Many writers send work to script consultants and editors for valuable feedback on their scripts, after all they have read so many they are in a unique position to see the areas of improvement. required.
Its an investment for any writer who is serious about upping their game and significantly ups the odds for their script to stand out in a sea of scripts, all clamouring for attention.
Its often with rose-tinted glasses that a writer, absorbed in their own world, fails to see the common pitfalls that many writers make in story-telling. This is something I am still navigating myself, specifically with writing a mystery, what to reveal and what to hold back.
Feedback can be hard-hitting but a vital piece of the development process that all writers need. Growing that thick skin and silencing the ego that will see you through to be the best writer you can possibly be.
I have encountered many script editors who are writers themselves but this always isn’t the case. Philip Shelley has extensive experience with developing writing talent for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five and Sky. His own script consultancy service provides constructive, one-to-one support and an objective eye for developing writers. I sent a very early version of my script to Philip and can’t recommend him enough for thorough feedback which gave me the tools to improve – I frequently visit his website and specifically the blog area to seek his opinion.
Vikki: What is your background in writing?
Philip: I’m not a writer – I’m primarily a script editor. I originally got into script development when I wrote a play that attracted interest from Paines Plough theatre company. (This was a long time ago!) They gave me work as a script reader and with them I started working with writers to discuss redrafting. From there I started to get work as a script reader for quite a few different theatre, film and TV companies. And that led me to getting my first script editing job at Granada TV.
Vikki: As a script consultant, what are the most frequent mistakes that you see writers make?
Philip: If you want to start off as a screenwriter, make sure you’re really well versed in the culture of screenwriting i.e. make sure you watch as much TV and film as possible and constantly analyse how story on screen works. You should be constantly reading screenplays. As a basic requirement make sure your work is really well presented and written clearly and competently. It’s amazing how many people fall at this first hurdle.
Concentrate on character. It’s the characters in whom we as readers and viewers invest. If we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the story, however brilliantly plotted it is.
Vikki: What writers have influenced you?
Philip: As I’m not a writer this question doesn’t really apply. But these writers (amongst many others) have inspired me –
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Aaron Sorkin, Diablo Cody, Mike White, Jimmy McGovern, Dennis Potter, Sally Wainwright, Jed Mercurio.
Vikki: Do you feel that writing to a formula such as the 3 act structure can stifle creativity?
Philip: I think writers can get too hung up on structure and hitting certain seemingly essential plot points; and that this can stymie creativity. However I also think act structure can be a really helpful tool in helping you to plan and tell your story effectively.
Vikki: You’ve worked with the major British broadcasters, what are the strengths in modern day British writing?
I think the best British writing is often in series – as above, writers like Jed Mercurio (Line Of Duty), Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax), Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch). In this era of international co-production I think it’s really important that broadcasters in the UK continue to focus on indigenous UK-based stories – stories that reflect our culture and tell us something about contemporary life in the UK. Jack Thorne (This Is England, Kyrie, National Treasure) and Jimmy McGovern (Broken) are two other writers who do this brilliantly.
Vikki: What are the key differences writing for TV and film?
Philip: They are two completely different markets and development cultures – the story structures are obviously different but otherwise all the same story-telling principles apply.
Vikki: I have read many times that research is the one area that writers should spend more time on, do you agree?
Philip: I think research is very important. But I also think it’s important that writers use research to enhance their stories. Too often writers feel restricted by their research. It can become a negative. It’s important that research enables rather than restricts. Dramatic stories need to be believable – not necessarily slavishly accurate.
Vikki: Negative feedback – how should a writer turn it into a positive?
Philip: I’m afraid it’s an unavoidable part of the process. Writers need to find script editors they trust. So much of your success as a writer is about how you respond to feedback – if you can see the positives in it and use it to enhance and improve your work rather than seeing it as a personal attack.
Vikki: Should a writer focus on one particular genre or should they write across genres?
Philip: Any writer needs to keep working at their craft to explore their strengths as a writer. It’s important that you know what your strengths are. There are some writers who write equally well across many different genres and styles – but more writers who are particularly strong in certain genres and less confident in others.
Vikki: Audiences are viewing content in many different ways – how does this impact writers? Positively or negatively?
Philip: Positively. At the moment there are many more opportunities than there were say 10 years ago for screenwriters in particular and dramatic writers in general. As dramatists, you should try to write across as many different media as possible – audio, stage, film, TV, etc.
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