and uplifting. Adapted for the stage by LEE HALL from a novel, ‘The Sopranos’ by Alan Warner.

LINDA by PENELOPE SKINNER at the Royal Court was right up there too. Another show with some serious messages leavened by a wonderful sense of humour – and a great cast (including multi-talented 4Screenwriting alumna Karla Crome). In the eponymous role, Noma Dumezweni gave a stellar performance. Theatre is at its best when very important subject-matter – in this case gender politics and female empowerment – is part of an entertainment – a gripping story, characters you really care about, with laughs and real drama. A play for the big stage.

ALLIGATORS by ANDREW KEATLEY – which I saw at the start of the year at the Theatre Downstairs, Hampstead. In contrast, this was a play for a smaller stage – but in a good way. A microscopic, intense study of a schoolteacher whose life is destroyed when he is accused of unspeakable acts many years previously. Another wonderful character story, this tapped into many issues that are prevalent at the moment – the unstoppable power for bad (and good) of social media and the media in general, as well as being a tremendous piece of story-telling.


Early in the year there was a bit of a flood of highly enjoyable films – the wonderful ROOM (which was included in my 2015 list),

THE BIG SHORT – a hugely creative and entertaining examination of the financial crisis, that was a screenwriting master-class in how to use all sorts of stylistic devices to grab an audience’s attention – flashback, voiceover, direct address to camera, use of captions, intercutting documentary / news footage with fiction, it was virtuoso screenwriting and film-making – and it had something really important to say, written by ADAM MCKAY & CHARLES RANDOLPH.

BROOKLYN – in complete tonal contrast, a lyrical, poetic piece of story-telling about the physical and emotional journey of an Irish girl trying to make her way as an immigrant in 1950’s Brooklyn – a brilliant adaptation by NICK HORNBY of Colm Toibin’s novel.

JOY – a funny, moving, inventive piece of story-telling by DAVID O. RUSSELL. A story that unfolded with real flair and imagination. In some ways his work and career is comparable to RICHARD LINKLATER, whose EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!, while equally joyous, was more of an out-and-out comedy (and a very successful one). Both specialise in character driven stories that are informed by a real sense of humanity.

Very similar in subject-matter but diametrically different in tone was GOAT – very bleak but very brilliant. Written by the film’s director ANDREW NEEL, DAVID GORDON GREEN, and MIKE ROBERTS, this was an examination of the phenomenon of hazing of freshmen amongst frat houses at US universities. It was graphic, shocking, compelling and very instructive. I saw this at the very poorly-marketed London Sundance festival in June and, as far as I know, it hasn’t got a UK cinema release date. But if you get a chance to catch it, I really recommend it.

At the London Film Festival in October the best films I saw were Oliver Stone’s excellent SNOWDEN – a great companion piece to Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning doc CITIZEN 4; NOCTURNAL ANIMALS –  a really smart, stylish but also involving film about story-telling itself, directed and written by TOM FORD; AFTER LOVE, a claustrophobic but utterly compelling examination of the breakdown of a marriage written byJOACHIM LAFOSSE, MAZARINE PINGEOT, FANNY BURDINO & THOMAS VAN ZUYLEN; THEIR FINEST, a traditional UK movie set during WW2, with a familiar but excellent British cast – in particular a wonderful comic performance by Bill Nighy. Charming, funny and touching, the film is adapted from a Lissa Evans novel by experienced TV dramatist GABY CHIAPPE – and the central characters are screenwriters writing a populist propaganda film – a rose-tinted but nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable portrayal of war.

In contrast Danish film A WAR was an intense, disturbing examination of the affects of warfare on a UN Danish military unit operating in Afghanistan – and the repercussions on their lives of a death in combat. Written by TOBIAS LINDHOLM.

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (Netflix) written and directed by ROB BURNETT. I’m a sucker for sentimentality, and this is undoubtedly sentimental. (Why has ‘sentimental’ become an exclusively pejorative adjective?!). A classic road movie, it conformed to many recognisable movie tropes – but also had a voice and personality all of its own. Funny, moving and very engaging. It’s also part of the new viewing phenomenon – a Netflix Original – a show that exists somewhere between traditional film and TV.

I could  mention many more films – but I’ll end this section with a few feature documentaries. To my mind, this is becoming an increasingly productive narrative strand, with so many lessons, so much inspiration for screenwriters –

BATTLE MONTAIN – all about obsessive champion cyclist Graeme Obree (see THE FLYING SCOTSMAN), this was a compelling character study.

As was THE FALL, a film about the story leading up to and the aftermath of Zola Budd tripping Mary Decker in the women’s 3000m race at the 1984 Olympics in LA. Two very different characters, both with hugely competitive natures – their clash, and their eventual, moving reconciliation 30 year after the race that had shaped their lives.

WEINER – so inspiring in the way it dramatised such a complex, flawed, charismatic central character.

GLEASON – a traumatic, moving character story of a formerly celebrated US football player, struck down by illness, striving to make the best of his life. Will melt the hardest of hearts.



Exodus – a brilliant BBC documentary series about the ongoing refugee crisis. Both hugely moving and educational – a really important piece of work that is also gripping.

