Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Reading Screenplays - Lucy Scher’s Brand New Book

Exciting news from The Script Factory…

Back in 1999, Lucy Scher pioneered the first training course for script readers. Since then, The Script Factory has built a worldwide reputation for teaching workshops on how to effectively analyse screenplays.

The teaching has been constantly updated and evolved in line with industry practice over the last ten years and we are delighted to announce that all the research and thinking that Lucy and the rest of the Script Factory's training team have done has now culminated in a book.

Reading Screenplays, published by Kamera Books, offers a practical approach to evaluating scripts and assessing their potential as movie ideas.

With chapters on Storytelling and the Principles of Genre, Script Report Writing, Writing and Assessing Treatments and building a Career in Script Development, the book contains sample synopses and a script report, a useful list of resources and helpful ‘good reader’ tips from producers. It’s a great read and an invaluable companion for anyone involved in the script development process; equally useful as a guide for those who are new to script reading, and as a refresher for more seasoned developers.

Not only did Lucy conceive the UK’s first script reader training course, but she also developed the Script Factory and National Film and Television School’s Diploma in Script Development - the only comprehensive vocational programme in script development in the UK – out of which our group, In Development, was born. Lucy was also instrumental in helping us to launch this year, so we’re thrilled that she will be joining us as a special guest in early 2012. More details coming soon!

You can read more about the book from Lucy, here - and it’s available at a special offer price of £10, here.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Linda Aronson Screenwriting Masterclass Offer!

Thanks to our friends at the London Screenwriters' Festival for another great In Development discount. The course happens this weekend, so snap up your places quickly! Hope to see you there.

Anyone who has heard Linda Aronson speak about screenwriting knows that the insight that she can offer YOU, about YOUR screenplay, is extraordinary. This 2 Day Workshop on advanced screenwriting technique and Parallel Narrative will show you how you can become a 21st Century Storyteller.

Linda Aronson is the world's leading expert in new story techniques and tools such as 
Flashback, Time Jumps, Tandem Narrative, Multiple Protagonists, Double Journeys, Consecutive Stories and Fractured Tandem (used in films like Pulp Fiction, Inception, Atonement and 21 Grams)... She has created robust and powerful frameworks from which you can build those stories you want to tell, stories that feel limited or underdeveloped in a linear three act structure.

'Linda Aronson is one of the great and important voices on screenwriting' Linda Seger Making A Good Script Great

You can get a full break down of the workshop and buy your tickets here… 

The workshop takes place over the weekend of Nov. 12th and 13th at Regents College. It costs £119 but you can get it for £65, nearly half price, as a In Development member – use the code INDEV to get your discount

Saturday, 5 November 2011

October Drinks with Charlie Hanson

Last month we headed to the Soho Theatre bar, for a fun night of drinks and chat with acclaimed producer of comedy and drama, television and film, Charlie Hanson.

Charlie has over twenty years of experience in the industry, producing televison series including Birds of a Feather (BBC), Desmonds (Channel 4), Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (Channel 4), Whites (BBC), Snuff Box (BBC – and just out on DVD in the USA!) and the Golden Globe winning Extras (HBO/BBC) – as well as the BAFTA-winning feature film A Way of Life and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Cemetery Junction (read his full profile here).

He has just produced Life’s Too ShortRicky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s new HBO/BBC comedy series, starring Warwick Davies, which starts Thursday, 10th November, on BBC2 - and he is currently working on a top secret comedy project!

We got to hear all about Charlie’s work as a freelance producer and managing director of his own company, Tantrum Films – and the making of Life’s Too Short. If you missed the night, don’t worry, you can find out more about the show tonight (5th November) at 10.15pm on BBC2 (or catch up on the iPlayer)!

Members who came along included actor, Ronan Vibert, recently seen in Sky Atlantic’s The Borgias, and currently filming Hatfields & McCoys for the History Channel (and who worked with Charlie on Birds of a Feather); script reader and production coordinator, Laura Park, who has just finished work on the brand new episodes of Absolutely Fabulous; writers' agents, Simon Williamson and Janice Daydevelopment producers May Gibson, Adam Polonsky and Avon Harpley; script editor Lauren Cushman; screenwriter and script consultant, Ellin Stein; comedy writer and performer, Nathaniel Tapley; writer and creator of BBC One drama Land Girls, Roland Moore (don't miss the third series, showing this week!) and writer/broadcaster (and former Karl Pilkington stand-in on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s show, during her XFM days), Claire Sturgess. Thanks to Claire for whipping out her phone and taking photos on the night, as Jeremiah was unable to make it.

