Monthly Archives: January 2015

Second Year Masterclasses Two – Philip Shelley (by Liberty Martin)

After we worked with Philip Shelley in the first year to develop ideas for television series, we got to work with him again in a four-week set of sessions on writing for film. This second course with Philip was a chance to explore the British film industry, to write our own scripts for ten-minute short films and to get some experience of writing script reports to boot.

At the same time as working with us at Drama Centre Philip was also reading scripts to select students for the 2015 Channel Four Screenwriting Course. Talking to each other about films formed a substantial part of the teaching, which I think was fantastic as Philip stressed how important it is to watch a lot of films and read a lot of scripts as writers. Some recent UK feature film highlights we discussed were ’71 by Gregory Burke, The Riot Club by Laura Wade and The Goob by Guy Myhill.

Our discussion of the landscape of independent film was really useful. Philip gave us a very handy run-down of the major producing companies and funders and we were given the task of researching production companies for ourselves and making a dream list of directors we’d like to work with. It’s a good habit to get into, doing research and maintaining your own awareness of the screenwriters you like and also the directors and producers who create your sort of work.

In our work on script reports we got to read a script currently in development and submit a synopsis and comments. For me, the really interesting challenge in this task was trying to write a summary that directly reflected the story in the script without taking on an editorial role and making changes as I went. The creation of an objective (but readable!) summary is a distinct skill and separating this out from more subjective comments seemed like a useful exercise in critical thinking as well as practical training.

For our own short film scripts we went through the process of pitching a couple of film ideas in the room, telling the story in a paragraph, writing a scene by scene outline and finally submitting a finished script for notes. We were encouraged to write scripts without dialogue to focus on visual storytelling, which again was excellent. It really gave a good sense of the specific challenges and opportunities that come with writing a story told in pictures. Ideas in the room ranged from a man beginning a new relationship with a mannequin to a girl who fell in love with her phone, via two stories of threesomes, to a horror film featuring a frightening phantasmal little boy and a tale of the covert tensions amongst office workers bursting out into the open.

We covered a lot of ground in the four weeks and came out with a selection of interesting and entertaining short scripts. It certainly sparked some ideas for full-length film scripts in the future. There are always good interviews, opportunities and film tips on Philip’s blog for inspiration if we get stuck.




Second Year Major Projects – Nina Steiger (by Liberty Martin)

In year two of MA Dramatic Writing we’re working with Nina Steiger for the second time on the course. Last year we on original digital media pieces together, and this year she’s helping us to develop as writers for theatre, both artistically and practically.

Our first meeting was devoted to agreeing on the plans for the coming ten sessions, and to thinking about our own identity as artists. We discussed how we felt in our working practice at the time, and how we wanted to feel by the end of these sessions. We did looking inwards to crystallize our thinking about where we intended to go with our writing. We made personal iconography, drawing symbols and finding our own words for aspects of our creative work.

Over the course of the sessions we’re adding to our portfolios by trying out new ideas, writing short pieces in response to interesting creative restrictions, and moving towards making our final major projects. Through this training we’re engaged with fundamental questions about what it is to write for theatre.

In Nina’s teaching and exercises we’ve written scenes focussing on subtext, exposition and dramatic action, we’ve had a demystifying session on the distinctions between plot, story and structure, and we’ve worked on identifying and using different theatrical styles.

The practical teaching on professional skills includes how to maintain your own creative process, knowing when and where to send out your work and how to present projects. We’ve had practice in pitching ideas and had a really useful session on how to give and get feedback on works in progress.

A massive benefit to working with Nina is the work we’ve done on naming and understanding trends in our own work and expanding our approach to the plays we see. Both Symphony and Wet House were showing at Soho when we visited the building for our second session.

Symphony was a piece of gig-theatre, where actors doubled as a five-piece band to perform three short plays with music by writers Ella Hickson, Nick Payne and Tom Wells. Paddy Campbell’s Wet House, set in a homeless hostel where residents can drink alcohol, plays as an authentic piece of contemporary naturalism.

 In our sessions we were able to talk about the importance of strong characters, unanswerable questions and the presence of live conflicts in the fabric of a good piece of drama.With the opportunity to explore and discuss the programme at Soho and through our own practical work it feels as though we’re getting to really understand these principles.


Second year Major Projects – John Yorke (by Philip Jones)

John Yorke is a creative genius and a master of the art of dramatic writing.

John was Head of Channel Four Drama and then also Controller of BBC Drama – responsible for shows like Shameless, Omagh, EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City to name but a few. Before going on to become Managing Director of top drama indie, Company Pictures, in 2013.

So it is a very great honour and privilege to have John as our tutor and master for the second year of the MA Dramatic Writing course at Central St Martins.

