Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Going back to the old house

Tomorrow I'm going back to Screen Academy Scotland [now known as Edinburgh Skillset Screen and Media Academy, what a mouthful] to talk about the script development process on Doctors. As always in such circs, impostor syndrome kicks in. I've only had one ep broadcast, doesn't that make me a terrible fraud for claiming to have some great knowledge of the script process?

It would, if that's what I was claiming. Instead I'll simply be talking about my experiences, what I've learned thus far and screening my ep for students from various courses. Two and a half years ago I was one of those students, dreaming about how I might forge a career in TV drama writing. At the time that made me different from many classmates, most aspired to film work.

In the five years since the academy launched its first screenwriting MA, with graduates enjoying a lot of success at film festivals and winning awards for their efforts. But I never had great aspirations as a cinema screenwriter, even while studying screenwriting. I've written short film scripts that have won one prize and been shortlisted for others, yet my heart belongs to TV drama.

I suspect it's because I've always preferred relationships to brief thrills. Like novels, TV drama series allow you to dig into multiple characters, lets you see them develop over weeks, months, even years. A feature film's more like an affair - intense, all consuming and finite. [On that basis, a short film's akin to a one night stand or, done badly, a drunken fumble.]

There are two other imperatives that propelled away writing for film. The first is simple economics - hundreds of hours of TV drama are made every year in the UK. [Radio drama is another medium rich with opportunity, and it's even more receptive to new writers.] Far more screenwriters based in Britain make their living from TV work than can sustain themselves in the film industry.

The second reason is creative control. Right now I'm of no great consequence, a TV drama writer with one broadcast credit, an agent and plenty of aspirations. But those with enough talent, energy, focus, discipline and strategic nous can rise up to create their own series and/or be an executive producer. Then the writer is among the few who control the creative vision of a project.

That's not something that tends to happen in film, unless you're a writer/director. So tomorrow I'll be talking about the baby steps that get you from film school student to writing for a continuing drama TV series. Maybe there'll be one or two students who share my love of TV drama, especially continuing drama. Hopefully what I have to say will be of some use to them. Onwards!

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