A huge thank you to everybody who came along, Soho Theatre for looking after us so well, and to Charlie, for being incredibly generous with his time, during a particularly busy period, and answering all of our questions!

Invites for this month's drinks - and our Christmas party! - will be in your inbox soon. If you're not on our mailing list and would like to join us, please get in touch.

Best wishes,

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Projects of Passion: September Event - 'The Strange Death of Harry Stanley' Premiere

By Sarah Olley

If there’s one thing I’ve been discussing a lot recently then its passion projects. For some there are stories that just have to be told because they mean so much. Whether it’s a campaigning film, a world you want to reveal, a moment in time you’re driven to recreate, or a book that’s stayed with you that you must get to the screen - I’ve been very lucky recently to be working and meeting with people about their feature film projects of passion.

In this blisteringly competitive business, where most stories never see the light of day, passion is, of course, a vital commodity. You’re going to be slaving for a very long time to get your project to the screen, so you’d better really love it. People can see it in your eyes, it’s infectious and a driving passion can be the power that turns one project into a living breathing reality while another one languishes and dies. For emerging writers it’s all about finding the stories they’re most passionate to tell and the same should be true for us developers and producers.

Often this type of film is driven by a need to bring to light something that has been forgotten or passed over, something that people need and want to know about. The Strange Death of Harry Stanley is one such short film and its premiere was the subject of our drinks in September. We headed to The Roxy cinema on Borough High Street to see the film by writer/director Jeremiah Quinn – longstanding In Development member.

On 22nd September 1999, Harry Stanley, 46, walked into a Hackney pub with a table leg he'd taken to his brother’s house to repair. The people in the pub thought the table leg was a sawn-off shotgun. They rang the police who came and shot Harry in the back. The two policemen were acquitted and claimed that Harry had turned and raised the table leg as if to take aim at them.

This story stuck with Jeremiah, enough for him to seek out Irene Stanley, (Harry’s widow), years later and gain her approval of the project. It may have stuck with you too, simply with the question; how the hell did this happen? Jeremiah’s film is not a reconstruction, but an imagining of Harry’s last day, his thoughts and feelings at a time when he was recovering from a serious illness and particularly savouring life. Its intention is to play with the idea of how the truth can be twisted and confused.

After the screening there was a panel discussion featuring Irene Stanley, Jeremiah and Helen Shaw (director of Inquest). They answered audience questions on the events after Harry’s death and the progress of the campaign to bring the truth to light. Harry was an ordinary man, he wasn’t acting in a threatening or disturbed manner, his accent was Scottish, not Irish, as was reported by the person calling the police. There are still plenty of justifiably angry people who would, at the very least, like an apology for this awful, life shattering mistake. They would also like to see changes in the system which still allows police officers to pool their recollections before reporting their actions. These campaigners include Terry Stewart from Justice for Harry Stanley who added his input on the mic.

That evening we retired to the Kings Head for post screening drinks and the next morning Jeremiah and Irene Stanley appeared on the Sky morning news to talk about the film and try to throw some more of the public spotlight on Harry Stanley’s unresolved story. It was because Harry's story had disappeared in the news that Jeremiah was first driven to bring it to the screen. There are hopes that this short film can do something to support the Harry Stanley campaign, so we watch this space. For now you can read more about the campaign here and view the film trailer here.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

London Screenwriters' Festival - In Development Discount!

Are you free on the weekend 28th-30th October? Fancy a super-size dose of networking, talks and workshops all around our passion topic - screenwriting?

We've been chatting to those lovely people at The London Screenwriters' Festival and can now happily offer all In Development members the best discount in town to this year's festival. We've been awarded group status, so just email groupsales@londonswf.com with In Development in the subject line and you'll get a discount code to get an automatic:

£66.00 OFF the normal ticket price of £300! Bringing your ticket price down to £234!

Its a fantasitc line up as ever this year, with loads of opportunities to network with writers, producers, agents and make great new contacts for the year/s ahead!

