Sunday, 14 December 2014



I believe that getting ahead is a combination of talent + connecting with collaborators (commissioners, producers, development execs) + determination. The talent is your script and it's up to you to make it make a great impression – it doesn't have to be perfect but it does need to be well-presented. Create the halo effect with your work. There are things you can put right to avoid being written off before being fully read. This is a crude but effective checklist and you'll see within five pages if the script needs more work.

Rocliffe Notes Writing Checklist

A first draft of anything is never good enough! Don’t send your work to be read by someone just because you’ve finished writing the script! You get one chance to be read. Why send out something that is mediocre? Casting Director Catherine Willis agrees "don’t send stuff that’s not ready, an early draft that isn’t complete. Send something that’s ready – it needs to be working on paper." Kate Rowlands concurs, quoting Tony Grounds "Don’t think about the first draft, think about the first read". She adds "what’s the impact that your script is going to have? Are they going to commission the first draft?"

The title page are the very first words people will read of your work. Nothing raises my eyebrow more than to see "story by XYZ & written by XYZ & created by" all the same writer's name. Simply put the script title by the screenwriter's name. Modesty becomes the writer. That's all that is requited unless someone else wrote it with you or it is based on an original story by someone else. I hate endless credits on films for the same person, especially on shorts by an unknown filmmaker. It just spells EGO to me. 

Often you will be asked what's your film called. Is your title is clich├ęd or difficult to understand? I believe a title should tempt a reader - be distinct, enticing, mysterious and stimulating… a sort of promise of potential by the story-teller to entertain the reader. Before you go listing examples to prove me wrong, ask yourself this: why make it even harder to get your work read when you have yet to get a producer, then finance and then a release? Here's a blog listing what they consider the worst film titles - I'm torn between I DISMEMBER MAMA and THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. 

Camera or edit directions in a script - ie CUT TO, PAN UP, CLOSE UP, FADE IN. It suggests the writer is unaware of how films work. A writer's craft is to write, not to tell the cinematographer and editor how to do what they do. Everything is possible through images rather than camera directions. Award-winning actor Danny Huston: "don’t show me a cut and paste job that has been patched together. A collage of ideas is fascinating, but when it feels patched it can be really distracting and unattractive. Too much camera description feels very amateurish. I have read good scripts that have ‘pan to’ or ‘fade in’ or ‘fade out’, but when the writer is describing the camera movements you’re not seeing the images – you’re being told them. If I read ‘the retina of an eye’ I know to get out a micro lens. If it says ‘the Amalfi coast’ I know it’s a grand shot. How you present things creates the shot. Don’t tell me how it will be shot."

Poor presentation and punctuation with spelling mistakes and incorrect formatting. A script with typos is annoying. There are so many resources out there – both free (Celtx) and paid (Final Draft, Screenwriter). Software that will correct it for you and the blessed spellcheck – seemly much underused but never underrated. There is no excuse. Company Pictures Head of Development Serena Bowman commented: "not proofreading scripts and sending them in with mistakes and grammatical error shows you really don’t care. If you don’t take the time to proof it then I won’t take the time to read it."

Using the ‘ing’ in action words such as ‘is walking’ instead of ‘walks’ – go back through your script and see if you have used the ‘ing’ and change it.

The overuse of the word ‘feels’. How does the character show how he or she feels when they are sad/happy/angry – what emotional action will demonstrate this? Show us how they are feeling, don’t tell us. Give the actors something to do. Similarly with the word ‘looks’ – what kind of look – is it a glance, a stare, a glare or are they peering? I love these word cheatsheets for 'walks', 'emotions' and 'looks'. 

Excessive swearing indicates amateur writing – actors will add swear words if it feels natural within the script. It doesn’t make the character harder or more edgy nor does it add realism to the script. Occasional use is fine but you need to be aware of watersheds and PG ratings, and if you are not you should be. Read Bang2Write on swearing in scripts.

How long does it take to get started, when does the set up stop and the real heart of the film begin? Would you sit in a cinema waiting for a film to get going? A busy reader won’t keep reading, waiting and hoping for the script to start. Don't make reading it like work. A development exec will stop reading after a few pages. It's tough but true. 

