There are billions of different ways a script could be written and a TV series or movie turn out and everyone has their own ideas as to what makes a good thing to watch.
But the process of getting there isn’t as easy as some people may think and there are all sorts of external pressures and factors that contribute to writing a script.
Writers come from all walks of life, all age groups, culture and race and they each bring something different to the table.
A background in nursing, the music industry, research, retail, travel, parenthood; all writers are normal people who have led normal lives and as such have a myriad of experiences which they can put into their writing.
It all starts with a story meeting. A group of writers gather together for a few days of talking. They are usually led by the Script Consultant/Editor and Executive Producer.
The team sit and listen to what the executives have to say in terms of where the series is going, which characters are staying and which ones have to leave (for whatever reason) and the type of locations available.
Outside factors such as broadcaster input are discussed as well.
The creative team then literally talk for hours and hours and hours about different ideas, new characters, motivation, etc. Did we say hours? It is hours!
After a long day there is generally a definite way forward for the series. The creative team have some idea as to how they all believe they wish to proceed after a process of rejecting or embracing ideas that have been put forward. It is really a creative headbanging session where things are brought to the table, discussed and worked upon.
The next day or so sees more discussions and the general way forward talked about in more detail.
The first block of episodes are bullet pointed in rough form as to what should happen in each episode and what continuity needs to be remembered. Episodes are divvied out to the writers who then go away and wait for their brief.
The Script Consultant will then go and type up a series and episodic outline, which he/she delivers to their team of writers.
The writers are then given around 4 days to write their first draft of their episode.
The first draft is then submitted to the Script Consultant who suggests changes where appropriate. These changes can be the result of other writers scripts so that continuity is maintained or because the script is weak in places.
The writer then has another few days to deliver their second draft and this is usually the final draft of a script, which is in turn delivered to the Executive Producer for their input.
Once all changes have been made to a script it is delivered to the Script Department. They format the script correctly and time each scene so that a schedule of filming can be produced by the assistant directors.
The script can still change right up until filming takes place as a result of scenes that are too long or short, director input, cast members that may be sick or have to depart the filming for some reason, location problems, etc.
Sometimes a scene looks great on paper but does not run properly when acted or filmed so it has to be changed on the run so to speak.
And sometimes a script can be altered due to comments made by a consultant of a marking body who is in charge of awarding classification to a series so it can be shown on TV in the first place!
Issues that the marking body can worry about include themes of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. that could be misconstrued by the viewers or the broadcasters.
Laughter and tears
A script feels like a baby to a writer who puts in a lot of time, effort, sweat and tears and it can be hard not to get too close to it and remain objective.
If you really believe in something and it is taken out or commented on by your superiors it can be heartbreaking. But as a ‘jobbing’ writer you have to remember that you are working to a brief and that it is not your decision in the end.
Some writers find they can work this way and others can’t. The ones that can’t either end up trying to get their own series produced or a movie underway or they write for their own pleasure.
The trouble is that even if you work on a screenplay for a movie or your own series there is always someone who might change your words!
The fickle crowd…
It must be frustrating to a writer who gets a big Hollywood movie under way to then have the studio or the actors dictate what they want to happen in the script.
Even the author of a novel can have their work shredded by their editor or their publisher.
And finally, when the finished product makes it to the screens or the stage or the bookshelves it still has to get past the critics and the fans!
It is a brave person who puts their heart and soul into their work whatever that work is – and an even braver one who makes themselves open to criticism from others.
So next time you watch something and think it could be better or that you could have done a better job of it, why don’t you give it a try yourself?
Then you might learn that it is much, much harder than you would ever have thought…