Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why I’ve Learned to Love Story Structure by Xandria Horton

I agreed to take on this blog post with some trepidation. Why? Because, in my opinion, script structure is a hot potato of “How to…” blogging. It’s like religion; those who subscribe to a system will doggedly defend their beliefs, and “structure atheists” who insist that there is no structure in their stories won’t be tempted either.

Not only that, but structure is my personal nemesis. Of all the storytelling elements, it’s the one that can lurk under still waters of pithy dialogue, good characterisation and entertaining story in a script. It is often the problem when I delve into something that “isn’t quite working properly”. It’s the one that many writers find the least instinctive when working on their stories, and it’s taken me years of reading to get a handle on it. I feel like it’s time to settle the score on script structure.

There are many ways to skin (and Save) The Cat

Go to Google Image Search and type in “screenplay structure”; the various structure diagrams can look like something from a Dan Brown novel. This can give the impression that schools of thought on structure are vastly different. However, this simple but brilliant diagram by JT Velikovsky (himself the creator of StoryAlity, the result of his doctoral thesis into screenwriting) breaks down the terminology and templates used by different schools of thought on screenplay structure.

storyality - screenplay syntagms

It’s interesting, laid out visually, to see as many similarities as well as the differences. So are they worth reading if they’re all saying something similar? Absolutely.

Story gurus, or indeed any take on screenplay structure, show a ‘way in’ to storytelling. Although different gurus will have different emphases on certain aspects of story, or may have a different writing style, the more you read the more attuned you’ll be to how stories are crafted.

Making structure work for you

Another worry that newer writers have about structure is that it limits creativity. This needn’t be the case. Scott Myer’s brilliant blog Go Into The Story uses the pithy slogan “tools, not rules” to approach story structure – and I second that as a way of learning to love structure.

Structure helps provide both logic to the storytelling, and emotion in presenting events in a meaningful context. The key is that the structure must work to the premise / idea you want to tell, rather than letting the structure dictate the story.

Here are some ways in which films have made the structure work for their particular story:

Work your structure around your concept: Annie Hall and the Usual Suspects are structured by a character remembering events, meaning that relevant parts of story can be told out of order to intrigue – but not confuse – the audience. Four Weddings and a Funeral structures its story around the events of five ceremonies. Memento tells a story about memory in reverse segments from end to beginning, consistently undermining what we know of the characters with each reveal of what’s come before.

Moving the elements around: Brad Johnson’s article in ScriptMag magazine brilliantly illustrates this point, using two films that fit the necessary story moments in Act I, but execute them in very different ways. Back To The Future’s first act involves a lengthy set-up of Marty’s home, school and love life that exceeds the usual ‘rule’ of an early inciting incident (usually around page 10). However, when the Inciting Incident does come – the terrorists arrive to steal the plutonium from Marty and Doc Brown – both Marty and the story are ready within a couple of pages to make a quick leap to travel back in time and delve into Act II. The Hobbit, by contrast, has an early Inciting Incident – the dwarves and Gandalf arriving at Bilbo’s house – but a longer period of resistance (some critics say too long…) before Bilbo is ready to accept his journey. If you want to read more on this the article is here.

Is structure always to blame? Sometimes when something ‘feels wrong’ in a script, we think that the structure isn’t working in the story, when occasionally it can actually be structure’s way of showing you that there’s a better, cleverer way to deliver your story point. Whilst it’s still true that the structure should fit the story you want to tell in the majority of cases (see above), here’s a recent example of the reverse in practise:

A writer wanted to take a character on a long central journey, but wasn’t quite sure how to deliver the ending. After back and forth on some interesting ideas they’d come up with, we looked back at the structure of their first act, which was really strong, and how mirroring those beats in the final sequence would underline the character change. This helped the writer decide not only where they wanted the character to end up, but also to create a satisfying ending. Voila – an example of structure helping story!

Obviously this hasn’t even scratched the surface of structure in film and TV, so over the coming weeks Hayley, myself and other guest post writers will delve back into this and other topics for the Writer’s Toolbox series – articles you can use to improve your craft as a writer. Stay tuned…

But in the meantime, Joe William’s post gives some of the differences between writing for film and TV and touches on structure – check it out here.

