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Metfilm School

Students Share: Screenwriting Advice from Lisa Holdsworth

By Elise Czyzowska

08 April 2024

Last month, we were honoured to host television writer Lisa Holdsworth at our Leeds campus. As part of her visit, Lisa spoke to BA Acting for Screen tutor Kate Chappell for a MetFilm School Masterclass, where she spoke through her career, including credits on EmmerdaleNew Tricks, and Robin Hood.

On top of this, our MA Screenwriting cohort were lucky enough to partake in one-on-one advice sessions with Lisa, and in today’s blog, we spoke to two students – Matthew King and Nayla Loik dos Santos, about their takeaways from this opportunity…

Firstly, can you share a little about your style as a screenwriter?

Matthew: I’d say I go for quite chatty dialogue, similar to Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha or Little Women (I hope one day I can be at her level!), and I’d say I’m also always trying to break conventions – this year I’ve tried to subvert the murder mystery, the superhero film, and most recently, the road trip film – how successful, that’s another question!

With genres and themes, I enjoy character pieces, just allowing them to exist in their worlds, which often brings about the theme of change – though I suppose that makes sense with the stage of life I’m in.

Nayla: As a writer, I feel that I’m usually trying to reproduce the content I enjoy watching: crime, heists, and difficult men (a nod to Brett Martin’s Difficult Men!) – things like The SopranosBreaking Bad, and Mad Men.

I’ve also found that as I’ve been developing my craft on this course, I’ve also been finding common themes throughout, such as obsession and masculinity.

Lisa Holdsworth gave a fantastic Masterclass – what were your top takeaways from the session?

Matthew: It was great to hear that she had remained in Leeds for most of her career, and that she’s always been able to consistently be a writer – that brought me a lot of hope.

It was also really interesting to hear the behind the scenes process: how best to handle certain complications or challenges, such as having to write 45 drafts of a pilot, only to revert back to the original! I can’t imagine the stress that one caused!

Nayla: It was fascinating to listen to how Lisa approaches characters and conflicts, and how central that is to television writing. Hearing her experience also gave me important insights into how the industry works, and how to prepare for pitching and approaching producers/studios.

Our MetFilm School Leeds Masterclass with Lisa Holdsworth

And then talking one-on-one with Lisa, what advice did she share for your development?

Matthew: I’d been struggling with the ‘engine’ of my story, and as I was sharing my episode ideas with Lisa, she found the hook of the story in my finale episode! That advice – which my tutor, Jacob Mulgrew, also echoed – has completely transformed my series, so I’m hugely grateful to Lisa for the time she spent with me!

Nayla: During my session, we spoke a lot about career options, and I asked advice on who to contact, and next steps after the course.

Lisa also helped me to find the ‘antagonist’ in my television show, looking at the whole story from a different perspective, which helped a lot to nail the structure and to make my characters more complex.

With Lisa’s advice in mind, how are you continuing to challenge yourself in your craft?

Matthew: In terms of challenging my craft, I think it helped me to understand not to settle with my first idea, and to always find the hook; to keep developing and see what you discover.

Lisa also mentioned experimenting with new mediums, such as scripted podcasts – I thought that was a brilliant idea, and I’m currently thinking up potential ideas!

Nayla: Writing, writing, and more writing! That’s it, isn’t it? Jokes aside, Lisa advised me to always have a second or third one-pager when presenting an idea, so I believe that’s what I’ll be doing while looking for an entry point into the industry.

BTS with Matthew King

And finally, besides Lisa… who would be your top pick for a future Masterclass guest in Leeds?

Matthew: There’s so many… Greta Gerwig, the Coen Brothers, Michaela Coel, Jesse Armstrong, or obviously someone like Martin Scorsese (although I’d be so scared of fumbling my time with him – I’d never forgive myself!)

Nayla: That’s a difficult question! I think I’d love to hear from any of the Succession writers, or someone from Doctor Who. Maybe also Brett Goldstein, he’d be a great brain to pick now that I’m writing a comedy – and I’d love to hear about the process on Ted Lasso and Shrinking.

  • Matthew King and Nayla Loik dos Santos are both studying MA Screenwriting at MetFilm School Leeds. This course is also available in London and Berlin.
  • Explore our full range of MA Degree at our upcoming Postgraduate Virtual Open Event, happening Wednesday 8 May, 6pm BST.