Earlier this week we were lucky enough to attend another great “Writers On Writing” event at the Writers Guild Foundation, this time in conversation with Steven Knight. Steven Knight’s credits are as diverse as his career has been long – he has written “Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Pawn Sacrifice,” and “Locke,” (which he also directed.) Knight created the eminent “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and, most recently, Netflix’s “Peaky Blinders.”
Here are a few of our notes from this fascinating discussion:
Always, always, always keep working through the writer’s block. Knight sticks to a consistent writing schedule. Even if he feels a creative block creeping up, he finds a way to loosen up, tries something new, and shakes it off. He also recommends writing early or first thing in the morning. To help himself stay organized, Knight goes so far as to have separate computers – one for writing and one for everything else.
Start far away and work your way home. When approaching new material, Knight employs the philosophy that you can pick any subject, setting, or character imaginable – something that is completely foreign to you. From there, you can work your way back to something that rings true for you or is in line with your experiences. Where ever you begin, you can eventually find the emotional truths in the unfamiliar.
Small screen vs. big screen. In Knight’s experience, networks are prepared (and often prefer) to create something unconventional. They’re willing to take greater risks as long as the characters are complex and interesting. There’s also more time to explore and develop those characters and relationships. He has started to prefer the world of television because the audiences are incredibly loyal and invested. Lately, for his film projects, he tries to construct creative challenges for himself, which is how the highly unique “Locke” came to pass.
Lessons learned on “Peaky Blinders.” Execs at Netflix are almost competing with each other to give the fewest notes possible! Spinning many plates is good fun. Be careful about killing characters – you might regret it. Anti-heroes do bad things for good reasons, which is one of the most compelling character traits to explore. Fiction obeys the rules, reality does not – this is a line that Knight has been trying to blur with “Peaky.”
Knight was incredibly insightful and clearly has a hugely imaginative mind. There’s so much to learn from his talent. We encourage you to check out his work– we’ve started you off with a few links below!