John’s text Into The Woods is a classic masterpiece on dramatic storytelling craft and structure

Part fairytale historian, philosopher and story analyst – John combines these skills in his great work that sketches the dramatic writing craft by tracing it’s form from ancient myth and fairy tale and combines these with Constructionist cinema and Jungian Psychoanalysis to create the essential craft guidebook for any budding drama writer whether for stage, or screen.

So in the first lesson John like an express train takes us through the 25 fundamental points of dramatic writing, and shows this with some great clips from East Enders, the one that really struck home for me in particular was the Mimesis, ‘show not tell’ scene created by Tony Jordan for EastEnders where Nigel has to tell his step daughter Clare that her mum has been run over by a car and is dead.

Rather than a big over written climatic scene, we watch as Nigel, sitting in a car waiting for his step daughter, says, ‘how am I going to do this’, and then walks over to her and we observe him from a distance tenderly sitting her down to tell her.

Simple and sweet, a classic scene; no dialogue and all action; a perfect example of show not tell, for me.

At the end of the first class we are each given a classic fairytale story of four pages. As our first exercise we must convert this into a concise paragraph re-setting it instead as a modern parable.

I had the Ugly Duckling and changed it to the story of a mid-life crisis man who is dumped by his wife, and so the second part of this exercise is to the consider the fairytale against ten key dramatic questions: the fundamentals; Whose Story, What Do They Need, What Is The Inciting Incident, What Does The Character Want, What Obstacles Are In The Character’s Way, What’s At Stake, Why Should We Care, What Do They Learn, How And Why, How Does It End.

John tells us if we can answer these questions well, then we may have our film.

This is such a vital piece of dramatic craft structure; whether you are writing a script, for the stage, radio or screen.

So we are here to learn dramatic writing he explains and adds that many people will say you can’t teach someone to be a writer.

We may not yet possess all the skills, knowledge, wisdom, combined with the ideas to write our pieces exactly in the most professional way; but no doubt what John is imparting to us now will be very instrumental; powerful and vital tools that will help us structure and test out our script development and writing work.

Being one who was also told at least a couple of times when I was considering taking up a place on the course, ‘you can’t teach someone to write, you either can, or can’t’, I feel now more confident to be able to say, yes you may not be able to show and teach someone how to write a great work, but what I can say most affirmatively is you can equip writers with the most essential craft tools, skills and knowledge, but then the graft-  the application, the focus, the need and the creative genius stuff – will be down to them.

Second Year Masterclass One – Ola Animashawun (by Philip Jones)

Ola is a live wire, passionate about storytelling and theatre and it comes across loud and clear in the first of his Masterclass sessions with the Dramatic Writing MA year 2 students.

Ola Animashawin is the Associate Director of the Royal Court Theatre and his Masterclass is on Voice and Vision. In his Masterclass workshop Ola is going through the basics, but also the fundamentals of dramatic writing; first how do you choose a title for your play.

Ola calls this workshop Open Heart Theatre – a unique idea for creating a menu of dramatic spectacle to peruse before you choose your seats in a virtual multiplex theatre space.

When we get to the end of the Ola’s Master class sessions we’ll each present ten-minute scenes to the group; no pressure there then!

Ola has as 25 years of experience of working in theatre and 15 in the field of leading writing workshops and play development.

Ola is inspirational; his passion is electrifying. He literally buzzes with enthusiasm and he says he only has one big antipathy, “a burning desire to bring theatre and theatre audiences alive”, so Ola will be taking us through the steps of bringing an idea to life in the most exciting way; the first exercise to consider – what does a title say about your play!

Being very critical writers, a vote on our titles in the group ends with none of us scoring more than a 3 out of 7.

Many of us are crestfallen and ponder this first big lesson, which is don’t always believe the first title that comes into your head is the best; test it out on your peers and don’t get too wedded to a title at this point, but if you believe in it, keep it. Or change it. But don’t prevaricate over it.

Next, audience; Ola then takes us through an exercise where we consider the difference between writing a play for a group of free thinking liberal writers, or for a provincial audience at the Bridlington Play House,

We all agreed these are very crucial fundamentals for playwrights and are the introductory exercises for making our choices about the ideas for our scenes.

First think of writing a scene to appeal to the intellect of fellow writers, or then consider the difference it would make writing a scene to appeal to the heart of the same audience.

My first scene was based on a recent experience – the first meet from an online dating introduction; this was an appeal to the head of my audience; there was a secret revealed in the date that produced real personal dilemma.

My second scene to appeal to the heart was inspired by a story I read about a man in Syria waiting for it to rain so he could clean his home; a flat where all his family, his wife and children had been killed in a chemical attack.

The journalist who witnessed this believed it was the only story in about 20 years of war reporting he felt deep really should make a difference.

These were valuable exercises in learning how to temper and style your writing for diverse tastes; two very thought provoking and exciting first exercises in Ola’s Master class sessions before we develop our ten minute scenes on Justice for our Open Heart Theatre production.