Working as a Producer and Script Consultant within the television drama industry for 25 years, I have come to realise there are 10 mistakes writers regularly make when writing for television. So I thought I would get them down to share with you all.
Television requires a certain mind-set from all those involved in the creation and production of quality drama series.
From a Producer perspective it is - ‘I will make sure this gets done.'
From the mind-set of the production crews involved must be - ‘as a team, we will get this done.’
From a writer perspective, the mind-set should be - ‘I can do this, but I need help.’
With experience comes hindsight, and it is by mashing these two things together that I bring you my 10 mistakes people make when writing, or wanting to write, for television drama series.
1. Believing you, the writer, are bigger than the sum of the show's parts.
If you are part of a writing team on a series or serial, you are an essential, but expendable element of the scripting process. The script is essential but the writer of that script is not. Without the script, there is no drama but a budget and time strapped Producer can and will make the changes necessary to get the script camera ready within the time and budget restrictions.
2. Viewing your script edit sessions as a potential battle ground.
Your script edits with your script editor should be mutually respectful areas of time in the scripting schedule where you have the right to defend notes given but do not have the ultimate sign off on any decision.
3. Hiding behind your agent.
Everyone needs a solid professional to fight their corner should a problem with contract, fee, delivery dates, or a personal issue arise during your commission period on a TV show. But be visible and approachable during these times as the production team want to feel they have a champion of their show in you, not an adversary.
4. Straying too far off the script document pertaining to your script.
On most long running shows, the script document has been painstakingly produced via a series of Story Conferences and meetings with the Producer and the script team. It is the skeleton, the blueprint and the reference document that the production follows to keep the episodes coherent and cohesive. Keeping to the brief this sets out when writing your script, ensures an easy, and enjoyable writing experience on the show.
5. Being a slave to the script document.
This sounds unfair I know, but the other mistake is often made to the detriment of the writer's time on the show and to the show in general. A slavish adherence to the drama beats outlined by the story liners in your script document will make a rather dull and predictable episode. The Producer hired you for your voice - so do, please, use it!
6. Bringing the party to the table.
Believe it or not, there's many a Series Story Conference been ruined by too much fun and games in the lunch breaks! Keep a sober and level head - even, as the adage goes, when those about you are losing theirs.
7. Not listening to fellow writers.
Story Conferences are sometimes rather political elements of the story production process. An oft made mistake is when writers (maybe through their own enthusiasm and keenness to impress) do not listen or take on board the input of fellow writers when discussing story lines.
8. Consistently missing deadlines.
It's hard, being expected time and again to deliver to a time deadline. But on a long running drama series it is essential that the script arrives when the schedule demands and if you consistently miss this date, it puts huge pressure on every member of the production team.
9. Once you've delivered, then you are done.
On a series that is often not the case! On a show like EastEnders for example, you will be expected to be available for notes and for consultation with a member of the script team about your script, right up to the point of shooting and in some cases be expected to attend the actual day's shoot.
10. Giving story lines away.
An absolute no no but sometimes, this still happens. Sometimes the Production might welcome a leak, for publicity purposes, but in the main, the writer should most definitely leave any story give aways to those that make the show.
The key to writing television well and enjoying the process is to be as collaborative as you can without losing your own individual voice. Yes, I realise that sounds impossible but if you embrace the structures within the format of the show you are writing for - their story documents, their script schedules and their script editing process instead of resisting or fighting them, you will gain your television writing credentials very quickly and with this will come added confidence and all round writing fitness.
The best stories being told for television right now depend on a steady stream of writing talent plus excellent story production and control by teams of talented, behind-the-scenes people you will be lucky enough to work with once you land your commission. Use the skill of those in the job of channelling your talent to suit their show, to make your scripts better.
To write well for television you need to be good at teamwork, collaboration and attend to the structures already in place to help you write better.
Bring your talent to this table and the world, frankly, is your oyster.