CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday Feb 21st 2015
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.
I had a really enjoyable day last Saturday running another sell-out London CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS course.
The day is all about generating new ideas, creating new characters. As ever I was hugely impressed by the quality of the ideas that came out of the day. The writers created a series of short, linked character monologues, many of which have stuck with me since, and which I’ve encouraged the writers to keep working on.
I think there’s a masochistic tendency sometimes to think that the best ideas have to come out of months of toil, research and pain – whereas very often the opposite is true. Certainly, with these one day courses, so many brilliant, original ideas are created within a matter of minutes. So often, it’s just about putting yourselves as writers into the right environment for creativity – and that’s usually not sitting in front of you computer screen until your forehead bleeds!
For me, it was an energising reminder of just how much writing talent there is in the UK – something that I’m also finding as I read through the script submissions for the 2015 Channel 4 screenwriting course.
It’s also reminding me of how so often there’s something in the zeitgeist that writers seize on at the same time. If the cross-section of scripts that I’ve read so far is anything to go by, at the moment the hot topic is the power of the internet – so many (almost universally excellent) stories about the (damaging) power and ‘Pandora’s Box’ nature of the internet and social media.
Something else that made me think about the exercises I ask writers to do on the CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS course – bear with me on this! On a recent dog walk, in my local park, I was having a conversation with a fellow dog owner as you do. 5 or so minutes into the conversation I realised that I in fact knew this person that I couldn’t see (it was pitch dark), she used to teach my daughter at primary school. The fact that the dynamics of the conversation I was having – initially relaxed and easy-going – then changed when I found out who I was talking to and became a bit more guarded (this doesn’t reflect very well on me!) made me think about why character and stories fascinate me. It got me thinking about how you could use this situation in a story, and other settings where you could mis-identify the person you’re with – On the phone? Someone wearing a mask? Meeting someone in person who until then you’d communicated with entirely on-line (see above!)…And there are all sorts of story situations when you talk to someone in the dark! But it was really interesting to me to think about how this changes the whole dynamic of a scene \ story…
Not that I’m going to introduce an exercise into my CREATIVITY course where people talk to each other with the lights out…!
ADAM CURTIS: ‘STORYFIABLE’ BBC Writers Festival
Sometime after the event I’ve finally written up my notes on what for me was by far the most interesting talk at this year’s BBC DRAMA WRITERS FESTVAL – the end-of-the-day talk given by documentary film-maker ADAM CURTIS.
The talk was about the crossover from news stories and documentaries to fictional story-telling, and how in his opinion, parts of the world in which he’s interested have now become UNSTORYFIABLE.
He discussed a lot of very fascinating but at times hard-to-grasp ideas – which is reflected in the somewhat scatter-gun, unconnected nature of my notes –
He talked about the uncertainty of our time. About crises that come and go, aren’t resolved, and make no sense. Like the Financial crisis, the Afghan war.
We used to give politicians a vote and they’d tell us a story about the world. But that doesn’t happen any longer. There’s a new system of power in the western world that we can’t get to grips with, one that’s not interested in telling stories, not interested in us.
The old elites from the 1980’s, that were defined by opposing political and ideological stances, no longer exist in the same way.
He discussed the phenomenon of Facebook – and its emotional contagion.
The modern power structure of our world – that can read and predict in a way that we can’t. Like Facebook – and the Amazon algorithm.
He talked about developing a documentary about a man called Larry Fink – who runs a company called Blackrock. ‘The largest money-management firm on the planet.’ He runs a series of mega-computers in a vast warehouse / shed in deepest rural Washington State. The computers monitor world events – looking for patterns and correlations, comparing them to past events, constantly adjusting where his vast wealth is invested – highly sophisticated financial risk management based on complex computer algorithms. So the computers are constantly shifting his money around the world – to keep the world stable, to keep a balance in world economies and therefore politics. From a story point of view this is ‘incredibly boring.’
Fink does what politicians used to do – but in keystrokes on a computer. These algorithms are really powerful. But how do you make a story out of this?
He discussed how Journalism is in a post-imperial hangover. People don’t care about what happens anymore – because they can’t change it.
Large chunks of the world aren’t being reported on – because we don’t understand them.
The world has become unstoryfiable until we find a new way of telling the story – are pictures what limit us?
He feels we’re at the fag-end of something. Dramatists deal in a world of human feeling – therefore arguably more in touch with the world of now. Whereas journalism tries to make sense of a broader world and is struggling.
There’s been a huge shift of power – modern-day elites drifting away from the rest of us. They’re not visible in the way the old elites were. Journalists, documentary film-makers don’t have the apparatus to explain why things have got stuck –
Why do we prosecute old entertainers but not those involved in the financial crises that have made such a huge negative difference to our world? And companies like Wonga – sending out fake lawyers’ letters but nothing’s going to happen. Why do we not know whether we’ve won the Afghan war? Or indeed what the Afghan war was for / about?
Increasingly large chunks of the world are being left out. In films and journalism there are structures for what has happened. In modern political and economic world, we are increasingly isolated from events and decisions. And know less and less about what is happening and what is going to happen.
The power structures in the western world are no longer about democratically-elected politicians, who each have a particular political philosophy. Power structures are now more abstract and hidden, completely different. It needs a conceptual frame that we haven’t come up with yet to ‘storify’ it.
And the sophisticated computer ‘algorithm’ / prediction systems cut advertising out of the loop. Advertising no longer holds sway as it did not that long ago.
Computers know all our dirty secrets. (eg roughly how many people will commit suicide every year.)
If you use computers to inspire people in this way it’s very powerful.
Conclusion – feeling is the most important thing in creating a story – creating a feeling around that story. He challenged the screenwriters present to find ways in which to ‘storify’ this New World in which we live.
And, again, a fascinating and significant minority of scripts entered for this year’ C4 screenwriting course do seem to be dramatising the phenomenon of how we live so much of our lives through our personal devices and screens.
Finally – if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the screenwriter in your life, how about a scrip-consultant gift token for one of my courses or script feedback / advice?
Until next week
All the best
Nov 21st 2014