Hi There,

In this newsletter – feedback from two more of the script readers from the 2024 Channel 4 screenwriting course. A massive thank you to RACHA and TOM, who both did a brilliant job as readers and to whom I’m hugely appreciative for taking the time and trouble to commit their constructive and insightful thoughts to paper –

‘It’s hard to think of a sequence of words that can be strung together to say anything about screenwriting that hasn’t been said before a million times by much more qualified people. Let alone words that will quell the sinking feeling of yet another rejection email that sits in your inbox as you wonder why you bothered to have hope in the first place. But I’ll try.

I’m a writer who took on this reading role in the hopes it might make me become a better one. That perhaps I’ll understand what exactly the power-holding gatekeepers are searching for, by sitting on their gilded throne for 8 weeks. Nearly 300 scripts and dozens of microwaved eye masks later, I’ve learnt it’s less a gilded throne, and more like the chokey in Matilda.

The delusional belief that being aware of the arduous, soul-bearing writing process would make me a more compassionate, empathetic and attentive reader was quickly shot down by a laughable reality. Often that looked like coming home after a bleak winter day where the sun set at 4pm, weighed down by the knowledge I was 20 odd scripts behind schedule, and that the world was burning, as I settled into a 60 page script… about the world burning. What have I signed up for?!

Except that script about the world burning wasn’t just about the world burning. It captured love, loss and hope in way that honestly, made me cry a little. The perspective and emotions the writer had divulged was something that I would likely never have gotten out of them in a hundred conversations if I had met them, let alone the very first time. This was what I had signed up for. But that script that had left such an impact on me, didn’t even make it onto the shortlist – the standard was just that high.

Philip told me I’d read stories that captured the state of society. He was right.

Millennials are still going through it and futile attempts to stifle their tragedies with layers and layers of dry comedy have only ended up helping me understand the metaphor that is the pea in the Princess and the Pea. But they made me laugh – a lot.

NHS workers are screaming to tell of the hardships they endure. I’ll try not to get ill, you’ve got enough on your plate.

We’re all very aware of the inevitable destruction that social media brings to our lives and souls, but somehow can’t let go. Help.

The working class, the immigrants and refugees aren’t just extras and NPCs in our lives. They’re the protagonists of their own stories and can make even the banalities of everyday life feel fresh and engaging.

By the end of the process I realised there’s no one piece of advice that fits all. There were scripts that were structurally sound, formatted perfectly, that saved all the cats, but lacked a raw vulnerability. There were scripts written with such emotional truth that I felt like I had been unceremoniously dumped on and needed a walk to process after reading. There were scripts capturing identities we so rarely see on screen that were shouting so loudly to be seen, they forgot to tell me a story. There were stories so intricately detailed and meticulously plotted they forgot to tell me who they were. There were some with banterous, witty dialogue but no story hook, and others with bold cliffhangers but characters I forgot as soon as I closed the document.

So I guess my advice is focus on what’s missing – you don’t get feedback in this process, but honestly, your gut instinct knows what that is – it’s the thing that doesn’t come naturally to you.

People often lament on the difficulty of a first draft or the daunting blank page. But what’s harder than that, is going back to amend a script you thought was finished – especially after an email that made you feel like you might as well sack it all off anyway. A script is never complete and if you can do that, you’re already a step ahead of everyone who’s given up.’



‘It’s my third time reading for the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course. A few people have asked me playfully, or possibly concernedly, why I keep doing it to myself. “It’s a lot of scripts, isn’t it?”

Well, it’s partly because Philip keeps asking me and before my brain has even had a chance to think my mouth seems to have said the word “yes.” The real reason behind that instinctive answer is how much I’ve loved reading exciting original scripts – every year. New writers are only trying to get attention, so they can write anything. And that freedom is exhilarating.

This is also my third time giving this type of feedback, so – out of fear of repeating myself – I’ve just a few observations that came to mind during the process.


