May You Live In Interesting Times: a new age of political TV drama?

Ah, those old Chinese curses, eh?

A couple of years back, I was pitching a TV drama-comedy idea to a really cracking producer. We were both excited (I think!) about the central character – an unseated MP thrown into my old work world of lobbying, with all its grey shades and the implications for her previously stable world view. We laughed. And then we sighed.

“Broadcasters are shy of political drama,” she said. “It’s a hard sell.”

Ho, ho, ho.

I grew up in the ’80s – politics was everywhere on TV. A sixth-former watching the BBC’s House of Cards while Maggie Thatcher’s world fell about her. Spitting Image was the weekly treat (I say, “treat”; more like a 5-foot high trifle and a diving board).

Last week, you might have caught Channel 4’s Brexit. It had both an excellent cast and the level of quality that made you (well, me, at least) hungry for more. (You can watch it free online til early February.) There was a great deal of excitement generated both before and after and much to enjoy: the personalising of the players; the fictionalised insight of protagonist Dominic Cummings, the “Leave” Campaign Director, whose frustrations we were encouraged to share.

It was like having a giant iron door unlocked, so we could peer inside the machinery of Westminster’s Brexit campaigns, eyebrows raised or knotted as we watched this cog catch on that ratchet, while those levers went up and down for no obvious reason whatsoever. That’s what good political drama does – turn the abstract into the relatable: we all do silly things.

But does C4’s Brexit herald a”new age of political drama”? As a career-politico-turned-scriptwriter, of course I want that to be true. But the wise producer’s note of caution rings hard in my ear. Broadcasters are in tough times, competing with US and European content, and both born of different financial models.

Den of Geek’s superb run through 2019’s TV drama highlights shows that although – like 2018’s – 2019’s dramas tackle inherently political issues (the porn industry, poverty, the care and justice systems, NHS, inequality, globalisation…), the political system itself isn’t taking front and centre.

But even if British audiences lose all appetite for tales about democratic processes or political deal-making, our need for stories of politics’ on-the-ground human impact remains as hungry as ever .


A Song & Dance for your details…

A much-loved but unproduced theatre script,  A Bit of a Song & Dance, made the BBC Drama Script Room long-list! They had a record number of entries, and a phenomenal amount to read, so I’m especially pleased – and grateful! As all writers out there know, there’s subjectivity in all of this, too, so I’m well aware that there’s a decent degree of good fortune in getting this far.

Writersroom is a phenomenal doorway for writers; a great deal of the talent that reaches your screen passes through this system, and I know many who have been coached and nurtured by it (and by others, of course): it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s this kind of thing that gives hope, ambition, support and professional education to me and THOUSANDS of would-be broadcast writers.  The recent comedy script room has had 2,629 entries and as you can see below, Drama had almost 4,000.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 09.50.39.pngThis is the best any of my scripts have done with the BBC and it is a script I love (with characters I care about – but then, I always do). As one of the longlist, the BBC will give me a script report, which is invaluable – because without audience feedback, a script is nothing. Its life is in the imaginations of others….

And on that slightly strange final note, I’ve been looking for a wordpress GDPR thing and can’t find one. Some of you have signed up to get blog posts by email. If you are one of them and no longer want to, obviously do unsubscribe! Otherwise, let’s carry on! (As I try to capture your imaginations!)

 

The Stuff I Do (yippee)

Wonderful week last week, with lots of goodies coming at once.

On Tuesday, I reviewed Michael Boyd (former RSC Artistic Director)’s new show, The Open House, for Bristol 24/7. You can read the review here.

Greg-Hicks-Father-Lindsey-Campbell-Daughter-Crispin-Letts-Uncle-Ralph-Davis-Son-1600x900

The Open House, Theatre Royal Bath – photo by Simon Annand

Then I popped on a train, feeling all intercontinentally high-flyin’, wrote my review on the tracks & when I woke up (some sleep happened somewhere), I was in King’s Cross on  my way to the C21/Script Angel WritersRoom, which ran as part of the International Drama Summit at Content London 2017.

Very merrily, my latest TV pilot spec script – written in a 10-day deadline frenzy in September – was highly placed in the C21/Script Angel Drama Series Script Competition. And this is how I won a place on this full and excellent day.  In three groups, we developed a new show from concept to pitch. Each worked closely with an experienced show-runner: Versailles’ David Wolstencraft; Follow The Money’s Jeppe Gjervig Gram; False Flag’s Maria Feldman and Shades of Blue’s Adi Hasak.

The 9-6 day seemed like it was eaten whole in one big bite: Have we finished? Where did it all go?! 

That’s in no small measure due to a cracking task-led structure, but also a bally marvellous working group. So often,  writers work in holy isolation but here we had to listen, respond, respect and hit a deadline with a goodie. (What do you mean, “did we?” Of course we did!).

