Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Good Story On The Boil

If you thought temperatures soared when Kelly Lefever presented, they hit boiling point on August 31.

Okay, I admit it. I can’t help myself. I love a pun.

Gareth Calverley, writer-producer of Boilermaker, made his first ever guest presentation to an industry group and we are honoured he chose the Line by Line meeting as the place to do it.

Since my blog about Kelly Lefever’s presentation turned into more of a practical advice piece (and thank goodness she was so generous with the information she shared), this time I’m stepping back from trying to relay words of wisdom exactly as they were imparted. Kelly’s advice stirred things inside – how to fit writing into producing? So it’s Gareth’s comments about collaboration that I want to focus on in this blog as he has me got me thinking quite a lot.

Gareth began his presentation with a description of his role as showrunner of Small Time Gangster – that it’s fifty percent about being a writer and fifty percent about being a producer. He’s the ideas man. If boilermaker is the production team that makes it, then Gareth is the guy who invented fire. He is where the raw thought begins. A concept. A character. A story. An audience. A network’s tastes. An original and very cool idea.

Of course Gareth doesn’t lay claim to such brilliance. He says that all happens when Joss King takes the idea - in that jotted-down, very raw form - and crafts it into something tangible. Gareth doesn’t believe in being too prescriptive and lets the writer take it to the first stage. Even so, collaboration for them starts at that early stage.

At the first Line by Line session, participants shared their raw thoughts, presented as ‘1 premise, 5 themes and 5 loglines’. We saw first-hand how valuable it is to collaborate at that point, to know what things might trip us up and which themes are strong, contain what we want to say about the world and should be explored.

Let me take you back to April, when Chas and I met for a drink to chat about the germ of an idea that became Line by Line. We were inspired in part by a ScreenHub article published earlier this year which saw Stephen Cleary questioning the methods of development used in this country and proposed the idea that if creative people - writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, actors etc – could get together to work on ideas, the pace of development would accelerate and the formation of the idea would be more thoroughly critiqued and explored before the first draft even began. (Apologies to Stephen if my explanation has butchered his real intentions for being a part of ScreenLab in South Australia). This is what we wanted for Line by Line. A place where people could collaborate and set goals so that good work could happen.

Lately, Chas and I have wondered whether our eight sessions spread over four months has achieved all this. Chas has a first draft feature script under his belt so he has met his goal early, of course a monumental achievement. He also laments not collaborating sooner than the first draft stage to iron out the problems that now present themselves.

My feeling has been that we need to be collaborating more aggressively on more content and this feeling was supported by some of Gareth’s comments the other night, particularly his thoughts about quantity of ideas.

Not forsaking quality, Gareth urged us to develop lots of ideas. It took him about eight fully-fleshed out TV concepts - six of which he had the opportunity to present year-after-year to broadcaster decision makers and year-after-year see rejected - until finally, success.

This tells me that you can’t give up. There are not many one-hit wonders out there. Good on you if you happen to be one. But for the rest of us, it’s going to take some time.

Even if your concept is a fit for the network, what you have may not be what they want right at that moment, exasperating but reality. In Gareth’s case, one of his ideas nearly made it only to be cut off at the pass when the network instead spent the money on something else that came their way.

So it seems one must be passionate but not precious to achieve in this arty business. And not just at the point of presentation and rejection but maybe way back when that idea first came to you and you chose to share it.

But it also tells me that you need to always be writing, and - the part of writing that is of interest to the Line by Line experiment – collaborating.

Gareth points out that you must know your strengths and weaknesses. For him, ideas come easily. But the challenge is getting it made. So that’s a quick test he can apply to an idea – if he can’t get it made he won’t do it. He knows what can be made (he talks to the networks about what they want before pitching a show) - that is a strength of his. Gareth admits that although he enjoys being a writer, Joss has more experience and therefore is the stronger writer, so the pair use that strength to their advantage. Therefore, collaboration takes many forms and isn’t just about being able to share your work with one another.

Gareth and Joss choose to draft and redraft. They resist the urge to hand in the first attempt. Only when the work is the very best that both can possibly do - when they cannot possibly write another word - do they show their draft to a trusted group of people.

Gareth’s tendency to redraft scripts comes from his experience with Jonathan M. Schiff who readily discards outlines and expects your best writing.

Gareth is the first to admit that being a writer is hard. Relationships will see you through so stick together. Like others who have spoken to our group, Gareth says we’re fortunate to have each other to bounce ideas off and turn to for support.

With just a few weeks left til the end of Line by Line – which really just means a few weeks left to finish my treatment – I am left thinking about how to progress. Which parts of my concept need tending, which parts need to be shown to this group and which should be discarded and re-worked? I was wondering that maybe I have too much on the boil, but now maybe it’s just enough for me to handle.

So Liners, what have you got on the boil?


Fiona Leally

Buy Me a Pony

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