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.

1 comment:

  1. There will be some people who will tell you what you should and shouldn't do, but in the end it has to feel right to you. Be sure to take advice and help write my college essay, especially when editing, but this essay really has to be about us.