Friday, September 30, 2005


UK writer and broadcaster Mark Lawson talks about screenplay credit and points out that films attributed to sole writers often have a whole host of script doctors and rewrites hidden underneath the showbiz veneer.

This won't be news to seasoned scribes but it's probably an inevitable hurdle down the line when you get your script off the ground only for it to be taken away as it goes through the development process and when the director finally gets his grubby little mitts on it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Short film

It’s my birthday today - 34, easy ladies - which is something I don’t usually crow about, but since I’m sharing my soul with cyberspace, I thought it was something you should know. It feels like I was 28 only yesterday. I loved being 28. The perfect age where you’re old enough to know better but still young enough not to care. It was also 28 when I chucked in everything and committed myself to writing. It’s weird , the last six years have been largely spent in my flat, reading and writing scripts, where my social routine has been dramatically revamped and reduced yet strangely I feel more alive and satisfied than if I was in an office surrounded by colleagues or out on the town every night larging it up.

Today, I’m going to take a half day and enjoy myself. First up, a sushi lunch by myself (Friends: Let’s do something for your birthday! Me: Sushi! Friends: See ya.) followed by some shopping for clothes. Then maybe go to see Crash before retiring for cocktails, a curry, and Liverpool V Chelsea on the box. Not that I’m a fan of either team but it’s an enticing and unmissable fixture nonetheless (I support Nottingham Forest; woe is me).

As my birthday falls midweek and on a school night, proper celebration will likely spill into tomorrow and the weekend so blog entries may be a little thin. To make up for this, you can now view my no-budget three minute short film on line by choosing one of the links below. The whole challenge and purpose of the film was to see if I could make a short that would cost absolutely nothing to make but still tell a story with emotional resonance, a suitable structure and a definite resolution without resorting to a sketch-style short or gimmicky methods.

The result is On The Death of His Wife where a widower gives a poetic tribute to his late wife as he recalls fond memories of their domestic routine together. I'm exceptionally pleased and proud of it, and am especially grateful to Liana del Giudice (editor) and Anthony McIlhenney (sound editor) for their (free) time and help in the crucial editing stage. I hope you enjoy the film. Its running time is 3mins 25secs.

For Windows Media (recommended), click HERE
(There is no dialogue for the first 30 secs but there is definitely SOUND so adjust your volume accordingly)

For Real Media, click HERE
(There is no dialogue for the first 30 secs but there is definitely SOUND so adjust your volume accordingly)

Stuart McLoughlin, Klayre Marks

Poem (excerpt):
Jesse Kersey, 1851

Recited by:
Mark Humble

Special Thanks:
Jayne Kirkham
Liana Del Giudice
Jenny Arculus
Simon Reglar
Jo-Ann Challis
Anthony McIlhenney

Written & Directed by:
Danny Stack

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

UK pt 3

And don't forget to check out Alex Epstein's ongoing on-line interview with Stephen Gallagher.


From the Writers’ Guild UK (see links) but essential knowledge for potential opportunities and proposals:

One Rule for All
CBBC’s new commissioning structure

Jon East, CBBC Head of Drama, sets out the new submissions and commissioning process for CBBC.

"The meeting was a mixture of creative and commercial talk, a reminder that television is first and foremost a business. Jon East’s plan is aimed to drain what he termed the ‘swamp of development’ and streamline the commissioning process to aid both writers and the BBC’s own strategic aims. Gone then is the rolling commissioning process which is now replaced by a one date for all. Come the 16th January all in-house, indie produced and writer produced submissions will be judged together.

The Submission Process
All submissions must be made to the department on (or for up to approximately two weeks after) the 16th January. Six weeks after submissions close, a letter will be sent either accepting the idea for development, or rejecting it outright. No discussion, or further development will be entertained after a rejection. At the moment 2007/08 is partly commissioned and 2008/2009 is virgin territory. There are seven slots per year and each of these will only have around three to five ideas per slot taken forward from the first round of submissions.

No support will be given to writers during this stage and no pitching meetings will be sought. Writers may still go in to meet BBC personnel and discuss slots, but staff won’t be available for pitches.

Summary – single page submissions only (+covering letter and c.v.), submitted once per year on January 16th.

Stage 2 – A paid process (as are all subsequent stages) taking the successful one page ideas and expanding them into treatments. The requirements for each treatment will be discussed on a project to project basis.

Stage 3 – Survivors from Stage 2 will be asked to develop a bible and detailed story outlines (six pages per episode detailing each story beat).

Stage 4 – Will see a pilot script being written for submission to CBBC’s controller for commissioning and production.

Any project rejected at any stage will be returned to the writer, possibly with the copyright returning to them as well. No further development work will be done on any of these projects.

The Slots
Gone too are age specific requirements. Now all projects must fall into a 6-12 age bracket (centring on the 10 year olds) with a generic ‘U’ classification feel to them. Submissions may be in any style but should meet two main requirements (outside of the usual budgetary constraints) –
1) They must provide the audience with emotionally ‘nourishing’ material (tell good stories in plain language).
2) They should employ innovative visual strategies.

Further to this the stories should fall into either 10 x 27min or 20 x 27 mins series (this meaning either series or serial but with an emphasis on one ep stories with some serial elements). CBBC retains one slot per year for larger projects appearing as either a 1x 90 or, 2 x 60 minute format. They should, of course, all be child centred. Bonus points are available for projects that have a possible interactive element.

Team Writing
Meetings will still be taken and writing samples read for team writers on projects.

Existing Development Projects
Will learn their fate as soon as possible but definitely before the 16th January.

This process is still to be decided. Books may be sent to the BBC before 16th January for consideration to see if they will accept them in a one page pitch in the 16th January submissions round.

As this is a new process Jon East was at pains to point out that there would be no exceptions to the 16th January except the exceptions. As with any new system, time will be taken to iron out the kinks and to see how it works in practice. This is an attempt to remove many of the pitfalls of the current commissioning process and to foster a new creative atmosphere at CBBC."

Monday, September 26, 2005

UK interview part 2

The second part of Alex Epstein's chat with UK writer Stephen Gallagher is up. For those interested, follow the link.

And Lee gets some extra inside info with Mr Gallagher on his blog.


As a script reader, you don’t usually meet the people you read for. For example, I read for Miramax for two years but never once met good ol’ Harvey (but I was often aware of his presence in London given the mood and behaviour of the staff). I met the, gasp in awe, Head of Development once but generally you deal with the Assistant, or if you want to be polite (and I suggest you do), you can call him the Development Co-ordinator.

