Thousands flock to screenplay courses

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RAYMOND CHANDLER'S only advice to aspiring writers was: "When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns." It's to the point, but it would not be enough for the legions of ordinary Britons who are lining up to join screen writing courses and workshops in the hope of hitting the movie big-time.

Yesterday, 250 lucky people in London attended the final day of Dove S Simmons' bi-annual course for aspiring screenwriters. Mr Simmons, from the Hollywood Film Institute, has begun coming to Britain regularly to give expert advice to the increasing number of people who want to learn the mechanics of writing and selling a screenplay.

For it seems anyone can have their chance. Last Sunday Channel 4 aired Dockers, its drama based on the Liverpool dock strike, which was written by 13 of those sacked in the dispute. The former dockers have formed a writing group and are keen to move on to other projects. And it is not just those with extraordinary experiences who are looking for a film writing career. Next month, Jimmy McGovern, the Cracker writer who advised the sacked dockers, will join Russell Davies, writer of Queer as Folk and Paul Abbott, who penned Touching Evil, in running a writing course as part of a Channel 4 screen writing competition. The winner of the competition will get the prize of a commission from the channel.

Almost every adult education college in the country is providing screen writing courses. Birkbeck College in London, which teaches a diploma in the subject, has had to start the country's first Internet screen writing course because the demand for places on its courses is so great. "It's definitely an area of increasing interest because everybody thinks they have a screenplay in them," says Penny Lazenby, who runs the Birkbeck courses. "We have 200 students studying screen writing every two terms and we've had to put on more courses than we did a few years ago."

Raindance, the London-based film festival which brings over Mr Simmons, sells out even its ordinary night courses three months in advance and attracts 80 people at a time to intensive, weekend seminars.

"We are moving to the Hollywood situation where every waiter has a movie idea in their back pocket," says Paul Gallagher, vice chair of the London Screenwriters' Workshop.

"People are attracted because they think writing a screenplay is more accessible than writing a novel. In fact, the crafting of a screenplay and understanding its structures and telling a story are very difficult.

"Also important is that we've moved from a reading culture to a viewing culture.

"And, of course, script writing is attracting people because there is a lot more money in it."