The year 2019 was a particularly good year for Brits in Hollywood, culminating in half of the Primetime Emmys heading to the other side of the pond with the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Succession creator Jesse Armstrong winning big.
British and Irish writers have always done well in the U.S. both in television and on the feature side, but the last few years have been particularly kind to those making the 6,000-mile trek to Tinseltown, from The Mentalist and Gotham’s Bruno Heller to Saving Mr Banks and Terra Nova writer Kelly Marcel and Catastrophe co-creator Sharon Horgan.
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As such, Deadline is taking a look at the next generation of British and Irish writers who are making waves in the UK and stand a good chance of landing a hit U.S. series.
After working on long-running British dramas including Holby City, Casualty and EastEnders via the BBC Writers Academy, Scottish writer Kirstie Swain scored gigs on BBC Three and Pop TV drama Clique.
That led to her own project, six-part Channel 4 series Pure, produced by Doctor Foster producer Drama Republic. The show, based on Rose Cartwright’s eponymous book, starred Charly Clive as Marie, who is plagued with disturbing thoughts. It launches on HBO Max in 2020. “I’d grown up watching Channel 4 shows like Eurotrash secretly in my bedroom,” she told Deadline. “I was so proud seeing a young woman from a regional background in a primetime slot.”
Next up for Swain is BBC Three comedy pilot Ladybaby, produced by Broadchurch producer Kudos. The project follows a struggling 35-year stand-up who comes off stage one night to discover the 20-year-old daughter she gave up for adoption. She is also working on an adaptation of C J Skuse’s novel Sweetpea with See-Saw Films for Sky Atlantic, which Swain describes as a millennial, female Dexter.
Elsewhere, she is also developing Mankillers, a world-building drama about a real-life female warrior tribe, with Killing Eve producer Sid Gentle.
2020 promises to be just as busy for Swain as 2019 was. “I’ve always been a dreamer and an overthinker; when I think why I wanted to become a writer, it’s because I like controlling worlds because I can’t control this one,” she said. “And you can always use the comebacks you think of too late.” Swain is represented by Troika Talent and UTA.
Anya Reiss has achieved what most rising writers are aiming for: scoring a big-budget drama for a major U.S. cable network.
Reiss is head writer and exec producer on Becoming Elizabeth, an eight-part historical drama about a young Elizabeth I as she ascends the throne and becomes embroiled in the political and sexual politics of the Tudor Court.
The series, which starts filming in the summer, is produced by The Forge, which has made series including Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 and Hulu trilogy National Treasure, Kiri and The Accident. Reiss had previously worked with the All3Media-backed production company on Channel 4’s school-based drama Ackley Bridge.
Reiss got her first break writing play Spur of the Moment for the Royal Court, a story about “a young girl having sex when she shouldn’t,” subject matter that draws parallels with Elizabeth I, whose love life, or lack thereof, was the gossip of her day.
“I’ve never done a history series before but it feels like a sea of ideas and you can go down every avenue you want,” she told Deadline.
Having initially wanted to be an actor, Reiss told Deadline she preferred the “control” of writing. Becoming Elizabeth was initially developed for British networks before landing at Starz. “There’s much more writer-led television in the U.S. than in the UK. In America, you’re much more in the forefront as a writer,” she added.
She has previously worked closely with A Very English Scandal producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins, who recently set up his own ITV-backed production company, and her adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull is heading to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre in 2020, with Jamie Lloyd directing Game of Thrones’ star Emilia Clarke.
Reiss also has one eye on a feature film that she’d like to do and added that she’s keen to eventually move into directing in feature or theater. Reiss is repped by Curtis Brown.
London-based Irish writer Karen Cogan makes our list after topping another ranking this year: The Brit List. Alexandra Arlango’s rundown of the best unproduced drama scripts ranked Cogan’s Fled in the top spot after it was endorsed by 20 industry executives. It tells the story of a pregnant girl and a scared nun who are forced together to find some kind of freedom in the last remaining Mother and Baby Home in 1990s Ireland.
Cogan, who has written on Season 2 of BBC Three comedy Young Offenders, said she was “overwhelmed” by The Brit List accolade and it has opened up new conversations about Fled. So much so, the script has been picked up by A Very English Scandal producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins as one of the first projects for his new ITV Studios-backed indie.
She trained as an actress and got into writing four years ago after improvising characters and then later writing about them. Cogan described her storytelling as women-led with a queer perspective and a “darkly comedic tone.” She is having to juggle different projects for the first time next year, including a show titled Tangent with ITV’s Silverprint Pictures and Gobnait with Warp Films. The former is a family drama about heartbreak late in life, while Gobnait tells the story of an Irish woman in her 60s whose life changes dramatically. Cogan is also in live conversations with a broadcaster about an adaptation of her play, Drip Feed, through Witchery Pictures.
