Spotlight on Scriptwriting: May round-up

20 May 2019 Spotlight

© Adobe Stock / Ivelin Radkov

Theo Jones, co-secretary of the Scriptwriters Group, presents a round-up of recent events and activities in the world of scriptwriting.

Shining a light on young filmmakers

Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Film the House competition, announced at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament on 2 April. Luke Andrews scooped the best film script award for the 16-and-over category for Dearest Otto, whilst Karen Turner’s The Silent won best short film. In the under-16 category, the best film script award was won by Freya Hannan-Mills for The Iron Grotto with Morgan O’Connell taking the prize for best short film for his work on The Help We Need.

We applaud the fact that in giving parliamentarians the opportunity to engage with their local creatives and to learn about issues facing the local creative community, it offers a foundation for them from which to lobby to protect creative output in the Commons. The competition was sponsored by Rt Hon Sir Kevin Barron MP, Lord Tim Clement-Jones and Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP as well as a number of key industry players including ALCS, 21st Century Fox, and supported by the SoA, the BFI, and others.


Strengthening copyright for the digital age

We were delighted to see the EU Council formally adopt the Copyright Directive on the 15th April, marking the final stage in the Directive’s – at times controversial – passage through the EU legislature.

Of particular importance for scriptwriters is the principle of fair and proportionate remuneration for writers introduced at art. 18 of the directive, as well as a right at art.20 (known as art.15 ‘bestseller clause’ in the draft directive) for writers to claim ‘additional, appropriate and fair remuneration’ in the event the initial agreed payment provision turns out to be ‘disproportionately low’ when compared to all subsequent relevant revenues.

It is difficult to foresee what implications this might have in practice although it is hoped that things will become clearer once each Member State has implemented the Directive. The recognition that many writers will likely not seek to reinforce these rights if they believe their original agreement to represent a fair and reasonable basis for remuneration may well have immediate implication in terms of redressing the inequality of bargaining power between a writer and a producer at the contract negotiation stage.

We will be working to urge ministers to implement the Directive (even though Brexit would remove any duty on the UK to do so) and to ensure that members are kept aware of important developments.


Voice for new storytellers

At the beginning of April, BBC Studios were in touch to notify us of their new Writers Academy course, which has now been launched with the aim of offering help and guidance to new storytellers. The paid training programme has been designed to offer emerging scriptwriters the opportunity to develop the skills they need to pen successful TV drama and to write for some of the BBC’s most successful continuing dramas.

Writers admitted to the scheme will benefit from the expert guidance of John Yorke and gain experience not only with BBC Studios, but also their portfolio of indies. Click here for more information.


Photo: The panel at the BFI Future Film Lab. Credit: Theo Jones

Secrets of scriptwriting

On the 29 April we co-hosted a panel session as part of the BFI’s first Future Film Lab of 2019, designed to reveal the secrets of the professional screenwriter. Isaac Tomiczek and Grace Ofori-Attah joined Chris Blaine to offer advice, guidance and insight to budding screenwriters in an event that was chaired by writer and broadcaster, Rhianna Dhillon.

In a far-reaching discussion, the panellists covered a wide range of topics, from offering guidance as to how a scriptwriter might hone their skills through sharing their work with trusted collaborators, to emphasising the importance of crafting a unique, authentic voice. They encouraged delegates to research diligently, write prolifically, apply to competitions and submission opportunities freely and not to take rejection or criticism personally. Other tips included:

  • Don’t restrict yourself to writing for a single genre or to see genre as fixed and static. It is more important to allow for experimentation.
  • If you experience writer’s block, try listening to film music or going for a walk.
  • Read widely, including to see how writers use performance direction: scripts recommended by the panel include Villains (now premiering at South by Southwest) and Crusade.
  • Do not write directions for the camera!
  • Authenticity comes from your own experiences: write what you know.
  • Don’t get hung up on dialogue, which may in any case get tweaked in production where an actor might say ‘I can do that with a look”. The most important part of the script is the structure.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore writing for alternative media and formats, including for the theatre where there are more opportunities for emerging writers.
  • Be aware that whilst some screenwriting courses do cost, many do not.

Useful resources recommended by the panel include the following:;;;;; John Yorke’s Into the Woods (Penguin, 2014).


News bites (Last updated 21st May)

Heads of BBC Films and Film 4 shine a light at Cannes Film Festival

The heads of BBC Films and Film 4 have told an audience at the Cannes Film Festival that they read every unsolicited scripts that they receive albeit that generally BBC Films will only consider projects that have an agent or producer attached. Daniel Battsek on behalf of Film 4 spoke of his team of "energetic, well-connected" commissioners who were "out and about, meeting as many aspiring filmmakers as they possibly can, wherever they might find them". Both Battsek and Rose Garnett speaking on behalf of the BBC emphasised their support for first and second-time filmmakers. Read more on this in Broadcast (£).

BBC/ National Theatre Wales "Writer in Residence" programme - deadline 3rd June at 11am

Applications are being sought from both new and established writers able to represent the culture of Wales 'with authenticity' for the inaugural Wales Writer in Residence scheme from the BBC and the National Theatre Wales. On offer is a £12,000 bursary to support the successful candidate through two consecutive 6-month placements: firstly with BBC Cymru Wales then with NTW. Their winning script will be commissioned, developed and produced for BBC Radio 4 and/or BBC Sounds. To enter writers must submit a complete original English language audio script (as pdf) at least 30 mins in length and no longer than 50 pages. For more information and to apply, please click here

Sony to adapt games for film and TV

Sony have set up a production arm - PlayStation Productions - to develop videos for film and TV based on their games porfolio. The company has been speaking to writers, directors and producers for a number of years, and have taken the decision to create the works in-house rather than enter into licensing arrangements with film studios because of their unique understanding of the PlayStation fanbase: "we know what the PlayStation community loves", Asad Qizilbash told the Hollywood Reporter. Shawn Layden, chairman of Sony's SIE Worldwide Studios, said they would be looking not to turn hours of gameplay into a film but rather take the game's 'ethos' and write something specifically for the film audience. 

Netflix on the look out for studio space in UK

Netflix is eyeing up opportunities to acquire a studio in the UK with a view to producing an increasing number of programmes in the country. According to the latest reports a deal with Pinewood Studios is expected imminently (The Guardian, retrieved 21 May 2019). A slate of 40 UK productions and co-productions were set-up over the past year, including The Crown (Peter Morgan), Bodyguard (Jed Mercurio), and Turn Up Charlie (Idris Elba and Gary Reich), with 221 TV shows and films planned across Europe for the forthcoming year (of which 153 will be original productions). The move would, the company claims, 'support and strengthen' the legacy of the traditional linear broadcasters allowing them to 'produce on a larger scale' with all organisations existing in harmony. 


SoA Scriptwriters Group

For more resources and to be part of our scriptwriting community, consider joining our Scriptwriters Group – representing writers and makers across digital, broadcast, AV and theatre. Find out more and join here.