Friday, 28 May 2010

Nice end-of-the-week news...


So, Fair City.

I’ve blogged about this show before, here, here and here. Basically, if you don’t want to go read those, the short version is that it’s a Dublin-based soap produced by the Irish State Television broadcaster, RTE, and I’ve managed to blag a trial with them. The last time I spoke to them, the script editor told me to keep up with the show, get to know the characters better and get back in touch in a few months. So I did. I’ve watched all the eps, made some notes on the characters, did some background searches on the internet. Put in the work, basically. When I thought I was ready, I sent a nice email saying so.

So, yesterday the script editor got back in touch to say my trial scenes are go and can I come in to see them and meet the team. That way she’ll give me the low down on exactly what it is they’re looking for. And she’d also (here’s the best bit) SHOW ME THE SETS!!!

I dunno why, but I got all excited about that last bit.

Anyway, the way it works is that once we’ve met up and talked through what it is they need, she’ll give me some trial scenes to write (four scenes of my choice from one episode out of a week’s run of four. The Fair City episode documents are scene-by-scene breakdowns). These will be from episodes already broadcast and which I will probably have already seen. She’ll then tell me to go away and come back with the scenes in a week.

If that goes ok, I go on to the next stage, which is writing a shadow script. Basically, I write the script for an upcoming episode, going through the same procedure as the actual writer of that episode, with the same deadlines, feedback time, etc. As if it was the real deal, but they know they have someone writing the actual episode and that mine is just a try-out. It’s a great way for both sides to see how it works and whether you suit each other.

If THAT goes ok, then it’s the real deal. Hopefully. But that’s way down the line.

Anyway, they also said they’re looking for storyliners, which means that you go and work 9-5 but not full time. A week here, a week there. Which would be perfect for me. So, separately, they’re booking me in for a week during the summer doing shadow storylining.

They do blocks of episodes at a time (16 I think, which would be a month’s worth). A team of storyliners will work on that block, taking the already-established general plots for that period and fleshing them out. Yes, I get to kill all the characters. And make them have affairs. And find long-lost brothers/wives/sons. And someone may even have a comedy moment involving a small dog and a bike! And a balloon!

Ok, maybe not that last bit.

So, a bit chuffed with all that. I know soap is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always loved it. I think it’s what television does best – reflecting back the lives of the people watching, allowing the audience to live with characters and a community, following characters week by week for years through all the human dramas of birth, relationships and death.

And the occasional dog on a bike holding a balloon. But things like that are usually held back for special episodes, so don’t get your hopes up.

Anyway, the idea of sitting in a room and talking about all that stuff excites me as much as writing one of the episodes. It’s my bag completely. Couldn’t be happier.

Have a good weekend!!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Coming Up Dos and Donts...

After the marvelous Mr Nugent’s review yesterday, I thought some of you might be interested in some feedback from the event that Northern Ireland Screen posted on their website here. But rather than have to do clicky-clicky all the way over to their site, I’ve copied it all below for you.

How good am I to you…?

Norther Ireland Screen Feedback

Following a successful Coming Up event in Belfast yesterday Ben Stoll, Channel 4’s Coming Upcommissioning editor, Elinor Day and Emma Burge, Touchpaper producers, very kindly gave us a list of dos and don'ts for applicants.


· Be distinctive. Coming Up is always looking for subjects they haven't done before.

· The films are 24 mins long, so the central idea/hook needs to be strong and clear, and with some room for dramatic development. More complex than a 10 minute film, but not too complex a plot.

· Remember it's for Channel 4 so the films need to appeal to their post watershed audience.

· Do send comedies, tragedies and anything and everything in between which reflects our society in all it's diversity.

· Surprise us with your approach to storytelling

· Send ideas with 5 characters or less that can be shot in 4 days

· Do be ambitious with your idea while remembering the practical considerations of the scheme.

· Do think about the tone of your story and if that might work well in 24 minutes.

· Do send in samples of your work that you think represents the best of you - it's your individual voice that we're interested in.


· Don't try and second guess what Coming Up is looking for. We always want to be surprised.

· Don't be nervous about submitting comedic material. Coming Up is always looking for a range of tones.

· Don't shy away from subjects off the beaten track. Its your approach to them that we're interested in.

· Don't send soap or continuing drama scripts as writing samples - we want to see your original approach to story and character.

· Don'’t send hollywood style trailers as your showreel - we need to assess your storytelling skill.

