Last week I went to a cinema for the first time since I can’t remember when (March / Feb?). If I’m honest, it felt odd and a bit unsettling rather than wonderful to be back in an actual cinema, but what was great was the film I saw – ROCKS, directed by Sarah Gavron, written by Claire Wilson and Theresa Ikoko, from a story by Theresa Ikoko.
This is without doubt one of the best British films of recent years and watching it gave me a great sense of joy and pride. Pride – because Theresa was one of the writers on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2016 and it’s wonderful to see her talent there for all to see on the big screen. Theresa wrote a brilliant script on the course, LINES, about three young boys caught up in an adult world of drugs and money. Like LINES, ROCKS burns with love and humanity. It’s a perfect antidote to the sadness and confusion of our current age and I urge you to see it.
Although Theresa is such a talent she would have undoubtedly got there anyway, it made me very happy to be a part of her journey as a writer. I’m delighted that everyone gets a chance to see this film and experience her sensibility, her take on the world.
ROCKS really is the most wonderful expression of her writing voice – a unique, emotionally universal story of family, love, hardship and struggle, beautifully told with warmth but also craft and guile.
The story is deceptively simple but does everything you need to do to tell a character-led story effectively. What is at stake is very simple but very clear – and of fundamental importance to the characters. It’s a broadly relatable story about a very specific and under-represented UK community. It’s a film imbued with love and affection, a film that should be compulsory viewing for all bigots and racists, to remind them that we all have a story to tell, that even the most inarticulate, under-represented stories are worthy of our time and charged with a quiet dignity and grace.
For me, seeing this film reminded me why we run the Channel 4 screenwriting course – to give new talent like Theresa the chance to get their voice heard in the industry, to make their mark in a fiercely competitive world. The characters in the film are characters we don’t often see portrayed positively as they are by ROCKS – in fact we don’t often see these sorts of characters in fiction at all. This is another thing that we pride ourselves on with 4screenwriting – trying to find writers who tell these sorts of stories that feel different – fresh, surprising and for that reason important.
The film reminded me of so many of the other success stories from the course in recent years – and, with entries closing later today (Friday Oct 2nd) it excites me for the weeks of reading ahead, knowing that we are undoubtedly going to be discovering and unearthing more gems like Theresa.
(I started writing a list of the names of the really exciting writers who have been on 4screenwriting in the last few years but it got too long.)
For the 12 graduates from the 2020 course, things are already starting to happen – but the industry climate is without doubt more difficult now than it has been in the last few years. And this year’s writers are at the moment missing the all-important opportunity to meet up face-to-face with potential employers. There are some advantages to zoom and online meetings – the ease with which they can be organised, how it levels the playing field for writers who don’t live in or near London – but we are all undoubtedly missing that face-to-face contact as well. But this year’s 12 writers are one of the most outstanding group of writers from all of the 10 years of the course so far and I know they will all have similar successes to Theresa Ikoko’s in the years to come if they approach their writing and the industry with the same positivity and creativity as Theresa.
I see this week that Nicola Shindler is leaving Red Productions to start a new company. As a TV drama producer, Nicola Shindler and the company she founded, Red, is unsurpassed – she has been a flag bearer for the absolute best of UK TV drama over the last 20 years or so, with the most amazing CV. She is a reminder of how vital brilliant creative producers are in finding and supporting writing talent and in generating and creating outstanding drama and telling important stories. She is a lesson to all writers that finding outstanding producers to work with is key to your success. Her CV is extraordinary – working with Russell T Davies on shows from ‘Queer As Folk’ to ‘Years & Years’; with Sally Wainwright on shows from ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Scott & Bailey’ to ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Last Tango In Halifax’; with Daniel Brocklehurst on shows like ‘The Driver’ and ‘Exile’ and currently with writers like Simon Nye, Sarah Solemani and Amelia Bulmore,
You may have seen two weeks ago, I included a quote from Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens because it seemed to sum up so brilliantly the bigotry and stupidity of our current government in their rapid race to the bottom – holding up values of insularity and ignorant self-importance in their justifications for Brexit etc, And then shortly afterwards, Boris Johnson said this in Parliament, ‘There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world: our country is a freedom-loving country. If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country. It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.’ Johnson is like the broadest Dickensian caricature of bigotry, stupidity and hatefulness.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 16th,
All the best
October 2nd 2020