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.




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