· Don’t send multiple applications.

The closing date for receipt of applications is WEDNESDAY 9th JUNE 2010

Details on how to apply can be found here.

There you go. Useful stuff. So, what you waiting for? It’s only a couple of weeks. Get writing!!!

Has anyone entered in other years, by the way? Or planning on entering this year?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Coming Up Belfast - The Review....

Ok, so remember I said Channel 4/Coming up were coming to Belfast via Northern Ireland Screen and how fab that was and expect a post soon on how it went, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.? So, after writing that post I sent my little email requesting my place and...

It was sold out!

Well, it was free. But you know what I mean. They had over 100 places and they all went in a couple of days. They also had a waiting list of 30-odd people. So, that was me out of the picture. But, not to be deterred, I got in touch with the rather marvellous and talented Mr Ian Nugent, who had rather fiendishly managed to snag a ticket, and asked him if he would do the honours. And being the mucker that he is, he came up trumps. Based in Belfast, Ian works as a script writer, copywriter and TV researcher. He has supplied commissioned work for TV and radio, and has just finished writing episodes of Sesame Tree for Cbeebies in London. Ian considers a world without curry to be a world without hope.

Coming Up presentation – Belfast

Wednesday evening saw an event get underway organised by Northern Ireland Screen in the Dublin Road Moviehouse in Belfast. The event was organised to tell Northern Irish writers about Coming Up, an annual competition run by Channel 4 in conjunction with Touchpaper Television.

In short, they guarantee a commission on prime-time Channel 4 to 7 competition winners. Each successful entrant will get their 24 minute film made (filling a half hour slot: last year’s winners – being screened this year – will have their film go out after Big Brother in the summer), edited, and professionally finished by Touchpaper Television.

To that end, the presentation was hosted by Andrew Reid, Head of Production at Northern Ireland Screen, and his guests were Ben Stoll, Channel 4’s Coming Up Commissioning Editor, Elinor Day along and Emma Burge – producers from Touchpaper, along with Ronan Blaney, one of last year’s winning writers who’ll have his film ‘Boy’ broadcast this summer.

Attendees were given the opportunity to see a preview of 3 of last year’s winning entries, all of which are yet to be aired on Channel 4. We saw the previously mentioned Boy, along with Would Like To Meet and Half Term. A variety of stories, told in a variety of styles, with varying degrees of success. All were finished to a remarkably high standard, with both sound and vision illustrating a high degree of professional finish.

The three films dealt with, in turn, handling a spouse’s terminal brain tumour, a suicide attempt, and child abuse. Not surprisingly, in the ‘Questions and Answers’ session after the screening, the Touchpaper producers admitted they’d like to see more comedy entries into the competition.

Saying that, all three films handled their subjects with sensitivity, and managed to mix heart-warming and light-hearted moments of comedy in their weighty stories – possibly reflecting the consultative script development process that the winning writers enter into with Touchpaper Television.

As well as the call for more comedy, various other points came up in the Questions and Answers (in no particular order) –

Although Coming Up will be 10 this year, this is the first time that the producers have made it across to Belfast to encourage submissions from Northern Ireland. They are aware there is a pool of talent based here, and feel the entries leave us under-represented every year.

Coming Up is the only national annual scheme which guarantees a commission on Channel 4: the channel will also agree to screen winning entries at least once more, and the final 7 films are screened in June at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which is always attended by industry insiders looking for the next new emerging talent.

Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for Coming Up said that the competition stands for ambition, boldness and variety of tone. Writers should take note of this when considering their entries.

This year’s closing date for applications is June 9th.

The competition is open to writers, film-makers and directors. Writers should submit a 2 page treatment, along with a script (no shorter than 10 pages, no longer than 60 pages) which best illustrates their individual tone. Scripts can be excerpts from bigger pieces, but must be a complete scenes showing coherent character and story arcs. Directors must submit showreels, and they should submit full scenes rather than flashy montage edits.

From successful submission, it takes about a year to get your film from a 2 page idea to a finished piece ready to broadcast. About 6 months of this time is taken up with the selection process, as the hundreds of applicants are shortlisted and (some) then invited to workshops before the finalists are selected. Last year they had about 1000 applicants.

The producers took the opportunity to urge writers to be as bold, imaginative and ambitious as possible. As for content/tone (sex, swearing, drug abuse etc), if it’s a scene likely to appear in Shameless, it can appear in your script. Winning films will always be screened after the watershed.