TV Drama Writers’ Festival – A Review by Kulvinder Gill (Part Two)

The TV Drama Writers’ Festival had 22 sessions scheduled. In Part One  I reviewed  Tony Jordan’s Keynote Speech, So You Want to Write a Feature? and Writers for Sale.

TV Drama Writers Festival 2014 schedule300dpi

In Part Two I review the following sessions:

  1. Drama on YouTube
  2. The Two Tones with Tony Hall & Tony Jordan
  3. Selling Your Idea
  4. New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

4. Drama on YouTube

Rosie Allimonos, the “Head of Content Partnerships, Original Channels, Google, EMEA” presented this session on Drama on YouTube.

Allimonos began the session with some context-setting statistics:

YouTube gets one billion global visitors per month – and is the second biggest search engine (after Google – who also happen to own YouTube).

Approximately 100 hours of video are uploaded every 60 seconds.

40% of all YouTube visits are now from a mobile device – indeed YouTube works seamlessly across all devices and browsers.

This means that writers and producers can present their work to a global audience and earn a share of the advertising revenue by participating in the YouTube Partner Program.

To make content discoverable, YouTube have introduced “Channelisation”. The idea is to get video uploaders to treat their YouTube account as a channel rather just a repository for videos.

The other key tool to attract and keep viewers is the “Subscribe” button. Subscribers to channels are notified when a new video is uploaded.

Content creators have been attracted to YouTube because of the creative freedom (it is a non-editorialising platform), the ability to have a direct conversation with fans and because it gives access to new types of funding such as sponsorship and brands.

Rosie Allimonos showed some examples of successful drama formats on YouTube.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a contemporary adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice told in the form of video blogs – or vlogs – ranging from 2-8 minutes in length. 100 vlogs were released “as live” over the course of 12 months during 2012-2013. The first episode has had 1.75 million views and the channel has over 250,000 subscribers.

ThisIsDRAMA is a UK based channel producing gritty urban shows. The first episode of their football comedy drama 5ASIDE– released to coincide with the World Cup – has had over a million views and the channel also has 123,000 subscribers.

At the other end of the spectrum is WIGS  – a YouTube channel with Hollywood production values and stars that is aimed at a female demographic. The opening episode of their web series Blue starring Julia Stiles has had over 13 million views.

The Partner Program revenue split from the advertising placed around the videos is 45% YouTube and 55% content creators. YouTube is a completely non-editorial platform and takes no rights in the content. This also means YouTube do not put up any development money – so the content creators take all the financial risk.

However, YouTube does provide “Spaces” with access to equipment and post-production resources which is available free to creators with at least 5000 subscribers and “whose account is in good standing”. There is only one YouTube Space in Europe and it is in Central London.

Rosie Allimonos summarised the key takeaways as Content, Community and Conversation. Her advice for creatives was to target a specific community, let the story influence the production values and engage with the audience.

5. The Two Tones: Tony Jordan and Tony Hall

This cheeky (but accurately) titled session was less of an interview – more of a laid-back conversation – between Tony Jordan and the new BBC Director General Tony Hall.

Tony Hall agreed pretty much with Tony Jordan’s keynote speech about putting creativity at the forefront. Hall said that although ratings matter, the BBC should be all about taking creative risks, being edgy and pushing boundaries.

The Director General described the BBC’s intention to be more enabling by providing “risk capital”. Hall wants a BBC where it’s okay to say “Really glad we tried that – it didn’t work – so let’s try something else”. Hall believes moving BBC3 online – where shows will no longer need to fit specific time slots – will result in more challenging programmes.

“Taking creative risks” was the watchword of the day.

6. Selling Your Idea

Writer Peter Bowker chaired this session on how writers should pitch to production companies. On the panel was fellow writer Toby Whithouse, Jane Featherstone, the Chief Executive of Kudos and Chris Aird, Head of Drama, BBC Scotland.

Chris Aird gave the standard reply that submissions have to be via an agent and if the script was really good, they would meet the writer.

