There's been a lot of bellyaching on screenwriting forums like Shooting People about the UK Film Council restricting entry to its 25 Words Or Less contest to those who already have an agent. One side of the argument seems to run along these lines: the UKFC is a publicly funded body, therefore it should open the contest to all of the public. The other side points it's not as if 25 Words Or Less is the only opportunity on offer. The UKFC has other funding opportunities that don't expect applicant writers to already have representation, and there are plenty of other publicly funded bodies that run schemes and contests to encourage new writing.
This debate feels like a larger version of the arguments some students have on the MA Screenwriting course I'm currently completing. There are those who see the course as a place to learn, to hone their creativity, increase their skill base and do some networking - all in a safe, enclosed environment. Others give the impression they believe attaining the MA will provide a free pass into the film and TV industry, like Willy Wonka and his golden tickets. It's as if they believe the MA course gives them some entitlement, as if the film and TV industry owes them a living for showing up. Bollocks. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You want to make a living, you've got to earn it. You want to get respect as a professional writer, you've got to earn that too. Be professional. Never miss a deadline. Be prepared to make sacrifices. Not just money, but time. I want to write TV drama, so I try to watch the first episode of every new TV drama that's broadcast. Last week ITV launched Talk To Me, a steamy relationship drama made by Company, written by Danny Brocklehurst. It's compulsive viewing, beautifully shot and something of a guilty pleasure.
Last night ITV kicked off The Time of Your Life, about a 37-year-old woman who wakes from an 18-year coma to discover how much everyone's changed - except her. It's another relationship drama, but with a reverse twist on the time travel nostalgia buzz of recent hit series Life on Mars. It was fun and had some great moments, but I'm not sure it did enough to make me come back for more.
BBC1 launched Jekyll on Saturday night, a drama from Steven Moffat that updates the Jekyll & Hyde story created by Robert Louis Stevenson. I enjoyed the opening episode in its own right, but also a case study in how to establish mysteries and create misdirection in the audience's mind. The title personalities of the lead character gave actor James Nesbitt plenty of fun, and there was a creeping menace to events hinting at darker deeds to come. I'll be back for more Jekyll.
Studying TV writing also means watching shows you don't enjoy. I'm not going to name names, but one British medical drama in the last week had me groaning in pained disbelief as characters spouted opinions and exposition in the crduest, most on-the-nose manner imaginable. Sledgehammers offer mroe subtlety than this sequence, yet the rest of the episode was fine. What went wrong? A last minute rewrite, a scene that didn't get the attention it deserved during the script editing process, or perhaps something else?
When continuing dramas go awry, the audience rarely knows the real cause. All the viewer knows is that their favourite soap or serial has gone a bit skewiff. Characters start spouting dialogue that doesn't sit well in their mouths, perhaps because the actor meant to say those words has been fired or quit or is in hospital. Whole storylines peter out to nothing, or magically disappear after eight episodes, because they were summarily dumped after one block. The audience doesn't know the real reason, all they see are the consequences.
Sorry, this post has been rambling all over the place. But there's one thing I'd like to say in conclusion. Actually, it's more of a question: how many real people do you know who ever say the word lothario in conversation? It was all over the trailers for BBC1's Sunday night drama series The Chase last night, and it popped up again in Talk To Me, also on Sunday night. Does anybody say lothario in the real world, or is it just on TV? Perhaps I'm not moving in the right circles.