They always look for work of distinction – i.e. it MUST stand out. Anything with a strong voice will stand out. If you do respond to their encouragement for comedy, it must be comedy with a purpose ... comedy with something to say.

Whatever the subject, make sure it is something you want to say, and you must be prepared to speak from the heart.

When considering your script, involves no more than about 5 characters, and think practically about production – budget will dictate that your story must be filmed in about 4 days max.

It’ll help your film if it isn’t geographically specific. For example, of coure it can be set on a beach, but if it’s that little sheltered cove at the furthest north shore of the furthest Hebridean Island you’re not going to get anywhere. Likewise, Apache helicopter attacks on fully armed aircraft carriers may prove difficult to bring in on budget.

Submissions can be made as writer/director pairs, though in the 09-10 round they separated some of those writers and joined them with directors of Touchpaper’s own choosing. They do this to give as many varied people a chance as possible.

It’s cheaper and easier (therefore more likely to result in a commission) to keep your story contemporary. Historical or futuristic stories eat set-up time and budget.

The same crew work usually across all 7 projects, and they block film them back-to-back to try and keep costs down. Budget for all 7 projects is roughly one hour of series drama – this get split across all the films.

Writers don’t need to have a previous credit as a writer, though they can still apply if they have. They can’t apply if their credit was for a prime-time commission. Same story for directors.

Directors can’t usually choose their writers, and writers can’t choose their directors. That selection and pairing process is down to the competition organisers.

Touchpaper will hold the rights to the story and characters you create, though if your winning film leads to a series, you will get first refusal on whether or not you want to write the series. Though Touchpaper will make and own the series.

Industry insiders pay a great deal of competition to the winning films, and make a point of seeing them. As far as the organisers know, every previous successful writer now has an agent.

Your story has to exist as a one-off piece. There will be an ad break roughly half way through. Aim for 25 – 30 pages.

You will get help writing your story, from writers, readers, scripts editors and industry professionals.

They don’t do boring.

More details about the competition can be found on,, and (Touchpaper’s parent company).

That's it! And marvellous it all sounds too. Thanks for that, Ian!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

360° Festival Report 3: Kate Rowland/BBC Writersroom...

More of the occasional series from the BBC NI/Tinderbox Festival...

Day 2, Part 2

Ok, so after Nuno had brought us up to speed on what the “kids” are doing “online”, we all felt very uncool and unworthy, and slunk off for a bit of a break before the BBC Writersroom Roadshow. Which reminds me of Swap Shop, or one of those Radio 1 roadshows. Do they still do those?

Hope Keith Chegwin isn’t gonna turn up….

Oh god, I’m old.

Anyway, this was the most attended event of the Festival, reflecting the amount of interest there is in the Writersroom and how is works. Which is a good thing. Just makes you realize how many other writers there are out there. Even in a place as small as Northern Ireland. And these are only the ones who’ve shown up... Eek!

The talk was led by Kate Rowland, who runs the Writers Room, and very nice she was too. She comes from a radio background, and indeed still commissions for the Radio 3 strand, The Wire (no, not the cop show …. find out about the Radio 3 Wire here and listen to it here).

Kate started off by telling us that the Writers Room receives about 10,000 scripts a year. The first thing they do is the 10 page sift, where they look at the first 10 pages of the script and if they like it, give it a full read. So, those first 10 pages are important. We then went on to have a look at the first ten minutes of Funland (you can read the whole script on the Writer’s Room site, here).

Kate got us to talk about what we had noted in those first ten minutes. For those of you who haven’t read or seen it (and you should have a look), it started with a guy on Blackpool tower, in an ape’s uniform, falling to his death (suicide...?) and.... then got even stranger. Lots of story, lots of characters, lots of quirkiness, in your face. You REALLY knew where you where with it tonally after 10 minutes, and it had also raised lots of questions. Whether you liked it or not, it was definitely different.

Kate then took us through the important things for the first 10 pages of your script. Well, some of them. Someone will always come up with others.

