The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Phil Clarke.
Phil Clarke is a UK-based script consultant and screenwriter with over twenty years’ service to cinema. After years working 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 screen and the page. His screenplays have spent time with production companies both in the UK and Hollywood, including a James Bond ‘scriptment’ considered for the twentieth entry in the franchise. As a script consultant for over a decade, 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 débuting at Cannes.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well written?
The last film I thought was particularly well put together was Palm Springs — a kind of Groundhog Day rom-com featuring Brooklyn 99’s Andy Samberg. That felt very fresh and kept me deeply engaged. I’ve also recently watched the Johnny Worricker trilogy starring Bill Nighy and written by the playwright David Hare – Page Eight, Turks & Caicos, and Salting the Battlefield. These are three espionage dramas in the vein of Le Carre rather than Ian Fleming with superb dialogue (as you’d expect from an award-winning writer for the stage.)
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
I started reading screenplays as work following my years working on the sets of movies like Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, Star Wars and Harry Potter. For example, on the latter I was Chris Columbus’ on-set personal assistant.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Absolutely. But you do need to be willing to be taught. Many aspiring screenwriters seem too keen to find a shortcut and bypass the learning side.
4. What are the components of a good script?
Tough to answer succinctly in a Q&A like this, but a good script tends to be well structured, have a well-executed and compelling premise along with engaging, relatable protagonists.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Generally speaking, I see too many new writers wanting to rush through the process. Consequently, they submit their work too early when several rewrites would have immeasurably improved the project. More specifically, I see poor grammar and spelling, inadequate formatting, poorly defined characters with unclear goals and a lack of conflict in the scenes and in the story as a whole.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
Personally, my heart always sinks when I see a script open with a voice-over narration. It’s often a sign that the entire script will be uninspiring and derivative. While it’s a way to convey a lot in a small amount of time, most writers don’t use it in the right way. Dream sequences and flashbacks more often than not annoy because of the way they’re usually handled. Cutting back unnecessarily to explain or overload with exposition certainly grates.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
It’s hard to limit it to just three, but I would say:
1) know your story inside out and the reason for your story
2) above all else, make your story entertaining
3) never stop trying to improve your writing. Continue to hone your craft, and never think you’re the finished article.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
Yes, of course. I would be most disenchanted with my job if I hadn’t. But these stick-on, guaranteed ‘recommend’ reads are rare. As for the loglines, I’m afraid I am unable to give you one.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
It depends on the contest. Some are beneficial, others – not so much. Make sure to research which ones offer you the most for your time and money. If they can guarantee your script will be read by those who can help get your script sold then they’re definitely worth it as that’s what all writers are aiming for.
10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
People can find me all over the internet. I’m on Twitter (@philmscribe) and Instagram (@philmscribe), Facebook (@philmscribeconsultancy), Stage32.com and LinkedIn. Or they can reach me via my website: www.philmscribe.com
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
I also love my pie. Anything from Key Lime to Raspberry Crumble. I’m also partial to a quality Tarte Tatin.