In some companies, you may deal with the development execs indirectly as they could be nearby when you’re filling your bag with scripts. When this occurs, it is great to get into a casual chat about the weather, the spec pile and/or any writing ambitions from yourself that they need to know about. Usually though, these innocent chats focus on the general state of the spec pile and what writers should be doing to make their scripts more appealing. And more often than not, the weary exec will sigh about his number one gripe: concept.

The screenwriting training market has had a definite impact on the quality of scripts that are being submitted to the spec pile. Most scripts try to employ a serviceable three-act structure and generally try to follow the screenwriting adage of ‘less is more’ in their description. But this has only raised the standard from ‘poor’ to ‘mediocre’. Development bods don’t seem too perturbed by this mediocrity if the script contains one crucial aspect above the other contenders. A killer concept. Or at the very least, something in the idea that they can work and develop into a killer script. Development, after all, is their job and they’re quite good at it too so all they need is a good idea, an exciting concept, a promising premise, to get the script process moving.

But what makes a good idea? Well, how long is a piece of string? High concept ideas are obviously the ones with the most commercial potential so this is what production companies are after. The Film Council is promoting high concept and genre with their 25 Words or Less Scheme and the UK film industry is desperately trying to find a niche with appealing and solid concepts.

Most ideas sound okay when they're pitched but usually are reliant on the telling of the piece (in outline, treatment or script) to be really sure that it's something worth developing. What execs are after is that 'yes!' idea where they can instantly recognise the appeal and potential without seeing a single word of your script. One of my own scripts was optioned with a quick verbal pitch by the exec to his boss who simply replied: "yes, I'll have that", and to date, I don't think he's ever read the script.

Last year, Working Title made a solicited call-out for high concept ideas, inviting writers to come in to pitch them their best. As you might expect, they received a lot, literally hundreds of face-to-face pitches. I think in the end, they put about three or four in development. Does this mean that the other pitches were off-brief? Maybe, maybe not. I got an invite to pitch and I gave it my best shot (it was genre, it was high concept) but they rejected it after a few months’ consideration. The exec who received most of the pitches did tell me that a lot of the ideas were just ordinary or familiar or too personal (‘it’s about this postman in Wales’).

Of course, writers have to stick to their gut and conviction with whatever story they’re trying to tell. If it’s not high concept, so be it. If it’s not an easily definable genre, well heck you’re the storyteller, you know what you’re doing, right? Right. And then there’s the nagging insecurity of ‘well, everything’s been done before, there are no new ideas’. I don’t subscribe to that one myself. While there may be only 36 plots or whatever that a writer can follow, it’s the way your concept and characters are treated around the well-established format of storytelling that will elevate your work into fresh and inviting fare.

It’s all in the idea. It’s all in the ‘what if?’. That’s the springboard into a surprising world full of complexity, challenges and fun (and for the writer too!). A good idea and pitch could be all you need to start your screenwriting career well before you’ve sat down to bash out 110 pages of story. If the development execs love the concept, they’ll help you with the rest (or boot you off and get someone else to do it). That, as they say, is showbiz.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Alex Epstein has had a chat with UK writer Stephen Gallagher about what it's like getting something off the ground in this country. Check it out here. It's the post after Alex refers to Scott the Reader's fine blog Alligators in a Helicopter. And for our American readers, here are some tips from NBC, bless 'em.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Script reports

The sample report (available in download section) is more for an acquisition department rather than for development. I thought this only fair as it’s a film that’s enjoyed cinema release and my report doesn’t expose anything untoward about the writer or the project as a whole. Although an acquisition report is more or less the same as a development report (same format layout with a few exceptions), you could expect a reader to get meatier with his comments when you submit your spec to the development pile.

Like any good writing document, a script report has a basic structure that is convenient to adhere to. Development assistants have told me that on occasion, without the report, they wouldn’t know how to verbalise or assimilate their own critique about the script depending on whether it was really bad, tricky plot or whatever. Sometimes after reading a script, the reader can think: “crikey, what am I going to say about that?” But this is where the basic structure of a report is a valuable tool of reference.

First, talk about CONCEPT: is the idea any good? Is it commercially appealing or more intellectual and discerning? Or is it just a shameless rip off of a million genre flicks before it? Or does it bring something new to the table? Is it genre?

PLOT: Does it make sense? Is it convincing and/or original? Too predictable maybe. Jumbled?

STRUCTURE: is there a basic understanding of craft on display? Is it a join the dot three-act structure or does it contain a solid and reliable framework to tell its story? However, the reader shouldn’t get bogged down with restructuring tips because it’s not a script editing exercise.

CHARACTERS: Are the central and minor characters believable, original, compelling, inspiring, colourful, loathsome, boring etc? Decent character development or emotional journey for the protagonist? Effective use of subplot with the supporting characters?

DIALOGUE: Distinctive, realistic, off-the-wall, on-the-nose, funny, dull, plain, quirks, true to each character?

TONE: Does the writer have an original voice; is the tone of the story consistent to the genre etc?

PACE: Pace, rhythm, tempo. Scenes start too soon, too late? Cut too soon, too late? Boring segments with little dramatic impact or importance? Where does the pace flag? What’s its overall effectiveness?

SETTING: Is it important to the story - does it make a valid and visual contribution to the characters & plot? Is it noteworthy at all?

APPEAL: will the idea and story find an audience? Is it marketable? Who is the audience? Is it really cinematic?

And to quote direct advice from one particular report format (although it generally applies to all):

“The bottom line is does the piece have real potential or not? If it reminds you of any other film, feel free to compare it, that can be really useful, and if there are elements attached, particularly a director, do take note of that in your report (some reports have a separate section for ‘elements’).

If you’re convinced it’s a pass, give us something positive to say to the producer or writer either in person or in a letter as well as a good reason to pass on it - try to put yourself in our shoes and imagine you were telling someone kindly why you don’t want to pursue the project. Don’t make the mistake of being casual or dismissive however you might personally feel about the writing, as we’re looking for a professional and objective appraisal, and not flippant comments however amusing. Finally, please make it as readable as possible (readers are writers too y’know) - remember that we read tons of these reports a week.”

So there you have it; the main aspects and categories that your script will be judged, and how someone like myself might approach the report in order to get it done. Speaking of which, I've got a couple to finish off before the weekend...


Want me to read your script? Check out my consultancy page.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Many UK writers and comedians make their name on radio before they make that all-important transition to television, the theatre or even the big screen. It’s a route that it not often considered by new writers but should be given some serious thought because of the many opportunities and dramatic possibilities that exist within the format.

