REJECTION – Annalisa D’Innella guest blog

Posted by admin  /   November 25, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on REJECTION – Annalisa D’Innella guest blog

Hi There,

This week a guest blog by screenwriter ANNALISA D’INNELLA, who has been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course this year.

Annalisa is working on original projects with several independent production companies.  She also has a series in development with Channel 4.  She is represented by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.  


Looking through the list of topics Philip suggested I could cover for this guest blog, one of them jumped out and sang to me: REJECTION.  Yes.  Rejection.  I can write about rejection.  I am a self-appointed rejection expert.  So much so that I have, over the years, developed a Three-Step Personal Rejection Coping Strategy that I deploy as soon as the dreaded gut- punch drops into my inbox.   Allow me to share it with you. 

Most writers have wilderness years – a period of time when you learn your craft.  I had an embarrassingly long wilderness stretch.  I sat alone at my desk writing terrible script after terrible script in the certain knowledge that all my friends and family secretly pitied me.  During this period, I would send these terrible scripts off to schemes and competitions and they would – quite rightly – be rejected.  As time passed, I noticed a pattern emerge.  The rejection emails would make me feel furious and miserable for exactly two days.  On the third day, I would, inexplicably, perk up.  So Step 1 of my coping strategy is to tell myself – this is going to hurt.  But in exactly 48 I will feel better. 

Most screenwriters are relentless optimists.  We have to be.  No matter how many times we are knocked down, the urge to create will always force us back on our feet.  And, for me, this process always takes exactly 48 hours. 

Step 2 is buy a punchbag.  (this step is self-explanatory)

There’s another kind of rejection common in our industry.  The one that falls under the heading ‘bad luck’.  You’ve worked for a year on a script about, say, snowboarding.  The commissioner loves it but has just greenlit a massive snowboarding show.  It’s nobody’s fault.  If anything it validates how brilliantly zeitgeisty you are.  But it still hurts.  For this occasion, I present to you: Step 3: mark the demise of your script-baby with (overblown if possible) ceremony and ritual.  For me, this means wearing black.  The sheer melodrama of the practice is usually enough to amuse me out of my self-pity. 

I once explained to my actor friend, Kevin, that I was ‘in mourning’ for a project that had perished.  He understood instantly: ‘that’s genius’ he responded.  ‘Send me a selfie’.  He does it too now.  Like a Victorian widow.  (we should buy veils).   

The pilot I wrote this year for 4Screenwriting 2020 received five competing option offers and is now in development with Channel 4.  On hearing the news, I called Kevin who hooted in jubilation while I remained shocked and wordless.  I had no idea how to process what was happening.  ‘Wear yellow!’ he commanded.  So I did. 

When I was a child, I wanted to be an actor.  My mother (an actor herself for a short time) had warned me against the profession. ‘You can’t be an actor, darling’ she regularly chimed ‘you’re TERRIBLE at rejection’.   Rejection still knocks me flat every time. I’m still sensitive.  My self-esteem crumbles all too easily.  But I’d like to think I’m getting better at it.

The other reason my Mother was against my joining the acting profession was because I am disabled.  I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa – an incurable degenerative eye condition – when I was 14 years old.  Her protective instinct is completely understandable.  She didn’t want me to fall in love with acting only to experience the heartbreak of having to abandon it when my eyes packed in.  My Dad (a visual artist) steered me away from painting for the same reason.  They were terrified for my future (though they did their best to hide it).  How would I have relationships, a family, any sort of job?  These seemed reasonable questions when I was young.  Blind people were invisible.  We’d certainly never met any in person.  And we never really saw them represented on screen.  Indeed, the Hollywood versions of blindness all seemed to be young women who were either tragically inspirational or about-to-be-murdered.  In our ignorance, we didn’t think blind people could have jobs – let alone jobs in show business.  How wildly ill-informed and wrong we were.   

Last year, I met an actor who was in a huge, high-profile National Theatre production.  She’s visually-impaired.  She told me the team had adapted elements of their back-stage protocol to make it easier to get on and off the stage.  We’d only just met, and I’m not a hugger, but I hugged her.   

I write scripts about all sorts of different subjects.  I don’t always write about disability, but I have come to feel an increasing responsibility to create brilliant roles for disabled actors.  Disabled people make up 20% of the population (not that you’d know it if you watch British drama).  No matter what my scripts are about, I will always create at least one great role for a disabled actor.    

I love my job.  I write because I’m foolish and optimistic.  I write because I’m a problem-solver.  I write because I can’t seem to stop myself.  And because it’s where I feel most at home.   I hope that, today, any disabled kid who wants to write or act will feel there’s a home for them in our industry.  Because – as long as they can learn to cope with the relentless rejection – I think there is. 


Thank you so much to Annalisa for being generous enough to take the time to write this and share it with us.

The next newsletter on Friday December 11th

Best wishes




November 27th 2020


Posted by admin  /   November 12, 2020  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2021 – UPDATE

Hi There,


Because of the huge number of scripts we received this year, the timetable for the interviews has been pushed back. The interviews won’t now be taking place until well into December. We won’t be getting in touch with anyone for a few weeks yet.

As discussed in the last newsletter, I received a lot of great suggestions (thank you!) about how we can do more to recognize and support the many brilliant writers who apply, beyond the 12 we choose for the course.

I’ve now spoken to the C4 drama department about this and we’re going to do two things –

  1. We will draw up a long-list of outstanding scripts submitted (we won’t be able to offer all of these writers interviews for the course). As we’re only about halfway through the reading process I’m not sure how long this list will be but I estimate about 50 scripts. Once we’ve chosen the 12 writers for the 2021 course, we will try to find industry mentors to pair up with each of those (approx) 38 writers, to mentor them for the 6 months that the course is running (Jan – June 2021) ie a sort of shadow course. The mentors will be there to offer advice and answer questions to these long-listed writers. These mentors will either be people who work in development in TV drama (& comedy) or writers who already have some experience of the industry – including writers who have come off the 4screenwriting courses in the last few years. What this mentoring will not involve will be these mentors giving detailed script feedback. We want to make it as easy as possible for potential mentors to come on board; and it’s not realistic to expect them to do this sort of time-consuming work on top of working away at their own careers. I very much hope that at some point next year, mentors and mentees will be able to meet up in person, not just on zoom etc.

NB If any of you industry script editors / development executives and screenwriters who read this newsletter would be interested in mentoring, please get in touch!

  • We will be doing a press / social media announcement, listing both the 12 course writers and these other long-listed writers towards the end of the 2021 course in May 2021. Hopefully this will be a big help in alerting the industry to all 50 writers, not just the writers who have come off the course.

There were plenty of other excellent suggestions and we have focused on two of the more easily achievable ones, ones that didn’t involve huge amounts of work (and money) to deliver; but this is very much a work-in-progress and we are still open to other ideas and schemes to help match the many hugely talented writers who submit scripts for the Channel 4 screenwriting course and potential employers in the TV and film industries.


Some observations about writing & story from the reading I have been doing over the last few weeks of the scripts submitted for the 2021 Channel 4 screenwriting course.

