Thursday, 30 April 2009

Screenplay structure

After an interesting post and discussion over at Lucy's place about getting across 'the desert' of Act II, I thought I'd post some notes from a lecture on structure that I found very useful. It was very brief, but it gave me a useful template for laying out the structure of a screenplay.

Right, let's say you're working in the three-act structure and you've got an idea of what the turning points in your script are going to be: so, schematically, it looks a bit like this:

To break up that nasty gap in Act II - which could amount to an hour of screentime, add a midway turning point, to create four 'acts':

Next, you divide each of those segments in two, to create eight parts of the story.

While they won't all be exactly equal in length, they'll probably each run to 10-15 minutes for a feature-length script.

Knowing roughly the story you want to tell, you should now apply an 'emotional colour' to each of these chunks. It can be as little as one word; ambition, setback, disappointment etc.

You can then use these to take the audience with you emotionally, inserting drivers that will create a series of rises and falls in the way designers engineer a rollercoaster; they know exactly how to measure the movement to maximise the effect of the ride.

This process also keeps the characters' (and the audience's) emotional state at the front of your mind throughout. A writer needs to know how to get under the audience's skin and which buttons to press.

Having drawn that emotional roadmap, you then divide each of the eight segments into five sections, to create 40 building blocks for your script. That's now a framework into which you can drop actual events, until the story begins to lock into place.

I know it sounds very simplistic, and some people have their own issues with the notion of three-act structure, but I found this approach enormously helpful when I started Foot Soldiers, my first post-MA script.

The script is about an alienated bloke who gets sucked into a world of militant pedestrian direct action. The eight 'emotional colours' I came up with were:
  • isolation/frustration
  • breakthrough/connection/friendship
  • belonging/inclusion/one of the gang
  • sense of purpose
  • loss of control
  • attempt to regain control
  • flight/need for survival
  • confrontation/fight to the death
If you know a bit about your characters and the type of story you want to tell, then even cues as brief as these will start to suggest events and situations.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

MA Screenwriting: Unit 4

Meanwhile, back in the Deep South...

Round about the time we were doing our observational research, we also had to crack on with one of the more academic units - 'Writing the Professional Script Report'.

We were given one of the previous year's feature-length MA scripts for the unit, which came in two parts.

Part one was a script reader's report: a 500-word synopsis of the script and a 500-word overview of its strengths and weaknesses, including a recommendation for further development or not.

I think a few people found the synopsis difficult, or at least a chore, but my editorial background meant I was used to getting to the heart of material and summing up complex stuff in simple terms.

Writing a synopsis (of either your own or another writer's work) can be valuable in identifying whether the central idea and dramatic spine of the story are strong enough to support the script. The ability to write a punchy and engaging synopsis also comes in handy for marketing your work.

The ability to read scripts critically is one of the most useful tools a screenwriter can have. In fact, I find it much easier to 'get under the bonnet' of a film from its script than from the finished work. By developing a critical approach and vocabulary you can focus sharply on what works and what doesn't work (and why).

The major aspects we were asked to look at were structure, arena, character, conflict, relationships, dialogue and emotional response. This last one is the most important - and can easily be overlooked while trying to get the cogs of your plot working together; while other more technical aspects can be tweaked, the script will fall flat on its face if it doesn't engage and move the audience.

Part two was a more complete 1,500-word set of script editor's notes on the same script. While the script report was purely descriptive, these notes are designed to guide the writer (and producer) through possible improvements for the next draft of the script.

While the reader's report can be more blunt in its assessment, as it's more likely to be for the consumption of a producer or agent, the script editor's notes need to strike a more delicate balance, finding ways of improving the script while respecting the writer's sensibilities.

The format that was suggested for us was a general preamble - with some diplomatic praise for what works well in the script - followed by bullet-pointed suggestions for concrete changes, with close reference to the text. Most points will fit under one of the following headings:
  • characterisation and relationships
  • arena and visual description
  • structure and pace
  • dialogue
  • story and theme
  • execution
I think the script we worked on is in development somewhere, so I won't post my reports. And I've lost the resource list, although I don't think it was very substantial. However, for all you'll ever need to know about script reading etc, take a plunge into the bubbling think-tanks of Danny Stack, Lucy Vee and Scott the Reader.

(Click here for previous MA posts.)

Friday, 24 April 2009

Reggie Perrin, BBC One

I've reviewed Reggie Perrin here for Orange. Sadly, it's not a glowing recommendation...