In the UK, BBC radio drama is the place to go if you want to get one of your plays on-air. BBC Radio 4 has the majority of slots: the afternoon play, the Friday play, the Saturday play, classic serial, woman’s hour drama, afternoon reading, book at bedtime, book of the week and of course, The Archers (long running soap). And on Radio 3, there’s the Sunday play at 8pm as well as The Wire (every first Thursday of the month, 10.15pm) which aims to push the boundaries of drama using first-time writers. Then there’s BBC7 and the BBC World Service.

That’s a lot of slots. A lot of plays. A lot of writers. A lot of opportunities. So how do you get your idea commissioned? Basically, the BBC split the year into two commissioning rounds, one in September/October, the other in March/April. They accept and develop ideas during these periods to give themselves enough plays to cover their demanding schedule throughout the year. However, it is extremely unlikely to get an idea approved as a writer alone. It is preferable, nay essential, that you attach yourself to either an in-house producer or an independent production company that specialises in radio plays. That way your idea has more clout and more chance of actually getting commissioned.

I am reliably informed that the radio process is similar to the stage in that it completely respects the writer during the development and production of the play. Not a word changes without the writer’s say so. Great, isn’t it? Last year, I attempted my first radio play but while I got the structure and format correct, the story was basically a bad soap opera because of my misguided preconceptions of the limitations of radio drama.

In truth, there are no limitations to radio drama. While obviously an audio format, it is also very much a visual medium where the audience’s imagination can fill in the blank canvas left between the words and sounds of the drama. After listening to a handful of radio plays, I also realised you can be quite bold, distinctive and adventurous in your style and choice of story. And after reading a few radio scripts, I was reassured that the art of screenwriting is very much in tandem with the demands of the radio play.

With this newfound sense of knowledge and enthusiasm, I am going to try to see if I can get a few radio commissions under my belt. I met a BBC in-house radio producer the other day (at Bafta, woooooh) who’s willing to help me bring my ideas to fruition. It’s new territory for me because I’ve been focusing so much on screenplays but it’s also an exciting opportunity because it offers a writer the chance to be truly creative, original and distinctive with what they have to say. So maybe now’s the time to switch off the TV for a while and turn on the radio instead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Paul Abbott

In case you missed it on the BBC the other night, here's an extract from Paul Abbot's RTS Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture 2005

Paul Abbott – ‘What Do You Want To Watch Tomorrow?’

“The commonest mitigation for drama being bland or inoffensive – that ‘the audience can’t assimilate complex storytelling’ - is a shameful self-fulfilling prophecy that is actually quite simple to remedy. If you wouldn’t watch it yourself, why on earth bother making it? And for that matter, why bother working in drama at all?

Far too often, we witness low-rent, low-ambition drama being hailed for its viewing figures. Without a concerted and determined drive for quality and creative thinking, we in the entertainment-supply industry deserve to be spurned for our negligence.

But the battle isn’t lost yet. The audience is still out there somewhere, gagging for a few high-protein nuggets to tempt them home. The solution is easy, it’s more exciting than the current model and, unlike any other commercial investment on earth, this solution is free. Raising the bar of modern drama is a cost-free imperative to secure future viewers.”

Paul began his writing career in 1984 on Coronation Street. Since then he has brought more than a hundred hours of drama to our screens, from Cracker, Reckless, Touching Evil, Clocking Off and Linda Green to his recent hits State of Play and Shameless.

-- And The Stage interview Stephen Poliakoff, who recently won an Emmy for his BBC mini-series The Lost Prince.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Documents part 2

Okay, for the four of you who actually read this blog, or maybe just for Lee, I've put a FILES section on my website where you can check out samples of an one-page outline, a treatment, an outline, a synopsis, a series bible (didn't mention that one before) and heck, even a script report. Who loves ya, eh?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Professional Documents

As you continue to duck and dive with production companies and execs in a bid to get them to read your hot script, they may stump you with a request to read an ‘outline’ or a ‘treatment’ or quite possibly a ‘synopsis’ or a ‘one page outline’ or a ‘two page outline’. While these sound like innocuous phrases and innocent requests to reduce your script to the bare minimum that they need to read, the documents contain their separate quirks. There are key elements in each that need to be addressed in order for the right file to be submitted.

The first three are the most accessible and easy to pitch. An outline, treatment and synopsis can invariably end up looking like the same thing but if you want to be pedantic about it, they are quite different and deserve their own distinctive guise for the exec to scan.

An outline is a synopsis of your script, in the present tense (standard for all), but one that contains all the key elements of the story’s structure. It covers the essential beats, the main story line and all subplots, establishes the protagonist and the supporting characters, and develops them and the story line to a satisfying, thematic conclusion. This could run anywhere between 6-12 pages.

A treatment is where you tell the story in much more visual detail and break down the action so that it reads like you’re watching the film practically blow by blow. It embellishes the key elements of an outline to enrich the storytelling experience so that the reader can make more of an emotional connection to everything that’s going on. It will read like a short story version of your story and will usually expand to anywhere between 12-35 pages (best not to go over 35 as the exec/reader might feel like that it would be quicker to read the script itself).

A synopsis is a broad summary of the concept, main characters, the story line and how the story resolves itself. This could take in between 1-6 pages. If it takes only one or two pages, it is not strictly speaking a one or two-page outline.

A one-page outline is a pitching document of your script where you provide pertinent details but under key headings such as: Working Title, Genre, Format, Target Audience, Box Office Target, Tag Line, Premise, Brief Synopsis, Visual Realisation, Statement of Intent (Theme) and Audience Appeal. Most execs like a one-page outline as it gives them all they need to know about whether or not they are tickled or turned off by your story.

A two-page outline covers the same details and format as the one-page outline but has an additional category for Character Biographies; a brief section where you describe the main players. You also have more room to expand the synopsis section, but not by much. The one-page outline/two-page outline are marketing documents really but are extremely useful in getting the essential details of your script down to one or two appetising pages.

When preparing my own scripts, I like to start by writing the logline (helps clarify the concept and story line), then develop a one-page synopsis before pushing it further into a decent outline that contains all the structure, and the relevant twists and turns. This helps me to avoid writing block or staring at a blank screen when I begin a new script. I always enjoy writing a one-page or two-page outline, and will often offer this pitch to potential producers before I even mention the screenplay. They always say ‘yes’ to the one-page outline and if they like what they see, they ask to read the script.

