Hi There,

After my summer break, it’s very good to get back to thinking about TV, film and screenwriting.

I’ve watched quite a few shows over the summer that have really refreshed my passion for good dramatic writing –


With a cast that includes Toni Colette, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, this was a bit of a banker – and it didn’t disappoint. A really cracking script by Jim Rash & Nat Faxon – who also direct and both act in the film.

I was teaching a one day screenwriting course at a London ad agency this week which (by accident) turned into a WAY WAY BACK master-class – using it as an example of many different virtues of screenwriting.

SOUTHCLIFFE (C4) has garnered some contrasting response on the facebook page for writers who have done the ‘2phils’ courses – but I thought it was absolutely compelling, brilliant TV drama. As is the 2nd series of TOP BOY.

One of the things that impresses me about both of these serials is that neither are afraid to take their time, both are slow-burns that really reward viewing, and just seem to get better and better. Hats off to writers Tony Grisoni and Ronan Bennett – and the Channel 4 drama department who are commissioning consistently excellent drama – I urge you also to catch up with ‘Complicit‘ and ‘The Returned‘ in particular on 4OD if you haven’t already seen them.

But the best thing I’ve watched over the summer was a re-run of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – I turned onto this almost by accident – I probably haven’t sat through the whole film for a good 20 years – but from the moment I started watching I was hooked – what a wonderful lesson in great screenwriting (and directing, casting, acting, editing etc).

Written for the screen by Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman, from Ken Kesey’s novel and Dale Wasserman’s stage play, it’s remarkable that so many years later it doesn’t seem dated at all – its qualities still shine through. Completely gripping.

Here are a few of the screenwriting elements that stood out to me as being hugely successful from the screenplay –

The protagonist’s journey – what a brilliant, flawed but ultimately heroic protagonist Randall McMurphy is. The story is told so strongly from his POV, and he’s a captivating character.

But his character journey would be considerably less effective without the presence of such a subtly drawn, under-stated but chillingly controlling antagonist as Nurse Ratched.

This really is as fine an example as you’ll find of a compelling protagonist vs antagonist duel.

The story world is original, detailed and highly credible – and you’re drawn into the world of this institution for the mentally ill, and the brilliantly written and acted secondary characters who people it – the chief, Harding, Cheswick, Martini and Billy Bibbit.

Character dynamics – there are so many wonderfully-drawn relationships between the inmates.

Making every scene count – every single scene seems to have a vital role in the unfolding of the story – there’s not an ounce of fat on this story.

Action speaks louder than words – it’s ultimately about what the characters do not what they say.

Twist in the tale – how McMurphy dies but Chief wins out.

How the sub-plots support and connect to the main plot. eg the resolution of Billy’s story leads directly to McMurphy’s death.

The interior, contained intensity of the story-telling. Every EXTERIOR moment feels earned.

The premise is simple but compellingly dramatic.

How to write Set-up’s \ pay-offs – for instance Randall’s failed attempt early in the film to lift the shower block – which the chief later lifts and throws through the window to escape.

This is a really good recent article about the film from The Guardian.


About a year ago, writer \ script editor MERCY HOOPER wrote an excellent guest blog about the helpfulness of writers groups.

Script Consultant Newsletter Oct 12th WRITING GROUPS – Mercy Hooper Guest Blog

On our screenwriters studio facebook page writer Steve Ridlington asked this question –

Hi. Are there any writers out there located in the East Midlands/Lincolnshire area who would be interested in being part of a local screenwriters’ group that would meet up on a regular basis? Despite the wonders of the online world enabling communication, my own experience has been that my best creativity and ideas have occurred when I’ve actually been in a room with fellow creatives discussing stories and writing. I haven’t found any screenwriting groups so far in my part of the world and wondered if anyone was interested?

If you’re from this part of the world and this is of interest please email me and I will pass your email onto Steve – Steve came on one of our recent weekend screenwriting courses. He is a very nice guy and a very good writer.

