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)
Changes safeguard writers in the age of online viewing
(Photo: Success at last! The Writers’ Guild negotiating team celebrates the end of four years’ hard negotiations. From left: Ming Ho, Gail Renard, Bernie Corbett, J.C. Wilsher, Robert Taylor, Anne Hogben)
Major new agreements between the Writers’ Guild, the BBC and the agents’ trade body were signed yesterday (Thursday 31 May 2012), bringing the contractual terms for TV writers fully into the digital age.
The signing ceremony took place in the brand new rebuilt Broadcasting House in central London – the culmination of more than four years’ negotiations that started before the builders even moved in.
Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'This is a hugely significant day for writers, safeguarding their interests – and their incomes – whether future viewers stick with broadcast systems or increasingly use online on-demand services. And it gives the BBC the ability to commit fully to an online future, continually increasing the ways in which both current and archive programming can be made available. These negotiations have been an incredibly long-haul, and I congratulate Guild Chair Robert Taylor, whose vision and clarity throughout his three-year term of office have been a major factor in bringing these talks to a successful conclusion.'
The agreements, as foreshadowed at the Guild AGMs in 2010 and 2011, introduce a completely new system to pay writers for the use of their work on the iPlayer online system. A new company called Writers' Digital Payments, jointly controlled by the Guild and the Personal Managers’ Association, will organise payments in proportion to the number of viewers who click to watch each individual programme. The same system can be extended in future to cover payments for possible online archive projects.
In addition the new agreements massively extend the programming covered by collective bargaining, bringing in for the first time drama and comedy commissions below 15 minutes, dramatic material in documentaries, and reforming the way sketch material is commissioned and re-used. In another important change, programmes repeated on secondary channels such as BBC3/4 and the children’s channels will earn residual fees based on a percentage of the original fee, instead of the much-criticised standard fees paid up to now.
To pay for these improvements most writers will lose the 15% additional fee paid upfront for a five-year iPlayer and secondary channels licence. The new agreements mean that this money will now find its way much more accurately to the writers of the most-downloaded and most-repeated shows. Another important change is a reduction in repeat fees, which it is hoped will enable the BBC to repeat many more shows, thus spreading the payments to a wider range of writers. But to avoid a disproportionate pay cut, current EastEnders writers have their fees system ring-fenced and there will be a two-year transition period for writers already working on other long-running series.
The new system will come into force on 1 July 2012 for new commissions, and all programmes commissioned since November 2002 will automatically switch to the new terms as and when they are repeated and/or made available online. Writers of material commissioned before November 2002 will have the option of switching to the new system – as recommended by the Guild and the other parties to the agreements – or remaining on their original terms.
More details about the new agreements and how they will affect writers in practice will be issued within the next few weeks, including a special website with answers to frequently-asked questions and other information. Almost 11,000 writers (or their estates) who have worked for the BBC over its entire history will be contacted by post with an explanation of the new agreements and an invitation to sign up. Look out for more information on the Guild website.
Applications are now open for Coming Up 2013, the scheme for emerging screenwriters and directors run by Channel 4 and Touchpaper Television
Now in its 11th year, Coming Up is currently the only talent scheme in the UK where emerging filmmakers have the opportunity to make an authored drama with a guaranteed half-hour network broadcast.
They are looking for: 'Bold, original and surprising ideas with strong voices – unafraid of ambition, wit, urgency and fearless entertainment.' Films will need to be shot in four days on a limited budget
Who can apply?
- Writers who have not had an original single,
series or serial broadcast on UK television. Writers who have
contributed episodes or series and serials (eg a long-running
soap) are eligible to apply.
- Directors without a primetime TV drama credit.
- Writer/Directors: They will accept submissions
from writer/directors who meet the criteria for writers and directors
as per above, but excellence in both disciplines must be shown to
be considered in this category.
- Submissions from multi-cultural and regionally-based filmmakers are encouraged.
Full details and application forms are on the Coming Up web pages
The closing date for applications is 2 July 2012.
Booking is now open for this year's BBC TV Drama Writers' Festival
When: Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th July 2012
Where: Leeds College of Music, Leeds
The TV Drama Writers' Festival is the festival for professional television writers. Providing a unique opportunity to mix with BBC drama commissioners and producers, and writers who are at the top of their field, the festival is a mix of masterclasses, conversation and debate - led by writers for writers. It is an opportunity to be inspired, challenged, and to have your say. The theme of this year's festival is 'Ambition'.
The 2012 festival will be chaired by Peter Bowker - with Stephen Butchard, Danny Brocklehurst, Toby Whithouse, Emma Frost, Ashley Pharoah and Jack Thorne helping to put the sessions and masterclasses together.
The closing date for bookings is 20 June 2012.
Full details are on the BBC Writersroom website.