Monday, 5 July 2010

TV Writers' Festival Part II

Simon Stratton continues his report from the recent festival in Leeds. Enjoy.

Panel 2: Poacher Turned Gamekeeper (Tony Jordan, Toby Whithouse, Alice Nutter, Stephen Butchard)

Tony J: It's important for all writers to become showrunners. Anything going wrong on a program can be traced back to late scripts. It's ok to start the job knowing nothing.

Toby: The secret is, knowing when to delegate. (e.g. he doesn't direct, as there are better directors out there, but Jed M does.) It's also knowing when to encourage and when to make a decision. When he saw an actor ruin one of his gags, he realised he needed more control. The creative decisions that go on that are not to do with the writing - the things he finds out in discussion with the HDDS and DOPs are fascinating - it's a joy to do.

Tony J: You have a right to go and see your show being made, you don't need to be a showrunner to have that power. You just need to be on set to contribute your thoughts.

Alice: Pressure of working on someone else's show (e.g. The Street) makes you write the best thing you can, but also with as strong as authorial voice you can. You have to balance trying to learn as much on the apprenticeship, while pretending you're a seasoned professional to give others the confidence you deserve to be there.

She would've like the power to give her episodes a morally ambiguous ending, but this was changed by Jimmy MG. Still, she never accepts changes and argues over every word, even though it's Jimmy.

Toby: Showrunners are happiest when they don't have to change anything in the script. But most of the time it's quicker to change the script than to send it back to the writer.

Tony J: That's a slippery slope. The original writer should ALWAYS do the re-write. If he can't and Tony has to re-write himself, then that writer is fired. You should NEVER rewrite another person's script.

He even disagreed with Jimmy MG adding speeches into scripts to keep the distinctive style of the show - he should sit down with the writers and teach them how to do it.

Toby disagreed with this, there may not be time and ultimately what's good for the show is what's important, not the good of a writer. Whatever needs to be done to make it the best episode possible should be done.

Question: As a showrunner who challenges your power/creative decisions?

Toby: Execs say no, but if you find someone who challenges you creatively, hold onto them, they're gold dust.

Tony surrounds himself with writers to brainstorm and goes off on trips with them. If you hire good people, they will challenge you creatively.

Toby: Yes. If you hire a brilliant director, but don't let them challenge you, that's like hiring a Ferrari to use its cigarette lighter.

Tony J: Producers should be scared as more writers now are doing their own producing.

Toby: Do an eight to six day - quoted Julian Fellows "If you waited for the muse to call, a shopping list wouldn't get written."

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