Look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Another Script Factory Course Offer! 27 September

Thanks to our friends at The Script Factory for this amazing course discount for In Development members. Snap up a place before they all go!

27th September, 10am - 5pm at the BFI Southbank

An intensive workshop specifically aimed at writers developing ideas for an animated format. The course will be taught by Rebecca Wolman, Head of Content and Development for Snowball, one of Europe’s leading Animation Studios, and will explore exactly what makes a winning computer generated format and give practical advice on creating and developing your own brilliant animated ideas. Suitable for both those with ready experience and those looking to forge relationships with others in this booming sector of the industry.

The price for members of In Development is just  £40 + VAT (normal price £144).

Call Sheena on 07908 815 665 to book your place and claim your discount.

August Drinks

It was a small but perfectly formed gathering for August. Ten of us got together for drinks, with  faces old and new in the mix. 

We raised a glass to writer/producer Piers Beckley, fresh from his five star success at Edinburgh Fringe. His children’s show ‘The Just So Stories’ came away with a profit after its festival run at The Pleasance. Continuing on a children’s theme, it was great chatting with writer and script consultant Danny Stack, currently writing for ITV’s latest kids' show, (ITV’s first new kids' commission in quite some time). He’ll be joining us as an official guest before too long, but we had a chance to chat about all things kids' TV and share our recent experiences in this particular corner of development.

We met new members; director Makalla McPherson and producer Akua Obeng Frimpong, currently making moves into script development. It was nice to be able to welcome them into such a relaxed and friendly group.

Amongst these, we enjoyed catching up with director Peter Chipping, screenwriter Catherine Skinner and the man behind the stills camera – writer/director Jeremiah Quinn. The premiere of Jeremiah’s new short film, 'The Strange Death of Harry Stanley' will be the focus of September’s In Development gathering. Hope you can join us for this showcase of the work of one of our most longstanding members. Invites on the way shortly.

Cheers, Sarah & Hannah x

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

TV Drama: The Writers’ Festival – Jimmy McGovern in Conversation

“If you’ve not been told you need a psychologist, as a writer, you’ve failed.”

Photo by Jason Arnopp
One of the biggest treats of the festival was Jimmy McGovern in conversation with Kate Rowland. Frank and funny, a self-confessed “grafter”; here’s a man with wit, integrity, a commitment to revealing the truth through drama, and some highly quotable one-liners…

He said you have to “tell the story you want to write”; that it’s about “having a visceral response to a story” – and “a story that helps people”.

He would not write a story if it meant nothing to him. He said that he’s not “political with a big ‘P’”, but writes about issues that matter to him.

Asked “Why TV?” he said, “nobody’s going to go to the cinema to see Hillsborough; that most British and Hollywood films “are an insult to our intelligence” (he praised foreign films), and that most theatre writers “are crap”. On television, “you can tell intelligent stories about things that are important.” TV “gets done… If it’s any good it’ll get made”.

On Hillsborough, he said that all that mattered was telling the story. He didn’t expect the BAFTAs – and feels uneasy about that side of things. “People are still grieving.”

He talked about “forgiveness” as a theme, and said that he finds himself writing about it all the time. “Compassion; what it means to be a human being”.

He believes that “lousy journalism creates the need for good drama”, and that it should empower the people involved, whose stories are being told. “The process has got to be more than the product.”

For Sunday, he spent four years in Derry talking to everybody involved in the events, and stood by every word. He said that every detail in the drama was later revealed to be “spot on”, by the Saville Inquiry.

The idea that “law and justice are incompatible” informs the whole of Accused; and in Frankie’s Story, it’s about “the conflict between humanity and the need to kill (at war)”. The question examined is: “what does it take to get young men to kill other young men?”

On The Street and Accused (on which he works with other writers), he “never accepts a story unless (he) can write it” (because ultimately he “might have to”) – and he “tries to work with writers who are good”.

He prefers writing with other people, and gets “depressed” writing on his own. The “best times” are “talking story (and getting paid for it!)”. “No ego… none of that, thank you… It’s not about ego, it’s about story.” The aim? (“We fail!”) “…to end up with a story so pure… total integrity – it looks as though we found it in the street.” It “looks effortless”. The writing is “not present”.

He said, "if God spares me, I’m going to write a historical epic” – with writers he likes.

