Friday, May 31, 2013


This is broadly what I told some students on the Tremough scriptwriting course (well, the scriptwriting bit of the Film course) after they’d finished their feature scripts. Doesn’t just apply to features though, could be television dramas, sitcoms or radio plays. Or novels, or plays, or- you get the idea.

It’s also what I need to do now. I’ve long had a drawerful of reasonably developed ideas for film and/or television (even if they’re just a paragraph or so), only now, to my consternation, they’ve all been picked up. That doesn’t mean I’ve been given much, or any money for the majority of them, sadly, but they’re all spoken for, one way or the other. So this applies to anyone who needs to restart the engine as much as a work out what to do when they've finished their first piece of work.

START WRITING SOMETHING NEW. Don’t panic, you don’t have to pile into a new script straight away – but you need to start narrowing down what your script is going to be about.

Easy way to get started on this:

1.     Make a list of ten concepts for films you’d like to see. Any genre, any budget, just one or two sentences. Don’t refine any of them until you’ve got to ten.

2.     Of those ten, pick five to do a brief paragraph each on the first, second and third acts. If you can’t pick three, pitch those ten ideas to your friends and ask which they’d like to see as a film, and why.

3.     Of those five, pick three and develop them further: make a little bio for each character, think of a character that makes his or her first appearance in the second act, another who might only appear in the third act. Start thinking about actors who might play those roles.

4.     Of those three, decide on one you’re going to develop as a script.

5.     Work out most important forty scenes for that story, then start writing it as a script.


Because if you pile straight into one script, you’ll almost certainly come unstuck and/or bored a third of the way through, and feel like you want to start another one to get that fresh, enthusiastic feeling. Bad news: every script comes unstuck a third of the way though, you have to push through it, and that’s the point where writing no longer feels like fun, it feels like work.

This way, if you do come genuinely unstuck, you have a number of other thought-through ideas to fall back on. Or you might realise that idea three and idea eight aren't strong enough to work on their own, but if you put them together, you might have an intriguing start for idea eleven. Also, it’s a good idea to have a number of concepts in your back pocket for a tricky pitch meeting where your best (or favourite) idea is shot down almost straight away.

This happened a few months ago, and I was reduced to pitching an idea I had thought up about five years and not pushed again because the first person I had mentioned it to had laughed. The people I pitched it to at that moment not only didn't laugh (well, they laughed in the right places, at least), they immediately commissioned me to write a treatment, and it's just been rejected by Sky Television! Notice how I put an exclamation mark on the end of that for an upbeat feel. Don't worry, they're taking it to other places as well.

Also, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE STUPID IDEA. If an idea appeals to you, however ridiculous it sounds, there's got to be something in it, so pursue it, chase it around with a stick until it gives up its gooey secrets. Conversely, an idea might not sound like a zinger ('frustrated Englishman runs a hotel in Torquay'), but if there's something in there you keep coming back to, stick with it.

I have to finish here because my son is hitting me with a Richard Scarry book.


Anonymous said...

Hi James,

Love this. Hope someone picks it up.

Was just re-reading your previous post as I've just put on hold a sitcom idea to pursue a film idea that's been niggling away at me for ages. I was just wondering why you suggest developing a character who doesn't appear until the second act and one until the third.

Is it important to bring in new characters later? Is it to keep the audience's interest piqued and prevent things getting monotonous? I have a couple of ideas for those characters having pondered it so thanks for the tip.


James Henry said...

Hi Georgia - thanks for comment, will address this in another blogpost when I get a chance...

Anonymous said...

Thanks James - look forward to that... And sorry for confusing post, I thought I'd commented under your latest blog post.