WRITING & SELLING A GREAT SCREENPLAY
My two day screenwriting course with Phil Gladwin, running in London on the weekend of Oct 10-11 with guest speaker ESTHER SPRINGER (BBC DRAMA)
SCRIPT-EDITING / DEVELOPMENT COURSES
Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running 2 more 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters, around the UK between now & July 23rd (in Glasgow and Cardiff). The next one is in Glasgow July 15-16. More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website
INDIE TRAINING FUND SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS
A one day script editing / development course in London 10-5 on Thursday July 9th.
GUARDIAN MASTERCLASS / LONDON WRITERS WEEK
As part of LONDON WRITERS WEEK at Central St Martins / The Drama Centre / University of the Arts London, I’m running a three hour Guardian Masterclass on ‘SCREENWRITING & SCRIPT-EDITING’ on Thursday July 9th 6.30 – 9.30.
This week, no.6 of 8 of my 2 day Grand Scheme Media script development courses – this time in the sparkling New World of Media City, Salford Quays, Manchester.
CREATING TV DRAMA SERIES : WORKPLACE DRAMA SERIES
On this course, one of the things we do is analyse a pilot series script. This brings home to me the huge challenge that is involved in creating a new drama series. The script I’ve used most often on the course is a ‘workplace’ / ensemble drama. This led onto a discussion of other workplace drama series and how strong (or not) they are as series formats – what’s dramatically at stake, whether the ‘precinct’ naturally generates a succession of story ideas, whether there’s an interesting hierarchy / character dynamic, etc.
The challenge we always come up against in this conversation is trying to think of fresh drama series formats & precincts – that aren’t crime or medical. And acknowledging why crime and medical shows proliferate so widely – they both enable you to explore a range of stories where there is dramatically a lot at stake – while also giving you all the benefits of a closely-knit and hierarchical community of work colleagues. An interesting – and ground-breaking – recent example in the medical genre is CRITICAL.
This led onto a discussion of the best non-police + medical workplace ensemble dramas series that were successful – and why they were successful – for example legal series like KAVANAGH QC and SILK; anthology series like CLOCKING OFF; LONDON’S BURNING – probably the best example of a really solid format that enjoyed great success (although more recent examples of fire officer shows like STEEL CITY BLUES and THE SMOKE have fared less well).
We had a representative on the course from Red Productions and we discussed recent Red series ORDINARY LIES – and the way stories were generated for that show through the staff of a car sales showroom; and other similar (business workplace) formats – Debbie Horsfield’s CUTTING IT and William Ivory’s COMMON AS MUCK are other examples that stand out.
And we discussed equivalent US / overseas shows like SIX FEET UNDER, SUITS, THE GOOD WIFE, BORGEN, HOUSE OF CARDS.
This is definitely a challenge that is worth taking on – coming up with a ground-breaking, fresh, original workplace ensemble drama series idea. A variation on this theme is the family business saga.
The world of workplace dramas is so diverse – there are many sub-genres within it. Eg we talked about sports dramas – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS being an outstanding example – and UK equivalents – like FOOTBALLERS WIVES, THE MANAGERESS, PLAYING THE FIELD.
There was an outstanding BBC1 series of a few years ago called simply FAMILY BUSINESS which I remember being completely captivated by (written by the very excellent Tony Grounds) – but it pretty much sunk without trace. Talking of Tony Grounds, there is OUR GIRL, which I believe has just been recommissioned for a 2nd series – which is part of another sub-genre of the workplace drama series – military drama, eg SOLDIER SOLDIER (and a very flawed series which I co-produced for ITV about the navy, MAKING WAVES, about which the least said the better). And REDCAP – a hybrid military / legal / crime drama series – and very good too, created by writer Patrick Harbinson.
And then there is the very British question of class issues within an enclosed workplace – eg DOWNTON ABBEY, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS. Both hugely successful shows (and the most recent example of this sort of class-conscious TV workplace drama series is Kay Mellor’s new series of THE SYNDICATE – what do these shows have that makes them successful – that many other workplace UK dramas don’t have?
This debate was very interestingly then addressed by guest writer JOHN FAY talking about his excellent period workplace drama series (another sub-genre!) THE MILL.
I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this huge area of workplace / business / family drama, and I would be grateful to you for filling in the very many gaps in terms of successful workplace drama series.
Another highlight of the course were the pitches the 6 pairs of delegates came up with when given 4 pages from a random newspaper and 10 minutes of discussion time. Even more than at similar sessions on previous courses, I was blown away by the quality and entertainment value of the ideas that were generated.
Several great pitches stood out – a football team drama based on the template of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table – brilliant!
A Billy Elliot-type story about a working-class kid who bucks the odds to become a world-renowned tennis star (great chance to explore questions of class!)
A precinct comedy about a bishop and group of nuns who save their convent by setting up a dope-selling business.
A 360° look at all the characters involved in the story of a refugee who falls to their death from the landing gear of a flight to the UK.
A story inspired by the woman who has amnesia and terminal cancer and is trying to get to the discovery of who she is via facebook.
All of these wonderful ideas came out of one 10 minute brain-storming exercise from newspapers. And they’re all better ideas than 95% of the scripts I’ve read in the last year. Go figure.
Enjoyable though the course was, the highlight of my two day trip was a sporting pilgrimage. A short run took me across the water from Media City up Sir Alex Ferguson Way (My way or the highway) into Sir Matt Busby Way and up to Old Trafford for the first time in my life. Statue of Sir Matt Busby, the (very moving) old clock stopped at the time of the Munich air crash and the ‘Munich Tunnel’. Then I jogged on past Lou Macari’s fish and chip shop to the other Old Trafford – home of Lancashire County Cricket Club, sight of even more sporting history. Between the two grounds are some quiet residential roads with some quite attractive terraced houses – the dream home location for any Northern sporting nut.
And there just happened to be a 4 day county match still in progress at the LCCC – Lancs vs Northants – with the last 6 overs of the day still to be bowled as I arrived at 5.45. Visiting a traditional old cricket ground for the lowest of low key county championship matches took me back to my youth. It felt like into a 1968 time-warp. There were probably about 200 people in attendance in the 20,000 seat stadium, and apart from one dad and his 10 year old boy (and me!) there was pretty much no-one under 70. Just a few old blokes clutching their scorecards and trading indecipherable Manc banter as the Lancs openers battled out the last few overs of the day. A lovely way to spend a day.
This trip to the past was improved even further by the unmanned 2nd hand book table at the back of the stand – with a little tin and a sign, ‘Take whatever you want, any contributions welcome.’ Not the sort of sign you see every day (or any day) In London. I helped myself to a much-heralded cricketing classic that I’d never read, ‘The Best-Loved Game’ by Geoffrey Moorhouse, and a sporting book I’d never even heard of (which is rare) – ‘WINNING’ by Frank Dick, top UK athletics coach from the 1980’s. It contains some stirring inspirational writing and some very insightful coaching advice for athletes (and people in general!) – I couldn’t have dreamed up a book that my running son would have liked to receive more than this.
And the evening was rounded off sitting in the sweltering Salford heat outside the BBC building watching Wimbledon tennis on a giant screen.
In fact Salford in the lovely heat bizarrely reminded me most of Singapore – not a comparison I thought I’d be making – the modern bridges over the water, the shopping ‘outlets’, the lack of crowds – but mostly the oppressive heat!
Until next week,
All the best
July 3rd 2015