On writing and hard work: “we confuse writing with typing… writing is sweating blood.” It’s about “getting under the skin”.

He avoids writing the first way he thought of getting into a scene; as that’s just “adequate’. He finds a totally different way, and “gives five hours to it, not half an hour”; he “finds a way most other writers wouldn’t come up with” (the bonus being, that this makes it more gripping for audience, as they won’t have thought of it either).

He said, “we strive to write great drama,” but that in this attempt, “you (we) will fail, we all fail.” He believes that the way to succeed in this quest is to “employ brain and heart – and strive to write great drama”. “It’s all brain and heart - some writers only employ brain.”

He told the story of football trials as a child, and the way he’d get noticed, and said to: “write as the kid with his shirt outside his shorts… that’s how you demonstrate talent; that’s how you get the phone ringing”.

On Brookside, he would be “writing for eight actors… six who couldn’t act - pieces of wood”. “Write for the two who can act.” “What counts is the manifestation of your talent.” 

Update: Broadcast has more highlights of the conversation here.

July Drinks - Critic and Creative

Thanks to our lovely guests this July - Film 2011 critic, journalist and novelist Danny Leigh and screenwriter, journalist and novelist Jason Arnopp. They were with us to chat about their experiences working as critics of other people’s fiction as well as creators of their own. What are the advantages and pitfalls of moving from one end of the creative process to the other?
With 20 years experience interviewing interesting types from across TV, music and film, m'colleague Mr. Arnopp has just launched a fascinating e-book called How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else, as well as a website for aspiring journalists. Always witty and fun to be around, (his 12 thousand twitter followers I’m sure would agree), Jason can certainly teach us all a thing or two about ‘bedside manner’. Meeting and forming relationships with such a breadth of people in the industry also doesn’t harm you when making the transition into screenwriting. A long time journalist for Dr. Who magazine, Jason now writes a variety of official Dr. Who fiction and his first produced feature Stormhouse was launched this year at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Long time film and music journalist Danny Leigh was recently plucked from his Guardian film blog to co-host the revamped Film 2011 alongside Claudia Winkleman. Their partnership of informed everyman and passionate intellectual has already proved a successful mix. Danny has written two critically acclaimed novels and was noted as ‘a key writer of his generation’ by Dazed and Confused magazine. He is currently writing his third novel and shared with us the pitfalls of trying to keep your creative focus when juggling multiple projects.

With lots to talk about with both our featured guests we’re glad they found time to join us for a drink amidst undeniably busy schedules.

Our area of the BFI lounge was buzzing as usual with a whole host of interesting guests from the world of film and TV development and production. These included award winning writer/director Justin Edgar, currently developing new feature projects with his company 104 Films, comedy producer Norma Burke, actor Ronan Vibert, about to fly off to shoot series two of The Borgias, (with the first series of this lavish production just launched on Sky Atlantic). Also, Christina Pickworth and Steven Russell from Loves Me Not Films, Adam Polonsky from Focus Films, script editor and writer Merle Nygate and script editor Lauren Cushman among many others. We had a fantastic evening with new friends and old and look forward as ever to the next one.

 For the summer break, August’s get together will be a relaxed affair, with featured guests this time: you and us! Come and ask us what we’re up to and tell us your news. Then we’ll be back with more featured guests and events in the autumn.

Hope you can join us. Invites coming soon. x

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

TV Drama: The Writers’ Festival – Day 2

By Hannah Billingham

Plenty of time to digest Day 1; now, finally, here’s Day 2…

The curse of the scriptwriting guru?

John Yorke, the BBC’s Controller of Drama Production and New Talent, is renowned for his engaging and informative lectures on screenwriting. His Series Masterclass at last year’s festival was excellent (see Margit Keerdo’s write-up, here). This year’s session was so compelling, I almost forgot to take notes…

John Yorke. Photo by Jason Arnopp
The gist of it was: we get worked up about structure, but storytelling, and story structure, are inherent to human beings. It’s as simple as a beginning, middle and end. Jason Arnopp has written about the session on his blog: “It's hardwired into our psyches, just like morning, afternoon and night, or birth, life and death.” John also referenced the Hegelian Dialectic’s  “thesis”, “antithesis” and “synthesis”.