I should point out that I'm not a hater and I hadn't written it off before I watched it. While I enjoyed the original series, I'm sure there are modern concerns that would push the twenty-first century Reggie over the edge just as much as his 70s counterpart.

But the thing that stuck in my craw with Reggie Perrin was just how antiquated the whole thing seemed, from the squawking and intrusive laughter track to some of the ancient-looking beige sets, which don't look like anyone's house that I've been in since 1980.

Since The Office and The Royle Family blew the doors off the sitcom with their single-camera filming and rejection of the laughter track, the 'dark' approach that seemed to become pretty much the default setting for new sitcoms would have suited Reggie's inner bleakness perfectly.

Instead, it's like punk never happened. If you know what I mean...

From what I've seen, it's been a mixed year for British sitcoms so far. On the one hand, the energetic and imaginative Plus One seems to fall through the cracks, while the joy-sapping and utterly unconvincing Free Agents got all the love.

Meanwhile, Moving Wallpaper generally failed to impress (there wasn't much to it outside Ben Miller's monstrous producer), but at least The Inbetweeners is still causing squirms of embarassed recognition. FM had its moments as well; once you got past the cringey on-air 'banter', the plots and characters worked well.

Sadly, I'm drumming my fingers and awaiting the return of 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office (US) and Entourage.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Shifty, NFT

Last night we saw a preview of Eran Creevy's low-budget British film Shifty, starring Daniel Mays and Riz Ahmed. It's set over 24 hours in a thinly disguised version of Harlow, Creevy's hometown, and follows Chris (Mays) as he returns to the town for a party after four years away. He hooks up with his old friend Shifty (Ahmed), who has now become a crack dealer.

As Chris accompanies his mate on his rounds, he realises what a hole Shifty has dug himself into and pleads with him to get out of his dangerous lifestyle. However, a violent chain of events has already been set in motion and is about to come to a climax. We also find out – gradually – why Chris left in the first place, and what that meant for Shifty.

The most remarkable thing about the 86-minute film is its budget; it was shot in 18 days for just £100,000, under the Microwave scheme supported by BBC Films and Film London. In the Q&A, Creevy said they managed it by rehearsing every scene exhaustively in advance and storyboarding the whole film, so they could get on location, get the camera rolling, shoot the scene and get out again.

Creevy has a background in music videos and commercials, but his confident debut film is very naturalistic. It might seem an obvious reference point, but the way he depicts recognisable small-town life and avoids 'in da hood' cliches reminds me very much of Shane Meadows' early features. He handles the emotional beats very well too, considering this is the first time he's worked with actors.

In particular, the script succeeds through its simplicity. When I'm writing, I think my default setting is to cram in as much incident and as many reversals and complications as possible. However, Creevy keeps it low-key and straightforward, while allowing the increasing emotional impact of the action to intensify subtly.

While there's a lot of humour in the script, he also doesn't shy away from the complexity of depicting a charismatic and seemingly likeable drug dealer; a sub-plot involving addicted builder Trevor (Jay Simpson) makes the effect of drug abuse on families very clear.

At the Q&A, Creevy said that for both Shifty and his next film (which he is currently writing), he started off with the characters and their intimate-level stories before moving it out into a wider world. He said he always starts with a scene from the middle of the film and then builds his script up from there.

Sadly, NFT1 only seemed about 60% full for the event, and I guess the bad rep of many recent British films may affect Shifty's distribution. But it's a very accomplished and satisfying film. See it if you get the chance.


Monday, 20 April 2009

JG Ballard RIP

Even though I knew he was terminally ill, I still feel very sad at the news that JG Ballard has died, at the age of 78.

I always associate JGB with that period of my life around the age of 15-20, when my horizons expanded from a small-town working-class childhood and I developed an almost insatiable cultural hunger.

I came to Ballard through Michael Moorcock. Having read a bit of MM's fantasy stuff, I discovered his Jerry Cornelius material and was immediately captivated. Reading around the subject (in those black-and-white pre-internet days), I soon became aware of the history of New Worlds, and got drawn to that "sci-fi that wasn't sci-fi".

While the imagination and pop sensibility of the Cornelius stories lit up my brain in one way, Ballard's clinical prose style and exploration of "inner space" exerted a hypnotic hold over me. His work subsequently led me to Burroughs and the surrealists, and later to the notion of psychogeography, sparse electronic music and writers like Will Self and Magnus Mills.

