‘Jimmy Gardner: writer of Outlaws, The Cops and Buried – I was lucky enough to take part in a residential writing course with Jimmy a few years ago. At the time I had been inspired to write for television after watching the greatly under-rated BBC show Outlaws with its amazing snappy dialogue delivered by the marvellous Phil Daniels. Jimmy had a great warmth and humour in person which translated to his writing. He was a humble, kind and giving mentor who unfortunately passed away long before his time.’
‘Adam Price, for writing Borgen. And also being able to cook.’
‘M Night Shayamalan has done some great work – The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village. I love the way he lures the audience into thinking something is one thing and then changing the whole gameplay by revealing something else. I think the ad men pigeon holed him as “The Twist Guy” – so he’s not really allowed to do anything else.’
‘TV Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Neil Cross (Luther) and Cinema Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, Andrew Dominik and lots more.Guillermo de Toro.’
‘I love Jane Espenson’s work. I think on every show she worked on, she managed to marry intense drama with surprisingly light humour.
Obvious choice, but I think the work of David Simon is probably the best thing to ever happen to television. Where most people think The Wire to be his best work, I think he reached his peak with Treme. The quality of the dialogues, the crafting of all the characters is absolutely amazing. Additionally, the boldness with which each of his projects is created is just mind-blowing.
I do not know much of British television to be quite frank but I thought the pilot of The Fall was quite brilliantly written. Allan Cubitt’s writing is clear, simple but extremely efficient. The opening scene itself is a masterpiece of scarcity.’
‘Tarantino, Nolan, Haggis. Just for making memorable stories so compelling you want to see them again and again, and you’re totally hooked in the first few minutes. Stories that stay with you. ‘
‘I think Charlie Brooker is awesome. I prefer writing about character relationships personally, but I love his social messages. He tells stories in a way a new generation can relate to.
I can’t leave out Lena Dunham, as a girl her age, trying to do the same thing, I am in awe. I love how she writes honestly, and does not change it for the men, for the elders, she writes what she knows as honest as she can. Her bravery encourages me to do the same.’
‘I’ve just come back from a British Council cultural exchange at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where some Brit writers met their Moroccan counterparts – and one of our overseeing tutors was Razvan Radalescu, who wrote one of my favourite films ‘The death of Mr Lazarescu’. I had no idea he’d been involved on that film until I met him, but his work takes him around the world, meeting people, getting their stories, finding the shared humanity. I’ve been working on a dark comedy film about a couple going through IVF and he was able to give me pages of notes because he’d been visiting fertility clinics in Germany for a documentary he’d made. But even if he hadn’t, he would still be able to find the heart of a story- of what an audience wants and will be able to respond to. You can write a film about the failures of the Romanian health system but an audience in the UK will still ‘get it’. And that’s pretty amazing.’
‘Signe Olynyk who wrote and co-produced Below Zero. She holed up in a
meat locker for a week to write the script (also about a writer who is
locked in a meat locker to overcome writer’s block) She is generous
with her time and encourages other writers. Her and her partner Bob
Schlutz run the Great American Pitchfest.’
‘Steve Skrovan – his particular type of humour is so identifiable via one’s own family dynamics.’
‘Elia Suliman the Palestinian director because he makes amazing creative work and doesn’t compromise his vision even with the restrictions of creating under occupation and finance related to that. The anecdotes around his recent film The Time That Remains which is historical are amazing – so many obstacles it almost didn’t get made 50 times over and yet through his will and perseverance it happened.’
