15 May WRITING TO GET NOTICED: FIVE WAYS A WRITER CAN STAND OUT IN TELEVISION
You have been writing for a while now; honing your craft; you are serious about being a professional writer, one who gets paid for the scripts they produce and you have decided you want to be a Television Writer and As Soon As Possible.
There are doors in your way.
All of them closed right now. And non open automatically.
Doors worth passing through are like that. Doors that open automatically do so for a reason.
Supermarket doors want your money. Shopping Arcades make getting in, and spending money easier by whizzing open with lightening speed, sensing your approach ‘come in, who ever you are, come in come in’.
Televison doors are much more selective.
In my book; Writing For Television; Series, Serials and Soaps I go into more detail as to how you can garner the skill base you need to get through that shut door and into a busy drama production office and so on to a show as a writer, but here for ease and quick reference, I set out the TOP FIVE WAYS to get seen, heard, and commissioned in television.
1/ BE TRUE TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL VOICE
I will take it as a given that you are writing every day. You need to do this like breathing. The writing muscle needs consistent and dedicated work outs to keep it in shape. The way you look at the world, even at the most everyday things, is where your strength as a writer lies. Only you can tell it how you see it. So keep doing that every day. And finish what you start.
2/ GET NETWORKING
There is no longer any excuse for any one of us to hide our talent or to shy away from the public eye. If you want to be a professional writer working in television, you can be as retiring as you like in your personal life, but you owe it to your creative ability and desire to furnish yourself a healthy writing career, to be as open and as communicative as you can possibly be. Getting the most out of the social networks available to us as switched on writers is key to getting heard and getting noticed. There are people out there that can help you begin to push on that door, so make sure you connect with not only like-minded types on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc, but also have no fear in asking to connect with producers, script editors and established writers. In my experience, most people, even if they are quite high up the television tree, are approachable and open to making contact with writers that are serious about what they do. Just make sure you do the contacting with politeness and grace.
3/ GET UP TO SPEED
Don’t get found out. Make sure, before you send your work out to people you have made contact with, that your script delivers the polished professional look that will be expected by the industry in general. So it really is worth investing in a reputable script editing professional or script development exec (like myself!) to make sure your work cuts the mustard. A professional script editor will be looking not only at the essential creative elements of your script (narrative, structure, characterisation, dialogue, tone, pace etc) but also will obliquely have noted in the first read, whether the layout meets the industry standard.
Layout, scene headings, scene description, page count, all these details are not what will get you a commission, should they be beautifully and correctly present in your script, but they will stop you being commissioned if they are not there at all.
So get your head around the nuts and bolts of script appearance and stick to the rules of script layout. No point trying to re-invent the wheel when the wheel has been turning smoothly in this way for decades.
4/ BEAT THE ZEIGEIST
Television drama feeds off ideas. Dramatic stories form the vital food group all television production and broadcasters need. So the journey to the door, which we endeavour to open, begins with your idea. Make it a commercially savvy one as well as being a creative and interesting one.
Television drama producers want to make money, appeal to a mass audience, deliver quality on time and to budget. No one wants to lose money and fail the ratings war. So ideas must be boyant, strong, and have a rock solid human appeal.
There is a reason why there is a steady stream of ‘precinct’ dramas like Holby City and Happy Valley on television. Although these two examples are obviously clearly different creatures, they are formed from the same gene pool. Their DNA is similar. A format you can return to. A strong set of characters to which we can relate. Both prodcedural (one medical, one police) both informed and infused with relatable characters and cracking story lines that have immediate resonance and impact on a wide ranging audience demographic.
Often the strongest dramas on television are those that cover tried and tested ground but come at the subject from an oblique angle.
In television it is all about the angle.
In Broadchurch, Chris Chibnail cleverly focused on the impact the suspicious death of a child had on the community that child lived in. In Last Tango In Halifax, the relationship between two oldies (not the most original idea) was explored to perfection by Sally Wainwright as she cast an unforgiving light on the pre-conceptions of the families involved.
If you are coming up with ideas that you then frustratingly see on screen; celebrate, don’t get bitter. You are doing it right. You have tapped into the Zeitgeist. You just have to keep doing it because you will, eventually, be one step head of it, and that is just the right place to be for a television writer.
5/ RELIABLY DELIVER
So let’s say you have done what you once thought unthinkable, and walked through the door and a television person (script editor, producer, development script editor) is asking to see your work. This is now the time to shine.
Only deliver what they asked for.
Do it before they expect it, but once done, do not chase until at least 2 weeks have elapsed. Then do so politely and with an open mind.
If you said you were going to deliver a treatment with your script then make sure you have done. And make no mistake here, treatments in television are not the chunky tomes they sometimes are in the film industry. Keep your treatment (your selling document) as succinct and as interesting as you can. I like to say 6 pages maximum.
Once comissioned, keep up the momentum. You need to be the writer the industry see as both consistently good and reliably dependable. Be the writer everyone wants to commission. No point in being tricky, difficult, vague or generally rubbish at meeting deadlines. Be the good guy.
I hope you get to open those doors – the ones that are presently closed to you. Use my book and blogs, get professional script editing help and keep honing your craft; remember – you have the key.
Pre-order your copy of my book here – out in June published by Kamera Books
Contact me for help with your scripts www.scriptadvice.co.uk
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