The train journey to Bristol was blissfully uneventful, I spent half of it listening to the two women opposite me, they had an almost symbiotic way of talking over each other, so in tune were they with each other's thoughts and feelings - it was great fun to (stealthily) observe. I love public transport - I cannot, will not, drive a car - I much prefer to be out in the world. Also, I worry I would abandon any car I drove at the slightest opportunity - I do not like stress and tight spaces.
When I realised that being a writer on Academy 06 would mean 3 months classroom work at Elstree Studios, I was curiously thrilled. Elstree Studios - it conjured up low Deco buildings the colour of vanilla ice cream, stars walking from lot to lot, amusing pieces of scenery being transported around on little golf buggies - scenes from any MGM musical of the 30's and 40's you care to name.
Ha! What a surprise! Our Academy classroom work took place in a retro tower block reminiscent of a derelict school somewhere in Merseyside (Kirkby actually). There are still some lovely bits of architecture to be found around and about Elstree if you look, but alas no Deco leather couches and chrome light fittings.
Then there's the Casualty Warehouse, if I thought Elstree lacked glamour...
The Casualty Warehouse in Bristol is constructed along the lines of a Russian Doll - it's a big functional Warehouse full of smaller units and in these smaller units sit the editors and producers. The Casualty 'Set' is in there too, and the communal gathering/eating area when people with various appalling injuries sit and drink tea. The Cafeteria is in the car park - a glorified burger van, if it rains you have to dash back with your sausage and mash floating about in rain water.
Appearances are deceptive. It's a fab place - a hive of creativity and the food is lovely. Honest.
I was in my editor's portacabin, stacked above somebody else's portacabin inside the Warehouse for my 1st draft script meeting. My producer was there as was the Series Editor. Everybody made lovely noises about my script and the tension that had kept me rigid and tense for past few days dissolved into the metal floor. It was going to be ok. No major re-writes, no starting from scratch.
That hurdle over - the discussion turned to what problems the script did present. Writing for a Continuing Drama has it's own particular difficulties (the clue is in the title). My ep has to continue where the previous ep left off - and I don't know what's in the previous ep when I start writing mine - because the previous ep hasn't been finished yet. So as writers, we're all slightly trying to second guess each other.
Now I have a copy the ep before mine and I realise that the tone of my opening scenes will have to be tweaked, my regular character's through line is going to have to be honed in a certain direction and my ending isn't playing right - yet. This all makes perfect sense and isn't problematic, it's the nature of the beast. I scribble a few notes.
My guest stories get a little muddled in the middle - a common problem - I need clarity. Academy Boss was for ever telling me to keep my stories simple, I can overcomplicate things to the point of stasis. The point being - although I know what's going on and understand fully everybody's motives and sub textual actions, the viewer may not - unless it's clear and simple. Lastly, the script was too long by 10 pages or so, which is not a huge problem at this stage and scheduling were concerned that it was 'Location Heavy' meaning that any cuts I make would best be made in the location scenes. All this discussion around my script was peppered with friendly comments about how nice the writing was and how the regular 'voices' were working well. It all felt very positive.
Back on the train to London and I have the episode prior to mine to read, but I'm too tired to look at it so spend the journey watching a businessman proofreading some company documents whilst talking 'golf' on his handsfree mobile. More coffee and Ella Fitzgerald on my ipod.
(I have since read the episode before mine - only in its second draft - and it will be a hard episode to follow, both tonally and because the writing is cracking!)
With all the notes made at the script meeting typed up and digested I can go forward with confidence into my draft 2. I have constructed another scene by scene breakdown on a huge sheet of A2 with coloured pens for each story strand - I've been able to shift some scenes about and cut others. I can see this happening across the wall to my left, my regular characters are still smiling down at me from their promotional postcards - we're on track gang!
Next week I can sit with my notebook and pen to write some new scenes - I prefer to do this long hand initially, because I find composing on screen very awkward and a little sterile. The only spanner in the works I foresee, is when the notes from the Medics come in. Lest I forget, Casualty is a medical drama and my first draft is also being scrutinised by a team of working ED doctors and paramedics who know their stuff. If they say that my poorly guest character can't have his major setback in Act 4 as written because it's medically impossible - then I'm stuffed!