I’m through to the next round of the BBC Drama Writers’ Academy.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an event at BAFTA hosted by mediaXchange. MediaXchange are a company who try and bring creatives together across the Atlantic – so for example TV execs in the UK might be taken across to LA in order to shadow a showrunner for week.
In this case, though, the event was in London. It was a full day of talks from drama creators and showrunners, in the first part of which they brought David Shore across to talk about House. The cost was £125 for new writers (defined as someone without an agent or a television credit), and well worth the money in my opinion. Go check ’em out.
A few of my scribbled notes follow:
His original problem with the series was simple: Germs don’t have motives. So how do you get dramatic followthrough from that? It took him several months of thinking through a line of attack before writing the pilot, which was written in two weeks.
David’s job as showrunner is to do final rewrites. He runs his writers’ room in a different way to many shows – but at the end of the day, there are as many styles of writers’ room as there are showrunners. David only has about twelve days a year in which the staff are all gathered together to break story, and these are used to break the serial elements of the show.
A writer will come to him with a basic idea, which he’ll give a Yea or Nay to. After that, it goes to a 2 page story outline: What’s the disease, and who is the person. David will give notes on that, along the lines of “Here’s what’s good about it, and here’s what’s not.”
The writer will go ahead and rewrite the two-pager as required.
When it goes to script, the writer will get two or three drafts. The final draft is then done pair-writing in David’s office. This works by having a big computer with two screens. They’ll then go through it line-by-line, with the script on-screen, amending as necessary.
Obviously this doesn’t happen all the time due to production deadlines – but he does it this way so that the writer will learn more about his writing style, which should ease the writing next time. After all, the voice of the show is that of the showrunner.
His job is therefore to bring consistency to the show.
Medically, the production gets advice from a nurse on set, a doctor on the writing staff, and three external doctors who give notes on scripts. “A real doctor wouldn’t say that, they’d say this.” These three are also available to the writers for phone consultations.
David used to set a writing exercise for staffers on a previous series:
- Choose an issue
- Write a paragraph about what you believe on the issue
- Write another paragraph completely disagreeing with you
When reading specs, he prefers to read specs for a show that a writer didn’t work on… that way you know that they wrote it 100% themselves, and it wasn’t rewritten completely by the showrunner before production.
Regarding notes: If someone doesn’t like something, there’s probably a problem. It might not be the problem they’ve identified, and the solution they’re offering may be awful… but it’s likely that there really is a problem somewhere.
Fixing problems identified by notes is good. That means you’ve got one more person going to bat for the episode.
Finally he passed on some advice he’d received years ago: If you want to teach a junior writer a lesson, shoot their first draft.
I’m currently working my way through the BBC’s big ol’ report on impartiality, with the slightly clunky title of From Seesaw To Wagon Wheel.
Seventeen pages in, and a particular phrase caught my eye.
“The Independent has replaced news with attitude on its front page.”
True. And that’s why I don’t buy it any more.
And as for the bloody new-look Independent on Sunday… I despair. I really do.
Damn you, the whole point of a Sunday Paper is to share it with whoever’s in the house. To get a leisurely overview and analysis of the weeks news. Not to graze on quick-bite-nugget-news-snacks. I get those off the Internet already.
Now I’m going to have to start buying the bloody Observer. And I don’t like that. But I don’t like it less than I don’t like the new-look Sindie.
Bastards. You’ve taken away my favourite paper.
That’s last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who.
I know everyone else has done this already.
But I feel I have to as well.
Spoilers below. Turn away now if you haven’t seen the episode.
Really, I mean it.
Last chance to turn back.
Here we go:
AAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAH!
It’s only the motherfucking MASTER! AAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Well, that’s my hotel booked for the Screenwriters’ Festival.
Apparently it’s like Glastonbury. Only without the drugs or the music, and with added writing and decent toilets.
OK, not much like Glastonbury at all then.
Instead, it’s four days of hanging out with other people in the industry, going to lectures, talking to writers and producers and directors, shooting the shit, and solving the problems of the world.
Not necessarily all at the same time. But probably.
I’m going for all four days, which is quite expensive at 364 quid, but I think it’ll be worth it. Also, as a writer, it’s a business expense. See? That’s a hundred quid saved in tax right there.
If you want to go but can’t afford it, you might want to consider the following options:
- Just go for the two days that are most relevant.
- Try and get funding from your local screen agency (PDF) for some or all of the entry cost.
- Volunteer to be a runner at the festival.
- Rather than spending a big chunk of change on a hotel, go camping. There’s a campsite within walking distance, according to the festival website.
Me, I’m splurging on the Travelodge. Hope to see you there!
By my reckoning, the worst of the psychic shockwave should hit at about eleven Eastern Standard. Eight Pacific.
How were we to know that the dreams of a million terrified children would rupture the fabric of spacetime, allowing creatures from the dawn of the universe access to the world?
Steven Moffat and the rest of the Doctor Who production team have, of course, been executed. But I fear it’s already too late. For all of us.
Don’t watch episode ten of the new series of Doctor Who.
And whatever you do: don’t blink.