WriteWords talks to screenwriter Paul Powell, who has written for Dream Team, The Bill, Where The Heart Is and many other prime time shows- he tells us why 'going in late, getting out early' is important.
Tell us something about your background.
I started writing in 1989 after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Before that I had worked for thirteen years in the catering trade having left school at fifteen with no qualifications. I co-wrote ‘Go Now,’ with Jimmy McGovern, which was filmed by the BBC and shown on BBC 2 in 1995. It was subsequently shown at The Edinburgh Film Festival, and had minor success worldwide in small art house cinemas. As a new writer I was being paid on a contract negotiated by Jimmy McGovern’s agent, working with the likes of Robbie Carlyle, James Nesbitt, Sophie Okenado (early days) and Juliet Aubrey, in a film directed by Michael Winterbottom. I used this experience to learn as much as I could about the creative process. Subsequently I was being paid to take part in a master class with some of the best in the business. ‘Go Now’, being based on my own experiences with MS, I did poke my nose in now and again, but mostly it was a watch and learn experience. After that I was dropped from these heady heights to make my own way in the TV World. At first it was a bit of a struggle, but after writing a follow up to ‘Go Now,’ called ‘A Different Kind Of Love,’ things started to happen. Though this screenplay has never been filmed it became my calling card, and opened the door to the TV World. I have since written for ‘Dream Team,’ ‘The Vice,’ ‘Where the Heart Is,’ ‘The Bill,’ and worked as a storyliner on ‘The Lakes.’ I have also done an adaptation for Scottish television. I am now working on a screenplay based on the story behind ‘A Different Kind of Love', and trying to do a treatment for a thriller idea, based on an incident from my past life.
Do you do other writing-related work?
I have been teaching Phil Parker's, ‘An Introduction to Screenwriting,’ at my local Community College for two years now. I also do other creative writing courses for the college. The latest being a Writers' Surgery which is a fancy way of advertising a writers workshop.
How did you start writing?
I was confined to a wheelchair for the first two years of my MS, and realised, MS being a brain disease, I needed something to do to keep my brain active. I had always been a big fan of the movies, so when I saw a course called, ‘Writing for Film and TV,’ advertised I thought I’d give it a go.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Jimmy McGovern, because he taught me so much, the best thing being, “Go into the scene late, and get out early.” I like The Cohen Brothers, because they’re not afraid to keep it real. Steven King, because he tells a bloody good story. Horror may be the genre he chose, but his stories are much deeper than that. Paul Abbott, because… well, because I like his stuff.
How did you get your first agent?
I was very lucky. Jimmy McGoverns’ agent represented me on ‘Go Now,’ and when that was finished she passed me on to one of her colleagues in her agency.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Having to cut that wonderfully written, witty, deep, heart felt scene because it’s not really needed.
And the best?
Nothing is lost. I saved that wonderfully written, witty, heart felt scene, and realised it will fit into another project I was working on.
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences and if/how this affects/influences your writing
Not famous enough to gauge audience reactions. The critics seemed to like what I was trying to say, and just as importantly, the way I was trying to say it. As with any writer, that one derogatory comment would outweigh all those nice things they say, but as with audience reaction, it will not change the way I write. I feel I have something to say, if they don’t want to listen that’s up to them.
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