How does Sherlock’s Steven Moffat feel about feedback? by Keith Slote


I remember going to this session at the Festival. It was a one off evening prior to the 2017 Festival proper (the team were going to be at the Emmys over the Festival weekend). Sherlock had become the must see show of the moment and the hall was packed, standing room only. I was right at the back and my view was pretty restricted, but that didn’t matter, I was still in the same room as Steven f***ing Moffat.

That first episode of Sherlock had blown us all away, and made the series an instant classic. I remember turning to my mate after watching it and saying, ‘THAT is how you write a Pilot’. The sheer length of time they had allowed themselves before introducing the main character, and the brio with which they eventually did so, you knew we were in safe hands. And across the, by then, subsequent four seasons, they had kept true to that initial promise.  

One of the biggest things reinforced by my second visit to this session was the key notion that all writing should be approached with openness and for writers to be wary of certain arbitrary distinctions often set by genre. 

Mark puts it succinctly when he says, ‘Life is full of everything. That’s how we are. It’s like saying this is a very serious drama, therefore there are literally no laughs in it. Or this is a hilarious comedy so there’s no pathos or sadness. It’s a complete false distinction because everything we live with every day is a combination of all those things.’ 

Another essential lesson is that the necessary problem solving required in rewriting, making the engine run better and more efficiently, should be a pleasure, not a chore. It all depends on whether you’re doing it right, and with the right people.

Steven’s mindset when it comes to feedback highlights the importance of trust and communication throughout the entire process. ‘I always assume that if someone doesn’t like something there’s probably something wrong with it somewhere. Even if it’s not what they’re saying is wrong. It might be something else. It might be a scene earlier. The best thing to do is to keep chatting. And that goes on right until the edit.’ 

The audience questions at the end elicit great nuggets of wisdom from  the panel too. I liked Mark’s statement that cliffhangers are the essence of everything in writing, that every scene requires something to propel you into the next one. They might not be of a dramatic enough level to warrant calling them ‘cliffhangers’, but they still serve the same purpose.

Watching this LSF session, what is really clear is this team’s absolute love of the original stories, and Moffat’s incandescent, energising enthusiasm for the whole process of writing and development. Ten minutes of him talking will fire you up to want to go and write the best thing ever. Well it does me anyway.

Sherlock may have slipped under the radar a bit now, but this is a brilliant reminder of just how good it is. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go and rewatch it from the start again right now.


When not writing Keith works as Designer / Supervising Art Director in the Art Dept. A department ever writer should get to know as we are the first dept to make your words a reality. Recent credits :- Operation Mincemeat – Sea Saw Films. Blithe Spirit – Fred Films. Temple – Hera Pictures / Sky Atlantic. A Private War – Thunder Road Productions.