Brendan Foley

Jeff Melvoin and Brendan Foley break down the differences between the US and UK writing systems and the lessons to be learned from each of them.

In no other area of high-end TV production do the American and UK industries differ so wildly than in the writing process. Brendan Foley (UK writer-producer, Cold Courage) and Jeff Melvoin (US writer-producer, Killing Eve) discuss lessons UK screenwriters can learn from these differences.

When Jeff first read the scripts for Killing Eve he couldn’t believe the versatility of the British writers. He says: “Pound for pound, these 10 scripts were better than 10 typical American spec scripts.”

But just what is the difference between a US showrunner and a UK lead writer? What are the hierarchies of the two systems? What are the perceived strengths and weaknesses of UK writers and how could their traditionally authored series benefit from US-style writers’ rooms? And crucially, what are the current routes you can take to international success?

About Brendan Foley

Brendan Foley is one of the busiest of a new generation of UK TV writer-producers working internationally. His recent work, as series writer with David Joss Buckley includes 2020s Cold Courage, a Nordic noir series for Viaplay, Lionsgate and Luminoir. He has worked with TV producers, distributors and broadcasters across the world. He was previously a features journalist, working in 77 countries, and has written the WWII bestseller Under the Wire.

About Jeff Melvoin

Emmy-winner Jeff Melvoin has been a writer-producer on over a dozen primetime series, most recently as an executive producer on season three of BBC America’s Killing Eve. He was supervising producer of CBS series Northern Exposure, winning an Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. Melvoin is founder and chair of the Writers Guild of America’s Showrunner Training Programme and the Writers Education Committee. 

About the session

This conversation took place on 17 June 2020. It was introduced by Kaye Elliott, ScreenSkills’ director of high-end TV, and supported by the ScreenSkills Television Skills Fund which invests in training for the freelance television workforce thanks to contributions from the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

If you’re interested in a career as a screenwriter, find out more with ScreenSkills' job profile: film and TV drama screenwriter.