Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Money Meeting

These are the best meetings in the business because they are the only ones where you know you are going to get paid! The commissioning meeting.

The meeting takes a different form depending on what show you are writing for. The important point is that the hard work has been done. You are in.

Except the hard work is just beginning because if you don't produce a good script you are just as quickly out.

I've worked an several shows and they all use the meeting in different ways. I've even worked on a show where there was no meeting. You got a phone call telling you were being commissioned followed by an e-mail of the storylines. You e-mailed the script in a week later and got a call from the script editor who gave you your 2nd draft notes over the phone .

I wrote maybe fifteen episodes of that show and never once met anyone who actually worked on it!

That isn't the norm though.

The Bill for instance. You get the phone call followed by the story documents of the serial element of the block of episodes. One of which is yours. You are expected to read all the story documents for every episode.

You tip up at the meeting, maybe a week or so later. Present will be the Exec producer, producers, story liners, script editors and supervisors , police procedure advisors, and the writers commissioned on the block. That's maybe twenty five or so people all together.

The writers take it in turns running through their serial elements and might raise some crime story ideas in very rough fashion. The idea of the meeting is to make sure the writer knows when, where and how the serial element for the block and their episode is going to work.

You are then given a week to come up with the crime stories for your episode. That seems like a long time. But bear in mind that coming up with a crime story that A] Hasn't been done, B] Is interesting enough to last the episode and C] Would be great if they tied in somehow with the serial elements, - is actually the most difficult part of the process.

Casualty works in a similar way although it is obviously medical stories rather than crime stories.

Another show I write for you are actually given the scene by scenes for the episodes the night before the meeting. Being given scene by scenes isn't all that usual. The commissioning meeting in this case is basically about the writers making sure they understand the motivations behind the scenes and making suggestions for story improvements or restructuring.

For short form Drama, i.e less than 12 episodes you will generally find that you are given a couple of pages of story documents and told to get on with it. The fact you have been hired in the first place means you're trusted to structure it as you think fit. Unless you're working for 'Shed Productions'

Did I say that out loud?

Best practice in a commissioning meeting? Do not slag anything off. Couch criticisms in terms of ' I had a thought about maybe doing it this way with so and so doing that'
Do not say 'That's bollock's' unless absolutely necessary.


Danny Stack said...

Hello! Found you through Steve @ Writing Lounge. Excellent blog, nice one.

English Dave said...

Thanks for dropping by Danny. Glad you enjoyed it.

Steve attempted to tell me how to provide links but I was too dense.

Read yours too, very good stuff. Nice to see another Brit!

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Thnx for the post ED - interesting stuff especially to non-TV-ites like me. Do those comm. meetings run pretty smoothly or have you ever had any horror stories? Best.SWU

English Dave said...


I recall one meeting on a show that had just got a new Exec producer. There was already an amount of trepidation because no one had really heard of her and there was a degree of 'who did she sleep with to get this job'

Things didn't start of that well when she introduced the new face beside her as her sister who was going to be a writer on the show!

She then proceeded to outline a story she wanted to see. Something about one of the rock solid middle aged characters getting in tow with a hooker who it turned out was on the run as the sole survivor of a suicide cult. The leader of the cult then turns up with the intention of fulfilling the mission.

I 'ironically' piped up that she was 'the Golden Child' and the Exec to my horror latched on to this with gusto and said that was it exactly.

I turned to the producer sitting beside me and we both mouthed 'Oh Shit!'

I think she was one of the shortest lived Exec producers in TV history. 3 months I believe.