Sunday, 4 July 2010

TV Writers' Festival Part I

I wasn't in Leeds (I don't often make it outside the M25 thank you very much) but you're still in for a treat this week - as you don't have to listen to me going on about something. Instead Simon Stratton has kindly offered to share his experiences with us at this first time, very unique, hopefully to be repeated event.

Panel 1: Whose voice is it anyway? (Nicola Shindler, Jed Mercurio, Mark Catley, Tony Marchant)

Nicola: Broadcasters are not dictating what they want so much anymore, and it's all about the next piece you write, not the last.

Jed: Ignore what channels want, write what interests you. By the time you get something in front of commissioners, their tastes will have changed.

Sky is a new player in the market and offers an opportunity for new relationships to be made.

If he writes something that is only suitable for BBC2 or Channel 4, it's so hard to get on these channels, he sometimes thinks 'why bother?' and gives up on them. (There was a general feeling throughout the festival that Channel 4 reject everything put before them.)

In America, if you create a show, you run it. That should happen here.

Canal + is another player who want English language shows and are worth approaching.

Mark: Series writing is looked down upon.

Nicola: You can have the sexiest script around, but if it's not what they're looking for 'right now' it'll be rejected. They gave the example of 'Lockerby' a drama written for BBC 1 with a great untold story and relevance, but it hasn't been made.

Audience question: Any taboos in TV writing?

Jed: An exec once asked me to cut a scene of a Doctor zipping up his flies as his mother wouldn't like the insinuation that he hadn't washed his hands.

Nicola: Good producers love writer involvement.

Jed: Showrunning means two things in the UK. Either: You appear, give your wisdom and leave or you do all the menial tasks such as filling out forms and making phone calls. If a producer won't let you get involved in the casting, run a mile.

Tony: Don't write to briefs. But there are overarching briefs to the channels that you need to be aware of.

Nicola: If you write to a brief or a fashion it will be over by the time you've finished.

Jed: If you want speedy development, go abroad.

Tony: There is a temptation at the moment to repeat success until it fails (e.g. a modern re-imagining of the Canterbury tales led to a modern re-imagining of Shakespeare and so on until dreadful scripts are produced just because they fit the zeitgeist.)

Mark: Commissioners want a copy of the last thing that was successful.

You CAN have an individual voice and tell your own story in a series. E.g. for Casualty, the only remit is that it has to be in a hospital. They have guest episodes for this.

Jed: You're only as good as the NEXT thing you write.

Tony: Everything I've ever sent to C4 has been rejected.

We need to have another way to get original drama on TV rather than an apprentice in a series.

Jed: Subscription channels attract better cast and talent behind the camera (e.g. Sky, HBO) as there is more money available.

Could the Beeb do more to show stuff from new writers? Tony Marchant thought so and suggested BBC4 could be cut or used to house more low budget drama and less expensive bio-pics.

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