Posted by admin  /   November 25, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   No Comments

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  /   No Comments

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  /   No Comments



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  /   No Comments



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


Posted by admin  /   September 29, 2016  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   No Comments



A series of two day courses, starting next week in Birmingham Oct 4th & 5th. These are the Grand Scheme Media / Creative Skillset courses I ran last summer – and are suitable for script editors, script readers, development executive and screenwriters – anyone with an interest in script development and script editing.

Each course has a distinguished guest screenwriter (at the summer London course it was the excellent CAT JONES – and last year our writer guests included MICHAEL CHAPLIN, JOHN FAY, ANNA SYMON, CALEB RANSON, STEPHEN CHURCHETT, TIM LOANE, RUSSELL GASCOIGNE and ADRIAN MEAD)

2 of the 4 trainee script editors on the 2016 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE came from last year’s course delegates.

Here are the dates and venues, and links to the eventbrite bookings page –

Birmingham Oct 4 & 5

Nottingham, Oct 18 & 19

Cardiff Nov 1st & 2nd

Belfast Nov 15 & 16.



One day Script Editing course Oct 12th

One day Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass Nov 24th




Hi There,

There was an excellent section on writing in the Guardian Saturday Review a couple of weeks ago –

  • from which I’ve taken these quotes (about fiction / novels, but equally applicable to screenwriting).

‘Think about how people reveal themselves through behaviour, and focus on the externals of gesture, expression, dialogue and settings’

‘The trick of fiction is to extract the ways in which other emotions affect the outer crust… making the reader feel observant, and not just laboriously informed.’

‘To do this, the beginning writer is going to have to undertake some systematic observation, notebook in hand…Fiction looks outwards.’

Philip Hensher

‘So much about a character is invisible, in fiction as in real life; but what lies beneath the surface will affect every aspect of your story.’

Claire Messud

‘Take a risk. Work against the grain. Don’t be afraid to make a deathbed scene comic, or to show a murderer being kind to animals. Truth is surprising, and surprise is the key – surprising the reader but also, in the first place, surprising yourself.’

Blake Morrison

‘Making the decision to finish a piece of work is crucial…Respect your process and make a pact to close the deal.’

Nikita Lalwani

‘To improve it we need to have it, which means writing it.’

DBC Pierre

‘Write for 15 minutes every day. Set a time in advance, set a timer. Try to write at the same time every day… Writing is investigation. Just keep seeking.

Naomi Alderman


There’s a brilliant quote from novelist ALAN WARNER in the programme for Lee Hall’s adaptation of his novel, OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR (National Theatre, Dorfman) –

‘You don’t need to be intelligent to be a novelist but you do have to be observant.’

The play OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR (the novel is called THE SOPRANOS – the title of the stage play was changed for obvious reasons!”) is testament to this – it is intelligent and wonderfully well observed but its intelligence is emotional rather than intellectual. I’ve seen too many plays recently that wear their intellectual credentials like a badge of honour. This is a mistake. The best dramatic writing is often about ideas but it’s about more than this. It’s about people, it’s about life in all its messy joy, despair, pain and love. In short, the best writing engages you emotionally – not intellectually. I saw one play recently that was about a very particular area of economics and politics. It was very interesting, and the depth and detail of the writer’s research highly impressive. But it would have made a much better magazine article than a play. There were no real characterisations – just mouthpieces for the ideas – and no real story. This lack of the essentials of drama was unsuccessfully masked by a lot of empty theatricality – flashy lighting cues, loud noises, actors waving their arms about in unison, attention-grabbing set design and scene changes.

In comparison OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR was full of human emotion (particularly joy). Helped enormously by the wonderful musical element of the show but successful ultimately because it was about highly believable, three-dimensional, flawed people, with so many wonderfully well-observed human moments.

Unsurprisingly, drama doesn’t add up to much without people with whom you can emotionally connect. Good writing is about emotional intelligence. ‘That was very interesting’ is not the response you look for as a writer. (In my experience ‘interesting’ as a description of a work of drama is often a euphemism for ‘boring’!)

When theatre is good, (like OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR) there’s nothing to beat it – that combination of great acting, writing, with the buzz of live performance and the whole audience completely spellbound is wonderful. But there’s also in my experience an awful lot of theatre that isn’t that great. The thing that too much theatre seems to forget is that it needs to be entertaining. It’s not enough to be politically correct, to tell us that property developers and bankers are bad. I’ve seen too much theatre recently that seems to think that the message is all – that if your message has integrity, if what you’re saying in your play will lead to making the world a better and fairer place, that that’s good enough.

Too much theatre feels like taking your medicine – it’s not that palatable but ultimately it’s going to be good for you so that’s OK.

I’ve actually lost count of the number of plays where the most entertaining part is watching audience members fall asleep – seeing people fighting that losing battle as their head drops until they jerk awake.

In no other medium does my attention wander in this way so that I spot people sleeping. (Do audiences fall asleep at the same rate in the cinema? I don’t think so)

This was all brought into sharp relief by OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR which, while having lots of interesting things to say, was also delightfully entertaining, joyous and funny.

Research is a necessary and important part of much of the best dramatic writing – but when a writer crams in the full range of their research rather than using it to serve the story, then it too often comes across as a writer showing off the range of their intellect.