  • Medium and Form. Use industry formats, don’t handwrite it, the usual stuff. They (The Writersroom are fairly flexible about this (although it's good to remember that a lot of prodcos may not be), as long as it is readable and in some kind of recognizable/standard format. Don’t direct from the page. This was interesting. We are constantly debating on this Sharpshooters and blogs about whether or not this matters, or rather how much it matters, and it was interesting to hear that Kate described it as a definite, unequivocal no-no.
  • Get the story going – hit the ground running, show characters in action, don’t waste time with too much preface, set up, introducing characters/world and beware of exposition/backstory. Of course, you also DO have to set up the world and characters. Just don’t waste time doing it.
  • Coherence – know your world and story, know your genre and tone, give the audience/reader a focused way in, don’t try to do too much and beware beguiling distractions…. which means cut that scene you love if it isn’t essential!
  • Character is everything – they should be vivid and compelling on an emotional level. Make the reader want to spend time with them. Make sure they have an active goal, journey, obstacle, dilemma. Make sure they are an individual – not a cliché or stereotype and know the moral line that they will or will not cross. What is the world through their point of view? What is their “faith”? Not necessarily religious, that last one.
  • Emotion. Stories matter on a human level. Explore the concept via the characters. Kate also spoke about the “squelch” principle. Meaning, make the reader/audience have an emotional response to the characters and story. The thing that makes them go “ooh…”
  • Surprise. Clichè/predictability kills story. There are a finite number of archetypes, so you need a fresh take, a unique perspective, an original touch. Have you seen your basic idea before? What’s different about your version?
  • Structure is key. Begin in the right place. The story must be going somewhere. There must be a dynamic purpose for each story beat, sequence, scene, moment.
  • Exposition and Expression. People don’t tell each other things they already know. Good dialogue expresses character, whereas bad dialogue simply relates or explains. Inarticulacy is what you are after, strangely – the fact that people struggle to express themselves, and will often talk about something else rather than express what they really feel – subtext, not writing on the nose.
  • Passion – gotta have it. Is your story keeping you up at night? What keeps you up at night? What are you compelled to write? Don’t try to be expedient. Don’t try to second guess.
  • Be yourself – which kind of comes from your passion. Have an individual, distinct, original voice. Write a script that only you could have written.

Finally, don’t think first draft, but first read. Make sure it’s ready!

So, easy then….

Paul Ashton goes into the whole "first 10 pages" deal in great detail on the Writer's Room blog, here. And, indeed, Paul came over to the next festival to give his take on the whole first 10, which I'll put up at a later date.

Kate then took questions from the floor. One of the most interesting things here was the amount of questions around “So, will my script be produced if Writer’s Room likes it?” And the answer was...

...that’s very unlikely.

Most people’s scripts are taken as specs, and can lead to getting writers to come in for a talk, putting them on a scheme, etc, rather than actually producing that script. Very few scripts will be taken up through Writer’s Room and be made. There have been a few. But the BBC is not going to give a completely new, unknown writer 6 episode of a new series to write. Think of your script as a calling card for your writing, and as a way in through the door, not as a way of getting it produced.

People also asked about the readers and the process at the Writer’s Room. Basically, they have a team. They do read everything. If it gets past the first 10 pages shift, then it will have a full read, and if the reader has any doubts, they will err on the side of caution and send it to another reader, rather than dumping it. Most scripts do fall at this first hurdle, however (only about 20% get full reads). After the full read, the writer will get feedback and could be asked to send further work. And at some stage they could be asked to come in for a meeting or to go on a radio/tv/comedy workshop or course. It’s also a good idea to indicate when you send a script it, what it is you are interested in writing for. All writers/scripts are logged, so they can “follow” you, and they do check on a writer’s progress. They are currently “developing” about 150 writers – following their work, sending them on workshops, etc.

And that was it. The thing that came across most I think was the feeling that it is a huge system, and they have a lot of scripts, but they are very dedicated to what they do, and genuinely looking for that great script that they will get excited about. It’s not just a slush pile. If you have talent, they will find you.

Oh, and she collected a VERY big pile of scripts to take back to that big London. I hope Kate wasn’t expecting to check-in online going home. That lot wasn’t going in the overhead locker as handluggage…

That’s it for day 2!

Oh, and there was no Kieth Chegwin.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Channel 4's "Coming Up" comes to Belfast...

As most of you are no doubt already aware, Channel 4 and Touchpaper Television are running the "Coming Up" scheme again this year, where new writers and directors have the opportunity to make an original film with a guaranteed network broadcast. A brief rundown for those who don't know about the scheme:
  • 7 films will be made
  • scripts should be 30 mins
  • applications are invited from writers, directors and writer/directors.
  • the closing date for applications is Wednesday, 9th June.
There are more details here. One thing to be aware of. They say that you can apply even if you have no broadcast credits. They also say that the scheme is not entry level. Mmm... So, what does that mean? It would be interesting to know if anyone without credits has ever won. Anyone know?

