Inside the BBC Writersroom TV Drama Writers Festival

Wednesday 3 July 2013, 11:20

Hannah Khalil Hannah Khalil Digital Content Producer, About The BBC Blog

Tagged with:

Platform 9 3/4 at London's Kings Cross Station It’s early, even for someone with a toddler, and I’m at the rather magnificently refurbished King’s Cross Station. It’s appropriate that I’m leaving from this station with its literary link to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter in it’s Platform 9 ¾ because I’m heading north, to Leeds for the second day of the BBC Writersroom TV Drama Writers Festival.

Billed as: “Two days of inspiring sessions, masterclasses and debate for professional writers’, it’s an all-star affair, with a keynote from Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat and a whole host of important TV people including: BBC Controller of Drama, Ben Stephenson, director Phillipa Lowthorpe; producer and writer Pete Bowker; Emma Frost (writer The White Queen); Chris Chibnall (writer Broadchurch); writer Dennis Kelly and director Marc Munden (Utopia); Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax), Bryan Elsley and Jack Thorne (Skins), Tom Bidwell (My Mad Fat Diary), plus the BBC’s own Development Producer Paul Ashton and the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing and Head of Writersroom, Kate Rowland.

I'm a little nervous. The festival started yesterday so I’ve missed out on Moffat’s keynote and the early mingling…  Will it be like starting school mid-way through the term? Will anyone talk to me? Or pick me for their team? I bite my lip in the hope of seeing a few friendly faces.

Garth Brooks quote aboout conflict I console myself that even if I’m the loner of the piece, the sessions I’m signed up for are so enthralling they might just distract me from any feelings of loneliness: 'Skins To Dates'; 'Breaking the Mould' with creator Brian Elsey and writer Jack Thorne; 'How do you plan your Career?' with writer Emma Frost and producer Cameron Roach ;'Broadchurch from Spec to Screen' with creator/writer Chris Chibnall and Ben Stephenson; and finally 'Difficult Writers and the Conflict of Being a Writer' with Emma Frost, Dennis Kelly, writer Toby Whithouse and Kate Rowland.  

The theme of this year’s festival is “conflict” and as I walk in to the College of Music, where the event is being held, there’s the first of a series of related quotes stuck to the wall.  These quotes are a perfect metaphor for what the whole thing’s about – inspiring writers. Boy, do they succeed in their aim, in spades.  I can tell from the moment I walk in where there’s loud chat from many enthusiastic and, to my relief, friendly folk. Donatella Versace conflict quote The festival is a safe environment for television writers to talk about the state of things in a frank and open manner; this is vitally important as writing is such a solitary act. The exuberance of everyone here attests to a real joy in having the chance to get together and share ideas and experiences. The lovely, loud level of chatter in every break attests to this.

In my first session, Jack Thorne interviews Bryan Elsley about how the Channel 4 programme Skins came about. Bryan explains the idea was his son Jamie’s, and that it was Jamie’s unflinching attitude and vision (he was a teenager himself at the time) that lead to the rigourous and groundbreaking drama.

Next Emma Frost and Cameron Roache reveal the secret to planning a career as a television writer: you can’t really plan it! There are as many different kinds of paths as writers, but the rule of thumb is: write what you love and make great relationships with everyone around you – you never know, they may be the executive producers of tomorrow. BBC Writers Festival stage for Chris Chibnall talk

Chris Chibnall then talks to Ben Stephenson about his journey to creating Broadchurch, a labour of love that he was involved in every facet of. The conclusion of his story; that the key to great television drama is clarity of proposition and creative integrity. Chris says he knew exactly what he wanted to write from the outset – a piece that was very much character led, and then made sure that he achieved it in every minute of the show (that’s where the integrity bit came in).

My final session starts with the panel – Dennis Kelly, Emma Frost, Toby Whithouse and Kate Rowland – trying to define what a 'difficult writer' is – they agree that it is not someone who questions the 'notes' they are given by a script editor on their script. In fact, the relationship between the script editor and the writer is revealed as a vital one and that the notes should be a starting point for a conversation to uncover what may not be working in a script. The panel agree writers should have the courage to fight their corner and that the best solutions come through talking. However, in some ways being difficult is a writer’s job – to challenge the world and things people take for granted.

The overall air of the sessions is one of honesty and candor, of colleagues talking to one another, and I’m awed by how open everyone is. Proceedings finish at 2pm ahead of a lunch and closing words of thanks from Kate Rowland.

