Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Media and Communication


Dr Ian Macdonald

Visiting Associate Professor in Screenwriting Research

PhD (Leeds Metropolitan University), Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)

Dr Ian W. Macdonald has devoted the past decade to helping establish Screenwriting Studies as an academic discipline. From October 2017, as Visiting Associate Professor in the School of Media and Communication, he is working on a research project with members of the Screenwriting Research Network, as co-editor of the Journal of Screenwriting, and on specific publications in progress.


Dr. Macdonald was Head of the Northern Film School at Leeds Metropolitan University from 1992-2001, and later Reader in Media Practice and Head of Research at Leeds Met’s School of Film, Television and Performing Arts. From 2006 until 2010 he was Research Director (later Director) of the Louis Le Prince Centre for Cinema, Photography and Television.

Initially trained as a librarian, he gravitated towards the media early in his career, working for the BBC, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the British Film Institute, and for London Weekend Television where he worked on ITV network programmes including Clive James on TV and Tarrant on TV. At LWT he developed The Trouble With Michael Caine (awarded a Gold Medal, New York Film and TV Festival), and edited a subsequent book. He entered Higher Education in 1992, and in 1998 he was co-founder (and later Chairman) of the Association of Media Practice Educators, a UK-wide representative body for institutions in Higher and Further Education, which later merged with the Media Communications and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA).

Dr. Macdonald is co-founder of the international Screenwriting Research Network which has held conferences annually since 2008 at Leeds and Leeds Beckett Universities, Helsinki (Aalto), Copenhagen, Brussels, Sydney, Wisconsin Madison, Potsdam, London and Dunedin, NZ (Otago). The 2018 conference is being hosted in August by the Universita di Sacre Cuore, Milan. More details can be found at www.screenwritingresearch.com. Since 2010 Ian has been Co-Editor of the Journal of Screenwriting (Intellect Books), and from 2012 to 2016 co-editor of the book series Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting. His book Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013, and in paperback in 2017.

Research Interests

Dr. Macdonald’s research interests include:

  •  Screen Narrative and Screenwriting
  • History and practices of film and television
  • Archival and memory issues

My research interests radiate from a focus on the ‘screen idea’ and the conceptualisation of moving image narratives (of all types) as a product and as creative practice. I am therefore interested in screenwriting in particular (which I have taught as both practice and theory for nearly 20 years). This includes the concept(s) behind a film/TV show, the industrial practice of pre-production, the theories which seek to explain the practical and creative processes of production (including film, TV, narrative, creativity and other theories), and the histories of film and TV practice (with its assumptions and conventions). The latter includes an interest in archiving and organising moving image material and documentation.


Dr. Macdonald has taught screenwriting, film production and TV production since 1992, with a special interest in the practices surrounding screen narrative. He has taught film and TV practice, film history, professionalism and the workplace, screen narrative fiction, and screenwriting theory and practice, alongside supervising MA dissertations ranging from screen narrative to communications topics.

He has been invited to give keynotes, guest lectures, and workshops at, among other institutions, the Hochschule fur Film und Fernsehen Konrad Wolff, Potsdam, Berlin; the Polish State Film School, Lodz; Aalto University, Helsinki; Shih-Hsin University, Taipei; the University of Copenhagen; Royal Holloway University of London; Universite de Bretagne-Sud, Lorient; Masarykova Univerzita, Brno; University of York; European Film Forum, BOZAR Brussels; NInA Beta Festival, Warsaw; AIM Porto; University of Bournemouth; University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand; and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).


Dr. Macdonald has been involved with organising many conferences throughout his career, including regularly for AMPE, MeCCSA and the SRN. He has personally organised several short international conferences on such topics as archival issues in film (with ICS colleagues Simon Popple and Leo Enticknap), a study day Visions of Empire for the Royal Anthropological Institute (at Leeds Metropolitan University), a conference (with the University of Roehampton) on UK screen heritage issues in 2009, and in 2011 a conference with the BBC on screenwriting for children, Something for the Kids. In 2010 he and Simon Popple organised the successful international conference on the 1984-5 Miners Strike Digging the Seam, based around Simon’s research into memory and archive for the BBC, which resulted in a jointly-edited book for Cambridge Scholars Press, published in 2012.



