The Channel 4 screenwriting course has come to an end for another year and I’d like to reflect on a few things I have taken away from the course this year.
Every year there comes a moment when I get to read the 9 scripts I haven’t been script-editing and it’s always a moment of excitement and joy. I was blown away by the quality, variety and range of the stories the writers are telling.
These few days of intense reading remind me how inspiring good writing can be. One of the guest script editors said, in response to one of the scripts I had edited when beginning her feedback session, ‘Well this wouldn’t be something I can imagine seeing on TV.’ Now this may seem perverse but that statement really pleased me. Because I have almost come to see the scripts written on the course as a challenge to the TV industry, to the people who commission shows. The scripts on the course are saying – I don’t see shows like this on TV and I would like to. These are the sorts of shows you should be making.
I don’t think what I’m saying is that the scripts that come off the course are better than what is currently on TV (certainly not when I’ve recently been watching wonderful shows like TIME and MARE OF EASTTOWN) – but at their best they offer an alternative vision of what TV drama can be, what it can do.
For instance, this year’s scripts included – the story of a female Jamaican student at Cambridge uni in the 1970’s and the challenges she faces. A comedy drama exploring the clash of religion and education from the perspective of a young working-class woman in a Welsh valley community. A complex human drama on the frontline of social care in Britain today, also set in Wales! A pitch-black comedy drama set in the North East about two female friends who lose the urn of ashes of their dead friend. A ghost story about a high-flying black female lawyer, haunted and interrogated by her recently-dead grandmother. A story about the disabled daughter of a ‘Kardashian’-like reality TV show family. A comedy drama about the upheaval in a traditional East London Chinese family business.
As you can see from this sample, the range and variety of stories and voices is mind-boggling.
The first day of the 2nd weekend of the course consists of a group of 10 (excellent) actors doing readings from each of the 12 scripts. The feedback from the actors is invaluable – the first interface between the writers and people coming to these scripts fresh. What the actors so often say is a vindication, a confirmation that what we all hoped was on the page, is. It’s so exciting when we that the scripts work in the ways we hoped they would (but also reveal aspects that we didn’t anticipate!). It renews your faith in the creativity and generosity of so many actors.
It was also great to hear how keen the writers were to express their gratitude to their script editors and to be reminded how creatively valuable the writer / script editor relationship can be at its best. The course is very lucky to be working with scripts editors as outstanding as Izzy De Rosario, Ravneet Minhas, Ray McBride Mike Bryher, Tamar Saphra, Lucy Haig and Maria Odufuye..
The drinks evening, where we invite people from the industry, potential employers for these writers, such an important part of the course, has had to be delayed for a few months as the world, hopefully, begins to get back to a different form of normality. In the meantime, we organised a picnic in Regents Park for the writers and script editors from both this year and last. After running half of last year’s and all of this year’s course on zoom, it was strange and wonderful to meet people in the flesh whom I feel I have got to know quite well through the medium of zoom over the last few months but have never seen in more than 2 dimensions.
Zoom is great and has given opportunities to writers and script editors, made things easier for many, but there is still undoubtedly something missing on zoom, something you don’t get compared to meeting people IRL. I got a stronger sense of the identity of people in real life that I’d never met before, even those people who I exchanged just a few words with.
It was also great to be able to introduce the 12 2021 writers to their 2020 counterparts – all of whom have gone through the phenomenon of multiple industry meetings on zoom since the end of the 2020 course. I was with 3 x 2020 writers discussing general meetings, how they were still trying to work out what they were for and how to get the best out of them. I asked them to pause until I had introduced them to 3 x 2021 writers, just about to go through this mysterious process, before they carried on the conversation.
I had a phone call with a writer via my script consultancy last week. She contacted me by email with a slightly vague request that I work with her as she developed a new TV idea (this is a writer with a theatre background). She was hesitant about the project and I tried to ask her more about it. But the call had started with her spontaneously, almost involuntarily, telling me about her day job, about working in education and having to lay off employees and how tough this had been. By the end of the phone call I think she (and I) had realised that her hesitancy about her new TV project was caused by a fundamental lack of belief, almost interest, in it; that she had started to develop it because it seemed to her like a viable, plausible idea for TV, something that might appeal to producers. But what she suddenly realised she was passionate about writing was what she had talked about at the start of the call – the cultural brutality of the current government, the closing-off that’s going on in education, the threat to the arts.
It was a great reminder to me (already initiated by the 4screenwriting scripts) of where powerful stories comes from – your personal passions, your fury, from a combination of the personal and the political, stories that come from your guts not second-guessing what you think is viable for TV.
The next newsletter will be on Friday July 9th.
July 25th 2021