Today was spent in Elstree Studios, home of BBC1’s flagship soap EastEnders. Together with nine other writers, I sat and listened to the wise and witty words of Tony Jordan, legendary TV scribe, who had golden tips on writing for the show (he’s written a gazillion episodes, and has gone on to co-create and write Hustle and Life on Mars, etc).
We had all been invited along as an opportunity to write for the show but in the producers’ and script editors’ experience, a lot of new writers struggle with the content and the process so these ‘induction days’ have been organised to help people through the first stage.
The first stage is to write a spec episode, for free, to see if you can accommodate the demands and style of the show (it seems everybody has to write a spec episode for free to get into any show these days). Fuelled with Mr Jordan’s advice and encouragement, the prospect of writing an episode is slightly less daunting, but no less a challenge, and I look forward to getting my teeth into the spec. The broad story detail will be provided; we have to fill in the blanks.
We spent most of the day in a boardroom discussing the do’s and don’ts of writing an episode and it was only after lunch, when we were touring Albert Square, did the real excitement and realisation kick in: “I’m in Albert Square!” It’s much smaller than it looks on-screen but it’s also surprisingly pretty. No filming was taking place so I didn’t get a whiff of a celeb.
Nevertheless, Tony Jordan spoke with considerable insight, inspiration and passion regarding the show. His top tips on writing an episode follow general storytelling practice but they broke down like this:
* Get your hooks in early
* Subvert expectation
* Establish dramatic need
* Put obstacles in the characters’ path
* Take the characters on a journey
* Ensure relevant turning points are in place
* Character = Action
* Set ups must have pay offs
* Sometimes ‘on-the-nose’ is OK (sometimes!)
* Get in late/out early
* Be small to be big
* Love your characters, and treat them with the respect they deserve
* Avoid exposition
* Show don’t tell
* Does any given scene move the story forward or reveal character or does it simply entertain (or all three?)
* Rules schmules
I think the opportunity for me to attend the briefing came about because I recently spoke with someone who I worked with on Doctors (see the Nice People post) and he now works for EastEnders. Also, my 2nd broadcast episode of Doctors elicited an appreciative comment on the channel’s “duty log” (which is rare apparently) and may have prompted Lorraine Newman, series producer on EastEnders, to recommend me as a potential new writer for the show (I had worked with her on my first ep of Doctors).
Got all that? It’s only a guess anyway. To be honest, I don’t know who recommended me but I got the call and that’s all that matters. Naturally, I’ll keep you posted on how my spec goes… I’m really looking forward to it. Really knackered now as it's been a long day (5.30am start) so must sign off...