  • Macdonald IW (2013) Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea. Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Submitted)

  • Popple S; Macdonald IW (eds.) (2012) Digging the Seam. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  • Macdonald IW (1991) Candidly Caine. Pan Books.

Journal articles

  • MacDonald IW (2018) “Tablets of Stone or DNA? TV series bibles”, JOURNAL OF SCREENWRITING. 9.1: 3-23.
    DOI: 10.1386/josc.9.1.3_1, Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/125213/

  • Macdonald IW, Jacob JUU (2011) “Lost and gone for ever? The search for early British screenplays”, Journal of Screenwriting. 2.2

  • Macdonald IW (2010) “Forming the craft: Play-writing and photoplay-writing in Britain in the 1910s”, EARLY POPUL VIS CULT. 8.1: 75-89.
    DOI: 10.1080/17460650903515970

  • Macdonald IW (2010) “'...So it's not surprising I'm neurotic' The Screenwriter and the Screen Idea Work Group.”, Journal of Screenwriting. 1.1: 45-58.
    DOI: 10.1386/josc.1.1.45/1

  • Macdonald IW (2009) “'...So it's not surprising I'm neurotic'”, Journal of Screenwriting. 1.1: 45-58.

  • Macdonald IW (2009) “The Silent Screenwriter: the re-discovered scripts of Eliot Stannard.”, Comparative Critical Studies (British Comparative Literature Association). 6.3: 385-400.
    DOI: 10.3366/E174418540900086X

  • Macdonald IW (2008) “Mr Gilfil's Love Story: The 'Well-Made Screenplay' in 1920”, J BRIT CINE TELEV. 5.2: 223-241.
    DOI: 10.3366/E1743452108000344

  • Macdonald IW (2007) “Struggle for the Silents: the British screenwriter from 1910 to 1930”, Journal of Media Practice. 8.2: 115-128.
    DOI: 10.1386/jmpr.8.2.115_1

  • Macdonald IW (2006) “Skillset and Mindset: the persistence of division in media education”, Journal of Media Practice. 7.2: 135-142.

  • Macdonald IW (2004) “Manuals are not enough: relating screenwriting practice to theories”, Journal of British Cinema and Television. 1.2: 260-274.

  • Macdonald IW (2004) “Disentangling the screen idea”, Journal of Media Practice. 5.2: 89-100.
    DOI: 10.1386/jmpr.5.2.89/0

  • Macdonald IW (2003) “Finding the Needle. How readers see screen ideas”, Journal of Media Practice. 4.1: 27-40.
    DOI: 10.1386/jmpr.4.1.27/0

  • Macdonald IW (2001) “The assessment of creative screenwriting in Higher Education”, Journal of Media Practice. 2.2: 70-82.
    DOI: 10.1386/jmpr.2.2.70


  • Macdonald IW (2012) “Behind the mask of the screenplay: the screen idea”, In: Myer C (eds.) Critical Cinema. London: Wallflower Press.

  • Macdonald IW (2011) “Screenwriting in Britain 1895-1929”, In: Nelmes J (eds.) Analysing the Screenplay. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 44-67

Conference papers

  • Macdonald IW (2010) The Poetics of Screenwriting. Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice (In preparation)

  • Macdonald I (2009) Thin air and solid ground: screenwriting as a subject for research. Re-thinking Screenwriting (Submitted)

  • Macdonald IW, Jacob JU (2009) O Brother where art thou? The search for early British screenplays. Media Communication and Cultural Studies (MeCCSA) annual conference (In preparation)

  • Macdonald IW (2008) It's not surprising I'm neurotic! The screen idea and the screen idea work group.. Behind the scenes of cultural production: the mediatization of culture

  • Macdonald IW (2008) Mr. Gilfil's Love Story: film adaptation in the 1920s. 11th BFI/Broadway Cinema Silent Cinema Conference