The surprise was Jane Featherstone – Kudos has a development team who look at submissions which are mostly from agents but not always. Featherstone admitted that when she receives an unsolicited submission directly to her email, she will forward it onto the development team and it will eventually get read. Featherstone also said that whilst she admires chutzpah – if the same idea has been rejected three times, it’s time to move on!

On the question of how fully formed a pitch should be – Toby Whithouse replied that a pitch should have the DNA of a show – i.e. what is not going to change.

Whithouse described his working method – he comes up with the idea or precinct first, then steps back to work on the characters, writing biographies of all. He felt what made Being Human work is that all the characters were in place first, before the supernatural element was even introduced. On the shows Attachments and No Angels, everything was storylined including individual episodes.

Peter Bowker revealed his father’s advice for his first pitch meeting in London: “Have three ideas and wear a big coat!” It is easier for a producer to say no to one idea – so it’s best to have lots of pitches.

Pitches should have no attachments – i.e. actors – storyline is everything, followed by the episode script. The consensus is to cast in your head – and not on the script – it is too risky.

Peter Bowker described his typical pitch document – four pages, beginning with the pitch, followed by the character breakdowns and episode outlines. Sometimes, he might foreground a character and include sample quotes.

Chris Aird said to write from the heart rather than second guessing the market. The advice was not to ape somebody else’s voice or to deliberately set out to create a transatlantic show as it would lose what made it unique in the first place. Featherstone added that it was the specificity of an idea that made it attractive.

Finally Jane Featherstone’s key advice: “Know the landscape before you pitch” – watch TV, the shows and the channels – and always watch the first episode of everything as someone is bound to ask your opinion on a new show.

7. New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

Writer Barbara Machin chaired this session on the impact of the new distribution methods and markets on both writers and traditional broadcasters. Helping her to make sense of the changes were Sky’s Acting Head of Drama, Cameron Roach, BBC Worldwide’s Global Editorial Director Liam Keelan and writer-showrunner Jed Mercurio.

The recent revolution in the media and broadcasting landscape can be likened to a Big Bang resulting in an expanding universe. In addition to the old media of terrestrial, cable and satellite television, there is now a plethora of online and streaming platforms – YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and so on. Even individual brands are hosting content – Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge was shown on the Australian lager company Foster’s Funny website.

Barbara Machin asked each of the panellists in turn about the effect of the new markets on the industry and writers.

First to comment was Sky’s Cameron Roach and he talked about how modern audiences have an enthusiasm – a hunger – for drama. Series finale episodes have now become events and have to be watched live for fear of spoilers.

A channel needs just two or three of these “noisy content” shows to push subscriptions – as for example House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have done for Netflix.

Roach pointed out that the situation is such that a show brand can now overtake the brand of the channel itself – for example some viewers are convinced Downton Abbey is BBC!

For Sky, pre-recognition is very important. The second series of Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic.

BBC Worldwide’s Liam Keelan insisted traditional broadcasting was not dying and pointed to research that showed that 85% of all TV viewing is still live.

There is a growing demand for drama and more drama is being made – helped by a shift from film to TV. BBC Worldwide has responded to these changes by doubling its investment in drama over the next five years.

Keelan argued that writers create content and do not care about the delivery system. He believed that broadcasters and online platforms can all co-exist. For example, the comedy The Wrong Mans starring and written by James Corden and Matthew Baynton was a co-production between the BBC and the American streaming service Hulu.

Writer and showrunner Jed Mercurio also believes that the different content creation platforms can be complementary. He pointed to the fact that the second series of Line of Duty benefitted from that complementarity with 50% of the audience coming via catch-up. However, for the final episode, the majority of the audience watched live – which ties in with what Cameron Roach observed about series finales being events.

Mercurio also flagged up that in the US, there are big differences between shows on networked and subscription channels in terms of what is acceptable with regards to language, violence and sex.

In the UK, this same polarity occurs but it is between different terrestrial broadcast channels – for example, BBC1 or ITV1 versus BBC2 or Channel 4.

