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Tricks of the Trade from Hollywood Writer John Collee

On 14 April, AFTRS tutor and writer of Oscar-nominated films John Collee will be drawing on his 20 years of Hollywood experience to teach a one-day masterclass Writing for Hollywood. A former doctor turned novelist and screenwriter, Collee’s work spans action blockbusters (Master and Commander), animated family movies (Happy Feet) and English-language retellings of foreign language hits (Wolf Totem).

As well as focusing on how to spot a great story idea, the masterclass will provide tips on story structuring, pinning down a theme and the art of pitching ideas. The lecture-style course is suitable for practitioners of all levels. It will help beginners stop wasting time on projects that are unlikely to succeed. Meanwhile, experienced writers will learn tips to revise their work and give up on projects; as Collee says, “knowing when the horse you’re flogging has died.”

Dev Patel and John Collee at the world premiere of ‘Hotel Mumbai’ at Toronto International Film Festival

It is an exciting time in Collee’s own work, with his screenplay Hotel Mumbai coming to Australian cinemas from 29 March. Starring Dev Patel – whose breakthrough role in Skins has seen him move onto award-winning features including Slumdog Millionaire and Lion – Hotel Mumbai retells the horrifying terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which included a three-day siege in the famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

As The Sydney Morning Herald points out, there have been several previous attempts at retelling the events that took place in Mumbai that day, to varying degrees of success. Collee’s screenplay is said to handle the event “with more care and sensitivity” than its predecessors, becoming “a movie worthy of this grave, disturbing story.” The article credits Collee’s “water-tight” script, citing him as “one of the best screenwriters this country has produced – even if he was born in Scotland.”

As Deadline Hollywood points out, Collee and Hotel Mumbai star Patel are set to partner again on an upcoming animated short. Funded by Screen Australia, the film, titled Roborovski, follows a thimble-sized Roborovski hamster who becomes full of resentment and jealousy after being separated from his family in a pet shop.

Writing for Hollywood takes places on 14 April 2019, 10am – 5pm and places are filling fast.