CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday June 21st.

A course for scriptwriters in all media – TV, film, radio, theatre – designed to help you generate exciting story ideas, create original character characters, and give your creativity a boost with a day of fun, stimulating writing exercises. Run by TV drama script editor, producer and script consultant PHIL SHELLEY with guest speaker writer & political activist ANDERS LUSTGARTEN


Hi There,

This week, the 3rd and final part of your answers to the question –


‘Matthew Vaughn, Martin McDonagh. Inspiring in so far as British / Irish talent with Hollywood beating movies. Matthew Vaughn for Layer Cake and Kick Ass. Two polar opposite films, both exquisite in execution. The latter able to position a mass murdering 11 year old girl as an iconic figure that you can actually relate to. Genius! Then In Bruges. What can I say, exceptionally funny, such a simple premise and Colin Farrell in his finest performance and finest character. Again, a murderer that you can root for because his heart and soul somehow seem in the right place. This is what I want to be able to do.’

‘Joss Whedon for giving women decent roles to play and for his innovation e.g. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the Buffy musical, an episode with almost zero dialogue, an episode without score music etc. He’s not afraid to DIY a project without a studio or a network to get it done, but he obviously has the friends to make this possible! He’s also good to study about what you can achieve visually; there are lots of little moments in The Avengers that show far more than you could achieve through dialogue, like when Bruce Banner jogs the baby cradle, and with so many characters, a visual moment is miles better than a three page scene about how someone is feeling. He’s also very, very funny.’


‘John Patrick Shanley – snappy, toe to toe dialogue and moral dilemmas and taking it to the mainstream without compromise. David Simon – The Wire, as we all know, it’s got everything and more, and I can listen to David Simon talk for as long as you like. Jesse Armstrong. Peep Show is sublime but I loved his episode of Black Mirror, too. It contained beautiful, soul searching dialogue. All three inspire me hugely but I suppose John Patrick Shanley’s work is the closest to the sort of thing I’m trying to write, especially Doubt and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.’


‘Vince Gilligan. He is very smart, unpredictable and a great writer. But he’s got there by working very hard, through being very passionate and meticulous. Shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ can only truly surprise an audience if the writers have exhausted all the predictable routes the story could go down, so they can eventually create something unpredictable and mind-blowing (Season 4 finale). Vince Gilligan and his team do just that.’

‘Aaron Sorkin. I like wordsmiths and for such a rebel he really is a staunch conservative. No wonder he rebels so hard!’

‘The screenwriter who inspires me the most at the moment is Alex Garland. I love how he has become the go-to writer for science fiction it seems, with a number of the best sci-fi films released in the last few years having been written by him (Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, 28 Days Later). His writing covers a variety of different themes and sub-genres, able to combine emotion with spectacle that doesn’t seem false. Never Let Me Go is in particular a heartbreaking adaption of the original novel, bringing out the hope and the love elements which are not as strong in the book.’


‘Steven Moffat. His Doctor Whos have raised the bar. My kids know when an episode has been written by a guest writer, because it is just not as good. And as we all know, kids don’t lie. It is the right blend of reverence to the traditions of the series, innovation, pastiche,
humour, terror, and incredibly moving stories.’

‘I’m not going to go with one screenwriter, because I think the Americans are doing it better (as far as TV is concerned) and there’s a lot to be learned from putting together a good team. I was at a BBC Writersroom day recently where at the end we shared what we’d been working on, and then gave each other feedback on those ideas. It becomes the writing equivalent of musicians jamming together, ideas start bouncing off the walls, problems are solved, new angles and possibilities appear from nowhere, and I found myself wishing that more TV was written in that way. If you could harness that creative energy and apply it to screenwriting, the results would be amazing.’

      ‘If you twist my arm I’ll name Sally Wainwright for Scott and Bailey; strong, dynamic female characters who are still believable. Too often “strong” is misinterpreted as “blackbelt” or “ball-buster” when it comes to female characters.’

‘Stephen Moffat – Sherlock – enough said.’

