Tuesday, 4 August 2015



There were so many things I got wrong when I was starting out. The biggest one was not realising that being a freelancer is hard - the easy bit is making a film the hard bit is making a living! That the phrase ‘hurry up and wait’ is true. I had no idea things took so long to happen. This is hard work and it isn’t all glamour. 


KATE OGBORN: One of the myths is that this industry is very adversarial. I don’t think it is; it’s hugely collaborative and that’s the pleasure of it. The great people I’ve worked with know that and instinctively behave like that. A good idea is a good idea and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. There’s too much energy spent on building it up as an industry which is competitive and adversarial, which I don’t think is the truth.

BRONA C TITLEY: One scary thing is how GLACIAL it can feel at times. Everything seems to take FOREVER in development and by the time your script gets to TV it’ll be 2090 and there won't even BE TVs anymore, as we'll all be watching TVs in our EYEBALLS. The way to overcome that is to have lots of projects on the boil “and lots of ideas in the bank. Try and strike a balance between the projects you do for money, the ones you do for your career, and the ones you do for your soul. People think comedy writing is a difficult industry to get into. The truth is it's actually a lot easier to get into than you think. Producers WANT to find great writers – their jobs depend on it. If you can write good stuff, get it to the right people, and follow it up with more good stuff, you'll be laughing. Not necessarily all the way to the bank, but certainly all the way to an envelope under your mattress where you can stick that £300 you just earned.

KATE LEYS: People seem to think there’s a special secret that film industry insiders know and that functions as a sort of golden ticket in, and if they can just figure out the thing, or get someone to tell it to them, they’ll be sorted. Everyone in the film industry is making everything up as they go along and asking their allies and peers and friends for advice every day. Which is what anyone who wants to work in the film industry needs to do: have allies and peers and friends (people who care about the things you care about and are trying to achieve the same things you are), ask their advice, and then get on and do stuff. There’s an awful lot of waiting around to be noticed by someone successful when what people really need to do is get on and do stuff with the people around them. And become successful! It’s a real, massively successful industry. This means that a) there’s room for everyone, and b) it’s not amateur hour.

TONY COOKE: I’d say the industry’s very random. The ‘sure things’ don’t come off, while the ‘long shots’ can suddenly take flight. It’s exciting, but the uncertainty can be tough. The best way to deal with it is to not get too buried in one project. Always slightly spread your efforts, keep half an eye looking ahead, plan for things not to happen, and maintain a delicate balance of development and commissioned work. And if anyone knows how to do that, please tell me.

ANNE-MARIE DRAYCOTT & CHARITY TRIMM: There’s always the fear that people won't find our work funny or ‘get it’, but you have to trust that what you're doing will capture someone's imagination and share it anyway. The levels of bureaucracy a script has to go through before anyone decides whether to make it – or not – are unbelievable. We've been told that many stars have to align before a script actually gets made – so maybe during a Mercury Retrograde when Saturn passes Uranus we'll get another commission.

KAYLEIGH LLEWELLEYN & MATTHEW BARRY: A writing career isn't a series of rejection emails, it's a series of unanswered emails. The industry's ability to ignore you is both impressive and devastating. Not working is a constant worry. Fear that your scripts will never receive any recognition. Oscillating between crippling self-doubt and dizzy elation. You've got to think you're the best and the worst. This business takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Our mantra is, ‘Throw enough mud at a wall and some of it's bound to stick’. We say this to each other constantly, when one of us needs to be talked down from a bridge. If you work hard and stay motivated, it will pay off eventually.

DAVID FREEDMAN: Nobody hands over the ‘rich and famous’ contract like in The Muppet Movie. It’s a job. A great job. I get to live in my own imagination for 70 per cent of my day. The other 30 per cent is email, procrastinating on Facebook, and frustrations like any business. I know what frustrates me. But thankfully no terror… yet. I have worked with a few unique people who are notoriously ‘terrifying’ but, at the end of the day, when they’re finished shouting, it’s just a job and shouting is just how they talk.

Excerpt From: Farah Abushwesha. “Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors.” iBooks.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

ROCLIFFE STORIES: A SCREENWRITER'S PASSAGE - AMANDA DUKE *Closes eyes, clicks heels and repeats This Girl Can*

Last year we launched the first every WRITING FOR CHILDREN call for scripts. One of our three winners AMANDA DUKE’s entry, After Oil, was optioned by Blacklisted Films within weeks of the BAFTA Rocliffe showcase. Duke is now developing an original drama with ITV Studios, reached the latter stages of CBBC's New Voices initiative and, through her agent at Sheil Land Associates, is sending out a new television script. Here Amanda shares her journey.

