“Be Shameless To Succeed” Top Drama Writer Tells Manchester Writers
Every inch of floor space was taken up by young, would-be writers, when acclaimed TV drama writer, Paul Abbott, addressed students attending the Northwest's huge Media Careers Information Day, held at Manchester's G-Mex.
And the maestro's message to those hoping to follow in his footsteps was simple - put two jobs worth of effort into one job, and believe in yourself. "You've got to think like you will make it, and have pride in what you're doing," he told the packed-event.
Paul Abbott was in conversation with Lynne McCadden, Chief Executive of Media Training North West, the industry-led training body which offers a range of training solutions for media companies, employees and freelances. She asked Paul whether new writers should be optimistic about the future. He was unequivocal in his response.
"Now is one of the most exciting and best times to be a trainee in this city. In the next five years there will be so many more opportunities. But you would not believe how few people there are around right no, new people, bringing new ideas. The talent base needs to grow," said Paul.
Which is why he's set up his own Writers' Studio, taking up to five new writers at a time, and teaching them how to hone their craft.
"The Writers' Studio is an obscenely expensive experiment that I've put together, a building where people are trained. They don't go home at the end of the day but they stay there for five or six days, so everyone is talking about the project all the time. It's a completely different, unique experiment. I almost staple people into the building, and bring out the best in them!" he explains.
"Writers don't talk to each other, which I don't think is right," adds Paul. "Writing is a really weird job to take on. I work an average of 10 hours a day and usually I'm on my own, although you have to learn to be on your own with 500 voices in your head. And it's one of the toughest jobs in the world.
"You have got to learn to sit on your own and put your heart on paper. You really do have to give a lot of yourself every time you write a script, so you have to be tough with yourself," he explains.
Asked by Lynne McCadden how would-be writers could get involved in the Writers' Studio, Paul's reply was simple. "Write a top-notch script and get it to us," he says. "The ones who are determined to get through, get through."
"The ones who are determined to get through, get through."
Regardless of the new opportunities which new writers are set to experience, Paul still believes there's a reluctance among TV commissioners to take risks. "They're gutless," he told his Manchester audience.
Paul's hit TV drama, Shameless, was recently recommissioned for a fifth series, comprised of 26 episodes. But that's something which should have happened at the outset, insists Paul.
"The way the systems works at the moment commissioners give you three or six episodes at first and its two years before they'll commit to 10. The commissioners are gutless, because it's expensive to make TV drama and they won't take the risk.
"But I think it's important for us to learn to tell audiences that we have got something good, and if we commissioned 26 episodes straight away then the audience will appreciate that investment, and they'll feel well looked after."
Such is his standing today, that whatever Paul now wants to write, commissioners usually take notice. "I'm currently writing 13 hours of drama for the BBC, and there's a new comedy that I want to work on," he told his Manchester audience. He's also often approached to work in America. But he's never tempted.
"The commissioners are gutless, because it's expensive to make TV drama and they won't take the risk."
"I am totally allergic to America," he says. "I'm always getting offers from the States - State of Play is about to be remade out there with Brad Pitt, and I'm down as Executive Producer, but I'd do anything to get out of that. America takes a part of your soul that I just don't want to give."
Paul is happy to stay in the UK, despite the problems he perceives within the industry. High amongst those annoyances, he says, is the commissioners' reluctance to make films for TV.
"If someone has a brilliant idea for a 90-minute film, they go to the UK Film Council, get funding, and release it as a cinema-release film, instead of as TV film," says Paul. "With Clocking Off I had six single film ideas, but in my opinion they belonged on TV and needed to have a mass audience.
"The BBC rarely pays for TV films anymore, so I set them all in a factory, just so they would think I was writing a drama series. But it wasn't, it was an anthology, and it was a good 12 months before they realised what I'd done."
"They shouldn't care if you don't have past experience, because you are their future."
As Chief Executive of Media Training North West, Lynne McCadden is constantly asked by new writers how they should build on the talents they already have. Radio, says Paul, is an excellent entry point into the industry.
"Radio plays are an excellent training ground, for me they helped me learn how to use my own voice," he says. Ultimately, though, all new writers should just write, re-write, then write some more.
"You start by copying other people's style, which is understandable. Hang out with excellence, I always tell people, and read as many quality scripts as you can. But after writing two or three scripts of your own, you realise it's your voice that is making the script work. You can't stop your voice coming out."
And regardless of age or experience, if a new writer produces an excellent script, someone, somewhere, will pick it up.
"I have never known a good script not get anyone a job. If you put your script in front of a commissioner and it's as good as anyone else's, then they shouldn't care if you don't have past experience, because you are their future," says Paul.
"As a newcomer, keep your pride. And remember, you have a massive amount to offer, so have some attitude about it."
Story in Full at North West Vision