CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2020
We have now short-listed and informed the 37 writers for interview and I will be emailing everyone else who applied in the next day or two.
THE BRIT LIST 2019
The 24 scripts on this year’s TV BRIT LIST were announced last week. This is the list of the best unproduced scripts, as voted for by TV production companies. I was delighted that 6 of the 24 scripts were written by alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting course and that another script that I helped to develop through my script consultancy also made it onto the list. I was particularly pleased that the script that got BY FAR the most votes – the wonderful FLED by Karen Cogan – was actually written on the 2019 C4 screenwriting course (script-edited by the excellent Rebecca Holdsworth and Lily Shahmoon).
If you’re interested in seeing what sort of stories stand out for drama indies, it’s very instructive to read the pitches / loglines / summaries for the 24 successful scripts –
…although obviously it’s even more about the realization of these one-line pitches into scripts.
POSITIVE COMMON ELEMENTS IN 4SW SHORTLIST
Two weeks ago, I wrote about some of the things I thought were missing from the scripts submitted for 4screenwriting. This week, some thoughts about the positive qualities that stood out in scripts, often taken directly from the notes I made as I was reading the scripts.
Effective story-telling is a hard element to define – but it is one of the key reasons that some of the scripts stand out – sophisticated, multi-layered, fast-moving, surprising narratives within a story world that feels authentic and distinctive.
Many of these stories use structure playfully and imaginatively, often not telling their story in a linear way but cutting between different timeframes, withholding key story information in ways that maximize the dramatic tension and intrigue in a story.
Many of the best scripts stand out because they feel like they are stories that are unique to that writer – think about telling stories that only you can tell.
The best scripts are clearly about something – and often something that taps into the current social / political climate.
Authenticity and truth in story world, characterisation and emotional connections between characters (this is one of the many things I respond to in Noah Baumbach’s THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES and MARRIAGE STORY – the scripts for both films are masterclasses in screenwriting IMO).
Directly taken from my or the readers’ notes about the scripts we responded to positively –
Feels fresh, original, distinctive. Stylistically inventive and playful – lots of fantasy, pastiche, stylised moments. I warmed to the characters and central relationship.
A story that I can easily pitch, a compelling, emotive, character-driven story that is also about a big, controversial historical conflict and its ripples into the present day. Non-linear structure, cutting artfully between past and present.
A little baffling and cryptic – but at the same time there is such assurance and clarity to the writing that it is strangely compelling. Strong visual story-telling, some powerful moments and images.
Characters immediately come off the page vividly – good dysfunctional, recognisable family set-up. Very good comic dialogue…flair and individuality to the writing.
Great dialogue, interesting, flawed characters and it feels strongly contemporary – finger on the pulse in terms of young metropolitan characters. Inventive, comic subtitles– it’s really about something, feels like it taps into the zeitgeist.
Very well-written and the two characters believable, textured, distinct. Shocking story told with restraint.
It builds in intensity and there is an intelligence to the writing of the characters, dialogue and story. It’s increasingly intriguing and I like its ambition, and that it seems to be about something.
He writes excellent dialogue. The characters and relationship come off the page strongly – this is powerful, subtle, moving. The way it’s written, it’s easy to picture the staging, very good use of music.
Real spirit and distinctiveness to the characters, the story world. Fun, comic family dynamics. Well-observed.
Good clarity to the writing – and it’s clearly about something. Emotive and interesting. It’s very issue-centric – but it’s instructive and an issue that needs airing. There are some really powerful scenes. The story-telling is straightforward. But there’s such power and conviction to it that it doesn’t need stylistic flourishes. One of the scripts that has really had an emotional impact.
It’s raw but feels real and there are some very funny moments. Definitely a distinctive voice. I really connected with the central character.
I liked the premise. It’s bonkers but there’s something excellent about it too. Tasteless, unexpected, some very funny lines. And very much about something – sharp satire
Dark, atmospheric, powerful, convincing. Very good read. Standout.
Nice character dynamics, good dialogue. It has charm
Good comic dialogue – feels authentic and accessible, well-observed even if story is very low stakes (but it’s a comedy and I warm to the characters, smile at the dialogue).
Really excellent, takes you into authentic, unfamiliar story world. Characterisations subtle and engaging. Some really stand out moments and such a strong, individual agenda.
