Starred Up has opened on general release to critical acclaim. Jonathan Asser’s script is a tough portrait of a father son relationship played out in the confines of brutal prison life. Jonathan developed his script, using Euroscript, attending a workshop run by Charles Harris, residential Euroscript workshops run by Anne Woods, and on later drafts with script editing advice from Paul Gallagher who has interviewed him here, for our blog.
What got you writing initially?
Mental health problems in my early twenties got me writing initially. My therapist suggested I write down my dreams and bring them to the sessions. I found this helpful and began to do more writing as a way of trying to contain my fragile and traumatised state.
What decided you to write script and Starred Up?
A friend called Marie-Louise Hogan read my poetry book, Outside the All Stars, and because she felt I had a visual imagination, she suggested I try writing for the screen. Starred Up was my first feature attempt, and it felt right to capitalize on my prison background, where I'd originated a new form of psychodynamic therapy called Shame/Violence Intervention (see here). Starred Up is a work of fiction, but my real-life experience perhaps gave me an edge.
Do you set yourself a place and a routine for writing?
No, I just go with the flow.
How did you develop your script?
I developed the script by attending Arvon courses for several years. I'm indebted to Olivia Hetreed, David Pirie, Neil Hunter, A.L. Kennedy, Rupert Walters, Penny Woolcock and Chris Dennis for their help. In addition, I benefitted from attending Anne Woods' Euroscript courses in Spain and France, where Jeremy Hylton Davies was also involved. Then for two and a half years leading up to shooting, I worked closely with the Starred Up director, David Mackenzie, and had Flim4 input from Sam Lavender and Katherine Butler.
What advice would you give writers approaching the industry?
I'd advise writers to go on residential Arvon courses. They're great, because not only do you get to show your work to industry professionals, but also you get to hang out with them over several days.
And with your success, what is your plan now for the future?
I'd like to have a go at writing for television. Also, I'd like to continue my Shame/Violence Intervention work in some form; sadly, it was stopped by civil servants at the end of 2010, but it's possible Starred Up may have helped open up a new pathway. I'm excited by the possibilities.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
My main tip would be to try and write as personally as possible in order to generate characters that come from from deep inside. That's how to create original, compelling and emotionally authentic material.
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