An interview with TV storyliner and scriptwriter Kristy Jones
How did you get started in writing and storylining?
The first piece of work I wrote was a play for infant school children for a theatre in education company in south Wales. I only wrote it so I could direct the play; at the time I hadn't even thought of writing as a career and was concentrating on becoming a theatre director. It was a great experience, a four-year-old child won't sit down and pay attention to something that doesn't interest them. I got to see first-hand what worked and what didn't – there were a few rewrites during the first few days of the tour! My first storylining work was on Belonging for BBC Wales. I had worked with Sophie Fante, who's currently script producer on Casualty, on the first series of Torchwood. Sophie is a brilliant producer and mentor and now a good friend. On Torchwood Sophie was the assistant producer and I was a lowly trainee. She was brilliant at giving me opportunities and taking the time to explain how things worked, and coming from a theatre background to something like as huge as Torchwood, I definitely needed it. After Torchwood ended Sophie went on to work as executive producer on the final series of Belonging an she asked me to come along to storylining. I couldn't believe that you could sit in a room telling stories, having a laugh and getting paid for it.
What are the key elements of work as a storyliner?
A lot of it is creative, the actual creation of the stories and characters, but it's also quite technical and involves logistics. You have to ensure that there's enough content in each episode, that every episode has a dramatic peak. You have to use the appropriate number of interior and exterior scenes, make sure that your character count is accurate.
Having said that, every show is different. Soaps like Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Pobol y Cwm are very slick. They are massive shows with lots of different people working on them so the production system has to work. Hollyoaks and Eastenders had similar systems in my time. The writers would come in to a story conference every couple of weeks. Everybody would sit round a table and throw ideas around about what stories should be told over the next block of episodes. After story conference the story team would take all the ideas away and try to work out the structure of that story. We needed to decide things like how many episodes it would take to tell the story, how it would fit in with other long running stories, and if all the actors available to tell that particular story.
WPC56 is a new five-part television drama about a female police officer in the 1950’s, to be launched this March on BBC1. Series Creator Dominique Moloney explains how it all began.
Back in 2010 the producers at BBC Birmingham were looking to commission a returnable daytime crime series in the vein of Dixon of Dock Green. As fate would have it I had written a proposal about a young WPC in the 1950s, and Executive Producer Will Trotter liked it enough to take it through the various stages of development.
At the time I had over 20 episodes of BBC TV's Doctors under my belt, and had been lucky enough to work on all three series of another BBC series, Land Girls (created by Roland Moore). So the team at BBC Birmingham were familiar enough with my work to trust me with creating the characters and to begin story-lining an original series.
I have always been fascinated by 1950s culture, especially what it meant to be a woman in that decade. After a brief taste of freedom in the fields and munitions factories of World War 2, an entire generation of women were forced back into the domestic sphere. There were of course those who chose to pursue a career, but it was rare for them to venture beyond the limited gender roles assigned to them. This is why I wanted to tell the story of Gina Dawson, a young woman entering a traditionally male dominated world, having to fight daily to prove her worth as a police constable.
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.
Rachel Murrell on writing for an animated series about the everyday issues facing 9-to-14-year-olds
As a pre-school scriptwriter, I don’t often get the chance to write about periods, snogging and priapic teenage boys. So when Ken Anderson and Sueann Smith of Red Kite Animation offered me the chance to help set up an animated series for tweens about ‘a group of friends on the rocky road to puberty’, I jumped at the chance.
The show in question – then called Girls’ Things – had been devised by director Mercedes Marro of Tomavistas in Barcelona. Ken saw its potential as light-hearted way to raise important issues for tweens about everyday moral dilemmas, difficulties in relationships, trouble with body image, etc. Confident that this would work for the BBC, he agreed to co-produce the show with Tomavistas, Dutch company Submarine, and Catalan broadcaster TVC.
I took one look at the show’s bible, and I was sold. The zingy design felt very original, and the fact that the scripts had to get across accurate information through character and comedy was the kind of challenge I love. And I wasn’t worried about lack of material. My own misspent youth was stuffed with enough accident and embarrassment to drive a fair few stories, and for the rest, I asked around. ‘What does an erection feel like?’ was a great conversation starter at parties.
No. What scared me was the breadth of the target demographic: 9-14 year olds. Kids in this age range have vastly different emotional and social understanding – not to mention different physiological experience. And that’s before you factor in the cultural differences between the three territories involved. Surely it would be impossible to write for all of them?
