Episode Four blog by Joe Quick

‘How would you all like a commission?’ It wasn’t a bad question to be asked by Henry Swindell, Development Producer with the BBC Writersroom. As the other two writers in the room sat with calm, collected poker-faces, I felt the sudden urge to fist pump the air or pencil-dive into the Manchester Ship Canal. It was the first time that I’d been asked to produce something from scratch rather than to develop my own scripts and I must say – it felt good.

Working in a team was something completely new to me and at first the concept was fairly intimidating. I’d spent the last couple of years working solo and writing whatever came to mind in the early hours of the morning but now it dawned on me that my ideas would be scrutinised by other writers with much more experience than myself. Thanks to my English degree I’m a big fan of dystopian literature and as a result, the majority of my thoughts put forward in the brainstorming sessions were set in some form of repressive, science-fictional future. The web series turned out to be a little different…

InSecurity arose from a culmination of ideas by not just the Writersroom team but also by the students at Salford University who would ultimately be responsible for bringing our individual scripts to life. It was great to work on a project that was so freely open to input and within a few weeks we were all on the same wavelength regarding our characters, storyline and setting. My initial concerns about working within a group were long gone and after a while we were all bouncing ideas around the table, learning from each other and maybe most importantly, having fun!

Writing the conclusive episode of InSecurity brought new challenges and a drafting process that was completely new to me. To begin with, the mini-episodes couldn’t be over a specific page-count, despite an attempted coup d’état by Luke Bailey. The realisation that I’d also be responsible for rounding off everyone’s hard work was another consideration throughout the process. On paper you can write whatever you want and your imagination pays the bills but the reality of writing to real physical and financial limitations was something to which I had to adapt. The students at Salford did a superb job of scouting out all the possible locations and giving us feedback as to what props would be appropriate.

A few months on from finishing the web-series I’m looking forward to seeing all of our hard work brought to life when the episodes are released online. It’s been a brilliant experience and I’ve come away from it all with the confidence to share my ideas with other writers and a newfound attitude towards working within a group. I hope that the audience gets as much fun out of watching InSecurity as I did helping to write it!

Episode Three blog by Luke Bailey

Blog

Initially, I want to express what a keen adventure creating In Security was. Hopefully I am correct in assuming this was the case for BBC Writers Room, Salford University, the team behind the show: the staff and students who produced, designed, shot, created and edited the drama. Being fortunate enough to travel along the project door to door, the growth of craft and understanding was evident in all who traversed this bridge. As for myself, the writer in me learnt a great deal about his weaknesses and hopefully in the future can employ them as strengths; the actor in me found the surface amidst the ocean’s abysmal pitch.

To the untrained eye, I probably just seem greedy, writing and performing in a show I helped create, however I should reveal that at the inception of this web-series I wasn’t expecting to play Lenny. Both then and now, the idea of performing in my own production doesn’t really settle with me creatively; this isn’t directly because of my experience of In Security; it’s not purely a matter of my responsibility as a writer conflicting with my responsibility as an actor – the line of impartiality and objectivity in the former, blurring the overwhelming empathy in the latter – the restriction of subjectivity.

Being a big fan of shows like: The Simpsons, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, I expect the diamond of storytelling is forged through the compression of many minds cognitions; interpretation should be embellished, with respect to In Security, by a producer, then director and subsequently the actors in order to impart the myriad of subtleties of the human condition.

So when (about a week before we were due to shoot) I was asked to play Lenny it was with a kind of creative reluctance that I said: ‘yes’. Truth be told, the actor in me has an blinding ego and can never see anyone playing any character with more honesty than himself, a cause of much argument between the actor me and writer me. Eventually the bullying actor in me, cried to the writer in me: ‘the time and effort you invested in Lenny has nourished me [the actor], I know what makes him tick.’ and after the, let’s face it, more athletic actor in me, got the reclusive writer in me, into a Boston Crab, the writer tapped out, he’s parting words: ‘Don’t do a shit job!’ Hopefully he hasn’t. Hopefully neither did.

