In my first London Screenwriters Festival, I have spent time in a virtual café with a Lithuanian sit-com writer, an Australian who lives in British time by writing horror movies at night and a woman who was beaten to a Children’s TV Award by Sooty. I have also been challenged to write a feel-good movie in thirty days and learnt that there are no rules in screenwriting – only tools for my scripts which avoid upsetting those that say there are.
The reason this is my first LSWF is that, as a theatre writer looking to move into writing for television, I have always assumed that screenwriting festivals would be heavy on film and offer little for the writer who aspires to penning work for the smaller screen. The inclusion of the likes of Kate Goode (A Discovery of Witches) and Michal Aviram (Fauda) and the online element avoiding the cost of travel to the Big Smoke from Yorkshire, persuaded me to sign up.
Beating out the TV PIlot
Michal Aviram has written for three series of Fauda but has also penned her own TV series Project Orpheus. Her talk at this year’s online festival ‘Beating out the Pilot of a TV series’ specifically lays out the process for writing a TV pilot step by step and comes with a very handy ‘Masterclass’ style booklet which can be downloaded and used to complete her suggested tasks.
The process begins with an idea. This is a point she expands on in the Zoom Q and A session which is also available in the catch-up area. Ideas can come from anywhere, but whilst Michal confesses to sometimes diving straight into writing dialogue from an idea, she explains that this writing never makes it to the finished script. Going straight to dialogue from idea is not recommended but it can serve as way in to understand the characters. ‘No writing is wasted’ she explains.
Research can be fun?
The next step is to do your research and Michal heavily suggests taking advantage of the current situation to speak to people online you would normally have difficulty accessing to get information for your series. People are surprisingly willing to help if you are honest and polite. Research makes the difference between a regular piece of writing and something special. The best elements of a script often emerge from discoveries in these conversations, although reading and watching documentaries is also advocated. Research should not be seen, as she confesses to have previously viewed it, a chore but something to be enjoyed. Use your research to build your world. Where is it? When is it? How do people in your world communicate?
Here we move to theme and theme is important to consider before character, says Michal, because you will need to link your characters and what they do to that theme in the next stage of the process. Don’t worry if your theme changes, Michal cautions. This is a creative endeavour.
Now you are ready to develop your characters and a brief idea of their physicality combined with a clear assessment of their needs, wants and obstacles that could thwart their ambitions should help set you up with a cast for your series and the PDF provides a template for this.
‘Structure’ is an often-feared word for writers. Michal opens by saying there are no rules but submits some helpful suggestions which have worked for her and may work for you. She keeps it simple. Plan an inciting incident, a midpoint and a question to leave your audience asking for more at the end of the pilot. Think of how to use cause and effect to stitch together scenes between each of these three points and you have the basis of a first draft. Write these out in prose at this point. Only once this is done do you start to write scenes with dialogue.
It is clear that Michal would be happy to talk for hours and the Q and A gives further insight into her process. The stand-out advice for me was when she talked about scene writing towards the end of the session. Writers often feel that if they follow any kind of structure that their work will be formulaic. If you look at your finished piece of work and it reminds you of a show, Michal encourages you to think of how you can make it more original. Change the location of the scene, do all the people in each scene need to be there? Try to do something different. Surprise yourself.
You can find out more about Michal on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/writebetterscripts
Jan Ruppe-Rahman is a writer and teacher. Her teaching has taken her to far-flung places such as Wuhan, China and Bangkok, Thailand where she taught Drama and wrote plays for her students to perform. Her stage play Wake-up is currently being developed with Freedom Studios and will be performed in Bradford, West Yorkshire in May 2021. Another stage play Cut It Out is published by Aurora Metro. Her attempts to break into writing for television have resulted in two scripts being developed by Screen Yorkshire and she is currently marketing a crime drama, a situation comedy and a comedy drama which have been developed with Yvonne Grace.