Right, so where were we?
As I posted here, a few weeks ago I got an invite to come and meet a script editor from Fair City, see the sets, meet the team and talk a bit more about the trial scenes process. So, a couple of weeks ago I headed down to Dublin on the good old Enterprise. No, not that one, this one.
[We like our cross-border ideas big in Ireland… I love it though. Chugging along through the Mournes and down the coast to Dublin couldn’t be more different from Star Trek. Still, if you’ve never done it, parts of it are absolutely beautiful. And rainy. Obviously.]
I arrived at Connolly Station and took the Dart out to Sandymount – suburban and leafy and all rather nice – and with plenty of time to spare to find RTE HQ.
I then got completely lost.
Which wasn’t helped by the fact that four different Dubliners sent me in completely different directions. And to put this in context, this is like asking where the BBC is when you’re in standing in White City. Or arriving at Wembley and asking where the stadium is. Ok, so you can’t see it from the station, but it’s big, famous and close and these are locals, and… well, let's just say that as I stamped back down a road I’d just walked down for 10 minutes, I was not best pleased. It was hot. I had a rucksack on my back. And I had images of me arriving at an air-conditioned RTE and having to wait for the script editor to arrive with just enough time for me to soak my t-shirt through in sweat and develop a nice film on my forehead.
And now I was late! Doing that thing of trying to keep calm. Cause it won’t help to panic. And people are nice. And they’ll understand. But… I. WAS. LATE.
Anyway, I found it eventually (cause it’s freaking huge and how could anyone who lived there not know how to find it, and… ok, it’s over. Let go… Breathe…) and waited in reception. Sweating. Did I mention it was air-conditioned?
The script editor arrived and was lovely and fab and funny and interesting and interested. She didn’t even screw up her face when she shook my clammy, sweaty hand. Instead, she took me to the canteen. Which was full of actors from the show hanging out and… well, not doing much really. Drinking coffee and having a fag. Still, I was impressed.
We found a table and she took me through what they are looking for in the show and how to approach the trial scenes. This is the point where I give you lots of insight into the process, invaluable to your scriptwriting and your future television career. But to be honest, a lot of it was the kind of stuff that we see and read about all the time. Common sense stuff about writing scenes which are true for all scriptwriting, not just developing soap episode treatments into scripts. So, the usual suspects - turning points, conflict, character arcs across the episode and the scene. Who gains in the scene? Who loses? How have the characters changed by the end of the scene? What’s the dynamic of the scene for each character? Make sure each character ends the scene in a different place from where they started. What do the chars want? What do they need? What is the difference? Where’s the jeopardy? What choices are they forced to make?
Which is not to say that this stuff wasn’t useful. It was great to sit down with her and go over it. And it was even better to know what the hell she was talking about, which I may not have done a few years ago. At least I felt I should be there. And there were a couple of things that were new or that I didn’t necessarily expect to be on her list, or that she made me think about in a different way. And so I shall repeat them for your benefit. Cause I’m good like that.
What’s the truth of the situation?
Ok, so we should always be looking at this in any scene or story we are developing. But what struck me here was that you’re being given the story. It’s not yours. You have to then find the truth for you in that story. That’s what will make your take on that scene different from everyone else’s, even if they’ve been given the same treatment. So, dig deep for the truth of the situation for the characters.
At the beginning of the Scene Treatment is a list of the characters who are available to appear that week and the scenes they are due to appear in for that episode. Now, you may have a scene breakdown which says, “Scene 1: Char A tells Char B that their relationship is over. Char B says that they never loved A in the first place.” So far, so good. But what you can do is look through the character list and see who else is available and add them in to change the dynamic of the scene. If it makes sense. And doesn’t impact on other episodes. So don't have Char C come in and say that they are glad the relationship is ending cause they have always secretly fancied A and now want to propose to them, even though they’ve been having an affair with B for the past year.
She actually went on about this quite a lot – spelling, punctuation, etc. For Fair City, the script has to be in a certain format, as it is then taken and “read” but a program which creates scripts and documents for the various departments. I didn’t really understand the ins and outs of it, but basically you have to get it right and not leave out punctuation or put it in the wrong place or it messes up the system and someone has to go through your script and fix the problems. And that’s annoying. Very Important Rule: Don’t be annoying!
What can the audience relate to in the scene?
Soaps are slated for being melodramatic and silly. But when they work well, they reflect the audience’s lives back to them. This can we in huge plots and experiences that the characters go through, which the audience can relate to. But it can also be in tiny little moments. Again, this goes back to finding the truth in the characters and the situation.
What’s the hook?
Ideally, every scene should have a hook at the end, not just the scene before the ads or the end scene. Find a little hook for the scene that makes the audience want to wait for the follow up scene later in the episode which comes back to that thread.
Remember the eight year old.
It’s a family audience. That means there are lots of eight year olds out there watching with their parents (or on their own). Keep that in mind in terms of content and language.
After all that, it was on to the exciting bit – onto the sets! The script editor took me around the standing (permanent) sets, which are all in one studio. These are mostly the community “meeting” sets – McCoy’s pub, Vino’s, Phelan’s shop, the Community Centre, etc. and are all together in one studio. Then there is another studio with sets needed for that week, and which relate to that week's stories. So, the way the stories are told for that week are dictated to a large extent by the sets. But on Fair City you don’t really need to worry about that as the story team set out where each individual scene takes place in the Episode Treatment. So, it’s all done for you. With other soaps, they give you the stories for the episode – A story, B story, C story and a list of possible locations, and you have to match them up. That’s how Emmerdale works, and I think EastEnders does the same. Anyway, the most striking thing about seeing the sets is realizing how small they are. Incredible. Next up, it was off to the lot!
We headed out the back of RTE and to the Fair City lot. This is where they’ve build streets of the fictional Carrigstown. It’s amazing. There’s the run of shops and pubs along one side, a row of houses, the garage. It all looks fab. And everything ends half way back. So the roof extends up and… nothing. They were filming the day we were there, so there were lots of extras at each end of the street and cars piled up, ready to stream past in the background of the scene. Makes you realise how complicated it all is, but great fun to see.
And… that was it. The script editor gave me a week’s worth of episodes to read for July (ooh, spoilers!) and the relevant episode breakdowns, so that I could see how the writer had developed what was in the treatment to the final script. She also sent me the scene breakdowns from the week before. I had to choose four scenes from one episode and write them up. Fabulously. And I had a week.
Which is loads of time, right?
Next time, I’ll go through the Episode Breakdowns and writing the scenes. And believe me, it ain’t nearly as easy as it sounds…