The reading process for myself and the team of 8 script readers is a very particular one. It’s intense and mentally wearing – trying to keep up the same energy and mental receptiveness for script after script day after day week after week. Inevitably many of the scripts merge into each other and, even when there is a lot of merit, many scripts don’t stand out or really leap off the page.

This makes the first 5 or 10 pages of each script disproportionately important. The first few pages need to stand out and really grab the reader’s attention (and then once they’ve leapt over this all-important first hurdle, they need to keep surprising and to maintain momentum and quality).

There is a difference between the reader’s experience of a script and the audience’s experience of a TV show / film. In the context of the 4screenwriting script-reading, reading a script is a more demanding experience than watching a film.

So, for instance, one of the reasons that the trope of having a dramatic teaser sequence followed by a caption ‘5 WEEKS / MINUTES / MONTHS EARLIER’ becomes wearying is that often the step back in time demands a mental reset and readjustment, meeting a new set of characters and setting when we’d just got used to the characters and setting of the teaser.

The other reason this trope becomes wearying is that when, like us, you are reading a lot of scripts, this device starts to feel terribly over-familiar and over-used. As a reader, you have to stifle the internal groan at yet another script that uses this device. However, I’m certainly not saying you should never use this device. This device can work brilliantly when used well. There are no rules to good storytelling – except for ‘Be Entertaining.’

Another recurring element is the script that opens with a character waking up in the morning. As with the above example, there is nothing wrong about this ‘per se’ – but when you read a lot of scripts that do this, it starts to feel predictable and unexciting.

Last week, in the thick of reading many scripts, one particular scene stood out and instantly pulled me into the story. It stood out because there was real tension to the scene, a sense of danger and conflict in the subtext of the scene. As I read this scene, it made me think about how this sense of tension and jeopardy is missing in so many scripts. There are so many scripts that are admirably well-written but don’t pull you into their stories because there is this lack of real narrative tension, of a character facing some sort of danger and the writer causing us to feel something, to fear for the character in danger.

At one stage I read two scripts successively that were both very strong but incredibly different. The first was a stage play that was overtly intelligent – smart, articulate characters and dialogue, a play that explored really interesting and important issues. A really impressive read, clearly written by a writer of real talent.

The next script I read was far less showy, a small-scale, clearly autobiographical comedy drama about a teenager growing up and trying to recover from a parent’s premature death in a provincial UK town. This script had none of the coruscating wit of the previous script, it wasn’t as obviously dramatic. But it completely won me over in a way the previous script didn’t because it felt more sincere, honest and heartfelt. I engaged with the flawed, uncertain characters in a way I didn’t with the previous script. I think the takeaway from this is to make sure that you inhabit your characters as fully as possible – and to make sure that the story you’re telling feels honest, reflective of your own truths – rather than being calculated to impress and show off.

With every year, the overall standard and quality of the scripts we receive seems to improve. But every year I seem to read so many scripts that I admire more than I love.

Many of the scripts I enjoy most are set in communities or story worlds that I know little about, that are new to me. Stories that teach me about different, unfamiliar characters or story worlds (whether that’s the world of drag queens, Jehovah’s witnesses or a working class Belfast family) and feel both absolutely specific to that community of characters but also emotionally universal.

I think it’s important as a writer to think about the politics of writing and how attitudes change and develop over the years. For instance, one thing I used to read a lot of and which used to be on TV weekly were crime dramas about the brutal murders of women. This is a trope that seems to be less ‘in fashion’ than it was and that’s good news. Some of these scripts now stand out uncomfortably. It’s so important to examine your agenda, your reasons for telling the stories you’re telling. As a storyteller it’s so important to challenge the accepted status quo.

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 27th.

Until then

Best wishes




November 13th 2020


Posted by admin  /   October 28, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on ONE PAGE PITCHES – THE SEQUEL

Hi There,


I know this is an area I’ve discussed in the past – but here are a few more observations inspired by 2 zoom sessions I ran recently with a BBC writers room group. In session 1 we talked about some of the principles behind effective, successful pitches. Then the writers came back 2 weeks later with 2nd draft 1 page pitches and 30 sec verbal pitch of their project.


The less successful ones got bogged down in over-detailed chronology of the plot. Particularly as I only gave each writer 30 secs to tell us about their idea (and ruthlessly cut them off when their time was up!) what I was looking for was the USP – the uniqueness and distinctiveness of their project.

When discussing it, I likened it to them asking me if they should be watching ADULT MATERIAL by Lucy Kirkwood and me telling them why they should watch it – ‘It’s a brilliant, warts and all, examination of the contemporary porn industry in the UK, about the damage it causes, the toll it takes on both the ‘actors’ and the audience, about its growing pervasiveness, all told through the prism of a woman in her 30’s who has been a ‘porn star’, has made a very decent income, has a husband, kids and a seemingly positive attitude to the work – but as she comes to the end of her shelf life, we see the psychological damage it has done, of the deep problems and ripples in her life…’ That’s my first (written) attempt at expressing what is so compelling about the show. There’s no plot, a mention of the central character, but mainly it’s about the themes and political / social intent of the show and how powerful this is.

It’s the same when you’re initially pitching your ideas, trying to interest producers etc. You don’t want to get into a recounting of the plot, a ‘This happens then this happens and they do this etc etc. If you do you will invite unwelcome questions about the detail and logic of the plot and you won’t be telling the reader anything about what is brilliant and unique about the show.


Here are some of my general responses to the 13 outlines that I read and fed back on –

Make sure you give us the writer’s name, prominently at the top of the page – ie PROJECT by WRITER NAME. This is quite simple but it amazed me how many of the writers didn’t do this. It was almost as if psychologically they were anxious about taking ownership of their idea!

Also, make sure your (or your agent’s) contact details are also prominently displayed on the document.

Format – what is this? – feature film? 10 x 60’ series? 8 x 30’ series? 4 x 60’ serial? Tell us this right at the top (and something about which channel / broadcaster it’s intended for if this is something you have strong feelings about).

The structure of the document is so important. Generally I would always suggest CONTEXT before CONTENT. You need to start your document with the big idea, the dramatic proposition / logline, the tonal approach. Expressing clearly in one or two sentences what this is – in a way that will enable your reader to immediately understand the idea and see its dramatic / comic potential.

The opening block / paragraph needs to grab the reader’s attention with the brilliance / originality of the idea.

Then you need a slightly longer block expressing the project’s key elements – which may or may not include – genre, your personal connection to the material, why you think this is an important story to tell. Basically, anything that you think is going to excite us about the project, and anything that is going to give a valuable context to the detail of the story.

ONLY THEN should you go onto give us the crux of the story. At least give us a character (or two) who are central to the story who are engaging, fascinating and whom we’re going to care about. Make sure this central character has a compelling and (almost) insoluble dilemma.

And while we’re on character, make sure you’re clear about (and are conveying, if it’s a critical part of the concept) whose point of view we’re experiencing the story from, which character has ‘ownership’ of the story.

Too many of the 1 page pitches I read started with too much plot that I struggled to make sense of, before ending with a very brief paragraph of global overview. This global overview needs to be at the start, not the end – so it enables me to understand the context of the story, why you’re telling it and the tonal, specific writer’s approach.

