Masterclass with Graham Duff

Screen and Film School welcomed writer/producer Graham Duff on Wednesday 16th October to give a masterclass to our aspiring filmmakers. Graham is an experienced and prolific writer for screen, radio, stage and print. However, he’s best known for sit-coms such as Ideal, Hebburn and Nebulous and talked about creating comedy characters that resonate with audiences. He shared detailed insight about writing strategies that help unlock the potential for both self expression and fun in writing for screen. He also discussed ways of maximizing student’s chances to get their script read and into development. Graham has written drama for TV and talked about ways of approaching adaptations.

Here are 10 things we can learn from Graham:

1. “By being at Screen and Film School, you’re already in a fortunate position. Institutions like [SFS] make the transition from outside the world of media to inside [the world of media] so much easier to do. By already having a groundwork of connections, you will find it easier to share ideas and receive feedback.”

2. “When it comes to writing, it’s about HOW you write – not WHAT you write. Make it a pleasurable experience; don’t judge yourself too harshly and just start writing! What you write first will not be what you write last. Each morning, spend some time writing something that you know you will throw away. That makes it easier to draft and re-draft, as it engenders a lack of preciousness about your script. Once you stop judging yourself, it becomes fun.”

3. “No idea is so important that you can’t forget it. Write things down! Eavesdrop: listen out for phrases that you can use later on and make note of these for the future. Try to find anything that gives your characters individuality: accents, idioms, body language. Your characters need tone and texture that people will believe.”

4. “When you’re writing, think: Does this appeal to you? If you’re taking on a project that requires a lot of research into a field you’re not familiar, that pushes you even further away from actually writing. It can feel clunky if you’re writing about a topic you’re unsure of, so it’s better to immerse yourself in a world you feel passionate about.”

5. “You have more chance of a strange idea being commissioned than a normal one. You want to look for a bold, strong hero with their own flavour. It’s pretty much impossible to find something that will be universally loved. Simon Pegg thought that Spaced would only appeal to “nerdy guys”, and it ended up being loved by a whole range of people – not just nerds.”

6. “Writing comedy scripts can actually be harder than writing for drama. Drama scripts require problems, conflicts, and hurdles… but comedy scripts need all of that, plus gags throughout. When reading scripts, Armando Iannucci ticks every line that made him laugh, or that he thinks will make the audience laugh. If there are less than 3 ticks on a page, the entire page should be re-written.”

7. “Comedy comes from the characters and how people respond to them. If you’re struggling to put gags into your script, think of 2-3 characters that you can get humour from. Don’t use the same kind of gags the whole time! Audiences are more sophisticated than ever before and will spend the whole time trying to decode your script, work out what happens next. So keep it fresh!”

8. “It’s worth remembering that your scenes are created to keep the plots moving. 90% of the scenes may focus on your A Plot, but audiences like having something to cut away to in a B Plot. Your audience will go into neutral if they’re following the same plot for too long. Scenes don’t exist to show off your writing skills, they exist to move on the story.”

9. “As soon as you’ve sent off one script, start writing another. Just write! Of 8 scripts, 1 or 2 might go into production. Try to love the process more than the projects. You need to be constantly developing and creating a whirlpool around what you’re developing.”

10. “If you’ve written a script that you think will be good for a certain person, send it to their agent. They definitely won’t look at your script if you don’t send it to them. For the price of an email, you may as well just send it.”