Hi There,

This week, the final reader feedback from the 2024 Channel 4 screenwriting course – this by Ray McBride –


by Raybot-2000

Oh! One reads 100s of scripts as a 4Screenwriting reader. And many of them – the vast majority – are good, solid, competent pieces of writing. Yet most of them also left me unmoved. The first time I read for Mr Shelley was 5-years ago and I often found myself thinking – “have these scumbags never watched television?!” This time, however, I found myself thinking that too many people are writing something that feels like the things they’ve already seen on TV. Maybe they’ve assimilated a screenwriting book, downloaded a masterclass, liked and subscribed to the “You Won’t Believe The 27 Best Weird Tricks You Need To Know About TV Writing – LIVE”. In short, they’ve divined a formula, a standardised and replicable template. But oh one yearns to read something that doesn’t feel like the aggregate of everything else. Something that couldn’t be written by A.I.

A.I. generated content emulates from a pre-existing dataset. As such, its output is necessarily conventional. Indeed, currently, most A.I. writing is little more than a highfalutin autocomplete, predictive and predictable, lacking emotional originality or affective innovation. Whereas, perhaps, the best writings by Sapiens mix the familiar pleasures of conformity with the blissful dopaminergic novelty of rule breaking. Chaos and order. Human idiosyncrasy yields a voice rather than an algorithm.

Narratives are emotion machines. They consist of a story and its plotting. The story is about the emotional journey your characters go on. The plot is the emotional journey you take your viewers on in the telling of that story. These two journeys are connected but are not the same. Too much TV writing satisfies itself with parsing out a story while paying little heed to telling a story. When one tells a story, one does so in the hope of eliciting an emotional response from listeners. Oh, one wants to surprise them, to move them, to shake out a laugh or gasp. And to do so, one must structure scripts (their tensions & releases, their misdirects & rug-pulls) in accordance with what you imagine your viewer is thinking, feeling and anticipating at any given moment in the story. And be sure to be generous enough to assume that they are as smart and teleliterate as you (even if they are not so pretentious as to use words like “dopaminergic” or call their readers “scumbags”). All of this is termed Theory of Mind. It is an affordance of being human and is (so far) beyond the reach of Skynet.

Every scene is a stepping stone in plot development, yet every scene should be driven by character. But – oh! –  to say something stirring about what it means to be human one has to live outside of tropes and clichés. Oh, but living is not enough – one has to reflect on oneself and what you have lived. Oh, but reflection is not enough – one has to extract something resonant about you as a living embodied being. Oh, but extracting meaning from your own self is not enough – one has to extrapolate from that to understand your friends and strangers too. Because everyone you write is also you. You in otherness. In this way, one learns to write humans, not characters. Characters are oh so predictable, whereas chaotic humans less so. Oh, one’s intimate and specific humanity cannot be captured by A.I. Oh! One can free oneself from formula… oh-one-oh-one-oh-oh-one-one 01001111 01010011….……….. \end{section}

A huge thank you to Ray for his mad genius. And to all of the brilliant readers who have contributed feedback on the reading experience for my newsletter in the last few weeks.




My May SCRIPT READING & DEVELOPMENT Q&A is sold out. But I am now taking bookings for the next one on Thursday June 13th. The sessions are for a max 8 people and I try to answer all your questions about script reading, script development, script editing etc. They are for anyone interested in working in TV and film script development, whether you’re already working in the industry or looking to break in. It’s been a lot of fun to enter into these conversations about how our business works and what we can all do to maximise career potential.

This is also a great chance to meet other people with similar aims and interests and be part of a closed Facebook group, only open to people who have been on one of these sessions, to continue the conversations.

The sessions take place on zoom, 6-8.30pm.



I’m also running this one day online course for Arvon, covering all aspects of screenwriting – how to identify the stories you want to tell and how to find the best, most exciting ways to tell your stories.



Finally, to close, three recommendations.

PODCAST – I stumbled across the THE BELGRANO DIARY podcast (from the London Review Of Books), about the sinking of the Argentine ship in the 1980’s Falklands War, written and narrated by Andrew O’Hagan, based on the diary written by one of the sailors on the submarine that sunk the Belgrano (leading to the loss of 323 Argentine lives) and the political controversy that followed.

Even if you’re too young to remember anything about the Falklands War, this is such a powerful, moving account of the absurdity of this conflict in particular, the horror and pointlessness of war in general – and of the lies and deep damage politicians can do. Powerful stuff.

TV – I’ve just binged my way through the entirety of BABY REINDEER on Netflix. I think it’s really excellent. In a storytelling category of its own, it’s dark, at times uncomfortable – but really compelling and brilliantly made. Aside from the more obvious considerations of story and character, I think it’s an object lesson in brilliant use of voiceover – and on-screen text messages.

DOCUMENTARY – I’ve really enjoyed the 2 part documentary on Apple+ TV – STEVE! – about Steve Martin. The two parts are very different from each other – but it’s a fascinating insight into his creativity, personality and longevity.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 3rd

Until then

Best wishes



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

Friday April 19th 2024