Today it is my pleasure to welcome screenwriter Russ Gascoigne to my blog, to talk about screenwriting and his own writing process.
1)COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK? ARE YOU WORKING ON A PROJECT NOW?
My background is in television drama. I’ve worked as a BBC Drama script editor and script reader/consultant for TV/film companies, including TVS,LWT, the Movie Acquisition Corporation and the European Script Fund and written for the BBC,ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C, my credits ranging from soaps through to A Touch of Frost. I’ve also written for both stage and radio. My first YA novel, Rebels set during the English Civil War, was published in 2004, optioned for feature film development by the BBC (sadly, as is the case with so many of these things, it didn’t happen at the time) and I’m now working on another one as well as developing other TV projects.
2) YOU’RE A SCREENWRITER BUT YOU ALSO TEACH THE SUBJECT. COULD YOU TELL THE READERS OF THIS BLOG ABOUT THIS AND HOW SOMEONE WOULD GO ABOUT APPLYING TO GO ON THE COURSE.
I’ve been teaching scriptwriting, principally at Cardiff University, for just over six years, having stepped into the role after another TV scriptwriter dropped out. I enjoyed working with others as a script editor and script consultant and see teaching as a continuation of that. Although I’ve taught at undergraduate level, most of my students are adult learners,many with some sort of media background, whether educational or professional. On my face-to-face courses most are drawn from South Wales but I do get quite a few who travel from further afield. The course covers everything from conceiving original ideas and writing pitch documents through to the technical process of scriptwriting itself. I show short films, there are pitch exercises and scene read-throughs and it’s all very lively and entertaining. For me, it’s a real change from the day job. I also run the scriptwriting Workshop Online on which I help writers develop their scripts on a one-to-one basis via email, providing feedback, guidance and advice on as many rewrites as students want to undertake during the process. With that, I get participants from across the UK and occasionally beyond. Students have gone on to gain representation and full TV drama commissions, to win and be shortlisted in various scriptwriting competitions and, most recently, to reach the full-read stage of the BBC writersroom. Given that most are new to scriptwriting, that’s very pleasing. If anyone’s interested details can be found at:
I’ll be running the next Scriptwriting Workshop Online in September.
3) WHAT BOOKS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO SOMEONE NEW TO SCRIPTWRITING?
I’ll take ‘new’ as being the operative word here in which case the best is probably Syd Field’s ‘Screenplay’, closely followed by Blake Synder’s ‘Save the Cat’ which is good for beginners, but is often regarded as being too crassly commercial and narrow in it’s take on the subject. Both are endlessly printed such is their popularity. Robert Mckee’s ‘Story’ is another staple of the genre. It’s detailed and didactic but is certainly very useful. They’re all primarily about film, however, and come from the US. Former BBC exec. John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods’ is an exception – and is exceptionally good. It makes no pretence about being a how-to book but is comprehensive and extremely well-considered in it’s deconstruction of what constitutes ‘story’.It’s the best book on the subject to have been written for some time. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in scriptwriting. When it comes to specifics such as dialogue, I’d say Rib Davis’ ‘Writing Dialogue for Scripts’ is well worth a read. If I had to choose just one title for someone new to scriptwriting it would be ‘Making Movies for Fun and Profit’ by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. Don’t be put off by the cover; it’s both tongue-in-cheek and insightful. All of my students who have read it loved it.
4)WHEN AND WHERE IS THE BEST TIME FOR YOU TO WRITE? HOW DO YOU BALANCE THIS WITH OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES?
I work from home and, to be honest, simply work whenever I feel like it. I don’t have a set routine. I’m reasonably good at avoiding distractions until I’ve done some work but I’m far from perfect. I have good days and bad days. What I do like to do, however, is set myself a few goals: pages to be written , books to be read etc. This in addition to my script-reading work, of course. If I achieve those I’m happy. Sometimes they get done straight away which is the ideal. But if I’ve had to attend to these other responsibilities or have been too distracted, I’ll work into the early hours of the morning. When I’m in the middle of a writing a particular project I can become quite a workaholic. When I’m merely thinking about things – or doing the research or blocking things out – I sometimes feel I’m quite the opposite. But it’s a necessary part of the process; staring out of the window.
5)WHOSE WORK DO YOU ADMIRE AND WHO OR WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING INFLUENCES?
Too many to list on both counts, Where scriptwriters are concerned a few names that come to mind are Tony Marchant, Abi Morgan, Heidi Thomas, Neil Cross and Toby Whithouse. Other writers, including YA authors: George Saunders, Martin Amis, Chris Paling, Sonya Hartnett, Anthony McGowan, Jeanette Winterson,. Influences, not discounting all of the aforementioned: I’ll go with Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Aesop’s Fables, the Brothers Grimm and a particular favourite, William Saroyan. And then there are the recently-read works that I’ve found invigorating and inspiring, I have to mention those, or at least a few of them: ‘Jagannath’, a collection of short stories by the hugely imaginative Karin Tidbeck, Matt Haig’s Edgar Award shortlisted ‘Humans’ and Pierre Lemaitre’s gruesomely compelling crime thriller ‘Alex’. I also read a new writer’s script a short while ago which was so energised and inventive it taught me a trick or two. There are so many good writers out there. It’s a real joy.
7) DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOG? HOW USEFUL DO YOU FIND THIS?
I use Twitter and, at the other end of the scale, Linkedin. Although Twitter has certainly enabled me to raise the profile of my script development work in particular, it’s entirely reciprocal and I’ve found plenty of things that are of interest to me through using it. Linkedin is useful for connecting with other professionals but (for me, anyway) is a more static resource and I like the much more ‘social’ aspect of Twitter through which I’ve met interesting people such as yourself, Ruth @prozactaker. I was planning to set up a website a short while ago when I had a pending book deal in the offing but I’ll wait and see what happens with the current YA project before pursuing things. If everyone else’s experiences are anything to go by, I’ll look forward to it.
8) IF YOU COULD PASS A PIECE OF ADVICE ONTO A BUDDING WRITER OF SCREENPLAY’S, WHAT WOULD THAT ADVICE BE?
I’d say don’t run away with the idea that you actually need much advice. Have a little faith and confidence in yourself. By all means read a few books on the subject, take a course, seek some feedback, but if you overdo it the first impediment to your progress will be yourself. There really is no substitute for simply writing and learning from it’s empirical application. Have a word with yourself: do you really need all the gnomic insights, the input of others who, when you look closely, have probably written less than you, the validation of others? You need to cultivate that inner voice that tells you when you’re deluding yourself of course, but also when you’re being overly deferential to those who think they’re in a position to advise you, delaying things. ‘Don’t get it right, get it written'(James Thurber). Watch the best TV dramas and films, read the scripts, write.
RUSSEL GASCOIGNE IS REPRESENTED BY FRANCES ARNOLD AT ROCHELLE STEVENS (FILM & tv) LTD.