In this post:

  • Launching a new series
  • Thriller – the Trojan horse
  • Adaptations (briefly)
  • a few words from Ben Stephenson on what to pitch

This is the last set of notes from BBC’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival 2011.


Chair: Ben Stephenson (BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning)
With: Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford), Jane Featherstone (Creative Director at Kudos; Spooks), Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars), Toby Whithouse (Being Human).

Pharoah: develop an instinct for conflict that will take years to unravel.
Gallagher: create a character you care about, want to know what happens to them, create an iconic character you love (as a writer)
Whithouse: character is fundamental. He writes pages of bios the audience never sees. You never run out of story.

Stephenson: what about premise and concept? Read the rest of this entry »


John Yorke
on the relationship between theory and practice in TV drama script development.

“First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.” – Delacroix

Genre and following rigid screenwriting rules can make the story predictable, formulaic. A lot of people have turned against screenwriting theory. Charlie Kaufman has said that structure is useless. Guillermo del Toro gets very angry when people who throw Campbell and McKee at him.

Gurus demand blind faith to sell rigid rules. They refuse to take questions. It’s like a religious cult. They don’t want to explain anything, or ask why? (things should this or that way). It’s all demagogy.

Rules like ‘you have to have an inciting incident on page 11 and not on any other page!’ are ridiculous but there is a grain of truth in all the theories. Stories do have elements in common. We need to think why the rules are there. Read the rest of this entry »

Two sessions in this post:

  • Controversy and getting into hot water
  • Jimmy McGovern in conversation
  • related links


Chair: Jack Thorne. With Tony Marchant, Jeff Povey, Claire Powell (Chief Advisor, BBC)

JT: what is controversial TV? Do you know when your writing is controversial? Read the rest of this entry »

In this post, there are notes from two sessions:

  • Is it the writer’s responsibility to change the world?
  • The bio-pic: the fall-back position?
  • and related links on the speakers


Chair: Paula Milne.
With Tony Marchant, Hugo Blick, Jack Thorne, Roy Williams, Gwyneth Hughes

(this conversation was quite fast, so here are mostly snippets of what was said)

Writers should aspire to make a difference. (Milne)

Writers without politics are like soldiers without a country – mercenaries.  (John Clarke)

Morality explored through personality. Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from BBC’s TV Drama Writers Festival held in Leeds 30.06-01.07, 2010. The festival was organised by BBC Writersroom.

The Power of Storytelling
A conversation with Adam Curtis

Adam Curtis is a documentary film-maker, whose work includes The Power of Nightmares, The Century of the Self, The Mayfair Set, Pandora’s Box, The Trap and The Living Dead.

Adam Curtis: People live in a bubble – they’ve got their routine and their beliefs that they’re used to. The question is: how do you break through that bubble? How to tell them about new things, new perspectives? The task is to make an unknown (what they consider boring) world familiar.

Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays used Freud’s theories and invented PR. It had a huge effect on advertising. He discovered a way to manage the masses – if you open the doors, people will follow [this is also discussed in Cutris’s documentary The Century of the Self]. After they’ve entered the new world, you take them to new areas. Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from BBC’s TV Drama Writers Festival held in Leeds 30.06-01.07, 2010. The festival was organised by BBC Writersroom.

Masterclass with John Yorke
What exactly is a series?

What do successful series have in common?

  • Compelling characters
  • A self-contained story (the whole and/or underpinning spine)
  • A clear and renewable “story engine” (emotional jeopardy) (such as ‘crime of the week’)
  • Rigorous point of view (clear rules)
  • ‘One day’ time scheme
  • They are “about” something (not just cops but, for example, cops in Thatcher’s Britain, the changes in demographics, etc.)
  • Limited change (drama is change, things must move but drama series rely on not changing – which is a paradox) Characters don’t change but characters’ knowledge does. They learn new things (that will help catch the criminal, for example) Read the rest of this entry »

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 Read the rest of this entry »

Transcribed on day 1 of BBC’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival on 30th June 2010.

Poacher Turned Gamekeeper
Showrunners, the balancing act.

With Toby Whithouse, Tony Jordan, Alice Nutter and Stephen Butchard

Why is it important to be a showrunner?

They used to call them executive producers or creative producers but that title caused a lot of confusion because people didn’t understand it. It didn’t make it clear whether they’re writers or producers.

Tony Jordan: You’ve got one vision – it should remain with the creator, not hand it over to an ‘accountant’. Also, you’ve got no one else to blame if the script is not good.

Toby Whithouse: It’s important to know when to delegate. You leave the directing to a director who is a professional but the writer can have a say and make decisions about costume and other details. It’ll help keep the whole thing following the concept, one vision. That’s encouraging for writers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from BBC’s TV Drama Writers’ Festival held in Leeds 30.06-01.07.2010.

Writers – a force for change?

With Jed Mercurio, Mark Catley, Nicola Shindler and Tony Marchant

Tony Marchant: Have writers lost the initiative? Do we just write for producers, commissioners and actors, what they want us to write?

Nicola Shindler: The saying „you’re only as good as your last project“ doesn’t apply. You’re only as good as your next project. Your history as a writer is not important, you’re not as good as your last thing but you’re as good as the project you’re working on now, the project you’re sending to the producers and commissioners. It also means that having a successful project in the past won’t guarantee you a commission. Great stories are more likely to reach the screens even if it doesn’t follow the latest brief from the commissioner.

Jed Mercurio: It’s harder to sell something to a producer if they haven’t asked for it. When the commissioner is looking for something specific, by the time the script has been developed and ready, they already want something different or there’s a new person on the top who wants other things. Therefore you need to write material that you’d like to see on screen, material that interests you and will therefore have better quality. You should write what you like (just bearing in mind the type of channel you want to offer it to).

Read the rest of this entry »


Simon Beaufoy, the screenwriter of The Full Monty (1997) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Peter Bloore – an academic, consultant, screenwriter and director – talked about the relationship between the screenwriter and “the others” (director, producer, financiers, etc.) during the development of a screenplay.

Going to a script meeting?

In the earlier stages of his career, Beaufoy often lost control over his screenplay, which went on to go through smaller and bigger changes in the hands of whoever and often with dire consequences. Such as Blow Dry (2001) with Alan Rickman – a film reported to be terrible – that Beaufoy has never seen. Beaufoy found himself constantly being defensive, “protecting” his work, so that it wouldn’t get “ruined” by the others, it was like always wearing a helmet to a meeting, but he started becoming more flexible over time and learned to get over the anger.

Read the rest of this entry »