If 2020 has been a year to forget for producers, it’s been a year of opportunity for some writers. In the darkest depths of lockdown, when cameras had stopped rolling and an industry had largely downed tools, there was a rush of activity at the keyboard. With time to think and create, development has been a lifeline. A number of our picks for this year’s Rising TV Scribes list are testament to this, having secured options or commissions in the rubble of coronavirus.
This Deadline feature, now in its second year, seeks to spotlight this work by celebrating some of the buzziest new British writers in the business. This talented bunch has its hands in everything from iconic brands, such as The Crown, to some of the freshest new shows that will land on TV next year. They traverse genres including epic fantasy, horror and history, while many are creating authored series that speak to their own experiences. Many are making waves in the UK, but some are also nurturing the flames of a career in the U.S.
Scroll on for our rundown of the eight Rising TV Scribes to watch for in 2021.
The Clarkson Twins
Michael and Paul Clarkson, twins from Bolton, are built for this golden age of IP in Hollywood. Their love of fantasy has seen them work on HBO/BBC co-pro His Dark Materials, Amazon’s The Wheel of Time and now Dungeons and Dragons.
The pair got their start writing plays such as Embittered at the Young Vic Theatre and Airplane-meets-Titanic, Death Ship 666. Michael, with the help of locals and businesses in Bolton as well as Ian McKellan, got an MFA in screenwriting from USC, while his brother Paul focused on science, working in nuclear and energy systems research. “When twins separate, you can bring in two worlds worth of experience and share across ideas and argue,” Paul told Deadline.
They got their first break in TV on His Dark Materials after Bad Wolf co-founder Jane Tranter optioned a script and they consulted on the Jack Thorne-penned series. The pair have also worked on the Apple TV+ drama See, Amazon’s fantasy drama The Wheel of Time and Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor. Soon followed Bolton-based horror drama Red Rose, an original series created by the pair for the BBC and Netflix, which they describe as Down You Go meets The Ring and Scream. The series was meant to start shooting in June but, due to Covid-19, has been pushed back to the start of 2021.
All of this has culminated in the pair developing a television series based on the classic world of Dungeons and Dragons for eOne. They are one of a number of writers working on ideas for a small screen adaptation. “There’s no certainties but we have loved those books as well since being teenager,” said Paul. “Whether it’s the Star Wars universe, the Marvel universe, The Wheel of Time universe or the Dungeons and Dragons universe, we’ve immersed ourselves in that world, for decades without realizing it by virtue of reading the books,” added Michael.
In fact, the pair have presented their ideas to Wizards of the Coast, the experts behind the game. “They looked at our timeline based on the stories we tell, which characters, where, and when and how it would culminate in a final season in ten years and they’re like that’s right, that looks correct,” said Paul. “We know the finale. We know how it ends in our head,” added Michael.
“By being twins, being working class, when you say something as ambitious as, ‘I want to get to Hollywood,’ people try and tell you not to aim so high because you’ll get disappointed, but by virtue of being twins it was like, ‘We should try this,’” said Michael. “We are excited how we can release our twin hive mind on big IP,” added Paul.
The Clarkson Twins are represented by ICM Partners and Independent Talent Group.
As first writing credits go, Eve Hedderwick Turner’s introduction to the world of television is something of a head-turner. The former actress is penning a series for ViacomCBS-owned Channel 5 which will bring a contemporary twist to a familiar Tudor tale by casting Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn in a story about the Queen’s final five months.
“It was such a rapid decline from going from the most powerful position in court after the King to head on a chopping block. That was a great contained space to tell a drama in,” Hedderwick Turner says. The writer adds that she and producers at Fable Pictures were keen from the outset to challenge expectations with the casting — and Turner-Smith’s lead role is already raising eyebrows in the British tabloid press. Hedderwick Turner says she is perfect for the part. “Jodie is a complete natural queen. She is magnetic and has this deep dignity that she brings to the part.”