Scene changes are another of my bugbears. How many plays jolt you out of emotional involvement as we watch actors moving the furniture around? In the best plays, the scene changes are an integral, seamless part of the action.

One other question, which may strike you as deliberately perverse is – why do people speak so much in plays? Too many plays are just wall-to-wall dialogue, and we are expected to accept this as one of the conventions of theatre. Too many plays are wearyingly verbose. I’ve recently been to a lot of plays, and for me the cumulative effect of being battered by ceaseless dialogue was that I (not deliberately) mentally tuned out.

I’m always suggesting to screenwriters that dialogue should be used sparingly and economically – so that what dialogue there is has real meaning for the characters and story. And I think the same applies to theatre. In theatre generally there isn’t enough concentration on physical characterisation, on actions rather than words revealing character . One of my formative theatre memories is of an early Mike Leigh play, ECSTACY, which was a work of genius. One of the actors in this original production was Jim Broadbent, and I still remember the way his character held himself and how much this revealed about him (hunched, apologetic, taciturn, low status).

I’m bored of characters who are smart writers’ mouthpieces, characters who unerringly articulate the writer’s agenda. As a massive generalisation, inarticulate characters are so often more interesting and engaging than super-articulate characters.

I long for more meaningful silences in plays!

OK, rant over, I’m off to the cinema!

The next newsletter will be Friday October 14th

All the best




Sept 30th 2016


Posted by admin  /   September 16, 2016  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   No Comments


 A reminder that you have only 9 MORE DAYS to get your entry in. We close for entries at midnight on Sunday Sept 25th.


Hi There,

This week a report on this year’s LONDON SCREENWRITER’S FESTIVAL, which took place on Sept 2nd – 4th. I sadly wasn’t able to make it this year but excellent comic screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS was! And he has very kindly written this brilliant account of his experiences there, with many excellent insights into the event. Thank you Laurence!

You can follow Laurence on twitter @LozTrat

London Screenwriters’ Festival 2016

‘So Chris Jones (head of LSF) is on stage and he’s going mental, getting the crowd geed up for three days of ‘fucking awesomeness’. You’d excuse people for thinking they’d walked into a Tony Robbins convention (check out ‘I Am Not Your Guru’ on Netflix) but this mentality sets the tone for LSF. A three-day intense weekend that is not a convention but a ‘movement’.  Anyone who’s trying to empower writers deserves credit even if the ‘we can all make it’ mind-set isn’t to your taste.

For those of you not familiar with LSF, it is a three day festival for writers to meet up, exchange ideas, network and learn about the craft from industry personnel.

I arrived on the Thursday for the pre-festival drinks evening. Not knowing anyone there I threw myself into the proceedings and got talking to as many people as possible. The atmosphere at LSF was wonderful, very welcoming. I could walk up to anyone and start a conversation without fear of rejection; everyone was there to meet new people, to talk about their projects, about their influences and their writing.

To get the most out of LSF you just have to climb out of your comfort zone. As a writer, myself at least, networking doesn’t always come easily but when you know most people there are also writers it does make those first introductions much easier. And everyone has nametags, which helps if you’re bad at remembering names.

You can apply in advance for many initiatives at LSF, such as Pitchfest or the Writersroom labs, but for the ‘speed networking’ you can just turn up on the day. It was essentially fifty people in a room walking around in a circle. You spent two minutes speaking to a person and then a bell rang and you moved on. This was an odd but helpful experience and a great way to meet copious amounts of people in a short space of time.

One of the initiatives I was selected for was the Euroscript surgery session. I sent in ten pages of a script with a two-page outline. I was given an hour with a script consultant working through my feature screenplay. I chose to work with Paul Basset Davies because he writes comedy. His notes on my script were excellent.  We really managed to cover a lot of ground in the hour session and I left feeling re-invigorated to work on my next draft.

I didn’t apply for Pitchfest, although most people I spoke to who had attended recommended it, and had secured requests to send work to agents and producers, perhaps next year I will. The Pitchfest is a relaxed informal five minutes sat at a table pitching to a producer, exec or agent. Some people suggested it’s perhaps better to pitch yourself rather than going straight in with your ideas, to let people know what you’ve been doing, competitions won, short films made etc.

For me, The Actors Table Reads were the best part of the festival. You send in four pages of a script, and if selected you get an hour with a director and actors working on those pages. Getting to see a director work up close as he dissects a scene is invaluable, especially if you write comedy. The scene was performed about ten times, each time changed slightly. The actors and director seemed to like what they read as they requested the full script from me, demonstrating that there are opportunities everywhere at LSF.

By the end of the weekend I was exhausted, I’d met too many people to remember, amassed almost a hundred business cards and had attempted to take in too much information. I felt like I needed a few weeks just to process.

Would I recommend LSF to other screenwriters? It is quite expensive but for those serious about their writing I believe it is worth it. You will meet so many other writers, learn a great deal and have the opportunity to make connections with people in the industry that you wouldn’t otherwise have met. In my opinion it’s best to go to LSF not expecting necessarily to further your career, but to go with an open mind and see what happens. I would advise applying for as many initiatives as possible.

There are too many speakers to list them all but I’ve included a few snippets of information from my favourite sessions.

Pixar’s Emotional Core:

Karl Iglesias:

Why are Pixar movies so engaging? Why do they make us weep so openly?