The Missing 2 – highly impressive in the way it even bettered series one. Again, a great example of compelling story-telling. Complex, multi-layered – but very rewarding. (JACK & HARRY WILLIAMS)

Fleabag – an adaptation of the stage monologue, this expanded version worked equally well but in a different medium. Funny, dark and very original. (PHOEBE WALLER BRIDGE)

Stranger Things – worked on several different levels – as affectionate pastiche, schlocky horror – but also involving, highly entertaining character-driven story. (The DUFFER BROTHERS)

Better Call Saul2 – probably my favourite TV show of the year. Some of the three-handed character stories between Jimmy McGill, his brother Chuck, and Jimmy’s colleague / lover Kim – were just the most brilliant, multi-layered, rich and intriguing character writing of any series. A complete joy, I can’t wait for series 3. (VINCE GILLIGAN, PETER GOULD, THOMAS SCHNAUZ, GENNIFER HUTCHISON, etc)

Line Of Duty 3 – JED MERCURIO delivered again. Another cracking, adrenalized ride with some of the longest, most static – and best – scenes in any UK drama of this or any other year.

Black Mirror – CHARLIE BROOKER’s show now on Netflix, which once again cut to the heart of so many of the issues of contemporary life. My favourites in the new series are SHUT UP & DANCE and NOSEDIVE.

Flowers – WILL SHARPE’s completely original, very dark and very funny comedy series

Love – a Netflix series (JUDD APATOW, LESLEY ARFIN & PAUL RUST) – the lowest of low concept shows – 10 episodes about the on/off relationship between a boy and a girl in contemporary LA, this proved that if you create rich, credible, compelling characters, we don’t need car chases, aliens, zombies or whatever.

Mum – STEFAN GOLASZEWSKI proved the same thing with his latest BBC series. The stories are so slight they’re almost non-existent but it works anyway. The characters and the dynamics between them are so well-drawn that you just love spending time in their company.

Happy Valley 2. Written and mostly directed by SALLY WAINWRIGHT – as good as if not better than series 1, which is saying something.

Last Tango In Halifax Xmas special – delightful and so different in tone to HAPPY VALLEY – SALLY WAINWRIGHT  is such a good writer, but the breadth of her range also is incredibly impressive.

Finally THE CROWN. I’m no royalist – but I’m so caught up in the lives of these characters because PETER MORGAN is such a consummate story-teller. Like BETTER CALL SAUL, this is a master class in how to construct compelling scenes. So many beautifully nuanced, character-driven scenes.

OK, I’m going to stop there – but I could go on for pages more. So much great, inspiring writing! I’ve referenced so many great writers here whose work you will enjoy researching and following.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 13th. Have a great Christmas and New Year. And I hope 2017 is a BIG writing year for you.

And can I say a massive THANK YOU to all of you who take the time to respond to this newsletter with comments, opinions and thanks – your input, responses and interaction are what make this process fun and interesting for me,

All the best




Dec 23rd 2016



Posted by admin  /   December 09, 2016  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2017


I’m running a one day script editing course at the Indie Training Fund on Jan 17th next year.



Hi There,


After a lot of admin and even more reading we narrowed down the 1356 submitted script entries to a shortlist of 32 writers whom we’ve been interviewing at Channel 4 in London over the course of this past week. We will be able to inform the 12 successful writers in the next day or two. So – if you submitted a script and haven’t heard back from us, I’m afraid that means you weren’t short-listed.

It’s a hugely difficult task picking 12 writers for the course from so many submitted scripts. We try as hard as possible to get a wide range of different writers – writers from film, TV, theatre and radio, from all different areas of the UK, as ethnically and culturally diverse as possible, a group that’s varied in terms of their writing experience and gender. All of this has to be factored into the conversations about who we offer places to on the course. But ultimately what attracts us to a writer is a script with which we connect on an emotional level. There are very many scripts we read that are objectively excellent – very well-written, interesting and commercially realistic. But that isn’t enough in itself – a script also has to have a visceral effect on the reader to really stand out – it has to be entertaining and thrilling. So inevitably there is an element of subjectivity in the selection of the 12 course writers.

One other thing that is worth saying is that, increasingly, however good the submitted script, writers are sometimes only getting onto the course after several attempts – over the last 2 or 3 years, there have been several writers who have been short-listed for an interview one year, haven’t made it onto the course, but have then submitted a different but equally excellent or even better script the following year, and have got onto the course then. And if you’ve submitted different but excellent scripts for 3 or 4 years, that’s highly impressive and obviously more persuasive than a single excellent script.

So, disappointing as I know it is to not get onto the course, you need to think about a screenwriting career as something that is long-term. If you’re serious about this, you’ll be in it for the long haul. Setbacks won’t put you off your stride, and you will continue to produce quality work until you’ve battered down the doors of the industry.

But to everyone who entered a script, I would like to say a massive thank you. It’s always really exciting and enjoyable reading the huge variety of story that comes in, and I feel privileged to be at the coalface of new screenwriting in the UK. I’m sorry that we don’t have the time or resources to give individual feedback to writers, or to get back to each writer individually with news about the outcome.

From the point of view of all of us who read the scripts – myself, 18 readers, and several members of the Channel 4 drama department (who read the short-listed scripts) – it’s very frustrating that we can’t take more than 12 writers, and that the outcome for writers is getting on the course or nothing. I do my best to identify the best writers who didn’t make it onto the course and to track their work, and keep in touch with them.

And I’m a great believer that, if you are determined enough and your scripts are genuinely excellent, you will break through. Despite the apparent obstacles in place, there are a lot of smart, passionate people in the industry who are actively looking for new, talented writers.