Funnily enough, you don’t hear one-page outlines or two-page outlines discussed very much in the screenwriting training market. They usually focus on outlines and treatments. There are great examples of these on the internet; Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio share their pitches in WordPlayer (link is on the right), and Creative Screenwriting Magazine managed to nab Simon Kinberg’s treatment of Mr & Mrs Smith. Always worth checking out the ones that make an impression with the studios…

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Did you watch Bodies on Saturday night on BBC3 (ok, some of you may have lives)? Have you ever heard of it? Did you miss the first unmissable series? Make it a priority to check it out. If you don’t have satellite TV, then I think it’s going to be shown on BBC2 a week later than the ‘all new’ episodes on BBC3.

It’s a medical drama series (definitely not a soap this time) that follows a new Registrar on an Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at a NHS urban hospital. He becomes entwined and appalled with the shoddy administrative state of the department as well as the self-serving hospital politics that perpetuate the status quo. In the first series, he was faced with the dilemma of blowing the whistle on his incompetent boss because other doctors were getting the blame and being fired for the consultant’s cover-ups. Rob also faced daily dilemmas with his patients and the hospital pecking order that had to be served. The first series ended with Rob struggling with his conscience and his ethics, having an affair with a married nurse, wondering about what to do with the situation, and his career, before he came forward and exposed the consultant’s mistakes. Rob got fired.

Saturday night’s episode of the new series more or less picked up where the first series left off. Rob is serving out his time before he moves on, probably to become a GP, while he watches helplessly as the consultant gets promoted to ‘Clinical Director’, much to the annoyance of another gynae consultant who knows all about the doctor’s mistakes. Patients get continually compromised in the increasing pissing contest between the consultants, and Rob tries to warn his replacement about the situation. Naturally, it doesn’t go according to plan and Rob is left with another deadly dilemma while a woman lies bleeding to death on the operating table.

It’s riveting and compelling drama. It doesn’t sugar coat the characters or story lines with TV platitudes or the usual life-lessons learned by the end of each episode. Every character is flawed, torn, vain, ambitious and multi-dimensional. The protagonist, Rob Lake, while noble and conscientious, is a vulnerable human being who definitely doesn’t fall in the rank of ‘hero’.

Bodies is written and produced by Jed Mercurio, and is adapted from his own novel. He was once a Junior Doctor in the NHS and it is difficult not to assume that his scathing depiction of NHS life is based on his own insight. He went on to write the award-winning Cardiac Arrest for the BBC in the mid-1990s which followed a group of Junior Doctors as they try to grapple with their hospital’s erratic symptoms. It is interesting to note that Bodies, the novel, is a much different patient to the TV series.

The TV series takes on a much more realistic, grim and dark tone than the literary source material. It also changes the essential concept and characters from a general ward into an obstetrics department, and the medical tussles therein. It’s a brave and bold move but I would love to know how this approach developed with the writer and the production company Hat Trick (who are better known for their comedy output). Perhaps we are too familiar with a ‘new doctor’ who reacts wide-eyed with wonder at the harsh realities of a medical ward.

In Bodies the TV series, it’s real, it’s visceral, it’s unflinching, it’s dour, it’s depressing. But it’s entirely compelling. The NHS would not be pleased. I was delighted to learn that Bodies was coming back for a second series but I’m concerned whether or not it will find an audience, in the same way that the brilliant Outlaws by Steve Coombes (again on BBC3) came and went because it didn’t find consistent viewers.

This represents some of the best writing in the country, easily on a par with the best of what the US has to offer, but when it does come along it can be missed in the schedule and/or not find an appreciative audience. There’s been some debate recently about the quality of British TV writing but it is there, the writers exist, and the content speaks for itself. But then there’s the ongoing battle between broadcaster, production company, writer and audience which will dictate whether or not even a stimulating series like Bodies will earn the recognition it deserves. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea - you can always watch Holby or Casualty instead - but for those who yearn for a more discerning and uncompromising take on the medical drama genre, then make sure to seek out Bodies on either BBC2 or BBC3 while it enjoys its current run.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Writing for Doctors

Doctors is a daytime BBC1 medical drama series (oh all right, it’s a soap) broadcast daily Monday to Friday at 2.05pm (right after Neighbours). The main characters are a group of GPs, which makes up the soap element, while their patients get a look in as the ‘story of the day’. The writers of the show pitch this ‘story of the day’ in a two page outline and, once approved, they develop and write the episode to include the soap elements as provided by the script editors and producers.

Because of the high turnaround, the series requires a lot of writers and a lot of ideas, and because of its daytime slot, the show has an open door policy for new writers to strut their stuff. It is widely regarded as a place to breed and encourage fresh talent and is the place to go, usually via the BBC's writersroom, to see if you can get an appointment with the Docs. The series is based and produced in Birmingham, the midlands of Britain.

There are alternative, circuitous routes to the Doctors’ door however. In March 2003, I sign with Micheline Steinberg and my agent sends my script to a BBC producer in London who is in charge of scouting new talent. She likes my script and I go to meet her where she explains that Doctors has a ‘New Writing Scheme’ where they hold a writer’s hand through the process of writing an episode. Am I interested? Hell yeah. A visit to the set in Birmingham has to be arranged but I think finally, I can start earning regular money with my writing.

September 2003, six months later, the set-visit is confirmed and I go along with a few other writers to chat with the producers and amble through the sets. They encourage us to pitch them ideas for the show. I develop two ideas with the producer in London and she approves them to be sent off to the Doctors’ team in Birmingham.

As part of the ‘New Writing Scheme’, our scripts are to be ‘lifesaver’ episodes, which means they are stand alone eps that contain no serial element whatsoever but must include one of the main characters in the ‘story of the day’.

February 2004, five months later, one of my ideas gets rejected, the other one gets accepted. I am to write a step-outline, also known as a scene by scene breakdown, of the episode. You do not get paid for this work. I write a few drafts with the London producer before she sends it to Birmingham. After a few weeks, they come back with notes. I incorporate them into the step-outline and they commission the episode. I write a first draft and get paid half the writing fee for the trouble.

August 2004: I write another draft of the script, incorporating notes. It gets sent to Birmingham. The script producer has notes. I do a third draft. The script gets ‘locked off’. I get paid the second half of the writing fee. It’s Christmas. I no longer have to go through the London producer and can pitch ideas to the Doctors’ team directly. I am anxious to know when my episode will be filmed and broadcast but in the meantime, I tinker on a few more ideas and I am assigned a script editor on the Doctors’ staff.

