CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS 1 day course London Saturday Feb 21st
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 REGINA MORIARTY.
Last Thursday and Friday afternoon, I was at the TOTALLY SERIALIZED TV drama event at the Institut Francais in London. One of the highlights was Emily Feller (from Red productions) interviewing her boss Nicola Shindler about her work. Here are my notes from the session –
The Producer’s Masterclass : NICOLA SHINDLER
‘Nicola Shindler, Executive Producer & CEO of Red Production Company, a Studiocanal company, will talk about the role of the producer and nurturing talent. Interviewed by Emily Feller, a producer at Red productions.
Red was set up in 1998. Among its many successful shows are HIT & MISS (Sky), LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX, HAPPY VALLEY (BBC), CUCUMBER, BANANA, TOFU (C4)’
QUEER AS FOLK was the first Red production. Nicola set up Red as a practical step as she wanted to move back to Manchester, her hometown, from London. And because she wanted to work with the writers she wanted to work with, not who she was told to work with.
Setting up the company, she did development deals with both C4 and the BBC. One of the writers she wanted to work with was Russell T Davies. RTD had written several TV shows with sub-plots about gay characters – but wanted to write a gay story for TV. The show moved very fast and was shooting for C4 within 4 months of the set-up of the company.
The BBC wanted to work with Paul Abbott – and Nicola had worked with him at Granada as script editor on Cracker when Paul produced the show. Paul created Clocking Off for BBC / Red – about what happened to the characters who worked in a textile factory after they clocked off for the day. They developed the first 6 part series. This was an opportunity to write single films, contained stories, within a series context.
Then a rolling cycle of work with both Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies. Nicola worked with Russell for the next 5 years, then with Paul on LINDA GREEN, another BBC series, inspired by the US comedy hit ‘Rhoda’, about a strong, independent female character.
At the start of her career, Nicola knew she had to work with writers – she was drawn to new writers, loved TV and reading. She met a literary agent who told her she should be a script editor – she didn’t know the job of script-editing existed before this. She stressed that she has never wanted to write. Writers are driven, compelled to write. ‘I can respond to an idea…proper writing comes from deep inside, not something you can pick up and drop’.
The writer’s voice is all important at Red. ‘At the start of the company’s life, that set us apart’. The writers are the source of the idea – brought writers to production and design meetings – which wasn’t usual.
‘We sink with the writers. If the ship goes down, then we go down with them.’
‘We work so hard on notes – if a note is wrong, I will fight it.’
EF: ‘How do you spot a good idea?’
NS: ‘It’s like the taste of food, or watching a film that you like…I like fast-paced shows with a lot of story, and it needs humour’. For instance, Happy Valley went to some dark places but was still often funny.
‘I want to be involved in an idea from the start – from the roughest initial idea.’
You need to love any project, find something you love in it, even if it’s not something you’d watch.
‘I 100% don’t know if something’s going to be a hit. Happy Valley was very unusual.’
‘When I started at the BBC there was only one woman producer. All the script editors were women, and the producers men. There were no female channel commissioners.’ That has changed enormously for women.
EF: BAME / LGBT – How do you get more of these minority sections of the population into key writing and programme-making roles?
NS: you have to make it known that you’re open to scripts from everyone. It will slowly become more equalised.
RTD turned Cucumber from a US project into a UK show. When RTD pitched it to C4, they were immediately interested. Part of Russell’s pitch was that Cucumber would be part of 3 linked shows that went out on the same evening – Cucumber on C4 at 9pm, Banana on E4, half hours at 10 pm – and Tofu an online documentary about contemporary attitudes to sex. Stories in Cucumber and Banana would be about characters that appeared in both shows, but from different perspectives.
It felt revolutionary – but NS had to think about how it could be done practically.
In the summer of 2014 Red had 6 different productions on the go at the same time. ‘I don’t know how we did it. So long as I can keep the scripts in my head, I can watch and give feedback on the rushes.’
EF: ‘What kept you awake at night?’
NS: Always worried about the writers. And because I’m a control freak, I worry about what other notes we’re going to get.
‘I’ve always distanced myself from the bits of the work that don’t interest me’ – the day to day running of the company is done by MD Andrew Critchley. Everyone does their own job in the company really well.
I’d spent 10 years in London – but worked on shows that were shot outside London (Cracker, Hillsborough, Our Friends In The North). So I knew how much great talent there was in Manchester and the North.
There is a particular feel to the shows we make although I don’t like them to be called ‘Northern dramas.’ In Manchester the pace and energy is quite different from London. And it’s easier and cheaper to film in and around Manchester and the North than it is in London.
There is a reluctance with some broadcasters to work with new talent. As budgets get bigger, it’s harder for producers to take a chance on new writers. But there are many examples of it happening.
Prey – I had been working with writer Chris Lunt for eight years, trying to get a show going before Prey was commissioned. BANANA is a good example of giving opportunities to new writers. Russell wanted to bring on new writers. Red are ‘constantly trying to sneak new people in.’
‘I love the idea of writers directing their own work.’ Sally Wainwright will direct most of the next series of Happy Valley – it worked really well on series one. Writers don’t miss any story points as directors sometimes can. But at the same time there is a danger that we could wrongly down-grade directors – and there are many brilliant directors.
But if a writer / director works out, it’s great (she gave the example of Hugo Blick on ‘The Honourable Woman.’) She predicts this will happen more and more.
It’s not a good idea to say you ‘want to work in television.’ You need to decide what you’re aiming to be and ask the question, ‘What jobs can I do to help me become a producer?’ (for instance). Decide what you want to do, and aim for it.
‘I started reading for free for theatres while looking for other work.’
A really inspiring talk from the founder and creative driving force of one of the best UK drama indies – the sustained quality of Red’s output is enormously impressive.
Until next week,
All the best
Feb 6th 2015