By the way, if you want to have a look at past winners, go to the Channel 4 website and there is a whole Coming Up section with 3 series worth of produced scripts. Or you could just click on this handy little link right here. Oh, I am good to you.

Any road up, the comp was launched a couple of weeks ago. The main reason for this post is that those lovely people over at Northern Ireland Screen have invited the Coming Up lot over to Norn Iron to give a talk on the whole thing for all NI scribblers. Which is rather fab.

Details here, but you don't need to go all that way to the other part of the wicky wild wild web, cause I've reproduced it for you below. Read on, my lovelies.

"Northern Ireland Screen has teamed up with Channel 4 and Touchpaper TV to host a specialComing Up event in Belfast on Wednesday 19th May. Coming Up is the only talent scheme currently in the UK where emerging film-makers have the opportunity to make an authored drama with a guaranteed network broadcast.

Ben Stoll, Channel 4’s Coming Up commissioning editor, Elinor Day and Emma Burge, Touchpaper producers, will be in Belfast along with local writer Ronan Blaney, who wrote Boy one of the successful 2010 Coming Up films. Three of this year’s diverse 30 minute films will be screened, including Boy.

Applications are now open for Coming Up 2011, after the screening Ben will explain what Channel 4 is looking for. Emma and Elinor will discuss how the production works and Ronan will speak about his experience of the scheme. There will also be time to network following the event.

This is an excellent opportunity for writers and directors who are trying to break into the film and television industry.

The event is free of charge and Northern Ireland Screen strongly encourage all local writers, directors and emerging short and feature film makers to attend. Places are limited so please contact as soon as possible to secure a place.

Date: Wednesday 19th May

Time: 6.00pm

Venue: Moviehouse Cinema, Dublin Road


See you there!!

Monday, 10 May 2010

360° Festival Report 2: Nuno Bernardo – Sofia’s Diary and Writing Online Drama...

Hi guys

Following on from yesterday’s report on the first 360° Festival and the Tony Jordan session, here is something a little bit different…

And now for Day 2….

Hope you enjoyed the report on Day 1. I'm only doing the first session of Day 2 today because.... well, it's a long enough post as it is and I think you'll probably have had enough of me wittering on by the time you get to the end of it. BBC Writer's Room Roadshow thingy for tomorrow then.

In the meantime....

The first session of Day 2 was with Nuno Bernardo, from Be Entertainment, who gave a talk on “how to structure and write scenes for drama distributed via the net and its world wide audience”. Nuno created the original “Sofia’s Diary” in Portugal, an online drama with videos, blogs, interactive sms, message boards and a TV show. It was a huge hit in Portugal and went on to spawn versions around the world, including the UK. He then created a new show, “Flatmates”, for an older audience, but working along the same lines, and is working on other drama and non-fiction projects.

If you haven’t seen Sofia’s Diary, you can find (part of) the UK version here.


Nuno comes from a marketing background and this was his starting point for Sofia’s diary. The teenage audience was becoming difficult to reach, especially through TV, and was increasingly more interested in the internet – as both a channel of entertainment and information (music, gossip sites, blogs, etc) as well as a way of communicating, through messenger services such as msn. What set internet use apart from TV was the interactivity between users. This is also borne out by the fact that teenagers are the heaviest users of text messaging. Nuno quoted a figure of 200 texts a day for some teenage groups, which blew me away. I thought I was bad enough sending about 20!


From this, the idea for Sofia’s Diary was born. From a writing/storytelling point of view, the interesting thing is that it was about creating a whole virtual world for the character and audience, and making a lot of this real time. This included –

  • phone texts, sent directly to subscribed users, telling them about something that had just happened in the character’s life (and sometimes asking for advice).
  • internet diary blogs, updated every day at 8:30pm – “a daily experience” for the character, always leaving a problem for the next day and asking advice. For example, “I’ve just found out that my boyfriend kissed my rival. Should I forgive him?” Users were then invited to leave responses on message boards. This created debate amongst users, the “characters” also joining in at times. And there wasn’t just a blog for Sopia, but also for her friends, giving different points of view.
  • There were weekly/monthly magazine diaries, published in teen mags.
  • There was a radio soap, available for download, again “a daily experience”.
  • A mobile alert service.

