Gladiator writer William Nicholson reveals the truth about the film’s most famous quote at the opening night of the BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series.

Last night the 2011 BAFTA Screenwriter Lecture Series kicked off with an evening with William Nicholson.

The lecture was introduced with an illuminated static quote reading “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next”, which Nicholson explained was half written by him and half by John Logan. What seemed like a joke materialised as complete fact in what set a strong tone for Nicholson’s depiction of the tortuous and often disjointed work of a screenwriter.

Nicholson may be best known for his role as third writer for Gladiator, and for his Oscar and Bafta nominated screenplay for Shadowlands, but his smaller and often unavailable earlier work showed to be of surprisingly strong quality. In particular Sweet As You Are, a BBC drama starring Liam Neeson as a married man who has contracted HIV from an affair, was evidently a spectacularly intense dramatic piece despite an extremely simple, and cheap, premise.

Nicholson dealt with what will no doubt be a recurring theme, the pragmatic difficulty of being a screenwriter when both the power and the credit over a big production are completely lost on completion of a script. He spoke about his desire for writers to remain involved in the filmmaking process and emphasised what many believe, and seem increasingly keen to promote in the context of currently miserably scripted enormous budget films, ‘Stories matter like hell.’

The gentle modesty, or perhaps overt insecurity, which we think synonymous with screenwriters since Charlie Kaufman’s endearing self-caricature in Adaptation seemed palpable with Nicholson, who ranged between revelations that he made $1m for two weeks’ work on Gladiator to descriptions of harrowing self doubt during his writing.

The attitude is something that perhaps aptly introduces a series that will offer insights into the minds of the greatest and best-known screenwriters from all over the world, including Jane Eyre writer Moira Buffini, John Logan and culminating with the great Charlie Kaufman himself on 30th September.

In terms of his future work, Nicholson revealed that he will be a screenwriter for Tom Hooper’s upcoming Les Miserables adaptation.

The series is certainly worth attending, with a generous 2 hour running time and the opportunity for a lengthy Q and A with the writers, which more than a few used to gain some expert guidance on their own meandering projects.