Completely unrelated to the C4 screenwriting course, I held a script showcase this week in which 6 wonderfully talented actors performed 10 minute readings from 5 of the best scripts that have come through my script consultancy this year.

It’s been a particularly good year for the quality of the scripts that have come into my consultancy so I was motivated to put on this showcase. There were so many scripts that I’d read and worked on with the writers that I feel confident are good enough to attract industry interest for the writers.

So on Wednesday at the Tristan Bates theatre in central London we had a full house of development executives, script editors, literary agents etc from film and TV coming to hear this showcase. The initial response seems to have been hugely positive, and I’m really interested to see how this will turn into real professional leads for the writers involved – I’ll be coming back to write more about this after Christmas.


This is my other recent creative initiative through my website / newsletter. With 13 excellent scripts, and 13 excellent actors, we have now recorded and edited these dramatic monologues – 10-15 minute eulogies to fictional dead people (which are hopefully inspiring and life-affirming rather than depressing!). In January I will be releasing them through a new website and itunes. And again, this is something I will write about in more detail in a future newsletter when they’re ready to launch. But it has been really creatively exciting working with (mainly) new writers on these scripts, and seeing their scripts come to life with some wonderful performances by some outstanding actors. The writers came to the recordings to meet the actors, and be part of the production process – and we had a brilliant time recording them.


I attended this event which took over Picturehouse Central in London last week. There were very many fascinating panel sessions and interviews all about TV drama – and my head was spinning after two days of these panel discussions. I made copious notes and, again, I will be sharing much more of this with you in newsletters in the New Year.

The next newsletter will be on Dec 23rd,

All the best




Dec 9th 2016


Posted by admin  /   November 25, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on SOHO HOLLYWOOD

Hi There,

This week, more notes from the excellent SOHO CREATE festival way back in June –


CATHERINE SHOARD (The Guardian) interviewing –

TIM BEVAN. Working Title Films. Has made over 100 films since 1984. Has won 11 Oscars, 37 BAFTA’s.

DUNCAN CLARK – Universal

FIONA WALKINSHAW – Framestore, VX, Exec producer of GRAVITY.

Tim Bevan, one of the country’s most successful and prolific producers, will be in conversation with Duncan Clark, President of Distribution for Universal Pictures International and Framestore chief exec FIONA WALKINSHAW . These three movie greats have been involved in well over 100 films. What can they tell us about the changing nature of the industry, technical, creative and commercial? Why does this tiny square mile of London play such an important role in Hollywood, and how will these powerful links evolve over the next ten years?’

The first film you ever saw?


TB: The movies of the ‘70’s got me involved in film – a golden age of Hollywood – Ashby, Coppola, Scorsese. These films made me fall in love with the industry. Got a runners job in Soho. It didn’t really feel like work. But working in the film industry was better than work. I really love what I do. Most of all because you’re part of a team.

DC: THE WIZARD OF OZ. I remember being so scared by it. Example of the effect film can have on you. I never knew what I wanted to do – wanted to be a famous sportsman. From a family of journalists. Ended up in advertising, then did ads for a film company. Then being involved with film piqued my interest. A job to keep, a career to pursue.

FW: Not initially interested in film. But I loved reading stories, wanted to work in publishing, but didn’t enjoy it. Used to go off to the loo for a snooze! Got job as LWT news runner. Then receptionist job at Framestore.

TB: started as runner, then making music videos. Worked with directors like Nic Roeg, Stephen Frears. Learnt a lot from working with them. Worked with Frears just after he’d made THE HIT. I introduced him to a young crew. Stephen gave me and Sarah Radcliffe a Hanif Kureishi script. We had a meeting with Channel 4. They immediately gave us the money to make the film. Working Title’s first film (MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE)– it’s got a lot more difficult since then!

DC: Not a producer. But 15 years ago produced a film in Hollywood – low budget – great experience. Worked for Sony in LA.

TB: Good to have a group of people around you. When we started, we formed a community of creative people. You have to be tenacious as well as creative. In a filing cabinet you will have a tray of rejection letters to get any movie funded.

FW: Innovation is important at Framestore. Very creatively driven in advertising and film.

TB: You have to know when it’s not working. Sometimes you have a mutual respect between writer, director, producer – there’s a buzz – and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This doesn’t happen on most movies – you have to value it when it does happen.

The film industry jades people. You have to get people at the right time.

DC: In distribution – movies from lots of different sources. When films come through – from treatment or script – it’s an acknowledged process – a journey that can take time. But when we get involved, films are generally on track – so less cynicism for me in the process.

TB: one of the things Richard Curtis taught me, quality control is everything. You have to be tenacious at every step of the process.

The industry has never been better. Britain – as a place to make films – has so much going for it. Working on movies now, there’s a proper career to be had – particularly if you specialise in one of the movie-making crafts.

FW: The new technology, ability to shoot your own films has democratized the industry.

TB: London is a really good place to be, a good time. More hours of film and TV than ever before are being made. I credit Gordon Brown. Sorted out tax credit scheme. Successive governments have stuck with it since. Now for every producer starting on funding a film, you have 25% of the budget before you start.

DC: We’re slightly on the outside here in London – but in LA it’s all a bit homogenised. Being outside of that environment can only be an advantage. The film world in Soho has been such an important part of my life. A tiny, packed area, whereas LA is vast and sprawling. Very energising.

FW: In London we don’t ever take the business for granted. Creatives at Framestore are never complacent about their place in the market.