The idea for this mix of ideas was to connect with the teen audience by creating the world of Sofia in terms/media they themselves use, to communicate with them in ways that they communicate with each other. And all of this through a story which reflected/mirrored their lives/concerns.

Launched in Portugal, it was an instant success, and in 2003 it was extended to a television show on the Portugese PBS. 5 minute episodes where produced each day. There was also a weekend 30 minute episode. This debuted to some of the best ratings on Portugese TV. Unlike all other aspects of Sofia’s Diary, the TV show was not a year-round experience, but ran for 26 weeks.

The brand also moved into books, DVDs, a Sofia’s Diary magazine, sponsorship and product placement deals, and product licensing.

Sofia’s Diary then went international, adapting to the local audience and culture. For instance, the South American version had a more sexually active teenager than the one in Portugal. In the UK, instead of Sofia’s family consisting of mum, dad and brothers/sisters all living together, we had a more dysfunctional UK family. Go figure…

The show launched in the UK with 5 million hits in its first week. After 6 months that was up to 30 million. The show then began running on Channel 5.

There were two aspects I found particularly interesting. First Sofia's Diary was an ongoing, “live” experience – 7 days a week. Radio, blogs, “live” texts, magazine articles, comment boards. It was all a constantly developing story, “living” the story, like a great big multi-platform soap. Elements were created to interact with each other (the radio show fitted in with the blog, which fitted in with textss) but could also be viewed/experienced alone. In other words, most of the audience would listen to the radio show one day, receive texts another day, read the blogs for a couple of days, spend an hour on the message boards at the weekend exchanging views and advice. It wasn’t necessary to “view” everything to understand the story. However, all the different platforms were supporting and cross-promoting each other. A really interesting concept for writers to think about. I think a lot of people are very wary of the whole idea of writing for Online drama, or are simply not that interested (“it isn’t “real” writing”), but viewed in the above terms, it suddenly seems like being given a big box of tricks, in every medium and platform possible, to tell your story.

The other interesting thing was the extent to which the whole thing was hugely interactive. The audience’s view and opinion with what was happening to Sofia (and her friends) was actively sought. And as that opinion came in, it could affect the story. This is where there we got into a bit of a debate with Nuno about story ownership (we’re writers! waddya expect?). It’s a fine line, but as Nuno explained, the audience felt ownership of the show, but they weren’t writing it or dictating where it went. This was especially true when it came to adding the TV show element, which was filmed way in advance so could never have reacted to the views of the audience anyway. There was also another very particular reason Nuno gave for NOT giving the audience power over the direction of the storyline. The audience will always protect the protagonist (if you are telling your story correctly!) and punish the antagonist, leading to boring stories without conflict or drama.

However, the use of interactivity became obvious when it became clear through the online discussion boards that the audience hadn’t understood very clearly why a character had behaved in a particular way, or had misconstrued their motives because the story, in that instance, had just been told too fast, the writers were able to go into the blogs or send out texts the next day and clear those kind of issues up (in character of course), reassuring the audience.

Therefore, and this is an interesting for writers, the fact that this rolling multi-platform highly interactive story (and not only the audience interacting with the story through message boards, but it interacting with them, “interrupting” their lives with unexpected and unplanned text messages from the characters, “Oh my god, I’ve just found out Dave kissed Francesca!”) means storytelling which apes life-like experiences, blurring the story/reality lines. Not that I believe that the audience isn’t capable of distinguishing the two. Of course they are. But it questions HOW we tell stories. Anyway, Nuno’s next project would take that even further…


For “Flatmates”, again created originally for Portugal, Nuno took a group of 3 flatmates (and therefore 2 protags) and an older age group. From a storytelling point of view, this complicates the relationship between the audience and the characters. The audience has favourites, and the three flatmates can “fight” it out online with their blogs, the users then “fighting” on the message boards. This obviously leads to a different, and potentially more interesting, dynamic between audience and characters.

Another thing they found was that teenagers didn’t like the usual websites associated with TV shows. They seemed tacked on, with no interactivity, and histories and blogs which started the day before the show’s debut. Therefore, when creating the blogs for Sofia’s Diary and Flatmates, the team created a past for the characters, even using the actors family photos, etc to fill that past out.

The audience chose the actors for Flatmates through online auditions which the audience voted for. This had also happened with Sofia’s Diary.

The community/fans were invited to come along to the bar featured in the show, to mill around as extras, but also to interact with the actors, who stayed in character the whole time.

