CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2ND WEEKEND
We’ve completed the Channel 4 screenwriting course for another year (apart from the industry drinks evening coming up in a few weeks at which we introduce the year’s 12 writers to potential employers and agents from the industry) and I wanted to reflect a little on the weekend.
The course is now in its 13th year and we’ve tried to constantly tweak and improve it. There are always new ways to develop it and change with the times – the culture of new work is a very different one to that of 13 years ago (a subject for another blog) but it’s satisfying to be able to look back over the weekend and reflect on the experience.
The Saturday consists of readings by a group of 10 actors of 15 page sections of each of the 12 scripts written on the course.
The first weekend of the course is in late January and we ask them to deliver their ‘final’ drafts by the end of May – so in effect the 12 writers have 4 months to go from one sentence pitch to polished 2nd draft script – that is asking a LOT of them and it’s so impressive every year to see how the writers rise to the challenge.
The creative diversity and range of the scripts every year is mind-boggling. So many different, completely individual, unique stories and voices. Every year we are all blown away by just how many different ideas, characters, stories, styles come out of that reading day. It’s a chance for some really brilliant actors (the casting of 10 actors in 100+ different roles has been done for the last few years by the excellent Martina Laird) to flex their acting muscles.
After each reading there is an opportunity for the writers and script editors of each script to respond to the readings, to give a little more insight into where the story is headed, what they were trying to achieve, the inspirations for the stories they’re telling. And it’s always great to hear the actors – the first people to respond to the scripts outside of the bubble of writer, script editor and shadow script editor – giving their initial, instinctive response to what they’ve just performed.
The exchange of creative energy and generosity is energising and inspiring. Some examples of the stories this year – a queer revenge story; a girl band bio-pic series; a story about an Asian gambling addict and immigration in 1970’s Leicester; a comedy drama about a North London Jewish family’s patriarchal smoked salmon business; an apocalyptic climate crisis comedy about a modern-day ark; a comedy drama about an Oxbridge student dealing drugs to fund her father’s desperately-needed heart surgery…see what I mean about a mind-boggling range and variety of stories?
We are privileged to get a social and political barometer every year through the issues that these writers want to discuss and dramatize.
The Sunday is a little calmer and more reflective, as each group of 3 writers, and 2 script editors is joined by an industry guest who gives more in-depth feedback on each script. We also ask the writers within each small group to give each other feedback (peer to peer feedback and encouragement is such an integral part of sustaining a career in screenwriting) before finally a short meeting between each writer and script editor to discuss the plan going forward after the course and reflecting a little on the process of developing their script on the course.
So what have I learnt / observed this year form the experience?
The reading day reminded me forcibly how good these 12 writers are, each of their voices, their dialogue, their characters, their agendas came off the page so vividly and distinctively. It made me feel bullish and proud about the quality of the writers on this year’s course.
They are also a really kind, sociable group, who seemed to enjoy each other’s company – and importantly each other’s work. This is so important, it’s such a collaborative industry. I really appreciated the way they supported and up-lifted each other.
The process of the course is demanding. I know the writers come to this weekend with various degrees of nervousness at the prospect of their work being aired in front of 30 or so people for the first time and then analysed and discussed in smaller groups the following day. This is unquestionably tough. But I really liked the way these 12 writers came to this process – with positivity, humility, resilience and a sense of humour, supporting each other in their shared experience.
I look forward with excitement to see how they fare in the next few months and years, particularly as the following day I sent out the invitations for the industry drinks evening and in the next 24 hours had pretty much drowned under the weight of interest in both attending the evening and reading the 12 scripts from the TV drama industry.
This hugely enjoyable but intense weekend was book-ended for me by two theatre shows on the Friday and Monday evenings. On Friday I went to see THE MISANDRIST by 4screenwriting alumna Lisa Carroll at the Arcola Theatre. At 2 hours 20 and on the Friday before an early start for the C4 course the following morning I was a little trepidatious but within 2 minutes I knew I was going to love it. It was one of the rudest shows I’ve ever seen but also one of the funniest. Talking to Lisa afterwards, she said something along the lines of, that the one thing she wanted to make sure was that the play was entertaining (something too much theatre seems to forget??) and she absolutely succeeded. The story was quite straightforward, the characters fascinatingly flawed, complex and human. There is one 5 (?) minute speech in the 2nd half that blew me away – funny, impassioned, painfully true (‘I hate men because…’). I can see this speech being a staple of actor auditions for the next decade! I’m afraid the run ended last Saturday – but the play is available to buy from Nick Hern Books!
On Monday evening, another long one – 3 hours+ at the first preview of DEAR ENGLAND by James Graham at the Olivier, National Theatre. This too was a delight – funny, moving, smart and, like Lisa’s play, thoroughly entertaining. For me to sit through a three hour play without feeling at all uncomfortable or look at my watch is some compliment. It’s not perfect, it is too long and dipped a little in the 2nd half (for me) but I love the connections and contrasts the brilliant James Graham makes between football, the Gareth Southgate philosophy and what was going on in the country at the same time – Brexit, Johnson’s vile, incompetent sleaze, the pandemic – how the issue of penalty shootouts and the national psyche is connected and dramatized, how he talks about Southgate and the England team’s journey as a story of three acts – I loved all of this. And the whole show is above all, fun, funny, accessible and joyous.
The next newsletter will be go out on Friday June 30th,
Friday June 16th 2023