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

BBC Sport experiences record-breaking online traffic in June (Digital Spy)
"It beats the previous record of 73.6 million, which was set during the London 2012 Olympics"

BBC helps produce First World War Moocs (Times Higher Education)
"Not only are we proud that the BBC is able to contribute content and co-create the courses…but it also brings that expertise in storytelling"

Jo Brand to front Bake-Off spin-off (Chortle)

Bruce Forsyth returning to screens in BBC variety show (Digital Spy)

Evan Davis to replace Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (Telegraph)
"it will be an adventure and a challenge, and I hope the viewers will be happy with the result"

MediaCity leads to Salford becoming the UK's property hotspot (Guardian)
"MediaCity and incoming BBC employees have kept Salford going when the market was bad, said one agent"

BBC annual report: Tony Hall announces £374m in annual savings (Independent)

Doctor Who: series 8 looks like a scorcher (Guardian)
"Cybermen sizzle as Peter Capaldi films BBC sci-fi series at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in the middle of a heatwave"

Sophie Raworth: I get far more work now I am over 40 (Telegraph)
"News presenter Sophie Raworth claims many of her bosses are now female and ageism is no longer an issue for women in the BBC"

Kids tv leads BBC in 'going green' (Ariel)

Naga Munchetty given permanent place on BBC Breakfast sofa following Susanna Reid’s depart (Daily Express)

BBC’s Dominic Coles joins Discovery Networks (Guardian)
"Corporation’s director of operations to be US-based pay-TV giant’s finance and operations chief across western Europe"

World Cup Final 2014: BBC Triumphs Over ITV In TV Ratings War, Over 9 Million More Viewers Tune In (Huffington Post)

BBC Chief Tony Hall Promises a ‘Competition Revolution’ (Variety)

Future Media roles to move to Salford (Ariel)

Wimbledon final watched by 10 million (Guardian)
"Novak Djokovic victory over Roger Federer takes 54% share on BBC1, but no match for Andy Murray’s win last year"

TV News celebrates its 60th birthday (Ariel)

Doctor Who: Frank Cottrell Boyce is a genius, says Steven Moffat (Digital Spy)
"BBC One has confirmed that Frank Cottrell Boyce will script an episode of Doctor Who."

Danger Mouse remake will see some male characters returning as females (Guardian)
"CBBC’s Cheryl Taylor promises show ‘truthful to the essence of Danger Mouse’ but with fresh ideas"

BBC appoints Matthew Postgate as chief technology officer (Guardian)
"Current controller of research and development was part of the management team that created iPlayer and built mobile services"

Radio 5 Live: Presenters Richard Bacon, Victoria Derbyshire and Shelagh Fogarty among names leaving BBC radio station (Mirror)

Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV?Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV? (Guardian)"What results is an unapologetically old-fashioned TV show with a presenter who makes no attempt to disguise when she was born"

Last updated Friday 25 July 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

McIlroy not the only winner at first digital and social Open [College of Journalism]
Connected Studio: Coding for Teenagers Build Studio [Internet]
The Grimsby Story-Blog by Fusion Youth Theatre [Performing Arts Fund]
BBC Introducing at the 2014 Manchester Jazz Festival [Radio 3]
Using radio to respond to Ebola in Sierra Leone [Media Action]

Connected Red Buta first look at the new service on Smart TVs [Internet]