Monday, May 25, 2009

Stephen Fry: TV writers "treated like dirt"

By Matthew Hemley for The Stage:
Stephen Fry has criticised the handling of television writers during filming of their scripts, claiming they are “treated like dirt” and excluded from a large part of the production process.

Fry described writers as “passed-over creatures” when work starts on a drama they have penned, and said directors in particular tend to forget how integral the script is to the drama they are working on.

“They [writers] are often not welcome on set, not invited to screenings and are treated like dirt. Once they have finished their script it is not theirs anymore. It’s taken away from them and a huge group of people make what they have written, so they are kind of forgotten and a director will forget that he didn’t write it,” he said.



    If I admired Stephen before, now I want to carry him shoulder-high whilst shouting "Hoorah!" Stephen's's highlighted a problem with which the Guild has been grappling: writers are not always being treated with the respect and professionalism that they should be.

    There are glorious exceptions which prove the rule. But there have been enough complaints from members for the TV Committee to have spent the past year compiling our new Good Practice Guide. It'll be available on-line and in print shortly. The Guild advises that it's recommended reading for everyone, including writers, in the future. And thanks again, Stephen!

  2. Anonymous1:44 am

    Good to see someone so high profile making such a comment. As someone who has worked in TV for many years I have seen conditions get worse year on year for the writer. Take one particular show at the moment that won a BAFTA - the exec producers couldn't even be bothered to send out an email to the writers to say thank you. Sure it was a long list of writers, and many of them won't be working on the show again because it has had episode numbers cut, but it's just confirming how undervalued writers are. These producers then watch US shows with admiration and ask why we can't make shows like that - Maybe it's something to do with the fact that US shows are writer lead, UK shows are not.

  3. Anonymous6:03 pm

    Actually the appalling treatment of writers starts way before filming when the lowly writer is subjected to the ideas of script editors - people with too much power and not enough creativity. And why the hell do they think they can story line? Writers should create the stories, not a pack of script editors sitting around a table wishing the Nescafé was espressos. People say to me, 'How do I become a script editor?' I tell them go get an English degree and have no sense of story telling, then you'll waltz into a job.

    It's a shame this post has to be anonymous but I don't have the career of the wonderful, talented, honest, caring Stephen Fry to fall back on if I offend.

  4. Anonymous6:42 pm

    I'm afraid Stephen Fry is on the money. There has been a gradual erosion of the status of TV Writers over the years, in which drafts of scripts become a series of menu options - first they want Indian, then Chinese, then Thai - oh, actually what we really want is Indian after all! - all compounded by really poor management skills. Basic values around good communication get thrown out because of a fear of confrontation and too much power being concentrated in too few individuals whose tase we have to anticipate - but nobody ever voluntarily relinquished power, right? As I friend of mine put it, when finishing a particuarly difficult commision 'I simply have to stop thinking of my writing in such a destructive context'. Thank you, Stephen.

  5. Anonymous7:26 pm

    There are far too many people in this business who don't have any talent for it. Unfortunately, most of them seem to (very quickly) elevate themselves to positions where they are dictating what should be going into a script and what shouldn't.

    I was fortunate enough to meet David Simon, creator of The Wire, a while ago and he told me he sympathised with the writers of this country over the levels of interference we suffer from producers and script editors. He had recently done a workshop with some BBC writers and said he'd never met such a dispirited and disillusioned group of people. The reason for HBO's phenomenal success, he believes, is its hands-off approach. Once a project has been green-lit, the writers are left to do their jobs with minimal interference. The results speak for themselves. The sooner broadcasters in this country take a leaf out of HBO's book the better.

    I remember Jane Tranter once saying that we were in "a golden age" of television. What a joke! Shortly before I began to write this I learned that Danny Cohen has just commissioned an abomination of a reality TV show where nonentity-celebrities will dance with wheelchair-bound amputees and paraplegics. 'Dancing on Wheels' according to Cohen will be "glamorous and fun". What next? 'Tourettes News at Ten'? Cohen should be sacked on the spot for what is a bigger squandering of public money than MP's expenses. I'd love to put my name to this post but I have three projects under consideration with the BBC which I fully expect to be turned down because they're half-decent.

  6. Lisa Holdsworth8:30 am

    Oh the irony in this week;s mailout. First Stephen's painfully true comments and then this is advertised:-

    Improvisation expert Sean McCann returns to LFS in July for a week-long course: Improvisation for Directors in Film & TV. Learn how to get actors to improvise successfully, discuss improvisation using pre-existing material and from scratch, and examine how improvisation can be used to improve the quality and effectiveness of the written screenplay. Fee: £380

    The problem isthat every actor thinks they can "improve the quality and effectiveness" of any script. The trutth is that they can't!

  7. A writer writes. No writer needs years of courses, academies, degrees or implants. In fact, they can be inhibiting and stifle the creativity and individuality every good writer must have.

    There are two facts of life: You've got to have talent, and the more you write, the better you will get. Your best lessons will be learned by watching the work of the greats whom you admire. And I also advise reading William Goldman's classic "Adventures In The Screen Trade" which will teach you anything you want to know about writing for under a tenner.

    In the meantime, write!

  8. Anonymous11:42 pm

    Things are getting worse year upon year, too many execs, too many script editors fiddling while Rome's in flames and the writers burn out.

    Until recently there were the crumbs of development money but that too is drying up. Indies are now taking ideas to broadcasters before buying the rights. A no risk, no effort strategy. Writers are left carrying the can for poor management across the industry. I read Stephen G's description of US note giving, at a predetermined time? Concerning only the script? Not the execs and script editors personal hang-ups and life views? It seems so incredible, so far removed from the UK experience. No surprise then that David Simon picked up on how demoralised writers have become. And powerless, look at how most of us choose to remain why would that be?

  9. Many of us became writers because we weren't afraid. We didn't opt for safe careers in politics, teaching or banking (comic does five minutes here) because we were burning to write. Where are our voices now?

    I keep saying if you have complaints, please get in touch with the Guild. Everything is handled in confidence and if we have enough of the same complaints (and we usually do) we can approach the television company and/ or production and fix it.

    We have to act collectively. That's what the Guild is for. But please let's stop being afraid or we really have lost before we've begun.


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