The fourth part of Simon Stratton's excellent overview of what went down at the Writers' Festival.
Panel 4: They Won't Like That (Toby Whithouse, Pete Bowker, Sophie Gardiner, Ben Stephenson)
Pete: Thinking about which broadcaster a piece can be sent to while you're writing it can be quite healthy. It sets you challenges. Be aware of what's out there at the moment and be different.
Channel 4 have the strongest identity of all the channels, but he had no idea of what that is. Just think - this is what I want to write and why.
Ben: Definitely no prescription of what to write from the BBC! We never say ‘We want something set in a park’ although we wouldn’t say no to something set in a park.
Pete: They want something set in a park.
Ben: We just want the best that's out there. If you try and second guess us and write something you don't love, it won't get made.
Sophie: Commissioners don't know what they want until they see it. Producers need to know why you want to write something so they can buy into it too.
Ben doesn't want copies of successful shows. Needs everyone to feel passionate about their projects. He won't go near Archaeology for a while and time travel ‘cos of Dr Who and Ashes to Ashes. And it's hard to do another piece about Iraq. Always need Crime and Police dramas. But urges people to look at what's going to be the next iteration of a genre, like ‘Being Human’ did for vampires.
Sophie: For Misfits the brief came from the Channel, but ultimately the idea from the writers. I.e. the idea was at an early stage and refined towards what C4 wanted - less middle class than Skins etc.
Ben: Commercial broadcasters are more prescriptive as they HAVE to hit their target audience. The only BBC channel that has to be driven by demographics is BBC 3 which has to be more populist and aimed at a younger audience.
Ben does have relationships with agents.
Sophie: Does have agents she prefers as they understand the kind of writing she likes.
Be aware of budget and find a way to ratchet up the tension cheaply without making it look cheap. Watch The Hurt Locker or Occupation for examples.
Ben: Just write it. Let the channel worry about costs - ambition is more important. The original script for Small Island was ridiculously expensive.
Ben is trying to knock down walls so there aren't Chinese whispers of what he says passed down between agent and writer.
Toby: Agents constantly say 'Ben won't like that' which is rubbish. Don't be afraid to ask the commissioner - phone, e-mail etc.
Ben: The strangest thing I heard about myself is that I hates clowns. This is not true.
Pete: Ben's looking for clowns in a park.