Regular readers of my blog and readers of my book; Writing For Television Series Serials and Soaps – will know how that I started my long career in television drama production via the script editing route. My baptism of fire was on EastEnders, but here I talk to a busy script editor, working on Emmerdale.
Donna Metcalf’s route to script editing was not a straight forward one. Like anything worth having in life, she had to work hard to get the gig. But as I point out in my recent blog about making connections in the Television Industry – only-connect-making-contacts-in-the-television-industry – every one needs a champion, and once you find that person, you will find doors open easier. Be ready to take the opportunity that arises for you.
Here Donna shares her thoughts about working on the show, her specific role within the production process and tells us how she got in to the business in the first place.
How did you get into script editing for series drama; was there anyone in particular who you feel helped you to get to this stage in your career?
Getting into script editing was a long hard slog! I first heard of it by seeing a job description, and thought it was perfect for me – I wanted a job where I could use the analytical skills I learnt during my English Degree, whilst working in a fun and creative environment. As I had no previous media experience, it took a great deal of hard work and persistence to get my foot in the door. I started off by working as a runner and doing bits and pieces of work experience - I took anything from audience runner on Jeremy Kyle, to script development at Lime Pictures. As these jobs were few and far between and mostly unpaid, I worked as a waitress and receptionist to pay my way. I also volunteered to script read for as many groups as possible, widening my skillset to radio, animation and TV.
I found it difficult to find out about script editor training, so did a script reading course at The Script Factory in London, and script reading and script editing courses at North West Vision, where I later became one of their script readers.
My first big break was a short contract at Emmerdale covering the Script Secretary role, however, this was only temporary and I was soon back to temping. After a pretty fruitless year, the assistant Producer, Tony Hammond asked me to come back and I’ve stayed ever since – starting as script secretary, then Emmerdale archivist, assistant script editor (a role which I created) and then Script editor. I have so much to thank Tony for, because he was always willing to give me a chance – and eventually, it paid off.
To be a good script editor, you need to genuinely love writers and working with them. How many writers do you work with regularly on the show, and what, from your experience, could you say are the best sort of writers to work with?
My favourite part of the job is working with the writers. We currently have 25 writers on the team, so we’re never short on variety! I find it really important to have a good working relationship with our writers, and the best edits are with writers who embrace the notes and want to discuss how to make the note work in the most exciting way possible. I love a good mixture of enthusiasm and creativity, and work hard to ensure the writer still feels they have their own stamp on the episode. It’s always easier if the writers are open to changes and want to have a healthy discussion rather than dig their heels in or passively take notes.
Note giving is a delicate job to do well. What are the techniques you use to get the best out of your writers and how do you handle giving tricky notes?
The key for me is to know the writer, that way I can deliver my notes appropriate to each writer’s temperament. I fully appreciate that writing is a lonely profession, and pouring your heart into something just to be given notes must be a difficult thing. So I make sure I’m always tactful and positive. I try to be as honest as possible, but also supportive and enthusiastic. If there’s an issue in the script, it’s often because the writer didn’t quite believe what they were writing, so I try to locate the problem so the next draft can be as strong as possible.
Can you briefly outline a typical script editing day for you on Emmerdale?
Emmerdale works on a monthly cycle, so for script editors, our week will generally alternate between first draft edits or publishing week. Each week tends to consist of a reading day, a script meeting where we go through scripts page by page, then I prepare edits and get on the phone to writers. A typical day would start at around 9am. I usually work on the train to Leeds, prepping my edits, then pretty much as soon as I get to work I’ll be on the phone. I chat through headline notes on story changes and character through-lines, then we go through page by page. I tend to do about three edits a day, and in between that I’ll answer my emails and get calls from set. When a script is filming, we get regular updates on timings – often having to look for cuts or add extra material, but we also have to be available for any on-set issues.
How many scripts to do edit at any one time?
We tend to work on a block of four scripts at any one time. This can mean having four at first draft stage, four at publishing stage, and up to two blocks in production, where we’re on call from 7am to 7pm every day for any on-set issues or queries.
How many writers do you work with?
How many script editors are there on the show?
There are 4 script editors, 1 assistant script editor, and 2 part-time series script editors.
Does Emmerdale use storyliners. And if so, how is your job affected by their input?
Yes, we have a team of storyliners as well as a story producer and story editor. Our stories are generated at story conference every month, where the storyliners go away and write story strands and a storyline document is produced. We use their story document when reading first draft scripts – it’s important to see what the intention of the story was, as well as understanding any decisions the writer has made, and to check that all story beats are covered.
Lastly, can you sum up what it is like, working on a huge juggernaut of a show like Emmerdale?
Working on Emmerdale is a dream come true. I couldn’t wish to work with a better team of people - there’s a wonderfully friendly atmosphere here. It’s a very busy and challenging job – the hours are very long and it can be stressful. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for where I work. I’m very passionate about Emmerdale, and when you work with so many talented people, it’d be impossible not to give it 100% every day.
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