Kevin Spacey Edinburgh TV Festival MacTaggart Lecture

Here’s a link to a video of Kevin Spacey’s full Edinburgh TV Festival MacTaggart lecture – it’s well worth watching – very smart and inspiring, and he’s a consummate performer. And I have picked out a few quotes here that resonated with me.

The main thrust of his speech was that in these times of rapid technological change, when the boundaries between film, TV, streaming are breaking down, it’s still all about STORIES. In whatever format, audiences are crying out for good stories well-told – executives \ networks \ broadcates must nurture and encourage – and not get in the way of – new talent.

His rallying cry at the start of the speech is ‘It’s all about the creatives, stupid.’

‘Disappointed this industry doesn’t do more to help new talent.’

‘We can all use success to benefit others’

‘Age is not a barrier to great ideas and great stories…talent comes in all sizes and shapes.’

‘Old Vic New Voices – instead of training writers separately…we united writers, producers, directors and actors…because that’s how drama is made…it was an experiment but it’s turned into such a success that 28 productions at the Edinburgh Fringe this year will have been written, directed, produced or acted by alumni of the Old Vic New Voices programme.

‘Culture is not a luxury item, it’s a necessity.’

‘The audience want the control, they want the freedom…We have learned the lesson the music industry didn’t learn – give people what they want when they want it, at a reasonable price, and they’re more likely to pay for it than steal it.’

‘We need to surprise…and take viewers to new places.’

‘BREAKING BAD teaches us a very important lesson for the networks…about patience. BREAKING BAD was a slow starter in ratings terms….MAD MEN had taught AMC that shows can take time to find an audience…This teaches us that these shows need to be nurtured, to be treated as assets….THE SOPRANOS took 4 seasons to reach its apex’

‘If there’s one thing that overlaps between business and art, it’s that the risk-takers are rewarded.’

‘I predict in the next decade or so, any differentiation between these platforms (TV, film, streaming) will fall away.’

Talking about the cliché of ‘shrinking attention spans’ – how in fact the audience is often now viewing whole series in a day or two (eg ‘House Of Cards’)

‘When something is good enough, people can watch something three times the length of an opera.’

‘It’s always been about empowering artists.’

‘The audience have spoken – they want stories.’


Phil Gladwin and I are very excited to be initiating two new courses this autumn –


A course designed to help you practice and perfect your pitch\es for the London Screenwriters Festival and beyond; to give you some top networking tips, to enable you to convert your LSF experience into meetings, script sales and employment as screenwriter.

And even if you’re not going to the LSF, this intensive half day course will offer invaluable pitching and networking advice. The main aim is that you come away from the course with clarity and confidence in your ability to pitch. This half day course will include a chance for guided, informal practice and rehearsal, and a simulation of the LSF pitching environment so that you are prepared for every pitching eventuality!

Weds Oct 16th 6.30 -9.30 or Sat Oct 19th 2-5 Central London



Designed for dramatic writers across every genre (TV, Film, Radio, Stage, Games etc) this course is designed to reawaken your creativity – to get you thinking like professional writers – being observant of, and receptive to, the world around you.

Using several different techniques \ exercises we will enable you to find and create new ideas to refresh your writing, and to help unlock your creativity. This intensive, hands-on, one day course will feature special guest ANDERS LUSTGARTEN, a highly successful young writer, who has written excellent plays for the Royal Court main stage, the Finborough and other venues, and was one of the 2012 Channel 4 screenwriting graduates; in his other life he is a highly engaged political activist – work that deeply informs his writing.

Sat Nov 30th – 10 – 5.30 Central London

We are also still taking bookings for our regular How To Write (And Sell!) A Great Screenplay weekend courses with guests CHRIS CHIBNALL and LUCY GANNON

Sept 28\29, Nov 16\17 Central London

For full details and how to book –

Until next week

All the best



twitter: @philipshelley1

Sept 6th 2013