TB: Working Title have offices in both London and LA. In the UK you have to be very pro-active. The UK punches above its weight in creatives. The big difference here is that there are various art forms. Cross-pollination is much better here – theatre and TV cross-pollinate in London. There’s very little theatre in LA compared to London.

Theatre here is a fantastic source for film – great to be able to tap into London theatre.

There’s a great social scene in Soho. Back in the day – the Groucho Club, the George. Now Soho House. Soho is socially vibrant – with lots of people from the creative industries in Soho.

DC: The big studios have a responsibility to make films that ‘common-denominate’ in 40 different territories.

TB: As a producer, we have a slate of movies. We don’t want a massive gap between films. We try to have a broad slate. Balance things out, develop as much as you can, with projects in different stages of development – from conception to production. The quickest development period we’ve had is 1 year, the longest 15-20 years. We’re thinking a few years ahead all the time.

DC: As distributor we’re thinking 3-5 years ahead. The timings never fall into place perfectly.

FW: At Framestore, we’re always looking two years ahead – things change all the time. We employ about 1000 people. We’re always trying to keep our slate full. The worst part of the job is when you suddenly see a gap, where schedules change – suddenly 200 people in the company who need work.

TB: Have the same attitude to extreme success and failure. Nothing surprises me very much – when films don’t happen.

DC: It’s a huge team effort in making and marketing a movie. If people don’t embrace a film, there’s a big debate about production and marketing. It’s always a bit of a roller-coaster.

Getting into the industry –

TB: We all had to get into it and for all of us it was difficult. Be clear about where you want to end up – be specific. Everyone at the start wants to be a runner – if you specifically want to work in the art department, for instance, it gives you an advantage.

FW: Make sure you do your research. One of my pet hates, is the standard blurb on CV’s, ‘I’m a highly motivated, organised individual…’ Don’t write that, write something interesting.

TB: Work experience – seize the opportunity when you have it. Diversity – shocking lack of diversity, especially behind the camera.

FW: When starting out, be aware of internship opportunities.

DC: Distribution – producers / distributors / exhibitors – it’s very competitive. Every week 4 or 5 movies are opening – there’s so much demand for the few available screens. Films sometimes do have very short, limited theatrical releases. But nowadays you’ve never missed a film forever – films come round in another vehicle.

TB: The studios have become very market-oriented. (BIRDMAN, GRAVITY were turned down by all the studios – both won Oscars)

One of the great things for Working Title has been the relationship with Universal. We think of the UK as our principal market, but if a film works it will have ripples all round the world. We soon realized the importance of the market worldwide. FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL changed everything – it was a massive door-opener. UK films don’t have to be huge – but there’s a big audience for them if you get them right.

Studios have different divisions – to look after and develop different types and scale of films.

There’s never a single moment when a film gets green-lit – it’s a process that happens over a course of months. Then the official green-light almost comes as a formality.

Releasing the trailer is like releasing the movie now.

FW: Huge impact (in the marketing) of sites like ‘Rotten Tomatoes’.

DC: Some movies take on a viral energy that we don’t anticipate.

TB: The response on the Mail online is a good indicator of a movie’s future success. So many hits for LEGEND (Tom Hardy as Kray twins) and new Bridget Jones movie – this reflects box office potential.


The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 9th,

All the best




Nov 25th 2016

Soho Create: Notes on Creativity & Dramatic Writing

Posted by admin  /   November 11, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on Soho Create: Notes on Creativity & Dramatic Writing

Hi There,

This week some notes from a session at the excellent SOHO CREATE festival that takes place every June in Soho. If you’re London-based, look out for it in 2017



How successful do these three brilliant creative people feel? Critics Circle Award-winning actor and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, recently seen as Lulu in her screen-writing debut, Crashing, will be in conversation with Dennis Kelly and Colin McIntyre. Kelly wrote his first play at 30 and has since written over 20 more including Matilda The Musical with Tim Minchin. McIntyre who as well as having a successful recording career under his own name and the Mull Historical Society, has leapt of the edge recently by writing his Edinburgh Book Festival award-winning debut novel. Together they will discuss what drives them to continue to create new work, take different directions and leap into the void.




PWB: I left drama school and no-one wanted me to act in anything. In the 2 years after I left drama school, when it was really hard, I met Vicky Jones, we started Dry-Write – we pushed each other – someone who champions you and encourages you.

CM: Story-telling the key word. Song-writing has helped me. I come from Mull. My story started there. I went to Glasgow to study – but have been writing songs since I was 6 or 7. Always did it myself. At uni in Glasgow, Jeff Travis from Rough Trade saw me perform. While on tour, I started writing short stories – they came from the same place as my songs. My grandfather was a bank manager on Mull, but also a poet.

DK: I left school at 16, worked in a supermarket in Barnet. Went to youth theatre, used to live for that Thursday. Spent a dissolute 20’s. I was shit at acting so I wrote a play. A friend put it on, they still wouldn’t let me be in it.

I’d love to say it was all research but I was just making bad life choices. But it’s definitely useful to have lived a bit. But it’s more about honesty – with yourself about the material you’re writing.

Ideas are weird – you can’t sit around waiting for them. Sometimes I slog away for ages, there’s nothing there; you have to keep grasping for it.

CM: You have to find something that feels real. I spent a lot of my teens sounding like Blur or someone else – until you find something that feels a bit different.