I’ve always worked in this industry, having studied film and media at Uni. My background is in film and TV casting so I’ve been reading scripts for years, but deep down I’ve always wanted to write – it just took me a while to develop the confidence I needed to give it a proper shot. Then I left London for a couple of years, and by the time I returned, I was married with two young boys… Not an ideal time to kick-start a new career, but actually it was the best thing for me – I had such little time for myself, I made sure I didn’t waste a second. I’d squeeze the odd hour in here and there – with bags of time to mull over ideas in my mind and never enough quality time to sit at my laptop and write. But I’ve been 100% more productive as a result.

In 2011, I started writing my first feature script, The Man Who, based on a true-life story from the 1960s that I’d been obsessed about for years. I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in The Script Factory’s development scheme and worked with a great script developer, Paul Bryan, who helped me deliver three drafts of The Man Who within six months. I then jumped straight onto my second script, Other Mother, based on my friend who volunteered in a Romanian orphanage as a teenager. Again, thanks to The Script Factory, I was paired up with a fantastic script editor, Kumari Salgado, for a further six months, and delivered three drafts on time.

By this point, I was very clear about my strategy – I was convinced I needed to place in respected screenwriting competitions in order to raise my profile and get an agent. But I had to be careful about which competitions to enter, as it gets expensive! Since I’m UK-based, it seemed more sensible to focus on UK-centric schemes – The Man Who placed 2nd in the 2012 Shore Scripts competition. And Other Mother finished top 5 in the 2013 Screenwriting Goldmine Contest. Both of these competitions offer industry contacts and face-to-face meetings rather than large cash prizes - their main aim is to connect writers with key players in the UK, which I would argue is infinitely more beneficial to a new writer anyway – however welcome cold hard cash always is! Also, whenever possible, I would scrimp and save in order to pay for notes from respected script developers. I see this as a necessary expense – and well worth the investment, even though it can be really tough when you’re an unpaid writer…

After several further competition successes (and even more misses) my strategy paid off, and at the end of 2013, I signed with my lovely agent, Lucy Fawcett at Sheil Land, just after finishing my third spec script, Where There is Evil, based on the true-life disappearance of schoolgirl Moira Anderson in 1957, which I co-wrote with the formidable Sandra Brown, writer, campaigner and expert in child protection issues.

I’m fascinated with real-life stories - most of what I write is informed by real-life situations and people in some capacity - and with each of these stories, I always feel there is literally no option for me BUT to write them… I guess that’s when you know you’re a proper writer. Not because of any tangible success, but when you just can’t imagine doing anything else with your life. 

Over the last year I’ve been working on various TV spec projects and when I saw the BAFTA Rocliffe call for Children’s writing, I entered my children’s TV series, After Oil - a story I had wanted to write for years. My husband works in renewable energy & cleantech, and I wanted to write something that would challenge a young audience about the looming global energy crisis – A world that has run out of oil seemed like a good place to start… The BAFTA Rocliffe forum was brilliant. I loved every second and during the networking drinks afterwards, I met an incredible producer who went on to option After Oil within weeks…

I recently took part in a fantastic two-day workshop in Salford as part of the CBBC New Voices Initiative with 24 other writers. And ITV Studios has just optioned an adult drama series of mine (keeping everything crossed) so it’s been a very busy, very positive ten months since BAFTA Rocliffe… And I’m thrilled. Feels like I’ve been making steady progress year on year and I’m ready for whatever is just around the corner… 

*Closes eyes, clicks heels and repeats This Girl Can*

Friday, 3 July 2015

NOTES ON REJECTION - Fall down seven, stand up eight!

Rejection is shite - no two words for it. It hurts and it is painful. I've faced it this week, last week and will probably face it again next week. Whether it is in the personal or professional sense - it's crap but I always put it down to me not being ready or there's something else I need to learn. 

As Richard Eyre says in the Rocliffe Notes 'it's extremely painful', so take solice in the fact that you aren't the first and it is not just for newbies!

