Thursday, August 23, 2007

Scotland seeks landmark dramas

Got enough deadlines coming due in the next week to sink a battleship, so yesterday will no doubt prove my final visit to the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Sat in on a session called Landmark Dramas, all about a scheme called The Singles launched earlier this year by BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen. Submissions have to come from writers and independent production companies based in Scotland. Here's the gist of The Singles:

BBC Scotland Television Drama and Scottish Screen are launching a new slate of television plays - an exciting returnable brand of 60 minute single films of up to a maximum of £450,000 for broadcast on BBC Scotland. The purpose of the joint development slate is to find fresh, audacious and entertaining projects with the potential to play to a BBC One primetime audience.

Each film should display a strong sense of authorship with bold, clear ideas at its heart and aim to utilise the very best of writing, directing and producing talent. We're looking for big themes and distinctive, original stories that strongly connect with a Scottish audience but crucially also have a more universal appeal. Our goal is to produce drama from Scotland that will stand up against the very best drama from across the globe.

Yesterday's session at the film festival started late when technicial problems scuppered a showreel designed to demonstrate what The Singles initiative is all about. That left speakers Gaynor Holmes [GH], executive producer for drama at BBC Scotland, and Leslie Finlay [LF], a development executive for Scottish Screen, trying to fill in the gaps. Here's my scrambled notes on what they had to say.

GH: It's important for BBC Scotland to help local production companies develop indigenous talent. With The Singles we're trying to create legacy dramas that have a major impact on the audience. We're looking to commission three films, they need to be memorable. [She cited Tutti Fruitti, The Crow Road and Mrs Brown as past examples of legacy dramas.] They need to be big.

LF: We're looking for very authored pieces, that speak to Scotland and beyond.

GH: This is Scotland's opportunity to talk to the nation. We want diverse stories, a real variety. Over the past 10-15 years there's been a trend toward certain tropes in Scotland's broadcast drama - either urban gritty or chocolate box rural. I'm not kncoking those tropes, but they've been too prevelant. We want The Singles to reflect modern Scotland, while having a wider resonance.

We're looking for ptiches of up to four or five pages, but they can be less. Tell us the heart of the story. Who's the protagonist? What's the arena? What's the central theme? We'll be developing up to ten treatments, from which it's planned six will be commissioned to script. There's funding for three films. The hope is The Singles will become an annual event.

So far we've commissioned two treatments and in the process of commissioning three or four more. It's not an exact science. We have a slate of development funding, it's a fluid process. Each project stands along from the others. We're aiming to greenlight projects this year. September 14 is the deadlines for submissions.

GH said the official brief was submissions had to come via an independent production company, but unofficially she and LF were happy to look at projects that came straight from writers. They both read every submission, and have fortnightly meetings to talk them through. The Singles will be broadcast on BBC1 Scotland between 8 and 10 pm, so it's a primetime slot - but not nationally networked.

The original brief for the project stated submissions should be for standalone stories, but also suggested projects could serve as pilots for series. GH said this had been a mistaken notion when they were drafting the brief.

GH: It was shortsighted to ask for them to also be pilots. That's trying to serve two masters. The Singles are closer to 60 minute films than they are to TV series of 60 minute episodes. We're not looking for pilots. The BBC is only buying two UK transmissions, no other rights. We're looking at all genres, stories for adults, challenging and entertaining. The Singles shouldn't be sitting comfortably in that eight or nine o'clock slot. They should push the edge in terms of format.

We're had a lot of comedic pitches they have been too broad, too slapstick. We want witty and funny. There's been a lack of adult characters. Adult audiences don't want to watch teenage rite of passage stories. Some submissions have felt more like episodes from a precinct series, lacking that self contained bigness we want.

LF: A lot of submissions have been set in Glasgow. We would like to see other parts of Scotland.

GH: We could do with a few more female central protagonists. All submissions have to be set in contemporary Scotland. None of The Singles will be made in-house, they must be made by an indie. As yourself: is your idea a single, or a series? They feel different. The mantra now in TV drama is few, but bigger and for longer runs. That makes it very hard to drive an audience to single dramas. You're fighting the big brands. The BBC doesn't accept resubmissions, but if a great idea comes in that doesn't fit The Singles, we want let it get away from us.

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