Nicholas Whittaker on the opportunities for writers in a genre that is often undervalued
Non-fiction was often considered the poor relation of the novel. But non-fiction isn’t what it was. A generation of writers has lifted the genre from dry text book style to a juicy read. From Cod: The Biography by Mark Kurlansky tand The Wicked History Of Phosphorus by John Emsley to Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the river Thames, no subject is off-limits. Cod meant little to any of us, unless battered and sprinkled with vinegar, but one writer made the subject come alive, weaving a fascinating tapestry of history, politics and cold lonely seas, educating and entertaining readers – and making himself a reputation along the way.
I’ve written four well-received non-fiction books now, the first of which, Platform Souls, did remarkably well, attracting lots of publicity – even a spot on breakfast TV with Anne and Nick. My appearance caused hilarity in some quarters, but at least I outlasted TV-am. Platform Souls was a book just right for its time, a major reason it attracted the publicity it did. I signed books till my arms ached, did loads of radio interviews and made a short TV documentary for Australian Broadcasting. I never saw it myself, but it certainly shocked an old friend who was watching telly in Melbourne.
A new publication from the Federation of Entertainment Unions (of which the Writers' Guild is a member) was launched at Westminster today, arguing against the repeated cuts made to BBC funding and calling for an alternative approach.
BBC Cuts: there is an alternative (pdf) sets out the economic and cultural value of the BBC and offers a way forward for the Corporation that would safeguard jobs and programming.
An open letter to screenwriters from Writers' Guild members Richard Curtis and David Seidler
As fellow screenwriters, we are writing on behalf of the InternationalAffiliation of Writers Guilds (IAWG) and the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) about important research into the visibility ofscreenwriters at film festivals.
Building on a survey conducted in 2010, we are undertaking a wider investigation into the visibility of screenwriters at film festivals. Togather this information, we are keen to hear of your experiences througha brief online survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ScreenwritersSurvey
It will take just five minutes of your time and your participation willbe greatly appreciated.
Your answers and comments are central to this research. They will helpus all understand how screenwriters could be better supported atfestivals and what is necessary to achieve this goal. The findings willbe published in a report to be released in Autumn 2012. IAWG and FSE represent more than 20,000 writers working in film, radio and television on five continents. This joint initiative arose from the 2009 World Conference of Screenwriters in Athens, where it was resolved that the vital contribution of screenwriters needs to be more fully acknowledged both within the film industry and in the public arena atlarge.
Thank you for your consideration.
Richard Curtis and David Seidler
Here's the article by Guild member Guy Hibbert (pdf), published in the Writers' Guild magazine UK Writer, about the origins of the film festivals campaign.
Jayne Kirkham reports from the Prix Jeunesse International Children’s Television Festival 2012
(The Amazing World of Gumball, created by Ben Bocquelet, winner of the Prix Jeunesse International award for Fiction for 7-11-year-olds)
Despite the rise of the internet and social media, in most parts of the world television is still the leading medium for children. For over 40 years the Prix Jeunesse Foundation, based in Munich, has sought to promote television that enables children to see, hear and express themselves and their culture and that enhances an awareness and appreciation of other cultures. Built on a solid foundation of academic research, Prix Jeunesse takes very seriously the idea that good children’s television is a social responsibility. Its biennial festival, the Prix Jeunesse International, awards the world’s best children’s and youth programmes and engages producers and broadcasters in hands on workshops and other partnerships for excellence.
It is a lot of fun. And rather tiring. There were 85 shows in competition, covering fiction and non-fiction in preschool, 7-12 years and 12-16 years age ranges, plus some 400 other shows also available to view. After each category delegates discussed what they had seen before secret ballots were taken. A Prix Jeunesse is a tremendous accolade, but winning is not all that the festival is about.
Unlike markets like MIPCOM, business takes a backseat here. Instead it is an opportunity to learn more about children in different countries and cultures. It's also offers chance to see different ways of doing things and to be inspired. A selection of the very best programmes from this year’s Prix Jeunesse will be screened at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield 4-6 July. If you are going, don’t miss it. If you’re not going, go.