I tend to share with close friends what I feel but ultimately it is an acceptance of my work, my heart, my company is not what they (the rejector) is looking for. 
Only you can decide what course of action is for you, be more than one script or idea, and keep going and when you have more confidence let it go. There are countless stories of JK Rowling, DH Lawrence, The Beatles and countless others. Fall down seven, stand up 8.

All competitions and gatekeepers they are being paid to say no and when they do say yes let’s consider this... they are taking a punt on something there is no guarantee how it will turn out.  Keep in mind rejection isn't just for the less experienced..

Rocliffe Notes from Experienced Writers on Rebuffal

CHRIS SPARLING: I started as an actor in this business, so rejection was part and parcel of that entire experience. As a result, I developed a bit of a thick skin. Nevertheless, it still sort of frustrates me when I don't land a particular writing assignment or if a spec I write doesn't get the traction I hoped it might. But you take the hits and you just keep coming out for the next round. You'll win one eventually.

DANNY BROCKLEHURST: I deal with rejection badly – usually very badly. I get cross, pissed off at all the work put in. There are different types of rejection. If we have been working on it for a long time it feels like a waste of energy and thought, especially if the reason seems stupid. It’s exactly like being dumped. You put your heart out there and you know the chances of selling it elsewhere are slim. It also depends on where you are in life. At the moment I have a show filming and another green-lit so I would be fine with it. That said, I spent two and a half years being rejected and each time it felt like another kick in the teeth and worse than the last. I felt like I was physically moving further and further away from the screen. A writer’s life is spent avoiding those periods and, of course, you then become resentful of other people’s success during those times, which isn’t a nice emotion.”

JACK THORNE: It gets slightly easier. It never stops. It’s always quite bizarre. No one ever tells you that you’ve been sacked – they just stop talking to you. And then you find out someone new is going on the project.

JIM UHLS: It’s important to believe that there are people out there who will connect with your script, although it might take a while to find them.”

TONY JORDAN: It’s tough. Anyone who says they take it in their stride is lying.

TONY GRISONI: I got knocked back only the beginning of this week. You offer up, you try to get the gig, give it your best shot and then someone decides whether they want it or not. It’s as simple as that. How do I react? Usually my immediate reaction is a kind of fury, but I’m very good at channelling that and saying. ‘OK, fuck them. We’re going to make this work some other way.’ You go back to the drawing board. 


Yes it hurts. It stings but it won’t last. It will get better and there are other opportunities. You will get over this. You are a survivor and your imaginary characters will live on, perhaps just in another script. 

One of the best ways to deal with rejection is by keeping busy creatively. I head down to the Proud Archivist on Regents canal and write. Working on one idea, a proposal or screenplay. Sometimes I split my day across different projects - makes me feel more prolific! I am more than one idea... I am committed to a career not a single project. 

When you are rejected - you must allow yourself the time to wallow but don’t dwell or destruct - this is a constructive development. You’ll be a better writer for allowing yourself for feeling the pain but then again when someone does like your work – enjoy that moment. Sometimes we deny ourselves joy in the moment too.

This could be the indication that you need to work better, that there are weaknesses in your work and you can make it better. Usually we know ourselves where the weaker areas are – what can you do to make it better? Work out why you were rejected but you can look at the reasons why it didn’t work, make it better and improve the quality of it.

Don’t send an abusive letter or email to the organization or person who said no to you. It just makes you seem really foolish and unprofessional. Getting a rejection saying 'no it’s not for us' doesn’t meant they don’t like you or never want to read anything by you ever again, it’s just that that script is not for them for whatever reason. It's not personal! 

Don’t respond in a desperate attempt to try to persuade them to reconsider because you feel you deserve it. It comes across as desperation. Accept that there were better projects out there.

If you want to engage with the rejecter, maintain your dignity at all times. Send a polite but short email with the words ‘thank you, may I ask is there any further feedback on why it was rejected on this occasion?’ but be prepared for an organization to say to you that they don’t have the resources to engage in individual feedback.

Develop thicker skin… own your own rejection! First time is the worst, second gets easer by the eighth time you will be used to it. Frustrated yes, but accepting that this is the way of the TV and Film world. These rejections are all proof of the work and toil to date.

You have to be realistic rejection happens because not every script is going to get made. Frankly not every script should get made. When you can’t face realism be philosophical - that’s life. Not every day is going to be fantastic, but the bad days that get us there. This is a really slow process. It won’t happen in a day but someone at some point may say yes and that’s all you need.

