24 October 12
“Writing is rewriting” so some wise man once said. How pithy. How clean. How succinct. Unfortunately rewriting can be anything but. Another wise man once said that writing was akin to “running through a muddy field, at night, being pursued by flesh eating pigs”. He wasn’t far off.
Notes are a funny thing (depending on the amount of valium you’re sinking at the time) and something I’ve had to get used to pretty quickly over the last three years I’ve been writing for EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City. Notes. Lots and lots and lots of notes. But what exactly are they? Well the writer (you) sits in his little room (alone) and produces a first draft. This draft is then circulated to script editors (important people) and producers (über important people) and series producers and series script editors and continuity and research and anyone else who happens to have an opinion. Then… they have a meeting and discuss how the draft can be improved. More often than not there are overarching structural, plot and story issues to address at this stage. As you move towards the fifth (and usually) final draft the notes should become less and less as you make final tweaks. The operative word being “usually”. I’ve been at fourth draft and received eight whole pages of A4 notes… If you can get through that, those flesh-eating pigs have got nothing on you.
Notes can be scary, frustrating but they are also there to help and improve your script. To make it the best darn script it can be. The most difficult thing I’ve had to learn is to not takes notes as a personal criticism on your work/writing. It’s about finding your own way into them and making them work for you. If there is a note – something usually isn’t right. But as soon as you say “OK – you tell me what to write” it inevitably means you’re finished. Your ep is no longer your own and you are effectively dead in the water. It’s about maintaining your voice, your vision and passion – without those, the writer doesn’t have much. Except perhaps an expensive therapy bill.
We’ve had quite a lot of general notes on GREY, some extremely helpful and some we’ve had to fight against to maintain our vision. A note we’ve come across on more than one occasion is – “You need a young character in this”. Now GREY is about a gang of 65+ women and their journey towards emancipation. It’s inspired by classics such as Golden Girls – which Kayleigh and I used to watch religiously at the tender age of ten. We weren’t eighty year-old retirees living in Miami but we related to those characters. We loved them. Their stories were universal – and there wasn’t a young character in sight. This note – include a youngster – is obviously a huge, general note. It has implications on every scene, every narrative arc and would essentially change what our series would become. Do we agree with it? Not necessarily. Should we discuss it, dissect it and consider it? Yes. Should we fight it if we think it will affect the integrity of our vision? Absolutely. It’s about picking your battles.
When Kayleigh and I submitted GREY we had only written the ten page extract. After our feedback/interview with BAFTA we took on board their notes and went away and wrote the pilot episode. We’ve travelled some distance from what GREY originally was – but not far enough so that we’ve forgotten where we came from. It will be especially interesting to see how GREY goes down in New York – as we’ve always said that although our characters are specifically working-class British, their stories (like those of Golden Girls) are universal. We just hope that it translates across the pond…
A third wise man once said “The first draft is like the warm up act at a concert – you just want it over with.” So get it done. Write. Rewrite. And then - rewrite some more. Just watch out for those bloody pigs…