This week, a series of quotes and notes from the guest talks from a number of eminent and excellent writers, producers, script editors, agents, commissioning executives on the 1st weekend (back in January) of the 2022 Channel 4 screenwriting course. These are just a few of the things that were said, that resonated with me.
NB In a few cases I have edited / clarified so that that this reads more economically / coherently than the pure verbatim version.
THE WRITER’S ‘VOICE’ & NOTES / STORY VS PLOT
…you will be a good writer if you manage to not jettison all those things that make your writing your own, distinctive, your own thing…it’s hard sometimes to hold onto those rough edges and those idiosyncrasies…you will get notes from executives and some of the notes might be good but some of the notes will be bad and wrong. It is about trying to work out in your own head what was right and what was wrong in holding onto the little idiosyncratic things that make the work your own.
You have to go to that source of sense of dissatisfaction with whatever you’ve done. What are they not getting which they want in some sort of way? I think that is important. I think if everyone knew exactly what the good notes and the bad notes were, then everyone would be a brilliant writer.
I think you can have an instinct and whether you can absolutely develop a way of telling good notes from bad notes but I would say, I try something like 90% of notes. But I definitely will try and see if the note makes it better.
In TV, I quite like slow meditative stuff and I think… story can take many forms and it doesn’t have to be plots. Plot doesn’t have to be story. TV is full of plot and twists and turns and incidents and things that seem to go one way and then another which is not really story. But I think if you do have an eye on story then that is a good indicator of how, of whether, a scene earns its place. It depends on what you see as what that story is. Maybe anyone who is saying you don’t need that scene doesn’t understand the story you’re telling? It may be that the story you’re telling is deeper than they think, they might be missing something.
WORKING WITH A SCRIPT EDITOR
I could have written the script that I wrote on the course on my own but the input from the two script editors really helps you elevate your scenes, elevate your dialogue so it’s really just taking that knowledge and thinking back. Now when I approach a script and I have edits I think back to the time I was on this course and I had script editors and the comments I was getting like – what about this scene? Have you got the potential there? Could you do more? It’s just those things that a script editor will help you with, in order to push you and get the best draft that you can possibly get because I think that is what script editors do, they really help you refine and work away so you have as tight a script as possible. Because yes you’ll get other people coming in and talking about story and character and all of that and it’s great but the working with the script editor for me was the big plus and I think that will continue to help all of us as writers the more we do it.
Before the course, I hadn’t written a TV script before. I had never done a proper redraft. What I got out of the course is learning how to handle notes. I have a routine now where I print off the notes – I’m better if I receive written notes by email. I find it an overload getting them handed to me in the meeting. I print them off, highlight them, make some notes on the notes, any questions I have about them, have the zoom meeting and then transfer the notes into the draft outline in red or something. And then action it from there. This process helps me.
SHOOTING THE SCRIPT
The director should be directing a film rather than shooting a script and there’s a very fine difference between those two things. What the director brings to a piece of television is the ability to transform it in some way into something more than it was on the page. I think there can be occasions where stuff is written in the script and you think… you know that there can be a good moment because you can imagine it clearly on film (a mark of good screenwriting).
For the director it’s all about getting inside the writer’s head. If something is on the screen which is not in the script then generally it’s something which the director has excavated in their own way out of the rest of the script.
The way that that comes across on the screen is really about what is underneath. Intrinsic in the writing in some sort of way. If the director is putting something in which is not in the script, then it’s because it’s come out of the excavation and what is in the writer’s mind and I think good writing always has ghosts in it in some way, it always has things which haunt other pieces of the film and it’s the director’s job to capture those moments and put them into the film in some sort of way.
I think tone is implicit in the writing. What I find helpful as a director is hearing what drove the writer to write the script and what their concerns were that drove them to write the script. It has to be in the script – but I also think it really helps to know what made you write that. What you think is interesting about it and your feelings about it as well. What you, the writer, want the audience to feel in some sort of way.
When I read a script, I’m looking for something that feels a little bit different. I’m interested in people, what people are going through. I think it helps if it is contemporary. By which I mean its concerns are contemporary. That is not to say that it has to be set in the 21st-century. I am looking for it to echo off something that is probably in the ether in some way.
On top of that, what draws me to it is if I really see a way of doing it which feels fresh. Either within the world that one creates on the screen or within the concerns of the script.
But definitely those unusual and surprising elements. Also something that I feel like I can make as an interesting piece of ‘cinema’ for the small screen. Something that lends itself to being on the screen. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be wall-to-wall dialogue! They can still have dialogue. I think there are great films with just all dialogue, THE SOCIAL NETWORK for instance. But it is really what that dialogue is concerned with really.
The next newsletter will be on Friday 21st October.
Friday October 7th 2022