Since my episode is a ‘lifesaver’, it can drop into the schedule at any time so it becomes a low priority. I pitch three more ideas, two get accepted. One idea is ‘banked’ for later, the other I get to work on after a brief wait. What they do is assign the writers' stories to the ‘weekly blocks’ that they feel are relevant to the drama involving the various doctors. So once you get your idea approved, you’re not guaranteed to write it straight it away. You have to wait to get the go-ahead once it’s assigned to its block.

It’s now May 2005 and I write my second episode. My script editor leaves for a job on EastEnders. He tells me that my first episode is scheduled for February 2006, two years after the idea got accepted. The funny thing is that it’s going to be broadcast two days after my second episode which I have yet to complete. The script editor also advises me not to expect to make a living out of writing for Doctors. I know what he means. I am assigned to another script editor, just to complete this second episode, and I do three drafts before it’s signed-off.

August 2005: a new script editor joins the team and is to be my point of contact. She encourages me to send in more ideas while she waits for my other idea, that was banked earlier, to get assigned to its block. A slight revision is needed in the story for this to take place.

Which brings us pretty much up to the present. This is meant to give you a flavour of what it’s like. Writing for Doctors is great - it’s got challenging dramatic parameters because of its budget and turnaround - but I find the commissioning process a bit frustrating and demotivating because it takes so long. However, with so few genuine opportunities to break into TV, Doctors is the perfect playground for new writers to make their mark. But be prepared… be very prepared.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Over Analysis

You’ve done the research. Attended the seminars. Read the books, browsed the blogs and skipped through the scripts. You know the theory. You know the practice. But still the doubts: is it good enough? Is it derivative? Does my structure work as well as it should? Have I applied the advice as dictated by gurus and books across the world?


There’s a danger of knowing too much which feeds the insecurity of knowing too little. It’s the stop/start process of creativity because the self-aware knowledge of what the script needs to be, as opposed to what it’s supposed to be - or what you hope it is - stymies your confidence and conviction about whether to get it out there or not. It’s over analysing the style and content of your work based on what the perceived rules and regulations are of screenplay writing. As a research and learning tool, there is no better resource than the gurus, books, seminars and dedicated blogs (see links) but there comes a time to stop all that, put it down, turn it off and just get on with your own particular brand of storytelling.

A top executive of an American TV network once said that television was advertising interrupted by programmes. In the same manner, procrastination is an enjoyable past-time interrupted by writing. Most of us would prefer it the other way around of course but it seems that whatever drives our desire to create is equalled by a subconscious wish to avoid failure. No-one likes to fail, no-one likes to make a fool of themselves and it is this base inclination that causes us to distract ourselves when we deliberately sit down to express something significant about ourselves and the world. And to make ourselves feel vindicated about our choice of procrastination, we sometimes choose to over-analyse our work and convince ourselves that more time, not less, is needed to pursue the answers and knowledge that hold the key to success.

You already know the answers and the knowledge is at your fingertips. The trick is to believe in it, to trust in it and give into your work completely. It’s when knowledge, experience and instinct combine to create your own original voice. “Gee, there’s no inciting incident until page 18 but you know what, there’s no other place where it can go and it creates a dynamic pace and turnaround before I get to the end of act one on page 42”. Who’s to say that this isn’t so? Sure, script readers and execs may disagree but the quality of the writing and what it has to say will ring true if you know, in your heart of hearts, that it can’t possibly be any better. That it’s the best it can be. And it’s the best that you can be. You know it. So stop reading the blog and do some writing.

Pink links

Is it just my computer but do some of the pink links on the right disappear until you roll your mouse over them? If so, then I'll probably consider giving the blog a new template-look...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Three Rs

Reading. Writing. Routine.

It’s extremely difficult to impose any sort of discipline or routine on yourself when you first set out to write. The desire is there but quite often it will be a case of staring at a blank screen or white paper until you get up to make a cup of coffee, then watch some TV, go back to the computer, stare another while - fingers poised - before sod it, time for another cup of coffee and maybe I’ll just watch Empire Strikes Back for some inspiration. Oh look it’s six.

This is what I was like but I don’t do that anymore. The first thing that I realised had to change was that I had to read scripts. It amazes me when I meet fellow screenwriters who say they don’t read scripts because they don’t have the time or that they’re difficult to get through, so they don’t see the point. Well, here’s a good point: when you read other scripts, good or bad, you learn more about the craft of writing a screenplay than you do from a ‘How To’ book and you realise a few home truths about your own writing in the process. That’s just from reading. It should be done on a regular basis. If you’re not a script reader, I would recommend at least two a week. I don’t understand those who won’t read scripts but then expect people to read theirs with the required enthusiasm and appreciation that the writer expects but usually doesn’t achieve.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I felt fairly confident that I could write good screenplays but I needed to know more. I wanted to understand and appreciate everything about the process so that my scripts would stand a better chance in the market. Luckily, I got work as a script reader and for the last six years, I’ve been reading constantly, grabbing everything I can get and absorbing the good and the bad. This script reading work gave me a basic discipline of actually getting work done. Read a script, write a report. Read ten scripts, write ten reports, and so on.

After a couple of years of this routine (literally two years of just reading scripts all day, not recommended for those who rely on office chit chat), I went back to my very first screenplay and realised it was absolute rubbish. So I told a producer what I would do to improve it and he optioned the script from me. The experience was a terrific exercise in serious rewriting and marketing (how to sell even a bad script). Now I was growing in my knowledge, experience and confidence. I was still reading a vast amount of scripts but I altered my routine so that I could fit in more time for my own writing.

And now, six years later after watching TV and wearing pyjamas all day, I have a fairly regular routine of: reading scripts in the morning, writing scripts in the afternoon. Exercise. Take a swim at lunch to get out of the house and avoid writer’s paunch, which is a never ending battle. I call it my millennium dome; it's taken years and lots of money to get there, there's no point to it, it shouldn't be there but there's no getting rid of it now. Also try to drink two litres of water a day and eat reasonably healthy. Because writing is just as much a physical activity as it is a mental one. But distractions always exist and play on your mind. Check emails every 30 seconds. Surf the internet and call it research. And now this blog. However, with a basic routine and discipline in place, even a few distractions can be just the ticket to alleviate any feelings of stress or inadequacy.

It takes focus and determination but when there’s no pay cheques coming in, sitting on your ass and actually doing some work becomes a great incentive.

Monday, September 12, 2005


When you find yourself ‘out there’ looking for work as a new screenwriter and you’ve built some momentum, you’ll typically land a few meetings with important people who hold the key to you eating beans & toast for the month or if it’s dinner at The Ivy for the foreseeable. Of course, while we all dream of the latter, it is the former that usually takes place as the meetings come and go with little or no consequence for sad screenwriter. A valuable contact will have been made but if they don’t offer work (which they won’t), then it’s up to you to follow up the meeting with new scripts from your gilded pen.

