Film industry recruits top writers to pen new British cinema classics

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The Independent Culture

As a nation, Britain produces novelists, playwrights and comedians beyond compare. But the number of respected movie screenplay writers it generates are less than plentiful. So, in a bid to create a new generation of Richard Curtises and expand the realm of British movies beyond the realms of Notting Hill, the film industry has decided to poach top talent from other writing genres.

With backing from the Government's training agency, Skillset, and the goodwill of film luminaries from Mike Figgis to Deborah Moggach, a select band has been chosen for movie hothousing.

They include Toby Young, the author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Rob Gittins, whose television and radio credits include EastEnders, Meg Rosoff, the author of award-winning novel How We Live Now, and Alison Penton Harper, a former advertising executive who won a Richard and Judy writing competition.

The group - known as the Writers Circle, in a nod to the Bloomsbury Group salon also calledthe Vicious Circle, once headed by the American wit Dorothy Parker - met for the first time this week.

They will be trying to follow in the footsteps of Tom Stoppard, David Hare, Patrick Marber, Simon Pegg and Harold Pinter in making the leap from stage, television or books to the big screen.

Briony Hanson, the director of the Script Factory, a not-for-profit film-making organisation, which is running the initiative, said members wondered whether they would meet resistance when they tried to poach from other fields. But more than 500 people applied.

"We thought we would look at some of the most interesting writers and see if we could persuade them to dip their toes into the screenwriting business. We'll give them some facts, some skills, some tools, that might help them make that leap."

There will be workshops followed by dinners with senior figures. Subjects will include the structure of the industry, a writer's working relationship with the director and the development process. "At the end of this year, we want to think that there will be people of great talent who have a good chance of getting through the doors and getting films made," Ms Hanson said.

Duncan Kenworthy, the chairman of the British film academy, Bafta, and producer of hits including 28 Days Later and Love, Actually, addressed the inaugural meeting on Tuesday.

"This is one of those ideas that you know is working because you think, 'Why hasn't it been done before?'" he said yesterday. "It makes sense to assume that people who know how to write can make the switch than gamble on people who have never written before."

The best screenwriters had often come from other genres, such as Anthony Minghella, who started as a playwright, and Richard Curtis, on television, he said.

"And in this group there are really quite starry writers. It's not as if they're beginners in any sense expect in the transition to film." Scripts were the foundation of a good movie, he added. "You can ruin a good script in transforming it into a film but it's very hard to make a good film out of a bad script."

Toby Young said he had always wanted to write a film, had previously attended several screenwriting courses and produced three or four scripts without success before now. "I even went to Los Angeles in 2004 with my wife and child in order to pursue a career in it that went pear-shaped," he said.

He said he hoped that this might finally help him break through. "I've got an idea for a screenplay I want to write over the course of the next nine months whilst a member of the Writer's Circle." he said. "I hope to really take advantage of being in a group of like-minded writers and the interaction with the industry."

The other chosen writers are Moira Buffini, a playwright; the novelists Lana Citron, Helen Cross and Donna Daley-Clarke; and Andrew Holmes, a journalist and novelist.