‘For me, David Chase is one of the greatest. And in its own way, The Sopranos is just as important as either The Godfather or Goodfellas. It took the best elements of family drama, which television always does well and combined it with a “larger than life – and death” threat outside the home. The basic conceit of the show, America has become so selfish and violent that even a gangster can’t cope … brilliant. And the chances he takes with narrative are almost “Art House” in approach. It’s as if HBO had hired Antonioni to run a successful TV show. Characters come and go, certain “plot points” don’t get paid off. Sometimes he’s challenging the audience with – you don’t need to know – I’m leaving it with you guys. Similarly, his protege, Matthew Weiner’s: Mad Men is a significant achievement. A lot of what “happens” in Mad Men seems to be under the surface or “interior”. The characters are brilliant at selling the American Dream but never quite manage to live it. I love Aaron Sorkin too, but for different reasons. He’s gifted from the gods and the rhythm of his dialogue … like good music.’
‘I admire Diablo Cody. The script of Juno is so lively and fun to read. The style of the film is there when you read the script, the tone is expressed in every word. There are lots of little humorous phrases, like:
Juno looks up and meets eyes with her longtime lab partner: Bleeker. Sound the gong of awkwardness!
I love screenwriting that leaps from the page with a writer’s ‘voice’ not just X happens and then X happens. That might do the job as a film blueprint, but we’re writers –I like reading screenplays shows writers enjoy every word.’
‘Jonathan Lemkin, Andrew Neiderman, Taylor Hackford. George Martin, David Benioff, Bryan Cogman. These people stepped on the edge of our beliefs, but no one has yet to touch the reality of our existence.’
‘Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. I really like the originality of the comedy they have created. Peep Show is brilliant, and the fact that it has had eight seasons and has not dipped in quality is something to be commended. Most comedy shows in Britain end after two or three seasons, (The Office, Fawlty Towers) but Peep Show has stayed fresh and never looked like it was being forced even after all these years. The only reason I can see for that is because of the strength of the characters that they created. Their characters are so easily relatable that you find comparisons in Peep Show with your own life. They also make you laugh at the ordinary and mundane cycle that is everyday life. Fresh Meat is another interesting and insightful look at student life and the colourful mix of characters in a shared house leads to many funny and also dramatic incidents. The most important part of this series again is that you invest in the characters. Jesse Armstrong also wrote my favourite episode of Black Mirror, entitled the ‘Entire History of You’, which was a scientific look at how technology could affect relationships in the future.’
‘Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin, completely different writers but both write amazing dialogue.’
‘Sally Wainwright – intelligent, emotionally powerful, gutsy, female-led stories.’
‘Gosh – so many to choose from? Perhaps if pressed to choose a single one I might go with Charlie Kaufman as I think his work is quite unique. I particularly think the lateral thinking he uses to create imaginative scenarios – washing unhelpful memories away (Spotless Mind) and controlling someone else’s body (Being John Malkovich) makes him stand out as a unique screenwriter. As a result, I am resolved never to go with the most obvious solution to a creative dilemma but rather seek out the complex idea that fascinates and holds interest – even when the idea is quite low concept.’
‘Abi Morgan – for being generally brilliant and for writing SO MUCH.
Charlie Kaufman – such a strong vision that his own stamp is recognisable even filtered through different directors.
Guillermo Arriaga – For showing how tearing up the rule book can result in a heart-breaking masterpiece – the films speak for themselves. And for giving the most fantastic Bafta lecture two years ago. I wanted to write down everything he said.’
‘Among many – Woody Allen, whom I consider the king of irony. Stanley Kubrick, whose movies scare me with their brutal honesty (they are the proverbial train-wrecks I cannot look away from), and at the top of my list… Nora Ephron! There’s a palpable humanity to her stories, a spiritual connectiveness to all of mankind. (insert sad face here for her recent demise)’
‘Charlie Kaufmann for being so off the wall, yet entertaining and fascinating, getting me involved in the lives of ordinary people caught up in strange situations which seem to evoke something about the poignancy and absurdity of modern living. Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans” script for showing how historical dramas should be done. David Simon’s “The Wire” for having the ability to research, know and translate contemporary, gritty urban reality into gripping television drama, not only without dumbing down, but also embodying a strategic social conscience throughout, without preaching. Astonishing! Far, far beyond me, but an amazing example of what can be done.’
Until next week,
All the best
March 21st 2014