CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday Nov 15th
A course for scriptwriters in all media – TV, film, radio, theatre – designed to help you generate exciting ideas and characters, and give your creativity a boost with a day of fun, stimulating writing exercises. Run by TV drama script editor, producer and script consultant PHILIP SHELLEY with guest speaker writer CAT JONES.
NB Only 2 places still available!
A huge thank you to writer JO DEARDEN who has very kindly sent me her transcript from a BBC WRITERS ROOM face-to-face interview that KATE ROWLAND did recently with acclaimed screenwriter KAY MELLOR.
Since her first play for theatre, PAUL, which was entered for the N.S.D.F. and won Best New Play, Kay has written continuously for theatre and television. She started off writing on continuing drama shows such as Coronation Street and Brookside before creating her own hits such as Band of Gold, Fat Friends, The Chase, A Passionate Woman and The Syndicate. Over the years her shows have won and been nominated for numerous awards, and Kay herself was awarded the BAFTA Dennis Potter award in 1997 for Outstanding Writing for Television. Her new original six part drama series In The Club, about pregnancy, imminent birth, love and the changing nature of relationships recently finished on BBC One and has just been recommissioned for another series.
It’s clear from your dramas that you absolutely believe in the worlds you create – is that because you ‘write what you know’?
Usually, and when I do it’s very rich and easy to write. I’ve said in the past that writing TV drama is like free therapy for me. The character in In the Club, the schoolgirl mum, she was based on me. I got pregnant at 16 and spent the next five and a half months hiding it under baggy jumpers…
Sometimes I don’t write from direct experience, and then I have to do lots of research. Band of Gold took me 10 months of research before I wrote a thing. But even though I didn’t know that world, the inspiration for it came from real life.I was on my way to a party when the car I was in stopped at some lights. All of a sudden a face appeared at the window. A young girl, she couldn’t have been more than 14, bobbed down and looked inside the car… to see if it was carrying any punters. When we got to the party I couldn’t get that image out of my head. I can still see her to this day. She looked about the same age as my daughter at the time. I just kept on thinking about her, wondering.
Band of Gold came from a place of wanting to say something, wanting to do something about that.
So, as well as writing what you know, it has to be something you care about too.
I wrote Fat Friends because I was fed-up with the diet business preying on people’s insecurities. Why’s it such a big deal? Why can’t we all look different and be accepted? I got quite angry about that.
But you don’t write angry drama…
As a dramatist, humour is an amazing tool. If you can make someone laugh they’re open-hearted to whatever it is you want to say. In the past I’ve been asked to take humour out of my writing – to make it more ‘earnest’ – but I won’t. I find humour, and pathos, to be much more effective.
Your dramas put women centre stage, why?
BecauseI love women! My earliest memory is of being in Littlewoods with my mum and three aunties and them all talking over each other non-stop. They just seemed so different to the men in my family – the most you’d get out of them was a “n’ then” – whereas the women seemed so multi-layered.
They juggled lots of different roles too. Mother, wife, sister, daughter, home-maker and often went out to work as well. To a dramatist that’s incredibly interesting.
How do you go about creating a series?
I like to create a group, a gang of characters, each with individual stories who then collide.
So I think to myself, who are the CHARACTERS?
What JOURNEYS will they go on?
What’s the SETTING/PREMISE?
And then I ask myself a lot of WHAT IFS… I change backgrounds, ages, circumstances. I push things in different directions to see what will happen. I base my writing in reality but then you have to free yourself from that reality to a certain extent.
What’s the hardest part?
Probably getting episode one right. It’s all about introducing the characters and the set up in the most engaging, dramatic and natural way possible. It can be hard to get that information across in a believable way.
I often put my characters in situations where they cannot help but reveal things about themselves. So, in In the Club I had a woman who was going for a scan and she was nervous, so she gabbled. I had another who was in a divorce court. I’m constantly thinking of new situations where people are forced to tell us about themselves.
Do you have any advice about notes?
Fight for what you believe in as a writer. Stick up for yourself – articulate it – then prove it.
But, if everyone’s saying the same thing, they’ve probably got a point.
Also, the note itself might be wrong, and you might not agree with it, but it could be flagging up something that, for whatever reason, isn’t working.
What advice do you have for new writers?
Write! And watch TV! You’d be surprised how many would-be writers approach me not having written anything.
And you’d be surprised how many only watch US drama. Watch British TV, as well as American. Watch it and dissect it. Count scenes, read the script, ask yourself why you like it/why you don’t. Same with characters. What works? What doesn’t?
Have a great calling card script – something that says ‘this is me’. Write to the producer of a show you love (producers hire writers). Say why you loved it. Show them that you’ve understood the structure. Write to script editors too (they might be producers one day). Ask if you can meet up to discuss ideas. You don’t need an agent to do any of this.
And don’t give up. It took me eight years to get Band of Gold made. Eight years of harassing Alan Yentob… me, going up to him at various awards ceremonies saying, “have you read my script yet?”
Jimmy McGovern, Sally Wainwright, Paul Abbot and yourself – all successful, well-regarded writers who write, in the main, about working class northerners…
I met Paul when I was a storyliner on Coronation Street. While working there we came up with a project together, Children’s Ward. Then I went to Brookside. It was a very exciting time to be there, with Jimmy McGovern and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Everyone was so passionate about the characters. Everyone cared. If you had a big episode coming up the advice was, ‘Go away, lock yourself in a room, and write until you cry.’
We were all just writing about our lives really. When I was growing up, I didn’t see many people like us on TV. There’s nothing wrong with middle class people writing about what they know, as long as they do it with passion. We just need to have a variety of voices, of stories out there.
Why did you set up your own production company?
To get around everything happening in London. Why can’t it happen in Manchester or Bradford or Leeds? I have far more control now, and that makes me more relaxed. I also have a lot of people around me that I trust. It can be a lonely, isolating profession – just you and the machine and your imagination.
If you can do it [direct] as a writer, I’d say go for it. Sally Wainwright directed the stand out episode of Happy Valley. It’s not about going on a power trip, it’s about no-one knowing your work better than you.
Which leads nicely onto –
Last week SALLY WAINWRIGHT was on BBC R4’s DESERT ISLAND DISCS.
It was a wonderful celebration of her work as a TV dramatist, and here are some quotes from the programme. I’d urge you to listen to the whole thing –
‘I think it’s a compulsion, writing.’
‘I very consciously developed a style.’
She talked about ‘the influence of Barrie Keefe…his use of short sentences.’
‘As soon as I sit down to write characters, it either comes or it doesn’t.’
‘My favourite characters are flawed.’
ROCK FOLLIES by Howard Schumann – ‘Of all the television programmes I’ve ever watched, this is the one that most influenced me.’
On CORONATION STREET – ‘I learnt a hell of a lot about story-telling.’
‘Kay Mellor took me under her wing and helped me a lot.’
AT HOME WITH THE BRAITHWAITES ‘Family life is dysfunctional – we all try to do our best and don’t always manage.’
‘The idea for LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX was inspired by my mother’s experience.’
‘I think human beings essentially are funny…however dark things get we tend to respond with humour.’
‘I think you’ve got to trust your instinct.’
‘Drama is about the dark side…it’s about when bad things happen to people.’
‘When you construct a story you’ve got to challenge your protagonist, it’s about thinking these things through to the Nth degree…I act out what my characters go through…I find it very cathartic, I’m often sitting at my desk crying my eyes out.’
‘Murder isn’t entertainment, it’s horrible and it’s real and it’s disgusting.’
‘I never stop thinking about what I’m writing. My hobby is writing.’
Until next week
All the best
Oct 17th 2014