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer were given the Writers' Guild prize at the British Comedy Awards in London last night. The writing and performing duo have created a number of memorable TV shows, including Vic Reeves Big Night Out, The Smell Of Reeves and Mortimer, Catterick, and Shooting Stars.
Other winners at the Comedy Awards were:
- Male TV comic - Lee Mack
- Female TV comic - Jo Brand
- TV comedy actor - Peter Capaldi
- TV comedy actress - Rebecca Front
- Comedy Entertainment Personality - Charlie Brooker
- Comedy Entertainment Programme - Harry Hill's TV BurpS
- itcom - Hunderby
- New comedy programme - Hunderby
- Comedy Breakthrough Artist - Morgana Robinson
The Guild has backed S4C’s refusal to scrap a repeat episode of soap opera Pobol y Cym following a complaint by the Welsh Government.
According to the BBC News Wales website, ministers complained after a character on the BBC-produced TV series said the Welsh government "doesn't have the backbone" to cull badgers.A planned cull in west Wales was cancelled in March when ministers decided to vaccinate badgers instead.
The Welsh government claims that S4C and BBC Wales, which makes the programme that has run for 38 years, have breached editorial guidelines and that the government has been denied a right of reply.
S4C, however, said the programme included a variety of viewpoints and repeated Wednesday's episode on Thursday as planned.
Guild General secretary Bernie Corbett congratulated S4C on 'standing up to the most bovine attempt at censorship in broadcasting history'.
One Guild member commented on Facebook: 'When soaps do try and be contemporary, and let their characters talk in a credible way about issues affecting their lives, they get this sort of [rubbish] from politicians. This objection is totally unreasonable – not a breach of guidelines – but it still causes trouble for the programme-makers and broadcasters.'
Writers' Guild Award to feature in ceremony on 12 December
The British Comedy Awards are back next month for the 22nd year and will include the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Writer(s) Of The Year. Our past winners have included Armando Iannucci, Sam Bain and Jess Armstrong, and Graham Linehan. The Guild members on the jury are Gail Renard, pictured above with Jury Chair, renowned producer and agent, Peter Bennett Jones (left) and writer David Quantick.
The programme goes out on Channel 4 on 12 December and, because it’s live, tends towards the controversial and edgy. Anything can happen and, as history has shown, it usually does.
Ming Ho reports from the Time to Change ‘Meet the Media’ Event
Mental health: does TV perpetuate negative stereotypes? That was the question posed by Time to Change, an anti-stigma programme run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, at an event for television drama professionals held on 1 October at the Hospital Club in London.
The evening began with a new training film presented by broadcaster Alistair Stewart, which aims to promote good practice in the portrayal of mental illness, and includes interviews with writers and directors involved in high-profile stories such as the bipolar disorder of Jean and Stacey Slater in EastEnders and the breakdown of Dr Ruth Winters in Casualty.
Kate Rowland, BBC Creative Director of New Writing, then chaired a panel discussion with writers Danny Brocklehurst (Exile; Accused), Dana Fainaru (Casualty), and Bill Lyons (Emmerdale), and mental health nurse, Lol Butterfield, who had advised on Emmerdale’s Zak Dingle storyline.
Research into a three-month sample of TV drama, led by the Glasgow Media Group, revealed that 74 programmes contained storylines on mental health issues – and these featured 33 instances of violence toward others and 53 examples of self-harm. While almost half were deemed to be sympathetic portrayals, the characters tended to be shown as tragic victims; and 63% of references to mental health were thought to be ‘pejorative, flippant, or unsympathetic’. How can we, as writers, redress this disproportionate image of a link between mental illness and violence and dispel the fear that it engenders?
Campaign to sign up archive writers begins this autumn
The Guild’s ground-breaking new agreements with BBC TV came fully into force on Tuesday this week, 28 August 2012. All new commissions are now under these new terms, and all scripts commissioned under the previous agreement since November 2002 automatically switch over to the new terms.
Later this autumn there will be a massive mail-out to almost 11,000 writers and estates commissioned since the origins of the BBC up to 2002 in which the Guild, agents and the BBC will advise switching to the new terms in most cases (some writers of highly successful shows may be better advised to remain on the old terms – if in doubt consult your agent and/or the Guild).
There are three new agreements, which have been posted in the Rates & Agreements section of the Guild website:
Television Script Agreement: This is the successor to many previous agreements between the Guild and the BBC over the decades and sets out the minimum terms for most mainstream drama and sitcom contracts – not only minimum fees, but also advances, repeat fees, credits, pension rights and much more.