Make sure the document reflects something of your qualities as a writer. If it’s drama, instill the way you write and structure the document with a sense of drama. Likewise, if it’s a comedy, imbue the document with a sense of humour. A one page pitch for a comedy needs to be funny and to demonstrate how this story is going to play funny.

Specifics rather than generalities. Give us as many specifics as possible – about the characters, the setting, the events. And make these specifics as idiosyncratic and distinctive as possible. For instance, in one of these 13 pitches, what (bizarrely) stayed with me was a reference to a Honda Civic as a benchmark for a mediocre, unfulfilled life. The specificity of this symbol of mediocrity struck me as being perceptive and funny. And I could SEE it (so important).

TITLES – again these need to be as distinctive, attention-grabbing and memorable as possible (while also being helpfully reflective of the tone and content of the show). Too many of the titles in this exercise felt bland, familiar, uninformative and uninspiring.

What is your project about on a deeper level? What are the (again) specific themes and subjects you’re addressing? For instance, one of the pitches was about grief, about one woman’s attempt to deal with her partner’s death through immersing herself in her young son’s football team. But the word ‘grief’ was never mentioned – it should have been, this was the central issue behind the show.

The writer. In these 1 page documents, the reader needs to get a sense of the writer, in particular, the writer’s relationship to their material. This could come out in the style and tone of the writing of the document (flippant / jokey? Angry / passionate? Ironic /detached?) but it could be more ‘on the nose’ than that. It’s OK to directly address why you think this is a story that demands to be told and why you are THE writer to tell this story. (One of the ideas was written in the voice of the central character – this instantly gave it a life and energy that some of the more straightforward ones didn’t have – think about different, unexpected and imaginative ways in which you can make your pitch stand out).

Too many of the writers gave me too much backstory rather than actual, on-screen story. And too often it was also hard to tell which was which. The reader needs to get a sense of how the writer plans to organise and structure their story material over the course of the series and beyond (if it’s a series you’re pitching). How and when you intend to reveal key story information can be a very persuasive element in selling the story and ability of the writer to tell it.

For new – and experienced – writers, it’s so important to keep restocking your catalogue of brilliant ideas, of stories you’re burning to tell; and of working, reworking and perfecting your one page pitches so that they articulate and sell these ideas as coherently and effectively as possible.

Only one of the 13 pitches really made me buy into the writer’s agenda for needing to tell their story. This personal connection to and passion for your story is so important and persuasive.

It’s also important to remember just how brilliant your ideas need to be in order to interest potential producers. You are in competition with Sally Wainwright, Jed Mercurio etc. In order to get commissioned your idea needs to be much more attention-grabbing, unique and exciting than ideas from these established writers who will be seen as less of a risk than a new writer.

These documents are very hard to write. So keep working at them in the same way as you would a script. With draft after draft, trying it out on the right people, getting feedback, honing, editing and improving until it’s as good as it can possibly be.


Last week I asked for your suggestions about what else we could be doing to support the writers who come close but don’t get onto the Channel 4 screenwriting course; and about how we can spread the word about these other excellent writers to potential employers.

I want to say a huge thank you to the very many of you who got in touch and for all your brilliant ideas. I will discuss the best and most practicable ones with the Channel 4 drama department and will definitely implement some of them. Watch this space – hopefully I will have more news soon.

And, I must say, after the reading I’ve done over the last couple of weeks, I feel even more passionately that we must do more to support and encourage more than the 12 writers we choose for the course.

Helped hugely by my brilliant team of readers and their recommendations, the last couple of weeks of reading has been like my own personal Edinburgh Festival / London Film Festival combined, in terms of the quality, originality and pure entertainment value of so many of the scripts. I feel truly privileged to be able to read the work of so many new, talented dramatic writers. So many of the scripts I’ve read would grace our TV screens, cinemas and theatres; and so many of the scripts are so much better than so much of the stuff that does get produced.


Finally this week I wanted to share with you a recent tweet by screenwriter Peter Bowker –

‘In five years as Heads of Drama at Granada TV – Sally Head and Gwenda Bagshaw made Prime Suspect, Cracker, Band of Gold, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, Fry and Laurie’s Jeeves and Wooster, Maigret and Medics. The thought just occurred to me so thought I would share.’

Like Peter, I was lucky enough to work with Sally and Gwenda at Granada. In fact they gave me my first ever job as a script editor. At the time it felt like the golden age it’s turned out to be – people who worked in the department and on those shows included Nicola Shindler, Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern, Kay Mellor, Neil McKay, Julian Farino, Patrick Spence and so many other brilliant people, too many to name-check here. But it was such a great environment to learn in; and Gwenda Bagshaw was the most excellent, generous mentor. The one thing everyone says about the Sally and Gwenda team is that there were always plenty of laughs – such an important part of any creative setting.

The next newsletter will be on Friday November 14th,

Until then –

Very best wishes



October 30th 2020


Posted by admin  /   October 14, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on STORY

Hi There,

With my team of eight excellent script readers, I am now well into the very enjoyable process of reading scripts from the 2021Channel 4 screenwriting course applications.

We received far more scripts than we’ve ever received and already I’m struck by the high quality of the submissions. The range, imagination and originality of the stories being told is striking; I have already read several scripts that could go straight onto our TV screens and would be hugely enjoyable – which I find baffling when I scroll through current viewing options and struggle to find many shows that really excite me.

Having to select a mere 12 from the thousands of scripts we read is challenging and also frustrating – we have to turn down so many writers who would be outstanding candidates for the course. It’s also exciting knowing already that we’re going to be working with another crop of brilliant writers next year.

But it focuses my mind on thinking about what else we could be doing to support the writers who come close but don’t get onto the course; and about how we can spread the word about these other excellent writers to potential employers.

I had a phone call from a very good literary agent last week who talked to me about how the industry is hungry for new voices, for writers who have a unique story to tell – and how demand is outstripping supply.

This is something I’d really like to be able to address – the big question is how?! Any suggestions very welcome (seriously).



Just raced my way through the 2nd (frustratingly short) series on Netflix. I really like the format of this show. Artificially restricting the action to the three interiors (interview room, observation room, corridor) could in theory make this a bit dry and repetitive. But as is so often the case when you impose artificial limitations, it can actually release and enable imagination and creativity. What this format enables is a real focus on the guest characters being questioned and the stories they’re telling. And because it all takes place in these visually uninteresting settings, the audience fills in the story gaps and questions with their own imaginative responses in a way that is really satisfying. The writing of the characters is brilliant – some really complex, fascinating and twisted characters, and some great story hooks. It also makes for some great performances – from the regular characters but in particular from the guests – Sophie Okenedo, Kit Harrington, Sharon Horgan and Kunal Nayyar.

But the main thing this series teaches me is the importance of format when you’re creating a new series. The format of this show is disarmingly simple – but incredibly effective; and, importantly, eminently achievable and repeatable. Hats off to series creator and writer, George Kay.


I’m currently reading this novel and, like CRIMINAL, the thing that I find most striking and successful about it is the simplicity and clarity of the initial premise – a story told from the POV of a ghost (someone who committed suicide by throwing themselves in front of a train) in Peterborough railway station. It’s such a simple idea but enables the writer to observe people in transit, on journeys; and set up a powerful mystery from the start that the reader needs answering – why has this woman killed herself?

