Tag Archives: Steve Pemberton

The London Screenwriters’ Festival: 10 amazing seminars in one handy guide

10 Dec
London Screenwriters' Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

London Screenwriters’ Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

The London Screenwriters’ Festival is the largest of its kind in the world. That’s right, the biggest and best event for screenwriters happens not in LA, not in New York, but right here. London, Hollywood indeed. I’ve written up all the best talks, screenings and seminars I attended at this year’s: that’s ten blog posts. Read ’em, one by one. You’ll laugh! You’ll learn!

Behind The Scenes

The Silence of the Lambs, with screenwriter Ted Tally. Discover the secrets of the famous jail scene between Clarice and Hannibal, how Jodie Foster got the part, and whose head is really in the jar. Part one, click here; part two, click here.

Finding Nemo, with co-writer David Reynolds. Find out: Why is the vegetarian shark called “Bruce”? How did Sean Penn narrowly miss being in the film? And why did Pixar have to make their animation, in parts, deliberately bad?

The Lost Boys, with director Joel Schumacher. Find out: How was Rambo an influence on the movie? How you do you get maggots to act? Why must Surf Nazis die? Where did Kiefer Sutherland go in full vampire make-up?

Great talkers

Joel Schumacher. The veteran director explains how Woody Allen changed his life, how the studio took fright at Falling Down with Michael Douglas, and how “if I can do this, you can do this too”.

Lynda La Plante. The writer of Prime Suspect, who is currently working on the prequel, tells how she made it as a screenwriter. Find out why her key tip is to “write like a transvestite trucker”.

Tony Jordan. The creator of Life on Mars and the forthcoming Dickensian talks about his long, illustrious and surprisingly accidental career. He explains how he nearly gave up after just a few episodes of EastEnders (he went on to write 250), and how Life on Mars came about.

Charlie Brooker. The sweet, avuncular, cuddly uncle of screenwriting – just kidding! – trains his bile on blockbusters (“like staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together”) and writing itself (“I love having written, but I hate the process of writing”), and talks about the Black Mirror Christmas special.

Writers’ guides

Beyond The Chick Flick: Writing The Female-Driven Screenplay, with Pilar Alessandra. Sigourney Weaver’s part in Alien was originally written for a man. But though it can be useful to ask yourself “what would a man typically do?” when writing for women, you’re missing out on a whole lot of depth if that’s all you do…

The Art & Craft of Dialogue, with Claudia Myers. She outlines the five pillars of what makes a good scene, and the four pillars of what makes good dialogue within that scene. Learn how even the way you address someone can matter: “In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft are sleeping together, but he’s still calling her ‘Mrs.Robinson’.”

Bonus section: last year’s highlights

A whole lotta Joe Eszterhas: The straight-talking author of The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, who used to be paid $4 million for a script, was so entertaining and larger-than-life he could not possibly fit into one blog. So I posted several, including a, ahem, blow-by-blow account of Basic Instinct, his troubles with Mel Gibson, and his tips on writing.

Creating Character, with Pilar Alessandra. How to brainstorm a film structure from scratch, based solely on character (fascinating!); plus the three dimensions to character, and how to introduce a character in a script.

The Epic Spec: How To Explode Onto The Hollywood Scene, with Stuart Hazeldine. “Sometimes, to get noticed, you have to take your clothes off and run in the traffic.”

Steve Pemberton. One of the League Of Gentlemen team gives a local talk for local people. Discover, too, how a director he didn’t previously know persuaded him to act, for free, in his short film, as a cannibalistic serial killer with agoraphobia.

Graham Linehan. Absolutely one of the top TV comedy writers working today: the man behind Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd reveals how Robert McKee screwed him up, and what the Three Moments rule is for TV comedy.

The London Screenwriters’ Festival 2015 is pre-registering now, and already 37% sold out. Find out more here.

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LSF #8: Steve Pemberton – a local talk for local people about Inside No 9

5 Nov

I absolutely freaking loved League of Gentlemen. Unlike Little Britain which it inspired, it wasn’t just a collection of catchphrases, though it had those – “This is a local shop for local people, your kind are not welcome here” or “You’re my wife now” – it was a whole, dark little world within the village of Royston Vasey. It was an extension of that uncomfortable scene in American Werewolf in London where the Americans enter a local British pub; or like that ‘50s sci-fi film where the village is cut off from the world by a glass dome, but in this case it’s an invisible force-field of weirdness.

Some nights, watching the black-faced Papa Lazarou, or the sex-change cabbie, or the sinister mystery meat that made everyone’s noses bleed, you just couldn’t believe the BBC had let them get away with this. They very nearly didn’t.

“They were terrified,” said Steve Pemberton at the London Screenwriters’ Festival recently. “They just didn’t get it. But we had influential people like Jon Plowman and Geoffrey Perkins protecting us, and saying you must back this.”

He and Reece Shearsmith did a Q&A session, where they described how they had got on straight away when they made lists of the funny things their parents said, and had many of the same things on there. Like what? “I don’t know,” said Pemberton, “like if you say you’re going to the cinema, and my dad says ‘I’ll bloody cinema you!’”

