My current job at Windfall Films is a researcher in their Development department, working on their specialist factual films. This means that I look for and write up ideas for TV programmes about anything that’s interesting, from outer space to ancient remains. It’s great – it really tugs at my intellectual heartstrings, it’s supremely creative and means I’m always on the lookout for cool and interesting stories!
However, Development can also be a long, hard slog. Every idea is an ongoing project until it gets commissioned. Sometimes you can have an idea, write it up, wait a few weeks for feedback, write it up again, put it to one side for a bit as another priority appears, revisit it, re-pitch it, and so on. The Bake Off idea was in development for 10 years before it was commissioned!
So with all this continuing work, it’s important to keep concentrating and keep motivated. There’s always a better way to write something, always a new idea to find, always more research to be done. I know I’m guilty of making explanations a bit too wordy and academic, or getting so caught up in an idea that I wrap up the key content in too much context. Sometimes – and this is really silly – I get so excited that I start mixing up my sentence structure so it resembles Latin syntax more than English! Curse of the Classicist I suppose…
So I’ve thought of a few tips to help keep your work in development sharp and punchy:
- How would you tell the story verbally? I certainly find it easier to tell someone about something interesting than to write about it. If you’re struggling to find the right words, maybe go for a walk or sit in a café and dictate your verbal explanation into your phone. Then when you come back to the office you can listen back to it and it might help your write-up!
- Once you’ve finished a treatment, print it out and re-read it before you send it off to be checked. Are there any typos? Does it make sense? Have you explained the idea well enough?
- Plan out the film as though it were your project, as though you were producing the film. Visualise how the story will pan out in the finished programme – and then write the treatment.
- If someone else on your team has reviewed and re-written your work, study what changes they have made. How can you learn from what they have changed in your document? Is there a different way of formatting the information that they prefer? How have they rearranged your paragraphs to make it punchier? And most importantly, how can you apply that to your next treatment?
These are my New Year’s Resolutions for TV. Bring on 2017!