Monday, 24 March 2014

Four Questions

Danny Stack, who co-hosts the excellent UK Scriptwriters podcast, tagged me into ‘The Blog Tour’, in which everyone gets asked the same four questions about writing. So I thought I'd answer them:

What am I working on?
Right now, I’m working on a third series of Bluestone 42 with Richard Hurst (co-creator/writer), which is obviously very exciting. Even though it’s really hard work, plotting, redrafting, researching, writing, rewriting and rehearsing, I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it as I’m aware that I may not be this lucky in the future. We might like to think if we have a good idea and write good scripts, the rest will take care of itself. It doesn’t quite work out that like. A good script just improves your odds in the crap shoot. Any show that enjoys a run of success is partly down to good fortune and magic dust, as well as casting, directing and all the other decisions made on a daily basis to keep the show on the road. As I often say on this blog, sitcom is a dark art, not a science.

I am trying to develop other sitcom ideas too, and have a couple in the running, but again, I’m trying to get the scripts to as good a state as I can before I step up and roll the dice…

I’ve just finished writing Thanks A Lot, Milton Jones, with Milton Jones (obviously) and Dan Evans for BBC Radio 4. That was the seventh series I’d written with Milton who is, for my money, in the Champions League of joke writers. Speaking of money, it’s not great being radio and quite time consuming being a very ‘gaggy’ show, but I relish the challenge. Trying to keep up with Milton is really hard work, so it’s my comedy equivalent of circuit training.

Similarly, I wrote a couple of episodes of Elvenquest for Radio 4 between Series 1 & 2 of Bluestone 42 – and, as with Milton’s show, I love writing for shows that are recorded in front of an audience so you can hear the sound of laughter (the sound that critics really can’t stand.) You can’t beat the immediacy of writing a script that week, recording it on the Sunday night – and it’s broadcast a couple of weeks later. That’s very different for Bluestone 42, where we have ideas in February/March, write and rewrite them all summer, record them in October-November, edit them in January and broadcast them about a year after we came up with them.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t think it does, really. Sitcom is already quite a specific genre, so if you mess around with the format of that too much, I’m not sure the audience knows what it’s watching. As I’ve said, my preference is always for sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience. Those were the ones I watched growing up, those are what audiences at home tend to like most and the ones that are hardest to do, in my opinion. So that’s the challenge and something I’m always trying to aspire to. It was just the way it worked out that my first TV sitcom of my own, as it were, (rather than writing for Miranda or My Family) was unfilmable in front of an audience for a variety of practical and tonal reason. Richard and I approach Bluestone 42 as if it’s a studio show, in terms of trying to get a laugh everything three or four lines.

Why do I write what I do?
I write comedy because that’s what I love. Always have. Whenever those Royal Variety shows were on when I was ten in 1985 (when there was a lot less stand-up on TV), I just wanted the dancers and singers to get off the stage and make way for the comedians. I enjoy a bit of intense drama like Line of Duty or Damages, but it’s comedy that I’ve always enjoyed and admired.

How does my writing process work?

I’ve written on the daily grind here. But my writing process on Bluestone 42 involves a lot of sitting in a room with Richard Hurst, coming up with ideas, turning ideas into stories, stories into plots, plots into episodes outlines and outlines in scripts. And checking all these with our military advisor. We do lots of that together but we write the scripts themselves by ourselves and swap. When we're both happy with the draft, we send the draft to our producer and exec producer and try not to think about having to rewrite those drafts while we get out with outlining or writing other episodes.

Right. I'm done. I was going to nominate Jason Arnopp to do this, but he's already done it. So I'll nominate Dave Cohen.

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