Hi There,

Last weekend saw the first part of this year’s Channel 4 screenwriting course. We had a great line-up of guest speakers (inc John Yorke, script editor \ producers Hilary Norrish & Emily Feller, director Charles Martin, writers Tony Grisoni, Emily Ballou – and Cat Jones and Anna Symon from the 2012 & 2013 C4 courses; and C4 drama head of development Surian Fletcher-Jones) It made for an inspiring and hugely instructive two days, which triggered a lot of thoughts about screenwriting and the industry –

Lessons I Learned from the \ Channel 4 screenwriting course 1st weekend

The imagination and creativity of new, talented screenwriters is very exciting– I’m working with three writers for the next 5 months on a pilot C4 series or serial script – and the freshness and originality of their ideas is hugely energising.

The big idea behind your script is so important. A script can stand or fall on the strength and impact of the idea behind it

TV dramatists need to watch TV drama.

It doesn’t matter who you are – receiving notes on your script is often painful.

So you need to find a way to make notes help your work, to deal with notes and get something positive from them.

Script notes often come better as questions.

No-one will commission your idea unless they think it will make money – as a writer there needs to be a part of you that deals in hard-nosed reality.

If you’re writing on a series, an ability to ‘morph’, to take on the lives of the new characters you’re inhabiting, and to move from one different show to another with equal facility, is vital.

If you get a meeting with a potential employer, don’t waste this valuable opportunity. Research the person you’re meeting, their company. Watch the shows they’ve made. And come prepared with some cracking ideas that fit the company profile.

Having the opportunity to meet potential employers (Producers, script editors etc) can be rare – so grab these opportunities with both hands.

Remember – There isn’t an industry conspiracy to stop good writers getting work. On the contrary all good script editors and producers are constantly and hungrily searching for new talent – it’s every ambitious script editor’s dream to unearth the new Abi Morgan \ Chris Chibnall \ Russell T Davies \ etc.

Two outstanding spec scripts, determination, focus and a positive nature will open doors for you.

About story-telling – if in doubt keep lying to your audience!

Channel 4 make some of the best TV drama in the world – in the last 2 years – Utopia, Run, Complicit, Dates, Southcliffe, Top Boy, Fresh Meat, Dates. Check them out on 4OD – that’s a pretty impressive list – a list to match the best of HBO.

If you look hard, there are quite a few examples of recent ‘authored’ TV fiction by brand new, first-time writers – In The Flesh by Dominic Mitchell, Pat & Cabbage by Amy Shindler & Beth Chalmers, Run by Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan & Marlon Smith, Youngers by Levi David Addai, the forthcoming Prey by Chris Lunt (the 2nd Red Production in this list), Beaver Falls by Iain Hollands. New writers should be heartened by this (very incomplete) list.

The very excellent Red Productions accept and read unsolicited scripts. Other indies take note!

TV drama is on the up – this is a great time to be a screen writer in the UK. Red Productions had one commission in three years (Unforgiven, ITV). Now they have in production – Last Tango In Halifax3, Scott & Bailey4, Ordinary Lies (BBC), Cucumber \ Banana \ Tofu (C4), Happy Valley (BBC), The Driver (BBC), Prey (ITV).

Craft \ writing talent is important – but it’s nothing without ambition, focus, an ability to get on with people and the ability to enjoy meeting and befriending your industry co-workers in the world of TV drama.

The harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.

Great character note: ‘People resist their condition’. (Hilary Norrish)

‘There are two sorts of screenwriters – and either way can be right – Vomitters or Plotters’ (Hilary Norrish)

Momentum is all-important for writers – work generates credibility generates more work.

Red Productions resurgence is spectacular and reflects an upturn in TV drama production generally in the UK – Red’s success should be hugely encouraging to writers. This is a good time to be a screenwriter!

Thanks to Nicola Shindler’s vision, Red is a company driven by writers and their ideas and passion.

What Emily Feller had to say about the tricky development history of several of their now hugely successful projects (esp Last Tango In Halifax, Scott & Bailey, and the forthcoming Ordinary Lies by Danny Brocklehurst) reminded me of the importance of PERSISTENCE, even stubbornness. Both Last Tango In Halifax and Scott & Bailey received several knockbacks and were both in development for several years before being green-lit.

The future of TV drama production is with the indies not the broadcasters.


Until next week,

All the best




Twitter: @philipshelley1

Jan 31st 2014