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 ideas and 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 PHILIP SHELLEY with guest speaker writer ANDERS LUSTGARTEN



Hi There,

Last Sunday I had a really enjoyable day at the LONDON SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. This is a wonderful opportunity to catch some of the best US indie films – particularly as many of them don’t seem to get a UK theatrical release (it’s tragic just how many good films never make it to the UK, unless you’re lucky enough to catch them at a film festival, while our multiplexes are clogged up with the latest superhero \ blockbuster rubbish).

I saw 3 films all of which I enjoyed hugely and found inspiring and creatively re-energising from a screenwriting POV.



A superb character driven thriller, written and directed by JEREMY SAULNIER. Of the 3 films this is the only one that does have a UK release date – TODAY! Friday May 2nd. The film is a brilliant example of how to handle exposition and dialogue. There’s a really strong story premise at the heart of the film. But there’s so much that the film doesn’t tell the audience – and the story is all the stronger for it. Throughout, we have an incomplete picture of why our hero is doing what he does. We get glimpses of the terrible things that have happened in the past to cause the actions of our hero in the present – but there are a lot of gaps that we have to fill in for ourselves, information that we don’t get. This makes for a really exciting viewing experience – so much stronger than when we are spoon-fed back-story and exposition. It reinforced for me the notion that you can usually get away with ‘exposing’ far less of your back-story than you think you need to.

The dialogue is so spare, cut to the bone.  The story resides in the actions of the central character – and the escalating events caused by his actions. And the whole story is told with sharp focus from this single central character’s point of view – we experience everything with him, as he experiences it. This makes for a visceral, edge-of-the-seat story.

Because there is so little dialogue, when there is a substantial dialogue scene – and there are very, very few – these scenes really stand out, really count – the big dialogue scenes feel like set-pieces, significant staging-posts in the story. The script is a great example of how viewing dialogue as a last resort, as something to fall back on only when it’s not possible to tell the story purely through pictures, can be a really effective approach.

So many of the scripts I read have too much dialogue – and the more dialogue you have in a script, the less valuable it becomes. One of the things that is great about BLUE RUIN is that when there is dialogue, it is really telling.



Written by MICHAEL SHOWALTER and DAVID WAIN, directed by  DAVID WAIN. The first thing to say about this film, and the best thing about it,is that it was hilarious. I haven’t laughed so much at a film for a long time.

The film is essentially a fairly broad pastiche of the whole Romantic Comedy genre. What AIRPLANE did for disaster movies, TCT does for rom-coms. I like the genre of rom-com’s. Some of my favourite movies are rom-coms  – WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, THE APARTMENT, ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN, 4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, ABOUT TIME, etc etc. TCT takes every trope of the genre and mocks it mercilessly but very knowingly. The comedy is generally broad but the winks to rom-com genre conventions are sophisticated and thought-provoking. You won’t watch a rom-com in the same way after watching THEY CAME TOGETEHR. It’s basically gag after gag after gag, not all of them successful, but enough to make this very funny indeed, as conventional rom-com sub-text often becomes the text of the scene. And the central performances by Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are a masterclass in comic acting. The film is a great combination – on one level being hugely funny; and on another level being a really sharp, smart examination of the tropes of rom-coms. If you have an interest in rom-coms as a genre, you should really try and see this – although there are apparently no plans at the moment to schedule a UK release. (yes, very annoying).


Written and directed by DAVID CROSS. Also billed as a comedy, this falls somewhere between the tonal extremes of BLUE RUIN and THEY CAME TOGETHER. More a comedy drama, this is a really well-observed, wry portrayal of the inhabitants of smalltown USA, set in Liberty, upstate New York. The story centres on two main characters – a very unlikely protagonist, a middle-aged, divorced man who works at the local dump \ recycling centre, and spends his leisure time firing off angry emails to the local council about potholes and other municipal misdemeanours, before his regular tirades at council meetings find their way onto youtube and he becomes lionised by Brooklyn hipster internet gurus and the news media; and his 19 year old daughter who sings very badly but yearns for fame on ‘The Voice’. When she sees how her father has unwittingly and ironically achieved the fame that she so lusts after, the consequences are explosive…

Not as outright hilarious as TCT, this is nonetheless brilliant – a razor-sharp examination of small-town life and the ever-growing lust for fame at almost any cost. And what makes it work is the minutely idiosyncratic brilliance of the characterisations – there are so many memorable characters here. Short on high concept premise and complex narrative, but as brilliant in a very different way as TCT, it’s about the various relationships in this small town, focusing in particular on the central father \ daughter bond. Touching, funny and very smart.

These three films alerted me to the talent of the 3 writer \ directors responsible for the projects – Jeremy Saulnier, David Wain and David Cross. Cross and Wain in particular have impressive back catalogues of work (as writer, director, actor) that I’m keen to catch up on.

All three films were equally interesting and outstanding in their very different ways and they each inspired me in different ways – BLUE RUIN was all about the economy and visual strength of the story-telling, the economy and the effectiveness of the dialogue, about how to generate narrative suspense; THEY CAME TOGETHER made me think again about the elements that go into making a successful rom-com, and more broadly how genre works (and subverting genre); while HITS reminded me again of the primacy of character – how story IS character. Without engaging, flawed, ambivalent, real characters, plot is meaningless. Also, it made me think about how important a writer’s agenda is, how the passion behind the story is what drives it – David Cross clearly needed to say something about the corrosive effect on ordinary people of the clamour for short-term, vacuous fame that so much of the world of media encourages. This was clearly a very particular personal vision, and was shot in the writer \ director’s hometown.

Until next week,

All the best



Twitter: @philipshelley1

May 2nd 2014