This means that in the UK, we can make those US subscription cable type shows with the adult content for terrestrial TV. Mercurio terms this “Horizontality” meaning in effect we have one UK terrestrial broadcaster.

However, there is another polarity – both in the US and the UK – and that is between the rich and poor – those who can afford subscription TV and those who cannot.

Barbara Machin asked the panel how quality has been affected by these new markets.

Liam Keelan said there was no negative impact on quality or scale – it was actually a “mixed economy”. The online markets attracted certain genre shows that are not found on terrestrial – the so-called smart and noisy content that Cameron Roach referred to earlier.

Jed Mercurio wondered whether some writers could have a primary commissioning relationship with the online streaming platforms. He thought there was a danger that a minority of writers would benefit tremendously.

These noisy content shows would not be written by new – or even established – writers but by an elite of big hitting writers – which Mercurio feared would result in a distortion in the industry.

Jed Mercurio did not use the term “Premier League” but to me it very much sounded like that was what he feared was going to happen.

The BBC Drama Commissioner Ben Stephenson was in the audience and he made a telling point at the very end of the discussion – he was surprised no one had questioned what effect these new markets and platforms would have on the BBC licence fee.

Final Thoughts

Overall, there were three key points I personally took away from the Festival.

1. Take more creative risks

2. Create “noisy content”

I suspect these first two are related!

3. The future is online.

This third point needs some elaboration. To me it seems clear now that with the proliferation of internet streaming services, more and more scripted drama (and comedy) will be online – possibly exclusively online. I believe that will be the new default – so much so that “web drama” will lose its prefix and just become known as drama again.

I also suspect that Jed Mercurio’s warning that the new markets may lead to a sort of 21st century “closed shop” of commissioning open to a select few writers will happen. But it hasn’t happened yet, and during this (possibly brief) period of flux and change, there is – and I’m going to borrow a phrase from the BBC here – a window of creative opportunity.

And right now that window is still open to everyone.

And that leaves me excited.

And wanting to write.

Kulvinder Gill is an Indian-born, Scottish-educated, London-based writer specialising in comedy, sci-fi and horror. His Writers’ Guild profile page is here and his Twitter handle is @KulvinderGill

TV Drama Writers’ Festival 2014 – A Review by Kulvinder Gill (Part One)

This was the fifth TV Drama Writers’ Festival but the first one to be hosted in London. The first four festivals were held at the Leeds College of Music and were spread over two days – this time round, the venue was Central St Martins in Granary Square behind King’s Cross and it was a one-day affair.

So was this another example of BBC cuts? The 2014 schedule comprised a total of 22 sessions – compared with 30 at the 2013 Festival. This year a writer could attend a maximum of 8 sessions – compared with 10 last year. In purely quantitative terms, the Festival was about 25% smaller but the BBC also reduced the ticket price by an average of 40% making what has always been an excellent value for money event, even better value. (Indeed, a few days before the Festival, the BBC Writersroom website confirmed that the event had sold out.)

Despite this leaner Festival, there were no cut backs in the quality of the speakers, not surprising, given that the Festival agenda and schedule is driven by a team of writers – refreshed every year – making it an event organised by writers for writers.

As much as I enjoyed the annual trip to Leeds, I prefer this streamlined one-day Festival and found the new venue much more spacious and practical.

I attended 7 sessions, missing only the final “Unstoryfiable” talk by Adam Curtis. I chose sessions based on my main interests – specifically new media and obtaining practical advice on selling scripts.

The sessions I attended were:

  1. Keynote speech with Tony Jordan
  2. So You want to Write a Feature?
  3. Writers for Sale?
  4. Drama on YouTube
  5. The Two Tones with Tony Hall & Tony Jordan
  6. Selling Your Idea
  7. New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

1. Keynote

Last year at the 2013 MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, actor and producer Kevin Spacey spoke about TV enjoying its “third Golden Age” and declared that the “King of television is the creatives“.

For his own keynote speech, Tony Jordan the 2014 Chair of the TV Drama Writers’ Festival, followed up on Spacey’s pronouncement and asked : “If Content is King, Where’s Our Crown?”