We were taken on a tour, from ancient Greece to the present day, via Eugène Scribe’s well-made play (the “first formula”), with the conclusion that the five act structure and the three act structure are fundamentally the same (the latter, a simplification of the former). John cleverly put the structure diagrams of several script gurus’ theories (from the ages) next to each other, to prove that they are all saying the same thing.

He concluded that while people like David Hare may disparage the “film school”/Syd Field/Robert McKee “formulae” of film structure (see photo), practitioners of every other art form takes pride in the academic study of the history of their art - and that classical drama structure is rooted in history, and in the way that human brains think.

The session ended with the quote:

“First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.” – Delacroix

Launching a new series

This was a festival highlight, with another experienced, successful, know-their-stuff panel.

Jane Featherstone, Kudos’s Creative Director opened by saying it’s about getting the elements right, but it’s also about “alchemy” between those elements, and “luck”. She said: “it all starts with the writer”. Writer, Bill Gallagher said it “starts with the character”. Ashley Pharoah said that, in the case of Wild At Heart, premise came first, then potential for conflict, then character. It’s about having an instinct for conflict that “has legs”. And ensuring that every scene is as entertaining as you can make it.

Toby Whithouse believes you have to “give the audience what they need, rather than what they want”. Audience is broad. You can’t please everybody. It’s not about “producing something facile, in a desperate need to please”. He said he creates massive reams of character bios - digging to create three-dimensional characters.

The panel agreed that the key to a successful series is wit and humour (in terms of take on the world), and that you generally need to “get to the premise more quickly”, in episode one. They referred to the US “premise pilot” and said that In the UK the first series is the equivalent of a US pilot. Series one of Luther lacked “tonal clarity” – rectified for series two. (There’s more on this from Luther writer, Neil Cross, here.)

Ashley Pharoah said that the times he has “come a cropper” are when he has “stepped out of genre”, and that you need to know the rules of what you’re creating: the “world”, and “what it is”. In the telling of the story, you need confidence; you “have to look as if you know what you’re doing!”

Toby Whithouse said that it sounds obvious, but you should show characters “doing their thing” to set them up.

Jane Featherstone thinks that Spooks has kept going for so long because of a “let’s make the next series better” mentality. Total passion, total commitment.

Bill Gallagher wrote thirty-two episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford and absolutely loved the characters, so there was never an episode where he thought, “Oh, God… (not this).” He learned on Casualty that drama is to “create a character (and) throw shit at her.”

Other points made were: it’s about having “an iconic character you love” (for example, Gene Hunt, from Life on Mars) – one that “stands out above the ensemble”. And don’t let characters change and grow too much. An audience comes back to the characters they love. “Things aren’t fundamentally changing greatly.” (Pressing the “reset button” at the end of an episode.)

Thriller – the trojan
“Or: how to smuggle ideas and stories in under the beguiling cloak of genre.”
Panel: Frank Spotnitz, Jane Featherstone, Fiona Seres, Hugo Blick

Some gems of advice here, but my notes are a bit sketchy for this one... (If anyone can fill in the gaps, of who said what, I’d love to hear from you.)

Hugo Blick defined suspense as “knowing what is coming” and mystery as “not knowing what is coming”.

It is manipulative if the writer has an obvious intention.

Thrillers need wit and élan – we can’t get underneath dull characters.

Use the elements of the genre and spin them for your own purposes – will become fresh. Weave in truth. We need to buy into the story emotionally and believe it could happen. Heart and head.

“No tears for the writer, no tears for the viewer.” (The same goes for fun.)

“Sit forward, rip the mask off, don’t be po-faced, have fun!”

Don’t be polite; make the audience uncomfortable. And, in plotting, “don’t show the strings”. In film, “you can really see the strings” and the heart gets pushed out.

Frank Spotnitz said that, as a writer, if you don’t know how it’s going to end, it can be a good thing. He’s been in this position before on The X-Files. How will the audience know how it will end, if you don’t? You’re going to figure it out eventually, because you’ve been setting it up, subconsciously.

It shouldn’t be: “character services plot”. Should be: “only this character can experience this plot.” The perfect goal.

Panel: Paula Milne, Sarah Phelps, Bill Gallagher

Paula Milne likes adaptations for “not having to find the story” – and will do them if she thinks she can “bring something to the table”.