“I usually curl up on the sofa and hope that something comes out, but I’m going to try sitting at a desk and looking like a proper writer,” she joked. Cogan is represented by Independent Talent Group.
Nina Metivier was inspired into writing by books including His Dark Materials, and her love of sci-fi and adventure has translated into working on high-concept stories including her BBC and Netflix drama The A List and Doctor Who.
She started out as a script editor at Kindle Entertainment, contributing to shows including BBC One’s modern adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, before moving on to pen the BBC’s BAFTA-winning online children’s drama Dixi.
Metivier later successfully applied to be a script editor on Season 11 of Doctor Who, the first to feature Jodie Whittaker as the Time Lord. She stepped away from Doctor Who to write The A List with Dan Berlinka but returned for Season 12 — this time to write her own episode of the global smash hit drama. The installment will air in the New Year, and Metivier said it was “really exciting” to play in the Doctor Who sandbox.
She is now developing a second season of The A List for Netflix, adding that the BBC is no longer involved after originally launching the Kindle-produced show in 2018. “It was picked up by Netflix for worldwide and now they’re looking at a second series,” Metivier said. She is also working on a show for Bad Wolf, which has a fitting symbolism given the company made His Dark Materials. Metivier is represented by Berlin Associates.
Namsi Khan has gone from working in asset finance to having credits on some of the biggest international co-productions such as Humans, The Night Manager and His Dark Materials.
She moved from Pakistan to Manchester in the 1990s with her pop star father. “I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be a writer but I was very introverted and read a lot of books like Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. It was the first book I read that blew my imagination into a dimension that I didn’t know existed,” she told Deadline.
Khan wrote her first script four years ago, Brown Tape, which made this year’s Brit List, the British equivalent of The Black List. The family thriller follows British Pakistani immigrant, Saad Maliq, as he attempts to settle old scores and claim control of Manchester’s drug trade by intercepting a shipment of Afghani heroin.
From there, she got her break on BBC Three series Five by Five, produced by Idris Elba’s Green Door Pictures, before working on Season 3 of AMC and Channel 4 sci-fi drama Humans, a stint on Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and an attempt to break a second season for spy drama The Night Manager.
An episode on the second season of HBO and BBC drama His Dark Materials allowed Khan to come full circle. “It’s truly a joy to have my name attached to a show whose books I love,” she said.
Next up in 2020 is a potential project with the BBC, and she is also hoping that Brown Tape proceeds and is plotting other stories close to her. “The aim is to write my own show and put my truth out there and be vulnerable. I want to write something that puts a British Pakistani female character at the heart of the story and show viewers what it’s like to grow up in London 2020 and all of the confusion that comes with that.” Khan is repped by Independent Talent Group, UTA and Grandview.
Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio took Chris Brandon under his wing after reading his pilot script for a detective series set in Northern Ireland. That script was eventually commissioned as James Nesbitt-fronted series Bloodlands by BBC One last month, and it will be the first show made by Mercurio’s production company Hat Trick Mercurio Television.
Brandon has written for shows including TV3’s Irish police drama Red Rock after initially wanting to be an actor, but said the experience of working alongside Mercurio — who also penned BBC hit Line of Duty — had been transformative.
“It’s intimidating because he is one of the top, if not the top writer in the country at the moment — certainly in the thriller genre. He shows you how high the bar should be and how to work your arse off in the best possible way,” Brandon told Deadline.
Brandon is still heads down on his Irish noir Bloodlands following the first cast read-through last week. Looking ahead, he is keen to work on another adaptation after reworking Simon Conway’s novel Rock Creek Park for Big Talk Productions. The development is no longer live, but Brandon said he enjoyed the experience. Brandon is represented by United Agents.
The UK has a long tradition of playwrights moving from theater to screen and Milly Thomas is one of the latest stars of the stage causing a buzz.
Her one-woman play Dust, which follows a young woman named Alice who kills herself and is forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on her family and friends, started at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before moving to the Soho Theatre and eventually Off-Broadway. The New York Times raved about it, describing it as if Phoebe Waller-Bridge had remade Ghost, and Thomas is now adapting it for television with Sharon Horgan and her production company Merman. “Sharon and Clelia [Mountford] are whipsmart women and they walk that tightrope of comedy, tragedy in the mundane,” Thomas told Deadline.
Thomas said the industry is starting to open up about these types of stories. “We’re at a time where we’re making drama where mental health is the focus front and center and we’re not just saying ‘We’ve got one, that’s enough,’ because no one’s experience is the same,” she said.
