This week I’m delighted to share with you a couple of tasters for our forthcoming weekend screenwriting courses from our special guests – CHRIS CHIBNALLand LUCY GANNON
I posed them both a few questions and here (below) are their fascinating responses.
BROADCHURCH was a huge hit for Chris but he built up a formidable CV of highly impressive work leading up to this. I met Chris when he was on the Carlton new writers course at the start of his career. Chris was a revelation on that course – he wrote a wonderful time-travel series pilot script called KEEPING TIME, then went on to write a fantastic monologue for Carlton \ ITV about a tube driver on his last day before retirement which produced the immortal first line of a review (‘I never thought I’d use the words ‘Carlton’, ‘Drama’ and ‘excellent’ in the same sentence’ – I was chuffed but the head of drama wasn’t so happy…) and Chris hasn’t looked back since, working on many wonderful shows. But for me (and most of the rest of the world it seems!) Chris’s work really reached a peak (so far!) with the brilliant BROADCHURCH, and this is what we’ll principally be asking him to talk about on our Two Phils course – how his career led up to this show, the creation, development, writing and making of BROADCHURCH, and what you as writers can learn from Chris’s experiences on this show and from his experience as a writer generally.
Over to CHRIS:-
‘5 WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU
UK: Barrie, Keeffe, Willy Russell, Alan Bleasdale, Jimmy McGovern, Russell T Davies, Andrew Davies, Alan Plater, Frank Cottrell-Boyce (I could go on a long time)
US: Jason Katims, Vince Gilligan, Steven Bochco, Alan Ball
5 FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU
2001, Harold and Maude, Up In The Air, Sideways, Dreams (Kurosawa) — the list would be endless
5 TV DRAMAS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU
A Very Peculiar Practice, The Beiderbecke Tapes, early EastEnders, early Brookside, A Very British Coup, Cracker, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights
5 QUALITIES YOU NEED TO SUCEED AS A SCREENWRITER
Strong opinions, and a collaborative nature. Determination. Persistence. Sense of humour. Love for the form. An interest in humanity.
2 CAREER TIPS FOR BUDDING SCREENWRITERS
Watch everything and study the craft intricately, till you understand it.
Then write what you’re passionate about.’
Thank you Chris!
We are still booking for our Sept 27-28 weekend course on which CHRIS is our special guest.
Lucy is coming to speak on www.thetwophils.co.uk London screenwriting course on the weekend of Nov 16-17 and (as with Chris) we’re really excited to have her as our guest speaker.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Lucy is one of the most successful dramatists in UK TV history – and far from being a part of ‘history’(!) she is still hard at it, in huge demand and at the heart of the industry – her most recent screened work being the excellent BBC1 series ‘Frankie.’
With a background in theatre, Lucy broke into TV with a string of hit series – shows such as Peak Practice, Soldier Soldier and Bramwell. And she has continued to write many hit shows over a sustained period – series, serials and single films – as well as working on a number of series and ‘continuing series’, work which gives her an even deeper insight into how the TV drama industry works, and how you can find your place in it.
I was lucky enough to script edit two of her shows at Carlton and she was a pleasure to work with – she’s feisty, challenging but also friendly, funny and hugely hospitable. Above all, like all the best TV dramatists, she has an absolute passion for her work and for the craft. Her insights can be of enormous value to new writers and experienced writers alike.
Our course gives you a chance to hear Lucy’s views about everything to do with screenwriting – but also (in a friendly, small-scale session) you get the chance to put to Lucy the questions you want to ask her. As always with these sessions Lucy has assured us that she will be frank and fearless in giving you her views!
So, without further ado, over to Lucy –
‘FIVE WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED ME:
John Mortimer. A writer with warmth and humour and a sense of mischief, alongside
wonderful language and dialogue, and a real dramatist’s instincts. His stage play ‘A Voyage Around My Father’ is my favourite play of all time.
Gene Roddenberry. A much undervalued hero of 1960’s TV. He started Star Trek, fought for it, had huge ambitions for it, and left a wonderful legacy in not just his original series but in all the spin offs and films that followed. Not a great writer maybe, but a truly great writer/producer. He had vision, drive, energy, humour and he made great teams. If I had one person to emulate, it would be him. My great regret is that I never met him.
