Russell T. Davies (Stephen Russell Davies OBE) began his television career as a graphic artist in 1985 after a friend recommended he chat to the producer of BBC’s children’s show Why Don’t You. In 1986, he was called into the producer’s office and invited to write a script for the show. He subsequently became the show’s official writer and later producer. Time-shift to 1994 and Russell, then a soap opera producer, decided to make the leap and devote himself to professional writing full-time. Queer As Folk, Bob and Rose, Dr. Who, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu later, and he’s established himself as one of the most influential screenwriters in British TV.
And the man himself happened to drop by Channel 4 for a master-class.
Russell was also joined by two recent NFTS graduates – Lewis Arnold (Directing Fiction MA) and Paulo Pandolpho (Editing MA) – who worked with him on his latest C4 drama series. The pair also worked closely together at the school on projects including the award-winning Echo.
So what did we takeaway…?
- “Be determined. Just write. Just get on with it.”
If you want to get on as a professional writer, pick up a pen. Too many would-be creatives allow their ideas to float around without producing anything tangible. Make your ideas concrete by putting them on paper/screen.
- “Demystify the world as you go along.”
As you experience life you accumulate different people, places, perspectives, layers. Don’t attempt to make sense of everything at once; observe and develop your worldview piece by piece and let it influence your writing organically. 3. “The best notes you’ll get are your own.” Once you’ve completed a script get notes from producers, commissioners, crew, family and friends, and listen to what they have to say. But most importantly, make your own, be critical of your own work and stay true to your instincts.
- “The awful truth about writing is that writers write sitting down.”
Writing is a passive activity, so creators must fight to put energy into their work. Lethargy kills momentum, so it’s important to liven up your environment, perhaps with relevant music to add rhythm and punch to scenes.
- “Get yourself out there”
Have an open attitude to your work and build an online profile to share your films across platforms such as Vimeo. This will put you in front of influencers who may want to work with you as a result.
- “Escape your logline.”
Humans tend to stick to their loglines – ‘I am fat’, ‘I am weird’, ‘I am unlucky’. Both television drama and life are juxtapositions of tears and laughter, constructed from layers of happiness and sadness. Everyone is living on many levels, so ignore self-imposed stereotypes and explore the intricate details that make up a human personality.
- “Draft Zero is a load of sh*t.”
Only hand in scripts that are TX ready.
- “Build relationships”
At the end of every day on set, Russell would text every cast member with individual notes – this allowed him to build invaluably strong working relationships with his actors. Producing a series is a rich, collaborate process, so it’s vital to develop close relationships with the people you’re working with, so make sure to give extensive and honest notes to show you have thought hard about their work.
- “Celebrate the domestic”
Indeed, familial character and emotion are central to Russell’s writing. For example, when Russell decided to reincarnate Dr Who in 2005, he felt as though he was updating a relic and he knew that the revival had to place British, domestic values at its heart. In this way, he could construct characters, in particular the companions, from their family roots, evoking audience recognition and engagement. 10. “Never work with people who say I love new writers” They tend to love the power that comes with working with the inexperienced and enthusiastic.