What we can learn from documentary storytellers

Three of the very best things I have seen in recent months have been documentaries –

The Rise Of The Murdoch Dynasty (BBC)

Once Upon A Time In Iraq (BBC)

The Last Dance (Netflix)

All three shows are outstanding and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I also think, from a fiction / screenwriting point of view, all three are hugely inspiring.

Here are some notes I wrote about these shows –

Takeaways – characterisation – the parallels between MURDOCH & SUCCESSION

Characters that are larger than life – Sassaman (OUATII), Murdoch, Max Moseley (Murdoch) – such rich, vital, compelling characters.

The message. The political resonance

The dynamics of power – how Saddam taught his interrogator lessons about politics in Iraq, how Saddam (the prisoner) ran the sessions. How the interrogator felt an ‘aura’ from Saddam – status.

Powerful story comes from placing your character in extreme situations, taking them out of their comfort zones e.g. a war zone. Revealing and dramatising character is about how they respond in these heightened situations of crisis.

How the passage of time brings new perspective, an examination of how we change, what we learn, how trauma stunts or inspires us – eg the girl who loses an eye, the boy who loses a leg; the photographer who blames himself for the death of a soldier; Sassaman – from colonel in his prime, setting the agenda, to retired ex-army man trying to spin a buck by lecturing on leadership, trying (and failing) to make sense of his Iraq experience (OUATII).

Dramatising the heightening of senses – when time slows.

Emphasizes the power and primacy of story – the best stories like this feel like they should be essential viewing. How many fictional dramas and comedies feel like this? (The best ones do – I May Destroy You, There She Goes).

Shows this good change you the viewer as a person, make you see the world in different ways, make you rethink the world.

The Last Dance – taps into something within all of us – competition, achievement; the celebration of excellence; the politics of an organisation.

Are your lead characters as magnetic and compelling as Sassaman, Murdoch, the Bulls manager?

Rags to riches stories – achievements realised against all odds and despite the forces of opposition.

These stories are elemental – OUATII is about good and evil. But it’s about so much more – the human cost of careless, short-term, cynical, vote-catching decisions by politicians; how we all have a personal responsibility to fight for what is right, to be active against the forces of darkness

An illustration of how dialogue illuminates character. ‘No joke, I played chess with the guy and he beat me both times. He beat me in three moves and then I said you ain’t going to beat me again and I’ll be damned, he beat me in 5 moves. I don’t know how the heck he did it to this day.’ (Brandon Barfield, one of the military police who guarded Saddam, talking about Saddam and their relationship). Colloquial, chatty, casual dialogue – but it has such layers of meaning. The relative status of the two men; the fact that Saddam buddied up to him enough to play chess with him; the fact he was brilliant at chess; the hint of dark powers. And finally a metaphor for the whole US / Saddam relationship. That’s how to write dialogue!

It teaches us that politics is drama and that all drama is political.

The dramatic power of visual imagery (eg the bulldozer crushing satellite dishes, ep5)

The dramatic / emotional power of a late / withheld story reveal (ep 5 Mosul Eye). How you structure your story is so important.


The power of ‘story’ – as articulated (brilliantly) by John Yorke. Story is dynamic and active and unpredictable – John’s fascinating application of story to the Brexit vote and Trump election. ‘Make America Great Again’ is a more compelling story than ‘Together Stronger.’

To vote for Brexit was to vote for change, for shaking up the bad old ways, for progressive change, a step forward to something new and improved; to vote stay in was to maintain the old, stale, unsatisfactory status quo – voting stay in wasn’t as dynamic as voting leave. (Not my view – by JY’s articulation of how the leave vote was made to sound more attractive and compelling.)

The next newsletter will be in two weeks on Friday October 30th,

All the best




October 16th 2020


Posted by admin  /   September 30, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on ROCKS / RED / WRITING

Hi There,

Last week I went to a cinema for the first time since I can’t remember when (March / Feb?). If I’m honest, it felt odd and a bit unsettling rather than wonderful to be back in an actual cinema, but what was great was the film I saw – ROCKS, directed by Sarah Gavron, written by Claire Wilson and Theresa Ikoko, from a story by Theresa Ikoko.

This is without doubt one of the best British films of recent years and watching it gave me a great sense of joy and pride. Pride – because Theresa was one of the writers on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2016 and it’s wonderful to see her talent there for all to see on the big screen. Theresa wrote a brilliant script on the course, LINES, about three young boys caught up in an adult world of drugs and money. Like LINES, ROCKS burns with love and humanity. It’s a perfect antidote to the sadness and confusion of our current age and I urge you to see it.

Although Theresa is such a talent she would have undoubtedly got there anyway, it made me very happy to be a part of her journey as a writer. I’m delighted that everyone gets a chance to see this film and experience her sensibility, her take on the world.

ROCKS really is the most wonderful expression of her writing voice – a unique, emotionally universal story of family, love, hardship and struggle, beautifully told with warmth but also craft and guile.

The story is deceptively simple but does everything you need to do to tell a character-led story effectively. What is at stake is very simple but very clear – and of fundamental importance to the characters. It’s a broadly relatable story about a very specific and under-represented UK community. It’s a film imbued with love and affection, a film that should be compulsory viewing for all bigots and racists, to remind them that we all have a story to tell, that even the most inarticulate, under-represented stories are worthy of our time and charged with a quiet dignity and grace.

For me, seeing this film reminded me why we run the Channel 4 screenwriting course – to give new talent like Theresa the chance to get their voice heard in the industry, to make their mark in a fiercely competitive world. The characters in the film are characters we don’t often see portrayed positively as they are by ROCKS – in fact we don’t often see these sorts of characters in fiction at all. This is another thing that we pride ourselves on with 4screenwriting – trying to find writers who tell these sorts of stories that feel different – fresh, surprising and for that reason important.

The film reminded me of so many of the other success stories from the course in recent years – and, with entries closing later today (Friday Oct 2nd) it excites me for the weeks of reading ahead, knowing that we are undoubtedly going to be discovering and unearthing more gems like Theresa.

(I started writing a list of the names of the really exciting writers who have been on 4screenwriting in the last few years but it got too long.)

For the 12 graduates from the 2020 course, things are already starting to happen – but the industry climate is without doubt more difficult now than it has been in the last few years. And this year’s writers are at the moment missing the all-important opportunity to meet up face-to-face with potential employers. There are some advantages to zoom and online meetings – the ease with which they can be organised, how it levels the playing field for writers who don’t live in or near London – but we are all undoubtedly missing that face-to-face contact as well. But this year’s 12 writers are one of the most outstanding group of writers from all of the 10 years of the course so far and I know they will all have similar successes to Theresa Ikoko’s in the years to come if they approach their writing and the industry with the same positivity and creativity as Theresa.


