Friday, August 04, 2006

"Applying film standards to TV drama"

There's an interesting interview with John Yorke, the BBC's Controller of Continuing Drama Series and Head of Independent Drama, now up for viewing here. In between the moody shots of him strolling around a rain-lashed EastEnders set, Yorke reveals what he looks for in a new writer's script, where BBC TV drama is headed and offers a few tips on improving scripts. Much of this advice is familiar, but that doesn't make it any less important.

Key strengths new writers need to display are a grasp of structure, an ability to capture the voices of existing characters and having their own, distinctive authorial voice. Of course, there's a Catch-22 for new writers: to get the BBC's attention, you have to send them a script entirely of your own devising, and definitely not a spec script for an existing show. So how, then, do new writers display their ability to capture the voice of existing characters like Dot Cotton? I guess you have to wow the BBC Writers' Room with your own efforts first, and then you'll get the chance to say you can write for Dot Cotton in EastEnders or Mac in Doctors or Charlie on Casualty.

Yorke says the proof of a good character is they have a unique voice and a unique take on the world. Creating characters like that in your own, calling card script is the best way of demonstrating your own voice. Yorke also underlines the importance of theme, and how every storyline in a script should reflect on that one theme, whether the tone of the storyline is comedic, dramatic or tragic. Unsurprisingly, he name-checks fast-paced, younger, sexier shows like Life on Mars, Spooks and Hustle as examples of where the BBC is headed. But Yorke also gaves a bit of love to older audience shows like New Tricks, which has been a significant ratings hit.

Anyway, the interview offers a fascinating - if all too brief - insight into what Yorke wants. [Hmm, I wonder if he'd buy a series of Being John Yorke?] Go and see for yourself...

1 comment:

TonyB said...

Thanks for the heads up. I found the piece very interesting and useful. John Yorke didn't say anything startling but it's good to hear an overview of what the beeb wants straight from the horse's mouth.

It's a little worrying if the whole of their drama is going in the direction of shows like 'Spooks', 'Hustle' etc. Enjoyable though they are they aren't exactly realistic in terms of story or character.

They are just wafer-thin fantasy pieces and I think there also have to be opportunities for other types of drama which deal with more real, or down to earth issues using multi dimensional characters.

Having said that, I thought 'Life On Mars', another show he liked, covered all the bases brilliantly. It was a fantasy but in the bizarre world it created it managed to deal with real issues brilliantly by dint of excellent three dimensional characters and sharp, economical story telling.

Stage one is to write a brilliant spec script and then you'll be having a pint of best down the Vic before you know it!