The actors appeared on a daytime talk show as their characters, and the show introduced them as such, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, or at least playing with them…

And that’s it. Nuno then took lots of questions from the audience, a lot of which were related to the business model and marketing aspect of the show. A writer from Sofia’s Diary UK also gave a short talk about her experiences writing the blogs for all the different characters each day.

I found the talk, and the whole idea, fascinating. Before, writing 3-5 minute episodes which fit together like a big jigsaw with blogs, radio, magazine articles, etc and which interact with the audience, seemed like a huge unmanageable… beast to me. But I suddenly realized it’s potential. It’s not TV. It’s not meant to be. It’s something else. It’s a hugely different and exciting way of telling a story.

Get writing!

PS Mr Danny Stack wrote for Sofia's Diary, and blogs about it here. Anyone out there done any writing for online drama?

Friday, 7 May 2010

360° Festival Report 1: Tony Jordan and the Red Planet Prize...

Hi guys

I’ve been thinking about doing an occasional series of reports I have on the BBC NI/Tinderbox 360° Festival (which I wittered on about here and here), as they may be of interest to some people. And, what with the Red Planet Prize 2010 about to be announced any day now

(“When? When? WHEN….?” I hear you cry.

Ok, calm down…)

I thought I’d begin with this little article up, which seems particularly timely. It’s an edited and updated version of something I wrote last year for Sharpshooters, after the first festival opened with a talk from Tony Jordan on all things writing and Red Planet… So, with no further ado…

(But, oh, isn’t that a weird little expression? What the hell is “ado”? Where did it come from? ADO. Like Agadoo. Kind of… Anyway, I’ll shut up now. You just want Tony, don’t you..?)

So, with no further ado… over to Tone….

The BBC Writer’s Room roadshow in Northern Ireland was tied in with a 4 day writer’s festival run by BBC NI, the Tony Doyle Bursary (for new screenwriters from Ireland) and Tinderbox Theatre (a new writing theatre company in Northern Ireland). And rather splendid it all was, too!

This is what happened, from your reporter on the ground….

Day 1

Tony Jordan

The man himself took time out from Red Planet Prize-ing, inventing new shows, producing, writing and generally saving western civilization as we know it, to tell us how he does it all. He’s a great speaker – funny, warm, full of interesting stories and insight. But more than that, what sets him apart, and what you really come away with, is a feeling of the man’s passion. This man LOVES what he does.

He started off talking about “the secret” and the fact that when he first started in TV, and specifically EastEnders, he felt as if everyone knew something that he didn’t – the secret of writing. And that if he knew that secret, he’d be a writer. Many courses, screenwriting manuals and episodes of EastEnders later, he realized that no-one has a clue, there is no secret, and everyone is just trying to work out how to write a good story. Once he realized that, he was off! His message being, no-one knows anything, let’s all admit that, and try to work out together how to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Mr Jordan then gave a breakdown of what his process is…..


Character is king. Not story. Work out who they are. Tony normally spends a couple of weeks developing his characters until, as he put it, his forehead bleeds. Some things to think about when developing character are:-

  • something they will always do
  • something they would never do
  • apply for a job in their name. He meant this literally. He REALLY applies for jobs in his character’s name. It forces him to answer all those questions on the application form that are really useful in understanding the character. He even posts them off sometimes…
  • Paradox for the character and their situation. This paradox creates a natural conflict within the character that will (or wont) be resolved. Bit it makes them interesting to watch. The example for this was a man who wants the finest things in life, is a wannabe, a snob, hates “lower class” thinking. His paradox is that he works in a run-down, crappy second-class hotel. Therefore he is going to hate his customers. And thus Basil Fawlty was born. The more extreme the paradox, the better (for comedy or drama).
  • I loved this one… 30 secs before you fall asleep at night, you reveal the real you. The raw thoughts you have. That’s when we have all our secret little thoughts that we don’t tell anyone else. What does your character think about just before falling asleep? What does that say about them? How can you use it?
  • Who fits with this character? Friends? Good marriage/relationship? Bad? Who are the group of people around them?


Write about what you know about. That is the best research you can ever have. Use the internet. Talk to people. If you want to know about cab drivers, talk to one. Just tell them you’re a TV writer. If they ask what you’ve written for, just ream off a list of TV shows. They’ll never know you’re lying and will be only too pleased to help!