You really only have one chance to make a good impression - many of our panellists feel that whilst the ideas are brilliant – the writers aren’t pushing themselves enough. Be bold and brave and quality check your work. 

"I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit," Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. "I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."
Keep writing! 

Sunday, 7 December 2014


This time of year invariably the discussions I seem to be having always lead to presents and what to get people. 

In my family, we adults do Kris Kindle. We buy a gift of £50 for one person and small stocking fillers of £10 or less for everyone else. This means everyone gets one good gift and four small gifts. I am notoriously bad to buy for - I can feel my family rolling their eyes in agreement. Whilst I know this defeats the purpose of receiving, I like to get things I need rather than things I will never use... So family if you are reading this, check out the mid-range list please! 

As a writer and producer I have a few writing and producing buddies of my own to buy for, so I asked for a bit of help compiling this list. Thank you to all of Rocliffe's twitter followers who helped with suggestions. There were a few who'd clearly helped themselves to Christmas spirits before posting their ideas so I've left them on twitter. Others we're asking Santa for help with, as soon as he finds de-procrastination pills - we'll let you know. 

So here it is my list of best gifts for writers and filmmakers to suit every budget. For the aspiring to the established writerm there's bound to be something befitting. Happy shopping, it's a great way to procrastinate. 


1. Character Maps & Mugs – from £4.50

2. Story Cubes 

3. Writing Journals, Iphone & Laptop Cases - £7.50 - £16.50

4. Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach For Screenwriters & Writer-Directors from [Kindle 7.95 | Paperback £11.13 - £16.58] Number 3 on Amazon Best Seller list.

5. Complete Screenwriting Course: Teach Yourself (Teach Yourself: Writing) by Charles Harris  [Kindle 7.99 | £8.13] 


6. Laptop Stand £14.95

7. Phone & tablet charger £29.95 

8. Foot warmer mat £23.95 

9. Laser Projection Virtual Keyboard £39.95 


10. Contribute towards a course, conference or script report:

11. Subscriptions 
12. Screenwriting Software or updates [£30-£155] Full list with reviews in link - here's the ones I've tried but the list is by no means exhausted.
“The only gift I have to give, is the ability to receive. If giving is a gift, and it surely is, then my gift to you is to allow you to give to me.” Jarod KintzThe Titanic would never have sunk if it were made out of a sink.
Enjoy the season, use the time well to kick start those creative habits. 

Keep writing!

Thursday, 4 September 2014


On 2 September, we launched our annual Call for Film Scripts, the final script call of 2014. This year we set a creative brief - submissions must include a scene with two women having a plot-related conversation not about a man or men. This has generated much discussion on social media forums - some positively embracing the challenge, others less so. There have been comments that writers will struggle by having to shoehorn a scene into an existing script. Try adapting the script to meet the brief; change the gender of some of the characters. If it doesn't work - don't send it in. After all, creative beings shouldn't limit their ability to rise to challenges of creative briefs. They are full of ideas, just lacking the confidence to believe in them. My advice to those struggling or dismissing the brief as too difficult - go away and see what you come up with, you might surprise yourself.  Good characterisation can define your work and that for me lies at the heart of all good writing. New writers need to write, keep writing and hone their craft. These briefs are good for stretching that muscle.

Our guest blog contributor is writer and script editor Jon Croker, whose new films include Women in Black 2, Desert Dancer and Paddington. As one of last year's film panellists, and a contributor to my soon to be published book the Rocliffe Notes, Jon's tips give a unique and fresh perspective on the writing process that I've not read elsewhere. I'm delighted to share them here and the best bit is you don't need to be as experienced as Jon to try them out. 


Try to spend time with actors, cinematographers, and editors and get to know all the many different aspects of filmmaking. Try to understand the film from their point of view. They are the ones who in the end are going to have to make it. If you understand their jobs and the way they approach a film, then it will broaden your perspective. If you don’t know any people in those jobs, then read interviews and watch DVD extras.

Don’t get lost in “development speak”. There are a lot of ugly, meaningless phrases and as a writer you should detest ugly, meaningless phrases. It’s useful to know them, but dangerous to rely on them.

