Working with a Netflix producer and writing for Hollywood

TJ Keenan
Jul 5, 2022

According to Netflix, TJ Keenan has an 'incredible writing style, which is highly gripping’; he has written films for producers around the globe and his biopic screenplay on Elizabethan Poet and Spy, Kit Marlowe, is in development with an LA Production House.

So meet the man behind the name, screenwriter, script editor, producer and story consultant TJ Keenan, who gives mercurial figures from history a voice and seeks to breakdown barriers between writers and their industry.

I found myself wanting to tell stories...

I fell into screenwriting by virtue of being creative in other areas. I spent a long time as a singer and songwriter in bands, before co-writing an album with The Lucky Strikes in 2009 based on the death of blues musician Robert Johnson. This led onto exploring the story as a screenplay. I had no idea how to do this, but me and my fellow band mate Dave Giles ran blindly into this creative new terrain anyway. I loved the form so much, that I just carried on with it and never really stopped!

I found myself drawn to wanting to tell stories about unknown mercurial figures from history, who had yet to be given a voice. At the beginning of my screenwriting journey, I had unprecedented support from a script editor in the UK and Hollywood. He helped me develop my ideas and instilled a tremendous amount of confidence in me.  He taught me simple ways to approach the craft; to put scripts away for a week and return with fresh eyes, write across genres and to always keep belief in my own abilities. This was, and is, invaluable advice for any writer, and advice I impart to this very day when mentoring new and upcoming writers.

Creating stories was always something I could do well. I love words, their shape, sound and power to shift one’s perspective. Words are free to everyone and if used wisely, words can change the world. I have always loved shows where words are valued, like 'Seinfeld', 'The West Wing' and 'The Wire'. David Simon is a big inspiration of mine, and to me, he will be remembered as the next Shakespeare or Dickens in 500 years from now. Writing is immortal and long after we're gone they'll still be around.

Script editing and story consultant

Last year, I was invited to become a story consultant and script editor for a Netflix producer, to go deep into their story themes and present a fresh take on a screenplay he had commissioned from another writer. This fed into my love of story construction, log lines, treatments and synopsis writing.

I think the best stories all possess 'clean lines'; a clean set of storylines all the way through. I developed this from my love of reading and watching plays, where the narrative lines must be drawn carefully for the audience and the actors. You can't go wrong with Shakespeare, Marlowe, Aristotle or Freytag's rules of storytelling, they're timeless, and they can be easily applied in the modern world of today’s storytelling.

However, I also believe that each storyteller should express themselves in the way they feel the most comfortable and true to themselves. I would always encourage writing from the heart about stories and people you love. That has brought me the most joy and success thus far. The best advice I ever received was to tell the story you want to tell, in the best way you want to tell it. I've had people love my scripts, hate my scripts and suggest the most radical changes which lack any sense. Sometimes your voice fits the ears of your reader, and sometimes it just doesn’t. 

Writing is an imperfect form which leaves writers open to criticism. Some of my best scripts have flown in the face of expectations; yes, they have been laid out in the standard fashion but in my time, I've used fragmented sentences, secondary headings and novelistic phrasing, as well going under or above the recommended page count and these have been well received by industry folk either side, because they grasped a flavour of the story. With most projects, two questions in particular tend to be thrown at you; 'why this story and why now?'. These are what the gatekeepers to the industry ask of any scripts and are the questions I pose at the start of every project I write, produce or become involved with.

Selling the concept and backing yourself

I sold the concept of the Kit Marlowe story even when the script wasn't quite ready or at a formative stage, and when it was complete, it’s been read by some of the biggest actors and producers in the world. If someone admires the story, people will wait to read it. You also have to back yourself and trust your instincts. Literary history is full of people who subverted expectations of the form and went with their gut and story in the face of what conventions overruled them. For example, Marlowe was the first writer to use blank verse in his plays. He used it to great success, audiences applauded it and then Shakespeare adopted it for most of his work. He trusted his instincts for storytelling and he did quite well, if in fact he was the one who really wrote these plays (which I am currently exploring in a series I am developing).

The future excites me and things are happening

I am proud to have written and produced for the talented film makers of 289 Productions in New York; our first film is released in Summer 2022 and we are writing the next one as we speak. I am also excited to have been working with the amazing producer KC Muel in Canada on a brilliant political thriller. I am a writer and story consultant for Faithful City Productions in the UK, who are developing a wonderful Sci-Fi film and I am collaborating with the quite brilliant LA based actor, writer and director Nick McDow Musleh, currently developing a series on Shakespeare for a prominent European director.

My Kit Marlowe screenplay, supported by Little Studio Films, has led to commitments, reads and support from A-List actors, managers and producers, which has in turn opened doors to other avenues within the industry, which will lead to the first film on Kit Marlowe getting made. To have that screenplay and project endorsed by the 'Marlowe Society', the academic gatekeepers and leading authorities on Marlowe, is quite something too. My next project will be a screenplay based on the greatest actress you've never heard of, who changed the game for ALL actresses across the world. 

I am also delighted to be working with Essex Film Collective, who have asked me to design and deliver their online 'Art of Screenwriting' course, as well as curate their upcoming Short Film Script competition. Mentoring screenwriters is a hugely rewarding process and I work with some brilliant writers who have attained huge futures in the industry.

I am always happy to work with anyone who is looking to develop their skills.

WriteSeen is a game changer!

WriteSeen is a brilliant site which I believe will be a game changer in how writers can access their industry and have their work seen. What the founder Jonathon Nimmons has built is truly amazing. I love his passion and genuine excitement at wanting to help writers break in; it’s infectious.

I think WriteSeen helps break the barrier between writers and the industry in a way which compliments both. Quality is quality, regardless of what stage a writer is at, and WriteSeen will help even more writers get their work discovered and hopefully, made. I’m looking forward to being involved with WriteSeen in the future and so should you.

TJ Keenan is a Screenwriter, Script Consultant and Mentor.
For screenwriting consultancy & 1-1 mentoring connect with TJ below.