How To Write Popular TV Drama with DOC MARTIN Screenwriter Julian Unthank

Monday 5 February 2018

In a world of Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies & endless choices on Netflix, TV offers far more to the sophisticated audience who in turn EXPECT a certain quality and standard of writers nowadays.

Here’s where screenwriter Julian Unthank comes in to help us. Julian has worked on shows such as ITV’s Doc MartinThe Bill, New Tricks and Robin Hood, plus his short film Love at First Sight starring John Hurt shortlisted for an Oscar in 2011.
I was lucky enough to speak with Julian and have him share his top 5 tips on how YOU can create a powerful drama script too. You ready? Let’s get started!

1) The 3 Things You NEED in a Drama Script

  • Swagger – ‘To Land Loudly’. Be BOLD in your pilot script, think about the most powerful way you can hook the viewer/reader into your world within the first few scenes. Analyse opening sequences like Lost or Blind Spot. Remember, you only get one chance at a first impression.
  • Unique Voice – This is YOUR writing style. Look to be hired because only YOU can write ‘that script’. Look at language or a unique twist/take on something familiar. There will be those who may pass on your idea, but it only takes one YES!
  • Say Something Different – Your script is YOUR narrative, so think hard about the story you want to tell. Think about different perspectives or topics that haven’t been touched upon before.

2) Create an ENGAGING Cast of Characters

THEME can be a great starting point if you find writing characters and their character arcs tricky.
  • Choose a theme that ties your characters together and drives your central lead.
  • Show how those characters relate to that theme from different aspects/viewpoints.
  • Watch the genre you want to write and analyse your favourite characters from these shows.

3) Pitch, and then Pitch Again…

The pitching process never gets any easier, but the more prepared you are increases the chance of you getting another meeting.
  • Don’t panic and NEVER say more than two ideas – Everybody wants to sell their idea, but don’t grasp at straws when you’re in ‘pitch mode’. Find a connection and research, find that mutual link that can hook them into your pitch.
  • Be open to suggestions– think about it, even if you don’t agree it doesn’t mean you have to ACT on their suggestions but consider what they have to say. They’re in the know and usually saying it for a reason.
  • Small Goals & Building Relationships – take small steps, aim to secure another meeting it’s not always about the pitch. Sometimes it’s more important to build a relationship with an executive or producer than selling the script then and there.

4) With or Without an Agent?
It’s not essential to have one, but it can certainly open more doors.
  • Independent Agents – Actively seek out independent agents to represent you, they are more likely to take on emerging writers.
  • Competitions & Film festivals – These options are great calling cards to get agents interested in your writing, especially if it’s shortlisted or wins awards.
  • Look for the narrative – Networking should be second nature to a writer and use it to your advantage. Present your narrative and creative style and use those differences to your benefit.

5) How to get started 

There’s no ONE route in this industry, but it should be a multi-pronged approach because you never know where your big break will come from.
  • Keep writing those Specs – Every screenwriter at every level writes specs. Even if it’s only one spec you write, make it a movie script because TV AND Movie people will read that.
  • Short Films ARE The Way Forward – People will always have time to watch a 10-minute short over a 60 page pilot. Consider how you can film a teaser that represents your pilot.
  • Everybody says it but NETWORK – Be smart and consider your collaborators as friends. Keep talking and creating and it’s only a matter of time until an opportunity presents itself!

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