Interesting to move to TV drama after the stage scripts. In some ways, they probably couldn’t be more different in form, tone, voice, and anything else you care to highlight. Or could they?
What was certainly different from what had gone before was a lot of supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi shows. And a lot of crime/police shows. And a lot of historical/period dramas. One of the problems with the hi-concept shows is that the idea/concept is over-complicated, and as such it is always coming before (and working against) character. A lot of the crime shows were slick and competent but also felt like they didn’t have anything especially fresh or interesting to say; plus there was an undercurrent of sexual violence against women being the norm (see Sally Stott’s previous blog) that was somewhere between disconcerting and disappointing. And the historical ones – well, a lot of the time they were just plain dull, as if the period setting and proposed visual feast could make up for a lack of story (which it can’t).
One feature was pace - both excess of, and lack thereof. Slick genre scripts had it in abundance, but tended to be a triumph of form over substance. And on the other hand, non-genre driven pieces tended to be pedestrian, full of unfocused chatter - competent but safe and just not dynamic. As if it’s structure versus character – rather than the two combining to make great story.
A lot of scripts felt overwritten, bogged down by detailed scene directions that often didn’t need to be there (or at least be so voluminous).
A lot of scripts felt like they hadn’t been revisited and reworked – they’d been rushed out for this particular deadline without the reader stopping and thinking: should I wait? Is it ready to be read? Could I make it better with more time? Am I giving it the space it deserves?
And perhaps the toughest collective note was that too often there wasn’t enough of a sense of insight – the scripts just weren’t trying to SAY anything, they weren’t ABOUT anything. They were TV scripts for the sake of TV scripts. (Unlike The Village. Or Broadchurch. In the Flesh. My Mad Fat Diary. Prisoner’s Wives. Utopia. To name but a few recent shows.)
But one thing that was the same as with the stage scripts – and every other genre/medium – is that the ones that have progressed to the next sift were simply the scripts where the readers forgot they were supposed to stop at page 10 and make a decision, and instead felt the urge to keep reading. That bit of energy, that moment of insight, that original thought, that one great character, a lightness of touch, a sense of urgency, a glimmer of a distinct voice. Amidst all the collective reasons to say no was the compulsion to say yes to that small proportion of scripts which made them want to read on.
What was the one thing in your script that you think maybe, just maybe, would make it stand out from the rest and clinch a second look?
(And if you can’t quite put your finger on it – then how could we…?)