Hi There,

 I would like to draw your attention to the rapidly approaching –

 ‘The Authoritative Guide To Writing And Selling A Great Screenplay

– the two day course that I will be running in central London on June 16-17 with screenwriter Phil Gladwin (Trial & Retribution, The Bill, The Sarah-Jane Adventures and many other credits) and guest speaker Tanya Tillett (literary agent, Knight Hall Agency)


This week PART 2 of your answers to the question:-

What are the best 2 DVD BOX SETS that will inspire screenwriters?

Again – thank you so much for all your thoroughly interesting and enlightening responses…

 ‘—- Well, not sure you can make a universal pronouncement here… Doctor Who Season 2. How to take iconic TV and re-invent it while never losing the essence of the show. The Satan Pit played with big themes and gave us the fearful-and-yet-cuddly Ood. The conclusion, Doomsday, saw the Doctor and Rose part in one of the most moving scenes in British TV history.

Second, the Infernal Affairs trilogy. The perfect meld of character, genre, plot, pacing and cathartic pay-off. Scorsese’s re-make The Departed doesn’t come close in quality, but was still good enough to garner Oscars.’

 ‘Edge of Darkness (1985) State of Play (2003)

 ‘dinnerladies was billed as a Victoria Wood sitcom, but over two series and 16 episodes it told stories with more warmth and heart than in 1000 episodes of soap. Funny, wry, painfully honest and utterly human. dinnerladies was never hip, it didn’t win any BAFTAs and the Guardian devote endless articles to promoting it as the latest example of must-see TV [yes, I’m look at you The Wire/The Killing/Mad Men et al. If you can write characters as funny and real and empathetic as those in dinnerladies, you shouldn’t go short of work as a writer. Watch and learn.

The Street might just be Jimmy McGovern’s masterpiece, but there’s an awful lot of competition for that title [Cracker, first series of The Lakes, Hillsborough, the list goes on]. The Street tells extraordinary stories about ordinary people, makes them compelling, often tear-streaked, but with all the heart in the world. The Street did win BAFTAs and people grumbled because it wasn’t cutting edge or high concept, because it wasn’t putting old wine into new bottles [or whatever buzz-words were in currency at the time]. But it was 17 episodes of great drama, often written by emerging talents under McGovern’s guidance. Watch and hope.

 ‘Boys from the Blackstuff. Southland

 ‘Six Feet Under and Mad Men.
I’d never seen anything like Six Feet Under before, witty, dark humour, complex characters but so enjoyable to watch, tricky subject matter that was so bold and groundbreaking for its time. This programme made me discover who and what HBO was, it got me excited about television again.
Mad Men excites me in a very similar way to when Six Feet Under did when it first arrived, Mad Men had a subtle beginning to it but it totally hooked me. The style, the characters, the music, the look, the storylines. For me, it’s tv at its best. I particularly like the fact that it’s co-written by a handful of women and the way that some of the female characters tell their perspective is interesting.
In case we were only allowed to pick British DVD box sets then I pick Hustle (first few series) and Getting On. Hustle because each one is like a film and the pace is written very well, I found the first few series to be British television at its most thrilling. I choose Getting On (I hope we were allowed to choose comedy writing as well) because I thought it was excellently done, such deadpan, honest acting from Jo Brand. I thought it was a brave piece of writing considering the reflections it has of the NHS, the fact that the three main female actors also wrote it is just hugely inspirational and reassuring to me. I loved the dark, real humour to it and I loved the characters, again it was so British.’

I’m going with Battlestar Galactica because of the stories, characters, and foreshadowing laid out ages in advance. Ooh, and I get a second one. That’s a toughie. Justified season 1-3 for the same reasons. A good ol’ fashioned cop story without the sunglasses of justice.’

 ‘Any John Frankenheimer box set: This director made some of the most intelligent and disturbing pictures of all time like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE ICEMAN COMETH, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and my personal favourite, SECONDS.

Any TWILIGHT ZONE season box set: Rod Serling created a unique body of TV work that for my money has never been equalled. Any season of TZ contains classics the like of which you won’t find anywhere else in TV sci-fi or intelligent, scary drama.’

I judge my favourite films by how many times I can watch them and still get a kick out of them. Still be enthralled: “L.A. Confidential”, “The Godfather”, “Aliens”, and many more. In the above vein, my first TV choice – and a great box set (very cheap on Amazon) – is “I, Claudius”. A BBC drama from the seventies full of betrayal, plotting, and in the title character, hope. Every year I’ll sit down and watch the many episodes. My son, rather oddly, likes to watch them also – and he’s four! It’s a series completely unlike what you see on TV today. All the big action happens elsewhere – wars, riots – and are only glimpsed. I personally soon forget the rather cheap looking sets (by today’s standards) and always find myself pulled in. Some writers hate “book ends” in scripts – too neat! Predictable! – but the way each episode opens and ends with Claudius’ reflections as an old man, gives weight and meaning to the drama witnessed. Great stuff. Buy it!