I remember getting The Atrocity Exhibition out of Chorley library when I was around 16, as part of the pile of books I would take to Ireland each summer. Even though a lot of the subtext was beyond me at that age, I knew somehow that the fragmented narrative and jagged imagery were drawing a map of the mind that I found strangely compelling. Later, the images that conclude The Unlimited Dream Company stuck in my imagination like few books before or since.

I returned to JGB fairly recently, after The Drowned World featured prominently on The Martians and Us - a three-part look at British SF on BBC Three. Along the way, I discovered the perfect soundtrack for his writing: Selected Ambient Works Vol. II by the Aphex Twin. Just try it, and you'll know what I mean...

(Image taken from - a fantastic resource that "attempts to formulate a world view refracted through the writings of an author who has continually and accurately predicted the bewildering pace of change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries")

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Ashes to Ashes, BBC One

While I wouldn't lump myself in with the haters, I was generally disappointed by the first series of Ashes to Ashes. I thought it traded too much on the Gene Hunt Factor, making him more of a caricature than he'd been on Life on Mars, and was too quick with the easy "weren't the 80s crap?" gags.

Like a lot of people, I also thought the fact Alex Drake knew she was in a coma removed a lot of the dramatic tension created by Sam Tyler's confusion over what had happened to him, while the loss of Annie took a lot of warmth out of the show as well.

So, having seen a preview disc, I'm delighted that the second series gets off to a cracking start, written by Ashley Pharoah.

The story is set around the pre-clean-up (but strangely deserted) streets of Soho. When a man is found dead in women's lingerie in a strip club, Drake initially identifies it as a case of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong.

However, when it turns out that the dead man was a local copper, and the pathologist finds signs of foul play, the investigation takes a deeper turn.

The script introduces a major new character - Gene and Alex's boss - and puts the issue of policing in a rapidly changing society back at the centre of the show. As corruption rears its head in "a black and white world", an intriguing cliffhanger leaves us wondering which side our characters will choose.

For me, this was something that got lost between LoM and the first series of Ashes; despite the stuff with Lord Scarman, it seemed to lose a lot of the focus on good and bad policing that powered Sam and Gene's relationship. As a result, Ray and Chris just became comedy sidekicks, rather than representing elements of the debate.

Anyway, there's also plenty of intriguing stuff about Alex's predicament in the new episode. We have the usual information bleeding through from 2009, and meet a very sinister new character who seems to know something about why Alex is there. The character's played by a big name, so I'm sure they're going to play a major part in the series.

I hope I'm not getting carried away on the strength of one strong episode (and there are a couple of rubbish bits in this one), but this really gives the impression that they've found the real purpose of the series, other than just a way to get Gene Hunt back on the telly.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

In the Loop/Armando Iannucci Q&A, Curzon Soho

Armando Iannucci's much-anticipated film debut is drawn from his TV satire The Thick of It, but it scales up the story effectively for the big screen. The stakes are heightened by taking the action to Washington and the UN and addressing the dubious shenanigans leading up to the invasion of an unnamed Middle-Eastern country.

However, while it retains the series' hand-held visual style, Iannucci was keen not to end up with a lame Holiday on the Buses-style spin-off where the cast just pitch up abroad and hilarity ensues. Instead, it deals with a different ministry (International Development), a different hapless minister (Simon Foster, played by Tom Hollander), and a different ill-judged outbreak of honesty that needs to be ruthlessly suppressed.

The driving force behind the film – as in the series – is Peter Capaldi as the maniacally foul-mouthed director of communications Malcolm Tucker, who storms around London, Washington and New York verbally bludgeoning into compliance anyone who requires his attention. For all the intricately plotted farce, it's his grotesque threats and energetic swearing that get the biggest laughs.

However, interestingly, we begin to get the very real sense that Tucker finds himself somewhat out of his depth when facing his US adversaries – especially the dovish General Miller, given intimidating life in the form of James Gandolfini.

While Tucker isn't prepared to take a step backwards, giving as good as he gets in the sulphurous verbal exchanges, there's a shocking moment in the UN's meditation room when an extreme close-up suggests Tucker is defeated and on the verge of tears – a great example of script and performance meshing perfectly to turn our reactions to a character.

Iannucci addressed this in the Q&A afterwards, saying that he relished the complexity of the audience's response to Tucker. He's even got the sense in some screenings that the audience end up willing him to succeed, even though he's trying to pave the way for a bloody war.

