Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going on location with Doctors

It's been a madcap few weeks, and I can't see things slowing down for a while yet. Since this is one of my rare days at home without a screaming deadline [plenty of deadlines, just none of them screaming yet], thought I'd say hello and tell you what I've doing lately. Teaching, lots of teaching. Writing, plenty of that too. Polishing my submission for the Scotland Writes opportunity, especially.

But I spent the weekend away, most of it in That Fancy London. Had a reunion dinner with almost everyone from the Lighthouse TV drama team writing project, lovely to catch up and see how people are doing. Since we last met in April there's been a marriage in the ranks, and a new baby is imminent. Lots of writing, plenty of successes, more to come. Rest of weekend with friends, and saw Zombieland. Aces.

Sunday I headed into the Midlands and spent the night with Quakers. [They really are the friendliest of people.] Monday, I was on location watching filming for my first ever TV screenwriting commission. It's an episode of medical drama Doctors, due to be broadcast by BBC1 on Wednesday February 10, 2010. [Contract obligations preclude me telling you anything about the plot, especially serial elements.]

So what can I say? The day was spent shooting at two locations, both privately-owned homes. First thing was three scenes at a home in Bournville, the suburb built by Lord Cadbury for his workers. [Appropriately enough, the owner left out a massive bowl of chocolate buttons which were happily consumed by cast and crew. As a consequence this residence is nacknamed the Chocolate House.]

Two of the three scenes called for an infant actor, which creates it own problems. Doctors is shot on a tight, tight schedule. That means there isn't much time for the toddler to do what's needed, and infants don't always perform upon demand. Tricky! Having completed that sequence, it was into the vans and across the suburbs to another location. Two exteriors were needed, before heading indoors.

The first was an establishing shot, which looked beautiful. The second proved tougher, with dialogue, plus characters coming and going, all of which needed to be captured from different angles. Doctors doesn't have permission to shut down streets, so it can be at the mercy of passing pedestrians, planes flying overhead - and, especially, traffic. Challenging is not the word for it!

Despite all these factors, the final exterior for the day was completed before lunch. [Just as well, since a day that started beautiful turned grey after lunch with sheets of rain lashing past at times.] After a pub lunch, it was indoors for a plethora of scenes from my story of the day - and another infant actor. The wee mite was a star, but filming round a toddler is never straight forward.

I stayed till late afternoon, but had to leave before five. The cast and crew still had hours of week ahead of them, but were remaining remarkably good humoured. They made me very welcome and I managed to keep out of the way 99% of the time. Spending a day on set certainly gave me new found respect for how hard a throwaway sentence in a script can make life for those shooting your story.

So, what did I learn from my day on location with Doctors? Having one infant in your story is asking for trouble - having two is verging on sadism. It's not enough to think about your scene to scene transitions, you also need to think about transitions within each scene; how the balance of power shifts between characters, how the energy rises and falls, how to find the best endpoint.

Having been to plenty of recordings of my work, I wasn't surprised to hear my words sound very different when acted by professionals. I'd a fair idea how the regulars would say their lines, but the guest actors for my story of the day found new angles and corners I hadn't noticed in the script. Suspect I've lucked out with them. All in all, a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes for me.

The experience has left me more determined than ever to get more scripts commissioned. I've two pitches lurking in the big pile, waiting to be read, but nothing in the story bank. Need to get more proposals into the works. I've broken my duck, but now I need to prove that wasn't a fluke. One broadcast credit proves I've not a total novice, but it's credits two, three and four that show you're a professional.


Tom Murphy said...

Congrats David - sounds very exciting

Sofluid said...

My,you have been busy!

All that sounds brilliant, David!

Congratulations on the commission! I'm polishing my Ustinov script at the moment ready to send to BBC Writersroom. Jez advised me that the theme would fit in well as a Doctors episode so I shall include a letter of interest with my script and see if they take a shine to my writing :)