CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2018
I’m finally coming to the end of my reading for the 2018 Channel 4 screenwriting course, and it’s been a long but very rewarding haul. We received considerably more scripts than in the previous few years – up from 1300 to 2040.
I have read so many good, interesting scripts, and emails have gone out to the short-listed writers, 30+ of whom we will be interviewing at Channel 4 in a couple of weeks time before selecting the final 12.
If you haven’t heard from us – sorry! This means your application wasn’t successful. I’m sorry we can’t email everyone individually – but we don’t have the resources. And thank you so much for entering. As ever the process of whittling down 2040 applications to 12 writers is painful and difficult. But the range and quality of the scripts is more and more impressive every year.
A few observations about common elements in the scripts that stood out for me –
One quality that I continue to think is in short supply when you read vast amount of scripts is the desire among writers to tell big political stories about the state of the world and the UK today. It seems to me that there is so much in the news every day that is extraordinary, that will affect our lives for years to come – the obvious examples being Brexit and Trump – and yet so few people seem to be writing about contemporary politics, social injustice, inequalities of wealth and resource, injustices in the justice system, immigration and the refugee crisis, etc, etc. Even among the short-listed writers, these sorts of scripts are few and far between.
Here are some of the other things that made the short-listed scripts stand out –
A sense of humanity – having something to say about the human condition, usually with beautifully-observed nuances of characterisation.
Connected to this sense of humanity, some of the scripts that stood out in terms of pure enjoyment (which is after all largely what it’s about) were the sunny love stories that were warm, humorous and life-affirming. The converse to this is the large number of grim, relentless stories that don’t seem to have a strong agenda – apart from depicting misery.
A really fresh, left-field perspective on a story world or group of characters that were new to me – scripts that took me into a world that felt fresh, distinctive and revealing.
Many of the most effective scripts had a refreshing simplicity – the confidence to focus on a minutely detailed story about something that was relatively simple – but had the confidence to focus intently on this situation / relationship.
…and connected to the above is a sense of clarity and narrative focus in the best scripts. The best scripts come alive immediately off the page and are easy to read. In fact, the best scripts are impossible to stop reading. There were many scripts that didn’t feel quite right for the C4 / E4 profile – but nevertheless absolutely compelled me to read to the end.
There were certain scripts that really stood out because of the flair and confidence of their story-telling – stories that hit the ground running, and that progressed with a sense of pace, surprise, economy and excitement.
Scripts that really feel like they have something to say stand out. There are certain scripts that feel grown-up and meaningful in a way too many of the scripts don’t.
I was blown away by series 3. The characterisation and dialogue are superb. A masterclass in how to write comic dialogue. Every character has their own, brilliantly-observed verbal tic / mannerism. Long dialogue scenes go by where no-one says anything of any meaning or significance – but there’s such a strong sense of sub-text between the characters – like the Ian Fletcher / Lucy / Anna triangle. And the Jack / Izzy / Will triangle. Screenwriting at its absolute best, writing of real skill and subtlety made to look deceptively simple. Written and directed by the brilliant John Morton. I’m a big advocate of inarticulate dialogue – and W1A is such a great example of that at its best.
BEGINNING by David Eldridge at the National Theatre, Dorfman.
I really recommend this play – the 3rd excellent play in succession (after OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR and CONSENT) that I’ve enjoyed at the NT Dorfman.
What was so impressive about BEGINNING as a script and production was its simplicity but also its bravery. A two-hander set in a naturalistic Muswell Hill, one-bedroom flat setting, this was in effect a single, uninterrupted scene of 1 hour 40 minutes. The two characters are ordinary, lonely, richly-drawn, and this is a really humane, charming, thoughtful piece of writing. It’s transferring to the West End in the New Year.
JANE FEATHERSTONE BAFTA speech
This is definitely worth listening to on the BAFTA Guru website – a fascinating examination of the state of writing in the ever-changing UK TV drama industry. Jane was kind enough to reference the C4 course as one of the (too) few formal opportunities for new writers to break into TV drama. She talked about how the bigger indies and broadcasters in the UK need to put their money where their mouths are – and actively commission and foster the deep well of new writing talent that exists in the UK. Among many other thing she talked about how she thinks SVOD (Netflix, Amazon etc) co-pros with UK indies and broadcasters will soon be a thing of the past – how these SVOD co’s will soon go straight to the writers and commission them directly – and how it is incumbent on the drama indies to bring through the next generation of ‘commentators’ – the successors to TV dramatists like Sally Wainwright, Jimmy McGovern and Russell T Davies; how UK indies need to nurture and commission the next generation of UK writing talent – and encourage them to tell stories that are specifically about the UK for a specifically UK audience.
This is something that really strikes a chord with me. She talks about how ten years ago on SPOOKS there were opportunities for writers like Howard Brenton and Zinnie Harris to really make their mark writing episodes on another writer’s show (David Wolstencroft), and how these sorts of opportunities are fewer and further between now. This gap is partly being filled by the opportunities that less experienced screenwriters now have in writers rooms on co-pros with a US influence (eg shows like HARLOTS and TIN STAR – both of which have included 4screenwriting alumni in their writers rooms).
But I believe there is a space / scope for lower budget authentic, specific, regional, distinctive British shows – made specifically for the UK market, that don’t have an eye on co-pro possibilities and overseas sales. Stories that say something interesting and important about the UK today – and are not ‘High End’ but contained, pragmatic and achievable. On a very tiny scale this was part of the thinking behind my tribute podcasts (tributepodcasts.co.uk – watch this space for news about launching a 2nd series in the next few weeks).
Finally this week a shout-out for Phil Gladwin’s excellent screenwriting goldmine script competition – now entering into the final weeks of its entry period. This is a great opportunity to get your script in front of an impressive array of influential industry folk, who can really give your career a massive leg-up.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Dec 1st,
All the best
November 17th 2017