The Q&A was light-hearted and enjoyable; thankfully there was a low ratio of knob-ends eager to grasp the mike. I didn't take any notes, so here's what my addled old brain can remember...

  • Why make the film now? He grew up loving cinema – especially comedies like Dr Strangelove and the work of Woody Allen – and always wanted to make a film that would get 'the big woof' from an audience. However, he wanted to wait until he'd found the story he really wanted to tell; he gets the sense that a lot of filmmakers lack passion for their projects – it's as if someone just asks them to make a film and they do so as just another job.

  • Writing process: He and his co-writers (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche) spend a lot of time hammering out the beats of the story before tackling the script. They then take a quarter each and write it quickly, to prevent it getting laboured, before swapping the sections and reworking them.

  • He constantly amends the script; things change quite a bit when rehearsals start and actors begin to inhabit the roles. He also said that the 'real' writing takes place in the edit. His first cut of In the Loop was four-and-a-half hours long, but he found it easy to identify the elements that people would connect with and pared it down in the style of a classic screwball comedy, so it got faster and faster and tighter and tighter before coming to a climax and getting straight out.

  • Improvisation: He uses it a lot, even as early as the casting process. He'll always shoot a scene from the script first before doing another take where the actors improvise. He estimates that one or two out of each 10 improvisations throw up something worth using.

  • He's just started work on a third series of The Thick of It, to be broadcast late in the year. He's looking forward to it having a distinct tone, as the characters will have the imminent election hanging over them – even if they appear to deny it, they'll be aware that they're about to hit the buffers. However, the BBC are unlikely to repeat the first two series for the forseeable, because of Chris Langham.

  • A pilot was made for a US version of The Thick of It, but it was 'terrible'. He was made Executive Producer, but his only involvement was to attend one meeting, at which the main topic of discussion was the colour of the ties that the characters would wear. He said the sense of disappointment at Americans being as rubbish as everyone else fed back into In the Loop.

  • His favourite films are things like Brazil and Doctor Strangelove, which are exaggerated and fantastical but still touch on raw emotions; they don't work themselves out according to an obvious formula. Citing screwball comedies again, he said he wanted Into the Loop to be unpredictable, with events happening so quickly that the audience doesn't get the chance to try and work out what's coming next.

MA Screenwriting - Unit Three

I’m sure you’re getting a bit bored of these things by now, so I’ll take a bit of a break after this.

However, it’s so long since I tried a critical review of a film or show that I feel like I’ve fallen off the horse. I’ll try to get back on soon with a look at In The Loop; I saw a preview at the Curzon Soho last week, followed by a Q&A with Armando Ianucci.

Anyway, back to Bournemouth… After the warm-up exercises of units one and two, this was a considerably more substantial bit of work – a 30-minute script based on observational research.

The first part of the task was to spend a week at a location of your choice and compile a 1,500-word portrait of the place that would later form the basis of your drama. Having blown most of my leave on the course residentials, I needed to find somewhere that would throw up dramatic possibilities but also fit into my regular routines.

After a lot of head-scratching and sailing close to the rocks of panic a couple of times, the cold hand of the absolutely bleedin’ obvious slapped me around the chops and pointed out that I’d been gawping at the solution all along.

For my sins, I’ve been a season-ticket holder at Crystal Palace for several years now, and I suddenly realised it was the perfect location for my research. So, for several matches, I got there a few hours before kick-off and watched the life of the ground rise and fall, from the first staff arriving in the morning to the stewards slamming shut the gates after the last fan had left.

It didn’t take long for two main themes to emerge from the things I observed (a lot of which, typically, I couldn’t have made up in a hundred years).

The first was the fact that the ground is like a world within a world; passing through the turnstiles seems to represent leaving behind the complexities and problems of the outside world and entering an environment with a much simpler set of norms and priorities. This also explains the personality transplant some people undergo, from their (usually) reasonable everyday persona to ranting mania (which would be ugly in the 'real world' but is stylised - and probably cathartic - within the rules of the 'game').

The other thing that struck me is the variety of people that attend each match, with nothing in common other than supporting Palace. Croydon bills itself as London's most diverse borough, and the club's catchment area spreads from the urban neighbourhoods of SE London to the leafy Kent/Surrey commuter belt. This variety becomes apparent at the ground, where people who would normally cross the road to avoid each other join together as part of a bigger whole.

