It’s a chilly September morning. The heating is on at Script Advice Towers. Another Summer been and gone, for this blogger at least, in a blur of sandwiches, sand in sandals and a bid to keep sane by script editing your work and grateful for it.
And now my thoughts take a philosophical turn…
My career in television is not as long, or illustrious as many I admire in the Industry today; but it represents a fair whack of time. 23 years to be exact.
Falling through the door of the EastEnders Story Conference at Elstree in 1990, late because there was a cow on the line (yes, a cow….) I had no idea then how much I was going to learn, or how long I had ahead of me to put what I had learned into practise.
And of course, a natural ability in understanding, handling, creating and fixing drama for television has to be there in the first place, so you can build on what you already have innately; but I wanted to say here, because it feels like time I did, that I owe everything I learned, and everything I now know about drama, and how to make it for the small screen, to the writers I met then, have met since, and all the television scribes I have worked with.
EastEnders in the 1990’s was a crucible of television writing talent.
Tony McHale; the Lion King of story lining; lifting his head back and roaring with laughter, or disdain, as he passionately defended his story line, was a strong, expert voice around the Story Conference table. He tolerated me and my lack of knowledge; I earned my stripes and to this day, our respect is mutual. The same goes for Tony Jordan. He of the colourful waistcoats and equally colourful stories. Matthew Graham, then a relative green horn to the process, was soon to show his true story mettle. Ashley Pharoah; kind to me in the face of my ignorance, Jeff Povey too; a jolly, sharp, easy going sharer of The Way To Handle Story.
These men, (and in those days, at least in my experience, it was the male voices that shone the brightest on the show) were all to a man, kind, collaborative and willing to let me stumble until I found my feet. You learned on the job. As a Script Editor, editing the work of writers who knew the show backwards, and were assured of their skill as writers for it, you learned quickly to be sure of what you were saying and why you were saying it. And these writers did not let me get away with anything. Sometimes the notes were hard to get across without a certain amount of fur flying. But it was only a moult – never a shearing.
Granada Television, when I went there in the late 1990’s as a Series Script Editor to join Carolyn Reynold’s department, was another hotbed of writing talent.
The Series and Serial drama department was a burgeoning place to be in those days. We were coming up with drama serial formats and pitching regularly to the Network Centre. Granada Tv was in a strong position both creatively and politically, and part of it’s pedigree had been built by the reputation and skill of writers like Kay Mellor, Paul Abbot and Russell T Davis. And it was here that I met and worked with Russell; learning all I now know about story lining, from the best in the business.
Developing drama series ideas with writers like Sally Wainwright, Cath Hayes, Jan McVerry and Julie Rutterford, taught me how to collaborate with creatives and to learn how an instinctive story teller uses, for instance, humour, to get their point across. To this day, and thanks to those women in particular, I look for the humour in a script where possible; it tests the mettle of writers, but done properly, will elevate a script from the norm to the special. The script edit sessions I did with these funny, clever, razor sharp, witty women of television, often ended up with one or both of us in pain, not from the horrors of the edit, but from laughing. The female voices at Granada in those days, rang out loudly.
Writers are truly the best people. Honing the work of talented writers gave me just about the best education in how to make drama better.
There will be edit sessions I will banish to the development incinerator, never to be spoken of again, and there are writers who, at the mention of my name will turn an unhealthy pallor, (we know who you are) but in the main, over the majority of those 23 years I say hand on my heart – it was a pleasure to learn from you.
I help writers write better scripts here www.scriptadvice.co.uk