Skip to content

Decision Time: Television or Film?

Gone are the days in which television was derided as the inferior cousin of film. When I first started writing I recall many of my colleagues pouring scorn on soaps, drama series and even serial dramas, especially when I was still at university: there was no “emotional truth” there apparently; all the writers doing it were hacks; it was one big sausage factory, end of.

Yet in the last five years — less, even — all this appears to have changed. Once my spec pile would have consisted solely of shorts and features — now I have spec television scripts coming out of my ears. Inevitably, top of the pile are spec returning drama series, with sitcom bringing up the rear and the occasional spec soap showing its face two or three times a year. In fact, the balance has tipped so much, some weeks I read ONLY TV scripts. That would have been unheard of pre-Red Planet Prize, yet now everyone wants a piece of the action.

This leads me to one BIG question:

Can you be both a TV and a Feature writer?

Now, of course anyone can write whatever they want… And certainly, I think it’s a great idea to have some variety in one’s portfolio. At any one time, I have at least three polished features, a TV series and a shedload of pitches in various states of development to send out. That’s just common sense.

So let me rephrase the question:

Can you ever be as good at BOTH as you can at ONE?

Are there really people who can switch between the two at will, *just like that*? After years of reading scripts, I wonder if it’s as easy as people like to make out. “Ah yes, I have a TV script and a feature script and they’re both as good as each other.” Are they? REALLY?

And I’m not sure every writer who wants to write for both is 50/50 — they must have their favourite, even if one is just 51%. When agonising over a problem with two projects recently, a friend of mine wisely asked:

“You have a gun to your head…. television or film?”

Without hesitation, I replied: “Film.”

Yes, with all its frustrations, problems, lack of money — that is the one I would choose. So maybe I should choose it for real. Invest in it for real. Forget my dreams of seeing my name at the end of Eastenders or my choice of music and mad costumes in Hollyoaks. Maybe I should go against all the advice and REALLY PUT MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET… Maybe that’s the only way I can excel at the one area I purport to love the most instead of making it fight for attention with something else?


What about you — a gun’s to your head: television or film??

Share this:

19 thoughts on “Decision Time: Television or Film?”

  1. Mine would be TV. I've grown up spending hours in front of the television set and eating junk that i feel like we are best mates – i know the format better, i can describe the beats of a tv show better than in film.
    I often think that film adaptions of tv shows are generally worse e.g. State Of Play.

  2. Telly. Always has been, always will. I love telly, me.

    Can you be good at writing for both TV and film? I don't see why not.

  3. Nic – yes, agreed on TV to film, though I think film to TV can work, ie. Buffy The Vampire slayer.

    Laurence – I'm certain people can be good at both… But can they be AS good at one as they are the other? Surely there is always one they're going to be better at, especially if that's the love of their life?

  4. The list of those who excel in all mediums is very short. Julian Fellowes springs to mind, as does Orson Welles.

    So, they do exist. There just ain't a lot of them.

  5. TV. And that's got nothing to do with the fact I still don't have a feature script in my portfolio FFS.

    Given a choice between a relationship and a one-night stand, I'll take the former over the latter.

    Word verification: gagir – what moutache-twirling villains in silent movies say to their henchman when the damsel in distress won't stop screaming for help.

  6. Laurence — agreed, think it's possible but unlikely.

    David — yeah right!!! Write that bloody feature or I'm coming for you.
    A few witterings from Twitter:

    You buggers are changing the rules… TV vs Film as a WRITER. Not a consumer. As a consumer – for me, it's TV. Writer = film.
    1 minute ago via web

    @Bang2write Have to say film: the spectacle, the excitement of going to the cinema… Haven't owned a TV for years, and really don't miss it
    3 minutes ago via TweetDeck in reply to Bang2write
    Retweeted by you

    @Bang2write TV. Because you can spend so long
    with the same characters.
    5 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® in reply to Bang2write
    Retweeted by you

    @Bang2write Oooh, you're taking votes? I was waiting for the gun. It's television for me.
    7 minutes ago via web in reply to Bang2write
    Retweeted by you

  7. Depends whether the gun is being held to my writer's head or my writer / director's head…

    Writer: TV.
    Writer / director: Film.