Jordan’s point is that at a time when the demand for scripted drama is greater than ever resulting in drama actually defining channels – both on traditional TV and the new online platforms – why is the business side leading the way and not writers?

Tony Jordan decried the industry’s obsession with brands and wanting instant hits. He referenced the famous William Goldman quote “Nobody knows anything” – as well as Henry Ford’s (probably apocryphal) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Jordan was unimpressed with Netflix’s claim that they “ran the numbers” and knew their subscribers would watch House of Cards – citing the counter example of Chris Chibnall writing hit drama Broadchurch as a spec script because he wanted to tell that story and not because of audience data.

Whereas Spacey in the MacTaggart Lecture offered examples and pushed the case for art and commerce collaborating together to make great work – Jordan was more bolshie, arguing that it was time for writers to pick a side – creative or commercial – or as he put it Freddie Mercury or Bananarama.

Tony Jordan urged writers not to chase commissions blindly – not to cynically search for that the gap in the market or the “next big thing”. His rallying cry to writers was “Be creative” and seize the crown by doing good work.

2. So you want to write a feature?

A session on writing feature films might seem out of place at a TV Drama Writers’ Festival but this was specifically about writing low budget features for the latest three-year Microwave scheme – a partnership between Film London, National Lottery, Creative Skillset, BFI and BBC Films. The BBC Films contribution means the Microwave produced features will have their TV premiere on the BBC.

The session was presented by Olivier Kaempfer who was the producer of Borrowed Time, a Microwave funded film and is now a senior executive at Microwave itself – giving him a unique insight into both sides of the scheme. Kaempfer also brought along guest Jules Bishop, the writer and director of Borrowed Time.

In its earlier funding rounds, Microwave produced a total of 8 films – all of which received a theatrical release – the best known probably being Shifty (2009) and ill Manors (2012)

Over the next three years, the new round of Microwave plans to select up to 36 film-making teams for training and mentoring, with the ultimate aim of producing six features with a budget of £150,000 each. Microwave will provide £100,000 with the individual producers of each film having to raise the remaining £50,000. Also for the first time, there is development money (up to £10,000) for the shortlisted film-making teams plus an additional £25,000 for each completed film to help with distribution and marketing.

The film-making team must consist of a writer, producer and a director – with a minimum of two people – so writer-directors are acceptable but one-person taking on all three roles is not. Also a full script is required and the writer and director cannot have had a feature theatrically distributed before. Applications have to be made via a UK registered limited company based in London. Full details are on the Microwave site.

The deadline for the 2014 round is 30th July – so unless you have a film-making team with a completed script ready to go – there is probably not enough time now. However, the scheme is running again in 2015 and 2016 – so getting teams and scripts ready for the next round is a more realistic goal.

Getting the right mix of writer, director and producer is crucial as the film-making team may have to work together for three years or more. Jules Bishop’s Borrowed Time for example was submitted to the 2009 round, shot in 2011 and distributed in 2013. To assist with the formation of film-making teams, Microwave have set up a Facebook group called Film London Talent Connect to help writers, producers and directors to network.

Olivier Kaempfer described the perfect Microwave film as one where if there was more money available, the film would still be the same but the crew and cast would be better paid.

The challenge for writers is to write with the constraints of the budget in mind. The example Kaempfer gave was of a scene set at night in a moving car. Kaempfer suggested that writer should ask themselves a series of questions: Does the scene have to be in a moving car? Can it be in a parked car? Does it have to be in a car at all? Does it have to be at night? This is a process not unfamiliar to television writers!

Kaempfer said Microwave is looking for scripts that “resonate as a London story” – this does not necessarily mean social realism as they are very keen on “diverse genres”. At the end of the day, the script “just needs to be brilliant”.

Note – for film-makers and production companies based outside London, there is the iFeatures scheme which funds films with budgets of up to £350,000. The deadline for this year has passed but there may be future rounds – the website to bookmark is here.

3. Writers for Sale

Although the Writers for Sale session featured two writers and two execs, Bryan Elsley co-creator of Skins dominated the debate with his quietly pragmatic and authoritative take on the industry.

