I am pleased to give you another writer – Nicholas Gibb’s view, on the recent BBC Writers’ Festival. He is also a member of my group on Facebook; The Script Advice Writer’s Room. Join him and me there if you haven’t already. Here’s Nicholas’ take on that packed and exciting day….
I was one of the writers who went to the TV Drama Writers’ Festival to listen to and engage with some of nation’s top writers, producers and the Director-General of the BBC.
Tony Jordan gave the opening Keynote speech ‘If Content is King, Where’s Our Crown?’ Everything starts with the writer but, yet, we do not wear that crown and the only way we will is by being brave, innovative and genre shaking. The truth is, irrespective of the platform by which viewers will watch drama, those platforms need content and it is that content which will help define a channel be it public service, commercial or subscription-based. Writers will have to create that increasing demand for defining content. Tony has issued a challenge to the writing community to be original and prepare for the coronation.
In Barbara Machin and Danny Brocklehurst’s session on ‘Developing Your Character’, it was fascinating to hear how these two writers work. Preparation and knowing your character before they end up on the page so that you know how your characters will behave and react in the narrative is important. Then there was the puzzle of how your characters fit together in the narrative. In that development process, characters may change or evolve. In Barbara Machin’s Waking The Dead, the original relationship between Boyd (Trevor Eve) and Grace (Sue Johnston) was to be on equal footing but in the series, it never quite achieved that.
An illustrative 100-second clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mtTrBqXMIQ ) about character dynamics from Waking The Dead, which was a scene all about character in which Boyd has come to apologise to Frankie. Boyd, a man who does not know what to say, to a woman who is not comfortable with expression of emotion.
Danny spoke of his work on Shameless and his fondness for characters of Kev Ball and Veronica Fisher and evolving their characters and their love story at the heart of which was a secret. Giving a character a secret presents an inner dramatic tension that colours choices and behaviour.
In Writers For Sale? Bryan Elsley, Sophie Gardiner, Levi David Addai and Hilary Salmon were in discussion about the practicalities of being a writer. Bryan Elsley noted that the biggest threat to being a writer is waiting to be paid. Like everyone else a writer need to put food on the table. He also mentioned that the moment you option your script it is no longer your script but that is name of the game for a writer – selling scripts. In addition, in this session, Levi David Addai (Youngers, My Murder) spoke of how he blew a gig on EastEnders but that has not had a detrimental effect on his career.
There was also a brief discussion about the changing role of script editors. Script editors appear to be less the writer’s friend and more on the producer’s side. There was also a question over the quality of script editors.
In The Politics of Drama session, Peter Moffat spoke about his experience of being a criminal barrister. He gave an inkling of how the legal system can help to prepare you to be a scriptwriter. His experience in court was the almost the same as writing a script. Essentially, in a criminal case each side is trying to present a narrative that a jury (the audience) is more likely to believe. Before questioning a witness, he would prepare a train of thought through a series of questions that would lean towards answers that supported his client’s narrative. It obviously inspired the stories in dramas like Criminal Justice and Silk. He also emphasised the importance of research and the reality, which influences his gritty dramas like The Village.
After lunch, Tony Jordan was in conversation with the Director General of the BBC Tony Hall. It is the first time I have ever known a Director General to speak directly to writers.
In Selling Your Idea, Jane Featherstone, Chris Aird, Toby Whithouse and Peter Bowker spoke about the pitching process. In essence, it is the script, ideally via an agent but there are exceptions but the likelihood of an unrepresented writer getting their script commissioned is very small. Competitions can be a way of getting notice. Kudos has an association with the Red Planet Prize and they have picked up writers from that competition. The other thing is, and it seems blindingly obvious, watch television drama. Take note of who makes what and what is the competition.
The final session I attended was with the writer Abi Morgan. She spoke of her experience and working methods – research is important – and the less pleasing aspect of being bumped off a film and The Hour being cancelled after two series.
However, the most important part of the day was talking with other writers and being out of my writing room!
Nicholas Gibbs trained as a script editor, he has years of experience in the television industry and is a professional writer whose book on writing for television and selling your script, is a great guide to the industry. https://www.hodder.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781444167597