In conversation with Danny Brocklehurst, Screenwriter extraordinaire
Screen and Film School Manchester had the great pleasure of welcoming Danny Brocklehurst last week as a Masterclass guest, the first one of 2022, and what a way to kick things off it was.
Danny is a BAFTA award-winning screenwriter, as well as a producer, and is possibly best-known for his expert writing on such hit TV shows as Shameless, Clocking Off, and most recently helping to adapt two Harlan Coben novels, Stay Close and The Stranger, both for Netflix.
Our chat with Danny was particularly well-timed, as Stay Close was the number one Netflix show worldwide during the week of our Masterclass. Our students were very engaged during the remote broadcast, and the discussion ranged from these recent successes right back in time to how Danny first started out in the industry. Perhaps some of Danny’s writing talent stems from his upbringing in the town of Hyde in Cheshire, which is within touching distance of Screen and Film School Manchester. His early life and his first steps into the world of writing were all explored from the off as we asked Danny just how he got started in the industry:
‘It’s such a long answer that I’m going to have to truncate it. I’d been writing scripts and stories just for fun. Growing up in a working-class area of Manchester made it tough to become a writer. I had to go into the world of retail to begin with and that could’ve been my life. After a while I decided to change that and go back to college, then university and eventually started some journalism work. I continued to write plays and entered one of them into a radio competition. Incredibly it won and was then bought by Radio 4. My real big break came when I went to interview Paul Abbott. I happened to share with Paul that I was also a writer and Paul was kind enough to pass on a script to Red Production Company. I pitched some ideas to them which were optioned. That is a condensed version of a long series of disappointments which has led me to being here today.’
That was a deep dive into Danny’s origins as a screenwriter, full of important insights for our students as they take their very first steps into the world of film. Danny then elaborated on the notion of his upbringing and how that dovetailed nicely with his latest TV hit, Brassic, a co-creation with the talented actor Joe Gilgun:
‘Now is a better time than ever for diversity of voices. Brassic has a largely working class feel to it, and was developed in a close creative partnership with Joe for Sky. The general idea for the show is based on the experiences of Joe and the people he grew up around. It reminded me of what we did on Shameless and it sounded fun. I was ready to do something lighthearted which still retained a sense of drama. Brassic explores the theme of mental health. Thankfully for us, it was exactly what the people at Sky were looking for at the time.’
Switching topics and on to the subject of radio plays, we asked Danny if he had any tips when trying to enter that particular world:
‘You have to be considerate about working with a number of characters, and a certain number of actors, because budgets are usually tight. But there are other creative freedoms. It’s a great starting point for any budding writer. It all happens very fast. You learn a lot from it because you’re working with actors and producers, often for the first time. I would now class myself as a visual writer, but it is a really good medium for new writers.’
Towards the end of the Masterclass, our students had the opportunity to ask Danny some questions themselves. First up was Tom Botterill, a Screen and Film Manchester undergraduate. Tom wanted to know about Danny’s writing process, building characters, and if that process changes depending on the material:
‘I took to writing Brassic longhand, I thought it would be easier to with a pencil and a pad as I find it freeing to write comedy in that way. I’m not sure why. Probably because it is driven by dialogue. For me, the only way to work successfully is to keep regular work hours. On the subject of characters, I have loads of them in my head at any one time. The thing with cliché, it’s so difficult to define. One person’s cliché is another person’s truth. I just aim for something that seems reasonably truthful to me.’
Olivia Ward wanted to ask Danny about Shameless and which of the characters was his favourite.
‘I became known as the guy who would write Kev and Veronica, so they were my favourite characters. The two actors who played them – Maxine Peake and Dean Lennox Kelly – were fantastic too and I would work with them both again.’
Finally, Danny shared his top tips for all of our budding Screen and Film School writers:
‘In order to show your ability, you have got to have work to showcase and it has to be finished. A full completed script. Those scripts have to have an engaging first ten minutes. You also have to be proud of it. My second bit of advice would be, you have to be disciplined and you have to write. Although we all have busy lives, you have to find the time to carve something out. Even if it’s 30 minutes a day. Otherwise, you’ll never do it.’
With that brilliant bit of advice, Danny’s Masterclass came to a close. It was particularly inspiring for everyone at Screen and Film School Manchester to be able to interact with somebody who grew up in the area and has made it to the top of their field. We hope that this serves as a great motivator for our students, and we look forward to announcing more Masterclasses in the very near future.