Monday 30 January 2012, 14:00
What it is
Last year BBC Writersroom put a call out to theatres to nominate playwrights for their Writersroom 10 scheme. As the name suggests ten playwrights were chosen on the strength of their writing to be given the opportunity (seed commission) to write a new play with their respective theatre. The selected playwrights and theatres can be seen here.
How it has worked so far . . .
When the ten of us arrived on a warm May morning to have our first meeting at the BBC we did not really know what to expect as the premise seemed simple; write a new play with your theatre. So why did we need the BBC again?
However, I needn't have worried about what the BBC wanted from us. It was the other way round. Kate Rowland asked us. 'What do you want from the BBC?' A brief silence as we all thought about whether to ask for a drama series commission, get given an expense account or something else . . .
Once we thought about it some more we realised this was an opportunity. An opportunity to find out about and engage in areas of the BBC we were interested in. Some of us wanted to know about TV drama, some Children's drama, others comedy and radio. The Writersroom team made notes as we talked about what interested us.
A couple of months later we were told we would be given mentors from the BBC in the areas we were interested in. In my case it was a Script editor Simon Judd from BBC Drama North. Each of us were now writing a play and meeting with our mentors and talking with them. We were not just writing in isolation but having a dialogue with the BBC. It was a good feeling to be asked what you wanted rather than being told what you needed.
2nd Meeting – Day 1
Our second meeting in October was a two day residential in London. It coincided with our first draft deadline for our plays. We arrived in London catching up with each other's news. 'Did you hand your draft in etc . . .'
Our day started with a radio workshop with Kate Rowland, telling us about the different drama strands on radio; R4 Afternoon play, BBC3 The Wire, Women's hour and the types of drama that suit each slot. We talked about dialogue (keep it lean and mean), engaging characters and about using the medium on it's own terms (sound). Kate also talked to us about how format and structure are important in radio drama. As most radio drama is a single drama – the way you allow the audience into the story (through format and structure) can be as imaginative as you want it to be. Eg. Postcards from a Cataclysm is a collection of 'audio shorts' - between 30 seconds and 6 minutes long - packaged around the idea that an asteroid is about to strike planet earth.
This was followed by an intensive 'how to write an episode of Holby City' with producer Simon Harper. This was very illuminating, as he had asked us to come up with a guest story for an episode. We then went through the five act structure (One: set up, Two: call to arms, Three: frustration, Four: nightmare, Five: climax/resolution). We also learnt that there is a midpoint when the character either goes one way or the other and also that there are four beats per act. By the end of the workshop, together, we came up with a clear structural outline for our protagonist's (Dan) story. We were amazed what could be done in such little time.
Connal Orton speaks to the Writersroom 10 finalists.
We then had Connal Orton from Children's drama talk to us about the world of childrens TV drama. I had just written a play for young people and Connal's workshop confirmed what I'd experienced which was that young audiences love high stakes and massive reversals. He talked us through many of the children's drama shows out there and what young audiences expect: their world as they see it – intense, but with logic and values and ethics they share. And the best writing advice for Children's drama: really hit a beat and don't be woolly!
That evening the ten of us were taken in 'The Apprentice' style black cars – waiting outside BBC to BAFTA. Oh yes. We were lucky enough to be watching a preview screening of Tony Marchant's new BBC drama, Public Enemies. There was a Q&A afterwards with Tony Marchant and actor Daniel Mays. Tony Marchant very generously came to talk to us and gave us lots of encouragement – even telling us that he missed the freedom of writing for theatre. So there you go. Tony was jealous of us.
The next day was a networking brunch. We met with Development executives as well as Radio and TV producers. This was an opportunity for us playwrights to talk to people who are actually looking for writers to commission. This didn't mean we would sit down and they would say 'OK – I'll commission you' . It was a chance for us to understand what a development executive does (looks for writers to pass onto producers – they read a lot of scripts) and how radio and tv producers look for writers (either they approach a writer they like or a writer will approach them either through an agent or sometimes through the Writersroom).
Q & A with Al Smith
Al Smith had been through the Writers Academy and had also exec'd and written his own TV drama 'The Cut'. Al told us about his own route from theatre to television via the Writers Academy. He mentioned something that a lot of blogs on this site say which is once you do the Academy you will be (much) better at structuring drama. They can't teach you writing, but they can give you the tools you need to structure a TV show. Al was very interested in us and our theatre work and once again we heard a TV writer saying he wished he could have the freedom to write for theatre again.
Finally we spent some time brainstorming with the Writersroom team for a show at Live! Newcastle, where we will be contributing a short play each for a night of theatre in March.
We walked back out into the daylight after two intensive days. Information swirled around my head but I had a spring in my step. From six months ago where I knew a bit about the BBC- now I knew much more and had a mentor with whom I was developing a calling card TV drama script.
We're all going to be seeing each other again in March for the showcase in Newcastle where we will see each other's work on stage. I'm looking forward to it. Watch this space!
Amman Paul Singh Brar is one of the selected writers on the Writersroom 10 scheme. Find out more about Writersroom 10
Friday 13 January 2012, 13:58
Thursday 2 February 2012, 12:47