Hi There,

a gripping psychological thriller… masterpiece… brilliant: a noir psychological thriller – like a 21st-century Marnie, or Rosemary’s Baby… a gripping and disturbing thriller

Unbelievably (to me) these are all reviews for feature film SIDE EFFECTS, which I caught up with last weekend.

Now I normally have a policy in these newsletters of attempting to keep things positive but, please, allow me to sound off. OK. I thought SIDE EFFECTS was pants. Initially intriguing, as the plot developed it got sillier and sillier, and by the end was in my opinion just plain risible.

It was a real example of ‘plot-driven’. The plot was a twisty, turny juggernaut and any character consistency was crushed in its wake. By the end, the plot bore not the most cursory analysis. And there really wasn’t a discernible character trait in sight – unless you include Catherine Zeta-Jones’s glasses! (brainy woman = wears glasses – brilliant insight!).

But what gets me about this film is that the entire British clique of film critics seem to be holding this up as Stephen Soderbergh’s defining, genius movie. What is wrong with these people?!

It was really instructive to compare it to Tony Grounds’ OUR GIRL on BBC1 last Sunday evening. In some ways this was a familiar story and you might argue it lacked the plot complexity of SIDE EFFECTS. But in my view it was incomparably better than SIDE EFFECTS and a breath of fresh air – it had such heart, soul and warmth, next to the self-regarding vacuum at the heart of SIDE EFFECTS. Above all, it had characters with whom you could relate – real, flawed, human beings. By the end, you really cared about these people.

So the lesson I took from these two strikingly different dramas was this – it doesn’t matter how ‘clever’ your plot is if the characters are mere functions of that plot. What we all relate to is humanity – people with all the flaws, ambitions, insecurities and fears that we all have. Not Catherine Zeta-Jones as the (SPOILER ALERT) evil pouting lesbian psychologist who thinks wearing glasses and scraping your hair back in a scary way constitutes a characterization.

OK rant over.

I’ll be very interested to hear if you violently disagree with this – am I the only person who thinks SIDE EFFECTS isn’t good??


Speaking of which, Thank you all so much for your responses to last week’s musings – particularly Lawrence Cochran from BBC Independent Drama commissioning who picked me up on what I said about the BBC Writers Academy course not taking place this year.

Lawrence pointed me in the direction of a couple of brand-new BBC initiatives that will be of interest to all screenwriters –


A major new drama talent strand, made by Working Title Television.

Distinctive and original drama from writers and directors entirely new to television, brought together for a unique returnable drama event that will play over five nights. Each series takes an inciting incident – a crime for example – and from this starting point, five different stories are told, in five distinctive and original voices. Each series will be guided by a master of the genre; exceptional authors who will mentor the new talent involved. This fresh approach to storytelling will bring entirely new voices to screen in a bold and entertaining drama event. Executive produced by Juliette Howell from Working Title TV and Lucy Richer at the BBC. Commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning and Danny Cohen.

It feels like I only just did last year’s LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL but I see my Script Lab at the 2013 is now up on the LSF website. I enjoyed this enormously last year – three hours analysis of some seriously good drama series ideas, and a broader general discussion of what makes a successful TV drama series. This is one of the hardest things to come up with – but it’s worth having a go. If you can crack the art of creating your very own distinctive, original, long-running TV drama series, you will have broadcasters and major independents tripping over each other to attract your attention. Writers like Peter Moffat, Jed Mercurio, Paul Abbott, Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor and Howard Overman are shining examples of what can be achieved if you crack this particular nut.


My course colleague and all-round good egg Phil Gladwin has asked me to point you in the direction of his excellent screenwriting competition – which has a very impressive judging panel of industry luminaries – and to let you know in particular that the early-bird lower entry price expires at 1 pm TODAY (Thursday) – so don’t miss out.


And finally this week, I’d like to remind you that we are taking bookings for the May 11-12th version of The Two Phils’ ‘The Authoritative Guide To Writing And Selling A Great Screenplay‘ weekend course in central London.

We are delighted that our special Sunday guest this time is experienced BBC script editor ESTHER SPRINGER. I’ve known Esther a long time – we worked together in the Carlton drama department – and she also guested on the 2012 Channel 4 screenwriting course – and there isn’t a more impassioned and knowledgeable supporter of new writing working in the British TV drama industry today – I know she will have many insights for writers looking for that break into becoming a working pro screenwriter.

Keep warm and have a great Easter weekend!

All the best



March 28th 2013