Happy New Year! I hope you had a relaxing / productive break and are creatively fired up for 2020.
There are still places available on my 3 courses for Feb & March (although only 4 places left on the WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT course).
Plans for the 1 DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING course have been ongoing since my December newsletter – and we now have development executives / script editors from BBC/Holby City, Silverprint Pictures, Leopard Drama, Mammoth Screen, Two Tables TV, Silver Reel, a junior literary agent from The Agency and two experienced BBC continuing series writers all confirmed for the networking event (5.15 – 8.30pm) – all there to give you invaluable screenwriting industry & craft advice in an informal setting.
The course itself (10-5) has two brilliant guest speakers in TIM FYWELL and ARCHIE MADDOCKS. Tim is one of the UK’s leading TV and film directors, with credits on great shows like HAPPY VALLEY and CRACKER. He has worked with many of the best screenwriters in the UK over the last 20 years and in his session he will break down / analyse one of his favourite scripts.
ARCHIE MADDOCKS will talk about his experiences as a screenwriter, with tips about both career and the craft of dramatic story-telling. Archie has a double life as a stand-up as well as a dramatic writer and he is always great value. Even if I say so myself, this course is ridiculously good value at only £95!
You can find all the details – including testimonials from the first time I ran it in May last year – about this course (and the CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS and WRITING A SHORT FILM SCRIPT courses) on my website.
BEST DRAMA OF 2019
A little late – but here’s my very unscientific and subjective look back at the scripts I enjoyed most (in no particular order) in 2019 –
EUPHORIA written (and directed) by SAM LEVINSON – the series as a whole was outstanding. But the ep 8 finale is a masterclass in how to structure film narrative – brilliantly multi-layered, visual, stylised story-telling that uses its style to great emotional effect. Story-telling that has huge flair, is sometimes very hard to watch – but it’s incredibly honest, challenging and provocative and feels like it really has something important to say about what it means to be young today (a show my 17 year old daughter forced me to watch and I’m glad she did!).
SUCCESSION series 2. Not much to add to what has already been said about this except that the ability of the show to make us care about so many objectively appalling human beings is some feat. A wonderful combination of the highly dramatic and brilliantly comic, with so many memorable, perfectly judged set-piece moments. It’s also really exciting that an HBO/US-set show has been largely created by a team of British writers – hats off to Jesse Armstrong, Lucy Prebble, Anna Jordan, Tony Roche, Georgia Pritchett, Jon Brown, Alice Birch et al – a wonderful demonstration of the creative power of the writers room.
BACK TO LIFE written by DAISY HAGGARD & LAURA SOLON – the sort of show that we do really well in the UK (other outstanding examples from 2019 – THIS WAY UP, DON’T FORGET THE DRIVER, MUM) – small-scale, reflective, humane, distinctive comedy drama of real edge and character). Back To Life was my favourite in this genre in 2019. Charming, funny and poignant with a clear, inherently dramatic narrative premise (and script-edited by 4screenwriting script reader Amy Chappellhow!).
THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD S2 written by (4screenwriting alumna) CHARLIE COVELL. I actually enjoyed this even more than S1. Released from the original source material, this became an even more distinctively Charlie Covell show. Funny, unpredictable, edgy, with an undercurrent of violence but also humanity – the story-telling (both writing and direction) had a real flair – the sort of flair that we associate with US shows like EUPHORIA and very rarely find in UK shows.
THE VIRTUES written by SHANE MEADOWS and JACK THORNE. One of the most intense, agonising shows I’ve ever seen on TV. Some absolutely brilliantly-realised scenes and sequences (for example Joseph’s bender in ep 1). Shane Meadows is a wonderful writer and director – and I thought this was his best ever show.
CHERNOBYL written by CRAIG MAZIN. Like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV before. Powerful, disturbing story-telling – and a story that needed to be told. And apparently there’s a fascinating podcast about the series too. (Craig Mazin also co-hosts with John August the wonderful SCRIPTNOTES podcast).
GENTLEMAN JACK by SALLY WAINWRIGHT. Apparently not to everyone’s taste but I thought this was period story-telling that had a really modern, energized sensibility and at the heart of the show the characterisation of Ann Lister was memorably complicated and larger-than-life.
FLEABAG S2 by PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE. Another series (like TEOTFW) that was even more successfully realised in its 2nd series than its first. From the wonderful restaurant sequence in ep 1 to the will they / won’t they Fleabag / Hot Priest relationship, this was utterly distinctive, memorable and very, very funny.
RUSSIAN DOLL. Written and created by NATASHA LYONNE, AMY POEHLER & LESLYE HEADLAND, this was another wonderfully original and distinctive piece of story-telling. Bonkers but compelling.
ITV Drama (mainly in the person of JEFF POPE) have specialised recently in some brilliant factual drama / crime serials – shows like A CONFESSION that was a brilliant star vehicle for two outstanding actors – Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton; and MANHUNT – another great starring vehicle, this time for Martin Clunes, with a brilliant script by ED WHITMORE.
FINDING NEVERLAND – the DAN REED-directed Michael Jackson / abuse documentary. To me, the evidence seemed compelling. But whatever way you look at it, this was brilliantly structured and realised, compelling story-telling.
PRINCE ANDREW NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW – The most fascinating character study of the year. An extraordinary example of the massive gap between a character’s self-image and how they actually come across. Genuinely jaw-dropping to see someone misjudge a situation so spectacularly in the public eye. A deeply flawed character – without any of the redeeming humanity you’d normally look for in ficton!
ANNA X by JOSEPH CHARLTON at the Vaults festival. Excellent dramatization / re-imagination of a true story.
MOUTHPIECE by KIERAN HURLEY at the Soho Theatre. About the intense, strange and ultimately destructive relationship between a writer and her subject. Wonderful writing of characters – but also a hugely perceptive study of the power of story itself.
A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON by LUCY PREBBLE (See SUCCESSION). A playful, imaginative, stylised, entertaining – and disturbing – examination of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.
SMALL WORLD – adapted for the stage by HELEN EDMUNDSON from the novel by ANDREA LEVY. Epic story-telling that built in intensity and emotional impact over its always-compelling three hours.
BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON written and directed by PAUL DOWNS COLAIZZO – in its way very generic – but a lovely combination of the generic and utterly specific. A brilliant example of story-telling through the prism of a wounded character battling her demons. Ultimately life-affirming and very touching. This film reminded me how some of the best stories are so simple when told through the emotional prism of the central character. Often the best story is about a character’s relationship with themselves.
WILD ROSE – another film like B.R.A.M. – that I missed in the cinema but caught up with on Amazon – and another film that in its way is generic and familiar – but again there is enough of a twist on the genre, a really strong specificity to setting and lead character; and the use of country music adds a dimension to it. A slow burn that by the end had a strong emotional grip. NICOLE TAYLOR’s range from THREE GIRLS to this is highly impressive.
MARRIAGE STORY written and directed by NOAH BAUMBACH – which I have mentioned before and will be returning to, as I think it’s a screenplay that rewards repeated viewing – there’s so much in the screenplay to inspire and learn from.
CLEMENCY, written and directed by CHINONYE CHUKWU. One of the standouts from the London Film Festival. A harrowing exploration of the death penalty from the POV of a female prison governor.
ONE DAY CRICKET WORLD CUP FINAL – the most brilliantly-constructed, compelling dramatic story-telling of the year. No writer could have pre-planned or imagined any sporting event to be this tense, unexpected and exciting.
SO – what do you think? What shows have I unaccountably left out? What shows should I have included? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
The next newsletter will be on Friday Jan 24th. Until then,
All the best
Jan 10th 2020