Friday, June 25, 2010

A screenwriting playwright responds!

Alistair Rutherford was a classmate when I did the screenwriting MA at what's now the Edinburgh Skillset Screen and Media Academy. Since graduating he's been commissioned as a radio dramatist, screenwriter on a feature and as a playwright. Having commented on the post below, he's letting me recycle his thoughts as a guest post:
I don’t have my own blog (I know, I know) so please allow me to borrow yours slightly. It’s a bit dispiriting to read Jimmy McGovern’s comment and the laughter it drew from the BFI. Why? Because as you know I write for theatre, radio and film.

My radio plays have been on Radio 4 and Radio Scotland, I got my first professional screenwriting commission last year for a feature and 2 weeks ago my latest stage play was up on its feet in the Leith Festival.

I’ll resist putting the link here to Joyce McMillan’s Scotsman review of that play but basically – apart from the staging which she didn’t like – I can tell you what got to her in a big way. Story, story, story.

And that is my point. I don’t think it’s about the medium, it’s about storytelling. That’s what lies under all the different ways we can put our thoughts and characters and visuals and dialogue down on paper. Telling a good story. McKee certainly picked a good title for his book.

I don’t wear a different hat when I’m writing for each of those media but I certainly know the differences and write accordingly. I met Alice Nutter – writes for Casualty and The Street – a few years ago when we were both on the same Emerging Playwrights programme at the Traverse Theatre. So I’m a bit thrown by Jimmy McGovern's blanket dismissal of playwrights.

I do agree with your point about the new hot playwright having a large support network around them but that only really applies to those lucky enough to be working with the bigger producing theatres. If, like me, you’re doing it with zero funding, the script that goes up on stage is 99 per cent yours, so there’s even less of a hiding place.

Actually, I must be quite good at this if I can get commissioned and paid in 3 different media. You don’t happen to know any of these people who scour the land looking for playwrights by any chance? I’d love to say hello…
I'm not so shy as Ali, so here's a link to that Scotsman review.


John said...

Thanks Ali and David. Great post. It really gets my goat when people make that "theatre is all taking heads" comparison with tv and film. Have any of these people ever BEEN to the theatre? Good theatre, like good tv and film, is based on visuals, dialogue, conflict, character development and, as Ali points out, story, story, STORY. And all the other things that make good drama. Cause it's all drama at the end of the day. Two people talking on about nothing is as boring on stage as it is anywhere else.

Jez Freedman said...

Well, to be fair there are differences. Structure being the main. And this, also to be fair to Jimmy cGovern, was the main thing he mentioned.

But Ali, I wouldn't be too disheartened by what he said because like I mentioned in my original post, he has used playwrights in both his last two shows.

It's worth saying again that a good script is a good script, regardless of where it comes from. And good luck to those who do everything like Ali.

My main dissapointment is when the people looking for new screenwriters look elswhere to find them. I think David's reasons are spot on - but a night out at the theatre is just that, a night out. If you think you've spotted some talent then great, ask them to write a screenplay.

But this should not be your first port of call and optimum choice in finding new screenwriters. Football scouts don't go to rugby matches to see if any of those big fellas are a bit useful with their feet too!

Alsitair Rutherford said...

Thanks John and Jez. I agree there are differences and, for me, realising what they are and working with them is part of the process of getting the story as good as possible. I've certainly seen my share of boring plays and I'll happily agree that a bad or wilfully non-existent structure can wreck a story. I didn't spot that structure was JM's main issue with plays, I jumped the gun on that.

If you don't mind a question Jez, where would you suggest was the optimum place to find new screenwriters? Apologies if you've already answered this elsewhere.

Jez Freedman said...

certainly don't mind, Ali. It's really simple - read scripts. i read a lot of them and it's there on the page. if i read a very good script from one writer i am interested. if i read two from the same person, i'm very interested. and IF (and it has to be an if because i can't and don't presume to speak for them) the people who are supposed to be looking for new screenwriters are going to the theatre instead because it's easier than wading through the pile of scripts on their desk, we've got a serious problem

Alistair said...

Fair point, Jez, thanks for coming back to me.

Jez Freedman said...

no problem - and I got plenty of stick for it on my own blog! oh well.

Alistair said...

Given the large number of scripts that hit those desks we've got a serious problem anyway. I still believe good scripts will out in the end though :)