So what or who inspired me? The producer from Bhutan, who is pioneering youth television in his country; The Chalk Boy, a drama from the Philippines that made me leap out of my seat; Mina Moes, a live action story about a courageous little Dutch girl determined to wear her Minnie Mouse ears no matter what everyone else thinks; the astonishingly creative Design Ah! from Japan that uses image so perfectly and had one of the most positive depictions of women. That is probably my big ‘take away’ (if you’ll excuse the kids’ TV technical term): that worldwide, women still have a stupidly long way to go before being portrayed as anything other than mothers, bossy big sisters and love interests. Gender Representation is something that the Prix Jeunesse Foundation has recently investigated. In the largest ever children’s TV analysis they have looked at gender representation in 19,664 programmes from 24 countries. The results are published at childrens-tv-worldwide.com.
One more thing that I learnt and that is that Nordic drama series for kids are just as excellent as adult shows such as The Bridge or The Killing (although with less… killing) but here in the UK we still have some of the best children’s television in the world. Really we do. Consistently. Across all genres. Whether it’s from the BBC or independent companies, our storytelling and our understanding of our audience is second to none. There are few territories where children are served as well as the UK. The danger is that we take it for granted and we could lose it so easily. Look at what happened when ITV shut Granada Kids. The BBC Trust says Children’s is one of its five editorial policies but it has to make cuts somewhere. Dedicating two channels to children’s content looks like content is protected but by taking children’s programmes off of BBC1 and 2, the terrestrial contracts and fee structure, will no longer be appropriate. Writers and other creators are looking at 50% drops in income. Great savings for the Corporation, but at some cost: you know the cliché, pay peanuts and you’ll get monkeys.
With the Guild having recently signed the best Television Writers’ Agreement in the world, we are in a good position to look carefully at the implications for children’s television specialists, both live action and animation.
It’s a negative thought to end on but only if we do nothing. As I said, Prix Jeunesse takes seriously the idea that good children’s television is a social responsibility. Several times during the festival I was reminded of the United Nations’ International Convention on the Rights of the Child that the UK signed up to some twenty years ago. It is a right, not a privilege, for children to enjoy and participate in cultural and artistic activities, be given news and information appropriately and educated so that their personality, talents and abilities are developed to the full. I think that gives the Writers’ Guild a good base on which to go forward when discussing children’s media matters with industry and Government.
View the full list of Prix Jenuness International 2012 winners (pdf)
The Writers' Guild of Great Britain passed an emergency motion at its AGM on 14th June deploring Arts Council England's withdrawal of investment in the future of dramatic writing and writers, and resolving to lobby the Arts Council and Government for a change of policy on the issue.
The motion was sparked by the recent rejection of a bid by North West Playwrights (NWP) for Grants for the Arts funding. In recent years regular Arts Council funding has been withdrawn from NWP and similar writer support agencies Script (West Midlands) and Theatre Writing Partnership (East Midlands).
As the motion notes, producing theatres, under the pressure of funding cuts, are reducing their support for writers and new writing. Aside from NWP the only bodies offering development services for scriptwriters independent of theatre companies are New Writing North and New Writing South – both as part of a general portfolio of facilities for all forms of writing.
Julie Wilkinson, who proposed the AGM motion, said: 'Dramatic writing requires a high level of professional skill and experience. Hacking away at the roots of the industry by cutting resources available for new writers will damage the long term future, not only of theatre writing, but television, radio and film as well.
'These cuts mean that support now depends on where you live, with only patchy access to script development services available in a few areas. We have seen great improvements in the diversity of writing and writers on the English stage, since 2003, as a result of strategic funding decisions; but without effective policies to support emerging talent, writers who cannot fund their own training will find it much harder to make their voices heard.'
Guild President David Edgar seconded the motion, saying that playwriting development agencies like North West Playwrights played a vital role in the huge expansion of new theatre writing in England over the last 20 years. Now that so many are losing their funding, he continued, there is a real danger that the next generation of playwrights will be unable to develop their craft as effectively as those who are now dominating the British stage. Founded by the Theatre Writers’ Union (which joined the Guild in the 1990s), North West Playwrights was and is the leading organisation in the field.
The motion was passed unanimously, and the Guild's Theatre Committee, led by playwright Amanda Whittington, will be seeking early contact with the Arts Council.