12 Years a Slave - Steve MAC QUEEN Chiwetel EJIOFOR historical dramaHistorical drama is big in TV and film at the moment, but is it a good idea to write one? David Oman sent this question:

Hello Charles

I’m still enjoying your excellent books, and prefer studying them instead of venturing out on a Saturday evening…

The advice I require is, do you recommend a novice screenwriter should attempt to write a script based on history.

I’m interested in writing one. I know, if accepted, it would be costly to make. However, I would try and write the script within a reasonable budget…

Hi David

I’m pleased you’re still enjoying the books, and hope they are not stunting your party-going too much!

As for historical scripts – they are very difficult to do at a low budget as you say. Even a “reasonable” budget, to use your words, will be beyond an indie production, so you need to ensure that your story and characters have a large audience appeal.

Historical drama still needs to be fresh and different

I’d want a very strong pitch/log-line that really grabbed people, especially those who go to movies often or watch prime-time TV (you don’t say whether you are going for cinema or TV). Your storytelling skills will need to be very strong too.

Research the historical movies and TV dramas that succeed and be clear on what your audience is and what you are bringing that is fresh and different.

Better to have passion than settle for second-best

In general a novice writer would need to work hard to produce a script of the necessary quality – but if you are passionate about the subject, go for it. Better to write a story you feel strongly about than settle for second-best.

However, if you do I would suggest you:

(a) build up a varied portfolio including at least one low-budget script and

(b) think seriously about writing a version for the stage.

This would be a very clever way to promote your story, get good experience and see it produced, whether in a large theatre or on the fringe. Most screenwriters have theatre experience – and of course, unlike films, historical plays don’t need to cost significantly more to put on.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes
Charles