Thomas has moved between acting, starring in series including The Crown and Sex Education, and writing, having learned early on that she wanted to have the “choice” and “agency” that writing her own scripts allowed. “It’s about collaboration. I realized the thing I loved about acting was telling stories, and I had an epiphany that I can tell stories on my own time and I just wrote,” she said.
She also wrote on BBC Three and Pop TV’s college-set drama Clique and is currently adapting Anneliese Mackintosh’s So Happy It Hurts for television with Alex Rider producer Eleventh Hour Films. “It’s about a woman who decides to quit drinking and realizes she’s an alcoholic and forced to examine why she was doing it,” she said. “It’s really colorful and poppy.”
While she admitted that the British TV business can still sometimes “feel like a closed book,” she is proud to be working in television. “People are really starting to listen to us and give us the space to tell these stories,” she added. Thomas is repped by Grandview, UTA for acting and writing in the UK and WME for writing in the U.S.
BBC Three’s BAFTA-winning domestic drama Murdered By My Father represented Vinay Patel’s big break in the TV industry, and now the writer has gone global by becoming a fixture on Doctor Who.
Patel started in theatre and it was his Edinburgh Fringe show True Brits that brought him to the attention of the BBC for Murdered By My Father. “They took a massive punt on me. That was announced at the start of June 2015 and we were shooting by September — it was a massive baptism of fire,” he said.
Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall saw the script and met with Patel before signing him up as a writer on Season 11 of the sci-fi show. Patel has also written another episode for Season 12, which premieres next year. His other credits include ITV’s Good Karma Hospital.
Looking ahead, Patel is hopeful of doing more Doctor Who and is also developing a British-set sci-fi show about someone creating an artificial religion. Theatre remains a passion and he is currently penning a play about George Lucas and the creation of Star Wars, which is not affiliated with Disney.
Patel says he looks up to writers including Jack Thorne (“anyone who can swing between genres like that so effortlessly I find really exciting”) Charlie Brooker, and peers like Nida Manzoor, the creator of Channel 4’s Lady Parts. Patel is represented by Sayle Screen.
After starting out in the TV business through runner and researcher roles, Anna Ssemuyaba was taken on by Fortitude producer Fifty Fathoms as a script editor. She worked on John Ridley’s Sky miniseries Guerrilla and Channel 4’s upcoming porn-industry drama Adult Material.
Ssemuyaba said she learned a great deal from Ridley, who used some of her material in the opening episode. “Hearing words that you’ve written on screen is life-changing,” she said, adding that it gave her the drive to strike out on her own, which she did in March 2018.
Since then, she developed On the Verge for Netflix through Tiger Aspect Productions. The streamer did not pick up the series about a black British teenage girl in a Catholic school, but it made The Brit List this year, a ranking of the best unproduced drama scripts in the UK. “We’re now looking for a new home for it,” she said.
The writer is also working on a contemporary adaption of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, for a DNA Films and BBC Films feature film. “What Clueless did for Emma, I want to do for Northanger Abbey,” she said. Other projects include a TV drama about a speechwriter for the leader of the opposition, titled The Politician.
“I want to create TV shows that explore the inconvenient truths that rule British society, looking at our culture through the prism of subversive humor, rather than being preachy,” Ssemuyaba said. Ssemuyaba is represented by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
Tom Moran was on the verge of giving up his dream of becoming a screenwriter before his wife made him enter his script Printheads, a Thick of It-meets-Vicar of Dibley style story about a disgraced tabloid editor working at a village newspaper, in a BAFTA-backed writing competition. He won.
His winning streak continued when his mystery thriller White Rabbit won an AMC- and Channel 4-backed development award at the New York TV Festival. The project, produced with Scott Free and Seven Stories, was subsequently in development in TNT, which recently passed, and they are heading back out with it in 2020.
Somewhat confusingly, he is also developing a project called White Rabbit, Red Wolf, an adaptation of Tom Pollock’s dark thriller about math, murder and mind for HBO.
“The adaptation needs to be faithful to the spirit of the book but not necessarily [made] from a blueprint. If you look at what Damon Lindelof has done with Watchmen, there’s always an opportunity to reinvent and reimagine the source material, which is what excites me,” Moran told Deadline.
He has also written on Studio Lambert’s sci-fi drama The Feed, developed by Channing Powell, for Amazon and Virgin Media, as well as the Rob Lowe-fronted ITV drama Wild Bill.
Development projects include The Devil’s Hour, a philosophical thriller in development with Sherlock producer Hartswood Films and Amazon in the UK; and feature The Machines, an emotional time travel thriller, out to directors, which is in development with Matt Charman’s Binocular Productions.
He said, “I’ve got a very vivid imagination; the things that keep me up at night are the big questions of who are we, why are we here and what is life, and these are the things that tend to come out in my writing.” Moran is repped by Curtis Brown and Grandview.
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