I love director Ron Scalpello's take on confidence: “you’ve come into a kind of conveyer belt of anxiety. First anxiety: are you good enough? You have to say to yourself constantly that you are. Second anxiety: which project are you going to get and who’s going to endorse you? Third anxiety: somebody does endorse you and says, ‘Right, deliver me your script, deliver me your film.’ Then you actually have to make the thing. Fourth anxiety: you get to the set, it’s all there and you’ve got 30 days to film. You shoot the thing and then you go into the edit space to see what you’ve actually got. By the time you finish the film, at the end of the day you might have made a film you’re really proud of, but as soon as it’s finished you’re back to anxiety once again. Where’s the next project going to come from? Am I going to be good enough?”

Check out the trailer for the film we made together Pressure (out Aug 2015)!
Big hug, stay at it and keep writing.

Quotes From: Farah Abushwesha. “Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors.”


Tuesday, 24 February 2015



This blog is by Louis Paxton whose work THE SPARE ROOM was featured in May 2014 as part of the TV Drama Writing. I think it is so important not just to share these writers work with the world but also their journey. 


I wish I could say I flirted with other careers… But rather uninterestingly, I’ve always known what I wanted to be: A writer/director for film and TV.  Over the years I’ve found employment in a number of odd jobs (Cinema Usher, Christmas Tree Logger, Edinburgh Ghost Tour ‘Jumper-Ooter’), but I was never any good because they weren’t directly contributing to what I wanted to do with my life – write and direct. I’ve never had a ‘back up’ and so you’d be hard pressed to find even one of my eggs outside the filmmaking basket. They’re all in there… those eggs of mine.

This is great in terms of giving me focus, but pretty crap when it comes to living in the world and paying for things… Like food and rent and stuff.

For the past ten years or so, through my BA in Glasgow and then an MA in London, I have made numerous short films as a writer/director. I learned that A LOT of other people want to be writer/directors, it’s definitely one of the most sought-after roles. There’s not that many jobs out there, and it almost goes without saying that there’s zero money in short filmmaking, so I looked around to see how others were making cash. I met various people with numerous strings to their bows. These multi-stringed directors seemed to be able to make money shooting other peoples’ films, moonlighting as First AD’s or taking corporate work. I was never very good at operating a camera and my style doesn’t exactly lend itself to the corporate world… So I had to find something else.

I adore writing, for me it’s the best part of the entire filmmaking process. It’s pure creation, everything is up for grabs and (at the risk of sounding like a LEGO ad) the only limitation is your own imagination. It seemed outlandish to assume I could make a living from something so creative and fulfilling, especially considering there are so many who have spent years concentrating solely on screenwriting.

I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by an incredibly supportive family and group of friends. They all inspire me hugely, and after watching a few of them develop projects for TV, I felt I’d like to give it a try. I had an idea for a Sci-Fi Comedy Drama that I’d been toying with, I knew it was a strong set-up that would play to my strengths, but I had never met with anyone regarding a television project. To the industry I was strictly FILM, and if I wanted to get in the room with the TV folk, I had to prove myself based on a script alone.

Around this time I came across BAFTA Rocliffe. I always work better with a deadline, and when I saw that the deadline for drama scripts was two weeks away I locked myself up in a room and pushed the script out like a 30-page newborn (Lovely image there).

Then I kind of forgot about the whole thing. I was glad to have finished the draft but assumed I’d never hear back from Rocliffe. I sent the script to various people through my agent but it was hard getting anyone to bite due to the fact that nobody in the TV sphere knew who I was.  A few months later I got a call and was told my script was to feature in the BAFTA Rocliffe TV Drama New Writing Forum. I was so surprised I think I may have initially told the bearer of good news to ‘F - Off’. [FARAH - He didn't]

The 2014 BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum on TV Drama reading kicked off the best year of my professional career so far. The evening was fantastic; I had tremendous feedback and learned a huge amount. After the event - on Rocliffe’s advice - I contacted all the industry figures on the selection panel and asked for a meeting, within a few months my script had been optioned by the BBC and Hartswood had commissioned another original idea. Obviously I’m hugely grateful to Rocliffe for providing the springboard, but I’m also thankful that the process allowed me space to concentrate just on writing without directing a script.