There seems to be a certain formula to meetings and in my experience, they break down like this:

The Ten Minute Meeting: a typical ‘meet and greet’ get-together where the exec/agent/post-boy hasn’t read your work but has been persuaded to take the meeting anyway. These are ‘put the name to the face’ type of meetings. Although quick and unsatisfying, they are important because they lay down the foundation of longer meetings further down your career line. Last year, I managed to nab a meeting with the Head of Development at Working Title. Naturally, I cleared the whole day for the meeting - preparation, meeting, then post-analysis - but it lasted ten minutes exactly: ‘nice to meet you, I’ll take a look at your script, thanks for coming in’.

Half Hour Meeting: a more structured meeting but still quite brief and to the point. The first ten minutes is the polite chit chat (“that damned Central Line I tell you”) and ‘pleased to meet yous’. Next ten minutes will talk of you, your career-to-date and the script that the exec has not read but the script report was kind enough to stamp a ‘consider’ in the ‘Writer’ section. Then, generic talk of what the exec and the film company want to develop in terms of genre and scripts, and would be happy to see more ideas/scripts from your goodself. No offers of work but last few minutes spent either reverting to polite chit chat or that obvious sense that the meeting is over so no point out-staying your welcome. Pitch meetings last no more than half an hour also. The first five/ten minutes being the ‘hellos’, then twenty minutes to pitch your story, then get out of the room as quickly as you can.

The Hour Meeting: the ideal length of time as this is a significant portion of an exec/agent/tea-boy’s schedule but they are willing to talk at length about you, your script and potential work. Of course, an offer of actual work will still remain elusive but these meetings mean that you are developing a reputation as an interesting scriptwriter who needs to be seriously considered for their original specs and/or assignments.

At the beginning, most meetings will feel like a waste of time. Even though you will be thrilled to shake the hand of the producer of last year’s unexpected hit, the meeting will never amount to your wild hopes and expectations that you carried before hand. However, they are incredibly important and do, eventually, pay-off. A production company phoned me - quite out of the blue - six months after I had a (half hour) meeting with them. They asked if I would be interested in rewriting one of their scripts. I retained my James Bond-cool and calmly replied: “let me just check my diary” while in my head I was shouting something like: “yeeeearrrghblueeerraaaaa”. You wait your entire career for a phone call like that and while it wasn’t exactly Hollywood calling, it certainly was an exciting lift to my day. At the time of writing, I’m still waiting to hear if this is going ahead but I’ve pencilled in The Ivy at 8pm just in case…

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Likes & Dislikes

Script readers are a notoriously picky and grumpy bunch because they’re underpaid and overworked. In the UK, the standard fee for ‘coverage’ is £40 - Working Title recently went to £45 (hurrah) - while the top price to receive is £50 (Film Council and a few select production companies). It was £35 for a long, long time. On average, it takes (me) one hour and a half to read a script and one hour to write the coverage. This may take longer if the script is poor, meaning that the reader will struggle to write a synopsis (which is incredibly annoying, I can tell you). Sometimes, even coming up with a decent logline can take forever.

I once read & reviewed a script for Miramax in 1.5 hours flat (they phoned saying ‘where’s the coverage?’ and I went ‘whaddyamean? you want it today?’), which I think may be a record, but I’m sure there are readers out there that can beat that. Thankfully, the speedy coverage I did was for a very good script (easy & entertaining read) and helped me to hit the deadline. Also, I can type very fast. Anyway, the point is, readers work hard. They really try to concentrate and focus on your script, and when it doesn’t deliver, they get disappointed or worse, bloody annoyed.

There are ways to ease their workload and brighten their day. It’s deceptively easy and simple of course but it’s advice oft-repeated but seldom used. There’s no excuse really because there are books dedicated to how the reader’s mindset works. “500 Ways to Beat The Hollywood Scriptreader” tells you that there are least 500 (500! and they’re all true) annoying habits of wannabe writers. I’m probably a bit more forgiving and sympathetic than the normal reader (especially when I started to develop my own writing) but that doesn’t mean that I don’t bristle with annoyance at the more common and quite frankly, inexcusable mistakes that people make.

Let’s start with basic spelling and grammar. It’s a screenplay so there’s a certain flexibility with regard to syntax and expression. That’s a given. But people can’t spell. I can forgive one typo, just one, after that it’s unacceptable. My particular pet hate is the regular misuse of ‘their, they’re, there’, ‘it’s, its, it is’, ‘your, you’re’. Honest to god, when a script correctly uses ‘its’ instead of ‘it is’, the quality of the screenplay is always that bit better than a script that doesn’t know its it’s from its whatsits. This is being pedantic and anal I know but in every excellent script I read, there isn’t a blemish amongst them. I think I made this point before. They’re clean, polished and professional. A lot of scripts in the spec market are riddled with poor spelling, sloppy and plain description and a consistent misuse of the Queen’s English.

Format. Everyone knows this one surely? Not so. You don’t even need Final Draft for crying out loud, just whack Courier pt 12 on your Word font and you’re away. Once you’ve checked your margins and dialogue tabs of course.

Craft. Where’s the story? Why am I asleep and it’s only page 15? Is there any structure at all? A lot of writers deride structure (see earlier post) but then don’t include any story or causal sense in their own narrative. Why? I’ve already talked about the first ten pages of a script and the more cliché ways to begin your story but I particularly like it when someone opens with an assured sense of TONE and PACE. A friend of mine read one of my scripts once - he’s not a reader or has anything to do with the biz - and he said: “I was on page 60 before I realised it but I was wondering when anything was going to happen”. Which is the best compliment/criticism I've ever received.

Now I’m well aware that being a reader gives you a certain high ground to be dismissive and cynical. If I can dish out the advice, then why aren’t I raking in the bucks with my own work? There’s the rub. It’s not that simple. In my work, I avoid the common mistakes made in screenplays and genuinely try to deliver something that’s fresh, easy to read and entertaining. And I’ve managed to option three scripts, get meetings and pitch for work. But it’s often not enough.

I’ve seen reports of my own scripts which have been scathing and dismissive, just in the same way that my reports on other people’s can be. It’s entirely subjective and it often comes down to your story, what you have to say, that will get a response from a reader/exec. Those who don’t connect to your script can simply apply all the usual screenplay criticisms, usually with some validity (because all scripts need work), and that’s the end of that. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s unfair. So when you’re a new writer and you do manage to write a good script, you can still expect just as much rejection and criticism as when you first typed ‘fade out’. But if you do it professionally, with a clean style and correct format, then you’re one step ahead of thousands of scripts that are already out there.

