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The first event of 2013 for the Writers' Guild West Midlands Branch will be a get-together with Equity on Thursday 21 February. It will also be the official launch of the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting (CRB).
CRB is demanding that when Tony Hall becomes Director-General of the BBC he enters into substantive discussions about increasing production at BBC Birmingham.
The event will be a great opportunity to show your support as well as a chance to get to know local Equity members.
The meeting will take place in the function room at the Old Royal on Church Street in Birmingham city centre (B3 2DP) at 7:30pm, followed by socialising in the bar afterwards.
More information: http://www.crbmidlands.org.uk/launch-meeting
Rachel Murrell on the opportunities for children's animation writers overseas
Photo: What's The Big Idea? by Planet Nemo Animation
It happened again this morning. The postman delivered a DVD of a new pre-school animation I’ve written. I ripped open the envelope, put the disc in the DVD player, hit ‘play’ – and couldn’t understand a word anybody was saying.
It’s not the result of early-onset senility – not yet, anyway – but of a sustained campaign of pitching producers outside the UK. And while I’ve been able to get work from France, Spain, Belgium, Norway and Germany, sadly, I don’t have the language skills to match.
It all started in 2006 when I was un-agented and short of work, and I emailed dozens of companies in the UK and abroad offering my services as a scriptwriter. Most ignored me, but one or two of the Europeans wrote back politely asking for a CV. Producer Frederic Puech of Planet Nemo Animation in Paris was one, and he suggested we meet when he was next in London.
We met for tea in the British Library – I like to set the right tone! – and soon afterwards, he hired me to write 10 episodes of his new show Silly Bitty Bunny. My schoolgirl French, while embarrassing, turned out to be no barrier to me working with Fred, or his then script editor Diane Morel. Both speak excellent English, and got every joke.
As time went on, I found more doors open to me than I’d expected. Of course I wasn’t the first to knock on them: several of my fellow British animation writers work for producers in France, Germany and elsewhere in Northern Europe. The reason is simple. Many European territories have subsidies available that see a lot of shows go into development. But that’s not enough to make them work internationally. Animation is a global business. Shows have to sell. And many European producers are open to hiring British writers because we’re seen as good at the character, tone and humour that will make a show a global success.
Rachel Flowerday on her experience co-creating a new BBC drama series, Father Brown, based on the short stories by GK Chesterton
Photo (BBC): Mark Williams as Father Brown
On Tuesday morning I found myself standing in the Sainsbury’s magazine aisle. Mouth dry. Palms slightly sweaty. Because the following week’s TV listings magazines had just arrived, replete with reviews, interviews, articles… How had I ended up here, with the TX date of my first original series (co-developed with Tahsin Guner, another BBC Writers’ Academy alumnus) less than a week away?
It was all down to Ann Widdecombe. Thanks, Ann.
Back in 2011, Tahsin and I (at this stage, barely acquaintances, much less creative collaborators) were at the end of the road with a pair of original detective dramas we’d independently pitched to BBC Daytime through John Yorke and Will Trotter. Much as the Beeb liked what we’d invented, in order to risk their limited cash, they wanted something a little more bankable.
Roll up, Ms. Widdecombe. She had just put out a Radio 4 show discussing her favourite novelist – GK Chesterton – and his Father Brown short stories, about an unassuming Catholic priest who moonlights as an amateur detective. John pitched the stories straight-off to Liam Keelan (then BBC Head of Daytime), and within days, Tahsin and I were asked – independently – to create treatments, building a precinct and supporting characters around the central priest. Parish secretary Mrs. McCarthy first drew breath in an email to Ceri Meyrick, our producer, in which I pitched a 'doughty, no-nonsense 60-something lay second-in-command who’s kind of a mother-figure but who probably also slightly fancies him/dotes on him… someone to check facts for him, to protect him from the wrath of the diocese, to make sure he eats…' Some of that original email is now on the BBC Father Brown website in her character biog. That’ll learn me.
By Michael Ross
Photo: Michael Ross (foreground)with Chipo Chung (director) and Kerry Hood
In October I was one of four playwrights selected for the Plays of Innocence & Experience project organised by the Writers’ Guild and RADA, an intensive two-day workshop collaborating on a play script with a professional director and the Academy’s acting alumni.
In addition, each writer was assigned a mentor by the Guild; an experienced writer who would accompany the playwright throughout their workshop and serve as their ally and confidante. All four plays were workshopped over the two days, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, so if your play was not being worked on you could pass freely between the other two as an observer. This was as valuable a part of the experience as your own workshop, as you were able to see how the process worked for other writers.
Different writers will have different, equally valid experiences. Some may go in wrestling with big problems in their scripts which the workshops will hopefully help them resolve by testing out new ideas, and they may cut whole scenes and write new ones, or it may send them back to the drawing board for a much more radical rethink. Or else they may go in with a script they are tentatively pleased with, but about which they have some lingering doubts, and they just need a runway on which to set the play off and see if it takes flight.
By Jan Harris (pictured, below)
The first time I read about The Writers’ Guild’s Plays of Innocence & Experience scheme was in an email from City University where I had received an MA in theatre and film some years ago. It stated this new project funded by the Writers Foundation UK and run in partnership with RADA was to focus on developing plays of great promise.
Opportunities like these usually come with a price tag, so I cast a beady eye over the details and found an unfamiliar phrase ‘out-of-pocket expenses paid’. In my 20 years of being a ‘new writer’ on both sides of the Atlantic I've never received out-of-pocket expenses. I've had profit share where there has been no profit; I once won a $25 third prize in a playwriting competition that charged $20 to enter, and a prestigious award with a $500 cheque attached from a theatre in Connecticut that cost me $1,000 in airfare to collect. Still cynical, I continued reading looking for the hated words ‘open to new young writers’, only to find that this scheme was ‘open to all writers, at different stages of their careers’.
There’s a new turn of phrase.
Richard Pinner reports on the first ever venture supported by the new Writers Foundation (UK)
Photo: Writer Kerry Hood (left) and her director, Sophie Lifschutz
The Theatre Committee of the Writers’ Guild has been considering the possibility of running script development workshops for some years, but each time these discussions seemed to founder. Either it was because we couldn’t readily commit adequate funding or find the right partner, or because we were aware that other writers’ support groups, like Script (in the West Midlands), Theatre Writing Partnership ( in the East Midlands) and North West Playwrights, were already fulfilling this brief. We were also fixed on the idea that there had to be an end-product, the need to direct this process toward some kind of public showcase. Which, in turn, led to concerns as to where the performances could take place, how would they be marketed and for what audience; not to mention whether we could afford to underwrite such an event.
Then a number of elements synchronised to put wind in the sails of this venture. Firstly, I called to mind James Houghton, the director of The O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, describing with great enthusiasm how this convention, held in Connecticut each summer, was purely a get-together of theatre practitioners; a self-contained community of people focussed on the needs of new work without the pressures and compromises that come with performance. Also, how they deliberately encouraged the discourse of emerging writers with very experienced, accomplished dramatists.