I watched Justine Triet’s ANATOMY OF A FALL while reading for the course (I won’t delve into major spoilers, but feel free to skip to the next section if you don’t want to be exposed to the film’s details.) It’s a masterful example of how you can take a run-of-the-mill dramatic question – did this woman murder her husband? – and develop the story into something much more meaty and interesting. I’m so glad it’s been recognised by BAFTA and the Oscars.

The film shows one scene as a flashback. Just one. In a courtroom drama, this immediately signals that this section is very important. As a collective audience, we’ve become accustomed to flashbacks being used to explain, reveal or even solve the plot. Triet subverts this expectation, instead plunging us straight into the eye of the storm of this marriage – before pushing the eject button just before we get any answers to our questions of culpability. It gets straight to the heart of the film’s thesis: we judge people everyday, but we’ll never truly know what happens in others’ relationships.

The other key element to this scene, which most flashbacks fail to establish, is its strong connection to the present day drama. It’s not only an incredibly compelling piece of conflict in its own right, but the couple’s row directly and potently relates to court proceedings as the audio is played. It brings tension, but also dramatic impact on the now.


In writing these thoughts, I’m trying to provide insight into the reader’s mindset or experience. Actually, I would say, the best way to attain this as a writer is to read scripts.

One common mistake that fledgling writers make, though, is to read scripts of the films and TV shows they love. Don’t get me wrong, checking out the PDFs of HAPPY VALLEY or THERE WILL BE BLOOD can be fun. Unfortunately, these brilliant scripts can give bad advice. PT Anderson and Sally Wainwright are allowed to be idiosyncratic because they’re successful. Staying in this safe space of your favourite stories can also act as a crutch, stifling learning and originality.

More importantly, reading scripts that you haven’t watched or haven’t been made puts the writer in the shoes of the reader. You’re forced to construct this world that’s being described, rather than comparing it with the version already committed to memory. It’s how the words help you imagine that is important and will help you learn to do the same. (Without this feeling like a plug, Philip’s website has many brilliant scripts that are current, well written and unmade.)


In my mind, the hardest thing to achieve in a script is emotional resonance – or heart. It’s something you can’t necessarily teach, but you can encourage it.

I read this review a while back, one of the last penned by the great Roger Ebert, concerning the film THE SPECTACULAR NOW, which succinctly described this writer-audience connection:

“What an affecting film this is. It respects its characters and doesn’t use them for its own shabby purposes. How deeply we care about them.”


It’s a brave thing to do, to put your ideas out there for a stranger to read – so thank you to all the writers who submitted this year. Keep going.



A huge thank you to Racha and Tom for all the hard work and care they put into the reading; and for their generosity in sharing their insights.




Some schemes / initiatives for writers that may be of interest –

The Writers Guild Of Ireland Mentorship for Black Irish Screenwriters (thank you to Greenlight Screenwriting Lab alumnus Lee-Loi Chieng for letting us know about this)



The PAPAtango new writing prize – one of the best and most well-reputed initiative for new theatre writing – is open for entries until March 11th. This anonymously assessed playwriting opportunity is open to all. It guarantees feedback, and awards its winner £7500 with a full production & royalties in association with London’s Park Theatre, plus publication with Nick Hern Books.



Applications are now open for The New Writers’ Collective. 10 writers (Unagented no TV Credits) will get an intensive residential workshop in June, passes to the Edinburgh TV Festival (Aug) and development meetings with All3Media Companies. (Expenses paid)



A reminder that the GREENLIGHT SCREENWRITING LAB for new Irish screenwriters is open for applications until March 1st



Finally this fortnight I’m so pleased to see the announcement for new green-lit BBC / Warp Films series, REUNION, written by C4 screenwriting course 2022 alumnus, William Mager. An earlier draft of this was the script that got Billy onto 4screenwriitng 2022 and I can’t wait to see what I know will be a brilliant and ground-breaking show. Congratulations Billy!



The next newsletter will be on Friday March 8th,

Happy writing!




Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

Friday February 23rd 2024