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Free is NOT an Option

on Monday, 18 November 2013 16:10. Posted in TV

Lend your support to the new campaign from the Writers' Guild

'We really like your loaf of bread but we haven't got any money to pay for it.'

If that doesn't work in Sainsbury's why should it work with writers' ideas?

The past few years have seen a disturbing increase in the amount of work that writers are being asked and expected to do for free. While this has long been a problem with small, new or simply unscrupulous companies, it is fast becoming the industry standard even for large, well-resourced production companies dealing with established writers with significant credits to their name.

More and more, writers are being offered ‘shopping options’, asked to do ‘sweepstake pitching’, bake-offs’, free rewrites and ‘pre-writes’ – all for no money. It is becoming the norm to ask even established writers to write a trial script before they are even considered as a writer on a long running show – in some cases when they have previously written for that very same show.

The unpaid commitment now routinely expected of a writer constitutes weeks of work and time consuming, expensive research. If it is unacceptable to ask other professionals to work for free then it is unacceptable to expect writers to work for nothing. How are writers to feed their children and pay the mortgage?

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is launching a campaign ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ to address the problem of writers being expected to work for free. The campaign will highlight the scale of the problem and challenge production companies and broadcasters to address indefensible practices that are in no one’s best interests.

To give statistical weight to the campaign two online surveys have been published, ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ and ‘Free Trials’. The findings of the surveys will be confidential and anonymous and only used as statistical evidence in publicity campaigns and negotiations with major production companies and broadcasters. The surveys are open to all writers (whether Guild members or not) and can be accessed via the following links.

Free is NOT an Option https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X8L8F2R

Free Trials https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XL8H6KP

Closing date of survey 1st January 2014.

David Edgar honoured by Writers' Guild

on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:41. Posted in Theatre

Playwright recognised at Writers' Guild Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Writing and Writers.

Lee Hall and David Edgar-240The award was presented to David Edgar by Lee Hall – here's the text of Lee's speech

It is an enormous privilege to be asked to present this award to David Edgar. Not least because it allows me to acknowledge my personal debt. If there was one reason I became a writer - it was David Edgar.

I first encountered his work when I read one of the early short plays: Ball Boys - in the school library and decided immediately that I had to put it on.

It is a blackly comic tale of two ball boys who plot to assassinate Sven Svenson, a Bjorn Borg - like tennis ace. Not only is it uproariously funny, witheringly sharp in its social satire, it is full of ideas, from thumbnail explications of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach to comic fusilades condensing the insights of the Frankfurt School into machine-gun-fire, coruscating invective.

But unlike so many plays where bravura philosophising are some kind of window dressing. The ideas in the play weren’t just tacked on - they were central to the piece. Here was writing that was as keen to be entertaining as it was to be thoughtful, as keen to be political as it was to use the dialectical nature of theatre to make a problem of easy sloganeering. But most importantly for me it was writing which was effortlessly ‘theatrical’. And it was a huge success in the Tynemouth Sixth Form College Assembly Hall.

So I devoured all the other plays I could find: TeenDreams, Destiny, Mary Barnes, Albie Sachs.

The thing I liked most about them was how taut they were, how vivid they were as pieces of drama, they were proper grown up plays, searingly intelligent, but always poking at political, psychological and ideological contradictions. They were phenomenally diverse: Mary Barnes was an intimate examination of the anti-psychiatry movement, Destiny an Epic about the rise of a fascist Right. But all these plays were concerned with the same thing: how we might transform the world. They were not evasive about the personal or political problems of doing so - and that was why they seemed exemplary.  These were fearless, fiercely intelligent, grown up pieces of writing. Thrilling and life changing for me. I knew this is what I wanted to do.

Writers' Guild Awards winners

on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:37. Posted in General

The Writers' Guild Awards were presented in London on Wednesday 13 November 2013

Olivia Hetreed-440

Writers' Guild President Olivia Hetreed introducing the Awards (Photo: WGGB/Simon Denton). More photos: www.facebook.com/thewritersguild

TV Drama Series
Winner: Silk (Peter Moffat)
Shortlisted: The Village (Peter Moffat), Broadchurch (Chris Chibnall)

Continuing Drama
Winner: Coronation Street
Shortlisted: Holby City, Casualty, Waterloo Road, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, Doctors

TV Comedy
Winner: Getting On (Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine, Joanna Scanlan)
Shortlisted: Fresh Meat (Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain), Him and Her (Stefan Golaszewski)

TV Drama Short Form
Winner: The Girl (Gwyneth Hughes)
Shortlisted: Room at the Top (Amanda Coe), Murder:Joint Enterprise (Robert Jones)

Children’s TV
Winner: The Dumping Ground - What Would Gus Want? (Elly Brewer)
Shortlisted: What’s the Big Idea - What is Art? (Alan Gilbey), The Dumping Ground - The Truth is Out There (Emma Reeves)

Radio Drama
Winner: Tennyson and Edison (David Pownall)
ShortlistedL The Go-Between (adapted by Frances Byrnes from the novel by LP Hartley), Once Upon a Time There Was a Beatrix (Lavinia Murray)

Radio Comedy
Winner: Susan Calman is Convicted (Susan Calman)
Shortlisted: Fags, Mags & Bags (Sanjeev Kohli and Donald McLeary), Meet David Sedaris (David Sedaris)

Books
Winner: The Universe versus Alex Woods (Gavin Extence)
Shortlisted: Big Brother (Lionel Shriver), The Card (Graham Rawle)