Shearsmith, incidentally, revealed how he’d agreed to play the part of a cannibalistic serial killer with agoraphobia last year in the short film Him Indoors. Quite simply, the director Tweeted him, and he said yes. “I liked the joke,” explained Shearsmith. “He couldn’t go out to get his victims so he had to get them to come to him. If these shorts are good, I’ll always do them. If not, I’ll pretend I’m busy!”

After the Q&A, I got some time alone with Pemberton, to quiz him about his latest project with Shearsmith – their most recent series Psychoville having come to an end last year after just two series. “The first thing we knew about it was we went in for a meeting, expecting it to be about the third series, and they said, ‘So, what’s next?’ We came up with a Tales of the Unexpected style thing called Inside No 9.”

It’s a surreal experience to sit on a bench in the courtyard of Regent’s Park College with the man who dreamed up and played such amiable grotesques as David Sowerbutts, Oscar Lomax, Tubbs Tattsyrup, Pauline and Herr Lipp, as well as Strackman Lux in Doctor Who and Edward Buchan in Whitechapel. And though he is happy to admit to his misfires – such as the League of Gentlemen film – he seems hugely enthusiastic about Inside No 9.

Inside No 9: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Gemma Arterton

Inside No 9: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Gemma Arterton

“Each episode takes place inside a different No 9,” he explains: “a theatre dressing room, a big country house, above a shop. Otherwise there’s no link between them. We were inspired by setting one episode of Psychoville in one room – as a cost-cutting exercise. We based it on Hitchcock’s Rope, shot in just two takes. It was exciting and liberating to do that, it harked back to our being on stage [where League of Gentlemen began]. The craft of writing becomes more important.

“We wanted to make this series simple. There’s so much fast cutting in TV, we felt we’d done enough of that. We’re thinking of Pinter here, or Ayckbourn. We’ve enjoyed placing our own restrictions on the show.

“In one of the episodes of Inside No 9, it actually all takes place inside a single wardrobe! It’s during a game of sardines: one by one, 12 people end up in there.

“Another one, called A Quiet Night In, is all physical, there’s no dialogue. It takes place during a heist, so the burglars have to be quiet, while the couple are having a row and not speaking to each other.

“Steve and I are not always in it, or we’re playing smaller characters, to showcase the writing more. But we’ve got a terrific cast: Gemma Arterton, Denis Lawson, Oona Chaplin, Tamsin Greig, Julia Davis, Anna Chancellor, Anna Reid… their commitment is just a week, so they are easier to get. It’s all in the can: I’m very, very excited, I can’t wait for people to see it. There’s an awful anticipation until next year when it’s shown.”

In the meantime, he says, Edward and Tubbs will man the tills of their local shop one last time: at a benefit gig at the Adelphi Theatre on December 1 in aid of the Royal Free Hospital. Also on the bill are Rowan Atkinson, Jo Brand, Julian Clary, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Matt Lucas, Mitchell & Webb and Paul Whitehouse.

Call it the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

More from the London Screenwriters’ Festival: for loads of great stuff about Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct, start here; for Father Ted and The IT Crowd writer Graham Linehan, click here.

LSF #1: Starting a daily series of reports from the London Screenwriters’ Festival

28 Oct
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Dominic Wells (me) with Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct and usually no friend of critics. “They want to kill you, rape your wife and eat your children” is the typically understated chapter heading in his book.

What an exhilarating, exhausting, mind-altering three days the London Screenwriters’ Festival has been! There were 100 guest speakers to choose from, including a two-hour Q&A with Joe Eszterhas, the highest-paid, most successful and most belligerent screenwriter of his day, plus a surreal afternoon in which 300 people packed into the main hall to watch Basic Instinct with Eszterhas providing a live running commentary – and occasionally warning his 15-year-old son in the audience to shut his eyes…!

The 68-year-old living legend was good enough to give me a one-on-one interview, as well. Given that in his scabrous warts-and-all book The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, Eszterhas headlined his chapter on critics “They want to kill you, rape your wife, and eat your children”, it’s an interview I approached with more than the usual trepidation. But in the event he talked candidly of the death of his father, the battles with drinking and smoking that almost killed him, and his wild first meeting with Gonzo journo Hunter S. Thompson, who got him his breakthrough job with Rolling Stone.

During the London Screenwriters’ Festival I also interviewed Doon Mackichan of Smack The Pony and Steve Pemberton of League of Gentlemen and Psychoville; attended a terrific seminar with Graham Linehan of Father Ted and The IT Crowd fame and a very candid talk by David Hare, plus “how-to” lectures by a Brit who’s made it as a sci-fi blockbuster writer in Hollywood and great ones on character, structure, and thriller writing.

I’ve written about it today in The Times (click here), but a single piece doesn’t begin to do justice to the event.

So I’m going to write a series of daily blogs until I’ve shared with you all the great stuff in my notebook. Do keep coming back, and pass the link www.londonhollywood.net to any filmy friends.

As Chris Jones, the inspirational founder of the festival likes to say… onward and upward!

Read the first of my daily LSF blogs here, featuring the inimitable Joe Eszterhas