The characters in Pixar are crucial to their success. And the relationship between the main characters lies at the heart of every Pixar movie. If you look at nearly any Pixar movie poster, it is these relationships which are at the forefront.

Karl believes there are 4 elements of character connection. Four traits that make us empathise with Pixar’s characters:

Recognition (seeing ourselves in a character)

Pity (feeling sorry for a character)

Humanistic traits (caring for others)

Admiration (hero, cool, traits you want)

Karl used Finding Nemo to highlight how in the opening minutes of that film we become totally invested in Marlin and Nemo’s relationship simply by using the four elements of character connection.

He used a quote by Ron Bass – ‘Stories are about what happens between people’.

I’ve been told Karl Iglesias’ book ‘Writing for Emotional Impact’ is excellent. He certainly spoke with a lot of wisdom in this session, despite being heavily jet lagged.

‘Written By’ Or ‘Based On’: Successfully Adapting Existing Works

Jim Uhls (Fight Club screenwriter):

‘If you slavishly adapt a book you will find yourself in a straightjacket. You need to make the characters your own in a screenplay. This takes time to work out but luckily I found adapting Fight Club to be a lot of fun as it was such a fun book.’

‘Being faithful is more about being faithful to intent rather than content.’

Peter Ilif (Patriot Games screenwriter):

‘Planning is crucial when adapting. That’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs; heavy outlining is crucial.’

‘It’s also easier to be objective about your work in the outline stage rather than once you’ve written a first draft’.

On the other hand:

Ol Parker (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel screenwriter):

Doesn’t outline. He doesn’t believe in them. He likes to be surprised, prefers to write something so he can see the characters. He takes a while to think about his story but his process is a lot more chaotic when writing. He doesn’t know if he can write a script until he’s spent time with the characters.

This just goes to show that there’s no one-size-fits-all for writing.

 Line of Duty: Script To Screen Live With Jed Mercurio

(N.B. This will only make sense if you’ve watched Line of Duty Season Three) One of the shocks of this season was Danny’s death. However, originally Danny didn’t die in the opening episode but when Jed began writing the second he started thinking about how important it is to make a strong impact, to make the first episode really stand out (and not just in your pilot, but each season). You may not get another sixty minutes if people don’t watch anymore — so leave everything on the field and give the audience a reason to come back for another season.

He doesn’t try and top the previous season; he just wants to tell a good story.

He tends not to be too rigid when structuring his episodes. ‘If you rigidly follow structure you will have something that works but is not interesting. Stuff in an outline doesn’t always work on the page, stuff that seems shocking can become bland.’ He likes to discover as he writes.

This worked to his advantage when writing Dot’s character. Dot turns out to be the antagonist for large parts of season two and three and yet this wasn’t planned. In series one Jed didn’t know how crucial Dot’s character would be. When planning the second season he felt he hadn’t fully exhausted him as a plotline. ‘Dot felt like an exciting opportunity.’

On his influences: ‘The challenge is always to be distinctive.’ ‘The Shield’ was great but ‘Hill Street Blues’ was a big influence. He doesn’t really look at other shows or compare his show to theirs. As he puts it ‘he’s in the game- he’s no longer a spectator.’

Inevitably the Saville photo was mentioned. Jed believed that it was relevant to the story and to Danny and his childhood. The season was about institutionalised cover-ups. And using the Saville photo related it to the real world and made the audience ask appropriate questions:

‘Because we know Saville cultivated relationships with the police, they were happy to supress complaints about him, and reprimand Junior offices who tried to prosecute him, as such we have to ask, what did the police officers get in return?’

 ‘Red Rock’: A Candid Case Study In Breakout TV Success

John Yorke, Kim Revill and David Mansell:

New soaps never get made so this seemed like an ‘exciting opportunity’ when John Yorke saw TV3 were looking to make one.

They were given half the budget of Doctors or other soaps, which meant they had to rethink how to create soap in a different, modern way. If soap operas were invented now they wouldn’t be run the way they are with out-dated methods. So they decided to use single cam and make the show ‘filmic’.

Everything has to be rigidly planned, no room to panic, so the script is everything, they can’t use big set pieces to elevate their show they have to use strong writing. The scripts and writers are at the heart of the show.

Red Rock aim: To help nurture, mentor and treat the writer well — not use them to find the story over multiple drafts. They have a two-month workshop on scripts and only once story is settled do they ask the writer to write the script. Thereby helping the writer and saving money on needless drafts.

It sounds like they have a great system in place, it’s no wonder Red Rock has been so critically acclaimed – their writers are at the centre of their show.

 Lastly, some random quotes I took away from the weekend:

John Yorke: ‘Audiences are much cleverer than we allow.’

T.S Eliot: ‘Poems communicate before they are understood’.

Karl Iglesias: ‘You can break every rule in writing but one: don’t be boring.’

Karl Iglesias: ‘Make your exposition active. Glaze it with emotion and it won’t seem like you’re just telling us information. Good dialogue is active. It has a purpose. It is not a conversation. It is an action’.

Jeff Norton: (In your pilot episode) ‘you’re asking a question that your show should answer’.

David Pope ‘ Subtext can only be developed meaningfully when the writer has a deep and clean understanding of the characters interior life’.

Paul Mayhew-Archer on The Vicar of Dibley ‘If you want to write a hit sitcom, you only need one thing: to write with Richard Curtis’.

Jen Grisanti ‘Your ‘voice’ is simply your worldview’.