PWB: Daring to feel like your own voice can be unique. Just the way you’ve been chatting to your friends for 10 years.

DK: There are lots of pitfalls. ‘Find your own voice and that’s it’ – terrible advice. There’s a danger that if you go out and find a voice, that it’s not you. But the thing to do is try to be you and hope you’re not a prick.

CM: You don’t think about the audience, just a little secret of your own. I didn’t even tell my wife I was writing my novel. Then it’s just for you.

PWB: CRASHING came from a series of short plays. ‘Big Talk’ Productions liked the plays – asked how can we put the characters together? A Big Talk exec came up with the idea from the Property Guardian. C4 liked the character – but asked, ‘why now?’

I come up with the character arcs first, then try to inter-link them as much as possible, throw hideous things at them. Then coming up with a beginning, middle and end – each episode story.

DK: On UTOPIA, I was working with really good people. Good producers do nothing – just work with really good people. Marc Munden was brilliant, as were the actors. It was difficult to write – it was sprawling, wheedling in real events, ‘bending the truth’ into the story. It’s hard to keep a story arc over the whole series, and then to write episode stories within that. As a writer, it’s hard to see the difference between film and TV series. The audience is sophisticated and intelligent. In the UK, we get scared that the audience won’t understand everything.

CM: My novel is set on an island like Mull. Charles Darwin visits the island.

PWB: FLEABAG – a friend was running a story-telling night, and asked me to do a 10 minute story. So I wrote a ten minute thing, I wrote it to make Vicky laugh – it went down well. We sorted out a slot in Edinburgh – but it was for one hour. I expanded my ten minute piece in ten minute sections, until I had one hour of material. The company helped me to dramatise it – helped me find a story in it, pulling out the truth in it. Daring it to be brave. Wrote the ending on the way up to Edinburgh. It crept up on me, the rawness. Had a great response. BBC interested. Adapting a one woman show into a multi-character cast was challenging.

DK: MATILDA for the RSC. At first it was just me. They asked, ‘Do you fancy doing a musical?’ My response, ‘I hate musicals.’  They said great. I often write out of the house. Being in a coffee shop is just the right balance of private and public. With MATILDA, I had to make the story my own, tear bits out. Dahl’s structure for film and musical is terrible – it’s structured to work as a children’s story. But he gives you this great colour and characters. Really hard work, loads of workshops – making something that we believed in.

I feel like ignorance is under-rated. I didn’t want to see other musicals – which is very stupid because I got lots of stuff wrong. But it’s good in some ways because you follow your instincts.

PWB: I didn’t want to learn the lesson of structure.

DK: Structure isn’t that difficult really – it’s like telling a joke in the right way. Referenced Robert McKee’s ideas on structure.

PWB: But McKee is just breaking down other people’s structure…

DK: But they’re not inventing it, it’s all there – by p.7 this needs to happen, by p.15 something else needs to happen – it can be useful and right, but sometimes not.

CM: I’ve always been slightly fearful of ‘learning how to do things.’ When writing the 3rd or 4th draft of my novel, I sent it to my agent. The 1st time I’d ever had editorial feedback. He loved the things I was most insecure about. Having someone believe in you, when someone give you that belief, it allows you to fly.

DK: Writing a big zombie film, Matilda musical. Currently writing 3 films.

PWB: Editing FLEABAG for BBC, goes out in July. Adapting a novella about a female psychopath. And auditioning for things I haven’t written – which I’m really excited about.

PWB: FLEABAG: The power you have as a narrator is that you’re seeing everything through one person’s skewed version of the world and characters.  I had to let go of the idea that she was in control of the whole story. There is some direct address to camera, but her control slips. Vicky Jones was script editor – she and the producer helped me with it. Having a sounding board is really important for me – talking things out, acting them out.

DK: I have a tip about writer’s block – it doesn’t exist – it’s fear. We’re all scared – but we’ve ‘medicalised’ it. Do you hear the voice of your character? When I get scared, I get a new notebook – makes me feel it doesn’t matter. You have to ‘de-importantise’ it. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. If you can write something bad, write it so that you can get to something good and better.

CM: Don’t hold onto it – move onto something else.

DK: But don’t throw anything away.

CM: Just wake up tomorrow and start writing.

PWB: It’s about daring yourself. If I’m writing something that’s quite personal to me, then I get a thrill that it might also mean something to someone else.

DK: Just write to the best of your ability at that time. Don’t worry if it’s good or bad.

CM: Whatever you write, it has to come from a spark. What’s the thing you’re trying to communicate? At some point you have to jump off that cliff.

DK: With my first attempts at plays, I was trying to write things I thought people wanted – mistake. I changed to thinking – what do I really care about? Things that really mattered to me. Not easy to find, not easy to be honest with yourself about.

Taking notes from people is really hard, it took me a few years. We all know what we think about films etc – we develop those skills to judge films, plays, etc. But the mistake is to think we can apply those skills to our own work.

What other people can help you with is to see it through their eyes, to get outside yourself. It takes time to learn to cope with notes – but it can be brilliant if you have smart people helping you. But you have to trust your gut – because sometimes a terrible note can look the same as a good one.

CM: Amazing skill of editors to help you stand back – and then help you move forward.

PWB: It forces you to articulate your work, what you were trying to do. It’s helped me understand moments better. Sometimes not agreeing with a note helps you understand – you’re not quite conveying something that you need to.

Learning how to listen to note-taking a whole new skill. If they don’t get it, don’t dismiss this.

DK: You can get shit notes – try not to get upset – people are trying to help.

The next newsletter will be on Nov 25th

All the best




Nov 11th 2016


Posted by admin  /   October 27, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on MORE SCREENWRITING NOTES



Cardiff Nov 1st & 2nd  with guest screenwriter, RUSSELL GASCOIGNE

Belfast Nov 15 & 16.


One day Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass Nov 24th



Hi There,

At the moment I’ve got my head down reading the literally hundreds of outstanding script submissions for the 2017 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE. It’s like having my own personal high-class indie film festival – I’ve read so many really enjoyable scripts in the last few weeks – and have several more weeks of reading to look forward to.

I was reminded of one of the best scripts of all that I’ve read in my 7 years of running the C4 course this week with the UK theatrical release of BURN BURN BURN. Written by Charlie Covell, who has since gone onto deserved and continuing success, I saw this film at the 2015 London Film Festival. The script of the film is even better than the script I read that Charlie had entered for the 2014 4Screenwriting.

It’s in cinemas from today. If you have any spare time this weekend, seek it out, you won’t regret it – it’s a lovely film – touching, funny and hugely enjoyable, and the work of a writer of whom you will hear much more in the future.

And Channel 4 have just announced another new writers scheme – a reboot of COMING UP, run by Touchpaper TV, which looks like a great opportunity –


This week, I went to the BAFTA screenwriters lecture given by PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, the incredibly prolific writer / director / producer team whose credits include CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, THE LEGO MOVIE, 21 JUMP STREET, and who are now working on the next STAR WARS movie.

Here are some notes from their inspiring, insightful and very funny talk –


Trying to demystify the idea of creative genius.

Make the directions short – how your script reads, the screenplay as reading experience is very important.

Talked about cave paintings that are thousands of years old – same creative urge as film. The audience / reader is the one doing much of the creative work, making the magic.

We all have narrative. Story-telling is an innate ability. Sometime between the ages of 7 & 17, when we discover embarrassment, we forget that.

Story produces the conditions for the audience to project their own emotions onto the images. For example, feature films create a safe space to examine death – so that we don’t have to experience death (or near-death) first-hand (yet).

Set it up so that the audience can do this job for themselves.

Their big point was – anyone can do this. We all tell stories.

Then went onto emphasise this by a comprehensive listing of their own failures. They worked on lots of shows that failed – they were absolutely not an overnight success.

A quote (I can’t remember who) ‘All of you have 10,000 bad drawings in you and you need to get them out as soon as possible.’ ie if you write, failure is inevitable!

‘CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS’ was a favourite book of both of them. They got fired from the project, other writers brought on, were fired, Lord & Miller re-hired – and then also got to direct it.

ON their return, big meeting – hostile environment, the script had been thrown out – a very important day for them. We threw the question out – what do you all think? We started listening. Eye-opening. Really healthy – learnt a lot about how it could be better, how it could be more engaging.

A movie has to be about a relationship – that’s what stories are. CWACOM became about a father / son relationship. We had resisted this – because it’s so familiar – but it’s familiar because it’s elemental, something we can all understand. And however familiar, you can express it in a way that’s unique to you.

One particular scene based on a conversation I had with my dad. So we put it in the movie – a phone conversation when he was trying unsuccessfully to explain to his dad how to copy and paste a web link.

In the same way that stories are about relationships, movies are about relationships – we listened to people – good ideas come from all over the place eg on CWACOM , a key idea for the story came from the editor very late in the creative process. On CWACOM, the opening credit is ‘A film by a lot of people.’ Lord & Miller believe this is the way they work best – in collaboration with a lot of other people, and in collaboration with each other. They say it really helps their work that they’re constantly having to defend their work to each other. Having a writing partner keeps your ego in check.

‘STD’ – splitting the difference always works!

Their writing process –

Ste p1 Coffee –

Step 2  Procrastinate – an essential part of the process!

Step 3 – create in open mode – throwing ideas out there in a very free and messy way. It’s hard to get both of them in an ‘open’ mode at the same time – but essential. Chasing weird ideas.

Step 4 – edit in ‘closed mode’. Pulling out the good from the mess – very low yield.

Step 5 – trust your audience. It’s important to take notes on faith – the reaction is true, because the listener / reader is ‘telling’ / living the story. Sometimes someone will pitch you a solution you may not like – but there’s something true / worthwhile underlying that.

Not all notes are good. (eg notes from a fear-based place, or people coming up with their own ideas, that don’t fit with what you’re trying to do). But if you’re listening to a lot of people, there will be common threads.

The Lego Movie got a lot better in the last 6 weeks of the process. In animation you make the movie backwards. Our process derives from our start writing TV comedy in the writers room.


  1. Outline story beats until you can’t stand to do it any longer.
  2. We split up and write chosen scenes separately.
  3. We switch scenes, rewrite the scenes we’ve been given
  4. Then switch back again and rewrite
  5. Find the agreed middle ground.
  6. Let your friends read and tear it apart.

Repeat steps 3-5!

  1. Read aloud with actors
  2. Discuss solutions, Rewrite the bits that don’t work.
  3. Shoot – constantly rewriting on the day.
  4. Edit, keep re-writing.

In the insurance business they joke about writers and the psychiatric help they need as a profession – as a writer you need to have that obsessive, neurotic desire to make it better. CM said he is suspicious of a writer saying they’re very happy with their script – we’re never happy.