Always remember the films you love and the ways in which they break every supposed rule, and always remember the experience of watching them before you analysed them.

Don’t forget the audience. And don’t forget what it’s like to be part of one.

Screenwriting manuals can be helpful, but only as a part of your armoury. My personal favourite is “On Filmmaking” by Alexander Mackendrick, because unlike a lot of gurus, he made some great films himself.

Make sure you know the difference between sympathy and empathy. The former is useful to feel towards your characters, the latter is vital.

Always ask yourself: what might this look like? Do I want to know what’s going to happen next? Has anything surprising happened in the last five pages? Has anything happened at all?

The ‘three act structure” is a fancy way of saying “beginning, middle and end”. While obviously true, it’s not particularly helpful when trying to write, and often leads to scripts that just start, hang around for a while, then stop. Think about your story in smaller units. What are its five acts? What are the seven basic events in your story, which have to happen? Are every ten pages (not just the first ten) as rich and full as they could be? At the bottom of every page, is there enough to make you want to turn to the next one?
Stop writing. Look back at the page you just wrote. Is that really the best it can be? Did you just write it like that because lots of films do it that way? What if you approached it from a different angle?

‘Genre’ is a much-abused word. But it’s just French for “type of”, so try not to use it as a catch-all (“hey, it’s only a genre movie”, or “I love genre cinema”). Be more specific. Are you writing a horror film? A romantic comedy? An adventure? A drama? A tragedy? Be very, very careful when calling your film a “thriller”. This too often means a slow moving family drama where nothing happens until right at the end. Slow moving family dramas where nothing happens until right at the end can be great, but not if you’re reading it expecting it to be a thriller. If you want to write a thriller, make sure it’s thrilling - and that on every page either something thrilling happens or is about to happen.

~ Jon Croker 

Next Deadline Call for Film Scripts - 5 October 2014. 

Keep Writing!

Sunday, 17 August 2014



There is nothing more exciting than giving someone new their first experience of being on set. You watch the excitement and newness of it all, through their eyes. For some they become disillushioned by the tedium, others are thrilled by the experience, but never forget this is actually work. It's work we enjoy doing and hard with long hours. I am a great believer in bringing new people on a set, to learn and experience. I give them a sheet with a list of things of they need to know. Largely because I wish I’d been told them when I started. Manners and attitude will get you well-liked and asked back. Be polite to everyone. It’s a team effort and there is a management system to it all – more often than not that means starting at the bottom and it doesn’t often live up to your expections. There is nothing worse than hearing a newbie say ‘that’s not my job’, ‘I didn’t sign up for this’, ‘that’s outside of my job spec’ – if you find at the end of the day it is not for you then by all means say that but not during the day when it is at its most stressful.


Communication is key. People love problem solvers – people who think on their feet, who help and keep busy. This is part personality, part-attitude, part-common sense and part-ability to do the job that will make people want you around. Someone commented on set recently that you can work with inexperience but it's very hard to work with a bad attitude.

An eager, upbeat personality will be well appreciated – no one likes a faffer but having a cheery personality on your team can really brighten the day. Eagerness to get going – runners are called that for a reason because to run is often a requirement of the job.

This is a performance or results driven industry. I learnt two things from this firstly you need to do your job well and secondly the tough bit that came as a shock to me is people who do their job brilliantly but are really unpleasant (ie abrupt, rude) this will be tolerated as they get the job done and well. 

Sets are very flirty environments and friendly places. Don't read too much into it - people are amusing themselves passing the time. Over-familiarity can be out of place and certain terms of endearment can cause offence. If someone acts inappropriately to you then report it to your HoD, if that doesn't work then let someone in production know, as no one should feel uncomfortable in their workplace.

You should be reimbursed for travel you undertake on behalf of the production ie for runs and for any calls you make from your mobile. This should be agreed in advance. Should you be working for free most productions will cover expenses which refer to travel and lunch but check what your lunch allowance is. Avoid buying anything for a production out of your own money. Ask for a float and KEEP all receipts. 