On a final note: the use of ‘we’, as in ‘we see, we hear’ in the script is another one that divides opinion. Personally, I’m not bothered by its use but, as with anything else, if it’s over used then it becomes a distraction. However, it should be pointed out that everything in your screenplay is what ‘we see’ so there’s an argument that its use is entirely superfluous to your narrative description. More: the use of ‘is’ (as in ‘John is in the car’) and of passive verbs (running, walking, sliding etc). I think these are wholly acceptable but again, don’t overuse.

-Won't be able to post until after the weekend but thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Write Now

No-one asked you to be a writer. No-one cares if you write or not. You may receive encouragement and advice, sure, from family and mentors but the decision to follow the literary life can only be found in one place. Luckily, writing can be pursued as a hobby, or as an evening class, or during lunch break. So if your basic emotional desire to express yourself on paper can be achieved and satisfied while still earning £20K at the office, then you’ve struck a happy balance between routine responsibilities and the creative impulses that exist in your personality. But if you have a deeper need to write and think, quite possibly, you could earn a living out of it, then you need to seriously consider pushing yourself into trying to make it as a professional.

This is not an easy choice. And life’s got a nasty habit of getting in the way of your best laid plans. Relationships, money, health, kids; everyday distractions and demands of the human condition. The effort required to make it as a professional writer, of any description, is enormous. It takes constant determination; an indefatigable desire to succeed, an inherent belief in yourself and your talent. And a little bit of luck. It’s physically and mentally exhausting. It challenges you on a daily basis. Because you only have yourself to rely on. And you’ve only got yourself to blame. It all comes back to your decision to give up your job, and just about everything else, so you could write.

Six years ago, I gave up my day job. I always knew I wanted to write, and felt fairly confident that I had the basic talent to do so. Working in the media gave me the opportunity to indulge in my creative sensibilities without actually having to challenge myself into making a habit of my own writing. But it nagged away at me and I knew I had to make a change. Even when I gave up my job at Channel 4, I chose ‘script editor’ or 'development' as my new likely job title. In my first year of being freelance, the fear of not earning any money and my basic insecurity of becoming a writer took hold. As a result, I did stints on two TV shows and script edited a few short animations for Channel 4. I realised I had to embrace my choice fully if I was ever going to realise my dream. So writing became the focus.

The competition though is both huge and fierce. There are a lot of talented writers out there being rejected every day. To give myself a chance, I adopted the Keyser Soze approach: “he showed these men of will, what will really was.” I was going to do what most aspiring writers were not prepared to do (whatever that was). I was going to throw myself into the process with so much discipline, determination and common sense that my chances of success would immediately shoot up just because I got out of bed in the morning. My work at Channel 4 had exposed me to the fact that a lot of scripts were poorly written and writers were making common mistakes. I decided I needed to know more and I discovered what it was I had to do that most aspiring writers were not. I had to read scripts. Lots of them.

It’s been six years. My God. Five if you consider that first year of TV show diversion. They say it takes ten years to make it as a writer but I’m doing okay. It’s been such an emotional ride and it continues to be so. Bad days, desperate days, good days, great days. The first thing you can expect when you go solo is that your phone won’t ring. And the temptation to watch videos and plug Playstation (and call it research) will overwhelm you. But you’re a writer now, so you got to write, and get paid for it or at the very least, be recognised.

I bawled like a baby when I was shortlisted for an award. Shortlisted. I hadn’t even won it (I did win it eventually, you should have seen me then) but the letter came at an especially vulnerable moment, and I cracked. My first TV commission; roars of delight and running around the flat like a loon (then I spotted that the kitchen floor needed a scrub so I did that - the glamour flicks like a switch). The doubts and insecurities still exist but my knowledge and experience grows. I’ve got to do this. I don’t know what else I could do now. I script read and teach screenwriting to help pay the bills but this year, I’ve been able to recede from both as my doormat becomes a regular landing spot for writing cheques. There’s certainly no better feeling...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Guru Gaga

The moment that fed my fascination with film, and screenwriting in particular, came when I was twelve years old. And funnily enough, this moment was inspired by William Goldman, but not in the way you’d expect. Like everyone else, the cinema was a source of escapism and delight from an early age, and I was also an avid TV addict. As my boyhood tastes were developing, I took an interest in the supernatural and all things that went bump in the night.

One day, browsing through books at home, I stumbled across a novel called ‘Magic’ by one William Goldman. It tells the story of a ventriloquist who becomes controlled by his own dummy to perform acts of murder. At my impressionist age, I loved every minute of it and (call it fate) when I finished the book, the film adaptation was going to be on telly that night. I couldn’t believe it. I felt that the TV broadcast was directly linked to me having just completed the book. Full of excitement, I persuaded my father to let me watch the film (it was after my bedtime and quite an adult story). Permission granted and young boy psyched, I sat down eagerly to watch the film with the book on my lap, ready for the story to unfold exactly as it transpired on the literary page.

Confusion. I was on page one of the book but the film was starting somewhere else entirely and I was scrambling to find where. After a couple of minutes elapsed in the same manner, I surrendered myself to the narrative of the film and gave up on the book being my personal guide. But I was still confused. William Goldman had written the script from his own book, so why was it so different? This is when I consciously became aware of a ‘script’ and what a ‘screenwriter’ did. Somewhat less enchanting - when I watched CHiPs on TV, I was always trying to figure out why the camera wasn’t visible on the reverse over the shoulder shots when Jon & Ponch were gassing.

Nowadays, of course, the screenwriting training market is in full force with various books, talks, expos and gurus at hand to dispense their pearly pearls. But with so many out there peddling their wares, it’s difficult to know where to start or who to turn to. Just who is the best? Or do they all say the same thing? Who should we follow, whose advice is most relevant/applicable? I’ve had experience of a few and of the main books, so let’s do a quick checklist of who’s who shall we…?

Robert McKee. The daddy. His ‘Story Seminar’ is probably the most revered and reputable of all the screenwriting gurus. But hold on a second, is a weekend in his presence listening to him speak for 30 hours over three days worth shelling a couple of hundred quid of your hard earned cashola? Well yes, if you haven’t read his book, but you could buy the book for something like a tenner and get the exact same info he imparts over the weekend (his seminar essentially being a well recited stand up routine of his book).