Videogames
Winner: Thomas Was Alone (Mike Bithell)
Shortlisted: Tomb Raider (Rhianna Pratchett), Lego City Undercover (Graham Goring)

First Screenplay
Winner: What Richard Did (Malcolm Campbell)
Shortlisted: Sightseers (Alice Lowe, Steve Oram), Good Vibrations (Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson), Grabbers (Kevin Lehane), 

Screenplay
Winner: My Brother the Devil (Sally El Hosaini)
Shortlisted: Byzantium (Moira Buffini), Skyfall (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan)

Theatre Play
Winner: Quietly (Owen McCafferty)
ShortlistedL Brilliant Adventures (Alistair McDowall), The Thrill of Love (Amanda Whittington)

Theatre Play for Young People
Winner: Whole (Philip Osment)
Shortlisted: I, Cinna (Tim Crouch), Mr Holgado (Christopher William Hill)

A special Writers' Guild Award was presented by Lee Hall to David Edgar for his outstanding contribution to writing and writers.

New Faces: Radio Drama In The Midlands

on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 14:28. Posted in Radio

A Writers' Guild West Midlands event - Wednesday, December 11, 7.30pm - 9.30pm

In recents months two important chairs have been filled in BBC Radio Drama. Sean O'Connor has taken the reins at the The Archers. Meanwhile Jessica Dromgoole is helming the landmark World War I drama, Home Front. Sean and Jessica will join us to talk about their shows, the craft of Radio Drama and opportunities within the industry.

Sean O'Connor was a producer on The Archers in the late 1990s, before moving on to TV shows such as EastEnders, Hollyoaks & Minder. He has also directed extensively in theatre, including his own adaptations of Vertigo, Marnie and Romeo & Juliet, as well as producing a film version of Terrence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea. His book Handsome Brute was published this year.

Jessica Dromgoole has directed in theatre and radio, winning various awards including the Prix Italia for Original Radio Drama, a BBC Audio Drama Award for Best Audio Drama, and a bronze Sony Radio Academy Award for Best Drama. Between 1988 and 1991 Jessica was Artistic Director of the Finsborough Theatre, since when she's been New Writing Co-ordinator for the BBC.

This event is FREE to members of the Writers' Guild and £5 for non-members. Attendees are invited to a festive drink in The Mailbox afterwards.

Booking details

Character driven

on Tuesday, 05 November 2013 14:26. Posted in TV

Christopher Reason on how his family's experience of mental health problems have shaped his life and his writing. The article is based on a speech he gave to the 'Time to Change' Mental Health Conference at the Royal Medical Society.

christopher reason-240I've been invited to share my experiences of 'writing about mental health'. But as soon as I started to think about this, I realised that virtually everything I write is about mental health. That's because my work is almost always character centred. Whether it's soap opera – I've been on the EastEnders writing team on and off for nearly 20 years – or any of the adventure stories, political thrillers, comedies, domestic dramas that I've written, I always begin with the character. The reason for which will become plain.

So how do I create a character? My starting off point is: 'We're all nutters but some of us are nuttier than others'. For there's a continuum that stretches from relative mental health (I'm not sure if I've ever met the person who was entirely sane) right through to psychosis, and all of us dwell somewhere on that continuum. Nor is it a static point we occupy. One day we might be feeling fine, then something happens – a bereavement, a separation, an illness - and we find ourselves struggling to cope. How we handle or mishandle this crisis is what teachers of creative writing like to call a character's journey or their arc. A leading character's arc is often congruent with the plot – in many cases it is the plot – so understanding the psychopathology that underlies a person's character has always been crucial to me. Other writers, and I'm not knocking them, take a completely different approach. They think of the big concept – Independence Day or Avatar say - and only then create the characters that will fit into it. One approach is not better than the other, they're just different.

So why do I take this character driven, psychology centred approach? That's entirely bound up in my own personal history.

Author visits in schools

on Monday, 28 October 2013 14:36. Posted in Books and Poetry

Helena Pielichaty on a campaign to promote reading for pleasure and the value of authors' visits to schools

In April 2011 the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) held a One Day Conference for its members. During the Q & A session, Annemarie Young voiced her concern that many teacher training colleges did not appear to have much in the way of reading for pleasure on their courses - the little time allotted to reading tended to concentrate on synthetic phonics. If newly trained teachers weren’t getting any advice on reading for pleasure, how could they be expected to encourage their pupils to read widely once they were in the classroom, Annemarie wondered.

Other delegates agreed, adding that it wasn’t just new teachers who weren’t aware of the wide range of children’s literature available but many experienced teachers, too. The rigidity of the English National Curriculum was given as one reason for teachers abandoning long-established practices, such as the class reader; Ofsted’s ‘expectations’ were another. I related my anecdote of the teacher who, when I asked why she didn’t have a class reader any more, replied: ‘Can you imagine what Ofsted would say if they caught me reading to my class?’ Caught – as if she were indulging in some deviant act!

After the conference CWIG and the Educational Writers Group (EWG) formed a Campaigns Group to look into this issue. Further research confirmed that within most PGCE courses, reading for pleasure was given a one hour slot, if that, leaving NQTs dependent on their mentors in schools for ideas and inspiration about books. However, a study by Teresa Cremin (2011) highlighted how narrow even established teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature was, with only 10% of those surveyed being able to name 6 poets or 6 illustrators , reiterating what had been said at the One Day Conference.Yet there is some excellent work going on in schools, especially in those with a designated school librarian.