Hedderwick Turner secured the job after Fable was approached by historian Dan Jones and Channel 5 boss Ben Frow about taking on an Anne Boleyn series. She had been talking to the company about other projects, but when the Boleyn series was mentioned, she jumped at the chance to write the show. “I’m no history expert, but have always loved that period in time,” she reflects. The drama wrapped in December after a six-week shoot. “I shed a little tear,” she laughs.
Hedderwick Turner realized she wanted to give up acting to focus on writing after she penned a role for herself in a short film, titled The Fig Tree. She says performing her own work was anguish-inducing, while the writing was rewarding. Her writing ambitions were further cemented by a friendship with White Lines and The Inbetweeners Movie star Laura Haddock, with whom she developed a TV project about Sylvia Plath that remains in the works. Hedderwick Turner is also working on a horror feature film, titled Dispossed, about a woman’s attempts to save her council estate from demolition. It’s been commissioned by the BFI for script development and is housed at Dorothy Street Pictures.
Hedderwick Turner is repped by Independent Talent.
Matthew Michael Jacobs is balancing being a writer, actor, and director with a slew of projects both in front of and behind the camera.
Jacobs broke out with his short film Mine, a family drama about post-natal depression within a same-sex couple that played at film festivals including BFI Flare. He is now adapting it as a full-length feature with the BFI and producers Mary Burke and Joy Gharoro Akpojotor. He is also working with the BFI on another film project, Loco Parentis. “It’s sort of been a bit of an unorthodox route into the industry,” he tells Deadline.
But he’s also seeing early success on the television side. His original project Lamb and Mutton is set up at the BBC with producer Tiger Aspect. The show is loosely based on his relationship with his grandmother. “It’s a queer coming-of-age story about an elderly lesbian and her queer grandson, and they have their coming of age together,” he adds.
Right now, he’s working on Amazon drama The Rig, a supernatural thriller from David Macpherson and producer Wild Mercury, writing alongside Macpherson and Meg Salter. “I think it’s such a brilliant idea, and the team are really, really lovely,” he says.
Jacobs has also scored a blind script deal with U.S. cable network AMC, home to one of his favorite shows, The Walking Dead, and Brit drama Killing Eve. “It’s really exciting,” he says. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly what the idea is; we’re dancing around a couple of ideas that we’ll [lock down] in the new year.”
On screen, he’s also set to feature in Starstruck, the BBC/HBO Max co-production from Rose Matafeo and Catastrophe producer Avalon.
Jacobs is repped by Grandview, Curtis Brown, and The Agency.
Laura Deeley has written on shows including The Crown and Ozark, but she got her break with a script titled By The Time You Read This — a comedy about suicide. That led her to work on Kiss Me the First, the YA drama from Skins creator Bryan Elsey that aired on Channel 4 and Netflix.
It was then that she got her royal call-up to work on Peter Morgan’s Netflix drama The Crown. She started on Season 2 of the Left Bank-produced drama and a water-bottle tour of the U.S. then landed her a gig on Ozark. She started on Season 3 of the Jason Bateman-fronted drama and has continued through the supersized final Season 4, which is now shooting. “So, I’m going to know what happens at the end of Ozark for two years and I won’t be able to tell anyone,” she jokes.
But having spent the best part of three years in the States, she has enjoyed the process. “You hear the horror stories about rooms, but it’s been delightful,” she said. “I think coming as a British writer, people do it so differently here. Writers’ rooms go on for so much longer. There’s like a rigor that I really enjoy about the American process and the collaborative kind of quality to it.”
Deeley is now developing her own projects and has finished two pilots. She’s keen to work on shows that can have a life in both the U.S. and UK. One such project is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1954 novel The Bird’s Nest, which is in development at the BBC and tells the story of a young woman, Elizabeth Richmond, with multiple personality disorder.
The pandemic has certainly not slowed Deeley. “It’s a good timing really because I can take a few months to kind of just develop my own thing. You just want to give your all to whatever you’re working on. So, it’s nice to have, like, a little bit of breathing space.”
Deeley is repped by ICM Partners and 42.
