SCRIPT-EDITING / SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT COURSES
Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running a series of very affordable 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters, around the UK between now & July 16th (in Cardiff, Bristol, Salford & Glasgow). More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website http://grandscheme.tv/
The next one is in BRIGHTON on June 3rd and 4th with guest screenwriter STEPHEN CHURCHETT (Lewis, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse etc etc)
This week, more notes from January’s TOTALLY SERIALIZED event at the Institut Francais in London.
TV Screenwriting Panel: How To Write TV Series
A discussion between French and British TV writers. With Ashley Pharoah (The Living And The Dead, Eternal Law, Life On Mars), Frédéric Krivine (Un Village Français), Ben Harris (Transporter)
Where ideas Come From-
AP: The series he is currently writing came from BBC producer Faith Penhale asking him, ‘Is it time for a contemporary ghost story?’
BH: Team writing. In the UK, there’s a writer / producer model, whereas in the US there’s a writer’s room model.
AP: My favourite thing is to work with other writers. (He) started on Eastenders where sharing ideas and bouncing ideas off each other was how it worked. ‘Series TV eats up story so voraciously.’ He has written shows where he and writing partner Matthew Graham were the lead writers, with 3 or so other writers coming onto the show to write episodes. But this wasn’t like the US writers room system which seems much more structured and hierarchical. Sometimes a single vision is key – Dennis Potter, for instance, didn’t need a writers’ room. He’s not sure how a US writers room system would work with the British way of working.
FK: Once you get to a volume of 10-12 episodes, you will need a writers room to create and run the show. In France episode length can vary from episode to episode within a series – because they’re not so concerned with overseas sales.
AP: the secret to longevity of a series – something in the idea needs to have inherent conflict eg ‘Life On Mars’ the conflict between the cop from the present day and the cop from the 1970’s could generate story episode after episode.
FK: the secret is empathy, sincerity – and that your sincerity talks to people, isn’t boring.
AP: the hardest part of being a professional writer – taking notes from a lot of different people. As budgets get bigger, people get more nervous. ‘You have to be endlessly creative when sometimes you feel like pulling out a machine gun.’
BH: Sometimes you get good notes, sometimes bad notes. But the problem is when you get contradictory notes. You need someone on your team, to support your point of view as writer. It’s not a good idea to sound off, lose your temper.
Bad notes: ‘Could it be different?’ What the writer thinks – ‘Well yes it could but why don’t you write that?’
AP: One of the reasons I wanted a producer credit on shows was to have more say about casting etc. I like to see audition tapes – I learn what’s working, what isn’t.
BH: As writer, the more involved you are in production, the more thought you put into the writing.
AP: if the broadcaster and producer value your opinions and input, then you’re more interested in staying with the show.
FK: Editing is really writing. It’s strategic to have the writer involved in the edit.
What is good practice in giving writers notes?
One set of consistent notes. And a way of delivering notes. You have to feel as a writer that the script editor / producer is a person who likes my work and wants to help me make it better.
The good producers and script editors help the writers get what they want – ie fulfilling the writer’s rather than the producer’s vision.
AP: as an example, on MOONFLEET, he felt anxiety about the script. There were 8 executives who had input into the script – as a writer you need to be robust to cope with this.
FK: ‘The fear is the problem – when you’re too afraid to try things. You can’t work with big fear in the very early stages.’
AP: On an HBO project, he only got about 1 ½ pages of notes on a draft, and the notes were things like, ‘Can you get deeper into that relationship?’, ‘Can you make this section any clearer?’ ie these are good, creative notes that ask important, interesting questions of the story, NOT prescriptive, detailed notes that forensically examine every page and line, that express a lack of trust and belief in the writer’s work and vision.
At the moment there’s a fashion for serials rather than more traditional ‘story of the week’ series.
What’s the best part of the job?
AP: ‘The best moment of the day is when I go into my office, turn on my mac and start writing.’
FK: We are paid to tell the stories that we wanted to tell as children.’
BH: ‘Pressing send when I’ve finished a script. Hanging out with a lot of other writers, who tend to have an interesting view of the world and are interesting people. The camaraderie.’
AP: ‘It’s a golden age of TV – so much recent British TV has been brilliant – for instance GLUE. The situation has been helped by the UK TV production tax breaks. But with that comes a lot of responsibility.
It’s harder to get in than when I started, but once you get in and do a good job, you are looked after. At the same time it’s hard to go from that first step to writing your own shows. You have to find strong creative allies in the business.
Finally, writer CHARLOTTE MACLEOD on the virtues of the Theatre 503 ‘Rapid Write Response’ scheme – which is a great opportunity for writers –
‘Writers write. Then wait. For work to settle. For feedback. From the producer. The director. And our friend. Who we’ve a sneaking suspicion might no longer be our friend, because they’ve yet to get back to us with notes.
Sometimes it feels worse than waiting for Godot.
That’s where the Theatre 503 in Battersea comes in. Every time The 503 opens a new production, the literary team host a special Wednesday writers’ night. By 12am the following Monday, writers are invited to submit a ten minute written response. From the submissions, seven writers are selected, and then paired with a director and cast. Ten days later their play is performed twice to a paying audience. Theatre 503 call it a Rapid Write Response.
The words ‘baptism’ and ‘fire’ do spring to mind. But cast those words asunder. Yes. There is the possibilty of a publically performed failure. It’s a risk. Sure. But isn’t that the best way to learn? And wasn’t it Faulkner who said “Take chances. It might be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
Surprisingly, often Rapid Write Repsonse pieces work. Some are tedious. Some torture. But the audience is always lively, vocal and most importantly supportive. From these hastily written little acorns, great playwrights emerge. Duncan Macmillan in the past, and more recently Land of our Father’s writer, Chris Urch and Bruntswood winner, Anna Jordan.
On Sunday Theatre 503 are producing my Rapid Write Response: Shoot. I’m working with director, Will Edelsten, who’s fitting in rehearsals between directing at the Royal Opera House. Our actors are Raswan Havel, an exciting new young actor, and the brilliant talented Valene Kane. She’s come straight from filming The Fall with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. We’ve all met for the first time this week. Not sure how it will all work out. We’ll have to wait and see. But this is the kind of waiting every writer dreams of.’
Thank you very much Charlotte. And I’m sure it will be a great evening’s theatre – https://theatre503.com/whats-on/
Until next week,
All the best
May 29th 2015