Jorge Luis Borges ‘ Art equals fire plus algebra’.

Pilar Allesandra ‘Any character over fifty comes with a natural superhero power: a skill developed over their years of experience. (Think Mike in Better Call Saul)’.

David Mamet: ‘No one says anything unless they want something’.

 The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 30th,

 All the best




 Sept 16th 2016








Posted by admin  /   September 02, 2016  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   No Comments

Hi There,


I’m delighted to announce the start of the CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE for 2017.

Information about how to submit an entry for the course is here –

and this entry link will be open this coming Monday Sept 5th (from 9am) for three weeks until midnight on Sunday Sept 25th.

I hope all the information that you need to make an informed entry is up on the webpage. I’m afraid I have a policy of not entering into any email correspondence about the course entries. (If I didn’t, I would simply be overwhelmed by email correspondence – and, having honed the FAQ’s over 6 years, I’m pretty confident that all the necessary information is up there).

AND I’d like to stress that this is FREE to enter, and if you get accepted, you are paid a small fee to participate in the course. (Thank you Channel 4!)

2017 will be the 7th year of the course. We’ve now had 73 new screenwriters come off the course in the last 6 years, and the general level of success of the 4Screenwriting alumni is very high. In 2016, for instance, of the 12 writers chosen for the course, 6 already had agents, 6 didn’t. Now all 12 of those writers have agents (and very good agents too).

(NB see the course testimonials on the website page)

At the end of the course in mid-June, we hold a drinks evening at Channel 4 in London where we introduce the year’s 12 course writers to potential employers from the industry (producers, script editors and development executives from many of the top UK indie drama and film companies, literary agents). Attendance at this drinks evening has grown every year. This year we had approx. 200 guests, and loads of meetings result from the contacts the writers make at this evening (initiated of course by the brilliant scripts they’ve written).

From the writers who have done the course, within Channel 4 drama, Melissa Bubnic went on to write on SHAMELESS, Tom Wells and Vivienne Franzmann on COMING UP, Anna Symon on 2 series of INDIAN SUMMERS, Cat Jones on YOUNGERS (E4), Charlie Covell on BANANA (E4). And several of the writers from the course have projects in development with the channel.

Many of the course writers have projects in active development with indie producers – and many have also gone onto do brilliant work for other broadcasters (eg MURDERED BY MY FATHER – written by Vinay Patel, and MURDERED BY MY BOYFRINED, written by Regina Moriarty, both hugely successful, critically-acclaimed films, which both writers went onto write straight from 4Screenwriting).

Entry is open to any writer who doesn’t have a TV broadcast credit or hasn’t written a theatrically released feature film. Initial assessment is based on the script – for its all-round quality, and its suitability to C4 / E4 drama – although I would say it’s the quality of the script – in terms of originality of voice, entertainment value, ability to tell a gripping story, having something to say and creating memorable characters – that is the most important.

We also ask you to submit a CV so that we can find out a little more about the person behind the script – your interests, your working life outside of screenwriting, your writing credits and life experience. But this is obviously of far less importance than a cracking script.

We then formulate a shortlist of writers (usually 25-30) and carry out 2 days of interviews at Channel 4 in London in early December. We’ll send you more information about what this interview involves nearer the time if you get onto the shortlist.

For me and the other readers of the scripts, it’s an enormously exciting, stimulating and privileged process working our way through the submitted scripts. The general quality of the scripts seems to get better and better every year, and we have some incredibly tough choices to make. It’s always really nice to be able to offer the chosen writers a place on the course – but the other side of that coin is that we are obviously going to disappoint the vast majority of applicants. If you don’t get chosen, you should console yourself with the fact that you’re in very good company – we have to turn away many outstanding writers and, at the end of the day, however hard we try to be impartial and objective – and we try VERY HARD –  there is inevitably an element of personal taste in the final selections – my readers and I always have some lively debates and disagreements about the scripts. The final selection is never easy.

I was reminded of the fact that no two people ever seem to feel the same about a script by an article I came across by script guru Robert McKee about the film / screenplay ROOM. IMO this was one of the outstanding films of last year – a really wonderful film with a great script by Emma Donoghue. But this is what McKee said about the script –

‘It doesn’t work…Why has ROOM’s writer strung together two simple, shallow, half-stories, rather than create one profound, complex, complete story? My guess…creative inertia… Hows of story can break an author’s back and brain. Some just aren’t up to the heavy lifting. ROOM does not work because neither half of the film comes anywhere near its generic potential…’

And there’s more along these dismissive lines.

When I read this, I was gob-smacked by how utterly wrong I thought it was. But generally I think McKee talks a lot of sense, and his books and lectures have some brilliant insights about the craft of screenwriting.


Which just goes to show how incredibly hard it is to objectively assess a screenplay – and should teach you writers to try to be as thick-skinned and philosophical about knockbacks as you can (although it’s never easy).

 NB  Incidentally, Channel 4 Drama run a number of other scriptwriting schemes that you should know about – information here –



…and while you’re at it, here’s another very worthwhile screenplay competition, which is accepting entries until Oct 13th.

Here’s some of the blurb about this competition –

‘Six finalists will be announced on October 28. Those finalists will be partnered with a mentor to polish their script and pitch to win at C21’s International Drama Summit in London between November 29 and December 1, 2016. The winner will be announced at the event following the pitches and receive 10k development funding, time in a writers room on a current series, and assistance in taking their drama project to series, with unprecedented access to the global television drama market…This year we have added a mentor stage, which will see a leading drama executive work with each of six finalists to get them ready to pitch their script at the Drama Summit. New talent is around every corner, and the Script Competition is a great way of connecting new writers with the global drama business.’

As you’ll see, the entry fee for this is quite high – but, reading about last year’s scheme, they received 220 scripts (as opposed to the Channel 4 course which received 1200+) – so statistically your chances of success are much better on this scheme.

C21’s partnership with eOne means that the successful projects go into development with eOne – which is another good incentive.

Here is a link to more information about this scheme –

And entry link –


The next newsletter will be on Sept 16th,

All the best




Sept 2nd 2016



Posted by admin  /   July 29, 2016  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   No Comments



Hi There,

The week of June 27th, I was lucky enough to spend a week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, running a 5 day screenwriting course for the BBC. I had one day at the end to myself to see the sights.

Probably the two biggest tourist attractions in the city are the S-21 Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields museum – both memorials to the Khmer Rouge regime of genocide under Pol Pot in the ‘70’s.

Visiting the museum in particular was a memorable and harrowing experience.

One of the writers on my course told me about a visit to his school – a visit that had clearly made a huge and lasting impression on him – by David Puttnam – to talk about his film about the Cambodian genocide – THE KILLING FIELDS.

It reminded me of the power and importance of STORY. How a dramatization like THE KILLING FIELDS can be such a powerful and important weapon in educating and informing, and telling a story in a form (feature film screenplay) that transcends borders and connects people from all corners of the world in a message of humanity. And how a film like this can actually mean so much to a nation and people worldwide.

We were shown a documentary about Pol Pot and his rise to power. One of the central voices in this doc was Roland Joffee, director of THE KILLING FIELDS. It was instructive and scary that it seems to have been blanket US bombing of the Cambodian countryside, connected to the war in neighbouring Vietnam, that was a big factor in laying the ground for Pol Pot’s rise to power. It made me think about Guantanamo, US ‘tactical’ use of drones, bombing of Syria – and the political ripples those indiscriminate acts of violence far from US shores, are causing today (and how little the western press tell us about the reality and extent of civilian deaths from allied bombing raids in Syria).

These memorials to the darkest periods of our recent history can teach lessons about how to prevent them happening again.

Some of the photos and stories were chilling in the extreme. And as you walk through the Killing Fields, where numerous unidentified bodies are still buried, you can see where clothing of the dead has risen to the surface in the rainy season.

The S-21 Genocide museum is in the middle of the city. Formerly a school, it was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as a detention centre, where thousands of people were taken, tortured and interrogated for information they didn’t have. And if they survived this process, they were blindfolded and taken by truck to the killing field 15km outside the city where they were straightaway killed – at night, with loud music being played so that their screams of terror would not be heard. Bullets were too expensive so they were bludgeoned to death, with bamboo canes, machetes, hammers – whatever was to hand. The memorial at the centre of the Killing Fields site is a tower of 17 layers of glass cases, inside which you can view the skulls of the dead, graded by age of victim, and by method of death.

At the museum, it was so chilling to be able to stand in empty rooms that you knew had been the scene of the most awful forms of torture and degradation – and to see the tiny cells in which the prisoners were kept, the leg irons which tied them to the floor and each other, and the elaborate large boxes and barrels that were used for the water-boarding torture of the prisoners.

The communist regime (like the Nazis) made sure to keep detailed records of all their prisoners – and there are hundreds of photos of the victims all over the walls – many of them young children.

And at the end of the tour of the genocide museum, I met two of (very few) survivors who had been detained at S-21. Both in their 80’s, they have written books about their lives and experiences. And it was extraordinary to be able to shake the hand of someone who had survived this imprisonment, interrogation and torture.

So why am I telling you this? First because the message of the experience seemed to be, that we have a responsibility to the victims to keep this story alive, both as a memorial, and so that we can heed the lessons for the future.

But in terms of story-telling and screenwriting, there were just so many extraordinary accounts that came out of these two museums that are the most extraordinary human stories – the sort of stories that, when dramatized in screenplays, will grab the audience by the scruff of the neck, and demand to be listened to.

One example – two New Zealanders in their twenties were sailing from Singapore to New Zealand, were blown off course, and were captured and taken to S-21 by the Khmer Rouge. You can listen to the testimony of one of these two men’s brother as he gave evidence at the trial of the head of the prison (this trial took place as recently as 2012) in which he talks about the documentation that was found about his brother’s ‘confession’ under torture. He was tortured until he confessed that he was part of a CIA plot. All his ‘evidence’ was laced with messages of humour – he told his torturers that his CIA boss as ‘Colonel Sanders’ – and love – including a heart-breaking, coded message of love to his mother.

Then I went to the Royal Palace where a Cambodian woman (in her 30’s) acted as my guide. I (slightly hesitantly) asked her about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge – but she was happy to talk about it, and again had an extraordinary story to tell. She said that her father’s entire family had been killed by Pol Pot – and her older sister had also disappeared. Her father knew that his mother (the girl’s grandmother) had taken the child out of the city to a particular province. But after the Grandmother fell ill and died, they could find no trace of the girl. And to this day, they assume that she was killed by the Khmer Rouge – but have no firm knowledge of what happened to her.

