You’re in the UK — why are you only reading American Screenwriting Books?

The UK and the US film and TV industries are very different, in size and structure. When UK professionals in — for example —TV ask wannabe British screenwriters what their favourite shows are, they become frustrated when a long list of US shows emerges from the writer’s mouth.

But this bias is understandable. Apart from the huge influence of the US TV and film market on UK culture, most savvy screenwriters invest a large amount of time in reading how-to books and websites on screenwriting. Because of the size of the US population and US film and TV industry, 75% of these books are about the US market. And 100% of the famous ones are about that market.

Even the books that focus on craft rather than business are heavily influenced by the business side of the US market. They tend to use examples from the US markets.

What about if you’re a UK writer who’s only interested in working in the USA market? Then you need in bear in mind that the vast majority of working UK screenwriters made progress in their own country before they did in the USA.

There are two simple practical reasons. (1) Agents/managers of film writers in the USA like to shop their clients around meetings in LA, looking for their next assignment. That’s a $1000 flight for you each time, and hotel and car hire bills and jet lag. (2) If you want a career in US TV, you need to be living in LA.

There are exceptions to these — particularly to (1). You could be one of them. You really could.

But assuming you’re not, or that you want to work in the UK as a screenwriter, then how can a UK-based screenwriter become less naive about the UK TV and film industries? How can they become less burdened with often irrelevent facts about the USA industry? There are multiple websites about the UK TV and film industry, but there’s something nice, and helpful, and complete, about holding a book or a Kindle in my hands on the topic.

Thankfully there are multiple books about the UK film and TV industry. They are harder to find that their US versions — which come up top on most Amazon searches on screenwriting. Here are a few in my collection:

A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Directors — Farah Abushwesha (talks about film and TV — one of the my favourites)

The Insiders Guide to Writing for Television — Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker

The UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook — Timmy Clague and Danny Stack (reading this now, talks about film and TV)

The Screenplay Business — Peter Bloore (at times this is heavily academic, but great on the film development process, and contains some fabulous interviews with development professionals in the UK)

How to write for Television — William Smethurst

Writing for Television Series, Serials and Soaps — Yvonne Grace

Writing Television Drama — Nicholas Gibbs

The International Film Business: A Market Guide Beyond Hollywood — Angus Finney (this is somewhat out of date, and can be heavy going as it’s very business and finance oriented).

Make Money Screenwriting — Julian Friedmann (I haven’t read this yet, but Julian is a hugely influential UK agent, so I will).

Into the Woods — John Yorke (probably the only A-list screenwriting guru we have in the UK currently. Recommended to me by a producer at the BBC.)

As an aside, I strongly recommend reading UK film and TV scripts. I read a lot of UK TV scripts from the BBC Writers Room here.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you shouldn’t be learning about or making progress in a USA career. I am currently working with both a UK producer on a TV project, and a US director on a feature project.

But bear in mind that getting representation (manager or agent) in the US is much much harder if you live in the UK. You have to be really good to get taken seriously (because if they take you on, it’ll be that significantly harder to sell you for feature assignments, and for TV they’ll have to ask you to relocate).

I hope you find my list of books useful. I wish I’d read them in parallel with my obsessive reading of such US classics as Story, Save the Cat, How to Make a Good Script Great, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, etc etc etc.

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Alexis Kirke is a screenwriter and quantum/AI programmer. He has PhDs from an arts faculty and from a science faculty. http://www.alexiskirke.com

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Alexis Kirke

Alexis Kirke

Alexis Kirke is a screenwriter and quantum/AI programmer. He has PhDs from an arts faculty and from a science faculty. http://www.alexiskirke.com

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