Producer Nicola Shindler [NS]: I need to get a sense of the big story writers want to tell, why they want to write it. I don’t need the whole plot, the fine detail. A brilliant idea grabs you, it’s about having passion for an idea, someone’s commitment to it.
Writer Sally Wainwright [SW]: A cracking idea gets you a long way.
NS: I’m less likely to trust a big shiny verbal pitch. Writing it down is key. A couple of pages is enough, the characters will reveal themselves. It’s hard to judge a writer by a CDS [continuing drama series] script.
SW: Rejections makes you angry but you have to get over it, toughen up. I started on Children’s Ward and various other CDS. Then got asked on to Coronation Street, became part of the Granada family in Manchester. At Home With the Braithwaites originally pitched as a 30 minute sitcom. Took five years to get on.
In the meantime Kay Mellow asked SW to write Playing the Field, gave her experience of 9pm drama. SW kept developing Braithwaites while working on CDS, it evolved and got better over those five years.
NS: Going with an indie helps eliminate the problem of your in-house champion at a broadcaster leaving for another job, killing your project. But indies do get greenlit projects cancelled too.
SW: I don’t believe in giving up on an idea, you’ve got to keep going with it.
NS: The focus has gone back to London. Aside from CDS, Manchester and Leeds don’t have any long running drama series anymore. Crews have left the area. It’s become a lot harder to sell a new 1-hour drama by an new writer. It’s a lot less likely that inexperienced writers will get a big series away. There are exceptions, of course.
NS reads everything sent to her production company, Red. She believes BBC and ITV are listening more, creatively things are getting better. Financially it’s terrible. But if something’s good enough you can break the rules.