I still direct (I made a short film last year through Film London and I’m currently developing a feature Doc with Creative Scotland) but the opportunity to focus on what I would argue is the most important aspect of the whole filmmaking process has been invaluable.

I think success is being able to make a living doing what you love. While I’m still not quite there yet, and the day jobs continue, (though thankfully I’m not getting paid to scare American tourists) I’m better off than I was last year and much better off than the year before that. I figure as long as you’re moving forward and not backwards, then things are going good. I’m supporting myself doing what I love, and I can now proudly say I am both a Writer and a Director.

~ Louis


Sunday, 15 February 2015


Nothing you write is ever a waste of time. Even if you don’t finish what you start, it may be of use to you later on. I started writing the Rocliffe Notes book in 2010 but put it aside. Then someone suggested I create a blog, so I used the book as the content. The book was then mooted and, bar interviews and quotes, a lot of it was already half written. So nothing is ever wasted – only abandoned until you need it.

Rocliffe Notes from creatives on finishing what you start

ALAN MCKENNA: I used to bowl straight in and fire up Final Draft with only a rough hint of a story, character or scene, foolishly believing that the rest would somehow magically come together once I started typing. Needless to say, it didn't. Some great scenes, sure, but no real story. I have a bunch of scripts that never got beyond here and those are the longer ones. More than anything, this ‘fools rush in’ process leads to half-finished scripts or scripts that remain destined never to leave the privacy and comfort of your hard drive. Luckily, my writing process has evolved somewhat and I’m a firm believer in the ‘treatment first’ method. Get it down, see if it works, know your beginning, middle and end. It's my way to ensure the story is worth telling and, if you have that, nothing will stop you finishing that draft.

REBECCA DALY: You always feel like you’re getting to the end before you get there, both in the writing and the editing process. You’re winding down and you’re checking along the way, ‘Am I really at the end?’ You just know. It just feels right.

PETER HARNESS: I always advise finishing things. Keep doing it and get it finished, even if it’s the most painful thing in the world. Drink a bottle of wine, sit and crack something out until it’s finished. Once you’ve finished, you can do something with it, edit it – you’ve got something there, rather than a trail of half-finished things. Writers finish things. People who aren’t writers don’t finish things. That’s the difference.

TINA GHARAVI: I finish all the scripts I start. I am lucky or unlucky in that I don’t know how to give up.

JAMES DORMER: I got a piece of advice from some crappy astrological book my mum gave to me to not give up – finish things. Actually it landed so hard I went and got a tattoo of my Chinese sign. A goat. Which is still with me – for better or worse.

GARETH EDWARDS: The phrase I come back to a lot about writing is ‘A thing is finished, not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away’.

CLAIRE WILSON: I finish every script but not every idea. I have a folder of sparkling gems that never see the light of day. When I go back over them for inspiration I often understand why.

ALISON MILLAR: I’m never completely happy with the films I make. There are always bits that just needed a wee bit more work. You stop because you collapse, run out of money and time, or hit the transmission date. Afterwards, no matter how many awards they win, and even if critics write positive things, I often think to myself, ‘Oh, I feel that could have been a bit better.’ Having someone supportive and strong working with you, such as a great exec, will help encourage you to stop and may even utter the words, ‘Leave it now, Alison, it’s grand… it’s done… leave it… no more…’.

SIMON CHINN: The thing with filmmaking generally, and documentary-making specifically, is that you always feel, at the end of a project, that you are just walking away or being dragged away from it. A film is never quite finished. I’ve just been to Sundance with a film of ours. I sat through the screening wishing we could get back into the cutting room and change this and fiddle with that. I always feel like that. As it happens, Malik claims he spent 1,000 days cutting and editing Searching for Sugar Man. He literally had to be dragged away from the edit suite; we were screaming at him to stop. We felt there was a point where the film started to get worse, not better. That’s often the case. That process for him had become something other than making the film; it was like falling in love. Malik had fallen in love with the story and had spent four years of his life with it, suffering for it, loving it. The end of that process was painful for him and still is in a way. He gained so much from making that film (he won an Oscar, for Christ’s sake!) but he also lost something when it ended. I sometimes wonder whether he feels he may never find it again – which is really how I felt after Man on Wire.

POSTSCRIPT: My interview with Simon Chinn was conducted prior to Malik Bendjelloul's tragic death. 

