A reminder that we are taking bookings for our next Two Phils Weekend Screenwriting Course, with special guest BRADLEY QUIRK, in central London on the weekend of July 13-14 – your last chance to catch our course before late September.
We have had some really nice testimonials from our March and May courses which are now up on the new Two Phils website here.
Amongst these new testimonials are four video testimonials which are particularly informative, I think.
But I especially wanted to share with you one email that we recently received from screenwriter NICOLA WALTERS, which for both of us, pretty much sums up what we try to achieve with these weekend screenwriting workshops – so this was very pleasing –
‘I was just reflecting on how it had nearly been two months since the course I undertook with you in March, and how much has changed since that point.
On your advice I have been working up some ideas based on my work with offenders and the personal experiences that I have been through as a result, I’ve made arrangements to spend some more time at a couple of TV sets/studios with opportunities to network with the crew and make some contacts, plus I have started to attend a number of events relating to scriptwriting, e.g. some of the BAFTA events that there are tickets out there for at the moment.
I’m still working on my main project, but adapting it slightly to make it more viable as a project and am enthused about writing my new piece. I’ve even managed to take a step back from the madness to give me more time and space to write, which is quite an achievement given how much of a workaholic I am.
I’m looking forward to catching up with [another writer] from the course for a drink and discussion too. All in all, thanks to the weekend spent with you and all the advice you offered, I am more inspired than I have been in years and this appears to be a sustainable change too.
I can’t thank you enough.’
Nicola Walters, Chessington, May 2013
You can follow Nicola’s adventures in screenwriting on twitter: @midnightscripts
I have also included here BRADLEY QUIRK’s short but fascinating ‘taster’ interview from last week which he did very quickly before dashing off to Cannes.
BRADLEY’s experience as a screenwriter, then with the UK Film Council, the British Film Institute and now Pathé UK, gives him a real insight into the writing market in the UK feature film industry, which we think will very usefully compliment the two Phils’ experience of the TV screenwriters market.
Please can you tell us a little about your working background and the projects you’ve worked on.
‘I joined the UK Film Council in 2008 after time spent working as a script editor and writer in TV. At the UKFC, I was Story Editor and Talent Tracker working with emerging talent who had yet to have their first film theatrically distributed. The projects I worked on during this period included Zam Salim’s UP THERE and Clio Barnard’s THE ARBOR. I also worked as Story Editor on MONSOON SHOOTOUT which premieres out of competition at Cannes 2013.
In 2010, the UKFC funding structure was rationalised and many of us in the Development Fund moved into the Film Fund (which now exists within the BFI) overseeing development and production funding for UK Film. I tracked talent, liaising with producers, directors and writers and worked on a number of films that received UKFC/BFI funding. These films included SHADOW DANCER, GRABBERS, LAST DAYS ON MARS and WELCOME TO THE PUNCH.
In 2012, I joined Pathe as Creative Executive. To date, I’ve worked across all Pathe’s development titles and two productions: MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM and PHILOMENA. Both films will be released in late 2012 and early 2013.’
What are your favourite movies and why?
‘A tough question – As a film buff and former writer, I really respond to the body of work produced by the Dardennes Brothers. Their stories are simple in their construction but are ferocious tests of their protagonists and I think they reveal fundamental human truths. I also love the work of Jacques Audiard – particularly READ MY LIPS which, for me, isn’t his best film but I have an irrational love of it. He directs with great flair and consistently draws brilliant performances. Most of all though I tend to like directors and their body of work over individual films.‘
Do you have any tips for new screenwriters looking to get a feature film made (or at least into development!)?
‘My advice for writers who are specifically focused on film is to concentrate on what gets made in the medium and by whom. Observe and participate in the ecology of the industry before writing a $70m screenplay that will never get financed (occasionally one of these films will get optioned and rewritten) then focus your creativity on writing something fresh that can be made. Producers are always on the lookout for talented writers who can deliver story, character and structure within packages that appeal to audiences and which can be financed so make it your mission to write scripts that do that. Then get those scripts into the hands of the producers who understand the market and get films made.‘
When you’re reading scripts, what makes a script stand out from the crowd?
‘Characters I care for, stories that are compelling tests for those characters, a sense of cinema (without lazily reverting to the spectacular). If it’s a comedy, make me laugh in the first couple of pages. If it’s a horror, make me scared. If it’s a drama, make me ask what would I do in that situation?‘
Last Saturday I went to the De Montfort University TV Scriptwriting MA Comedy Writers Day at the Actors Centre London. I hadn’t intended to write about it but there was a really excellent talk by LAURENCE MARKS, which was too good not to report back on.
LAURENCE MARKS and MAURICE GRAN are probably the most successful TV comedy writing duo this country has ever produced (although Clement & le Frenais and Galton & Simpson may have something to say about that – not to mention Armstrong & Bain).
Their run of hit shows includes Shine On Harvey Moon, Love Hurts, Birds Of A Feather, Good Night Sweetheart, The New Statesman.
LAURENCE MARKS first talked about IDEAS – where they come from and what to do with them.
