I've got the TV bug
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No, I'm not talking about a new kind of flu. What I mean is my newly found enthusiasm, nay, obsession with writing for TV. It started with a murder mystery play written for my business which turned out to be a popular choice with my customers. My husband and occasional co-writer came up with the idea this summer of taking the scenario and characters and turning them into a TV sitcom. Brilliant! We wrote the first draft, put it in a drawer, blogged about it, then wrote the next draft, and finally polished off the final draft. It was sent to the BBC about a week ago. In the meantime, my husband began writing a sci fi TV drama (see, it's not just me that's been infected) and although I'm currently editing it for him, my mind has started casting around for story ideas I've filed away that could be turned into TV scripts. I think my obsession has come from the difference between writing for the stage and the screen. Whereas with writing for the stage, a certain level of detachment is required because once the bones of the script have been handed over to the theatre company involved, it is for the actors and director to flesh those bones out into a full blown body of characters. When writing for television, however, along with the basic script is the task of leading the eye of the viewer to see what the characters see and experience - a street sign, terror, a TV show. I find that richness of portrayal the real hook. What about you? What's your hook?
  • Hi I love these words you wrote in explaining why television writing can be so compelling. You noted that part of the job is -- "leading the eye of the viewer to see what the characters see and experience - a street sign, terror, a TV show. I find that richness of portrayal the real hook." This helps me a great deal with a script I am now re-writing by changing point of view. Thank you so much. To me it intersects in a strong way with writing fiction.
  • Update: the sci fi TV pilot is now on its way to the BBC. Haven't heard back about the sitcom pilot we sent them a few months ago. Hope they don't think we're stalking them. Fi
  • I started in the same way as writing a stage play in that I put together a scene plan. Most of my plays are three acts which in some ways limits what can happen, time period covered and what part of the story is seen by the audience. With the TV scripts, I was able to tell the story through more but shorter scenes which I found quite freeing, however the scenes had to be structured to lead the eye of the viewer more, e.g. camera shot of a street sign to show what our hero sees. Where a stage play usually has one 'face', the story presented on the stage by the actors, I found that a TV script can have many. In addition to the action we see being acted out, we may also cross to a shot of something being shown on a television screen, for instance. This leading of the eye of the viewer requires a more exact approach as you take into consideration the different camera shots. Whereas with my stage plays, I often find myself having problems filling the time limit and have to go back and reconsider my scene plan, with a TV script I found it difficult to keep to the shorter timeframe (30 minutes for a sitcom, 45-60 minutes for a drama) and was forced to be very strict with my dialogue (not a bad thing). When I'm writing a stage play, I know where my audience will be and have become accustomed to writing for that layout. Writing for TV gives a certain freedom (don't have to worry about upstaging actors or blocking sightlines) but also requires a zooming in of the audience's view by directing the camera shots. We wrote the pilot scripts with the knowledge of where we wanted to take each series so we included a number of details, characters, etc that would lead into future episodes. At this stage, the requirement by the BBC is a brief introductory letter and a series outline so that is what we put together rather than an extensive 'bible'.
  • Fantastic! Maybe you'd like to share a few more of the tidbits you learned as you stepped into the new form? Things such as working with more acts, time limits, staging for camera vs. audience, creating a bible, etc.? I'm interested. djw
  • Update: the sci fi pilot script is almost finished. Soon it'll be winging it's way to the BBC Writers Room. Fingers crossed.