Excerpt From: Farah Abushwesha: Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors

Friday, 16 January 2015


This is a brand new strand in this blog, by our featured writers, telling their journey. We begin with John Hickman. The BAFTA Rocliffe selection process is completely anonymous, so we never get to know who the person is behind the voice until we decide upon the winners. We first met John after the panel cast their votes, his script THE THINGS was entered into the Writing for Children initiative. Here's his story: 

I won't just go on about the difference BAFTA Rocliffe has made to my professional life beyond saying I've got an agent now – Georgina Ruffhead at David Higham – and people want to see my work! I will take a little bit of time to go over how I got here. Wherever “here” is.

I've been writing for years. Around 8 or 9 at this point. At the start, I was an angry, frustrated young man. I'd discovered my passion: writing. It was all I wanted to do. I was so angry that I wasn't allowed to do it. Time and money were in my way. If only I could get paid to do the thing I loved, everything would be OK. I'd be happy. But I couldn't. I didn't have any industry connections. I grew up on a council estate. My dad was a labourer and my mum was a cleaner. Writing for a living was never going to be for someone like me. That made me angry.  

I had to harness my anger, focus it. It took time, but eventually I came to the conclusion: I didn't need to make money from writing to write. I just had to write. It didn't matter that I didn't have connections or creative theatre-loving parents. It didn't matter where I came from. Nothing could stop me writing. Once I realised that, I felt a lot less angry and frustrated and I started to feel OK. All I had to do was make a plan: how could I write more? I sat down and I came up a 5 year plan:  
  • Train as a social worker – 3 years. 
  • Practise as a social worker full-time – 2 years.
  • Go part-time as a social worker and write part-time.

Looking back, it wasn't the most efficient of plans. I didn't need to earn money from writing. I could do something else, like say, be a social worker. I love working with people (I was a support worker at the time) and not only would I be doing something useful, I'd be learning new skills, and gaining life experience. All that good stuff that I could pour back into my writing.

I stuck to my plan. I trained as a social worker, all the while writing whenever I could. I practised full-time, writing for an hour each morning before work as well as weekends. I learned a lot from the job. Most of all, to be empathic, and see things from someone else's perspective. Which in turn, gave me a real sense of perspective.Then I worked part-time and I wrote part-time, writing for more than half of my week. I wasn't making money from my writing, but I was writing. Because it felt like I was losing money to write, I made damn sure I wrote on those days. I sat down from 9 to 5 and I wrote like it was my job. Well, my part-time job at least. Because of my social worker job, I valued my writing days even more, I looked forward to them, enjoyed them. If you think writing's hard, try being a social worker. Or a nurse. Or probably lots of other things that matter.

That's how it went for a while. I was enjoying writing, and I was getting better. I was also doing lots of other things to make me a better writer. I joined a writing group. I did a Creative Writing MA. I put on plays, made films with my mates. Year-on-year, I could see my work developing. I was learning the craft, finding my voice, everything that writers who know what they're talking about, tell you. I knew that if I kept on writing and getting better, that one day someone would notice. One day someone would pay me for all this hard work. One day, this would be my job. In the meantime, I didn't care about that, because I was writing and improving. Then I realised, I wasn't angry or frustrated any more. Far from it. I was happy.

So I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote, until my scripts were all nice and shiny. Then I sent them out. Competitions mainly. In September 2014, I got a call telling me I'd won the BAFTA Rocliffe's Children's TV Writing Competition, and a couple of months later I won the BBC Writersroom Scriptroom 7 competition. I was really happy. Over the moon, in fact. Although I’d have been happy even if I hadn't won, because I was writing. And that's what really makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, there are days when it's tough. I think about being a social worker, and all my friends who are still social workers, and everyone who doesn't get to do what they love, and I crack on.

When I look back now at that angry, frustrated young man, I know I wasn't ready. I hadn't learned the craft, I hadn't found my voice, I wasn't enjoying the ride. So thank you BAFTA Rocliffe for noticing my work. The competition really has made a difference to me. Now, I'm ready.

Bring it on.

~ John

Thursday, 8 January 2015



I wrote an article for the Irish Star on writing a film script, and how to get started. It appeared on 07 January 2015. 

