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Christmas party in TV land

Posted December 13 into Writing by John Birmingham

I enjoyed a quick trip down to Sydney last night for a Christmas party with the TV guys I’ve been doing some stuff with this year.

Great night. The venue was a brew pub in St Peter’s - Willie the Boatman.

I had whatever lager was on tap, because I’m finding most other beers too fruity for my gnarly old man palate these days. There was an elegant sufficiency of nosh, including three different types of sausage sandwich. The company was excellent. And I want to be a TV writer now.

Seriously. I love this stuff. Not just the wide range of Frellman-approved complimentary sausage products, but the writing. There is something about the screenplay form that really appeals to me.

Earlier this year I talked a bit about writing a pilot episode for a black comedy set in the world of espionage. (Couldn’t sleep, seething, the night of the election. Got up at 3AM and vomited my rage into the screenplay software. Finished the first draft inside a day. It was very funny. Who would have imagined that deep existential dread and loathing would have an upside?)

I put my experience with the Felafel movie to good use. Sent off the script with my invoice and promptly moved on. I didn’t forget about the screenplay, but I consciously stopped thinking about it.

Writing for screen more generally, however, was a different matter. Having acquired some new skills I was keen to polish them. So when I got back from Korea I put aside some time to write another pilot. This time an adaptation. Since A Girl in Time was the first novel I wrote after studying screenwriting to get a better grip on story structure, I decided to rework it into a TV pilot.

Smooth transition. Or relatively smooth, with a couple of caveats. The dialogue and scene setting moved from page to screen without a hitch. An hour long pilot was the perfect length to move Cady and Smith from Seattle to London. The ep finished with them escaping London on a cliffhanger. All good.

The one issue I did have, and still have to address in any future drafts, was point of view. I write point-of-view novels, of course. I hadn’t realised just how pointy until I attempted the transition to screenplay. A lot of the humour and narrative power of that book, and probably all of them, comes from the very particular world views of whichever character is narrating a chapter.

But how do you do POV on screen? To be honest, I have no fucking idea. But I’m going to find out. One way it affects the transition if you just cut and paste? You find your characters standing, talking, and doing nothing. In a novel those sections can be surrounded by passages of internal monologue and reflection. But not on screen.

That’s why that party was so good last night. A room full of people who’ve done this stuff their whole working lives. It was like talking to a bunch of kung fu masters who had all of this arcane knowledge I needed to gather.

So I’m gonna do another quick screenplay next week. A conventional crime/adventure/martial arts story based on a book idea I had a couple of years back but did nothing with.

And then back to novels for a while. Still gotta pay those bills.

4 Responses to ‘Christmas party in TV land’

Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted December 13
Smith and cady would be a great basis for TV! Be nice if it comes to fruition!

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted December 13
Yes, yes they would.

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Therbs ducks in to say...

Posted December 13
Ask for a laugh track for the funny bits. Apparently its a TV thing. And a tag line at the end of each episode.
"Oh Cady, you sure do talk funny!" (cue laugh track, roll end credits).

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted December 13
Man, it’s like you’re looking over my shoulder.

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