Guy Bolton has gone from being a mid-level television executive to writing books and entering the world of Bad Robot in a short space of time. Having dabbled with comedy pilots with the likes of Tiger Aspect and Flack producer Hat Trick, Bolton got his break after penning two books: The Pictures and The Syndicate. The former was about a detective at the LAPD who works as a fixer for Hollywood studios, covering up crimes of the studio players, while follow-up The Syndicate takes that central character, Jonathan Craine, and thrusts him into the dark underbelly of the L.A. mafia. He has sold The Pictures to Hell or High Water and Outlaw King director David Mackenzie and his production company Sigma Films has adapted it for the big screen.
“I’m kicking myself because it was really difficult to adapt. I thought it would be easy,” he admits. “But after I wrote The Syndicate, I felt like I was a much better writer and that maybe I had a voice and had something to say.”
Bolton then wrote The Croupier, an original pilot script that is in development with Gentleman Jack producer Lookout Point and Sky. “That really changed things for me, The Croupier is the script that has opened doors for me,” he said.
Having also written a dance musical called The Dancer, which he says is a cross between A Star Is Born and La La Land, and a feature script. Bolton is now working in the extended J.J. Abrams universe with Bad Robot, Warner Bros Television on one of Abrams’ upcoming HBO Max projects. “I’ve been very fortunate with Bad Robot. You’re talking about some of the best and they’re very humble and downplay it, but when I get notes from them they’re really thoughtful notes, and coming from a place of really knowing what they’re talking about. So, I feel incredibly blessed,” he adds.
Bolton is repped by ICM Partners, Grandview, and United Agents.
After taking her one-woman show from stage to BBC Three, Nicôle Lecky has invited comparisons with a certain Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who pulled off the same trick with a little series called Fleabag in 2016. Lecky’s comedy-drama-musical, Superhoe, is very different, but she understands the parallels. “I get it, you’re going to have comparisons as there are just not enough [of us],” the writer-performer says.
Superhoe follows a wannabe singer and rapper who is thrown out of her family home and moves in with a party girl who introduces her to a world of social-media influencing and sex work. Lecky performed the show at the Royal Court in London, winning rave reviews and generating a bunch of interest from TV producers. Unlucky for those producers in the audience, Superhoe had already been optioned by The Last Post producer Bonafide and was in development with the BBC before the curtain went up.
Lecky praises the BBC for backing the project at such an early stage. “They didn’t know me from Adam. I went in, they read it, I met the commissioner, I talked through the show and they asked me to write a pilot,” she explains. The series shoots in late February 2021 and there is already interest from potential U.S. partners. “We are talking to people in the U.S., but it isn’t with anybody at the moment. I want the widest audience possible, it’s such a nuanced take on a Britishness we haven’t even seen in England,” she adds. “I’m so gassed up about it.”
Lecky dropped out of university to attend drama school, but first discovered her love of writing on EastEnders spinoff E20 for the BBC. She also secured credits on E4’s youth drama Youngers after sending a spec script for the show to the creator. Other credits include Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge, while earlier this year, she wrote an episode of ITV’s drama shorts series Unsaid Stories. Her episode, “Lavender,” focuses on a light-skinned woman having to evaluate her relationship with her white mother after giving birth to a baby with darker skin.
Next up for Lecky is a stage musical and an original TV drama she is developing with BBC Studios-backed Firebird Pictures, titled Virginia. “It’s set in Virginia Water, Surrey, and it’s about these two women who fall out when they discover their teenage daughters are running a sexting ring at their private school. It’s a thrilling, contemporary drama spotlighting female relationships,” she explains.
Lecky is repped by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
Tony Schumacher’s journey into writing is worthy of TV series in itself. The Liverpool-born scribe always dreamed of putting pen to paper as a profession, looking up to local heroes including Boys from the Blackstuff writer Alan Bleasdale. But when he flunked his school exams, Schumacher thought his dream had died and he turned to other professions. “I became a roofer on the basis they both began with R. That was how thick I was,” he jokes.
From roofing, he went into the police force and spent 11 years on the beat, including time as a night responder (more on that later). But Schumacher’s spell in the force came to an end when he had a nervous breakdown, which left him homeless and living out a car with his dog. “When you hit the bottom, you can’t fall any further. It was a kind of freedom in a way,” he recalls. So Schumacher returned to his dream.