‘Jimmy McGovern – Favourites – Brookside, Priest, Cracker, Accused. I read the script for Hillsborough when BBC writersroom put it up on their website and spent the day crying. Always emotionally powerful and intelligent voices that give you chills to hear.

Russell T. Davies. Favourites – Dr Who, The Second Coming. The Writer’s Tale showed me it was possible for a mere mortal to write scripts.

Vince Gilligan for Breaking Bad. Love, love this series and whoever created a character who could only communicate by ringing a little bell and flashing his eyes, not to mention writing an entire episode about a fly trapped in a crack-lab and making it the funniest most poignant
script ever.

Abi Morgan – For many things but mostly for The Hour: Bel and the wonderfully verbose and morally aware Freddy and the scene where Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor act their socks off.’

‘At the moment I’m quite inspired by Bryan Elsley as I find the dialogue in Dates absolutely sensational to the point where I wish it was something I wrote! Such a simple premise. I’m inspired by this as it just goes to show that with everything stripped back and just focussing on characters and dialogue is enough to entertain; something I try to do with my own work.’

‘Had you said any screenwriter, from any time, who has most recently inspired you I would have said Ernesto Gastaldi, but seeing as it’s contemporary I’d have to say Scott M. Gimple, who is one of the screenwriters for The Walking Dead (and is now the new showrunner). Each episode he has written has been a superb mix of action and deeply felt character work, particularly 3×12 “Clear” and 3×15 “This Sorrowful Life”, which managed to craft intensely believable despair in the former, and make a despicable character into a hero in the latter. I’m also a big fan of Vince Gilligan’s approach to “Breaking Bad”, where arresting character development & challenges are priority number one, but where nail-biting tension and darkly comic weirdness all combine seamlessly – the show also feels very personal to Gilligan himself, and if I was to ever wish to be like any other screenwriter, Vince Gilligan would be the man.’

‘At the moment I would have to choose Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci because of their long list of work on television is popular with fans and critics, award winning and the shows have fresh, unique angles which excites me as a writer. Rebooting of the Star Trek franchise to a new generation will always give them a place in my heart on the sole basis that there may be a slim chance that I could be a writer on a reboot of the Star Trek tv shows.’

‘Contemporary is tricky. I like Paul Thomas Anderson’s script for “Boogie Nights”, though I don’t think any of his subsequent scripts or movies have been as good. Going back a while, Alan Bennett’s script for “Prick Up Your Ears” is probably my favourite, along with Harold Pinter’s (unmade) Proust Screenplay.’

‘I think the best contemporary writer of radio drama is Michael Butt, by about a million miles. He has certainly inspired me. Ed Harris has a perfect ear for radio.’

‘Russell T Davies for Doctor Who. Although unpublished, I write children’s books and it’s often underestimated just how difficult it is to write for younger audiences/readers so I think it’s very impressive how successful Doctor Who is in appealing to and being enjoyed by people of all ages. Most definitely Not an easy thing to do!’

‘Aaron Sorkin : This may smack of being a hackneyed answer, but I think to admire a screenwriter you have to be able to access their interviews or, more specifically, see them do TV interviews or public interviews, as with print/online articles one can’t really get a sense of what motivates/sustains a writer, no matter how successful they may be. Ironically, I’ve never watched more than two episodes of either The West Wing or The Newsroom; however I did see a recent group interview on an American TV station where he was seated with other high-profile series writers and, when asked what other show he would like to write, he responded “I’d love to be staffed up on any of these great shows.” Not “write the show,” but be “staffed up.” A great humble answer.’


‘Probably my most inspiring contemporary screen writer is Richard Curtis, his credits speak for themselves but for me, he’s written some of the most memorable scripts. I still laugh every time I hear the lines –

“How’s your gorgeous girlfriend?”

“She’s no longer my girlfriend.”

“Oh dear. Well, I wouldn’t get too gloomy about it. Rumour has it she
never stopped bonking Toby de Lisle in case you didn’t work it out.”

“She is now my wife.”

A good note on which to end! – have a great weekend,

And  a huge THANK YOU to all of you for allowing me to share you perceptive and fascinating answers to this and the other questions,

All the best



Twitter: @philipshelley1

April 25th 2014