It's in the detail

What Next For TV Drama?

July 11th, 2013 by Catharine Ashdown

The energy, commitment and sheer track record of the speakers at the recent BBC Future Fiction Summit left one thing in little doubt: The digital revolution is not just here, its rapid expansion is fast setting the agenda for screenwriters, independents and major broadcasters alike.

An opening Q&A with YouTube’s Rosie Allimonos (Head of Content Partnerships) brought home the impact online viewing is having on drama production. A recent addition to its viral and VOD platforms, YouTube’s original content via its funded channels is extending the platform’s reach far beyond its traditional user base. And, judging by the views they’re receiving – 6 million for WIGS channel drama Blue – it’s a business model to rival cable, satellite and terrestrial viewing. (Or, Rosie’s preferred term, ‘complement’ them).

Screenwriter Peter Moffat (Silk, The Village) addressed the question of whether new viewing behaviours altered the craft of drama writing. For him, Netflix’s simultaneous screening of entire series (digital equivalent of the box set binge) offered ‘a great moment’ for the future of television drama . An opportunity for screenwriters to develop narratives freed from the limitations of weekly guest storylines and episode catch-ups. A return, hopefully, to more long-running, authored drama serials.

A session on Agile Drama was both exhilarating and, at the same time, reassuring. Tassos Stevens of Coney credited a background in improv theatre as crucial to his designing of interactive drama. A dialogue with your audience, whether in a live-space or via social media/online platforms, is seen as collaboration rather than a distraction. What it does require is a bit of ‘reverse engineering’ from the writer. Think of it as less giving away authorship, as changing the delivery in which your audience experiences that story.

Events like Future Fiction, a collaboration between BBC, Channel 4 and digital producers, highlight a growing convergence between what we’ve previously regarded as old and new broadcast media. A convergence that is beginning to yield opportunities for emerging talent, with developments such as BBC Drama’s recent commissioning of content exclusively for iPlayer.

The television industry is in a state of flux and competition for original content, stories to engage an audience in an increasingly crowded marketplace, is heating up. Now there’s a future to be part of.

(This post was originally published on

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Multiplatform Fiction – So What’s The Story?

October 28th, 2012 by Catharine Ashdown


Multiplatform fiction delivers a common story across different media and digital platforms (TV, mobile, online, social media, gaming), with each platform making its own unique contribution to the unfolding drama.

Different story elements are coordinated across these platforms to engage the audience in a unified and immersive entertainment experience.

So far, so theoretical. But what does it mean in practical terms for the screenwriter?

The good news, firstly, is that no one is suggesting that every TV idea or film concept automatically lends itself to a multiplatform or transmedia format. Or that giving your project a digital extension increases its chances of being commissioned. If anything, it’s the opposite:

Multiplatform commissioning isn’t a TV idea plus digital content. It’s an idea that includes TV.  (Richard Davidson-Houston, Channel4 online)

What multiplatform fiction demands then, of the screenwriter, is a bit more in the way of lateral thinking. A 360 degrees angle look at those early choices – in particular of genre and setting – with the aim of creating not a finite story, but an entire ‘storyworld’.

A storyworld is a world under pressure… For a storyworld to work, it must boil and bubble with its own internal combustion. *

A world accessible on a variety of levels and platforms, each of which offers the audience its own rewards. And for the writer? Multiplatform is a wander off the traditional screenwriting path. A step towards understanding your work in terms of ‘content creation’, which may lead to new project ideas and collaborations in the process.


Sources & Further Reading:

* The Storyworld Pressure Cooker by Mike Jones

Possible Futures For Storytelling 

Transmedia Storytelling



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Writing ‘What You Know’ – And Where to Find It.

August 15th, 2012 by Catharine Ashdown

      ”Write about what you know”.

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice given out to new screenwriters, but what does it mean in practice?

I found this definition of Method Acting useful in enabling writers to make the important distinction between writing about yourself, and writing from your own experiences. (The former being perfectly acceptable if you’ve led an exceptional existence, with the book deal to match):

‘The Method’ refers to the practice of actors drawing on their own experiences or emotional memory.

It combines a careful consideration of the character’s psychological motives with some level of personal identification on the part of the actor, to produce a realistic portrayal of their character’s story.

Substitute ‘actor’ with ‘writer’ and you’ll begin to tap a ready supply of inspiration.

That part of ‘what you know’ on a subconscious level that forms the bedrock of all good stories – and the backbone for an engaging script.

Acting is what I do with who I am.  Harriet Walter

Further Reading: ‘Method – Or Madness?’ by Robert Lewis

‘Other People’s Shoes: Thoughts On Acting’ by Harriet Walter



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‘Story Physics’ And The Art of Screenwriting

July 15th, 2012 by Catharine Ashdown




Story Physics are the story-telling principles at the core of Pixar animations. These principles have been further developed by BBC Drama’s John Yorke to deliver training for emerging scriptwriters.

  • Empathise with your main character, even if you don’t like all of his/her motivations. (For example, Woody in Toy Story initially masked his selfish desires as being selfless.)
  • Unity of opposites. Each character must have clear goals that oppose each other.
  • You should have something to say. Not a message, per se, but some perspective, a truth.
  • Have a key image, almost like a visual logline, to encapsulate the essence of the story; that represents the emotional core on which everything hangs. (For example, Marlin in Finding Nemo, looking over the last remaining fish egg in the nest.)
  • Know your world and the rules of it.
  • The crux of the story should be on inner, not outer, conflicts.
  • Developing the story is like an archaeological dig. Pick a site where you think the story is buried, and keep digging to find it.

The emphasis of John Yorke’s Story Physics masterclass was on the first two of these principles: “All drama is based on a conflict of opposites to a molecular level…Take the opposite point-of-view from what you actually believe and you will see your writing blossom”.

Basic dramatic set-up = Two characters, with equal & opposite desires – and somebody wins.

Find the arc of your screenplay by setting up dramatic paradoxes within your story’s context and, above all, its main characters. One of the best examples used to illustrate the point came from David Simon’s original pitching document for The Wire:

Within a brief span of time, the officers who undertake the pursuit are forced to acknowledge truths about their department, their role, the drug war and the city as a whole. In the end, the cost to all sides begins to suggest not so much the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys, but rather a Greek tragedy… An America, at every level at war with itself.

The Wire Bible:

Story Physics alone won’t make you a writer. What they can bring is an understanding of the dynamics at work within your script, unlocking problem scenes to focus on those elements of your story that get to the heart of the human experience.

Further Reading: Understanding Story, Or My Journey of Pain by Andrew Stanton (transcript)

Source: Pixar’s Storytelling Secrets






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Why Am I Writing This? Where To Find Your ‘Writer’s Voice’.

July 3rd, 2012 by Catharine Ashdown

The best scripts are the ones that need to be written.

Obvious, when you stop to think about it. Only with a growing checklist of screenplay ‘musts’, the writer might be forgiven for overlooking a few fundamental questions:

Why am I writing this particular story and what makes me the only writer to tell it?

Because if you can’t answer that, chances are the Producer/Script Executive on the receiving end of your script won’t be able to either. A question mark instead hangs over your writing. It’s a good screenplay, with a sound structure – so why doesn’t the story grab them?

Their response, should you be lucky enough to elicit one, might well refer to the lack of a ‘writer’s voice’. Rough translation: Whilst they appreciate the skill of your screenplay, they’re in the dark as to your inspiration for writing it.

Taking the time, to define your need to pick that pen up in the first place, goes a long way towards setting your writing apart. It’s this personal writing theme – the idea or emotion driving your writing – that gives your story its underlying meaning, one that can still be heard over competing scripts on a similar subject. It can also act as a writing tool, a starting-point to return to in the confusion of different drafts and questions from producers, directors and (fingers crossed) actors.

An understanding, finally, of your own work that turns the knowing ‘how to write’, into a script that gives a voice to your story.


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