I see this week that Nicola Shindler is leaving Red Productions to start a new company. As a TV drama producer, Nicola Shindler and the company she founded, Red, is unsurpassed – she has been a flag bearer for the absolute best of UK TV drama over the last 20 years or so, with the most amazing CV.  She is a reminder of how vital brilliant creative producers are in finding and supporting writing talent and in generating and creating outstanding drama and telling important stories. She is a lesson to all writers that finding outstanding producers to work with is key to your success. Her CV is extraordinary – working with Russell T Davies on shows from ‘Queer As Folk’ to ‘Years & Years’; with Sally Wainwright on shows from ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Scott & Bailey’ to ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Last Tango In Halifax’; with Daniel Brocklehurst on shows like ‘The Driver’ and ‘Exile’ and currently with writers like Simon Nye, Sarah Solemani and Amelia Bulmore,


You may have seen two weeks ago, I included a quote from Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens because it seemed to sum up so brilliantly the bigotry and stupidity  of our current government in their rapid race to the bottom – holding up values of insularity and ignorant self-importance in their justifications for Brexit etc, And then shortly afterwards, Boris Johnson said this in Parliament, ‘There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world: our country is a freedom-loving country. If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country. It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.’ Johnson is like the broadest Dickensian caricature of bigotry, stupidity and hatefulness.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 16th,

All the best




October 2nd 2020


Posted by admin  /   September 17, 2020  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses, Uncategorized  /   Comments Off on 4SCREENWRITING 2021 Q&A FOLLOW-UP

Hi There,

Last week I held a zoom Q&A to answer any questions about the 2021 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE. In this newsletter I will answer some of the questions I didn’t have time to get to, and answer some of the ones I did a bit more fully and coherently!

Entries for the course are now open until 5pm on Friday October 2nd.

Since entries opened, I have been sent quite a few questions, 90% of which are answered on the FAQs section of the webpage. So please make sure you have read this page thoroughly before sending me questions. If the information you’re looking for is on the web page, I won’t respond to your message – I have to prioritise my time and focus on reading the scripts. To be blunt, I have deleted quite a few emails over the last few days without responding – because the questions asked are either answered in the FAQs or show a lack of initiative.

Please can I also ask you to make sure you submit your script before the final day for submissions (Oct 5th). In the past few years, so many people have tried to submit on the last day that the website has slowed or crashed and then I get a lot of messages from writers fearing they’ve missed the deadline. Please try to avoid a stressful day by submitting your script ASAP. Avoid the last minute rush!

You used the term ‘subversive’ several times. Can you expand on what you mean by that? Thanks!

I mean, if you’re going to write in a conventional genre (eg crime, medical) it makes sense to go for a more C4 version of the genre, to ‘subvert’ the genre as a C4 police show like NO OFFENCE did.

I have a question about the type of writing that should be submitted: Should we take factors like budget, corona virus restrictions and ease of casting into account to show we understand the limitations of what can practically be produced, or is the sky the limit with creativity?

The latter – ‘the sky is the limit with creativity.’ We are primarily interested in your unique voice and point of view as a writer. At this stage, issues like budget and a script that is ready for production are less important.

With such a vast amount of entries, how does the reading process work? And – really hope it’s okay to ask this – what is the fee paid to writers who are successful?

I have a team of 7 script readers (although it may be 8 or 9, depending on the number of scripts we receive). Each reader is allocated 1/7 of the scripts and writes short reports for me on each script. They also grade each script. I read all of the scripts that are given the higher grades – and any others that look promising. We also have a weekly meeting to discuss the scripts read that week. This process goes on for 6 weeks.

Yes, the writers are paid a fee for coming onto the course but I’d prefer to keep the amount confidential.

How many applicants are long listed/short listed for interview? What are the interviewers looking for from the interviews vs the written applications? What criteria are applied when selecting course participants?

About 35-40 writers are short-listed for interview. In the interviews we discuss the ideas the writers are interested in writing if they get on the course; their interest in screenwriting in general and C4 drama in particular; their other writing work and life experience.

What proportion of course participants have got representation since the course?

Particularly in the recent years of the course, almost everyone who gets onto the course gains representation by a literary agent either during the course or soon afterwards.

Is a writer’s age a barrier to being a successful candidate?

Absolutely not. We try to have as broad a range of voices on the course every year – in terms of – gender, age, ethnicity, where the writers are from / live, sexuality / gender politics, theatre / screen background, disability, writing experience, etc.

Channel 4 has a remit to deliver ‘high quality, alternative content that challenges the status quo’ – is there interest at Ch 4 for dramas that tick all of those boxes and may include  older protagonists? Does CH4 ’s understanding of diversity include age of characters portrayed as well as gender, race, disability, LGBTQ?

As above, absolutely yes. One of the main reasons the course exists is to encourage and foster unique, diverse voices in every category.

Asking for a friend but if a person had applied for the scheme several times previously, would that count against them?

Absolutely not. One of the writers on this year’s course had applied every year since 2011 before he finally got onto the course in 2020. One of the most persuasive things is a writer who applies for 3 or 4 years in a row with different but equally impressive scripts. We take note of as many writers as possible every year – not just the 35-40 whom we shortlist for interview.

Should the writing sample ideally be the sort of thing that could appear on Channel 4? If so, realistically, how often are writers selected whose writing sample was for radio or stage? 

We are looking, ideally, for voices that have some connection to a Channel 4 sensibility – but this is very hard to define and we often take a chance on scripts that are brilliant but only very loosely connected to a C4 sensibility. Numerous writers have got onto the course with theatre scripts; and several with radio scripts.

What CAN’T you teach someone on the C4 screenwriting course?

Good question! Well, we select the 12 writers from a huge pool so we are very lucky to be so spoilt for choice. And every year we love the scripts by the writers we choose and we know that we’re working with 12 writers of real talent.

I suppose the one thing we can’t teach (although we very much encourage it and talk about it a lot on the course) is the initiative and self-starting motivation you need to make a successful career as a dramatic writer. You don’t just need to be able to write, you need to develop a knowledge and awareness of how the industry works, of where you fit into the industry, seek out potential employers, the right agent and make sure that you can do justice to your ideas and your identity as a writer in meetings and pitch documents. As I say, we talk about this a lot but I’m not sure that we can ‘teach’ this.

Are there any specific genres / styles Ch 4 is looking, or have a preference, for? (Or any genres that should definitely not be sent in?)

That’s for you to research – watch C4 drama, read up about what they’re looking for. BUT one of the joys of the course is that writers often write ‘what they think should be on C4, not what is actually on C4’ (to quote C4’s head of drama). We are looking for something fresh, original, distinctive, ground-breaking. But I wouldn’t say there are any genres that you shouldn’t send in. Just be sure that your script is doing something interesting and distinctive within that genre.

Do the scripts submitted need to have a UK setting?

No – but think carefully before submitting a script not set in or about the UK – how much UK / C4 TV drama is not set in the UK? (Indian Summers is a rare example – but this was a series that had a lot to say about the UK.)

Is the CV used as part of the application process to whittle down to the final writers or is the decision solely based on your view of script quality and voice?

Initially the script is the only thing we read. We look at the CV when thinking about the short-list for interview – we try to have as wide a range of experienced and as many inexperienced writers as possible on the interview short-list.

Would you be able to tell us a little more about who the readers are that will be sifting through submissions this year? A decade’s experience of submitting has led me to the hypothesis that understanding who the gate keepers are is integral to opening the gates!

