Friday, April 06, 2007

The Neverending Story

Thought I would post a little about what it's like writing for episodic TV. I'd been told to expect notes on a draft all week. Today I was supposed to be having lunch with gorgeous blonde. Hopefully followed by rampant rumpy. But I got notes late last night with a deadline for 3 o'clock today.

The notes weren't good. They showed a complete lack of understanding of pace, tone and character motivation. Given the time constraints I blew off gorgeous blonde to get the script done, and handed in the best job I could out of the piece of crap I had been handed.

Half an hour later I get a call saying an entire story strand is being inserted over 12 eps. Two of which I have written and one of which is the one I've just delivered at 3 o'clock. Kinda makes you wonder why there was such a big rush to turn in that draft overnight?

Kinda makes me pissed off I blew gorgeous blonde off to do it.

But that is the nature of the beast. The schedule rules. A mate of mine and I worked out today that on a particular show we both write on there is about six weeks between commission and the script going into production. Fuck knows what production do for the next 3 months. But out of that six weeks the writers have about ten to twelve days of actual writing. The rest is waiting for notes.

And here's why. Very few people in this business understand writing. They understand timetables and schedules and deadlines and have career ladders to climb. That's a difficult thing to do when you have no discernable creative talent. But that it what you as a writer have to deal with. And I mean that seriously. I pray for the time when non arsey writers get together in a writers room and create magic. The BBC should be doing it now. ITV should have been doing it years ago.


Anonymous said...

"The notes weren't good. They showed a complete lack of understanding of pace, tone and character motivation."

Or... maybe... just go with me...

Maybe the script wasn't good and that's why you're still a freelancer after all these years.

Just a guess.

English Dave said...

Guesses are always welcome.

English Dave said...

Dammit, I should elaborate. Practically all writers in the UK are freelance. That's the way it operates here. A writer is contracted show to show unless they are a core writer on a recurring series in which case they may get a ''guarantee'' But that only refers to soaps.

Phillip Barron said...

Oh look, an anonymous insult to an anonymous writer.

What's the world coming to?

I worked on a sitcom once where five talented writers (and me) sat in a room and shouted at each other every week.

We produced some great comedy, unfortuately it'll never see the light of day: the production company have shelved it indefinitely.

Still, I look back on that period with fond memories and really must do it again soon.

Jaded and Cynical said...

The obvious question is, why do things operate this way here? Is it purely because of financial considerations?

English Dave said...

On short run dramas things can work slightly differently. There may be story conferences where the whole series stories are broken by all the writers together, but then the writers go off and do their own thing to their individual scripts. Any further editorial generally being done with script eds and producers. There is no real set procedure, it dffers from show to show.

I've heard both sides of the argument. Financial from the producers point of view. Development is costly and at a minimum of £150 a day per writer it is costly to keep a room full of writers for days weeks or months at a time. Not without totally renegotiating PACT payments for actual writing.

From the writers point of view. Many prefer to do their own thing. The thought of a room full or writers pouring over and possibly deconstructing their script is not a pleasant one, lol

Piers said...

Of course, a room full of writers gives you the ability to break entire 13-22 episode seasons without writer burnout.

Which you can start selling globally instead of locally.

Which means you can afford a room full of writers.

English Dave said...

Good point Piers. There is an 'indie prodco' feel about UK TV in that they rely on a break out hit every now and again that sells globally. Take E.R and Casualty, two shows ostensibly about the same thing. One sells globally. One sells to about 3 countries. I loved Peter Kay's comment about Casualty. To make it like E.R he plays it fast forward on his video. lol