  8. As lovely as the thought is, I don't think most of us can be compared to the likes of Frank Cottrell Boyce, Julian Fellowes or Orson Welles though. Also, I wonder which one these guys mastered first?

  9. Maybe if I was asking what you prefer as a consumer, but unconvinced I am when we change it your preference as a WRITER, Gary… Writing might be a vocation or a job (however you see it), but I believe everyone, deep down, has a preference of one over the other, even if they haven't recognised it consciously yet.

  10. Film.

    I've never had any interest in writing for TV even if there are some shows I've really enjoyed.

    Given the choice between a relationship and a one-night stand, the relationship may be secure but it's predictable and safe whereas the latter can be exciting, dangerous and daring.

    Wait – what?

  11. nThink i would have to say film, but love TV as well. I guess different stories work better for each. Films takes so long to get funding. I want to be 50/50, but if pushed, film. Not sure why, as consumer-wise i;m s TV junkie!

  12. You're just as, if not more likely, to break into TV with a feature-length spec than a spec TV piece. In terms of making a living then the vast majority of UK based writers are going to be looking at writing for TV. Telly is where the money is.

    One note of caution though: TV can be a double-edged sword. It's very easy to find yourself tagged as a TV writer and that label is then very hard to shake. Plus it's very easy to get sucked in by the money and find yourself stuck in a creative rut.

  13. Hmm, TV, I think. TV lets you tell stories on a slowburning, gradually building arc over (sometimes) many weeks until devastating payoffs. At its best its visual storytelling with novelistic depth (c.f Mad Men, Galactica, Deadwood, etc)

    Also – and this IS relative – the writer is far better respected in TV, and marginally better treated (esp now we are starting to import the writer-producer showrunner role from the States).

    In film the teaboy is, basically, your senior.

    As to whether you can be equally 'good' in both? Ahhhh, 'good' is such a slippery term. Do you mean good because you love it more, so you throw yourself into it creatively? Or, just you have a particular predisposition to your talent with regards long-form or short?

    I've written novels, TV, film and stage in my long, long days and I couldn't tell you which I've done best.

    I do know I'm better at ideas and character, than I am at plots though. Not sure what that tells us.

    I suspect this one will run and run. What fun!

  14. Film.

    Because a film is about the most important, defining event of a person's life; it has a beginning, middle and end, and there doesn't have to be yet another crisis next week.

    Obviously some 'smaller' stories lend themselves more to the TV screen than the cinema, which is why I love the rarely-made TV one-offs.

    Short serials are okay – they just take a bit longer to do the same thing as a film.

    But most returning series just generate more and more of the same. I found it depressing hearing the storylining process (who dies, who shags who etc.) at the Story Engine.

    Just my opinion.

  15. TV, no question.

    Though I now have 2 action features and 1 thriller-rom-com scripts (thank you, ScriptFrenzy!).

    Oi, Bishop, No! You're nicking my schtick. (Or schticking my nick … oh … um … anyway …)

    Today's verification word is "Weltion", a noun: the act of informing on co-conspirators.

  16. when you think of t.v. I remember the writer. When I think of film, you remember the director.

    I also hate the fact that there are so many people out there telling you how you should write for film. Not so much with t.v.

    I don't think you can be good at both but I would try to be excellent at one first and then go onto the other. I wouldn't try to do both at the same time…

  17. Film. I forced myself to answer this question a few months ago too, and it won.

    A big reason for this is down to things like my short films and She Writes both being film focussed though.

    The plan is to concentrate on film screenplays this year – then move on to TV next. I think you can do both, but at this point I think I need to make a name for myself in one…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *