Station Road is a continuing radio drama about life in a fictitious and gritty Manchester street. Not only do the characters work and live on Station Road but there is also a public house, café, urban farm and a corner shop.
Hearing the scripts come alive for the first time on Saturday was quite simply marvellous. A couple of the writers, myself included were interviewed live in the studio at ALL FM prior to the episode being aired.
The episode was played mid-interview, and it was pretty special not only hearing our scripts come to life but we also have a theme tune. An actual catchy theme tune that we’ve since been humming in our script meetings.
A surreal moment yesterday as I left work to drive to the weekly Station Road writers meeting, the pilot was played out again during ALL FM’s Drivetime show and as I sat in traffic, I felt such pride listening to the scene that I wrote
As expected the group of extremely keen writers in week one had dwindled slightly in week two.
Perhaps it wasn’t what they thought it would be, or maybe they didn’t realise it would be a weekly writers meeting. Anyway our large group of writers in week one was reduced by a third in week two.
Not only was it nicer to work in a smaller, more intimate group setting but it also meant that I managed to take a larger share of the Jaffa cakes during the three hour meeting.
The aim of the meeting was to recap what we had covered in week one, come up with more characters for our project and start looking at potential conflicts and stories between the characters.
In week one it was apparent when we shared our characters that our project wasn’t culturally representative of Manchester.
This gave me all the ammunition I needed to create my next character who is of black origin and is the local councillor for the area.
In the next exercise which involved us writing with a partner myself and another writer who had created an MP decided to lock horns and have a bit of fun with our characters and their dialogue.
I really enjoyed this exercise as the gentleman that I was partnered with was very quiet within the session, but once we began writing together he produced some great one-liners and comedic moments.
We really bounced off each other, and it has made me think of finding a writing partner in the future. Having another set of ideas is refreshing and means that the partner may suggest something that leads to me coming up with a different angle on a story. I wouldn’t excuse it in the future.
The lesson of this week for me is never judge a book by it’s cover.
Get out of your comfort zone and do something that terrifies you. That’s a healthy motto – right?
One of the aspects of my MA which challenged me the most was the collaborative group project in semester two.
An eight part radio drama where I worked with seven other writers and devised a radio serial with a forty-five minute episode written by each member of the team.
It was a challenge to say the least. Not only a divide in age and gender, but also in sense of humour. We spent most of the semester arguing about the serial storyline and at the last meeting still hadn’t nailed it down fully.
Firstly it’ll be great to get my writing on the radio again, secondly it will be good for the CV if I can show that I’ve worked as part of a writing team in a professional context, and thirdly if I don’t have someone giving me strict deadlines I fear that my writing will only occur when meeting competition deadlines.
This project is at the very beginning of becoming a radio soap opera, and with a team of twelve writers we won’t all get commissioned to write an episode. Which mirrors real life on a television soap opera too.
Last night was the first get together of this new writing team, and I thought I would blog about the journey from inception to writing that first episode.
The writing team is a diverse group of local people from Manchester who are a mix of volunteers at the radio station, writers and others who just want to get involved in this thrilling project.
We began the session by reading aloud a couple of short radio scripts. When asked for volunteers there was an uncomfortable silence so I put my hand up. Reading scripts out loud doesn’t phase me anymore as I’ve had two and a half years of doing this week in week out.
We were then given a large selection of photographs of people which had been cut out from newspapers and magazines. A range of ages, gender and ethnicity were covered and each of us chose one picture. Mine was a woman in her mid-twenties in a yoga pose. I thought I could have a lot of fun in creating her character as she looked quite chilled and peaceful.
My aim is to make my character the least stereotype for that particular image which is what I did when writing her character biography.
Other groups worked together on each of the characters, but the group that I was put in we worked solo and then shared our ideas. I found this approach better as the least conflict at the early stages the better.
Briefly we then came up with a long list of places that would be featured in our make shift soap opera world. Pub, café, library, bridge, park and pound shop were just a few of the suggested places that would feature in our community.
We also need to name our community in the upcoming weeks.
It’s certainly exciting to be part of something new creatively, and of course getting to know new people in this context is something that I find beneficial. Who knows, today community radio – tomorrow the writing team on House of Cards!
After an exciting first day at the festival I wondered what the second day would have in store for me. The schedule for Saturday was jam packed with industry professionals that I wished to see, but could only be in one place at a time. Luckily, most sessions were being filmed to be uploaded onto the website so all was not lost if two sessions collided.
People who know me well, also know how completely useless I am at getting up in the morning. It takes me all my time to get to work on time, so weekends are generally a struggle. But, if anybody was going to get me up and arriving at 9am at the Regents College it was going to be Julie Gray! Thank goodness the LSF decided to schedule her session first, that way I was guaranteed to get my money’s worth on the Saturday.
JULIE GRAY – Character and Structure : Separated at Birth
Another really informative session by Ms Gray, which again reinforced my knowledge that I have gained whilst undertaking my masters degree in Television and Radio Scriptwriting. Julie used examples from Rain Man and Legally Blonde to demonstrate to the group how the craft of structuring a film works. I must admit at that session I hadn’t seen either of those movies, but I still managed to follow it. I know, I know how can I call myself a movie fan when I haven’t seen Rain Man, the simple answer is that when that movie came out I was really into my 80s action films so the film never appealed to me (not being a Tom Cruise fan either).
Julie went into much more depth than in the previous days session and focused on character’s general and specific wants, inner needs and active flaws which will then let the character “wreak havoc in their world” She talked about the difference between ourselves and our characters which is something I personally will take away from the session.
Julie gave a great example of how to make sure that as writers, we understood about the flaw that our characters possessed. She asked the delegates to think about how greed would act at a dinner party? How would anger behave playing at sports and how does vanity behave queuing in a long queue? Those flaws will create conflict, and thus the adventures will write themselves! She passed out worksheets to the group and got us thinking about ourselves. The only downside to the session was that people were asking questions, and I wanted to just hear Julie speak!
I left the session thinking about my current project that I am working on with a group of students on my course. We are writing an eight part radio drama, where we each write our own episode. Several of us have to devise a character for the show, myself being one of those. I have decided to revisit my character as at the minute she has no obvious flaw, so once I get that right she will make a very interesting character to write.
Thinking about characters also makes you start to pay more attention to the people that you come across in everyday life. I have met and worked with some characters in my time. All of us have flaws don’t we? But the wonderful gift of being a writer is that we can build on these minor flaws to make such interesting characters that really do wreak havoc on their world.
Onto the next session with script consultant Mary Kate. With a few technical glitches at the start, Mary Kate delivered a really compelling session which broke down the three act structure. Beginning with a few wise words about being a storyteller, Mary Kate told us to take note of the following:
- 75% of people who do get a film made will not go on to get a second film made (that’s ok for me, I just want to write for television and radio).
- A great storyteller will create a tale about somebody wanting something very badly and having great difficulty getting it. The storyteller must play with the audiences emotions during the process – what do the audience hope for and what do they fear.
Mary Kate quoted from Aristotle that the protagonist is “a creature of necessity in a landscape of scarcity”. Interesting quote! She then went into more depth about what should be going on with characters during each of the acts. During which she would give us precise examples from a variety of European films such as Headhunters and Festen. We were then treat to a corker of a film with Pour Elle, which is a French film about a husband who plans to break his wife out of prison after she was wrongly incarcerated for the murder of her boss. During the film Mary would stop the sequences at the various scenes where dramatic tension was being cranked up, to show the group why certain actions were used. The session ran over into the coffee break, but nobody moved from their seats as we were all absolutely hooked into the story that was unravelling in front of us.
Another fantastic session where I took loads of notes – more than I can type up on here.
Clues for Success : Writing Detectives for Film and TV
I decided to go to this session as I am currently involved in a radio project where I have to create my own character for the series. I have decided to go with an undercover detective for my character, so naturally this session was intended to assist me with this work. Thinking about the types of shows that are on my planner I wouldn’t say that detective shows are ranked up there. My favourite is Scott and Bailey which I do watch religiously when it is on, but I hadn’t watched Silent Witness in years or Waking the Dead which are two shows which the panel write for.
The panel being Barbara Machin (created Waking the Dead), Tony McHale (Silent Witness and Waking the Dead amongst many others), Isabelle Grey (The Accused), Matthew Graham (Life on Mars)
and Tony Garnett (Cathy Come Home and The Cops).
The delegates in the room knew they were about to be treated to some industry knowledge with the combination of these five writers. I just sat in absolute awe, and listened to their stories about working on the different shows that I ended up not taking many notes. What they did all agree on, is that writing crime is a great drawing board for which to tell fantastic stories about people. You can tell most stories through a crime show, and there are opportunities to develop some complex characters during the content of the episode.
Tony Garnett stressed to everybody in the room that were thinking of writing for this genre, that it is extremely important to research and the best way to do this is to spend time with the cops and the villains. How great does that sound? Being allowed to follow the cops around. I am not sure my radio drama warrants that sort of research, but you never know in the future.