This created the image in my mind of a complex arrangement of lines that meet at a single point (Selhurst Park) and then continue in their various directions. This suggested a minature sort of Magnolia/Short Cuts structure for my screenplay.

Eventually I plumped for three stories involving girls or women (from a seven-year-old to an elderly widow) who were going to a game for the first time. I hoped this approach would force me to look with a fresh eye at stuff I see every week or fortnight but don’t really think about.

While three resolved storylines was probably a bit ambitious for a 30-minute script, the form seemed to match the arena perfectly, and it was certainly a useful exercise in interweaving separate storylines. I think the script was more chatty and televisual than the bolder 'filmic' scripts I’d done for the first two units, but it went down fairly well with my tutor and got me a good merit.

I know it should go without saying, but keen observation is one of the core skills a writer should develop. If you get your arena right, you’ll build a rock-solid foundation for your drama and find a rich source of inspiration for stories, themes and characters.

The world is out there – not just in other films or series – and it’s nearly always richer and more fertile with ideas and imagery than you could ever imagine. Again, I think this was an exercise and style of writing that I would probably never have taken on if I hadn’t been doing the MA.

As before, here’s the final draft of my script.

By popular demand, here's the resource list as well.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Charlie Kaufman Q&A, Curzon Soho, 11 May

EDIT, 12 May: I've posted a review of the film and a brief report on Q&A here.


They seem to have been keeping it quiet, but the Curzon Soho still had tickets this morning for a preview screening of Synecdoche, New York on Monday 11 May, followed by a Q&A with Charlie Kaufman and Samantha Morton.

Anyone want to meet for a pint before or after?

More Kaufmania

Complete 2.5 hour interview for Wired magazine (MP3, in five parts)

Creative Screenwriting podcast - Q&A with Kaufman re Synecdoche, New York (MP3)

Being Charlie Kaufman - "The definitive information resource for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman", including early-draft scripts etc

MA Screenwriting - Unit Two

We did this simultaneously with Unit One – a 15-minute film using an interior monologue (IM) but no other dialogue. Actually, the "IM" moved beyond its classic definition (uncensored and unstructured thought, as depicted in Ulysses) and included voiceovers and narrations more generally.

We had a couple of lectures to introduce the unit, which were again illustrated with a load of clips. The focus was on using the IM not to provide commentary on what's going on, but to reveal and reflect the inner life of the character. As with effective dialogue, this can - and probably should - lead to a discrepancy between what we see and what we hear.

The clips demonstrating different approaches to IM/voiceover included: Taxi Driver (narration from diary); Fight Club (wry, cynical observations, reflected visually – eg, furnishing his life with Ikea); Badlands (written in 'True Confessions' style); Million Dollar Baby (narration from letter, though true nature of the IM only revealed at end); Wings of Desire (very lyrical, reflecting angelic perspective).

We also had a good look at various devices to set up the IM. Eg Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty – voices from the dead; Double Indemnity – wounded insurance man confesses to conspiracy on tape; Name of the Father – Emma Thompson listenening to tape-recording on way to meeting; The Man Who Wasn't There – classic laconic style, but true nature again only revealed at end.

The idea for my script came from a bit of video nonsense I'd done a few years earlier with Me Mate Dave. The vague notion for the video thing involved me walking round Croydon and Crystal Palace Park in a crap home-made space suit (trackie covered with foil and gaffer tape, a cardboard box helmet and a pair of old boots sprayed silver) and seeing what happened.

However, along the way we inadvertently came up with a backstory for my 'character' – he was convinced he was an alien who had become trapped on Earth and was waiting for his mothership to return and rescue him. I took that aspect and applied it to the central character in my script – a young man who becomes so alienated by his life that he thinks the same thing.

Unfortunately, I think I lacked the psychological insight to tap the idea's full potential; I guess that's another very useful thing about doing an MA - when you're forced to work in different formats, you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. It was probably also a bit ambitious to try and fit the character arc I had planned for him into a 15-minute script.

Oh well. Even though I still got a Merit for it, it was nowhere near as successful as my Unit 1 script.

I've uploaded a copy of the script here, along with the reading/viewing list for the unit.

MA - Intro

MA - Unit One

Thursday, 9 April 2009

MA Screenwriting - Unit One

This was 'Writing in Sound and Vision' - a resolved 10-minute script with no dialogue or voice-over. I think that more than any other, this assignment changed the way I wrote and opened my mind to the full range of 'screen language'.