Understand and adhere the hierarchy whether you like it or not – directors are like the Prime Minister (producers are on this level too but not necessarily on the creative level), ADs rule the floor, heads of department are next and everyone else are the workers.

It is your responsibility to get yourself to and from set, a location, and within plenty of time. Print out a map if needed. If you are really lost then call someone like the coordinator or production secretary, not the producer. Ultimately you are responsible for getting yourself to set on time. A 1st AD I work with says 10 minutes before unit call is 30 minutes late. 

With regard to transport in my experience people are good at giving each other lifts if it is a remote location so ask around if you don’t have any means to get there or home. 

Be mindful of personal hygiene, wear deodorant and shower each day - personal hygiene is essential. Sets are crowded and confined spaces - someone will tell you to wash – it's horrid but true.

Wear sensible flat shoes on set and bring weather-proof clothing for exterior shoots - shooting crew need it and you’ll appreciate having it in wet or cold conditions.

Sets are a mine of gossip and suggestion. Crews love it – how else do you fill in the time between takes? If you tell one person something chances are an entire crew will know. Avoid.

Don’t stand by the sidelines watching it go on around you – no matter how complex film-making may seem – there’s always someone needing help. Look and be busy. Ask who’d like a tea/coffee, remember how they like it. Cables to be tidied, boxes to be moved, bins to be filled or emptied, tables to be wiped, kit to be lugged somewhere, a stand or a flag to be held. Ask what can be done, needs to be done next and prep accordingly.

Don’t make excuses – no one wants to know. People are stressed, tired, working to a demanding schedule only give explanations when asked and that is to clarify. Take responsibility, not the blame, as no one likes a cover up. Say sorry and get on with it. Unfortunately, with the tight time factor many of us suffer from the perfection complex so want things done perfectly. A task that normally takes 15 minutes to do but takes you 30 don’t explain why – apologise and say it won’t happen again. People will get it.

Crew welcome questions and curiousity about how something is done. It’s a given on a set that newbies will do that and eagerness is respected. There is a difference between curiousity and badgering. Downtime - on arrival and breaks between set ups is good. Let people have their lunchtimes. Talk to the department crew you want to work in, not necessarily the Head of Department (HOD) ie camera talk to the assistants, the grip or lighting, speak to the electricians (sparks), want to direct go to media or video village, ask to help lift things. Sets are busy places, dawdling, being disruptive, giddy and simply hanging around on set during shoot will be frowned upon.

Language and terminology on sets differ especially terms and names for equipment. Asking is key but remember the answers. Enquire how to do something rather than figure it out, ask where something goes rather than putting it down anywhere. Anywhere or over there can mean it is lost, if it can’t be found. 

Key phrases are ‘mind your backs’, usually means watch out someone is walking towards you with heavy kit. DFI – don’t follow instruction. Breakfast refers to the first meal of the day, lunch is the main meal of the day and these don’t follow a time pattern if on splits (starting in the middle of the day) or nights.

Should you be sent on an errand or a ‘run’ - ask where should you bring the item back to and who should you hand it to. Get a VAT receipt. Give the change to the person who gave you float and quite literally hurry up and run if necessary!

At meal times always allow cast and shooting crew ahead of you, you shouldn’t be first in line any way. Don’t plonk yourself beside the director, producer and DOP offering suggestions. Bring it to your HOD. If it is a safety issue, go straight to the 3rd AD – again with this one common sense prevails.

There is always something that needs to be done and no excuse for doing nothing. When watching on set - check that there are no cups or rubbish lying around – have your eyes pealed. It will be noticed.


Fill the photocopier with paper
Tidy general areas – put things in bins
Clearing plastic cups being mindful they are not left on set and could end up in the film – do a circuit of the set at least once an hour
Check bins – fill them and empty them
Check there is toilet paper and hand-wash and that they are tidy
Runs to shops
Making tea/coffee/bring cups of water
Standing by a door way or blocking off areas ie manning a door and not letting anyone in
Research general topics

Sunday, 3 August 2014


Getting work on a film set can seem like a big industry secret – it can boil down to many factors luck, who you know, birth-right, education or timing. There is no set path but there are loads of jobs in production. 

