Here’s George the Blogging writer attempting to scale the mountain of her first commission on long running series Westenders. She is learning the hard way, so you won’t have to.
Yvonne Grace is an award-winning Television Drama Producer with 20+years experience in Script Development, Script Editing and Drama Production for the BBC, CITV and ITV. Her Script Consultancy Script Advice delivers workshops, provides online TV writing training and develops writer talent. Follow Yvonne on Twitter @YVONNEGRACE1.
EXT: LONDON PARK BENCH BROCKWELL PARK 11am
There’s nothing wrong with a brisk walk in the morning. Am just getting some air. Lovely. Oh look, a Blackbird. No, it’s a Crow. Raven? It’s looking at me now. I hate birds that don’t hop. They have a horrible mechanical walk and this one’s coming right for me. Bastard. Just pecked my fake Uggs. Gave it a swift kick. Missed obviously.
I’m on this bench because I am panicking.
Two days ago I was over the moon. June, my (am practising sounding casual when I say this) Agent…has landed me a commission on Westenders. I did the leg work to be fair. Smoozed Scary Producer Paula Tether and then did a stint at the Story Conference, wrote some story ideas, another script about Vaginas, (not the biological ones; mine are metaphorical) and with Hope the Nice Script Editor on the show doing her bit to smooth the way for me, I have landed my first professional gig.
So with all this help, all this good will, all the legwork done and a fair amount of dignity lost I should be happy right? I should be diving in and getting my hands dirty – crafting my first draft of episode 2,257 of Westenders.
But I can’t do it you see. I don’t have it in me.
INT: BREAKFAST NICHE – MY FLAT SE LONDON – 2 hours earlier
I was ready. Primed. Laptop balanced and ready on Breakfast Bar, coffee in lucky Eeyore mug ready. Ping. There, email received as promised. (They get up early in Westenders world.)
‘Hello George, Thank you for attending our recent Commissioning Meeting. I have pleasure in attaching the story line document that covers your block of episodes. Your number is 2,257. I also attach notes from the Commissioning Meeting to use as a reference and our Bible of the show. Let me know if you need anything else. Regards Lorraine.’
OK, time to print. Story line document. Not sure what all this means. Hold on. So according to this, I have an A story, a B story and a C story. My A is ‘Trisha suspects she is being followed’ – doesn’t sound very A to me. What if I think the B is the A? ‘There’s problems at Soapy Suds’ Really? That’s a B story line? What’s my A again? Oh God, that’s just typical. I wanted the episode where Trish confronts her stalker but that’s gone to 2,260 – who’s writing that ep? Arse. Letty, the new girl. She’s got the juicy ep. I get the set up ep. I’m beginning to feel panicky again.
Better print off the Bible. It’s huge. Page after page of back story, character profiles, current character arcs, long and short running story lines, info about the sets, the exterior and interiors of the show, the tone, the ethos, the blah blah blah, I was scouring the flat for more paper and only just stopped myself feeding kitchen roll into my printer before I realised I was losing it.
Deep breath. Start again.
INT: BREAKFAST NICHE – MY FLAT SE LONDON 1 hour earlier
So now I am writing. I have decided not to stress about the document, I have my own notes that I took at the Conference I am doing fine so far. I know I need to write three main story lines, with the centre of my episode being the A story. I’m still using their story line of Trisha and how she suspects she’s been followed, but I’ve relegated that to a B status and I’ve come up with a totally independent, one-off story idea for my A story; am betting Paula Scary Producer will admire my ingenuity.
Then the harp music. No, not Celestial script help – my mobile ringtone.
That was June, checking up on me. I know she’s trying to help but she mentioned the fact that I need to do an episode outline before I do the first draft. I had forgotten that. Hope, my Script Editor suggested I do this, to ‘ease me into the process’. And Hope is obviously trying to help as well, but that means that the two weeks I thought I had to write my episode, is split in half and now I have to get my head around the outline before I write the episode.