Also on the panel with Elsley was Levi David Addai who wrote My Murder for BBC3 and co-created Youngers for E4 and Sophie Gardiner Channel Four’s Drama Commissioning Editor. The BBC Drama Executive Producer Hilary Salmon chaired the session.

Salmon began by continuing the “Content is King” theme with mention of a “Sellers’s Market” for drama. Bryan Elsley responded that writers never feel like it’s a Seller’s Market. He cited production companies wanting more and more initial work such as treatments for free.

Salmon also asked how writers decide who to send a new script to. Elsley said it was all about personal relationships – about working with people who believe in you – “belief is at the heart of everything”.

Levi David Addai agreed – it was all about the people behind the production companies – and getting on well with them – rather than the production company itself.

Bryan Elsley also stressed the importance of money. He spoke about how some production companies now no longer pay the 100% future use fee on the first day of principal photography – an advance that many writers absolutely rely on. Elsley added that writers are aware of and remember the companies that do not pay the future use fee – and this obviously impacts on how loyalties and relationships are formed.

Elsley said that his own production company pays writers for everything – but he also cautioned writers that when they are paid for something, that is when they lose ownership. He suggested that in some cases, having the freedom to walk away and keeping your project can be to a writer’s advantage.

Sophie Gardiner observed that the industry was not very good at giving writers on soaps other opportunities. It was also mentioned that going in the opposite direction, writers with lots of experience had to start all over again when writing for soaps.

Levi David Addai spoke of his own unhappy experience of working on a soap – he felt it wasn’t his characters, it wasn’t his story and in the end writing continuing drama wasn’t for him.

The subject of the writers’ room on dramas was also raised. Elsley’s opinion was that here in the UK, the writers’ room is still unfinished business, a half-way house that pays lip-service to the US model. Elsley believes that writers are not in the room just to write but also to produce. He made the point that US shows have no traditional UK producer role – with the line producer taking on the technical and administrative duties and the writer being the creative showrunner.

However, Elsley also warned that the UK should not slavishly copy the US writers’ room model – he pointed out they were “editorially narrow” with a lack of diversity in participation and editorial control.

The discussion also turned to the touchy subject of script editors. Bryan Elsley thought the role of the script editor had changed over the years. He felt that script editors used to be on the writer’s side but are now on the producer’s side. Elsley blamed the problem on lack of training and development of script editors and particularly their disempowerment – they were reduced to passing on messages from the producers with no editorial power themselves.

Sophie Gardiner criticised the lack of opportunities and entry-level schemes for new or emerging writers. Channel Four received some kudos for their Screenwriting Course and also their Coming Up series (on which Addai got his first television commission).

The session ended on an uplifting note when writer Chris Lunt spoke from the audience to point out that his script Prey for ITV which starred John Simm was his first broadcast credit – demonstrating that it is still possible for a new writer to get commissioned and produced.

In the next article I’ll review Drama on YouTube, The Two Tones with Tony Hall & Tony Jordan, Selling Your Idea and New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

Kulvinder Gill is an Indian-born, Scottish-educated, London-based writer specialising in comedy, sci-fi and horror. His Writers’ Guild profile page is here and his Twitter handle is @KulvinderGill.

Cinema or Living Room: Writing for Film and TV by Joe Williams

With the emergence of VOD platforms and cheaper forms of digital film production, there has never been a more exciting time or as many opportunities to create film or TV content as there is now.

tv vs film

TV in particular is said to be going through a ‘Second Golden Age’ with shows such as True Detective, Broadchurch, Breaking Bad and Sherlock rivalling or even superseding films in terms of public discussion.

The UK has no shortage of distinctive and talented writers working in both formats; yet despite this, there are only a few who equally move between both mediums. Examples of these ‘format hoppers’ include: Abi Morgan, Jeff Pope, Peter Morgan and Dennis Kelly. At the same time, iconic writers such as Jimmy McGovern, Sally Wainwright and Russell T Davies have carved out enduring careers exclusively in television, while Jane Goldman, John Hodge and Hossein Amini have concentrated on film.