Good question! We receive a lot of applications to be one of the course script readers. The selected script readers are usually aiming to become TV drama script editors and normally already have extensive experience as script readers / dramaturgs in TV and / or theatre. We select 3 or 4 of the team of script readers to go onto become trainee script editors on the course, shadowing more experienced script editors. These shadow script editor roles are of great interest as one of very few formal script editor training / entry schemes in the UK TV drama industry. So the calibre of the readers (arrived at through applications that include CVs and sample script reports, then sending the interviewees a test script to write a report on, then an interview) is very strong. Over the 10 years of the course, many script readers on the course have gone onto become successful and respected script editors, producers and executive producers in UK TV drama.

Will submitted scripts need our names/details on or are they being read anonymously?

They will need your names on.

Is the aim for submitted scripts to have them read in their entirety or will it only be the first 10-15 pages of each?

I advise my readers to read a minimum of 20 pages of each script. Each reader needs to get through 200+ scripts – so I encourage them not to finish scripts if by p.20 they are clearly not top-12 contenders. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or resources to give feedback to applicants. The readers’ brief is to find the 50 or so most exciting scripts. But I make sure that the readers have read enough of each script to be sure that they’re not missing something outstanding.

Do scripts need a logline/short synopsis upon submittal?




I run a script mentoring service through my script consultancy (nothing to do with the C4 screenwriting course) and we currently have capacity to take on one or two more writers.


Finally this week, a quote about the state of the nation –

‘It was uphill work for a foreigner, lame or sound, to make his way with the Bleeding Hearts. In the first place, they were vaguely persuaded that every foreigner had a knife about him; in the second, they held it to be a sound constitutional national axiom that he ought to go home to his own country. They never thought of enquiring how many of their own countrymen would be returned upon their hands from diverse parts of the world, if the principle were generally recognised; they considered it particularly and peculiarly British. In the third place, they had a notion that it was a sort of Divine visitation upon a foreigner that he was not an Englishman, and that all kinds of calamities happened to his country because it did things that England did not, and did not do things that England did.

They believed that foreigners were always badly off, and though they were as ill off themselves as they could desire to be, that did not diminish the force of the objection…they believed that foreigners were always immoral…that foreigners had no independent spirit…’

No, not a critique from this week’s New Statesman about the state of the conservative party – but Charles Dickens from LITTE DORRIT, published in 1857. Plus ca change…

The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 2nd

All the best




September 18th 2020

4SCREENWRITING Q&A Sept 10th 1-2

Posted by admin  /   September 03, 2020  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on 4SCREENWRITING Q&A Sept 10th 1-2

Hi There,

I hope you have all (like me) had the chance of a short summer break even if it wasn’t far from home (I haven’t left home at all!) with your batteries creatively recharged for September and the new academic year. Let’s hope the f***ing virus starts to recede and that we can all meet up again in person sometime soon.


I’ve been enjoying the positive response from Channel 4 Drama and the wider TV drama industry to the 12 excellent scripts that came off the 2020 Channel 4 Screenwriting course – and am now gearing up for the 2021course.

NB My website will be open for entries from Sept 14th to Oct 2nd. Everything you need to know about entry criteria and the course should be on the webpage. But I will be holding a one hour online Q&A on Microsoft teams this coming Thursday Sept 10th from 1-2. I haven’t quite finalised all the details yet – but will be posting the link on Twitter very soon – @PhilipShelley1 – so if this is of interest and you have questions you need to ask, you can ask me on Twitter in advance (or by email if you prefer) and then I will answer them in person on the day.


I’ve been thinking about this recently about what makes for a standout script and then what it takes to initiate and then sustain life as a working screenwriter.

I received a script through my script consultancy website recently by a first time writer – and from page one to page 40 (the end) I was pretty much blown way by it. It was charming, beautifully observed, funny, poignant, distinctive, utterly original and just one of the best things I’d read for some time.

I arranged to talk on the phone to the writer and offer to help, and to send it to some suitable potential employers. I discovered it was the first script this writer had ever attempted – which surprised me. But my enthusiasm for the script surprised him even more!

I know that people in the industry will read this script and enjoy it, will want to meet this writer, find out more and talk about working with him. So that was very exciting.

But it also made me think about where he goes from here. Writing one excellent script is fantastic – but capitalising on the script and then following up on it with more equally good scripts is another whole set of challenges.

We also had some very inexperienced writers on this year’s Channel 4 course – one exceptional writer who was still at uni while she was on the course, to whom the world of screenwriting is very new. Since the course ended a few short weeks ago, she has had offers for representation from a number of agents, which is obviously a great position to be in. But now the real work of making this count, starts.

It makes me think about writers at the other end of the scale in terms of experience – and how you need to constantly keep moving forward as a writer, challenging yourself and keeping in touch with the realities of the industry and the wider world around you.

You may have seen that the last Inspector Morse film – The Remorseful Day – was repeated on ITV recently, a show I script-edited. Watching it, I was reminded of some of the things I really liked about it, but also some of the things that I found creatively frustrating about it. Pretty much the whole creative production team from Colin Dexter down were white men of a certain age and a certain socio-political outlook. It’s a very monolithic drama that played successfully to the ITV audience of the time – but even by the end of the Morse era, the attitudes of the show seemed outdated and a little stale. In THE REMORSEFUL DAY, women are largely seen as sex objects and supporting characters, and most of the men they look up to are in their 50’s, 60’s – ie the same profile of much of the creative team on the show. The show really needed a shake-up.

So, even with the example of the success enjoyed by producers, writers, director of this show, it’s important that as creatives we don’t stand still, that we all keep moving forward, challenging ourselves, confronting and exploring the new political realities and attitudes of the day. The world changes rapidly and if, as writers, we don’t keep up, we become irrelevant. As a writer friend a while ago, in a maudlin bout of self-reflection said, the industry saw the likes of him as male, stale and pale.

It’s so important for writers at any stage of their careers that they don’t get culturally, politically, socially left behind; it’s tough as you get older but it’s important that whatever age you are, that you have a passion and excitement for what you’re saying and for the industry in which you’re working, and that you have something unique to say through your work.

This new writer who I referred to earlier has written something that is clearly deeply personal and meaningful to him – and this makes it universally relatable. But there’s something refreshing to me in the fact that he has no idea just how good his script is! Whether he will capatalise on the strength of this script remains to be seen, and whether he has more good scripts in him, whether he will be able to thrive within the collaborative and sometimes challenging environment that is TV comedy and drama. But all writers need to move forward, to be constantly pushing the boundaries of their work, looking outwards at what is happening in the outside world and how it sparks them as writers. The world doesn’t stand still and neither can you as writers.

Everyone can improve – you are never the finished article, you have to keep moving with the times. End of lecture.

The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 18th.

All the best



TWITTER: @PhilipShelley1

Sept 4th 2020


Posted by admin  /   August 05, 2020  /   Posted in screenwriting & script-editing courses  /   Comments Off on CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2021

Hi There,

TITLES blog – 2 excellent responses

‘Great to have a post about this because I’ve always agonised over titles! I went through a phase a few years ago of loving really simple show names like “Girls” and “Friends” but now I’ve gone the opposite way – I struggle to remember names due to how generic they all are and interchangeable. The amount of times I’ve heard people mixing up “back to life” and “afterlife” alone is unbelievable!

