Jed Mercurio's advice for screenwriters

Jed Mercurio's advice for screenwriters

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Line of Duty (Credit: BBC)
Line of Duty (Credit: BBC)

Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio took time out of filming series five to share his advice for screenwriters who want to see their work on screen.

Now's a great time to get into writing for TV. There have never been more opportunities for scripted programming. To stand out from the crowd, an idea should seem original and distinctive.

While the breadth of programming has increased, the traditional formats have remained dominant. Your writing should fit the standard models for a mini-series, a serial or an episodic series; 30 minutes for comedy, 60 minutes for drama.

Write a pilot episode that showcases your idea plus a few pages describing how the series will develop and what format it will follow, either a continuing story (serial) or stories of the week (episodic), and whether the story will conclude at the end (mini-series) or set up further instalments (returning series).

Only send your script to a producer/commissioner who might respond to your writing. The simplest method is to target people who’ve recently produced/commissioned programmes that resemble yours in style or tone.

Even if your idea doesn't make it, you'll have a script to serve as a calling card for your writing.

Once you've written one script, write another. And another. Professional TV writers have lots of ideas in development because you never know which one's going to catch people's eye - and because it can take months or more for producers and commissioners to make up their minds.


Top tips from the best in the business

“I start the writing process by having all these funny stories. I put them all on post-its and put them on a wall and [mixed] them around until I [felt] a story and a character come out.”

-Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

“If you just construct goodies and baddies, it’s very two-dimensional. If you’re going to make your hero… truly heroic, the person they deal with has to be as complex as they are.”

-Sally Wainwright, Happy Valley

“There is no secret ingredient. It is just, make sure you’ve done enough research to do this properly.”

-Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, National Treasure

“You can do all the planning and outlines, but you just need to sit down, write and let it go.” 

-Daisy Goodwin, Victoria

“I have this exhaustive process of doing character breakdowns of every single person – at times you go ‘gosh, I can’t choose a [character’s] favourite colour again!”

-Marnie Dickens, Thirteen

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