Wednesday, December 28, 2005


In this month’s issue of UK Writer (the Writers’ Guild magazine), there are a number of cracking articles. OK, I’m biased because one of them is from me but it really is a top issue.

Julian Friedmann talks about a freelancer’s charter to minimise the pitfalls of the vulnerable writer while Darren Rapier shares a relationship he had with an agent that didn’t go quite as well as they both had hoped.

Andy Walsh reports from a Games writers’ conference in Texas. There’s an in-depth feature on Harold Pinter’s career and recent Nobel award. Edel Brosnan interviews Deborah Moggach on adapting Pride & Prejudice and her other work. And French screenwriter Anne-Louise Trividic is interviewed by Claire Dixault.

Julian Oddy describes his motivation and intention for his website Doollee , which is an on-line database of playwrights and theatre plays.

Prolific TV producer Catherine Bailey gets the once over thanks to Richard Bevan, and Andrea Sanders-Reece talks abut the digital world and how the Creators’ Rights Alliance (CRA) works hard to ensure that ‘creators are represented and heard by the people who are influencing change’.

And on page 33, alongside my photo-shot mug, is my article on how I got involved in scriptwriting and what it means to me. Tom Green, the editor of the mag, and of the Writers’ Guild blog (see sidebar), found me via the blog and asked me to contribute.

Check out the Writers’ Guild website for full details of what they do and how you can join (there’s Full membership, Candidate membership, Student membership and Affiliate membership).

But for the benefit of those who haven’t joined yet, and our overseas readers, here’s my article about my influences. Here’s to a storming 2006. Happy New Year.

“The moment that fed my obsession with screenwriting 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.

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. Naturally, I felt that the TV broadcast was directly linked to me having just completed the book.

Full of excitement, 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.

Mr Goldman would make a further impression with his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, my first glimpse into the actual nuts and bolts of the scriptwriting process.

My TV education started with Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective - a revelation - and Ted Whitehead’s adaptation of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is always strong in my mind (mainly because they were adult shows that I was being allowed to watch).

At the cinema, I was growing up with John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science) and Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) but Coppola’s version of The Godfather opened my eyes to morally complex characters and Waldo Salt’s adaptation of Midnight Cowboy breaks my heart every time I see it.

When I came to England in 1994, I got a job at Channel 4 and worked my way into the comedy department. Simon Pegg & Jessica Stevenson’s scripts for Spaced were terrific and were brilliantly brought to life by director Edgar Wright.

Graham Linehan & Arthur Mathews’s wonderfully absurd creation of Father Ted keeps me in stitches, and watching Graham and Dylan Moran write (and rewrite) the first series of Black Books (I was production assistant) was an inspiration and a joy. Chris Morris, Steven Moffat, Kevin Cecil & Andy Riley all came within my reading radar, and I was hooked.

Jimmy McGovern, Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies may seem like obvious choices but their riveting, compelling and entertaining dramas are truly inspirational. Cracker is sorely missed. Queer as Folk is a masterpiece and Abbott’s Shameless is unmissable.

As an avid script reader for the last six years, I’ve been studying the great and the darn right horrible scripts that are out there but writers such as M Night Shymalan, Paul Haggis, Zach Helm, Purvis & Wade, Mellis & Scinto and Andrew Davies have greatly entertained and educated me in terms of style and craft.

On a more personal level, Sam Morrison and Chris Shepherd are two brilliant UK animators who have their own specific and distinctive voice which makes their scripts a cut above the rest.

Sam’s subtlety with character and his natural comic touch is a treat while Chris’s energetic edge gives his projects a unique tone. Staying with animation, Hollywood writers Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio know what it takes to write a good script and they share all their knowledge at their website WordPlay which is a regular internet pitstop that is forever illuminating and indispensable.

In terms of craft and structure, the Americans take their screenwriting very seriously and have provided me with endless inspiration and insight into how to make your own work stand apart, which of course is the intention with every new script that I begin.”


christopher said...

great story about 'magic' danny. my friend lucy just blogged about her frustation with straight adaptations of literary properties (ala the potter films). although i've neither read the magic book or seen the movie, it makes sense that goldman would understand the different needs of the two media.

and just in case it's not clear to your readers, kasdan wrote empire and jedi, not star wars. thus the reason for the jump in quality of the writing in that series. :)

Chris Soth said...

...and explains the decline in writing quality in the more recent installments...

...reading Marathon Man was one of my inspirations. Goldman really is the Dean of Merican Screenwriters.

You've picked a good bunch of mentors there -- but I'll put this out there: Shyamalan is a better director than he is a writer. Just my opinion...

chris soth

Chris Soth said...

By which I meant A-Merican screenwriters...

Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Just thought I'd stop by and say happy new year!

My resolution is to get back into this writing lark. Let's see :)