Friday, 21 December 2007

The WGGB Event

(Apologies that it’s taken a while for Faustus to distil the reviews into an intelligible summation.)

So what happened? Well, John Yorke turned up mob-handed, charming but mob-handed, anticipating a rough ride. A small number of writers were there.

The Guild welcomed John and Co, pointing out to everyone that they were honoured to have him there. John then explained that everything is great for writers and if you’re not working it’s because you’re ‘sh*t’. Unquote. That was about it. Then all those people whom you would need to approach if you wanted work sat in the front and faced the writers. One of them pointed out that all previous writing – until they took over recently – was crap. Now it’s great. Because they’re great. And if you don’t think they’re great it’s because you’re crap. Simple.

Questions were taken. Nothing contentious. The Guild read out some uncontentious questions. They were answered clearly. One anonymous question sounded vaguely critical so The Guild read it very fast, missing bits out and at one point said they had trouble reading the writing. Chuckles all round. It all ended with a stirring round of applause as people leapt to their feet shouting ‘John, John,’ or ‘I am saved’. One person declared that hitherto they had lived in the dark but now they could see. Another person who had arrived in a wheelchair actually got up and not only walked for the first time in fifteen years but proceeded to dance the Fox-trot. Er, we are getting carried away by the euphoria. In fact, it just ended with a round of applause, profuse thanks from The Guild to the honoured guests for gracing the writers with their august presence, then everyone stood around for a bit drinking wine and not saying what they thought. Then they all went home or somewhere.

Perhaps the most interesting point put forward was that the BBC will always champion good writing and that if you write well you can be as unpleasant a person as you like. Bad writers are kicked out because there is no room for them. Sounds fair to Faustus. Although we are reminded of an instance when a script editor attempted to sack a writer who is now a household name at an early point in the writer’s career. It was during a serialised adaptation that is now a landmark in BBC history. When the script editor informed the Executive Producer that they needed to drop the writer, the Exec, who is legendary, sacked the editor instead. So we now have a great writer who could so easily have been lost to us or whose work, at least, would have taken longer to reach us. To champion great writing you need to recognise great writing. In this increasingly tick-box world that is likely to get more difficult. And as for being as unpleasant as you like, we all know that being unpleasant in a way that doesn’t diminish the ego of the editor/producer is a fine art that not all have mastered. Perhaps they should add that as a module to one of the MA scriptwriting courses presently littering the halls of academe. Perhaps the Writer’s Guild could sponsor it.

7 comments:

Lucy said...

"we all know that being unpleasant in a way that doesn’t diminish the ego of the editor/producer is a fine art that not all have mastered. Perhaps they should add that as a module to one of the MA scriptwriting courses presently littering the halls of academe."

I think there's A LOT that needs to be added to many scriptwriting MAs out there and those elements are not just related to "which modules?" so much as actual content, but I'm sure you have strong feelings about universities "teaching" scriptwriting...?

Faustus said...

You can't teach writing. But you can teach those who write how to write better.

Some of the courses on offer are excellent, particularly those taught by writers. Some of them, however, take people without even reading anything they've written. The students are then given a kind of fabricated, ersatz 'how to structure a script' course that means almost nothing.

Among those in the industry, however, there is a growing belief that writing is just a skill-set that can be imparted if only you know which cog attaches to which lever. A ten point plan, a five point analytical chart, a three point gag-indicator and a seven point guide to characterisation will do the job. All you have to do then is watch American TV for ideas.

Little surprise that writers are regarded as the lowest life-form in the great pond of TV drama. The codified charter for writers is a welcome attempt to create a semblance of respect for writing. But you could dispense with it, point by point to the last sub-paragraph if that respect simply existed.

joe said...

One of the biggest problems at the moment for writers teaching on writing courses is what to tell these aspiring writers about what life might be like for them. I do occasional bits of teaching. It gets me out of the house and I actually love talking to enthusiastic optimistic, hopeful people, keen to hear what a, ahem, real working writer, has to say. It reminds me that I was full of that same optimism. (and still am deep down though I don't quite know how. No one can stop me writing I guess, they can just stop paying me) I of course don't teach on an accademy course, how could I do that? Studying writing is about finding what drives you, finding your own voice, your particular way of looking at the world, illuminating the obvious, that wasn't as obvious as you thought it was. Students should be experimenting, letting their minds run away with them, finding that they hate writing bloody treatments and want to go straight for the script to see what happens, or finding that they love treatments and want to know exactly where they're going before they even start their script. You talk to every talented writer and they will all work in different ways. I'm fascinated by that and the little rituals we all have.

We want to pass on our enthusiasm and love of the craft, want to make our students believe that if they're good at what they do, if they have the character and stamina not to give up, then, with a bit of luck thrown in, they've a real chance to work.

