Writers have to trust themselves and others by Elinor Perry-Smith

Marnie Dickens (Thirteen, Gold Digger) and Michal Aviram (Fauda, Project Orpheus) have so much in common, it’s easy to say why this discussion happened the way it did.

They both started out in TV, loving the writing process and appreciated the advantage in terms of understanding the craft and making contacts. They also have similar philosophies on the importance of community, taking a note well and how conflict equals creativity.

Finding your tribe

Michal and Marnie urged writers to gird their loins. Build relationships within the industry and find your peers. Don’t send out your scripts until they’re as strong as can be. Be accountable and build a good portfolio. You can hear yourself getting better at writing as you hone your craft. Michal recommended reading The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron.

It’s all about the show

Both writers enjoyed the process of working on shows that didn’t originate with them. Marnie liked being in the service of the project, but warned of bruised feelings if your pitch isn’t picked.

Michal felt it freed her up to do what she does best. Showrunning was also about managing people, which didn’t feel terribly natural but it can be learned. 

How to take a note with grace

Marnie advises writers to always sleep on a note, and allow the emotional impact of it to ebb. A note is never personal and should be taken from someone you trust.

Michal emphasised that a good note will improve your writing; read it in a loving way – it may be good for the project. She mused on how easy it is to misinterpret a note in the same way as a text.

Conflict equals creativity

When wrapping up the third season, Michal recalled that the team had a row about the ending. Although she was on the losing side, she was philosophical: writers are passionate and that’s just how it is sometimes. The Fauda writers’ room was very open. Writers felt safe to say anything. And that is a success. 

Twist that genre 

Both felt it was good to twist genre. In Thirteen, Marnie was keen to avoid the detail of Ivy’s incarceration with her captor. She also felt a duty of care to kidnap victims. It was important to tell the story in a way that didn’t exploit them. Michal told Fauda from a Palestinian perspective, which was unusual.

That said, she acknowledged that she didn’t think about genre too much as a writer, but certainly as a viewer. Michal advised writers to take what works, identify genre patterns, but don’t force your characters or your stories. 

Step away from the writer’s block

Both women felt it helped to break the task down into smaller increments. But if you’re blocked, then leave the house or read a book. Anything that will free up the brain! Get up early, be kind to yourself. Don’t force it. Watch TV. Don’t let yourself get trapped in the nine to five routine. Above all, don’t stare at the white page. 

Resting pitch face

Marnie advised knowing your logline off by heart. Michal never pitched, rather she talked. She likened it to going on a date. You’re aiming to be a good match. You have to ask yourself: do I want to collaborate with this person for the next two years? She urged positivity, everyone’s looking for good shows. 

TV in the time of Corona

Marnie felt it would make the industry more risk-averse, but she urged writers to stick to their guns, good ideas will always bob to the surface. Michal observed that Israel is practically back to normal, though she pondered how lockdown would be reflected in new writing.

Elinor is a writer, proofreader and editor. She has been a mentor for Talent Campus and taught English as a foreign language with an emphasis on drama, films and culture.

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