Friday, July 09, 2010

TV Writers' Fest: Alchemy of the First Episode

Ben Richards [BR]: You have to introduce your world without appearing to resort to blatant chunks of exposition. Deliver just enough info so people know what’s going on. You’ve got a very short time to grip the audience hard. You’ve got to establish your characters, and make them interesting.

Matthew Graham [MG]: It’s about balancing an archetypal ep and a set-up ep. You have to take the curse off exposition. Don’t get weighed down by explaining the world you’re setting up. You have to love the world and the characters, convey your passion for them.

Lizzie Mickery [LM]: A first draft is a whole load of scaffolding that can be stripped away later. But you can’t worry about that while still writing the first draft. Sometimes you discover the script starts on page 20. You can ease people in – don’t be afraid of your first draft.

William Ivory [WI]: My first draft is like a treatment. They can be incredibly long, exploratory documents – 224 pages is my record. All good writing is about ownership. You can knacker yourself before you write a first draft. It’s about being brave enough to set off on the journey, to throw the template away.

BR: Genre can be a huge liberation, allowing you more flexibility and freedom.

MG: Scriptwriting is rewriting, you can’t be afraid of that. For Life on Mars, we recalibrated as we went along. One cut of the pilot took out the gags. It was like Nietzsche on a bad day.

LM: People need to have a sense of what your show is in the first minute. Series will have a story of the week, serials will have one long story. Don’t set off with an idea you don’t have enough faith in. You will fall in and out of love with what you pitch. Try to remember what excited you about the show in the first place. If you lose that, you’re sunk.

WI: Have an idea at a higher level, above the scripts and the drafts.

BR: the inspiration for my new series Outcasts is that I hate Lord of the Flies.

LM: Most people hwo offer feedback do so because they care about your script, so listen to what they say. If people are asking a question, if suggests there’s something to solve.

MG: The best notes come as questions. Then it becomes a discussion.

Ben Stephnson [BS]: It’s crucial that everybody thinks they are making the same thing. Otherwise it can be a disaster.

WI: It’s dangerous to walk away from a project, no matter how tired you are by the time the first script is finally ready. Casting and the choice of director are crucial. All too often it’s the blindingly obvious that you haven’t talked about.

Favourite first episodes: Ben Richards – The Sopranos; Matthew Graham – Clocking Off; William Ivory – Lost; Lizzie Mickery – State of Play, The Good Wife.

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