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Guest Post: Audrey Gillan’s Notes From The BBC TV Writers’ Festival in Leeds, 30 Jun – 01 Jul 2010

Couldn’t get to this last week >GNASH GNASH< but the lovely Audrey Gillan has stepped into the breach to provide the blog with notes. Enjoy!
Whose voice is it anyway?

Have writers lost the initiative?

Nicola Schindler:
It does have to fit with what the channels want to make. It’s our challenge to push those boundaries and be a bit pro-active with what people think they want. The last two years have been really hard and a lot less drama has been made.
Top down commissiong is less prevalent?

Jed Mercurio:
There is life outside BBC/ITV/CH4. If you do just restrict yourself to the established drama market, it’s going to be very difficult. Doing Strike Back for Sky, I felt rejuvenated by that process and Sky is expanding its drama slate.

Jed and Nicola talked about their experience of their drama Lockerbie, which was commissioned by the BBC.
NS: “It was my first experience of no-one coming back with notes or problems with the script but that it “didn’t fit in with what’s wanted at the BBC”.

Tony Marchant said that since Mark of Cain, he had had four things turned down by Channel 4 “it just goes to show that Julian Bellamy is a complete twat”.

JM: “I haven’t got a series away on BBC since Bodies”.

There was great indignation at biopics and “other wastes of money”.

The Politics of Notes

George Faber
A great note is a transformative note. The key is to try and find the one thing that isn’t quite right about it. I like to be surprised. I am looking for something I haven’t seen before, something persuasively different – if that isn’t there then you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Tone is a very good place to start the conversation.

Polly Hill:
It’s about getting to the heart of the thing that the writer wants to write.

Paula Milne:
We are all slaves to the story.
She estimated that around 65% of her first draft survives the rewrite process.

General theme that there should be more single drama on but that it is very hard to get tem off the ground.
TM said the biopic such a waste. “We seem to be eschewing the examination of the lives of ordinary people. The manifestation of celebrity culture has caused it. There is a massive missed opportunity to have low budget drama on BBC4.”

Tony also lamented the penchant for tacking a crime narrative onto other serious drama, citing Lucy Gannon’s The Children and Five Days.

John Yorke’s Series Masterclass

A series needs to have:

Compelling characters

A self-contained story – either forming the whole structure or underpinning it.

A clear and renewable story engine

A rigorous point of view

A “one day” time scheme [wtf?]

They are “about” something.

Limited change – what changes in the classic detective series is knowledge

Uplifting – people don’t want to watch more than one episode of something that tells you life was shit … hence the lesson of Glee.

Self sacrifice [they never go home] – cops, doctors who will not stop dying for you

Optimism – fighting back, we will not surrender

Unfamiliar made familiar

Private world/ language made public

Defining sense of morality – Hustle or otherwise [he spoke of how in early eps, the Hustle characters said we are crims but goody crims, not the real baddies, but they dropped that after a while]

[Yorke said twice The Waltons/Shameless were essentially the same programme]

Empathy – unless you love them, you don’t want to watch them

Imitable characters

You want to be there – it feels like a fun, exciting, heroic place tobe

Clearly defined hierarchy/status

The enemy is without – something threatens the security of the group

Pressure from above – I’m giving you 24 hours or I’m taking you off the case

Gang – do you want to be in my gang? Yes.

Precinct based – good for cost

Precinct is important

Precinct is “home” – I want to see her in her workplace – that to me is home, where she lives

The regulars are “family”

Clear patriarchal/matriarchal structre

Disparate personalities – one person

He said the doyenne of all dramas was All Creatures Great and Small because it left a “warm, rosy glow”

Most importantly of all: CLEAR FORMAT

Whose story is it? If you cchange the point of view, you change the show.

Yorke then went on to talk about structure, but this was somewhat complicated and I don’t wish to transcribe it except when he quoted the time Alan Plater asked Peggy Ramsay what structre was and she said “Two or three surprises, followed by a bigger surprises.”

The crucial first episode

Ben Richards:
The thing it doesn’t need to be is chunks and chunks of expositions. The hardest thing is to introduce your world and set up your world without appearing to resort to blatant exposition.
You are aware you have a very short period of time to grip the audience hard and fast.
You have got to establish your characters and you have got to make your characters interesting.

Matthew Graham:
You must bring the audience into an amazing world with some amazing people.

Then I just noted their favourite episode

BR: The Sopranos
MT: Clockin
g Off, the clown’s face going through a series of emotions and he desperately wanted to know what had happened

Lizzie Mickery: State of Play and The Good Wife

Billy Ivory: Lost

BS then read a quote from Ray Bradbury: “Everything is
love. Love what you do, and do what you love. Go to the
edge of the cliff, jump off and build your wings on the way
down. Don’t think about writing; do it. It’s pure Zen. Only
write what you love. Do not write for money. Stay away from
people who want to give you money. If they pay you money
for your love already, that’s different. But it’s got to be your
love. That’s why I wrote my stories, my screenplays. That’s
why I love writing poetry, that’s why I love reading, period.
Everything has been love.”

from ABOUT AUDREY: Audrey Gillan is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her drama about a female journalist embedded in Iraq, EXPOSURE, was commissioned by ITV. Check out her website or follow her on Twitter.


Mina Zaher – BBC Writers’ Festival Day 1, Day 2 – John Yorke

David Bishop – Eastenders to Life On Mars, Writer For Hire, Casualty 2010 – The Vision, Tony Marchant, Paula Milne & Peter Bowker in conversation

Robin Kelly’s round up of links to notes from this event – including Margit Keerdo’s and Jason Arnopp’s Tweetcast/Tweetpics. BOOKMARK NOW.

Got any notes on your blog or website? Get in touch and I’ll link to them here.

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1 thought on “Guest Post: Audrey Gillan’s Notes From The BBC TV Writers’ Festival in Leeds, 30 Jun – 01 Jul 2010”

  1. Minor correction: I believe it was Matthew Graham who read out the Ray Bradbury quote – not Ben Stephenson.

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