She told me how when the Khmer Rouge first entered the city of Phnom Penh, after they had defeated the former PM’s forces, the people assumed this was good news – and lined the streets to welcome them into the city. The Khmer Rouge ordered everyone out of the city – Pol Pot’s vision for society was that there was no room for professionals, for the educated classes – everyone would return to an agrarian way of life, and cities would no longer exist or function. During the Pol Pot years, Phnom Penh became known as the city of ghosts – it was largely empty.

The newsletter is taking a break over August – so the next edition will be with you on Friday Sept 2nd. Have a great summer!

All the best




July 29th 2016



Posted by admin  /   July 14, 2016  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   No Comments

Hi There,

I’ve had a packed last few weeks. Two weeks ago I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the week running a 5 day scriptwriting course. Going so far away for such a short time is a real cultural jolt (in the best possible way) and I’ll dedicate an entire newsletter to that experience sometime in the next few weeks.

I got home from that late on a Sunday evening and the next day was on a panel at the excellent LONDON WRITERS WEEK, which was this year looked at theatre writing, and the teaching of writing for the theatre. I was on a panel on Monday lunchtime with John Yorke (ex head of drama at both BBC and C4 and writer of the excellent INTO THE WOODS) and Ola Animashawun (founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme). It was fascinating hearing their views about the teaching of dramatic writing.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday I ran the first of this year’s SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT 2 day workshops, organised by Grand Scheme Media and Creative Skillset, in London. Our guest speaker on day 2 was the brilliant writer Cat Jones, a shining light of the 4Screenwriting scheme, who has had great success in TV drama, and now has a hugely impressive list of credits. She talked fascinatingly about her craft, concentrating on one particular development script, and also talked about the other projects she has worked on, and is currently working on. One of the very positive things from my POV, was the importance she places on working with a good script editor, and how important the script editor has been to her in the work she’s done. She also talked about the different sorts of writers room set-ups she’s worked in – and what a growing part of the creative process this has become in UK TV drama. Also about how much international co-production money is now coming into the UK TV drama market.

We had a great combination of very sparky script editors, development executives, script readers and writers on the course.

This was the first of several of these courses I’ll be running around the UK in the next few months (from Sept – Nov). Once dates are venues are finalised, I’ll let you know the exact details via this newsletter and my website.


One of the aspects that I always seem to discuss on my courses – because it’s so important and an area that fascinates me – is what make a GOOD IDEA. What are the ideas that compel and engage an audience? There are three true stories that have come to my attention recently that I have found completely compelling. They are all missing persons stories – and combine extraordinary mysteries with deeply touching character stories. I could see all these three stories (or dramatised versions) working brilliantly as dramatic stories, in their combination of mystery, detailed investigation and compelling character –

I love the way this story is presented on the BBC website. It throws up so many questions about who this man is and why he chose to kill himself in this extraordinary way. It’s an object lesson in how to structure / tell an investigative / crime story.

Another extraordinary story about a female author who ‘made herself disappear’. Like the ‘Saddleworth Moor’ case, this remains unsolved. Questions of character – of her relationship with her partner, with her mother, her identity as an author of two very different types of writing, and the fact that she had written about this idea of ‘disappearing oneself’ add to the intense mystery of her disappearance. (A man was arrested and released on bail earlier this week).

Unlike the previous two stories, this story provides more – if incomplete – answers. Apart from anything else, this is a brilliant piece of writing by journalist Anders Fjellberg. It’s a grim story that raises profound political and humanitarian issues.

There are so many extraordinary, emotive and compelling elements to all three of these stories – whether you’re telling the story from the POV of the missing persons, the loved ones left behind, or the investigators looking for them (police or journalists). These stories seem to have all the elements to make wonderful dramatic stories – above all, a huge character / narrative question that demands answers – where is the disappeared person? And why have they disappeared?

I’ve long thought there is a place for a mainstream UK drama series about missing persons investigations, like the excellent US series WITHOUT A TRACE. New Pictures’ excellent THE MISSING, which is returning for a 2nd series, is the closest we’ve got.


Adapted from the memoir by Brad Land. The original script was written by David Gordon Green in 2004.

The film was followed by a talk by director / co-writer ANDREW NEEL. The film is an exploration of male bonding, testosterone – and violence – in the context of a US college fraternity house initiation ritual. In his Q&A after the film, Neel talked about the prevalence of this in the States, of the trauma – and deaths – caused by the ‘hazing’ that is a deep-rooted part of US collegiate culture.

He discussed the graphic initiation scenes of ritual and humiliating violence, how he kept the actors playing the ‘fraternity’ characters away from the ‘pledge’ characters, so that the  initiation scenes had that uncertainty of fear and violence – ‘I pushed the limits a little bit. I wanted to make them truly uncomfortable – this is going to suck.’

He discussed how it was harder to get the ‘hazers’ to do what they had to do than the ‘pledges’ / victims. Most of this on-screen action was ‘on book’ but he talked about moments where new situations spontaneously arose, and how he let the actors improvise in these big, confrontation / humiliation scenes. ‘Once we ran a take for 14 minutes…it was exciting, compelling and harrowing at the same time…’ – and that’s pretty much the audience experience of the film too!