As I travel on the train back to London I feel slightly nauseous. It could be the Pendelino train I’m on, but in truth I’ve come a long way today - literally and metaphorically. I’ve heard some of the most important people in television drama and commissioning sharing their wisdom: I’ve much to digest.

The messages I'm taking away are that, as in so many other fields, relationships are key, that you need to really love the programmes you write for and that it's the writers with staying power who make it through. One thing’s for sure, if I get the chance to come again next year I will, and for the full two days. Nauseous or not I’m hungry for more…

Hannah Khalil is Digital Content Producer, About the BBC website and Blog.

 

Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 
 

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
How we're using social media at Glastonbury 2013

Friday 28 June 2013, 08:36

Next
Far from a quiet sporting year

Wednesday 10 July 2013, 10:55

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

S Club 7 reunion FINALLY confirmed: They’re bringing it all back for Children In Need (Metro)

Kate Moss to appear in BBC’s David Walliams adaptation (Guardian)
"Supermodel to have cameo role as herself in hour-long family drama The Boy in the Dress, which will air at Christmas"

Doctor Who's new web game aims to teach children programming skills (Guardian)
"Latest attempt to make coding fun for kids involves rescuing a Dalek and exploring the unscreened world of Sontar"

BBC boss Danny Cohen hits back at Children in Need 'hidden millions' claims: 'Vulnerable children could suffer' (Mirror)

Strictly Come Dancing triumphs over The X Factor again in ratings battle (Independent) 

The Vamps win big at Radio 1 Teen Awards (MTV)

BBC adds chat app to Ebola effort (Ariel)
"World Service has turned to instant messenger to get the latest word on Ebola out to audiences in West Africa."

Broadcasters Reveal Leaders' Debate Plan (KL.FM)
"Sky News, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have announced joint plans for a series of party leader debates across TV and the internet in the run-up to the 2015 General Election."

BBC3 orders six docs from new directors for Fresh strand (Televisual)
"BBC3 has commissioned six new one-off documentaries for its Fresh strand – the channel’s scheme for new directors looking for a break into prime-time film-making."

Brainy BAMEs upskill (Ariel)

Pharrell, One Direction, Sam Smith And Pretty Much Everyone You’ve Ever Heard Of Beautifully Cover "God Only Knows" (Buzzfeed)
"Don’t blink, you might miss Elton John covered in butterflies or Lorde wearing angel wings"

Alan Sugar's not looking for 'donkeys' (Ariel)

BBC iPlayer catch-up window extended to 30 days

Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace is first celebrity to leave the show (Radio Times)
"The MasterChef presenter fails to cook up enough votes to ensure his survival as Mrs Browns Boys star Jennifer Gibney beats him in the dance-off"

Martin Freeman to Star in BBC Drama About Trial of Adolf Eichmann (Hollywood Reporter)

BBC's casting coup: Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ian McKellen unite (Telegraph)

BBC launches Young Dancer 2015 competition (Digital Spy)
"the BBC is working with top names in dance to develop a programme that will not only find the young dance performers of the future, but give them a real break at the very start of their professional careers"

Conway to head up BBC Studios and Post Production (Televisual)
"I’m looking forward to working with the BBC S&PP team to further stabilise the business after several years of exceptional transformation and change"

First Look At Benedict Cumberbatch As Richard III In The Hollow Crown (Empire)

Sheila Tracy, the first woman to read the news on Radio 4, dies (Telegraph)

Sheila Tracy, the first woman to read the news on Radio 4, dies (Telegraph)

Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park attracted record 1.19m Red Button viewers (Musicweek)
"These numbers bear testimony to us having secured this broad and distinctive line-up of artists who are bang on target for our audience on air, online and on TV"

End of an era: BBC letters taken down from Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush after 54 years (Evening Standard)

Eniola Aluko makes history as first female Match of the Day pundit (Guardian)

Last updated Wednesday 22 October 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

BBC to launch 'The Doctor and the Dalek' game for kids [Doctor Who]
Weather: Redirecting mobile users to responsive [Internet]
Google's 'right to be forgotten' tour comes to London [Academy]
Encouraging your children's language and comprehension skills through shared book reading [CBeebies Grown-ups]
The vegetables of truth [Adam Curtis]


MatOf ThDay At 50: onic theme even has a banjo [TV]