Begin by understanding that there are different departments, some on the floor (on set) and others behind the scenes. Crafts that are purely based in and around the set include Assistant Directors, Camera, Lighting and Sound; Crafts that are both on set and off set are make up, costume, art department; off set departments comprise production, editorial and location.

There are some realities to working on a sets to be aware of before you embark on this career path. Most are discovered through trial, error and embarrassment – but remember we told you so first. 

  • Freelancers (which is what we are) don't know where the next job is coming from and are not guaranteed work. 
  • Rare as it is, jobs do fall through at the last minute for creative as well as financial reasons. 
  • Prepare for little sleep and long working hours. 
  • Forget about a social life. Should the 4-week schedule clash with Glastonbury - you may face the possibility of having to choose one over the other. 
  • Develop thick skin and toughen up because a lack of gratitude or appreciation comes with the territory. 
No matter what your training, there will be no better way to learn than being on the job, being on set is where to pick up how it is done. 


The educational route is a popular one. The degree courses and one-year diplomas don’t automatically lead to employment or that you'll walk into work but you will gain experience. The advantages are enormous, you will get to understand the system and play with equipment. Anytime spent with equipment is invaluable, as nothing slows a shoot down quicker than an incompetent crew member. 

One year courses give practical experience like working with equipment and the making of films, they give an advantage, over the next guy who doesn’t. You won’t go straight into the role of head of department but you will learn how to handle equipment responsibly and create a reel showing what you are capable of. It teaches you about the different crafts. You need to equip yourself in the best way possible for a role in the industry and that’s what ostensibly the educational route offers. AIDAN ALCOCK, PULSE COLLEGE.

Working on student films is a great way in. Many student films take non-student people on shoots. You get experience and a show reel. It is also a place to nurture relationships, get the contact details of the crew and stay in touch. Use social media to maintain that relationship – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. However, don’t be offended if someone rejects your facebook request as that may be for personal use. 

People in life do need luck, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sometimes you just don’t realise the luck you have around you. One of my pieces of luck was in the village I grew up in was a guy, Richard Branson who became my best friend. Most people get into groups because they like each other but at film school you meet people who have something to offer you that's different to you. They bring something else to the table and that’s what can give you the advantage. NIK POWELL, DIRECTOR NATIONAL FILM AND TV SCHOOL 

Prepare to work for free as work experience, on shorts and student films – it is the most likely way in. It’s all about creating contacts and a community. Search for work on, Shooting People, forums.

Contact diary services and agencies like Gems Agency, Sara Putt or Production Guild – they often have listings of low-budget or start up projects, where you can gain experience. JAYNE GREGORY at GEMS AGENCY, says their motto is 'today’s runners tomorrow’s directors'. They encourage newbies to get in touch or join their Facebook page, which lists entry-level roles. Her advice to anyone who gets on a job is to commit the whole day and don’t even think out going out that night!

If someone asks me what skills would I advise them to acquire, I will always say First Aid training and being able to drive. These are invaluable. I have known runners to be chosen not because of their experience but because of an up-to-date first aid certificate as one is needed someone on a splinter unit. 

Write to production companies, facility companies (camera, lighting, grip equipment companies), line producers, production managers and ask what entry level jobs they have. The Knowledge is a great directory for sourcing this information. Remember you have to bide your time and the work may seem menial but you will be rewarded eventually. 

You will notice at some point that not everyone has got there through hard work. The reality of the industry is that nepotism exists and is accepted. Life isn’t fair but before you give off these guys still have to learn their craft. General rule about unfairness on set – avoid sulking and back-biting. Leave that for drinks or after the shoot. Most people want to keep working and so keep their heads down. 

Take your responsibility seriously. When asked to block off (stopping people walking through areas or keeping noise down) - don’t let people through and make the T signal with your hands. They will stop knowing the production is turning over. If you are sent to make tea and didn’t ask whether people want sugar and milk – bring some back in a cup with stirrers. Carry a note book - write things down. Take the job seriously whatever the task - you’ll stand out if you don’t. 

