Tuesday 19 March 2013

What makes a great screenplay?

John Yorke is Managing Director of Company Pictures, the UK independent that produces Skins, Shameless, The White Queen and Wolf Hall.

Over many years he was both Head of Channel Four Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production. He has worked on big popular works such as Hustle, Spooks, Casualty and Holby City alongside award-winners such as Bodies, Omagh, Sex Traffic, Not Only But Always and The Curse of Steptoe.

His career began by single-handedly story-lining EastEnders in its very first year, beginning a 14 year association that produced some of the biggest audiences in British television history.

As a commissioning Editor/Executive Producer, he championed some of the defining works of British television including Life On Mars, The Street, Shameless and Waterloo Road.

In 2005 he created the BBC Writers Academy, a year-long in-depth training scheme which has produced a generation of successful television writers. He's also worked as Editor of The Archers. John is Visiting Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Likes to keep himself busy, does John.

And now he has also written a book: Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey into Story, which will be published by Particular Books on 4 April 2013. To celebrate the fact, The Guardian published an article called What makes a great screenplay? on 15 March 2013. It was written by John Yorke, and imparts some of the substance of his book.

"Once upon a time, in such and such a place, something happened."
In basic terms that's about it—the very best definition of a story.

What an archetypal story does is introduce you to a central character—the protagonist—and invite you to identify with them; effectively they become your avatar in the drama. So you have a central character, you empathise with them, and something then happens to them, and that something is the genesis of the story. Jack discovers a beanstalk; Bond learns Blofeld plans to take over the world. The "something" is almost always a problem, sometimes a problem disguised as an opportunity. It's usually something that throws your protagonist's world out of kilter – an explosion in the normal steady pace of their lives: Alice falls down a rabbit hole; spooks learn of a radical terrorist plot; Godot doesn't turn up.

Your character has a problem that he or she must solve: Alice has to get back to the real world; our spooks have to stop a bomb going off in central London; Vladimir and Estragon have to wait. The story is the journey they go on to sort out the problem presented. On the way they may learn something new about themselves; they'll certainly be faced with a series of obstacles to overcome; there will be a moment near the end where all hope seems lost, and this will almost certainly be followed by a last-minute resurrection of hope, a final battle against the odds, and victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

You'll see this shape (or its tragic counterpart) working at some level in every story. It might be big and pronounced, as in Alien or Jaws, it might be subtler, as in Ordinary People, or it might represent a reaction against it (Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend)—but it will be there. It reveals itself most clearly in the framework of the classic crime or hospital drama. A murder is committed or someone gets sick; the detective or doctor must find the killer or make their patient well. That's why detective fiction is so popular; the unifying factors that appear at some level in all stories are at their most accessible here.

Read the full article here.

1 comment:

Ed Love said...

Superb, thanks!