One of the few genuinely funny scripts. A little slight but successful on its own terms and very enjoyable, also visually inventive, lots of smart story telling ideas
Great subject matter, excellent structure / story-telling and good characterisations. At times feels a little rushed – but this is powerful; and above all great story material – important, specific but universal; about the aftermath of a huge conflict and a microcosm of its fallout.
Here are some very perceptive and insightful responses to the scripts they read from two of this year’s 4screenwriting script readers, Danny Moran and Holly Boyden –
Top tips for guaranteed writing success*
Check your spelling
This is an obvious one but make sure your script doesn’t have any spelling mistakes. This is the writing equivalent of showering before going on a first date. If I read a script with spelling mistakes it instantly makes me lose confidence in the writer. Check it, check it again and get everyone you know to check it.
Make sure it looks right
There are lots of useful websites such as BBC Writersroom that have PDFs of professional scripts, read as many of them as you can. Make sure your script is properly formatted but also study how the seasoned pros lay out their scenes. The vast majority of scripts I read this year used far too much description. If your scene is set in a character’s bedroom you don’t need paragraphs and paragraphs telling the audience the colour of the carpet and the pattern of the wallpaper, just say “Int. Bedroom – Day” and get to the action.
The story should start before your script does
Too many scripts start like this: the main character wakes up, they shower, they make breakfast, they check their phone, they’ve got a message from their mate asking if they fancy a drink later, they send a text back – this is boring, do not do this. Make sure your script is never the unnecessary backstory to the actual story. The audience is smart, throw them into the story and let them catch up.
Action is character – Make sure your protagonist has agency
One of the most common mistakes you see are scripts with passive protagonists who are at the mercy of factors beyond their control. This is very understandable because in well-written stories, particularly comedies, it does feel this way but look closer and the main characters are always driving the plot. Even in a film like I, Daniel Blake which is all about how peoples’ lives are dictated by a flawed system they have no control over, the main character (I forget his name) is never passive, he’s constantly fighting the system – his actions dictate the plot. Audiences engage with active characters, they can only sympathise with passive ones.
Know your tone
Tone is a nebulous thing which is hard to pin down but very evident when it is wrong. This isn’t just a matter of genre. Peep Show and The It Crowd are both comedies, if Moss broke both his legs in an episode you wouldn’t question it if he was completely recovered by the next one. However, if Mark Corrigan broke both his legs it wouldn’t make sense if he wasn’t in physiotherapy for the rest of the series. Tone is about establishing the rules of the world in which the story is set and making sure those rules are consistent throughout your script. A lot of scripts that are solid in theory don’t work because the writer hasn’t successfully set up the tone of the story and as such the audience doesn’t know how they should be processing it.
Write what you know…but also don’t
Draw from your own experiences but don’t be afraid to use your creative license. Mad Men is probably one of the most personal and emotionally honest shows ever made and none of the writing staff were ad men in the 1960s. My point is that, whatever ideas your script is exploring, choose the most interesting world to explore them in. Don’t automatically opt for the one you’re most familiar with.
Be original – write something only you can write
I had at least 50 scripts which were about people in their twenties/early thirties all feeling directionless (hey join the club!). There is nothing wrong with this concept but you have to have a really fresh angle on it to stand out. It’s hard to make an impression with a script which is just an inferior version of a show that already exists. Write the new Fleabag but don’t literally write new Fleabag.
*Success not guaranteed
There is no such thing as totally original but there is originality and that’s what we’re looking for. Take the medium seriously, think about the form and how it sits with the content. Find the human angle. Get under the fingernails of your characters, go back and question everything and don’t try and build big for the sake of it. You got this.
Over the weekend of Nov 16-17 I held a 2 day screenwriting course. One of my guest speakers was screenwriter / playwright / stand-up comedian Archie Maddocks (one of the 4screenwriting alumni on this year’s Brit List!). One of the things Archie said that I thought was really interesting and which struck a chord with me was how sometimes a good script is less about the quality of the writing than the story and the way it’s told / structured. Often, it’s a good idea to worry less about the writing, more about the story and how you’re telling it.
It looks like myself and my fellow script mentors now have the capacity to take on one or two more writers as mentees. All the details about how to apply can be found on my website –
The other two mentors are writer KITTY PERCY and script editor JAMIE HEWITT – I am very proud to be working with them; you can find their biogs on the web page.
The next newsletter will be on Friday December 13th (which I fear may be a very black Friday – USE YOUR VOTE!).
All the best
November 29th 2019