Sarah Phelps asks “why is it a classic?” and “Is it still a classic?” She’ll work on an adaptation if she has a “blood beating passion” for it, and a way to tell the story (the perspective might have shifted). Writing Nancy, in Oliver Twist, she saw Sophie Okonedo’s face. She was criticised for the choice of a black actress in this role, but in classic stories she’s passionate about asking, “who are these characters really?” - and looking at the sweep of history.

Bill Gallagher discussed the idea of adaptation as “translation” and Paula Milne said you can’t be in awe of the book.

Sarah Phelps said she’ll really kick the stories around and interrogate them – and that it’s about telling new audiences “how good these stories really are”.

Burning Questions
Ben Stephenson and John Yorke

Key points: 

People still have a hunger for shared experience. (Twitter is about “now”.)

Ben Stephenson said that what moves him is “something someone has a passion for” – he “can’t stand second guessing”. “No great idea ever born out of cynicism.”

The best script note is: “how can it be more itself?” - it's all about tonal clarity.


If you haven’t been on the Writersroom website recently, it’s an incredibly useful, inspiring and highly addictive resource - and includes scripts by Writers’ Festival panellists, including Paula Milne, Danny Brocklehurst, Toby Whithouse, Jimmy McGovern, Esther Wilson and Alice Nutter.

Friday, 29 July 2011

TV Drama: The Writers’ Festival - Day 1

Launching a new series discussion. Photo by Jason Arnopp
Is there a better way to spend two days than in the company of over two hundred talented writers? I’m not sure there is. Earlier this month, I was thrilled to gain an industry place and head to Leeds to attend the second festival of its kind, organised “by writers, for writers”, through the BBC’s Writersroom

This is an excellent forum and an opportunity to discuss where the industry is currently at. Kate Rowland, the BBC’s Creative Director for New Writing, described the event as “a conversation” for writers – one that I found equally as useful, enlightening and galvanising, as a drama developer. 

Last year’s event was an inspiring occasion; this year’s felt even more so. Maybe this is a personal thing, or maybe something’s shifted socially and politically. Paula Milne gave a rousing keynote address (which you can read in full, here), during which she urged the room to “have a talent for your talent”, and to “give the audience not what they want, but what they need”. The opening panel session built on this, and seemed to sum up the mood and theme of the two days (and, I would imagine, resonate with most of the festival’s attendees, as the key reason they wanted to create drama in the first place), asking, "is it the writer’s responsibility to change the world?”

For this session (covered in more detail by Cath Bore, here), Paula Milne was joined by Tony Marchant, Hugo Blick, Jack Thorne, Roy Williams and Gwyneth Hughes.

Hugo Blick argued that we should “provoke by surprise” and “use polemic (only) when there’s real outrage… or you burn it”. 

Tony Marchant said that we need to examine the past politically, and gave the example of a drama about the setting up the NHS – how it came about, and the need to be reminded why it came into existence, and what went before.

The discussion set the mood for later in the day, when we were treated to Jimmy McGovern in conversation with Kate Rowland. “Passion” is an overused term, but his shone through. His opinions were effectively a call to arms for writers to engage their “brain and heart”. I will be compiling his many words of wit and wisdom into a separate post.

Here are potted notes of the sessions I attended. I hope I’ve attributed quotes to the right people – any corrections from attendees, please let me know. The schedule for the event was packed, so if anyone has notes on the ones that clashed with these, please get in touch and I’ll add links to these posts.

Developing different voices – representing modern Britain
Panel: Roy Williams, Hilary Salmon, Steve November and Madonna Baptiste.

The discussion focused on the representation of black and ethnic minority voices on television. Hilary Salmon said there have been big changes in policy at the top of the BBC, since Greg Dyke’s “hideously white” speech, and there have been onscreen talent changes, led by Mal Young, but what about behind the camera?

Questions raised included: Is the industry not providing a context for writers from minorities to work in? Is the stronger diversity of onscreen talent taking the onus off broadcasters, for example, to look at wider industry talent representation? Or are the writers just not out there?

Roy Williams said that the UK's successful black actors did well in America (making a name for themselves), and then came back to the UK. He believes that the trouble with writing is that it is hidden from view, so would-be writers from some backgrounds do not see it as an area that they can get into. He believes that more cultural stories onscreen will attract minority writers – in the same way that the rise of successful black actors in the UK has led to a rise in drama school applications from black talent.

