Scripts and screens, with Martin McCardie – 4 December 2019

Martin McCardie, actor; play-wright; screen writer and BBC producer, played to a full house on Wednesday evening, and what an entertaining and informative evening it was!

He began by telling us how his career started from a Y.O.P. scheme in Cumbernauld, through drama school, where he was also encouraged to try play-writing. His early acting career began on the stage and progressed to television via minor roles. His first Taggart part, for instance, was as a body – he died before the opening credits! However, larger and more demanding roles followed.

At this point, I feel I should mention, a Christmas elf appeared and tried, unobtrusively (unobtrusively??) to sneak into a seat. (don’t ask – just don’t ask)

Martin says he got back into play-writing, after a break of several years, after being prodded by his wife. She was sick of hearing him talking about it, but not actually doing any writing. That might ring a few bells for some of us. However, this successful play was performed at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow. He later tried to turn it into a TV script, only to be told it was crap! Apparently, turning a stage play or a novel into a screenplay is not something for the novice or the faint-hearted. It is better to begin with something less ambitious, such as a short film. There are many opportunities and competitions for short films (20 minutes) which give excellent feedback and can be a useful introduction to screen-writing.

Martin said that, in his later role as Story Advisor for BBC Scotland, he came to realise that 90% of new script-writers, make the same mistakes, to wit:-

1 Too much dialogue – make it visual
2 Secondary characters merely functional, not individuals.
3 Unnecessary dialogue about what we can already see
4 Scenes too long
5 Irrelevant scenes, put in just because you like them
6 Poor structure. Structure is essential
7 Extraneous action
8 Cast of thousands and exotic locations – way too expensive
9 The first ten pages are key
10 Don’t submit as soon as you’ve finished. Lots of errors come to light if you leave it for a while and then look at it again. You only have one chance to impress – don’t blow it.

Oh, and don’t tell the director how to direct!

This was altogether and excellent evening and must surely have encouraged many of the audience (even the elf) to have a go at our screen-writing competition in February.

Maggie Bolton

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