There is an age-old saying that we all have a story in us. It’s as true as the day it was first uttered. Everyone is a budding writer – be it for books or scripts.
People often approach me with a great idea for a novel or film but when I ask them for a script or an outline they shrink away.
The issue is that people talk about it but don’t make it happen - the reality is it’s just talk until you start writing. There’s nothing more disheartening than someone telling you about a project they’ve never written. Believe it or not, you need to sum up your project in one line verbally or one page.
You must commit your idea to paper. Too often we fill our days, clutter our time with reasons not to do this - writing is writing, it’s as simple as that – starting with a blank page.
When I set out to work in the film industry, I would constantly puzzle about how to break in. Was there a big secret? Was forging a career in this industry impossible? It was only asking around that I discovered I was looking at it in all the wrong ways – it wasn’t impossible; in fact, the possibilities were endless if you sought them out.
People will help you if you help yourself because most have a passion for the work and want to support those trying to make their way.
Writer DANNY BROCKLEHURST (Shameless, The Street, Driver) says, ‘If someone asks, I don’t want to be the lad that pulled the ladder up behind them. PAUL ABBOTT (State of Play, Shameless, Cracker) helped me, and you want to help and show encouragement to new talent and to nurture it.’
I was lucky when I started out in this business; I was curious and asked questions.
All the mistakes I made I put into this book, from briefing the wrong meeting, to selling my idea in 45 minutes instead of 45 words.
I discovered that there was nothing stopping me making my dream a reality except me and confidence.
ROCLIFFE NOTES taps into the experiences of 150 successful writers, producers, actors and directors – those in the know across the globe – sharing a variety of perspectives on topics from writing habits, pitching and ideas, to agents and application forms.
I love describing it as eavesdropping on 150 conversations. I learned that the mystery is that there is no mystery - that’s the big secret anyone who wants to write should know. Best bit is you don’t need to read my entire book, you can just dip in and find what you need.
JIM SHERIDAN (My Left Foot, In America), at the Austin Screenwriting Conference in October, told the audience that the first ten pages are pretty much like his advice on dating – don't say much in the first ten minutes.
His review of my book had even less words “It’s brilliant” he told me on the flight from New York to Texas - although he called me a bitch for keeping him awake as he was knackered but couldn’t stop reading it. Other great advice is like Sharon Horgan who says of sitcom pilot scripts to get as many jokes on the page. It’s obvious but true – comedy needs to be funny!
And it’s never too late to start - LENNY ABRAHAMSON (What Richard Did, Frank) in an article, not to me, describes himself as a late developer.
But don’t give up the day job just yet. According to MOIRA BUFFINI (Byzantium, Jane Eyre, Tamara Drewe, Handbagged), it takes time: "if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Keep writing. Make it a discipline. Write every day. It took me ten years doing waitressing jobs, acting jobs, temping jobs, other things, but I wrote consistently during that time."
‘DO IT! Don’t wait for permission. There are no red lights,’ says Wolverine and Big Eyes actor, DANNY HUSTON, but I would add to this: work won’t find you. 


Find a reason to write – for pleasure, work or to explore a truth. You need to write with purpose.
Start by writing a one page outline – a beginning, middle and end – and then fill it in.
Buy a notebook. Write down your ideas. Eavesdrop on conversations – take out those headphones.
Note things that make you laugh or cry, write it down. You will forget it otherwise.
Get screenwriting software. If it’s a script, it must look like a script. Celtx is free
Throw everything into your first attempt but remember at the heart what you want to say with your story.
Get someone to read it and ask them to mark an X where they get bored or confused (a tip from JULIAN FELLOWES, writer of Downton Abbey).
Set a time each day to write. Put on the alarm clock an hour before you usually do. Use that time to write. If you can't work within the time frame of an hour, set goals of page count, scene count or word count. Don't let yourself walk away until you have achieved your goal.
Know when you write best – morning, afternoon or evening. What environment makes you the most prolific? Cake helps me!
Think of writing as spending time with someone you love: if you hate writing or what you are writing, why would you spend time doing it?
Once you’ve written a script, it is about getting your work read and about meeting people, engaging with them, them wanting to read your work, seeing potential and then wanting to work with you! 
Be pro-active:
Go to festivals and attend the Q&As of writer-directors.
Information is key and knowledge puts you in a better position.
Sign up to to newsfeeds – Screen, Variety, Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, BAFTA, film bodies (e.g. Film London, Northern Ireland Screen, IFB, BFI), - it’s all relevant.
Read scripts, watch films, watch short films and research your subject matter.
Excerpts From: Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors. Available from Amazon and most book stores.