Thursday, 5 September 2019

Too Soon

Copyright BBC

Sid feels backed into a corner by Karen, while Ruhma gets drawn into a serious case.

Oops. Nearly forgot this one, going out in a few hours. Doctors is back this week after a bit of a gap, so I'm not really back in the swing of it yet. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

So, You Want to be a Screenwriter...?

Image Copyright Bleecker Films etc

From time to time, I get asked how to get into this business. I've done talks and workshops etc. I've done my best to mentor. And I've ended up with an A5 leaflet which I thrust into the eager hands of those wanting my advice.

I thought it might be worth sharing it with the world. So, here it is...



Screenwriting


“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”

Alfred Hitchcock


“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.”

Hugh Laurie


What does a Screenwriter do?

A Screenwriter writes stories for film and television drama. Some people imagine the screenwriter just writes the dialogue, but there’s much more to it than that. The dialogue’s the easy bit.

A screenwriter has to invent the entire story – the concept, the ideas, the theme, the genre, the tone, the setting, the structure, the pacing, the directions, the characters, the situations, the scenes, and, yes, the dialogue. Everything you see on screen began life with the screenwriter putting words on a blank piece of paper.

But the difference between a screenplay and other forms of storytelling is that the screenplay is just a blueprint. Nobody reads screenplays for entertainment (except other screenwriters). Screenplays are there to be turned into film and television drama. They are technical documents. It takes an army of directors, producers, actors etc to turn that story into something that can be watched and enjoyed – to bring the writer’s vision to life.

Qualifications/Training

What qualifications do you need to become a screenwriter? What training is required?

Formal training

It is possible to do a degree in screenwriting (particularly in the States), though it is more frequently done as just one module in a general media or film-making course. Screenwriting courses are more often offered as post-graduate MAs, or there are various part-time courses. But most screenwriters I know don’t seem to bother.

Teach yourself

Most screenwriters have little or no formal training for the job. Some have been obsessed with screenplays or film-making for years, and just taught themselves. Others have stumbled into it from other kinds of writing. But, in most cases, they have learnt by doing it. Writers write. They usually talk about it quite a lot as well, but the main thing is that they write, and they keep on writing, getting better all the time, until they produce something worth reading. Then they write some more, and improve some more, until they have something worth making.

Breaking in

Breaking in to screenwriting can be very frustrating. Would-be-screenwriters often struggle to write in the evenings and at weekends, while holding down a day job to survive. Gradually they’ll build up a portfolio and a reputation until they begin to make real contacts in the industry. At some stage, they have to persuade an agent to represent them and then, slowly, paid work might start coming in.

If you’re lucky, or determined enough, you might find a day job with direct relevance, such as being a runner on a film set, or a TV researcher or script assistant. Others have careers in completely different kinds of work. And that’s not such a bad idea, because the odds are always against you. There are many more “wannabe” screenwriters, than there are professionals. And of those professionals, a frightening number don’t make enough to live on. Having a second string to your bow might save you from starvation, and might even turn out to be what you really wanted to do all along.

Most people who want to be screenwriters fail - they’re not good enough, not lucky enough, or not determined enough. But, if it’s what you want to do, then the struggle is worth it.

Career Path

There isn’t really a career path for screenwriters. You are self-employed, and at the whim of producers and script editors. It’s a question of building up contacts and a reputation.

Television

In television, your first commission (after years of effort) is likely to be a half hour episode of daytime soap – something like the BBC’s “Doctors.” 

Keep going, and you might progress to episodes of bigger soaps (EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Casualty, Holby City). Some people get to this stage and decide they’re happy – it’s certainly about the “steadiest” job in screenwriting. Sitcoms are another way in, though the chances of a “newbie” being offered an episode are less, and the work is not so steady.

Once you are known and respected, then the chances are that you might be asked to write episodes of long-running series or serials – the sort of drama you’ll find on most mainstream channels at nine o’clock. You’re still working on other people’s programmes, but you’re much more responsible for that episode’s content.

But what most TV writers aspire to is their own show – a one-off, a series or a serial – that elusive “created by” credit.  

Film

The number of screenwriters making a living in film in the UK is tiny. Which is sad, because most screenwriters come to the business because they want to make films. There are always opportunities to make shorts, or low-to-no-budget films, but you will probably end up paying for the privilege. If you’re good enough, or lucky enough, then Hollywood might beckon. But don’t count on it. Most working screenwriters in the UK earn their living writing for television.