I think this is an excellent movie – really worth catching if you get the chance. Aside from the fact that it’s a well-made, well-written and well acted film, Andrew Neel clearly had a powerful agenda as a writer / director – to cast some light on this shockingly pervasive culture that is infamous in the US – but is also apparently on the rise in the UK. The film throws a welcome light on a very dark world.

Neel discussed how the film’s two lead characters are based on real people – Brad Land, on whose book the film is based, and his brother, Brett, the other lead character in the film. He discussed how the film differed in certain respects from the reality of the book – he chose to heighten and intensify certain events – but that the intention and spirit of the book was honoured. Apparently Brad Land himself wasn’t interested in involvement in the film – and if you see it, you’ll understand why.

It was really interesting to see this so soon after the new Richard Linklater film, ‘EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!’ The closeness in subject-matter was picked up on by an audience member in the Q&A at GOAT. The two films explore exactly the same world – but tonally are poles apart. Where EWS! is a good-natured, comic celebration of the excitement of freshman week, GOAT  is the exact opposite – it’s about the living hell that is freshman week for too many. It made me think about the importance of TONE to a story – how in this case the contrasting tonal approaches can generate two such different movies about the same subject – both equally valid in their very different approaches – and impossible to compare in terms of quality.

Where EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! is life-affirming, silly and very funny, GOAT is uncomfortable, disturbing – but highly watchable and compelling.


I went to the 2015 version – and it’s definitely worth attending if you have an interest in writing for TV drama. There are many excellent speaker sessions – and it’s also a great networking opportunity. (I appreciate this is short notice if you hadn’t already heard about it – they tend to put up videos + transcripts on the BBC Writers Room website after the event).

‘The TV Drama Writer’s Festival is the only festival led by writers for writers. For one day only, it’s a unique opportunity for you with your peers to join commissioners and execs to reflect, agitate and debate.  With 22+ different sessions and a reception to close the day this is the event for working writers.

 This year’s festival theme is ‘Unheard Voices’ and we will be focussing on this idea for some of the main sessions; as well as viewing and discussing a broad range of other issues relevant to today’s television industry.

 Now in its sixth year, the TV Drama Writer’s Festival has proved to be an indispensable event not to be missed by television writers.

 Led by Kay Mellor, the stellar line-up already includes: Jed Mercurio, Danny Brocklehurst, Russell T Davies and Alice Nutter.

 WHEN:            Monday 18th July 2016. From 9.30am to 7.30pm

 WHERE:          Central St Martin’s, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA

TICKETS:         Tickets are priced at £30.00. If you would like to apply* for a ticket fill out

                           the attached application form and return to

*please note you must have at least one television writing credit in order to apply.’

** PS – There seems to be some flexibility with this ‘one television writing credit’ rule – it’s definitely worth applying even if you don’t have a TV credit.

The next newsletter will be on Friday July 29th.

All the best




July 15th 2016



Posted by admin  /   June 24, 2016  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   No Comments


London July 6-7. Suitable for writers and script editors / script readers / script development people.




Hi There,

This week, notes from a very interesting event I went to a couple of weeks ago at the excellent SOHO CREATE festival –


SOHO CREATE : BROADCAST TV – The Secret Agent (BBC / World Productions)


From Truman Capote and Alfred Hitchcock to Dobby, Olivier award-winner Toby Jones has been at the centre of our screens and stages for 20 years. Alongside multi-award winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Marchant, and Simon Heath, creative director at World Productions, they discuss their collaboration on the new BBC adapation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. In the days of Netflix and Amazon, we hear their thoughts on changing times for broadcast drama.

Simon Heath (Exec producer, World Productions) Toby Jones, actor, Tony Marchant, screenwriter

Q: Tell us about a recent difficult working experience…

TJ: Highlight of his recent work – MARVELLOUS – it was tricky because it was the only time he has played someone who was on set the whole time (Neil Baldwin). An example of how it worked – the sequence of Neil’s mother’s funeral was shot in the actual hall where the real funeral took place, and many of the extras were people who had been at the actual funeral. And attended by Neil, and his friend Malcolm, who was also a prominent character in the film.

‘I felt a huge responsibility towards Neil – and was constantly surprised by how resilient he was.’

TM: You take a lot of knocks…writing telly, the pain comes through the politics and the money…you’re not as free as you think you are writing in your room. And you never get used to that.

THE SECRET AGENT, 3 x 60’ serial for BBC.

SH: It’s a novel I’ve always loved. I arrived at World Productions in ’97. Mentioned that I’d like to develop it to Tony Garnett – who said a version had only been made 5 years ago, we were in for a long wait.19 years later… If anything the novel has become more prescient – about terrorism and curtailing civil liberties. I thought we could bring more of a thriller veracity – and the political nature of TM’s writing really suited the story.

TM: It was originally commissioned as a 2 x 90’ serial but then changed. Had to find new episode end-points.

TJ: I take a job if I think it’s going to stretch me in some way – I’m not worried if it’s particularly politically relevant. THE SECRET AGENT deals with a political cell, run by revolutionaries, but they’re chaotic, hard to monitor.

SH: Most of it was filmed in Scotland – using the Victorian architecture of Edinburgh and Glasgow. It stood in for Greenwich Observatory, which plays a key part in the story.

TM: Re Adaptation – in a way you have to be deliberately cavalier – have to write with as much freedom and ambition as possible – and initially don’t worry about cost or whether it’s achievable on the day.