Christopher Vogler. The myth man. Talks about the powerful association of myths in storytelling and its never-ending hold over audiences. Very Joseph Campbell. When I attended his weekend seminar in London, he was jetlagged and improvised his lecture a bit but after reading his book, his seminar is also, basically, a ‘live’ version of his book. Which is certainly worth a read.

Syd Field. Three-Act structure be thy name. Haven’t seen his weekend whatsit but still an essential starting point to grasping the basics of screenplay structure. His paradigm may be broad knowledge by now but his fundamental theory still has the power to inspire and inform.

William Goldman. "Nobody knows anything". Well, this man does. His seminal 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' shared gossip and insight in equal measure while its sequel 'Which Lie Did I Tell?' followed through with Goldman's playful wit and knowledge.

Michael Hauge. Author of ‘Writing Screenplays That Sell’, the first screenwriting book I ever read back when I was very miserable working in the Irish Civil Service dreaming of a better life (I was only 18). It’s obviously a book with a commercial slant but covers the essential areas: concept, character, structure, etc; and is just the tonic for newbie writers who instinctively know these things already but weren’t aware of the terms or process. Apparently, there’s a DVD of Mr Hauge with Syd Field, or something, and he regularly attends Screenwriting Expos (that’s L.A. for seminars) but I’ve only read his book and have no clue what he looks like.

Linda Seger. Much respected script consultant and guru. Author of ‘Making a Good Script Great’ and ‘Creating Unforgettable Characters’. Don’t let the titles put you off - she rocks.

Lajos Egri. Who? “The Art of Dramatic Wr!t!ng” dummy. Despite the dodgy use of the exclamation marks in Wr!t!ng, this book is a more theatrical and learned affair, which gives the lowdown on what makes drama work and what’s required of the creative process. Not as accessible as the others but still damn fine stuff.

John Truby. Has 22 Steps to unbeatable structure, apparently. I’ve not yet indulged or read any of his work but he’s supposedly very good.

Jurgen Wolff. European/American scriptwriter/intellectual/hypnotherapist (eh?) who has great ways to stimulate creativity and avoid writer’s block.

Aristotle. Forget Field. Check out Aristotle’s “Poetics”. He started it. It’s all his fault.

Other screenwriting books I have:- Zen and the Art of Screenwriting by William Froug (interviews and insight with Hollywood screenwriters). The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias (great advice and discipline). 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader by Jennifer Lerch (it does what it says on the tin).

I would link to all of the above but I’ve had too much red wine and you probably know where to locate them anyway…

There are many, many others. If anyone would like to recommend or share, do tell.

Genre, part 2

Someone recently made an excellent comment to my earlier post about genre and have since set up their own blog called Narrative Momentum, using the comment as their first post. It's worth checking out.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Ireland, A Novel by Frank Delaney has just hit the bookstands. I was casually checking it out in Waterstone’s before a meeting yesterday and the first thing I do, with any book, is check out the writer’s acknowledgements/note at the beginning. Although they can be bland ‘thank yous’ to people you’ve never heard of or are never likely to meet, you usually get a better sense of the writer’s personal tone and intent.

Mr Delaney’s note was an elegant and reverent acknowledgement to the history of Irish storytelling but I was particularly taken by his last sentence when he said: “…storytelling - from wherever it comes - forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.” It’s my birthday at the end of the month so if anyone’s tearing their hair out wondering what to buy, then this book would be a welcome purchase. That and some West Wing DVDs, and The Sopranos of course, oh and that new razor where a F1 jet flies through your bathroom everytime you have a shave. Can I get one of those?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hot Script

"What happens when the market is suddenly flooded with scripts of the
same genre you've just written? Say you've finally finished what you fondly imagine to be the best spin on the space vampire movie, only to find ten other space vampire movies have just gone into production. Will it worsen the chances of anyone taking yours on, or does it depend on how those space vampire movies go down at the box office? Will a cracking space vampire script regardless, or does good (or bad) timing have more to do with these things than anyone admits?"

Sci-vamp-com. There’s something there...

The answer to the question is that it’s really a mix of all of the above. If you have a great script, it doesn’t matter what’s gone before it or what’s happening in the market, someone will want it. But at the same time, if you’ve written a specific genre that’s enjoying a current trend - last year’s zombies e.g. - then it’s unlikely that your particular take will merit a purchase, no matter how good it is. There is the possibility that canny producers will option it for an appropriate length of time and patiently wait for the genre to come back into vogue. And then there’s the matter of your standing in the business - are you a newbie that no-one’s heard of (pass), or someone with at least one screen credit and/or solid TV background (consider)?

But this issue raises a whole heap of other questions and considerations for the budding screenwriter. Do I try to second guess the market and write the genre that I think will sell? Or do I write what’s in my soul and let the script stand apart with its impressive quality and heart? The standard advice to new screenwriters is “write what you know” because you need to establish your original voice and talent. “Write what you know” doesn’t necessarily mean “write about your own life”. It means “write what you know about the human condition”. It’s assembling your experiences and emotions and transferring them into original characters and ideas which you then dramatise into a satisfying story.

There are two genres that are constantly in demand, no matter how exhausted they seem to be in the spec market or at the box office. Romantic comedies and horrors. These films are consistently appreciated and requested by the key cinema going audience of 15-25 yr olds. So, if you’re a genre writer, the smart approach would be to gen up on what makes romcoms and horrors work, understand the process inside out, then write an original one of your own and watch the offers roll in as you sit by the pool sipping a pina colada. It is interesting though how a particular genre will establish a trend. It seems that all genres are cyclical in their popularity and demand. Whatever’s out of favour now will be fought over in a few years’ time. I predict a glut of werewolf films to be the next hit for horror while romcoms are generally stuck in the ‘boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl’ routine so it’s a snappy premise and equally beguiling style that wins out there. In an interview, Richard Curtis commented that when he wrote Four Weddings, he wanted to write something that no-one knew as well as he did - the wedding circuit and its impact on a group of friends who have reached ‘that time of life’. So he combined his original voice and insight into a genre script and the result was a unique, warm and hilarious romantic comedy.

I think, at the very least, you’ve got to write what you enjoy. I could probably come up with a good idea for a romcom but I don’t think I could write it. If I did, it might be efficient in terms of concept and structure, but an astute reader/exec would see that my heart wasn’t in it. So, I try to come up with ideas and stories that I think are cool and would love to see, and if they’re similar to what’s already out there or tread on familiar genre territory, then it’s up to me to make it as original and subversive and appealing as possible. It’s always going to attract attention that way; get a few meetings, talk about options etc, and hey you never know, it just may be the script that is the key to unlocking the gate to a happy career.