WHAT THE SCRIPT FACTORY SAYS ABOUT SCRIPT ADVICE:
“We can heartily recommend Yvonne’s workshops – she unravels television like no one else!
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https://scriptadvice-co-uk.stackstaging.com offering writers mentoring, training and script editing services in order to develop their work and talent. Please pass on this link to your fellow writers.
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AND INTRODUCING MY NEW BLOG; GEORGE, THE BLOGGING WRITER. Read all about her rocky journey towards television writing enlightenment here – https://yvonblog.wordpress.com/
* ATTENTION PLEASE! (the shortening attention span in tv)
* Interesting Stuff
We live, here at SCRIPT ADVICE TOWERS, in the highest part of the Sussex Weald. It’s rather lovely a lot of the time, but right now, and seemingly for most of the Summer, my house and garden are sulkily wrapped in a grey damp mist; a grumpy combination of rain and condensation. Added to, no doubt, by the multitude of sighs and groans emitted from the mouths of desultory residents of the Upper Sussex Weald who have (unwillingly) learned to swallow the fact that living in a hilly part of damp Britain means that rain and general moistness ensues on a daily basis. My curly hair is now more pubic than ringlet. Not a good look.
It’s sometime in the 1970’s and Coronation Street is on the telly. I am approximately 10 years old (my exact age is on a need to know basis) and I have decided I feel sorry for Elsie Tanner. She makes light banter and tries to be brusque and show her harder edge, as she chats with her friend in the room at the back of the Rovers Return. She is waiting on Alan her husband and we all know (my mum, my sisters and me, all watching from the green and grey flocked settee we had for about 30 years) that her feckless husband will come home drunk and not be able to eat his Christmas dinner.
Except the dialogue doesn’t say this, she just shows this to us by what she choses to talk about instead. Subtle acting. Detailed, closely observed performance generated by true depth of character.
It is hard to tell, watching the squat black box (tellys were like laquered bricks back then) if the writing informs the acting or the other way round but all I know is that I totally believe in Elsie Tanner and am waiting with a delicious dread for the moment Alan will come lurching through the door of their lurid sitting room set, and a marvellous, passionate, explosive argument will ensue where (I secretly hope) Elsie’s normally laquered hairdo would get messed up as she lobbed an ashtray at Alan’s head.
Me and my family – like millions of viewers then and still today, were not disappointed. Soaps guarantee that the loyalty of their regular viewers is rewarded with murder, intrigue, betrayal, affairs, robbery and lots of high octane argument. People, after all, are much more interesting when they are behaving badly. And of course one of the main jobs of a long running drama series like Coronation Street and it’s (younger) sisters, is to engage as many people as possible on as many nights as frankly, the Network can get away with ordering from the Production Company. And they order these shows in bulk.
When I worked on Eastenders, it was transmitted twice a week and just as I had run my Script Editing battery almost down to the last spark, Alan Yentob informed the Production Teams that we were soon to go into factory mode and transmit (and therefore produce) 4 a week. There was of course, a loud and vociferous reaction to this news – how can we make more when there’s only so many hours in the day etc but all complaints were met with stoney silence from ‘Upstairs’ and we of course, got on with the job in hand.
Looking at the Coronation Street of the 1970’s and comparing it with how the show looks now, there is one glaring difference to my eye. It’s not the absence in 2012 of Rayon, Nylon and backcombing, nor is it the fact that in the ’70’s the sets had a wobbly tendency(production values have increased across the board since those heady days of covering everything in sticky back plastic and hoping the scene struts at the back of The Rover’s Snug would hold out for another recording) no, it’s the length of scene and the amount of dialogue in those scenes. The main difference is, in short, in the writing and the way in which the script is put together.
Watching an old episode of Coronation Street on my laptop, I am struck by the sheer amount of screen time given to say, Elsie, as she anxiously walks around her living room, touching up her makeup in the mirror over the fireplace, eyeing the un-opened bottle of wine – should she have a glass? No, she’s going to wait. And when she is joined by an astonishingly young looking Emily Bishop, the dialogue is still subtle, cleverly observed, but layered with subtext and comedy. Again, as in the case of the performances, the dialogue is saturated in character. These women sit and talk. And the scene goes on. It’s nearly 5 minutes long. I remember when I was script editing Eastenders, if a scene ran to more than 3 minutes it was unusual. This is because today’s television drama is a much more frenetic creature and our audiences now, although still wanting character, intrigue and emotional voracity, also want action, colour, and things generally going on.