We were told that Babyfather did well, but didn’t get recommissioned after its second series, and that Moses Jones was written by a white writer. An audience member remarked that they found it daunting writing characters from different cultures. Roy Williams (politely!) said that they should just “get over it” and “we shouldn’t be afraid of cultural specifics”.

Steve November said that “we need a diversity of voices”, that “producers need to actively look”, and “it has to come from the industry”. He said that there are socio-economic factors at work, as to why some sections of society can’t currently get a foot into the industry.

Broadening out the discussion to gender, in the Q&A we were told by an audience member that out of all the entries for Channel 4’s Coming Up scheme (which were read blind), nine women had been selected, and three men. It would be interesting to find out the percentages of male and female submissions to this.            

That it is 2011 and we still need to tackle inequality in terms of the backgrounds, ethnicities and genders of writing talent, and that there is still debate as to whether the talent is actually “out there”, is pretty depressing.

The biopic: – the fallback position?
Panel: Brian Fillis, Amanda Coe, Gwyneth Hughes and Madonna Baptiste

At last year’s festival, Tony Marchant said that the “BBC4 biopics of the famous eschew examination of the lives of ordinary people. Good drama tells you something about yourself. Biopics don’t do that.“ (Thanks to David Bishop for a reminder of that session, here). He argued that they were the fallback position for commissioners.

Amanda Coe, writer of Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (and Roy Williams, in the Is it a writer’s responsibility to change the world session, earlier), said that drama is finding out how people, characters “got like that”. Mary Whitehouse; fascists… Drama is about uncovering the “crisis point” in their lives.

Fear of Fanny and The Curse of Steptoe writer, Brian Fillis argued that biopics may be a “fallback position” for commissioners, but are an “open goal” for writers, giving you the freedom to focus on character. He gave the example of Peter Morgan focusing on two to three weeks of a subject’s life.

He said that The Curse of Steptoe, transcended being a film about Harry being typecast; becoming a film about the journey from youthful optimism, to ageing and your options becoming limited - and so was relevant to a wider audience.

Gwyneth Hughes, writer of Miss Austen Regrets, “felt the pressure of a great writer in the room.” (She is now doing Dickens – and feels the same.) She has a film greenlit about the relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, and believes that biopics should be about the “key relationship in a person’s life” – whether that is with a person or a faith – and that writers need some perspective (that is, they can’t be a “total fan”), or “the film will become a love letter”.

Brian Fillis suggested that since the Steptoe film - and the ensuing legal issues that meant it has not been shown on television again - biopics are harder to get made, and so may no longer be the “fallback position” – because they are judged by standards of documentary production and drama production.

This session was particularly of interest to me, having recently script edited a successful biopic – and given that a large proportion of the projects I am hired to look at are also biopics. I’d be interested to know if other script editors and readers experience this high percentage, too.

Writer training: can it be taught?

Danny Brocklehurst, who started out as a journalist, and had no formal screenwriting training, was sceptical about the merits of it.

Rachel Flowerday, a BBC Writers’ Academy graduate, and advocate of the scheme, discussed how it was beneficial, stating that it provides a “lexicon” when discussing scripts, and that it is useful to be taught it. They watched films, read scripts and immersed themselves in structure. The Academy has a focus on the five-act structure (see notes in the Day 2 post, on John Yorke’s session, The curse of the scriptwriting guru?).

Esther Wilson’s route into screenwriting was through the play Ten Tiny Toes – which Jimmy McGovern saw and said was the best he had seen. (There’ll be more of his thoughts on theatre in my post coming soon.) Both she and Danny Brocklehurst have worked with him, and he is known for his mentoring of new writers.

All agreed that reading scripts, and watching other things, was a great education, while writing competitions provide a focus and a deadline.

Toby Whithouse said his most successful scripts were the ones he wrote never thinking they’d get made. He said, “Don’t write for an audience” (he expanded on this in the Launching a new series session - to follow, in my Day 2 post). They agreed that Writing is rewriting, and that you should never take the easy route in a script – as it won’t provide the most interesting solution. (Jimmy McGovern expands on this, too, in my forthcoming post.)

The quote of the session (although I don’t seem to have noted who said it...) was:

“Work with people you like, on projects you are passionate about, that raise questions you want to know the answers to.”