Show titles I think are strong/memorable :


Gentleman Jack

Desperate Housewives

Stath lets flats 


Breaking Bad 

The Assassination of Gianni Versace

A mixture of all the things you said makes a good title.

None of them can be mistaken for anything else!’

‘One of the (few) advantages of being a poet is that we do spend ages workshopping titles, which almost lead a different life to the poem itself. The title changes our entire approach to the poem as well as our understanding of its meaning.

Of the football club takeover titles, I really like ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Doing!’ because it does absolutely speak to the target audience. 

I agree ‘Normal People’ must be ironic in a gentle Irish ribbing kind of way.

Another I really liked in recent years was ‘A Very English Scandal’.’


Every couple of years or so, a seminal show comes along and IMDY is it. Absolutely stunning. The series was at times not easy viewing – disturbing, challenging, the characters’ actions sometimes alienating. But it felt so real, raw, so full of integrity and heart. The way it built over the series, some of the story twists and in particular the wonderful last episode which was a brilliant illustration of the intricacies of storytelling (if you haven’t watched it, I don’t wish to spoil it for you so will say no more).

One of the things that really struck a chord with me was the lack of an easy or clear resolution. It felt like the whole series was a struggle by Michaela Coel to find answers to some very difficult questions. But the fact that she didn’t find clear, easy answers didn’t spoil the show – on the contrary, it gave it added depth, complexity and value.

If any were needed it was the most emphatic statement of the value of diverse storytelling, of the importance of voices from all corners and cultures of the UK and beyond. This felt fresh, challenging and exciting in a way so little TV drama does; but it was also accessible. To this aging white middle class man, it felt absolutely inclusive and was speaking to me, giving me powerful, important and emotionally resonant messages.


This week we finally came to an end of this year’s course, with the 12 wonderful scripts going out to the industry (the annual drinks evening, usually scheduled for late June normally marks the end of the course but this year, sadly, this very enjoyable get-together couldn’t happen for obvious reasons). For the writers, it’s been tough focusing their creative energies in these strange and unsettling times – particularly to those two writers locked down at home with young children. So the fact that all the writers have managed to deliver their scripts, and to such a high standard is a real compliment to their professionalism and determination. I know this will pay off hugely in their dealings with producers, literary agents, etc.

Strangely, in some ways, I have enjoyed this year’s course more than any other year. The fact that we have all been physically separated since the first weekend back in the different era that was January has concentrated our minds on how to make the course work for everyone. And the fact that everyone in the industry has been stuck at home has meant that the course writers have been able to enjoy a number of zoom meetings / seminars with producers, literary agents and writers who have previously been on the course, that will prove invaluable – so a huge thanks to the likes of writers Anna Symon, Karen Cogan, Archie Maddocks, literary agents Nish Panchal, Sam Greenwood, Jessi Stewart, Jonathan Kinnersley and Frances Arnold, script editors / producers Hilary Norrish and Ben Hough (and others who I apologise for forgetting) for so generously giving their time and wisdom to this year’s writers and script editors.

The culture of social distancing has also focused the energies of us script editors on keeping the communication lines open with the writers we have been working with. Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams – or whatever other means we have been using – are clearly not the same as face to face meetings but they have worked – the work writers have done with the support of their script editors has been superb. And the current restrictions have been weirdly bonding. I feel very emotionally invested in all this year’s course writers but in particular the three with whom I’ve been working. I hope we will be able to look back with some perverse fondness in a year or two’s time at this weird time and the scripts and working relationships that came out of it.

For me, the whole process was topped off with an evening of ‘virtual’ drinks and a silly but very enjoyable quiz game with my three writers and shadow script editor on zoom. When we eventually are able to hold it, the annual drinks evening will have added meaning for all of us, I think.


I’d also like to thank Gemma Boswell, Caroline Hollick and everyone in the drama department and at Channel 4 who understand particularly at this time how important it is to support new talent trying to break into the industry, with their continued encouragement and support of the course.

All the dates for the 2021 course are now up on my website and the 4talent website –

Entries for the 2021 course will open on Sept 24th and close on Oct 2nd. There is an FAQ section that should provide an answer to any question you may have about entries and the course in general. Obviously what we don’t know at this point is how much of the course will be in person and how much online.

One thing we have decided to waive for the 2021 entrants is the stipulation that the script you enter has to be a different script to the one you have submitted previously. It’s probably still in your best interests to enter a new or different script if you have one; but with the year we’ve all had, it seemed overly harsh to demand that you entered a new script.


Thank you so much to all of you that have contributed to this newsletter over the last few months and for the nice feedback – it’s really appreciated and helps me find the mental energy to keep this going. I’m going to take a (very short) August break so there will be no newsletter now until Friday Sept 4th.

Stay safe,

All the best



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

August 7th 2020

RAY MCBRIDE on Story Structure

Posted by admin  /   July 22, 2020  /   Posted in Screenwriters and Industry Interviews  /   Comments Off on RAY MCBRIDE on Story Structure

Hi There,

This week, another guest article – this time from RAY MCBRIDE. Ray did an outstanding job as script editor on last year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course, has worked in the past on EASTENDERS and is now script editor on HOLBY CITY.

‘The other week I received a solicitous email from Pip asking if I may be vaguely interested in writing something vaguely related to screenwriting or something. And I immediately thought NO. F**k off. Then, in the absence of Shelley’s presence, I resorted to punching myself in the face, wrastling a little on the floor, then falling asleep…

Damnit, I thought this was one of those “working from home” diaries. Let me try again…


Hello. I script edit a 60-minute TV show and a couple of thoughts have been syrupping me noodle recently. Not new thoughts. Not monkey-exploding-from-a-rock thoughts. But ones that have been pressing on me lobes nonetheless:

  1. Good scripts can produce bad episodes. Bad scripts can produce good episodes. WTF?!
  2. In this day and age, a full hour of TV can be a motherf**ker.


Our screenwriting toolbox has nicked much from literary criticism, i.e. strategies that regard a text as a finished product rather than a stepping-stone to a finished product. Now, don’t get me wrong! I think those tools can be useful. I have nothing against them tools. But perhaps they’re only half the toolbox.

The problem is this: the application of literary theory to an event cannot recognise that which exceeds the knowledge of the text.

See, the spectator doesn’t read TV or film, a spectator experiences them.


Stakes – their development, characterisation and enunciation – will be the most effective ingredients in how well a show elicits, exercises and exorcises emotion across an episode. But, given the competition for our eyeballs, how do we ensure that viewers stick around long enough to let us set up stakes, to care about characters and be moved?


Allow me this detour…

Shot length is a unit of measurement in cinemetrics. In post-classical mainstream movie making average shot length has progressively decreased to barely a couple of seconds. Within such movies, filmmakers will often shorten shot lengths as they build toward a climax. Some suggest this trend mimics the natural fluctuations of human attention. Shot shortening is an expressive technique that evokes visual energy, fixes attention through intensified continuity, and elicits excitement by increasing event density that influences audience perceptions of time. At a cognitive level, short shot length = rapid pace = you risk missing new information if you look away for even a second! At a physiological level, if each shot conveys an event then this intensifies watchfulness.