The task was introduced at our first residential with a lecture that spelled out clearly the mantra we always hear but maybe don't always think about – "show, don't tell".

It focused on a close analysis of the opening 15 minutes of Witness and The Outlaw Josie Wales, demonstrating the density of the storytelling - how much information is given about the characters and their world through their actions and gestures, as well as the mise-en-scene and choice of imagery.

I can't remember exactly how the idea for my script developed. I think the original image was someone coming home to find an unseen figure or force had started a game of chess on the ornamental set in their house. To me, this represented the intrusion of chaos/the outside into a carefully ordered existence.

My first draft followed that idea, with the main character – a vile yuppie called Simon - becoming increasingly obsessed with the game and neglecting the rest of his life. As the game goes against him, his life spins out of control until he finds himself in checkmate - both in the game and in his wider life.

Somewhere along the line – we had two 30-minute tutorials – the chess game moved online, against the mysterious 'Nemesis2006'. Meanwhile, the game of chess reflected the battle he was having at work with his arch-rival in the sales department. I've published the final draft here.

Flushed with my enthusiasm for visual and aural flourishes, I loaded every scene and transition in the script with telling detail and motifs. I thought I'd probably overdone it a bit, but my tutor liked it: “This is genuine cinematic writing of an impressive standard - bold, confident and mixing imaginative elements with an eye for details.” Skill!

Thinking about the raging debate over the teaching of screenwriting, I guess this highlights for me the benefits of being given a guided education in film history and technique – especially in conjunction with the books I mentioned here. Before starting the course, I – like a lot of people, I guess – equated 'good writing' with zingy dialogue and complex plotting, rather than the use of visual and aural imagery to 'paint' a story.

Bonus feature! I've also posted the reading and viewing list we were given for this unit – I thought it might be of interest given that it moves beyond the obvious screenwriting stuff you might expect.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

MA Screenwriting, Bournemouth University - Intro

A developing theme of this blog seems to have been promising things and not delivering them.

Report on David Hare talking about TV drama at the BFI? Nah - although you can get the highlights here.

Reviews of the theatre productions I've seen recently? Well... I've thought about them quite a bit...

Some thoughts on the MA course I did at Bournemouth? That was one of the reasons I started the blog, but I've just never got round to it. However, given the lively debate on the value of screenwriting courses that keeps bubbling up all over the place I thought I should extract the digit and get on with it.

The course was two years long, based around three residential periods in each year (a week in July and three days each in November and February) and phone tutorials in between. The fees when I did it were around £2,600 a year (though you could get a discount for paying it in a lump sum at the start).

The award is based on a total of 1,800 hours work over the two years, which tots up to about 18 hours a week. My main concern was fitting the work around a full-time job, but I managed to set up routines and it worked out fine - I guess as much as anything, it's a test of your level of commitment to writing. I found my workrate improved when I stopped trying to immerse myself in every bit of recommended background reading and focused on the assignments themselves.

So how useful was it? Well, I definitely think I've become a better writer through it. The teaching wasn't dogmatic in terms of prescribing structure etc, but used a lot of clips and screenings to illustrate aspects of genre, theme, tone, narrative techniques etc. It was also very inspiring to get away from 'real life' for a few days and spend 12 hours a day just being a screenwriter.

However, I think the most useful aspect was the rigorous feedback given during the writing assignments. All of the tutors are broadcast/produced screenwriters, and each unit had a number of tutorials - script meetings, in effect - where the work in progress is given a right good going over.

I actually found this a bit bruising at the start, but there's no doubt that objective and informed criticism improves the quality of your work. The need to deliver new drafts for deadlines also sharpens your motivation and fends off procrastination.

I'll leave it there for now, but will come back again to look at each of the ten units in a bit more detail. I think the course has been slightly amended since I graduated, but these were the units I did.

1. Writing in Vision and Sound (10-min script)
2. Writing the Interior Monologue (15-min script)
3. Writing from Observational Research (30-min script)
4. Writing the Professional Script Report
5. Writing the TV Drama Episode (Life on Mars, Without a Trace or Heartbeat)
Analysing TV Drama (5,000-wd essay)
7. Study of Industry Practice
8. MA Major Proposal
9. MA Major Project (feature-length script or 60-min TV pilot plus bible)
10. Analysing the MA Major Project (5,000-wd essay)