So the scenes in television drama scripts got shorter over the years and less dialogue was written per scene, less exploration of character is possible and more is made of the text, not the subtext of what we see on screen.
Our attention span is getting shorter. And as always, Soaps, mirroring the Zeitgeist, reflect this trend.
As a script editor I waged my own private battle against writing that was ‘too on the nose’. By that I mean too obvious, stating the plotline, describing what you see, and generally being crude and lazy. So phrases like ‘a penny for them?’ and ‘we need to talk’ were banned from the episodes I worked on. Writers had to find other, more character-driven ways to bring out in a scene the fact that a person was clearly not concentrating or that a character had a lot on their mind.
I believe that audiences don’t like obvious dialogue either. We all love the richness and colour of really good character-driven writing but not all of us are aware of this when watching our favourite Soap, or drama series, we just know when it works, because when it doesn’t, we stop engaging with the people on screen and caring about whether they are going to die, going to marry, going to get rich, get pregnant, get over him/her or not, and turn over.
Although I owe a lot to Eastenders I have to say Corrie in my view sits heads and shoulders above it and so it is this show I will finish by crediting with a big gold star. The turnaround on this show, the sheer amount of episodes that have to be written, cast, recorded and transmitted in order to meet the rigours of their contracted output, is phenomenal. And still, albeit with shorter scenes, more action than subtext, more big bangs than characterful whimpers, the writing remains subtle, it illuminates character and highlights our humanity and most magnificently, our lack of it.
LONDON SCREEN WRITERS FESTIVAL – THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Here I am, with Tony McHale (vetern long running drama writer/director/story producer, Tracy Brabin (ex-Corrie actress and now writer of Shamless, Hollyoaks and more) and Damon Rochefort (veteran Corrie Producer/writer) talking about (amongst the gossip and the anecdotal chat!) about Writing For Long Running Drama and how to keep your work fresh and watchable – date for you diary if you havent already bought your ticket: OCTOBER 27th SATURDAY – check out the LSWF website for the schedule and all the other marvellous events.
FOR A DISCOUNTED TICKET – CLICK ON THE LINK FROM MY WEBSITE AND USE DISCOUNT CODE YVONNEGRACE – www.scriptadvice.co.uk
HOW TO GET INTO TELEVISION AND STAY THERE
I did a Breakfast Talk recently for the LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL. I have my notes (16 pages in all) available for sale on www.paypal.co.uk. My PayPal ID is email@example.com and the notes are £7.99. If you want some solid, entertaining, informative pointers as to how to go about this business of television writing, these are the notes you need.
useful website where you can download produced tv scripts. This is great if you need to get your head around layout issues and the general vocabulary screen writers are required to understand and use.
An excellent resource for writers – register your script here and keep yourself up to date with products and services aimed at professional writers.
An innovative and go-getting initiative aimed at promoting all writing on all levels. They interviewed me recently and here’s the link to the interview – but have a trawl around too. They run regular writing competitions, with great prizes and a spangly award ceremony coming up in December where rumour has it, Yours Truely may be awarding the Brit Writers Prize for Best Screenwriter 2012.
A useful list of top notch agents and their submission requirements – some still accept unsolicited work
Many of you will either know of, or be a member of SCRIPT ADVICE WRITERS ROOM on FACEBOOK, but if you haven’t yet joined, please do, it is a vibrant lively community of writers, trainers, learners, moaners, growers and doers and I would love to see you there! Here is the link again – so get clicking!
I am always chuffed to get more followers so here’s the link to me on Twitter again:
I hope I can help you with your writing; be it a television script, short or full length film or screen play, treatment or outline, novel or radio play, I read and script edit them all and can definitely help improve yours. Drop me an email@ Yvonne.firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get working!
BYE FOR NOW AND HAPPY WRITING.
copyright Yvonne Grace Script Advice www.scriptadvice.co.uk October 2012