CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday June 21st.

A course for scriptwriters in all media – TV, film, radio, theatre – designed to help you generate exciting ideas and characters, and give your creativity a boost with a day of fun, stimulating writing exercises. Run by TV drama script editor, producer and script consultant PHILIP SHELLEY with guest speaker writer ANDERS LUSTGARTEN

NB Not many places left for this course now – so if you’re interested, early booking is ADVISABLE.



 Hi There,


I indulged myself on bank holiday Monday and watched 7 episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS season 2. I find it wonderfully compelling and so enjoyable that I’m immersed in the stories rather than standing back and trying to objectively analyse why they work as well as they do. But it’s fascinating and instructive to me that I can be so drawn into the stories of two central characters who are so objectively unsympathetic – it’s one of the features of this show that the protagonist in particular is one of the great anti-heroes – hugely complex, but decisively on the side of bad! At the same time though he is a hugely engaging character, and as a member of the audience I’m rooting for him to succeed. Not sure what this says about me…

The show is packed with memorable characterisations and brilliant story-telling. But in this 7 episode splurge, there was one deceptively simple scene that stood out for me in its economy, originality and story-telling power. It’s a brief one minute scene in Season 2 Episode 3. A scene in which Rachel Posner is working in a call centre, undertaking a phone survey about gun crime in US schools. The anonymous male caller on the other end of the line tries to flirt with her ‘You sound hot. Are you hot?’ – and even this fatuous flirtation is written beautifully (set as it is uncomfortably against the background of the horrible idea of mass shootings in schools). Rachel cuts off the call, looks up to see that her supervisor isn’t looking, then scrolls across a Google-earth-type map until she comes to a large building – it’s a hospital, she gets the phone number and calls, looks back again to make sure her supervisor isn’t looking her way. ‘Can I speak to Cheryl Posner?’ ‘Sorry, she’s on duty right now.’ ‘It’s her daughter’. ‘Hold on one moment.’ The call is put through. As she waits Rachel looks around her again, shiftily. The supervisor notices, starts slowly walking over to her desk. Cheryl Posner (on phone): ‘Rachel…Rachel…sweetheart are you there?’ We see Rachel listening, contemplating whether she should answer. Cheryl: ‘Please don’t…’ As the supervisor approaches, Rachel does indeed hang up. Then goes back to another survey call. End of scene.

So it’s brief, it’s functional, there’ a minimum of dialogue – but it’s such a great example of how to dramatize exposition so that it’s powerful character-driven drama, rather than flat information – the idea that Rachel left home and her mother doesn’t know where she is. And there’s huge tension in the scene, with us wondering whether Rachel will indeed make contact with her mother, as we see the supervisor get closer and closer. And we know how important for different reasons this job is to Rachel – emotionally, she can’t afford to lose it. But it also and most brilliantly reveals the huge inner conflict within Rachel – her decision – for whatever reason – to reject her family, to disappear herself, but her contradictory deep inner need to make contact again with her mother. And in the lack of resolution, this scene also sets up a powerful on-going relationship and hook for future episodes (Will Rachel finally be reunited with her family?)

And all this in a one minute scene in a call centre, with only 1 on-screen speaking character. Absolutely brilliant screen story-telling. And the thing about House Of Cards is that there is scene after scene that can take this sort of analysis, because this is such a well-crafted, smart piece of story-telling.


Epsode 5 was, in its very different way, as powerful as the more action-packed episode 4. At the heart of the episode was the story of Catherine Cawood’s ‘recovery’ from trauma – I think it was the best, most real portrayal of depression I’ve ever seen in TV drama – and there were a number of memorable scenes – between Catherine and her sister, Catherine and her ex-husband in a pub, and between Catherine and her grandson. In parallel with this relatively narratively low-key strand, the thriller \ villain-on-the-run story strand built up another head of steam. Again, this was sophisticated, complex, subtle, moving, character-driven story at its best.

You feel with Wainwright and Lancashire here you’re watching something really quite special: a moment when writer and actor are so completely, perfectly in step with each other.

The Guardian online


This new BBC 3-part serial is building nicely – episode two was a wonderful piece of story-telling that built and built the intensity – both dramatic and comic – until a beautiful set-piece scene at the end that was wonderful in its own right but more importantly was a powerful hook for the final episode.

And here’s an inspiring and insightful interview with PETER BOWKER – another of this country’s outstanding TV dramatists – about the craft of screenwriting, from the BBC Writers Room website. One of things this interview illustrates is how deeply the best writers think about and analyse their craft.

And another more recent, but equally interesting interview that he did for the Guardian about FROM THERE TO HERE.

 TV drama junkie that I am, I’m going to be a bit bereft with the final episodes of FROM THERE TO HERE, HAPPY VALLEY and (for me) HOUSE OF CARDS all imminent. But then again there’s a whole brand new series of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK available from June 6th (sorry I’m coming on like a Netflix salesperson…)


Monday May 26th was the cut-off point for this year’s 12 Channel 4 screenwriting course writers to deliver their final scripts before the 2nd weekend of the course in mid-June. This is always a big moment in the course for me as I get a first chance to read all the 9 completed scripts that I haven’t been working on – and to see how they compare to the three I have been working on. The first bit of good news was that all 12 writers delivered by the deadline – which is impressive. And I then had a great couple of days, working my way through the 12 scripts. The variety of ideas, characters, stories was wonderful – such a rich range of imaginative and compelling story worlds. I won’t go into specifics here – I don’t want to single out any one script when all 12 had their own individual qualities, and all were enjoyable in their own unique ways. But the overall standard this year is remarkably high – I have no doubt that many of these writers will go on to be the Chris Chibnalls, Sally Wainwrights and Jed Mercurios of the future.

One of the exciting aspects of the C4 course for me is to see how writers get on after the course, to see them knocking down industry doors and getting their work up on the screen.  In general this can be a slow process – a matter of years not weeks. But if the writers come out of the C4 course with a really good script then I feel confident that they will get there in the end. So, for instance, just from the 2012 course, CAT JONES wrote one of the recent BBC i-player shorts, and episodes of YOUNGERS (Talkback \ E4) and WATERLOO ROAD (Shed \ BBC) and REGINA MORIARTY has written a single film, MY MAN, for the BBC. ALI TAYLOR is working on a TV adaptation of his brilliant stage play FAULTLINES and ARINZE KENE has two feature film commissions.

I look forward with excitement to see what this year’s 12 C4 writers will achieve in the next couple of years and beyond.

Until next week

All the best



Twitter: @philipshelley1

May 30th 2014