Still awake? Well, in many ways this is intuitively obvious. But it made me think two things:

  1. We are our brains. We perceive first. Then use those perceptual inputs to inform how we feel (yes, it’s more complicated and iterative than that but for the purposes of this word count that’ll do). Writing a script is only half the job of making a show. How it is rendered into a percept will determine how it affects (or not) whichever perceiving brains are tuning in. So, if we begin – even only in small ways – to understand the brains that we want to experience our scripts then maybe we can begin to put a thumb on the scale and take back some control over the magic and loss we feel in the transition from script to broadcast episode.
  • Instead of the quickening to a climax of film (described above) I have observed that sometimes the opposite is true of TV scripts. As writers or script editors, we have no influence over shot-length, but we do have influence over scene-length. Anecdotally, I’ve found those shows with shorter scenes in the first half of an episode are more effective at hooking me in. Quickly setting out their store and developing their stakes in that first half-hour brings me to a point where I can relish a slowing down in the second half, taking time to explore character and play out consequences in longer (perhaps more writerly/performative) sequences. Pace is not simply a tick-box for structural variety, but the principal means to fasten attention (i.e. increase the chances that viewers won’t flip channel) and as attention increases, so will emotional absorption, which means the hour passes more quickly as your viewer feels themselves transported.

Thought for the Day

I cannot emphasise enough how little effort I have put into writing this piece (Ed: cut out the humblebrag, Ray). I genuinely hope that Shelbo sees through its sophistry and refrains from including it in his superb newsletters. These are just musings and provocations.

All I’m really saying is that awareness of both perceptual and textual considerations may allow writers to better merge attention with character, to arouse and elicit, and ultimately transport viewers into an experiential involvement with their narratives. Then you got them beautiful suckers.’

Thank you very much Ray! I’m suitably provoked.


The lovely folks at C21 have asked me to let you know about this opportunity, which has been won in previous years by two writers I know well (Philip Lawrence and Jan Smith). Although there is an entry fee, the prize is prestigious and significant and this is well worth entering. They are now open for entries and the entry period runs until September 30th.

The next newsletter – which will contain information about the 2021 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE – will be on Friday August 7th.

Until then,

All the best




July 24th 2020


Posted by admin  /   July 08, 2020  /   Posted in Thoughts on Screenwriting  /   Comments Off on SCREENPLAY TITLES

Hi There,

This week, some thoughts on TITLES.

As with so many aspects of screenwriting, opinions about titles are always subjective and I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of what I say but I hope it stimulates you to think about the title of your script and what makes for a memorable, attention-grabbing title.

Titles are so difficult but so important. FLEABAG is a good title, BACK TO LIFE is a bad title. FLEABAG feels specific, memorable, reflective of the show. BACK TO LIFE (which by the way is a show I love) feels unspecific and unmemorable.

Titles need to be specific, to be narratively, thematically apposite, interestingly odd and attention-grabbing, without being on the nose (SNAKES ON A PLANE). THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION & THE GREEN MILE are good titles. BETTER THINGS is a great show with a completely forgettable title. THE DAY TODAY was a great title – it told you everything about what sort of show this was and it makes me smile every time I think of it because it’s just slightly silly as a title.

I MAY DESTROY YOU is an excellent title – it perfectly captures the essence and tone of this wonderful show (in its hints of power / submission / violence / ambiguity).


Here is a list of random titles to be debated over (a combination of real titles and titles I’ve invented) all of which I think are pretty good – 



FUCKWIT (swearing in titles is a cheap and easy way to grab audience attention while at the same time demonstrating street smarts!)






THE DUMPING GROUND (it tells you so much of what the show is about)


HATE CRIME (interestingly ambiguous?)


FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – very specific and it evokes what the series is about.

IMO all of the above are good, interesting titles. I think these titles would pique my interest in these shows / books.

Then there are quite simple titles, almost challenging in their straightforwardness – NORMAL PEOPLE, for instance or MARRIAGE STORY. Perhaps I’m biased because I liked both of these shows – but with NORMAL PEOPLE there seems to be an interesting, ironic question implied by the title – are these in fact NORMAL PEOPLE? Similarly MARRIAGE STORY feels like a statement in itself – this is the story of one particular marriage, even if it’s possible to read from the title that this is a film about marriage in general (and ironically the film is actually about separation rather than marriage). But I like the clarity, simplicity and confidence of this as a title.

Title with names often work well because they feel distinctive and specific (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, THE RISE AND FALL OF JOHN STONEHOUSE, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST).


MISBEHAVIOUR – I watched a BAFTA discussion about the film, knowing nothing about it. It’s based around a Miss World contest from the 1970’s, about gender politics (a really interesting story area). But unless you know this, you won’t understand the pun (‘Miss Behaviour’) The title doesn’t do its job of telling you what the film is about. As a title, it feels unoriginal, generic and ultimately unhelpful in telling you what this is about.

COME AGAIN – Robert Webb novel.

There is a whole genre of generally rather excellent low-key, relationship-based, US indie films with terrible, unmemorable titles – WHAT IF, ENOUGH SAID, BEGIN AGAIN, OUTSIDE IN, OTHER PEOPLE. These are all good films but I can never recommend them to anyone (until now!) because I struggle to remember the titles – none of which tell you anything useful about what they are.  

THE WAY WAY BACK is another great film with a poor title (annoyingly easy to confuse with THE WAY BACK).

The GODMOTHER – its antecedents are too obvious – and the first thing you absolutely know about this book is that it isn’t going to be a patch on THE GODFATHER.

METROPOLIS – this is a 2019 book – could they really not think of something more original? Personally I would be entirely uninspired by a new project with this title that has been used so many times before.

TAKE IT BACK – another 2019 book, this title tells you nothing about the story and is instantly forgettable

THE CHAIN – ditto 

Recently I was developing a series with two writers about the community of people around a lower league football club. One was very keen on THE TRUST as a title (because the key element of the premise is that the football club is taken over by a supporter’s trust). I don’t like this title – to me it feels like the ultimate vague, generic, dull title. It tells you nothing of the tone or what this series is about. I think if I saw a show called The Trust, I’d assume it was about a dull aspect of finance. An alternative suggestion was THE TAKEOVER – which is better but still, I’d say, a little non-specific. Or ‘YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING’ which feels to me more interesting and engaging, more fun, although again possibly (to non-football followers) not clear enough in what it’s about. I think, THE FIRST TEAM, the new BBC football comedy written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, is another weak title.

SO – are there any conclusions to be drawn? Only that the best / most striking titles feel specific rather than generic, in the same way as the best screenwriting is specific rather than general. But also that a weak title is no indicator of weak content – plenty of brilliant shows have poor titles. But a memorable title can really help make your project stand out.

If I receive a script to read and the title engages me, I’m more likely to read it and more likely to start the read with enthusiasm.

The next newsletter on Friday July 24th will be another excellent (IMO!) guest blog by HOLBY CITY script editor Ray McBride.

Until then, look after yourselves,




July 10th 2020