Notes from TV Drama Writers’ Festival. Part 3


Notes from BBC’s TV Drama Writers Festival held in Leeds 30 June – 1 July, 2010. The festival was organised by BBC Writersroom.

In this post:

  • Writer for Hire: How do you get original work on screen?
  • ‘They Won’t Like That’: Do we all try to second guess the commissioners?
  • In Conversation: TV Drama


Writer for Hire
How do you get original work on screen?

With Nicola Shindler, Sally Wainright and Mark Catley

Nicola Shindler and Sally Wainwright talked about Sally’s career and how she started out.

On working with a producer: when submitting a project, it doesn’t have to be too detailed but give an understanding of the larger story. What the story is about.

It’s safer to approach an independent producer because there will always be the same people working there. As opposed to commissioners who are replaced more frequently and might prefer different types of projects, one commissioner might greenlight something that the next one will reject after the project has already been produced.

In TV stories have to develop faster, every scene needs to have a change that moves the story forward. There is enough room for opinions and themes but the story has to keep moving forward.

Sometimes there’s just one encapsulating incident that drives the whole story. For example, a woman wins the lottery but won’t tell her family and the whole story revolves around this secret (which is a project that Sally wrote).


‘They Won’t Like That’
Do we all try to second guess the commissioners?

With Peter Bowker, Ben Stephenson, Sophie Gardiner and Toby Whithouse

Each channel has their ‘typical viewer’, their specific type of audience, and writers should keep that in mind.

Peter Bowker on censoring yourself: he doesn’t think that he can’t write about war because it’s on the news every day, but he writes what he likes to write about.

You shouldn’t second guess commissioners, it won’t work – the stories won’t be that great.

Every channel has their own flavour or a range of flavours but sometimes they don’t know what they want until they see it.

After one successful project, no one wants to see imitations.

It’s important to know what the channel is like not what the commissioner likes personally. The commissioner’s personal taste doesn’t matter because s/he wants to greenlight whatever is suitable and best for the channel. Channels have their own values, themes they prefer to show. Everything is a risk and you never know what will bring how much audience. So, bearing in mind the nature of the channel, write what you’re passionate about, write what you like.


In Conversation
Kate Rowland, Tony Marchant, Peter Bowker and Paula Milne talk TV Drama

Power, relationships, family are universal, lasting themes; context is different.
Stories that are about ourselves. Through portraying characters, the writer shows us what we are like.
Every author has their own angle on a material.

The Wire was inspired by Balzac.

In Telegraph: “Our models are the big Russian novels,” says Simon, “and also writers like Balzac. We’re trying to do with modern-day Baltimore what Balzac did with Paris, or Dickens with London.”

Milne: People are looking for stories, the audience is looking for stories that are more confident and self-assured then they are at that moment.

Milne: discovers the theme through writing. She realises during writing how she feels or thinks about a certain theme.



Part 1: Whose Voice Is It Anyway?

Part 2:  Poacher Turned Gamekeeper. Showrunners

Part 4: John Yorke Masterclass – What do great series have in common?

Part 5: Adam Curtis – The Power of Storytelling



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