Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Watching filming of my second Doctors ep

Spent yesterday in Birmingham watching my second ep of Doctors being filmed. One of my ambitions is to be executive producer on a TV drama of my creation [akin to the US showrunner, but without the writers' room element]. So part of for making the trip was to learn about the journey scripts take from page to screen.

There was a more immediate benefit, too. The more I know about how Doctors is made, the better I can write for the show [hopefully]. I went down last autumn to watch location filming for my first ep. Yesterday I got to witness shooting in the studio, thanks to the kindness of script editor Caroline, producer Carol and director Sarah.

Can't tell you much about the story, which is due to tx Thursday November 18th. But I can share a few impressions from the day. Firstly, Doctors is an immensely efficient machine. That's born of necessity, as the show makes 230+ eps a year and is always double-banking [two crews simultaneously shooting two blocks of eps].

Second was the camaraderie of the cast and crew. Doctors is not a lavish production, but everyone strives to do the best possible job they can within the constraints of time and budget. And they do it with a smile and bit of banter too. There were moments of tension, but they were few and far between. A happy place to be, it seemed.

Most striking of all was the difference between on location and in the studio. Much of Doctors is filmed in real houses and offices, real streets and parks. The show only has a handful of controlled environments, such as the Mill Health Centre where I spent much of yesterday. Even that's a converted space, not a purpose built studio.

Out on location filming's at the mercy of so many uncontrolled elements: the weather, traffic, the flightpath to Birmingham International Airport, pedestrians, and more. Doctors doesn't have the budget to close roads, it has to grab takes between cacophonies. Shifting locations eats time at a terrifying rate.

The converted space at the Mill makes for far brisker switches from one scene to the next, enabling studio days to get through more pages. I had to leave before the final set-up [a shame, it's one of my favourite scenes in the script], but was full of admiration for how much crew and cast got through. Like I said, immensely efficient.

I'm still processing all the things I saw and heard yesterday, but I learned a lot from the experience. One example: if you're writing a big part for a guest character, have them appear in more than one location. That means two days of filming, which means more money for the part, potentially attract a bigger name actor.

Right, time for some lunch and then I'll be watching today's episode of Doctors at 1.45pm on BBC1. Healer is written by Paul Campbell, author of the excellent blog Scriptuality. Onwards!

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