Monday, 26 July 2010

UK Film Council to be abolished

Oh goodness me. This just in. Still in a bit of shock

The UK Film Council is to be axed as part of a cost-cutting drive by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), it has been announced.

The organisation, founded in 2000, had an annual budget of £15m to invest in British films and employed 75 people.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wants to establish a "direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute".

UK Film Council chairman Tim Bevan has called it "a bad decision".

Is it a bad decision? I imagine it is but don't know all the details. There will still be some lottery money available for British films. But how much, and who is to administer that, all remains to be seen. At the moment I am just a bit shocked and feel for the 75 or so people who will lose their jobs at this time of recession. One thing for sure is that the inquest has to start now, and the people at the heart of the industry need to be consulted about how things are taken forward to maintain as much support as possible for British film.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

TV Writers' Festival Part IV

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.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

TV Writers' Festival Part III

Third installment from Simon Stratton on the recent Writer's Festival

Panel 3: Writer for Hire (Nicola Shindler, Sally Wainwright, Mark Catley)

Question: How prepaQuestion: How prepared should an idea be before it's given to Nicola?

Nicola: The big story should be there, not the fine detail - 2.5 pages max. Ideally:

- A fab logline
- Where's the passion and WHY do you want to write it
- Show your commitment to the idea
- Show knowledge of what it's about

Sally: It needs to be specific

Nicola: Can't help pigeonholing an idea for a particular channel.

Sally: Pitched ‘At Home with the Braithwaites’ as a sitcom and it took 5 years to get commissioned

Nicola: Channel controllers have more power now and they move around a lot more, so things get 'un-green lit' all the time.

Sally: Never give up on a job.

Nicola: Except when no-one else thinks it's a good idea

Everything is very London-centric again. You can't find a talented crew in Manchester they've all moved to London.

It's a lot harder to get your own series if you're not a big name writer. If you are on a regualar series, like Doctors, Eastenders or Holby, you will be noticed by Indie Prodcos, especially if your episodes are better than others.

Red Productions read everything that is sent to them. Things aren't that grim at the moment, ITV and BBC are taking more things that might not traditionally be thought to fit on their channels.

To summarise: The financial landscape is terrible, the creative landscape is good.

She's never had a spec script go through to development. They are always a calling card for future writers.

Writers are never pigeonholed by indies, but indies are pigeonholed by broadcasters.

The most important thing in a script is that it must have a story.

Sally: Is scared of story and prefers to have the characters first.

Nicola: TV writing is an art form and the story has to move on quickly. People who write for soaps are better at doing this than those that write for theatre.

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."

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.