Working With Major Hollywood Studios: An Interview with Script Consultant Phil Clarke

Wednesday 9 January 2019

We are back in 2019, and what a great guest to start off the year, and share with you today!

Into The Script brings you the first interview of the new year, with script consultant and screenwriter Phil Clarke. Phil has been fortunate enough to have worked alongside some of the most influential names in the business, such as Tim Burton, George Lucas, Chris Columbus and Danny Boyle and with MAJOR studio names including Warner Brothers, Paramount and 20th Century Fox - SO, if there's anybody writers & filmmakers need to listen to - it's Phil! 

Phil Clarke (aka PHILMSCRIBE) is a UK-based script consultant and screenwriter with over twenty years service to cinema. After years working at the coal face of film on such features as Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, The Beach and two of the biggest box-office franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter, he turned to writing – both for the page and the screen. 

His screenplays have been optioned both in the UK and Hollywood and his books have been published worldwide. These days Phil works as a script consultant; his clients have won or placed highly at major script competitions, had their projects optioned, while others have gone on to be produced, the best debuting at Cannes.

1) Your experience over the past twenty years has seen you work with studios such as Warner Brothers, Paramount, Miramax, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. What first inspired you to begin your career in this industry, and can you share with us how your first ‘break in’ the industry came to be?

I've had a number of key moments that inspired me to forge a career in film, but the first one would have to have been watching those endless end credits that followed a movie. I used to gaze in wonder at the names that scrolled past and dreamed of being one such name. That was a huge inspiration and a real driving force.

But not having Spielberg as an uncle, I was unable to rely on nepotism and consequently had to work long and hard to get into the industry and even longer to land that first credit. 

My “big break” came not long after being made redundant as an executive PA at a print & design company. I had continued to send out begging letters to studios, production companies etc. for a chance to work with them and I finally got a letter back. 

It was from Leavesden Studios (now Warner Bros. Studios) who had noticed my persistence; they had a number of my letters on file! They invited me in for an interview as their studio runner. Two interviews later and the job was mine. I was in, albeit in a lowly role. But it was a start. And the production that had taken over the entire facility? Just a little thing called Star Wars: Episode One. 

2) From your own experiences, can you share your top 4 tips that you feel are essential for becoming a professional and successful Script Consultant/Screenwriter? 

Hmm... these are two very different roles. Let's focus on the latter as I think this will be of more interest to your readers. So, what key things does a successful screenwriter need to do or be?

1) Successful screenwriters are always writing.
There is no substitute for putting your ass in the chair and putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. Screenplays don't write themselves.

2) Successful screenwriters keep learning.
No one ever masters this craft, we are all apprentices. So keep honing your writing. Practise, practise, practise.

3) Successful screenwriters persevere. 
After getting knocked down, they get back up. They keep coming back for more punishment. 
Every single screenwriter who has made it in this industry has experienced rejection. They have heard “no” countless times. The difference is that they didn't give up. They were like the Terminator. Relentless.

4) I have to say that successful screenwriters have written something undeniably entertaining. 
They have managed to create a piece of work that hits the sweet spot: a good story well-told. 

3) What would you consider to be the most important elements of a script when reading through it for the first time? Can you elaborate on the importance of these elements?

I would suggest that the key elements to a script are the same whether or not you're reading it for the first time. 
First up, the concept needs to be clear, engaging and particularly if it's a spec script, it needs to bring something fresh, new, inventive. Looking closer at this, I can't overstate the importance of a gripping start. Writers need to remember that no reader owes you anything. 

They don't have to love your script. 
So you need to make them love it. And in order to do this, you need to hook them from the very beginning. There's very little point having an engaging, shocking reversal scene somewhere in your middle acts if your start is dull and lifeless as the reader will have probably given up by the time they make it to your wonderful twist.

Another vital element is to have a fascinating main character. 
Someone the reader can relate to, who has a clear objective. 
This will make it easier for the reader to root for your protagonist. And likewise, make sure you create a strong, powerful antagonist who is in opposition to your hero. 
The more direct conflict you can give him or her, the more we'll be able to understand their character. 
And a couple of additional elements I believe are crucial: clear, clean layout and a clear, engaging writing style. 

4) What advice do you have for other film-makers and writers when It comes to networking and building professional relationships in the industry?

Be professional. At all times. 
Okay, so this is quite a broad, ambiguous term. So what does it mean to be professional?
 To be honest, it's not that different to how you should behave in polite society. There's a term used in mathematics and computer science – GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) – that applies here. 
Basically, the quality of output is determined by the quality of input. 

If you act improperly, if you are rude, mean, inconsiderate, inappropriate, abusive etc. then one shouldn't be surprised to get the same back. 
Act professionally, conduct yourself in a courteous, modest manner and you are more likely to have people be courteous in return. 
Networking is not much more than making friends in a working environment. And you wouldn't want to be friends with someone who acts like a dick, would you? We gravitate towards people who are likeable, appealing in some way.

It's all common sense stuff, but then sadly I have seen many instances where writers, film-makers and other crew members have shown a total disregard of sound judgement. 
Don't be like them. “Good guys finish last” is bullshit. 
Okay, so don't be a push-over, but don't be the person people talk badly about when their back is turned. 

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given for working in this industry, and would you mind sharing it with us?

I always go back to something Chris Columbus said to me when I was learning the craft of screenwriting. 
Hungrily devouring any book on screenplays I could get my hands on, like so many newbie writers I fixated on paradigms, formulae, magical quick fixes to ensure my stories worked. 
Helpfully, I was working alongside Chris and thought I'd pick the brains of the writer of Gremlins, The Goonies and director of Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire and the movie we were shooting at the time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. 

So I asked him what he thought about these writing models and he distilled it all in just a few words.

He told me: “Just write an entertaining story.” 
I have always lived by these words ever since when writing. It's so easy to get distracted by other aspects until you can't see the wood for the trees.
But at the end of the day, we writers are storytellers. 
And the stories that we tell need to be, above all else, entertaining. If they don't entertain, they are not accomplishing their raison d'etre
It's like a pen that doesn't write or a flower that doesn't bloom. 

If you would like to get in touch with Phil, you can reach him via his site: He is also on Twitter & Instagram (as @philmscribe) and Facebook: @philmscribeconsultancy

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