I personally adore both and will happily jump from Sherlock to Sherlock Holmes in the blink of an eye. Having also worked in film and TV development, Hayley has kindly asked me to share a few thoughts about writing for both mediums and what can be expected in the development process.

Structuring Your Script: Arguably the greatest difference is the amount of freedom in terms of length and structure. When writing film scripts, entire pages can be added and discarded often with little consequence to the overall film. In TV, a script’s length is poured over, especially in production where a read-through will typically be timed. The length of your script is even more pronounced if you have to factor ad breaks when writing for broadcasters such as ITV or Channel 4. While working on the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course, we would discuss the importance of creating a strong inciting incident at the end of ‘Part 1’ (around p12-15), to ensure a potentially fickle audience would be hungry for more. In film, you are able to delay this to a later point, giving you the freedom to write closer to your own pace.

If you’re writing for TV, your series also has to compete with any number of distractions in the home from the kitchen to your iPhone (in my case, guilty as charged!), so the need for attention-grabbing material is more pronounced. When your film is on general release, you can take comfort that the audience is locked in and hopefully free from distraction. Of course, many TV writers relish these challenges and such constraints can push you to write taut and tightly structured scripts that still allow your vision to shine through.

The Development Process: A common complaint heard in film or television development is the lengthy amount of time it takes to get projects off the ground. Even so, there is still often a clear difference between the mediums in terms of the amount of time spent developing projects. In film, you are typically allowed to work to your own timescale within reason. Even if you have a creatively strong script, it can still take months or even years as the producers delve in to the quagmire of film financing. In TV, the time scale is notably accelerated, particularly if you find yourself working for hire on an existing series. This does not necessarily mean that TV is the quickest way to getting your writing out there, as a variety of issues from the broadcaster’s end can come into play before your work reaches the screen. Either style can work for you depending on your personality but when writing for both mediums it’s worth preparing for lengthy periods of waiting, punctuated by occasional bursts of energy.

Broadcasters and Distributors: In the British film industry, while there are many distribution companies with distinct identities (Artificial Eye generally release ‘art-house’ films, while Lionsgate tend towards action genre titles), there is generally less consideration of where your script will end up during the writing process. While no TV broadcaster would wish to compromise a screenwriter’s vision, when assessing material they still look for stories that will sit comfortably alongside their current slate. Therefore, when writing your TV script, it can occasionally be worth bearing in mind where you want to see your show transmitted. Say you’ve written a gritty crime drama, do you want to see it in the company of Luther (BBC), Broadchurch (ITV) or Top Boy (Channel 4)?

Directors: In television, despite the influx of ‘auteur’ directors, the writer is still traditionally in a greater position of influence in contrast to film. To give an example, whenever Abi Morgan pens a new TV series, such as The Hour, she tends to take centre stage in terms of its promotion. This is in contrast to her film work, in which she has generally taken a backseat in the public eye to either the director (Shame) or the subject matter (The Iron Lady). The world of film is undoubtedly exciting and writing for it can offer more structural freedom, but it is still, at least in the public eye, the medium of the director.

Your Characters: Another factor to influence your writing is the different directions you can take your characters in. When writing a film script you can decide your characters’ endpoints and use it to inform their actions. Television offers you the chance to keep on developing the characters while knowing who will be cast in the roles so you can write to their voices. What’s more, TV can allow you the opportunity to re-invent your work based on background characters. Kryten in Red Dwarf and The Fonz in Happy Days are both breakthrough characters that emerged long after their pilots were written.

Ultimately, it’s a question of personal preference whatever medium you choose to write for in terms of working habits and your own creative instincts. As mentioned, many writers have succeeded in finding their voices in both fields and given the increased opportunities in terms of technology and platforms, it’s very possible to wear two hats or one, depending on what fits you best.

Joe Williams is a freelance development consultant working for numerous film and television production companies. He has previously worked in development for Scott Free Films, Sprout Pictures and Channel 4’s Drama Department. Joe recently also participated in the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course as a Shadow Script Editor. You can follow Joe on Twitter @josephmwilliams