Rewards

Creative

There’s nothing quite like starting from scratch and creating a piece of drama that is watched, shared and enjoyed by millions. And it’s yours – your vision, your idea, your story. I make up stories, and people pay me to do it! Wonderful!

Financial

For those at the very top, screenwriting can earn you millions. But I haven’t seen much of it. If you get as far as writing regularly for television, then you will earn a respectable sum, but probably not enough to, say, put your kids through private education. But then, you’re not doing it for the money, are you?

Lifestyle

This one’s a winner. You might have to work through the night occasionally to meet a deadline, but most days you work the hours you want, when you want. You work from home – no horrid commuting. You want a day off – it’s yours. Your kid falls sick and can’t go to school – no problem. If you want to stay in your pyjamas all day, no-one will ever know.

Negatives

Artistic integrity

Screenwriting is a collaborative process. You can’t actually just write whatever you want – someone has to film it, and it has to be practical and reasonable. And, if you’re writing for, say, “EastEnders” most of the story’s produced by the series story editors. If you’re at all “precious” about your art, then forget it. Screenwriting is an art, but it’s also a business and, often, you are simply a writer for hire.

Insecurity

You’re self-employed. No monthly salary, no sick pay, no annual leave, no job security, and no pension. You’re only as secure as your next commission, and only as good as your last script.

Working alone

Working at home has huge advantages. But it also leaves you alone all day, with no work colleagues, no friends, and within easy reach of the temptations of the fridge and the kettle. Loneliness and self-motivation can be real issues, particularly if the work isn’t going well.

On balance...

I can’t think of a job I’d rather do.


So, you still want to be a

screenwriter...?


Watch

Watch films. Watch TV (drama, not Love Island). If you don’t love drama, and watch it, why would you want to be a screenwriter? Think about what you’re watching. Re-watch it. Watch with the script to hand. Make notes. What works? What doesn’t?

Read

Read scripts (see below for where to find them). Read “How to...” books on screenwriting. Read anything else that comes your way – it’s all good for inspiration. Read more scripts.

Write

A writer writes. Write a screenplay. Start with a five-minute short. Keep going. Write other stuff – poetry, lyrics, short stories, novels, journalism, plays. You might discover you’d rather do those than screenwriting. And they’ll all stretch your storytelling muscles.

Make a film

Make a short film. Write the script and get together with others to make it. Use a camcorder, or just your phone. Try producing, directing and acting (you might discover you prefer those). Work out what worked and what didn’t. Then write a better script.

More Info

Books

Into the Woods, by John Yorke
Story, by Robert McKee
The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting, by Syd Field
The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler
Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman
The Writer’s Tale, by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

Websites

BBC Writers’ Room, at www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom
Danny Stack’s website and blog, at www.dannystack.com
Scriptuality, my own rather neglected Blog, at www.scriptuality.blogspot.co.uk
Drew’s Script-O-Rama, at www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/table.html
The Internet Movie Data Base, at www.imdb.com

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

B-flat

Copyright BBC

A talented musician is panicked when she loses her prized instrument. 
Will Daniel open up at the forest bathing day? Ruhma and Valerie find an unusual way to help Alia with her revision.

Wednesday. 13:45. BBC1. Hopefully, this one will leave you with a Mozartian earworm for the rest of the day.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Gatekeeper

Copyright BBC

It’s the day of the court hearing, but will it go the way Karen wants? Valerie has to confront an angry-looking patient. 

The conclusion to the big story...   Today at 13:45 on BBC1.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The End of an Era

Copyright BBC
Jimmi is mistaken for an estate agent while dealing with an unusual family set-up. The gang have an emotional gathering, and Joe causes more trouble for Daniel and Zara.

But, more importantly, it's Mrs Tembe's last day.

Lorna Laidlaw is moving on, and so must we.

I remember going to a script meeting shortly before her first screen appearance as Mrs Tembe, and being delighted to see her photo up on the wall - my daughter is a Lorna, and Tikkabilla was regular viewing for both the girls (and me).

Mrs Tembe was not entirely popular when she first arrived, and I had my own doubts about the character. But she's become a Letherbridge Legend, and she'll be missed. I feel honoured to have written her final episode.

13:45. BBC1. Today (13 Feb), and on iPlayer for ages if you miss it.