One day he was looking through old copies of ‘Life’ Magazine in a 2nd hand bookshop. On one front cover from Nov ’45 there was a photo of a soldier returning from war, walking up to his wife and two children outside their home. LM wondered if the smiling wife was in fact thinking, ‘Oh shit he survived.’ This was the starting point of ‘Shine On Harvey Moon’.
They took this idea to the production company of their heroes Ian Clement & Dick Le Frenais, Witzend productions – writers of ‘Porridge’ – one of their inspirations. Their feedback – ‘you need a nan’ ie it should be multi-generational – and they were right.
They were commissioned by ITV to write a synopsis. They thought about how to make a ‘synopsis’ interesting – decided to write a page in the first person of each character, each expressing their point of view. By doing this, they quickly got to know the voices of each character. They wrote the first episode in three days. It did very well – audiences of 20m.
‘Ideas come out of conversations’. The idea for ‘The New Statesman’ was adapted from a conversation with Rik Mayall – they asked him to tell them something about himself – and adapted what he said to create the monstrous ‘Alan B’stard’!
For this project their one page synopsis \ pitch to Vernon Lawrence, head of ITV comedy, was Alan ‘B’stard’s entry in ‘Who’s Who.’
‘Originality of ‘synopsis’ \ pitch is very important. Something that causes people to say, ‘You’ve got to read this.’
Working as a partnership, the benefit of sharing ideas is great.
The IDEA for ‘Birds Of Feather’: Maurice Gran was spending Christmas at a smart London hotel. At the communal hotel Christmas lunch he was sat opposite two women – one in silver lamé, the other in gold lame. He imagined they were ‘gangster’s molls’. MG thought little of it until after Christmas he was working again with Laurence, and relating his Christmas experience . Laurence immediately retorted, ‘You’ve just come up with our next series. For Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson.’
What was interesting to LM was that MG hadn’t even seen it as a TV idea – but in articulating it to LM, he immediately saw it as a great TV idea. An idea about two Essex women, one rich, one not – whose husbands were both in prison for armed robbery.
Another element of a good series idea is to give it a timeline – so, for example ‘Shine On Harvey Moon’ – it started straight after World War 2, and each series was one year on from the last.
And ‘Birds Of A Feather’ was predicated around the absent husbands’ ten year jail stretch. Ie 10 series, each covering a year in their lives.
They researched ‘Birds Of Feather’ thoroughly – visits to Chigwell, and meetings with the Women’s Prison Association.
One of the principles behind the series was that they never used the word ‘they’ – it was important that Sharon and Tracy were seen as very distinct, different individuals.
He talked about how, after the prep work they’d done, the characters felt so well-defined that they came out almost fully-formed – ‘They were writing themselves, we were just getting it down on the page.’
One day they were filming around the East End on their serial ‘Mosley’, LM said – ‘The roads behind here haven’t changed since 1940. MG replied: ‘Thank you. You’ve just created our next series.’
This became ‘Good Night Sweetheart’, a series about a man travelling through a passage between the present and 1940 WW2 London. When they discussed it, MG asked, ‘But why would anyone want to travel back from the security of present day London to the dangers of the WW2 East End?’ The answer, they agreed, was love of a woman. So it became a time travel comedy about adultery – although they were careful never to use the word ‘adultery’ when trying to sell the idea to the BBC!
LM concluded that all their best ideas come back to one central idea – the ‘odd couple.’ ‘What’s funny develops from two really interesting characters.’
LM also talked about their more recent stage play ‘Von Ribbentrop’s Watch.’ This was based on the fact that LM’s own watch once belonged to eminent Nazi Von Ribbentrop. LM came to realise that, as the artefact of an infamous Nazi, he could sell it for a lot of money. The play was predicated on the debate LM and MG had about the ethical issues involved in making money from Nazi memorabilia – even if they gave the money they made to charity.
For me, it was really interesting to see how LM stressed the importance of IDEAS, and talked about how random the process is by which, between them, he and MG come up with ideas.
I was also struck by the originality – but also the clarity and simplicity – of their successful ideas.
LM also stressed how important it is to establish clearly the ‘object’ of your series.
About his working relationship with MG: he talked about how they need to feel confident enough in the strength of their relationship to be able to tell each, ‘That’s shit’! As he called it – ‘A relationship built on offence.’
‘Every day is an argument. It’s like a marriage. Every day is 4/5 conversation, 1/5 writing.’
The importance of thinking on your feet in meetings. Coming up with a solution to ‘I like it but…’ You need to provide the answer, ‘the kicker.’
On the writing process – the ‘beat sheet’ is all important. Breaking an episode down into scenes – this is what takes the most time. In a typical UK 30’ sitcom episode – 3 scenes – ad break – 3 scenes.
‘If you start writing the script without this road-map you’ll get lost. Don’t start writing anything until you have this document in front of you.’
‘You can’t write comedy until you understand drama.’ It’s all about ‘planning the architecture.’
He referred to the Hollywood expression ‘maturing in wood.’ Ie putting your script away in a drawer for a couple of weeks after finishing it, so that when you come back to it, you hopefully have a more objective perspective on it.
‘It’s good to get your failure out of the way early.’ Their 2nd show an abject failure. Then big hit – ‘Shine On Harvey Moon.’
Until next week
All the best
May 24th 2013