My favourite part of the session was listening to Matthew Graham talk about how he came up with the idea for Life on Mars. His childhood was in the 1970s and like me, he called friends of his parents uncle and auntie even though they were not related. He spoke of his “Uncle John” who wore cowboy boots, strutted around the place and was very loud and to the point. Matthew just wanted to write a show about Uncle John who in fact turned into Gene Hunt – so Matthews words of wisdom was for us all to write about our own “uncle John”. I really liked that story, because it was real and I think Gene Hunt is one of those larger than life characters that I just really love and wish I could write for, so to be told the story of where that inspiration for that character came from makes me see the character in a whole different light.
The Show Must Go On : Writing for Soaps
This was the session I had been waiting for ALL WEEKEND. The panel consisted of Yvonne Grace (former Eastenders), Damon Rochefort (current Coronation Street), Tony McHale (former Eastenders) and Tracy Brabin (former Hollyoaks and Shameless).
Now, I do believe there is a certain snobbery with some creative folk about people who write for soaps, or continuing drama as we are told in my course. That could have been the reason why the room was only half full of delegates. However, that suited me fine as I was able to get up at the front.
Folk consider writing for soaps as not really being creative as the characters are already in the show and storylines come and go. Not me – I know which soap I would want to write for. The ultimate would be Coronation Street, because it is watched by millions and I have watched it from being a little girl, although not an avid fan nowadays, but I do pop in every now and again. But, for me it is Hollyoaks. I started watching it last year after a representative from Lime Pictures came to give a masterclass to my scriptwriting group. I thought it would be a good way to get into writing for soaps so I started to watch it. Well – it took approximately a couple of weeks to get to know the characters, but I can honestly say 18 months on that I am a massive fan of the show. Even my kids and husband watch it with me, and I would really love to be able to write for those characters eventually (especially Brendan Brady, Jackie and Joel).
Anyway, I am going off track here. So, as a massive fan of Hollyoaks you can imagine my excitement at having a real scriptwriter from the show on the panel in the form of the wonderful Tracy Brabin. Tracy has also written for Shameless (another of my favourite shows) and was famous for playing Trisha in Coronation Street some years previous. Tracy was like a breath of fresh air, she started off saying that she didn’t feel like she deserved to be sharing the panel alongside the others. As an actress she decided to retrain and was able to be funded for a masters degree in Screenwriting, which she then used to get on at Hollyoaks as a writer. This immediately made me prick my ears up as she is doing what I am hoping to do in the future, in the same way that I am doing it. There could be hope for me? Tracy spoke of how she was able to land a spot on the Hollyoaks writing team, she talked about how the writers attend storylining conference and have to pitch stories for the characters etc.
From this the writers from Eastenders and Coronation Street stated that a similar process was in operation at those shows. Story conferencing consists of two to three days of sitting in a room with other writers and staff from the shows, when stories are pitched. If the story goes on the board then the writer pretty much knows that they will receive a commission to write one of the episodes. So, that process alone shows that the writers do get involved in the show in a creative manner.
The session was a great insight into the world of the soap opera. The panel were kind enough to continue the discussion into the script chat which followed. The only time over the weekend that I suddenly asserted myself was to sit next to Tracy Brabin as I desperately wanted to ask her a question away from the rest of the group – you can see me on the photograph of the script chat. The panel continued to advise the delegates into how to break into soap writing – a common theme over the weekend was that nothing would happen to our writing careers without the backing of an agent.
So, coming away from that session I have two things to tackle over the next twelve months. Firstly, the most important task for me is to finish and pass my masters degree, and secondly to start the process of finding an agent.
Finally, I did get to ask Tracy my question away from everybody else. She is such a nice, lovely person and I am grateful that she spared me a few extra minutes.
For the remainder of the day I also attended the Should you write for radio session and the Social Media session. Again, both really useful. Radio is the other medium I would like to write for, depending on how I cope with my current radio project at university. As for social media? Well I felt more relieved after that session that I should use it even more than I currently do (which is a lot). For my homework I will be having a look at googleplus and following a few more twitter folk.
So, that rounds up my second day at the festival. It was my favourite day by far, and although the ticket is arguably expensive, I would state that I got my moneys worth on Saturday. I can’t state how motivating it is to even be in the same room as these geniuses of their craft. Normal people like myself who have worked hard, never given up when they received rejection and are proof that people can get their lucky break. Matthew Graham spent nine years trying to get a commission for Life on Mars and that was initially just a story about his uncle John.