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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Development Day

One valid (and under-used) method of developing your script is to have a development day. That is a full day of exploring all elements of the story and characters. I wanted to try this idea for myself and so got together a "team of awesomeness" to help me do just that. This group method appealed to me as it works at a radically different emotional pace to writing.

Scriptwriting is detailed, slow and methodical. A development day is lively, energetic and a social affair. Using both can only help your script. Or so I thought.

So what did I learn from actually trying this method?

One: Get Prepared. Make sure everyone has read the script beforehand. But they don't need to make a lot of notes before they come. The idea is to discuss things 'live'!

Two: Select a good mix of people. These need to be people who you feel understand the genre or themes and whose opinion you respect. You need to trust them. But also they must feel okay about challenging your work. I had Danny Stack and Sarah Olley as good development people, Chris Hill to bring some new ideas, and recent graduate Johnny Griffith as a kind of wild card. Loui Foster was there also, which brings me onto...

Three: Someone needs to take notes. A lot of elements will be debated over the course of a working day. Work out a way to capture all those gems. In our case it was good, old-fashioned note taking by Loui, who is a student scriptwriter. But you could also audio record the session or video it. But don't attempt to take notes yourself. It is too much to make notes and follow rule 4!

Four: Be open. You have the right people that you have chosen and you have a script worth discussing. So make sure you listen. I felt we struck a good balance. The team would challenge elements in the script. I would outline why things in the script were like they were. Sometimes they would take this on board. Other times it became clear that I didn't actually know the answer to the questions. This was obvious to me while I was actually replying. So I couldn't even defend the decisions at that point. For me personally, it was around the motivations of the central character combined with the premise.

Five: Because you must have some experience in knowing your own writing style, strengths and weaknesses I would say the development day technique is not suitable for total beginners, who would instead benefit from one-on-one mentoring or script reports.

Six: Don't be rigid in the structure of your day. Some loose themes that will hold the day together is enough. After all, you want the readers to bring the agenda with them. For example, we used about 70% of our time on talking about those issues around the main character and their motivations. This wasn't what I was expecting, but it was clearly what everyone else had focused on.

I'd say it totally was. I have much more than a great set of notes to move forward with. I have a deeper understanding of what my audience has in their mind as they follow the story - and what questions are left in their minds that they feel are unanswered. Plus, I've been able to challenge those thoughts to ensure I really know the heart of the issue. If I had got the same feedback via script notes I could easily dismiss some of the points with "Yes, that is there already". On the development day I'm not let off the hook that easily.

So it helps you dig deeper on issues you want help with AND brings issues to light that you didn't know about - with a chance to explore every angle on a solution, not just the problem. All in a day.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting way of working through a script! I kind of connect what you've put here to when I worked on theatrical pieces previously. Whilst that was more about actually coming up with ideas and characters etc together rather than just challenging a single perspective, the energy and sheer number of people involved really helped collate a range of ideas and explore avenues you may never have thought of. Definitely a method worth trying, I think!

Tim Clague said...

Yes indeed Charlie. We talked about that method too, over lunch. Certainly writing duos have made that work over many years. And I also have a proposal in with the BFI Lottery to use that panel technique for a future project.