One Important Lesson for Success from ’71 Screenwriter Gregory Burke…

Write… Write what you can and MAKE THEM REMEMBER YOU!

Working as a playwright was never Gregory Burke’s goal, and yet he found himself writing several successful plays (and becoming one of the country’s most renowned playwrights), without ever actually loving the theatre like so many others do!

Burke knew he was a writer – and a scriptwriter at that – but his passion was always for film not the stage. And he has definitely proven that he can do both, with his feature film debut ’71 starring Skins alum Jack O’Connell becoming a critical and commercial hit in 2014.

The film follows O’Connell as a British soldier left stranded in Belfast at the height of the Troubles and established Burke as a great screenwriter as well as playwright.

But what’s interesting is that the chance to do ’71 came out of the success of a play Gregory had written Black Watch, and the feature was actually pitched to him because he had shown he could write soldiers so well!

’71 feels more like a Thriller than a war film – a deliberate move from Gregory. And as you watch the film you quickly see that he has mastered two key aspects of any great Thriller: tension and conflict.

Burke achieved this by choosing the setting for the story carefully. He deliberately chose a time when a soldier being abandoned by his team would be extremely tense because the infrastructure of the army was not as developed as it is now. His choice of setting made the film instantly more of a thriller as O’Connell is even more isolated without the help of advanced tech and gadgets.

Gregory also builds tension in the film by making the audience feel like an outsider, through showing the events of the film through O’Connell’s eyes. We feel the fear O’Connell feels and it makes for a tense viewing!

But I think the main thing we can learn from Burke’s ’71 journey is that even writing something that isn’t exactly your main passion – whether that’s writing plays instead of films, or short films instead of blockbusters – it can still be the stepping stones to your dream job. Burke proved himself with great stories about soldiers in the theatre and that meant that when the time came for a film to be made about soldiers, people remembered him and went to him to write it.

The message? Take ALL the writing opportunities you have and make these opportunities the steps you take to the job you want…

Emma Hallewell

Gregory Burke will be speaking at this year’s London Screenwriter’s Festival! Buy your ticket today for your chance to hear him speak!