I'm not sure it's true any more, but of course I don't tell them that. Because what serves them best is to have any talent they have nurtured and they may have a future after all because, it can't go on like this for much longer.

In any screenwriters course, the kind that is tough to get into (and there's nothing wrong with writers courses for any one that wants to try, but for the purposes of my comment I'm talking about the more established courses) out of every 10 talented writers perhaps one, maybe two, will make it through. ie earn their living as a writer. There's a kind of natural selection, as there is for writers who've come more of a 'self taught' route.

The problem with the Academy is that it doesn't allow that natural selection to take place. The graduates don't appear to have to go through all that tough shit that most of us had to go through. The strength we have to find, that makes us just about able to cope now and not give up.

What's going to happen when the new fresh young academy writers graduate each year. Where are they all going to go and what's going to happen to the 'old' academy writers then?

Surely it makes sense that only a couple of Accademy writers are good enough to stay the distance.....

Sad there weren't more writers at the Guild meeting. Are most of the London based writers working? And the rest of us too skint to pay the fare to London?

Faustus, all power to you for writing all this stuff, and so well too, it takes me ages! and my spelling and grammer leave a lot to be desired. That's why I write scripts for goodness sake, although I do feel a novel coming on. Maybe someone will adapt it.

Joe

Faustus said...

Thanks for your comment, Joe, very nice to hear from you. It's obvious you're a writer because, having written brilliantly, you then beat yourself up over whether or not it's any good! That's both the gift and the curse of the genuinely talented. What characterises the genuinely untalented exec, meanwhile, and there seems to be so many of them about these days, is their smugness. What they say must be great because they've just said it. And while it might feel like an unequal match, the compulsively self-questioning creative and the pathologically self-inebriated executive in the smart chair behind the desk, it may not be just in our dreams, or our stories, that the goodies win in the end.

The real loss is of that something you describe wonderfully that makes the writer a writer and writing writing. In fact, Faustus thinks you’ve rather hit the nail on the head while Faustus himself has merely spent much of this blog squishing his thumb. Every day at the page is a journey into new territory. What worked last time might not work for us this time. What appears before us now may never have appeared quite like that before, either for us or anyone else. A new idea is a new way of looking at something. Our voice is unique, original and reshaped every day as we explore writing, our lives and the life around us. It’s an adventure. In a word, perhaps a hackneyed word, it’s creativity. Creativity is not the same as repetition. Writing, real writing, is not the same as narrative upholstery – which is all that seems to be called for at the moment. It’s not just in the writing itself but in the method by which that writing is arrived at. How can you codify in one absolutist biblical format this extraordinary journey?

When the smug speak of ‘writers’ and ‘writing’, they mean nothing of the sort because they leave out of their equations, charters and codes of practice the very nub of what it is to write. So when you sit at the table in the script meeting with your questions, reflections, musings and meditations on the story, theme and characters and the exec sits there with a ten-point indicator list dismissing anything that hasn’t been done before because it hasn’t been done before … what’s there to talk about?

We remarked before that they are afraid of writers. We are beginning, perhaps, to understand just what that means.

Anonymous said...

I was a writer at the WGGB event.

“Studying writing is about finding what drives you, finding your own voice, your particular way of looking at the world, illuminating the obvious, that wasn't as obvious as you thought it was. Students should be experimenting, letting their minds run away with them, finding that they hate writing bloody treatments and want to go straight for the script to see what happens, or finding that they love treatments and want to know exactly where they're going before they even start their script. You talk to every talented writer and they will all work in different ways.”

Funny - that’s exactly what I learned when I did the Academy course..

“The problem with the Academy is that it doesn't allow that natural selection to take place. The graduates don't appear to have to go through all that tough shit that most of us had to go through. The strength we have to find, that makes us just about able to cope now and not give up.”

Hmm - ask the Academy graduates who have been sacked from Continuing Drama shows about that, it happens.

“What's going to happen when the new fresh young academy writers graduate each year. Where are they all going to go and what's going to happen to the 'old' academy writers then?”

Same as with any course - some will flourish, some will plod and drop out. One or two may be brilliant, some will go back to writing plays, radio drama … the Academy trains 8 writers, remind me - how many episodes of Eastenders, Holby, Casualty and Doctors are there per year?

Comrade Boxer said...

The Yorke-ster 'arrived mob handed'?! There's plainly a typo in the fourth word of the foregoing. One key to the left of the m should just about do it.

Faustus said...

Comrade Boxer, that's very naughty. Faustus posts it but doesn't take responsibility for your comment!

Meanwhile, there's a typo surely in the comment by anonymous. "One or two may be brilliant, some will go back to writing plays, radio drama … " Shouldn't it read, "One or two may be brilliant and will go back to writing plays, radio drama ..." Or is Faustus being naughty here?