We’re trying to show you how anyone can do this job – but at the same time we’re saying don’t do this job!

Question every scene. Question every character.

We ask – does this feel like a generic version of this scene? How can we make it less generic, more specific? Do I know the character well enough to know what they would do in this situation?

CM gave the example of an episode of CHEERS in which Cliff goes on the game show JEOPARDY.  He said the enjoyment of the episode was knowing and watching how that character would behave in that situation.

You’ve got to hate your own work – be your harshest critic – when you’re in ‘closed mode’.

A producer said, ‘The only positive emotion you feel in this industry is relief.’

Their producer, when he discovered that they’d invited loads of actor + director friends to come and hear a table read of one of their scripts, warned them, ‘Don’t you realise, they’re all going to have IDEAS!?’

But that’s exactly what we wanted. ‘I only have one boss, and that’s the movie.’

‘If you are open to revision, and iterate enough times, you will look like you know what you’re doing.’

‘Revision is good for you.’

It’s important to remember that we all have this innate ability to tell stories. Trust yourself and work your butt off.

Lord & Miller’s Pledge – ‘I will make new things even if I don’t make any money doing it because I am a human being which is the best animal. Amen.’


Finally this week, another writing event in which you may be interested –


The third University Women in the Arts public event has been announced.

Taking place on November 9th at 6pm, this will be an In Conversation event with Anne Edyvean, Head of BBC Writersroom, the BBC’s new writing department.

Anne is one of 15 women leading the way in the arts in the UK taking part in the one off scheme University Women in the Arts in order to provide access to their advice for women wanting to work in the arts across the UK.

The free event can be booked at:

The event is particularly targeted at female students studying arts subjects at Universities across the UK but is open to anyone who would like access to these women’s advice.


The next newsletter will be on Friday November 11th,

All the best




Oct 28th 2016


Posted by admin  /   October 13, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on STORIES FROM CAMBODIA Pt2



Nottingham, Oct 18 & 19

Cardiff Nov 1st & 2nd

Belfast Nov 15 & 16.


One day Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass Nov 24th



Hi There,

You may remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about my experiences working for a week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I’m very grateful to writer / producer IAN MASTERS for his fascinating, thoughtful response, based on extensive personal experience of life and film-making in Cambodia –

‘For anyone who has visited the Kingdom of Cambodia it’s very clear that the Khmer Rouge still casts a shadow over this country. Whether that’s through the presence of the memorials and museums, the long-running Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the Khmer Rouge past of many of the politicians, or more intangibly in the inter-generational transmission of mental health issues, you can’t go a day in Cambodia without some exposure to the devastating period between 1975 and 1979. It is truly overwhelming for any outsider to comprehend. But working in Cambodia with young filmmakers was a fascinating (and often humbling) way for me to see how this traumatic past was creatively inspiring the next generation.

It’s worth remembering that Cambodia had a thriving film industry in the 1960s and early 1970s (which became the subject of my first feature project there, The Last Reel) But filmmakers were singled out for “re-education” by the Khmer Rouge, and of the 300 or so films produced before the regime only around 30 survive. As Cambodia’s fledgling film industry begins to recover, how to (and whether to) tell stories from that period is a constant source of discussion.

There are many who think that Cambodia should be presenting itself to the world as having moved on. Others that the Khmer Rouge obsession prevents stories from being told that reflect or question a contemporary reality. Davy Chou’s Diamond Island revolves around youngsters in the thriving construction sector and screened in Cannes in 2016. Certainly it seems that audiences (mainly young urban middle-class) want films which reflect their contemporary lives and desires not the horrors endured by their parents and grandparents. The mainstay of Khmer filmmaking is horror and ghost comedies like much of South East Asia. Meanwhile others like Rithy Panh go back to the period regularly with The Missing Picture being nominated for the Best Foreign Language film.

In some ways, documentaries have been able to navigate this period better. Camp 32, Enemies of the People, Brother Number One have documented survivors’ relationships to this dark past and how it still impacts their present.  But it’s in drama that films about the Khmer Rouge struggle, particularly with new directors, many of whom were born after the Paris Peace Accords. Most are survivor stories – starting from the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, survival in the labour camps, escape to the camps in Thailand, and some kind of coda – either refugee resettlement to the US, or return to their forever changed homeland.

Angelina Jolie-Pitt has recently directed First They Killed My Father based on a survivor testimony. Chhay Bora’s film, Lost Loves, is the story of the director’s mother-in-law and her survival under the Pol Pot regime. Meticulously researched and presented, historical truth is paramount. Testimonies from his family inform the film. Historical details and incidents are recorded and presented in a chronology. Memorialising, recording, chronicling are all invaluable in their own right. And the therapeutic process of re-visiting and working through trauma has tangible benefits.

But is it enough in a drama to depict a horrific past? Is there a danger that stories become “trauma porn” – a kind of sickening, heart-melting dive into the abyss with graphic details providing the emotional response in the absence of character-based drama? Easy enough to say from the outside, but what makes drama different? Part of the difficulty is that often the stories are personal. Through personal experience or a family connection, a director starts to investigate the monolithic darkness of the era, but then becomes overwhelmed by the scale and horror. Somehow it doesn’t feel enough to find a singular personal interpretation.