Episode Two blog by Hannah Pike

InSecurity – Hannah Pike blog

Storylining:
I think the storylining came quite easily and quickly, once we had the characters and precinct set up. We really seemed to bash out a bunch of scenarios and attach them to episodes quite quickly. What proved tricky, much trickier, right up until final drafts was the nitty gritty of how the rival security teams were monitoring their success, and how that was being monitored by the big boss – all those creative kill joys like why wouldn’t they all just get laid off if the mall was struggling?, why would Lenny stick at it?, and then you start criticising it all, thinking it’s a pants idea etc etc. So the point of it – the big jeopardy questions and structure of this working establishment really pecked our heads the most.

Notes:
I like getting notes, albeit these came from one producer, so I was lucky! I like to see where my story isn’t making sense to the reader/viewer – it’s like finding out where some pieces of my jigsaw had been shoved into spaces clearly not for them. However, I also found with some of the notes that I just needed to stand firm and get them to come to me i.e. the fashion road show was a concept that the women around the table totally got – we’ve all watched Gok’s Fashion Fix and/or been to shopping centres as kids and seen this set up, but the lads were non the wiser – so weighing up what to keep firm on, and what to readdress was interesting.

Location:
Being on location made me realise I should maybe consider some kind of ‘control’ therapy! I wanted to get in there, see what was being shot, talk to some of the actors about delivery, direct basically – I’d have been popular wouldn’t I?! I also realised that I’d created a bit of a shooting monster – crowd scenes, a toddler and quite a large cast for an 8 min episode, and I soon realised that was proving quite stressful for the team. I nearly signed off without a note on the amazing Bury shopping centre – our central location! It was totally as I imagined our mall, and also meant I could pick up some black puddings on the way home. Nice one.

Episode One Blog by Maeve Larkin

I got into the Northern Writers Group after I’d sent a script to Henry Swindell’s predecessor Jo Combes, which BBC comedy producer Carl Cooper had shown some interest in. After one of the regular group meetings Henry took four of us aside and told us we’d been selected to be part of a new online drama project, in which we’d write an episode each of an overall 4-part series. Woohoo! The project was a partnership with Salford Uni and would give us insights and experience into the whole business of writing as part of a team: brainstorming, story-lining, beat sheets, scene by scene breakdowns, drafting and  redrafting – all for eventual production by the Salford students. AND it was a paid gig!

Media City  –  like Minecraft with wind – and we’re in the Salford Uni building. I walked in with the three other writers to be met with about twenty expectant faces. My palms started to sweat a little. Who were all these people? Turns out some of the students made up the production team that would eventually go on to make our scripts and the rest were there in a writing capacity, to shadow the whole venture. Gulp. Henry kicked off by asking each of us to say which actor we’d like to play us in the movie of our life. Now as an actor I’ve spent my life gobbing off amongst groups of strangers quite happily but at this moment, inexplicably nervous, I couldn’t think of a single name. Not one. Then it was my turn and my voice said Jessica Hynes and I have no idea why. Note to self – trust subconscious more, it makes good choices.

We batted around opinions of online dramas we’d been looking at, what worked for us and what didn’t. I was keen from the off that form should marry content; these eps were going to be short (5 mins). Henry countered this with the view that just because the form might be small (in terms of time), our ambition for it didn’t have to be. The four of us threw around ideas, overseen by Henry with input from the rest of the group. It was hard to know, with all these synapses buzzing, if we were getting nearer or further from a story. Then, towards the end of a three hour session, a brand new idea emerged. It often seems to happen this way – the biggest revelation just as the therapist calls time. The new idea, security guards and their strange worlds, seemed to appeal to everyone’s preoccupations. Next up, detailed character studies of who would drive our story.

Probably the single biggest lesson I’ve taken away from the experience is about economy of dialogue (always more than you think) and allowing visual storytelling to do more of the work. Character bibles in prose can bang on forever, it’s encapsulating all that in a stage direction. Writing the first ep brought certain challenges because of the tension between establishing the world whilst hitting the ground running. “What’s OTN?” I asked Henry of his acronym, all over the margins of my first draft. “On the nose” he said. And I looked again. It’s amazing what you don’t see til it’s flagged up. The upside of going first is that you’re not inheriting story strands from another ep, you have a clean slate. But you do have to make sure the baton you pass on provides the other writers with what they need. After all, these characters belong to all of us. Over to episode two…