Cardiff Nov 1st & 2nd  with guest screenwriter, RUSSELL GASCOIGNE

Belfast Nov 15 & 16.


One day Story, Ideas & Character Masterclass Nov 24th



Hi There,

At the moment I’ve got my head down reading the literally hundreds of outstanding script submissions for the 2017 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE. It’s like having my own personal high-class indie film festival – I’ve read so many really enjoyable scripts in the last few weeks – and have several more weeks of reading to look forward to.

I was reminded of one of the best scripts of all that I’ve read in my 7 years of running the C4 course this week with the UK theatrical release of BURN BURN BURN. Written by Charlie Covell, who has since gone onto deserved and continuing success, I saw this film at the 2015 London Film Festival. The script of the film is even better than the script I read that Charlie had entered for the 2014 4Screenwriting.

It’s in cinemas from today. If you have any spare time this weekend, seek it out, you won’t regret it – it’s a lovely film – touching, funny and hugely enjoyable, and the work of a writer of whom you will hear much more in the future.

And Channel 4 have just announced another new writers scheme – a reboot of COMING UP, run by Touchpaper TV, which looks like a great opportunity –


This week, I went to the BAFTA screenwriters lecture given by PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, the incredibly prolific writer / director / producer team whose credits include CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, THE LEGO MOVIE, 21 JUMP STREET, and who are now working on the next STAR WARS movie.

Here are some notes from their inspiring, insightful and very funny talk –


Trying to demystify the idea of creative genius.

Make the directions short – how your script reads, the screenplay as reading experience is very important.

Talked about cave paintings that are thousands of years old – same creative urge as film. The audience / reader is the one doing much of the creative work, making the magic.

We all have narrative. Story-telling is an innate ability. Sometime between the ages of 7 & 17, when we discover embarrassment, we forget that.

Story produces the conditions for the audience to project their own emotions onto the images. For example, feature films create a safe space to examine death – so that we don’t have to experience death (or near-death) first-hand (yet).

Set it up so that the audience can do this job for themselves.

Their big point was – anyone can do this. We all tell stories.

Then went onto emphasise this by a comprehensive listing of their own failures. They worked on lots of shows that failed – they were absolutely not an overnight success.

A quote (I can’t remember who) ‘All of you have 10,000 bad drawings in you and you need to get them out as soon as possible.’ ie if you write, failure is inevitable!

‘CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS’ was a favourite book of both of them. They got fired from the project, other writers brought on, were fired, Lord & Miller re-hired – and then also got to direct it.

ON their return, big meeting – hostile environment, the script had been thrown out – a very important day for them. We threw the question out – what do you all think? We started listening. Eye-opening. Really healthy – learnt a lot about how it could be better, how it could be more engaging.

A movie has to be about a relationship – that’s what stories are. CWACOM became about a father / son relationship. We had resisted this – because it’s so familiar – but it’s familiar because it’s elemental, something we can all understand. And however familiar, you can express it in a way that’s unique to you.

One particular scene based on a conversation I had with my dad. So we put it in the movie – a phone conversation when he was trying unsuccessfully to explain to his dad how to copy and paste a web link.

In the same way that stories are about relationships, movies are about relationships – we listened to people – good ideas come from all over the place eg on CWACOM , a key idea for the story came from the editor very late in the creative process. On CWACOM, the opening credit is ‘A film by a lot of people.’ Lord & Miller believe this is the way they work best – in collaboration with a lot of other people, and in collaboration with each other. They say it really helps their work that they’re constantly having to defend their work to each other. Having a writing partner keeps your ego in check.

‘STD’ – splitting the difference always works!

Their writing process –

Ste p1 Coffee –

Step 2  Procrastinate – an essential part of the process!

Step 3 – create in open mode – throwing ideas out there in a very free and messy way. It’s hard to get both of them in an ‘open’ mode at the same time – but essential. Chasing weird ideas.

Step 4 – edit in ‘closed mode’. Pulling out the good from the mess – very low yield.

Step 5 – trust your audience. It’s important to take notes on faith – the reaction is true, because the listener / reader is ‘telling’ / living the story. Sometimes someone will pitch you a solution you may not like – but there’s something true / worthwhile underlying that.

Not all notes are good. (eg notes from a fear-based place, or people coming up with their own ideas, that don’t fit with what you’re trying to do). But if you’re listening to a lot of people, there will be common threads.

The Lego Movie got a lot better in the last 6 weeks of the process. In animation you make the movie backwards. Our process derives from our start writing TV comedy in the writers room.


  1. Outline story beats until you can’t stand to do it any longer.
  2. We split up and write chosen scenes separately.
  3. We switch scenes, rewrite the scenes we’ve been given
  4. Then switch back again and rewrite
  5. Find the agreed middle ground.
  6. Let your friends read and tear it apart.

Repeat steps 3-5!

  1. Read aloud with actors
  2. Discuss solutions, Rewrite the bits that don’t work.
  3. Shoot – constantly rewriting on the day.
  4. Edit, keep re-writing.

In the insurance business they joke about writers and the psychiatric help they need as a profession – as a writer you need to have that obsessive, neurotic desire to make it better. CM said he is suspicious of a writer saying they’re very happy with their script – we’re never happy.

We’re trying to show you how anyone can do this job – but at the same time we’re saying don’t do this job!

Question every scene. Question every character.

We ask – does this feel like a generic version of this scene? How can we make it less generic, more specific? Do I know the character well enough to know what they would do in this situation?

CM gave the example of an episode of CHEERS in which Cliff goes on the game show JEOPARDY.  He said the enjoyment of the episode was knowing and watching how that character would behave in that situation.

You’ve got to hate your own work – be your harshest critic – when you’re in ‘closed mode’.

A producer said, ‘The only positive emotion you feel in this industry is relief.’

Their producer, when he discovered that they’d invited loads of actor + director friends to come and hear a table read of one of their scripts, warned them, ‘Don’t you realise, they’re all going to have IDEAS!?’

But that’s exactly what we wanted. ‘I only have one boss, and that’s the movie.’

‘If you are open to revision, and iterate enough times, you will look like you know what you’re doing.’

‘Revision is good for you.’

It’s important to remember that we all have this innate ability to tell stories. Trust yourself and work your butt off.

Lord & Miller’s Pledge – ‘I will make new things even if I don’t make any money doing it because I am a human being which is the best animal. Amen.’


Finally this week, another writing event in which you may be interested –


The third University Women in the Arts public event has been announced.

Taking place on November 9th at 6pm, this will be an In Conversation event with Anne Edyvean, Head of BBC Writersroom, the BBC’s new writing department.

Anne is one of 15 women leading the way in the arts in the UK taking part in the one off scheme University Women in the Arts in order to provide access to their advice for women wanting to work in the arts across the UK.

The free event can be booked at:

The event is particularly targeted at female students studying arts subjects at Universities across the UK but is open to anyone who would like access to these women’s advice.


The next newsletter will be on Friday November 11th,

All the best




Oct 28th 2016