General Script Agreement: A new agreement closely modelled on the TSA which extends Guild terms to broadcast scripts under 15 minutes, material commissioned primarily for online use, drama within documentaries, some animation, and other areas.
Sketch Agreement: This is a completely re-drafted agreement, replacing an obsolete contract after many years trying to bring rewards for sketch writing in line with the modern TV and entertainment industry.
The new system will bring writers extra payments when their work proves popular on the BBC iPlayer, thanks to a new service – Writers Digital Payments (WDP) – set up jointly by the Guild and the agents’ trade body, the Personal Managers’ Association. When TV programmes are accessed online, the writer will be paid in proportion to the number of viewers who decide to watch them. This form of TV watching is expected to grow massively now that the latest Smart TVs and YouView boxes will enable millions of viewers to access online programmes directly on their living-room TV sets.
The key points of the new agreements are:
- The 15% surcharge on upfront fees that all TV writers have received since 2002 will disappear – to be redistributed both by WDP and by far higher repeat payments for the 'secondary' channels such as BBC3, BBC4, CBBC and Cbeebies.
- The Guild’s collective agreements with the BBC are expanded to cover – for the first time – programmes shorter than 15 minutes, drama segments within documentaries, adult-oriented animations, shows written solely for online use, exploitation of programme formats and characters in a wide range of live performances, merchandising, etc.
- Repeat fees on the 'network' channels BBC1 and BBC2 are cut to a 50% residual in peaktime and 20% offpeak, in a move designed to bring homegrown archive material into the increased number of repeat slots, especially on daytime TV. It is expected that the same amount of money will be spread among a much larger range of TV writers past and present.
- There will be further negotiations to safeguard payments to children’s TV writers when kids’ programmes disappear from BBC1 and BBC2 early next year.
- Special arrangements have been put in place to ensure that existing writers on EastEnders, Casualty, Holby and Doctors do not lose out.
Sarah Kennedy from the charity S.A.F.E. on the impact of a project developed with Coronation Street writer Damon Rochefort
(Photo: Coronation Street Actor Sue Cleaver performers with S.A.F.E. Actor Ali Mlatso on stage in Mombasa)
Writers and actors know that the power of drama can move people in ways that other forms of communication can’t: it makes people feel joyous or despondent; hopeful or despairing; it informs and entertains. But it is not often that the power of great acting and writing can be put to use in saving lives.
This Friday, 17 August, the first of two one-hour documentaries on ITV1 shows how that is possible. In Corrie Goes to Kenya, four Coronation Street actors work with S.A.F.E. in Kenya – a UK charity and Kenyan NGO that uses performing arts to educate, inspire and deliver social change. The programme follows their work using street theatre to challenge the stigma, misinformation and ignorance surrounding HIV/AIDS and the episodes will follow the team as they create and perform a series of soap-like plays in Coast Province.
Corrie Goes to Kenya was conceived by Coronation Street writer Damon Rochefort after he became involved with S.A.F.E. in 2010. After seeing a screening of S.A.F.E.’s feature film Ndoto Za Elibidi, he travelled to Kenya to use his talents as a writer to help the team create a new HIV play. The experience was a profound one and Damon realised that, often, comedy is the most powerful tool in a writer’s box - and that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Reflecting on his time in Mombasa, Damon said: 'Lecturing solemnly to people about some pretty grim issues is one thing, but if you can create rounded characters and have them come into conflict in funny, unexpected ways, audiences will laugh and remember the messages that you bury within the plots. Through comedy, it’s possible to debunk some of the crazier myths that surround HIV, shining a light on them and encouraging the audiences to realize how daft these myths are'. The success of the visit and the play he had helped to create made him realise he wanted to take the Coronation Street team back to Mombasa with him to continue this work.
Corrie Goes to Kenya will demonstrate the close bonds that were formed between the Kenyan and UK teams and the powerful theatrical results. But also, and perhaps more importantly, the programmes will demonstrate the ability of the UK arts sector, including writers and actors, to raise awareness about complex international development issues in imaginative and unexpected ways.
Corrie Goes to Kenya is a Shiver and ITV Studios production. The first episode will be aired at 9pm on ITV1 on Friday 17 August 2012.
Read Damon Rochefort's original article about his work with S.A.F.E.
More about S.A.F.E. http://www.safekenya.org
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)