How To Train Your Writer

Posted on: Thursday 07 July 2011 7:41pm

#tcmc Blog by Colin Ward (who has promised an apposite John Lennon quote with every post!) Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” John Lennon’s take on the creative process.   SpeakersTony Collingwood, Writer / Director, Collingwood O’Hare EntertainmentJackie Edwards, Content and Acquisitions Manager, CBeebies, BBC Children’sLucy Fawcett, Writers’ agent, Sheil Land and AssociatesProduced by:Alan Gilbey, Writer, show developer and script consultant, Freelance   I had an odd idea that this session was going to be a Zen master’s guide to training the writer within, which says more about my vivid imagination than it says about the conference brochure. Although the first two minutes sort of fulfilled expectations – Alan Gilbey got everyone in the room to moan to the person next to them about writers they have worked with… it was quite noisy and strangely cathartic. What we got from the session was an extremely practical and funny guide to best practice when working with writers. Tony Collingwood gave us some quick bullet points on how producers can get it right for animation. – Get your designs and show bible right first and then ‘cast’ the writers – Pick ten writers and bring them together to pick holes in the format – Ask them to come back with story ideas – no more than a para – Commission scripts and get them working with a story editor to produce ‘beat’ outlines which you then run past the clients – Get the first draft back (hopefully no surprises because you did the ‘beat’ outline) – Give the writers notes (which should always come through the story editor so the writer hears only one voice) – Go to second and third draft, and then a polish What can go wrong? Alan introduced a case study of one (fictitious) anonymous writer’s bitter experience (anonymous because the writer wore a paper bag over his head in the photo story lovingly produced by Alan and his team, who were clearly delighted to get control of the pictures as well as the words). And now, here comes your first warning: ‘It always starts well’. The writer starts off happy, full of optimism. But has he/she gone to the first meeting prepared? Did they read the bible and the notes? Has the producer fully developed the show? If all they’ve got is a few pretty graphics then you end up with lots of confused writers. Here’s Alan’s guide on how producers and writers can get it right. – Get the show bible right – Produce two pilot scripts – Revise the bible. The scripts will show up lots of problems. Cull the unnecessary characters! – Consult with the clients – Revise the bible and scripts again So off you go to write your scripts… and then the notes start coming. Notes, the little lumps of kryptonite that drain every writer’s superhuman powers. Notes that increase in volume every year as Executive Producers proliferate like algae bloom on a pond. Here are Alan’s suggestions for good notes. – Limit the number of people giving notes – Hire an experienced script editor who knows how to reconcile different notes and drop anything that’s silly – When the note givers look at the first draft they should look at the whole story shape, not the detail – Don’t give vague notes i.e. make it funnier – Say what works as well as what doesn’t work (it makes it easier for the writer to get it right) – Be consistent (read your earlier notes to make sure you’re not contradicting yourself) And if the producer and the writer can get that process right then, glory be, the show will (hopefully) turn out even better than that daydream you kept having when you should have been writing. ‘And the Bafta for best animated script goes to… the anonymous writer.’ Cue cheers.