June said she’d take a look at it for me before I send it to Hope. Oh crap. All this help just makes me feel worse. What if my outline stinks and both June and Hope see me for what I really am? A talent-less documentaphobe?
I get off the phone sharpish from June. She’s given me the deadlines I have to meet and told me my first payment won’t be paid until I’ve signed the Contract. Followed by another payment when I deliver my first draft.
Dry mouth panic. Can’t find the Contract. June said I had to sign it pronto and email it over. Frantic seconds pass whereby I literally throw the contents of my bag all over the flat. Found it. Emailing it took longer. This is because I had to unplug the microwave so I could use my printer to scan the contract and in the process managed to knock my mug tree (complete with mugs)to the floor smashing them all.
Suddenly, creativity seems a long way away from what I’ve signed up for.
INT: BEDROOM – MY FLAT – SE LONDON – 1 hr 30 mins earlier
Am now under the duvet. I know I’m being pathetic. Sod it. Sometimes, a duvet-hide is all I can manage.
I had another phone call. This time, from Letty Leadbetter, the writer who is even newer than me, and who has the best episode in our block of four. She’s so insufferably perky. I loathe perky. I never do perky. She’s also rather nice actually, which makes it all much worse. She wanted to know how I ‘was getting on.’
Letty at school would’ve been the girl who said ‘oh, me, I never do revision’ and then proves to be the only one in the class who got straight A’s. She’s like that. She passes exams as easily as most of us do prunes.
‘Oh, it’s going really well thanks’. I pipped back at perky Letty. ‘Loving the process’ (as much as I like smear tests).
I got rid of her quick. Then an email pinged in to my inbox.
‘Hiya, Carol here, thought you’d appreciate my cliff hanger. Here it is. Good luck, have fun!’
Again, she’s being really helpful. She’s an old hand is Carol. The cliff (or pick up point) from the previous episode, is noted in the Story Document, so technically Carol didn’t need to do this but it was nice of her to offer me the human touch.
Perhaps I should get back to the document. Try again. My A story doesn’t look so good now. Would Paula Scary Producer appreciate my introducing a totally new character for one episode? And would the fact he was in a wheelchair smack of tokenism?
Then the bloody phone. This time a text.
Hello. Steve here. What’s your cliff going to be? I need to know because I’m cracking on here and may even get my draft in before the deadline if you are able to send me the pick up point of your ep? Cheers!
EXT: A PARK BENCH – BROCKWELL PARK – 11am
So I went for a walk. And I found this bench. And so now, has this tramp.
INT: BREAKFAST NICHE – MY FLAT – SE LONDON – 12 noon
I am amazed at Pete’s philosophical frame of mind. Pete is the tramp I met. He was ever so helpful. (Another one.) But this time, I didn’t feel worse, I felt relaxed and inspired at the same time. He told me he’d been a Life Coach years ago. But his drinking took its toll on him and his wife, and now he’s here and she’s in Wanstead with a Central Heating Engineer. Which he said was a good choice on her part, because her new hub would never be out of work as our Winters are getting colder.
He said I was my own worse enemy and offered me a can of Special Brew.
INT: SITTING ROOM – MY FLAT – SE LONDON – TWO WEEKS LATER
June did have to threaten to tie me to my laptop and I had about a million more nervous breakdowns before I finally ditched the A story I was trying to force into my episode and use instead the A story they had given me in the first place.
As soon as I stopped trying to fight it, the story line document helped; not hindered me writing my outline and then the first draft of my episode.
And now I expect clarion calls from above and a rainbow outside my window and Mr Cumberbatch to deliver my pizza which I’ve just ordered as a treat.
But of course, non of these things happen. I do get a short but friendly email from Hope saying thanks for my ep and she will be in touch regarding my first edit session with her.
I look out of the window.
Pete is on his bench. I am a writer. All is well with the world.
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