Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Screenwriters Festival: Day Three

By Piers Beckley

A very BBC-centric day today, with Ben Stephenson, Christine Langan and Kate Harwood all dropping in to give talks and Q&As.

Ben answered one particular question from the floor to which I've never had a satisfactory explanation - until now. That's: Why don't we have longer runs of UK drama series?

As usual, it comes down to money. A 13- or 22-part US series is deficit-financed. What that means is that for the (say) 4 million dollars that it costs to make an episode of a US drama, half is paid for by the channel, and half is paid for by the studio making the drama.

So the studio loses money on every single episode that they make, and the only way this loss can be recovered is if the series runs for a hundred episodes - at which point it can be sold into syndication. It says a lot about the cash available from syndication that they'll more than make their money back if this happens.

But the broadcasters here can't fully-finance such long runs, and no studio here has pockets deep enough to deficit finance. So it looks as if six and eight episode series will be the standard in the UK for some time to come.

The most popular past-time among the writers here at the moment is speed-dating. Not each other (amusing though that would be) but producers and agents. Most everyone who asked to be on the speed-dating has been assigned three people who will hopefully be able to move their projects along. Just as in the ordinary-dating equivalent they have to sit at a table, try to impress the person on the other side in less than five minutes, and then move swiftly on to their next person when their time is up.

Everyone I've spoken to so far has said that despite their initial nervousness they've managed to make at least one good connection with their dates, and several have been asked to pass on their scripts.

And like any dating, we'll see over the next weeks or years how many of these relationships last.

1 comment:

  1. Big budgets have nothing to do with great comedy or drama. Creativity does. It didn't cost 4 million an hour (unless in Zimbabwean dollars) to make The Office and I'm sure it doesn't cost that to make Shameless. But some 65% of the BBC's drama output alone is long-running series. Endless soaps and reality shows or Britain's own original dramas and comedies? That's the real choice.


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