He took on a job as a taxi driver and when a magazine editor stepped into his car, he managed to hustle a side gig writing vignettes about his passengers. “The opened up the door. Writing those columns enabled me to revisit those storytelling skills,” he adds. Schumacher’s confidence grew. One night, after an arduous night in the cab, he came home to a documentary about the Channel Islands during World War II that featured a propaganda photo of a British policeman holding open a door for a Nazi officer. That became the inspiration for his first novel, The Darkest Hour, which was published by HarperCollins.
Schumacher went on to pen two other novels, but the lingering urge to write for television remained. He took some time out from book writing and sent a spec script to Liverpool-based LA Productions. That same script was serendipitously picked up by multi-BAFTA winning writer Jimmy McGovern on a visit to the office. Hours later, McGovern and Schumacher were sharing a beer in a Merseyside pub. “He’s mentored me from then onwards,” Schumacher says, including advising him to “write you” for his first script.
This ultimately became The Responder, a BBC One series starring Sherlock and Fargo actor Martin Freeman as a night shift police officer. It’s Schumacher’s first TV project and he wrote the show for Freeman. Producer Dancing Ledge Productions, which made BBC/AMC hit The Salisbury Poisonings, took it to the actor and it was optioned within days. The show shoots from February next year.
Schumacher says he has got “lots of plates spinning” at the moment — to the point where his agent is having to pull him back. “If someone phoned me up now and said, ‘Do you want to write a shopping list?’ I’d sign up for it. Just because it’s exciting and new,” he laughs. Among his development projects is The Country Lines, with Fremantle-backed Castlefield, which spotlights a story on gambling addiction.
The 53-year-old now has an eye on directing and even Hollywood. Given his journey so far, you wouldn’t bet against him making it a reality. “I can’t believe I’m getting away with it, it’s a brilliant experience. I can’t believe I’m doing this for a living,” he reflects.
Schumacher is repped by The Agency.
As with last year, our list features the writer who topped the Brit List — a rundown of the best unproduced scripts in the country. London-based Irish writer Karen Cogan was triumphant in 2019, while 2020 was Amy Guyler’s year.
The Nottingham-born scribe secured 12 recommendations for her eight-part series The Jude Problem, which spotlights a sibling relationship with a supernatural twist. When her estranged mum goes missing, Jess is forced home to track her down and on arrival, she discovers she has a 9-year-old half-brother named Jude.
“I wanted to do a brother and sister relationship and I wanted it to be much more of a parental relationship, with a blurring of lines. I thought we’re going to have the mum who has gone missing, social services are involved, it’s going to be a huge responsibility for our main character Jess,” Guyler says. “It was all going to be quite gloomy, so I wanted to elevate it — and that’s where the idea of Jude having special powers comes from. It ended up being quite light with lots of funny moments.”
Guyler wrote the script during the first lockdown in the UK and by the second lockdown, it had secured a home at The Man in the High Castle producer Headline Pictures and topped the Brit List. There is little doubt, then, that she has turned the coronavirus pandemic to her advantage, explaining that the time at home gave her the “headspace” to pen The Jude Problem. “It was my little escapism,” she smiles.
Alongside getting her first original script away, Guyler holds down a full-time drama coordinator role at Brontë Film & TV and has been writing for BBC One’s flagship soap opera EastEnders. Her first episode transmitted at the start of December and her second goes out in February. She’s now hoping to secure a third. It’s a show she watches religiously, so it’s been something of a dream to secure a writing credit.
EastEnders is not the only show Guyler watches voraciously — she is TV-obsessed and views with subtitles turned on so she can inspect the dialogue. “I’m so addicted to watching TV. It makes you a better writer,” she says, adding that Succession represents the pinnacle for her. Guyler has other projects in with Wild Mercury, The Forge and Two Rivers. She is particularly animated about the Wild Mercury project, which is set in her hometown of Nottingham and tells the story of a crime in the 1970s, ’80s and the modern day.
Guyler is repped by The Agency.