For me it’s about point of view – the “why” of the story. All too often the “why” becomes overwhelmed by the “how, when and where.” Handling such a personal, but also collectively experienced subject, in my view, requires the director to try to make sense of it through a character’s journey for the audience. How does the character change? What do they learn? That doesn’t have to be true to everyone (how can it be?). Neither does it have to be deep, metaphysical or controversial. But it has to be there. In that one journey, dramatised through an individual rather than collective truth, directors may begin to interpret events and rise above historical chronicle or bewildered incomprehension. Otherwise the very real worry is that the film contributes to the mythologising of an era, concretising the times into a monolothic truth which is above challenge or interpretation, which is fixed in the past.

There is of course an additional element here. The detail comes from the victim’s story, not the perpetrators. Depicting the perpetrators from the perspective of the victims doesn’t often provide the same degree of characterisation for the Khmer Rouge cadres (with notable exceptions in some of the recent documentaries). They are all part of the killing machine without voice or personality. The story that really attempts to address the question of “why” perhaps needs to find a voice for the perpetrators as well as the victims.

To a certain extent this is still political. Bearing in mind that many in the current administration were early members of the Khmer Rouge, presenting the past as a single hermetic evil plays into the ruling political narrative – whatever the current political failings, it is better than the horrors of before. When you start scratching this surface, some interesting details emerge. Like for example, how the government leased “The Killing Fields” to a Japanese company to manage as a tourist site for profit. Or why there has been so much political interference in the Khmer Rouge tribunals.

But are Cambodians ready to take an alternative view to the survivor narrative? Are they ready to write stories from the side of the Khmer Rouge in drama, in the same way that a few documentarians have tried? I talked to the director of The Last Reel, Kulikar Sotho, herself a child surivor of the Killing Fields, about whether she could imagine a story from the Khmer Rouge point of view or whether there could ever be stories which highlighted isolated acts of goodness from the Khmer Rouge. She said it was too early.

But that is changing with the new generation of writers and directors. Encouraging them to delve into “why” they want to tell their stories has allowed them to explore their relationship to the past and that of their parents. In Down This Road, a BBC Media Action youth focused, mini-series, three young women pay tribute to their beloved grandfather and musical mentor by taking his ashes to the coast. But along the journey discover this kind old man had a secret – he had joined the Khmer Rouge as a young man, out of nationalist duty and a sense of social injustice. In a half finished journal, in which he tries to explain his actions, he reveals that he’d hidden valuable items in a cave. The revelation of his Khmer Rouge past makes them question his character, but it also threatens the friendship as each of them feels they have a greater right to his “treasure” than the other. Finally they discover deep in the caves that the treasure is a cache of vinyl records saved from destruction by the Khmer Rouge, and a friendship – he’d helped a family hiding in the caves at great personal risk. For the young writers of the series, the Khmer Rouge period was an opportunity for story, not purely as a testament or record to the survivors.

When I hear people say, “audiences have had enough of Khmer Rouge stories,” I’m conflicted about it. I think what they mean is that audiences have had enough of reconstructed survivor testimonies. But writers and directors are beginning to mine the period for alternatives to the survivor narrative to find a different kind of emotional or psychological truth. In that you can see a new generation really interrogating their past, asking difficult questions and finding a creative way to make some kind of sense of it for audiences today. In one story, two siblings hide in Phnom Penh when it is evacuated and survive in the ghost town. It’s fiction, inspired by collective testimony of the evacuation, and then drawn out to explore the relationship between the privileged siblings and their mental change from desperate survivalists to bitter fighters. Have they become too similar to their oppressors? There’s a psychological horror in the pipeline which has its origin in the Khmer Rouge Period. A noir thriller set during the last days before Phnom Penh was overrun by the Khmer Rouge.

One thing is for sure; Cambodia is constantly in the process of reinvention and its relationship to its past provides a rich backdrop for characters with secrets, a fertile ground for writers. It’s great to see a new generation find their feet with short films whether they are inflected by the legacy of the Khmer Rouge or not. There’s A Fistful of Pebbles (experimenting with Spaghetti Westerns – re-imagined as noodle easterns), Rice (a story told from the perspective of children in a Khmer Rouge labour camp), The Scavenger (a social realist story set on the vast dump site) and Three Wheels (about the break-up of a forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge some thirty years earlier). And many many more.

The renaissance of Cambodian visual storytelling is gathering momentum and it was a great privilege for me to have played a small part in it.’

Ian Masters

Ian completed his Masters degree from Bournemouth University in Screenwriting in 2009 after which he continued to develop his own feature projects as well as working as lead writer for BBC Media Action in Cambodia, Bangladesh and South Sudan on TV and radio dramas. In 2014 he wrote and produced The Last Reel with Kulikar Sotho, and ran a scriptlab through Rithy Panh’s Bophana Centre. After a stint in Uganda where he taught at the fledgling Kampala Film School, he now lives and works in Nairobi.

Film References:

The Last Reel (2014) Dir. Kulikar Sotho

The Missing Picture (2013) Dir. Rithy Panh

Diamond Island (2016) Dir. Davy Chou

Lost Loves (2010) Dir. Chhay Bora

Enemies of the People (2009) Dir. Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath

Brother Number One (2011) Dir. Annie Goldson

Camp 32 (2014) Dir. Tim Purdie, Andrew Blogg

First They Killed My Father (2017?) Dir. Angelina Jolie-Pitt

Thank you very much, Ian.

Until next week

All the best




Oct 14th 2016