  • Macdonald IW (2007) Style and the Silent Screenwriter: the re-discovered scripts of Eliot Stannard.. Cinematicity

  • Macdonald IW (2006) Playwriting for the Pictures 2. 9th BFI/Broadway Silent Cinema Conference

  • Macdonald IW (2005) Playwriting for the pictures. 8th BFI/Broadway Silent Cinema Conference

  • Macdonald IW (2005) Playwriting for the Cinema. Association of Media Practice Educators/Media Communications and Cultural Studies Joint Conference

  • Macdonald IW (2004) Disentangling the screen idea. Beyond the Theory of Practice (CILECT/University of Newport, Wales)

  • Macdonald IW (2003) Here's another fine theory you've gotten me into.... Blueprint (CILECT)

Research Projects & Grants

In 2008 Dr. Macdonald was awarded a British Academy grant for his project ‘Early British Screenplays’, an investigation of holdings of surviving British film scripts from the silent era. With Jacob U. Jacob he created a database of over 500 surviving documents held in archives and libraries worldwide, information which is now accessible via the British Film Institute National Library. An article on the project was published in the Journal of Screenwriting 2:2 (2011: 161-177).

External Appointments

In 2013 Dr. Macdonald was appointed Docent in Screenwriting Research at Aalto University, Helsinki. Since 2001 Dr. Macdonald has served as External Departmental Reviewer at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts; the University of Lincoln; the University of Westminster; and the Arts University College Bournemouth. He has also served as External Examiner for degree programmes at the University of Westminster (MA Screenwriting); the University of Central Lancashire (BA Screenwriting pathway); and the University of Bristol (MA Screen Studies). From 2008-2012 he has served on the Advisory Board of the ‘Aristotle In Change’ project (Aalto University, Helsinki), as reviewer for the Austrian Science Foundation Arts Fund (2009), Chairman of the Leeds International Film Festival short film jury (2006, 2008), and on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Media Practice from 2000-2010. Prior to this he has served on advisory committees for Skillset, the AV Industries Training Group, the Film Policy Review Group, and the Higher Education Funding Council (on higher education funding for media industries).

PhD & Postdoctoral Supervision

Dr. Macdonald no longer supervises doctoral candidates

PhD Thesis

The Presentation of the Screen Idea in narrative film-making (Leeds Metropolitan University, 2004).

This study adapts Parker’s notion of the screen idea (1998 p.57), which describes a singular concept intended to become a screenwork, to examine the significance of the ways in which the screenwork is formulated, expressed, represented and developed as a concept, in the UK during the period 1990 to 2003. In an attempt to access deeper, rather than complete, understanding, the central metaphor for this study is the crystal, as three ‘facets’ are examined; documents (such as the screenplay) associated with the screen idea, the social practices of screenwriting and reading of the screen idea, and film theory where it appears to have relevance to those practices.

Through cross-textual analysis of documents, manuals and textbooks, and through an original sample survey, the study suggests there is a ‘screenwriting convention’ in operation, representing a basic common set of beliefs about the nature of the field and ‘good practice’. Other a priori views from the canon of film theory, are examined for similarities and differences. A grounded theoretical approach, based around Bourdieu’s theory of habitus (1977, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1996) and ‘theoretical sampling’ through in-depth interviews (Jensen, 2002 p.239), examines interrelationships and the use of power and control within common screenwriting and screen-reading practices. The study also considers notions of authorship in relation to those practices, in particular those of Roland Barthes (1968, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977).

The contribution of this study is to complement and extend doctoral work on screenwriting (Ballesster Añón 2001; Crittenden, 2001); to an understanding of screen idea documents and their conventional use; to an understanding of screenwriting and screen-reading as part of social practice and subject to a range of pressures and control; to an understanding of appropriate film theory in relation to screen idea construction, and vice versa and in the construction of new empirical evidence about industrial attitudes towards screenwriting and screen-reading.


The Screenwriting Research Network is at: www.screenwritingresearch.com. The Journal of Screenwriting can be found via www.intellectbooks.co.uk

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