About a proto-suicide bomber – what happened in the book reflects what happened in a real-life incident. Most important resonance (Adam Curtis – The Power of Nightmares) about how in the book and film Winnie (played by Vicky McClure) and Stevie, reflect how ordinary working-class lives are impacted by the fear passed down by geo-political manoeuvrings. Winnie is that rare thing in fiction and drama –  working class female heroine.

Q: Do you always read the book if you’re acting in an adaptation?

TJ: Yes. I read TSA and CAPITAL when I was doing that. It’s valuable for back-story. I didn’t find reading The Secret Agent as useful as reading Capital. Strength of Tony’s script was that he allowed space within the characterisation to find other elements – Verloc is not wholly taken up by villainy. Similarly, he would ask with virtuous characters – where’s also the sin and hypocrisy? And, for example, if you’re playing ‘the idiot’, you look for his wisdom. So Verloc is not just crazy, deluded – he’s a trapped man. I have to empathise with who I play. For the audience to enjoy the drama, their sympathies have to be jeopardised – moral values have to be challenged.

SH: I watched two old adaptations of THE SECRET AGENT. I don’t think the book distilled into feature film length. Any adaptation bears the imprint of the time when it’s done. Tony’s adaptation bears the hallmarks of his approach. And we wanted to keep Winnie at the forefront of the story.

Stage or Screen?

TM: The idea that you have a huge audience (on TV) is exciting. I haven’t written for theatre for years. As a writer in theatre you have that much more freedom. But theatre audiences are a particular kind of people – it doesn’t have a broad enough demographic. The good thing about telly is that it’s watched by the sort of people it’s about, which often isn’t true of theatre.

TJ: Sometimes in long-form TV (13-21 episode runs), I find – although there is a rich texture to the characters – in a lot, you lose the pulse of the drama, and you sense that nothing relevant to the plot will happen until (say) episode 17. Story is the way you unlock character. Character is about what decisions you make under narrative pressure. I’ve been offered jobs in lots of different areas (film, TV, theatre), I’ve been very lucky.

SH: Line Of Duty. Very conscious of that week we get between transmitted episodes – we’ve benefitted from word of mouth. With THE SECRET AGENT, each of the three episodes has a slightly different identity.

TM: Authorship is disappearing, receding, even though there’s more material out there. It’s more about genre now. You can make Line Of Duty – make genre work for you – authorship + genre. But the last truly authored TV piece I saw was MARVELLOUS (Peter Bowker). Singles and 3-parters are disappearing – and with it authorship. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me – but the less heralded writers don’t get heard. Younger writers don’t get their own show. For established writers, it’s a good time, but I worry for new writers. Have to find space for them in the broadcasting spectrum.

SH: Broadcasters are open to all kinds of different ideas. But if you go in with a known title and writer, your chances of a commission are improved. We try to have a range of writers and propositions for broadcasters.

TJ: currently filming SHERLOCK. A show that challenged itself to re-interpret a classic. Extrapolated into the modern world. Very clever, witty adaptation. Reading the script, I kept thinking, ‘There will be a reason why this is happening that I don’t yet understand.’

Favourite dramas of the past and currently?


SH: From the past: OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH – epic, political drama from a particular corner of the UK. Now: HALT & CATCH FIRE (AMC / Amazon)

TJ: From the past: ‘I remember the huge impact of two dramas. From an Alan Bennett season – THE CHINESE WAITER’S AFTERNOON OFF. It’s stuck with me in a way that good TV does when you’re young. OUT by Trevor Preston. Brilliant performance by Tom Bell. Like you were seeing a new kind of experience. Now: LINE OF DUTY.

TJ: Drama goes in cycles. We gravitate towards certain legends, ideas of the world. Eg there’s something in the air at the moment about spying and surveillance. Great for drama, acting, to play a spy. In TINKER SOLDIER SAILR SPY, we did scenes in which every character round a table was a potential spy / traitor. All of us being a spy / pretending to be a spy – gave scenes texture and intrigue.

TM: THE SECRET AGENT suited a three x one hour adaptation. Production companies would prefer longer serials, would have preferred the adaptation to be 5 hours.

TJ: Looking at the shape of CAPITAL, what worked in the book was a potential problem in the TV adaptation. There’s a big ‘MacGuffin’ – about the cards that are anonymously circulated in the street. Which makes it seems like a thriller. But it’s not really about that. During production, I wondered, are we foregrounding the thriller element too much? It’s really a state of the nation piece.

TM: changes in THE SECRET AGENT drafts – we went through several coloured page changes. Script development doesn’t end at the read-through. As writer, you have to be on the end of the phone during the shooting period.

SH: It’s a dynamic process that is on-going. You realise that the script is going to continue to evolve through the shooting period.

TJ: Sometimes I’m aware when reading a script that it’s been written to get commissioned – that there’s more in it than needs to be in it. I’d like to be telling a lot of the story wordlessly.

TM: THE SERET AGENT was a very different adaptation. It’s not a linear story; many events are reported, not seen; and events are told from different points of view. We had to make it linear, and limit the POV’s to Verloc and Winnie.

Do bad books make good adaptations?

TM: Yes, sometimes. I have adapted a bad book with a very good premise.

SH: Good books are often too reverential in the adaptation.


The next newsletter will be out on Friday July 15th

All the best




July 1st 2016