Charles Dickens. Character, character, character. Not always great stories and sometimes he reveals that he’s losing the story as he battles to produce the next episode for the next periodical, but we’ve all been there. I feel for him. He was the first serial/series writer.
Ruth Rendell. Who has what I don’t – an unwavering gift for structure and story.
Michael Frayn. Funny man, witty, energetic drama. Clever. Original.
FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED ME
I’m not into films so can come up with only three:
Lawrence Of Arabia. I saw this as a teenager and remember coming out of the cinema in a bubble, not wanting anyone to talk to me, to burst that bubble.
Zulu. I believe in heroes. Recent drama has established the anti-hero who is so unpleasant, so damaged, that his or her story is one of despair and pointlessness. I like my heroes human and flawed but ultimately… well, heroic and inspiring.
The Hairdresser’s Wife. For some years I struggled to understand what made a script a film script rather than a TV script. This taught me. It’s beautiful, measured, ambiguous, and the dialogue is beyond minimal.
FIVE TV DRAMAS THAT HAVE INSPIRED ME
I came to this series late, having sniffily said that I didn’t want to watch anything that
glorified the mafia. Of course I couldn’t have been more wrong – it was a great rollicking exploration of sociopathic and psychopathic behaviour, and illuminated the emptiness and shabbiness of criminality. But it did it in a mesmerising, exciting, surprising way.
Gene Roddenberry wrote weird, wild scripts and got them made. On a tiny budget and with little support from the studio, he blagged his way into making three series of one of the most successful formats ever. His vision and energy reached out beyond the cardboard sets, the ludicrous make up and prosthetics, the cheap costumes, the dreadful effects to retell the stories of The Wizard of OZ, Moby Dick, the tales of the gods on Olympus… he explored the bad side of man living alongside and dependent on the good side of man (and came up with such immortal lines as ‘Can half a man live?’) he examined the role of a commander – how much was heroism and how much bluster, how much selfless bravery and how much hubris – and every script somehow managed to do it all with great good humour. Yes, the women were sex objects, Uhuru’s costume had her arse cheeks hanging out for starters, and they couldn’t introduce a female love interest for any of the crew without ladling vaseline on the lens and piling her hair up to the ceiling… and half undressing her…. and every woman was hopelessly in love with someone (usually Kirk or Spock) but it was, of course, the sexy 60’s. I make allowances. And I love the late Gene Roddenberry.
This is another series that shouldn’t work, a series that would NEVER be commissioned by a UK broadcaster. It’s about a ritualistic serial killer, and how he views himself and the world. It’s cleverly written, well produced, but so are many US series. This one is outstanding because of its clear concept, its rigorous and unwavering discipline in telling one story and one story only. His. I love it. The first four series were the best and it dipped a bit for series 5 to 7 but was still head and shoulders above any returning UK series. Series 8 is going out now.
A great German drama, I think originally a mini series, but then released as a 6 part series. Nearly all the action takes place on a German submarine, only a handful of scenes on shore. It’s heartbreaking, suspenseful, realistic, brave.
My own series Bramwell.
This is cheating because it’s in the list not for the finished drama but simply because
Bramwell made me want to write more and better, it was real inspiration and writing it
taught me so much: You can achieve a lot on a small budget, even on a period show. Write to make the budget work. Talk to the director about every scene and make sure the HOD’s are kept in the picture – so that if you’re only going to use a corner of a room for a scene, only dress that corner.
For the first series we decided to show only Eleanor Bramwell’s POV, but by the end of the shoot it was onerous both for us and for the actor. Poor Jemma was in every damn scene, 6×12 hour days a week, wearing a corset the whole time. Second series, we abandoned that idea. Write 15 drafts of an episode if it’s necessary.
Learn to love your producer. He or she is your best friend.
QUALITIES YOU NEED AS A WRITER.
You have to be a weighted doll, your feet stuck in a gimble, so that when you get knocked down, you spring back up again.
THE BIT BETWEEN THE TEETH.