My second choice is “Our Friends In The North”: an EPIC in the very real sense of the word, spanning the lives and dramas of its characters. It’s dramatic stuff. Often taking turns that are tragic, heart breaking, and in the end, suffused with humour and our old friend hope. Again. Buy it. Own it. Love it. I do!

The West Wing by Aaron Sorkin. If this has to be explained to anyone, then I’m afraid you may already be in the wrong business. And now I’m torn between Sopranos and ER but since we already have The West Wing in the bag then I would say ER. Who knew that it was possible to cover so many types of story with a procedural drama set in A&E? Again the character driven work is exemplary but often it brought global themes into play; Darfur, AIDS, Trafficking etc in a way we had never seen before. It broke all the moulds and set the benchmark high to compete.

1. The Wire, totally inspirational, It seems to be slow moving but then you realise how much has actually been going on and how interconnected everything is. You like the bad guys and hate the good guys, I love that it challenges me morally. I went through withdrawal when I finished it, took me a long time to like anything again.
2. Luther, (purely coincidental that they both star Idris Elba), but the character of Luther reminds me of Batman, walking a fine line between bad and good, forced to be the bad guy in order to do the right thing, His relationship with Alice is reminiscent of Batmans relationship with the Joker, they need each other, they are 2 sides of the same coin, they understand each other, much to each others disgust. I love the complexity of the relationships in Luther, Nothing is black and white.’

Frasier and Friends. V popular shows – why do we look down on this? Instead we should look at the characters and plot lines – how did they develop and change and grow over so many years??

Mad Men’ for the slow burn of intrigue around Don’s character that just kept me tuning in for more, and ‘The Wire’ for suprisingly touching characterisation where you’d least expect it. Bubbles attending his first drugs detox meeting and his pride at being clean for one day was a real tear-jerker.

 ‘American Horror and Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad and Shield …. both breathtakingly fast-paced for most of the time and able to get down and dirty dramatising the minutiae through the talking heads scenes using great action alongside them

Fawlty Towers – for those looking to write comedy, look no further than John Cleese and Connie Booth’s masterpiece. Still funny and fresh forty odd years since it was written, and still well loved, it is arguably the best British sitcom ever made and may never be bettered. Requires a number of rewatches and never gets tired, the plot and gags are pitch-perfect, but it’s the characterisation that make the show so brilliant. Hopeless but lovable Spanish waiter Manuel and the inspired creation of Basil Fawlty, up there with David Brent and Del Trotter as the greatest comedy characters in the UK. Just fantastic, and a master class in how to write farce.

Paul Abbott’s State of Play – the best British serial I’ve ever seen, and a perfect lesson in pacing, subtext, keeping the audience’s attention, whilst making sure all the characters are flawed, fleshed out and three dimensional. A cracking cast, a tricksy, multi-layered plot, great dialogue, good direction, it manages to grab you from the very first second and keep you until the last minute of the sixth episode. Watching it also makes me want to write, it inspires me to create something better, which is surely what writing’s all about.

Outstripping all competition, by a million miles, is The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin is an extraordinary writer and showrunner and this stunning show reveals his talents to their full extent. The box set is particularly good for writers because of its extras, in which Sorkin displays a generous openness and willingness to talk about his craft.

And from this side of the pond, Brideshead Revisited. Produced on a scale probably not available to today’s writers (unless you’re Julian Fellowes), this epic – and epically realised – series had everything. Watch any one episode for inspiration. Combined, the series is sublime.

I think the best candidates are not necessarily the best two programmes available for purchase, but the ones that have the most helpful sets of DVD extras that give a screenwriter a clearer idea into the creative process. So for this reason, I would choose the box sets of Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

Seinfeld – because it’s a masterclass in comedy writing and still hilarious 20 years on
Mad Men – because it’s a work of genius, and anyone interested in writing multi-plotted TV drama should study it, or simply sit back and enjoy it.

 ‘The Sopranos – HBO Complete Season 1-6
Six Feet Under: Complete HBO Seasons 1-5


NEXT WEEK: Your answers to the question:

 ‘Tell us ONE undeservedly over-looked, under-rated movie or TV show that we should catch up with


All the best



May 25th 2012