Develop skills and learn. Hurry up and wait! It takes one single job to climb the ladder and it can also take years to do so too - there are no hard and fast rules. Being organised and taking direction are key skills, these can be acquired. Watch how those around you do it. Show willing. It's all about attitude and a bad one smells. 

A way to impress is to arrive early and see if you can help set up, stay behind and help to put things away. Utilise the chances in front of you – most technical guys are only too happy to share knowledge with you once you’ve shown willing and competence. One 1st AD I worked with, used say 10 minutes before unit call is 30 minutes late. 

After a shoot has ended thank people individually, go and shake their hand, even if it is several days later it is never too late. Tom Harper, one of my favourite directors, thanked everyone at the end of each week. It really made a difference. I've always been impressed by runners or work experience who seek you out to thank you at the end of a job. I write a hand-written card to most heads of department and crew after a shoot because without them we wouldn't have a film. When openings come in, people remember those who were personable and hard-working.

Every job is an opportunity to meet people who may take you with them so give yourself every fighting chance. 

Keep persisting, you will get work on a set, if you want it. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014


I am in the process of extracting myself from all social engagements including social media and bid farewell (for now) to Facebook and tweet ups. Ahead of me lies the final stretch to the finish of my book the Rocliffe Notes. It got me thinking about the phrase about addiction and how it applies to social media - what a great servant social media is but what a terrible master it can be. I am also acutely aware that without social media, I would be without a book deal. 

Interestly when I talked to Megan Holland, who looks after all of Rocliffe's social media, she asked could she write a blog about this. Megan Holland is a talented writer and a social media guru - she's the one who posts those wonderfully inspiring writing quotes - so here is her take on the action and distraction behind this medium.


There is a strange stigma when it comes to the gap between social media and writing. I think that a lot of people see it as a hindrance - and I can understand why.  Imagine youve closed yourself off in your private writers study, phone is disconnected, fingers are poised to write and suddenly - I think Ill just check Twitter.’ Weve all been there. I work in social media, so Im there 90% of the time.

So thats why I decided it was time to create a comprehensive guide of using social media to boost your writing and creativity.

Writing can be lonely. It is in itself an isolating art form, which is why so many people turn to collaboration. Twitter is a great place to combat isolation, allowing you to talk to other writers and draw strength from them. Caitlin Moran has spoken before about Twitter as a companion for a lonely day (as long as you don’t let it distract you!). Writers are so open to start a conversation, and are often full of great ideas. See social media as a gateway, allowing you to chat with writers from all over the world.

Sharing your work. I love to use my Twitter as a place to share my blog posts, and find that’s where a lot of my blog traffic comes from. It’s a great place to grow an audience. Nowadays breaking into writing (be it film, tv, stage, books) puts a lot of pressure on the writer to have a persona. If you can establish yourself on the internet, then that’s going to encourage an agent into understanding that you have the capability to publicise yourself - something that is really important. 

Finding events and opportunities. There’s something to be said for using Facebook and Twitter to find open mic nights and create small communities of writers. I never thought that being a writer would involve standing on stage and reading a story out, but it’s an example of how much the role of a writer is developing. Keeping an eye on your twitter feed and interacting with people can be the perfect way to find yourself stood on the stage, feeling a little nervous and ready to welcome a world full of people to your writing. 

A place to find great recommendations. When my book list is running low, or if I want to try a new film or TV series, I love to ask my followers for suggestions. You can find some absolute gems in there (in fact, one of my blog followers sent me a list of about 30 books the other day and I was absolutely over the moon). 

Follow writing blogs and twitters. You’ll find that when you spend your day reading great quotes and opportunities, it’s hard not to want to write some more…

So at the end of the day, social media is a writers haven. Its a safe place, as long as you remember to get out of there and actually do some writing. Speaking of which, Rocliffe has put out a call for Childrens TV writers - so get your pens at the ready and find out more information at

Like what Megan has to say - You can find her at her blog, or chatting away on twitter @miggysworld.

Writing Quote of the Week

Susan Cooper (@buzzedition“Engage, Enlighten, Encourage and especially…just be yourself! Social media is a community effort, everyone is an asset.”  

Keep Writing!