Anyway, it was yet another of those weeks where I stand, grin and kalloo-kallay my lucky stars to be able to do the stuff I do. I saw and reviewed great & thought-provoking theatre (heading to London in the new year, I believe) and worked with a great international group of merry writers and producers. And we all learnt from our group’s ace showrunners, Jeppe Gjervig Gram & Adi Hasak, with the sharp and steady Hayley MacKenzie of Script Angel’s hand on the tiller.

What a cracking week.

 

Fingery-Pokery – The Artist’s Way

scan0056I heard about it.

I saw it in a friend’s vast personal library.

He said “Here, take it.”

It sat on my shelf for a year.

I started it.

Wow.

I’m reading / doing / taking / following The Artist’s Way. It’s a course in a book. I’m fed up of feeling my work is stale, fed up of the negative pixies who get to party when I get  statistically likely “thanks, but not today” emails, and I’m fed up of the whispering mists of pessimism and poverty.  And that’s enough indulgence in evocative eurghhhiness.

Because this 12-week thing (I’m reaching the end of week 5) is great! Jolly! Freeing! Happy-making! OH, MY GOD. I’m the Me I that adult me thinks I was when I was 7! (Creating for creativity’s sake, full of curiosity, mischief, devil-may-care fingery-pokery).

Talking of “God”, it/s/he crops up a fair amount in this book, but don’t be put off. While author Julia Cameron has a strong faith, she encourages readers to think about their own “god” – whether that’s the “creative force”, a muse, or a deity.

So much good shit is going down – as they say here in the streets of Bath all the time – and it’s not all about improving The Writing at all. But WHAT a relief to….

  • LIKE my drafts the next day
  • not to be put off by a roughly sketched scene, but see its glimmer
  • have optimism and glee
  • feel not a twinge at others’ hard-won successes (yes, shameful – it was only ever tiny, but ouch, I wanted that Jellytot!)

It’s a bonkers example, but I applauded – actually clapped at – the telly at the end of this week’s Line of Duty. See what I mean? I’m so proud to be loosely in the same profession as Jed Mercurio, how could I not? Ditto the finale of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch. Hats off to them and the creative teams around them.

Anyway, I’m also …

  • taking action, instead of putting up with repeated promises that turn to bog-all
  • bolder with my dreams, such as going for “front of camera talent” instead of “director” as my role at Channel4’s Bristol PopUp last week (yep; I presented, and I loved it).

So – is this intriguing you? Be warned. There’s a crocodile. Week 4 is “reading deprivation” – no TV, films, books, papers, voice radio, mags, emails, social media…

It is hard.

It is great.

  • I went to bed when I was tired
  • My bum wasn’t glued to the sofa
  • I did some great piano playing
  • I did some brilliant (of course!)  writing.
  • And now, I carefully choose what to watch at night (1 hour; maximum 2 if it’s quality drama or comedy), like picking a quality chocolate or drink. I pay attention, rather than lever open my ears and eyes to have shit poured in.

Which is nice.

😉

Alex

Women in TV

I’ve just read a great piece about women in TV written by Emma Reeves,  a show creator, playwright and WGGB award winner, into her research with the Writers Guild of Great Britain. Thanks to Philip Gladwin at Screenwriting Goldmine for letting me share it here.

Here are some headlines:

  • Analysing data from the five main channels over a five month period,  70% of all prime-time drama credited to a single writer was written by male writers, and 30% by women writers.
  • There was only 1 week when slightly more drama (55%) was written by women than men. But there were several weeks when 75% or more of prime-time drama episodes were written by men.
  • Of 106 episodes of Eastenders, for example, 70 were written by men – almost exactly 2/3 of available episodes.

So, what’s going on? Click through (no commission or gain to me!) and have a read:

https://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/why-dont-more-women-write-for-tv/

 

Some sharin’ – great TV writing resources

All quiet on this south-western front of late, I know. I’ve been putting my 6-hour working days (school hours for small ones) to good writing use, then throwing in some extra after beddy-byes. All guns have been pointing at a new TV pilot, strengthening my screenwriting muscles and learning everywhere I can.

So, without giving anything away about boring old plot stuff (YAWN)* I thought it mght be handy to point any writers out there towards the handy  – invaluable – resources I’ve been using.

And my imagination, but you couldn’t afford it 😉

Anyway, this stuff is – combined with the other glorious sites on my blogroll (to your right, I believe) – seriously invaluable. It requires some spend of dosh as well as effort, but this is my career. I seriously recommend you check these out if you’re serious about screenwriting. We’re learning a craft and that takes more than just talent. It takes learning!

* So “not” yawn; I love this world I’m playing in. It’s been months now and I dream it. One of us just won’t let go of the other.