Make great drama... by the makers of The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, The Bridge, Borgen & Mindhunter
Whilst others are on holiday in August, I am often producing and hosting masterclasses at TV and media festivals. I don't mind because I meet amazing talent, learn a lot and can then share it here. One of my favourites this summer was a drama masterclass with writers, directors and producers in a three-hour session at the Copenhagen TV Series. Using my TED 3 P's, purpose, people and process, we uncovered ways to make successful drama in both the European and US drama model.
Whether you're a director, producer or writer, these are 10 ways to help you navigate the new drama landscape and succeed!
1. Focus on ideas that mean a lot to you
Andy Harries, Exec Producer of The Crown, told me that...
"I only got really excited about pitching The Crown, when I realised it was 'feature film TV' worth £10m! "
Bruce Miller, Showrunner & creator of The Handmaid's Tale, admitted that he had read Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel numerous times and was obsessed by it! He said...
"The show (The Handmaid's Tale) has meaning, I wanted it to feel the same way as when I read the book "
2. Build trusting relationships
Andy Harries explained that having worked together on a great number of royal projects, The Audience, and the film, The Queen, The Crown was a natural progression for himself, Peter Morgan and Stephen Daltry. As Exec Prod, his job is to keep everything on track and be a sounding board only when needed, he trusts the writing to Peter and does not interfere!
Tobias Lindholm, Writer of The Borgen, Director of the best Danish film, Hijacking and Oscar nominated, The War, explained that because he was personally picked by David Fincher for Mindhunter, he enjoyed complete creative freedom from Netflix! He has never seen anyone with as much trust and power as David!
3. Get inspired by real life
Tobias also speaks of his inspiration for The War;
"a story will hit me, a real dilemma. Stories based in reality based on the simple, cold facts of life. (The War) It's showing all sides of life: you as a professional, as a private person and as a citizen ."
4. Get inspired by your peers
Charlotte Sieling explained that after directing Nordic Noir, including The Bridge for 12 years, she moved Stateside to direct the US version of The Bridge and Homeland. One of the great pieces in Good Behaviour copied another director's ideas of mixing and merging the past with the present in a new 'Poetic Noir' style.
5. Match the vision, to the money, to the story
Peter Bose, CEO of Miso Film and maker of the first Netflix original made in Scandinavia, The Rain, says that when it comes to the script and the story, "good is not good enough".
"Yes, you need good script writers, but as a Producer, you also need to be good at reading and commenting on a script. You need to be able to know that the vision can be realised within the budget, match the money to the creative vision and then have the courage to have this discussion if it doesn't match ."
6. Nothing replaces a hard work ethic - write, direct, produce - repeat
Tobias told me that in his first 8 years out of film school, he wrote 8 hours a day, even writing all night after the shoots!
Bruce Miller says being a Showrunner is a huge job in itself and it's as much about finding a way to manage.
7. Make sure you can protect and hold the story (as a showrunner)
Bruce said that "We write a third of the scripts and start shooting. My role is to empower storytelling, to protect the story - it's a benefit being dyslexic as I only give short, one word notes to empower the team of writers, actors and directors ."
Bruce also explained that today's experienced and well known US Showrunners were all part of the Warner Bros internship, working for many years across Steve's shows, such as ER.
Charlotte Sieling found that...
"The showrunner model takes away some of the art of the director. It only works if the showrunner is very experienced and really knows the story."
8. Oversell your ideas and trust yourself, be confident and others will trust you too
Tobias spoke of 'being an illusionist'; even if you feel nervous or anxious, appear confident. Oversell your idea because you know you can make it better than you've told them!
Charlotte also spoke of confidence. On The Strain,
"The male team didn't want to change the cab, they thought they were being helpful to tell me what to do because it was a technical issue. I had to change my leadership position, I became more precise, 'stop this and do that', to be true to the directing."
9. Learn the SVOD/OTT platform's audience - take feedback, learn, expect differences
Andy Harries explained that Netflix was the last pitch for The Crown. In hindsight it was clear that Netflix had already decided they wanted it because we fitted their global ambition; such an epic, universally known family was perfect for them 5 years ago, when Netflix was set to launch worldwide.
Exec Producer, Peter Bose also explained,
"The Rain sold because it clearly appealed to Netflix's target audience of 15-35 year olds, but we had to write it differently, much faster paced and with lots more dialogue, due to the high level of multi-tasking of this age group."
10. Don't believe the hype - homegrown drama offers more creative freedom
I think the final rally call struck a cord with the audience, speaking passionately about the SVOD, US model versus the Danish or European model, all agreed that...
"We need drama + storytelling to survive as human beings"
As the hunger for content is likely to increase, client bases doubling in just 2-3 years, our drama talent felt that we must not hurry our talent. We must train and support them. The US is a place to learn, but as Tobias put it...
"Come back to your home to make the stories you want to make!'