What does this character need? Do they want to win the 100 metres? Do they want to save their marriage? They must need something. Drama is:-

Character + Dramatic Need + Obstacles.

There is also dramatic need and dramatic want. A character’s WANT is

“to win the 100 metres

which they would admit and tell you.

Their NEED is:

To win the 100 metres to please their father because they NEED an expression of love from him which they have never had.

This need may not be something they necessarily realize (but we do). Whether (and how) they achieve this need is what we as an audience and writer are interested in. Between their need and want, they could also achieve one and not the other (win the race, but dad doesn’t show love or lose the race, but dad expresses love for the first time, etc)


The type of obstacle that you give your character will determine the genre and story. For example, your character wants to save his marriage. Whether the obstacle is then

him finding out his wife is having an affair

his inability not to have an affair

a series of mishaps on his surprise “save-my-marriage” holiday

will determine whether it is a comedy or a drama.

Obstacles give the ability to test your character and everything you have developed in research about that character. Therefore, choose obstacles based on character. What is the obstacle that will really test them (thinking about what they would never do, what they think about when they go to bed at night, etc.)? They are uptight, never show their emotions but want to get a dream job? Give them a job interview which is a “workshop”, where they have to “share”. Then pair them up with a touchy-feely type who is more qualified for the job than they are. Then have them turn up late. Then they lose their voice. And on it goes….

Also, character is ACTION, not what they say. They may say they would never steal, but you might show them doing that.

Then we came to


The door is what Tony called that part of our minds that we need to look at, the part that other people don’t see. We have to look inside ourselves, as deep as we can, to discover the truth of whatever it is we want to write about. That’s what’s behind the door… We need to open that door as a writer and look inside in order to reveal something, vomiting it out if we need to. That is what makes you a writer. He gave the example of a child abduction story in EastEnders that he had to write. He could have written the “stock” version. Instead, he chose to think of his daughter and what would it be like if that were to happen to her. He thought of horrible things, things that disturb him to this day, and then sat and wrote the story, typing on a keyboard full of tears and snot and fag ash, because he was so emotional but wanted to get it down. He was incredibly passionate about this. It really struck home for me how important this is to our writing (probably because, deep down, I think it’s something I could work on. Although, to be honest, that’s the point. You have to be working on this ALL the time) and fundamental to writing something that is both truthful. Ultimately, it’s also what sets you apart. It’s your…


Protect, at all costs, your voice. Tony gave the example of being asked to come in and speak to the Casualty people. They liked his work on EastEnders and asked him to pitch an idea. He had an idea for a disaster at a fancy dress party. A guy, dressed as Frankestein, is brought in, nearly dying. The team have to shock him with the paddles, at which point he sits up. “He’s alive!” You get the idea. Tony loved it. It was his sense of humour but they thought it was silly, to which he replied, “Why have you asked me to come in and do ME when you don’t like what ME is?” He walked away from the job. Protect your voice.


Part of working on continuing drama is that you have to take notes. There is a game and you have to play it. The only question that you have to ask yourself is, “Will it change my script dramatically?” and “Does it go against the character?” Okay, so it’s two questions. Anyway, if the answer is no, take the note. After all, working in TV is about collaborating. Take the 9 notes that don’t matter and save your fight for the note that you really DO disagree with. Tony said there are lots of TV writers out there that are better than him, but they aren’t working because they are difficult/couldn’t take notes. People want to work with writers that they get along with and are going to have fun with.


Writers receive a story document which gives a detailed outline for the episode. How detailed this is depends on the show – anything from a few pages to 20/30. His big advice was to NOT just write what is in the document. Those writers who are still doing soaps after years, who are kept on, and who progress onto other things, are those who do something more, who add something of themselves. That’s right. You’ve guessed it. Those who bring their original voice to the script/show. Therefore never do everything in the story document in 30 mins, if the show is 30 mins. Do it in 25 and leave 5 mins for your own stuff. Show them your original voice.


If you want to send an unsolicited script to Red Planet, they do accept them. Probably better to wait until the Red Planet comp however, but if you do want to send one at another time, you can. He did, however, say that they were changing their policy, as the amount of scripts they receive makes it unfeasible. Therefore, in future, they are going to ask for a two page treatment. If they like that, they’ll ask for the full script.


Tony Jordan – lovely, passionate man! So, when they make the announcement for the Red Planet Prize 2010, keep all that in mind.

And remember THE DOOR...