Write, write, write. Even if it’s shite, shite , shite. Exercise your writing muscles. At some point you have to stop taking courses and listening to other writers and just get on with it.
EARS TO HEAR
Humility enough to listen, to realise that you don’t know your work as well as your
readers/script editors do.
HUBRIS and HUTZPAH
Arrogance enough to know when to stop listening and stick by your guns. This shouldn’t happen a lot – if it does, you’re doing something wrong, because each time it happens it means you’re not getting your message across.
Being a writer is more permanent than a marriage and requires more loyalty and
Being a writer is a bit like being a depressive. You may be going through a very hard time, and believe that it will never end, but somehow you have to know that it will, and hang on in there.
Don’t be mean to other writers. We’re all in the soup together. If Fred is good it won’t hurt you, he’ll create an appetite for good drama and we will all benefit in the end. The broadcasters who benefit from Fred’s success will trust drama a little bit more and may even entrust you with some.
1) Don’t be precious about what you are trying to say. If your reader, Script Editor or
Producer, doesn’t understand it, or agree with the way you’re doing it, do not assume they are wrong. They may be right. They may be wrong in the particular note they give but usually if they feel that something needs addressing, something needs addressing. The remedy may not be what they think it is, but it’s your job, before you do anything else, to make that first reader understand what you’re saying, and how you’re seeing the scenes play out in your mind’s eye. If you haven’t achieved that goal, the fault is with you, not them. Remember, no Producer wants you to fail. They’re there to make you succeed. It’s very rare that they’re twats; I’ve met only one of those in 22 years.
2) Don’t hesitate to dump a script, to erase it from your mind, and to start again. Sometimes you need to fail to get to the good stuff, and holding onto ‘this bit that really works’ or ‘that scene that made us all laugh’ stops you from moving forward. There is a liberation in dumping a script, walking away for a few days, and starting again with a blank page. And don’t let one lumpy difficult script hold you up for ever. Write something else, break the spell, come back to it later.
3) Don’t allow yourself to be limited by the imposed rules of writing gurus. There are
some, like John Yorke and his book ‘Into The Woods’ who are thoughtful, measured, non-proscriptive and you’ll learn a great deal from them. There are others, usually American, who are ‘the five steps to success’ variety and they can tie you up in knots. Writing for you may not follow a flow chart, a business plan, a balance sheet.
4) Write write write, even if it’s shite, shite shite. Exercise your writing muscles. It bears repeating.’
Thank you so much to Lucy for so many brilliant insights.
To book a place on our Nov 16-17 course on which Lucy is our special guest go to
We are also launching two new courses this autumn for which places are selling fast –
PITCHING \ NETWORKING
A half day course which we’re running twice on the evening of Wednesday Oct 16th 6.30-9.30pm and the afternoon of Saturday Oct 19th 2-5pm. This course was designed with attendees of the upcoming London Screenwriters Festival in mind, but it’s relevant to any screenwriter looking to develop their careers. Pitching & networking are, in our view, two vital components of a screenwriter’s life but also – in the UK – the two areas that most writers approach with dread! We aim to put the fun and positivity back into both these ‘dark’ areas of the business!
CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS
Suitable for dramatic writers across all the genres (TV, film, theatre, radio etc) this course is all about enabling writers to refresh their imagination and creativity. We will introduce you to a number of creative exercises and techniques that you will be able to use repeatedly in your working lives as writers, and which will in the short term send you away from this one day course with a number of new ideas for scripts and characters.
I’ve ‘road-tested’ the elements of this course on other screenwriting courses I’ve been running recently (at an advertising agency and on a uni screenwriting course) and I’m always amazed and hugely entertained by the results these creative exercises generate.
As guest-speaker on this course we have highly talented writer ANDERS LUSTGARTEN. Anders recently had a play on at the prestigious Royal Court main stage and his new play, BLACK JESUS, is on from next month at the excellent Finborough Theatre. He also has TV projects in development and was a graduate of my 2012 Channel 4 screenwriting course. Anders’s writing is driven by a passion and by his strong beliefs – and the idea is that you learn from his passion for his craft and his beliefs – for your own writing.
Until next week
All the best
Sept 13th 2013