Writers' Guild - Screenwriting Event in Cardiff
Personal notes onWriters Guild of Great Britain Welsh Committee Screenwriting Event
Chapter, Cardiff, 13th June 2013
Supported by The Writers’ Foundation (UK); organised by Anna-Lisa Jenaer; introduced by W.G.G.B. Welsh committee chair Manon Eames.
Excellent attendance – a 50-capacity sellout. Guild members outnumbered by prospective members; important, since this is, in part, a recruitment event.
Afternoon session – Writers:
Rob Gittins (“East Enders”, “Casualty”, etc): Outlined his start via the open door of BBC radio drama; a play of his was heard by Tony Holland, who invited him to join the first writing team for “East Enders”. Discussed the mechanics of writing for EE; also pointed out that he has been fired twice - writers fall in and out of favour. Enjoys shows (e.g. “Casualty”, “The Bill”), where the freedom to input one’s own stories is combined with the challenge of connecting with long-term storylines. Most frustrating experience: “Eldorado”.
James Moran (“Severance”, “Cockneys Vs Zombies”, “Doctor Who” etc): Started out writing short stories; inspired to turn to screenplays by the illustrated screenplay book of Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits”. Won a short screenplay competition run by the Sci-Fi Channel (one of the judges being Gilliam). The resulting film helped him to get an agent, and meetings with production companies. His screenplay for “Severance” began as a successful 2-line pitch. Describes the rewriting of “Severance” as “my year of film school”. Discussed his cherished “conviction” script which may never get produced, but gets him meetings. Wrote web series “Girl Number 9” (http://www.canyousaveher.com): “if it’s good, it will get found”. Most negative experience – extremely adverse internet reaction to his killing off a character in “Torchwood.”
Debbie Moon (“Wolfblood”): Started writing while an aspiring theatre director at university, needing to adapt extant texts. Has written many short stories in various genres (“a short story is like the first act of a film”), as well as a novel which was long-listed for Welsh Book Of The Year. “Wolfblood” submitted for a CBBC open call; her first project for children; a two-year development process. Focussing on “superpowers” rather than gore – more “X-Men” than “American Werewolf In London”. A co-production with Germany’s ZDF – a positive experience. Series has just been sold to the Disney Channel. “Write what the child in you would like to watch”.
Evening session – Producers:
Philip Trethowan (Touchpaper Wales: “Being Human”, “Switch”). Degree in English, M.A. in Theatre Studies, graduate trainee at Carlton TV. Became script editor of “Big Bad World”. Well-worn path from script editor to producer. Outlined development of “Being Human” from naturalistic “house-sharing friends with issues” drama to supernatural, via creator Toby Whithouse’s unrelated “werewolf” script. Benefitted from success of "Doctor Who". Relished “Being Human” cast changes, as a chance to prove that the series was bigger than its actors. Series cancellation decided before final series was written, giving them a chance to end it properly. Independent company – acts as buffer between writer and broadcaster. Touchpaper also runs “Coming Up” for Channel 4 – open entry for writers and directors. BBC3 – producers left to own devices, but little money. ITV – looking for shows which appeal to its “heartland” working-class audience.
Nikki Wilson: (BBC – “Casualty”). Did Media degree, became script editor for Lynda La Plante. Later, storyliner for series such as “The Bill” and “Family Affairs”; producer of “New Street Law”, then “The Sarah Jane Adventures”. Outlined mechanics of writing for “Casualty” – long-term arcs decided by producers, script editors, core writing team; other writers bring in “guest” stories; there is flexibility, but stories need to be conveyed via the regular cast. Writers introduced via agents, the now-defunct Writers Academy, shadow scheme. Challenge for writers – getting into the heads of established characters. Development of “urban riot” storyline in “Casualty” preceded real-life riots, which then informed the scripts. Repetition of stories in long-running series is inevitable. Her most enjoyable experience – “The Sarah Jane Adventures”.
Panel discussion. Subjects brought up included the fact that audiences are less aware of TV channel identity/demographics than the channels themselves; the success of daytime drama e.g. “The Indian Doctor”; how directors are found; coping with being “sacked” as a writer (have other projects on the go); the need for more female characters in drama who about subjects other than romance; the importance of feeling part of a community of writers (especially via the Internet); writers’ block (sometimes ideas just aren’t ready to be written; a blind alley in one script might be the solution to a problem in another).
Afterwards: networking and sandwiches.