#TVBIZZ Magazine’s Writers Talk: A Word with Peter Bowker #MIPTV
TVBIZZ Magazine’s MIPTV 2016 Edition will be out tomorrow. As drama is the focus of this year’s event we decided to give the word to several acclaimed writers and hear their version of what it’s like to create a great story for television in the modern times where a local hit turns into an international one overnight.
We kick off the Writers Talk feature with this exclusive interview with acclaimed writer Peter Bowker, whose latest project, The A Word, is breaking audience records on BBC One in the UK.
TVBIZZ: What inspires you to write your stories?
PB: I think it can be anything from an overheard conversation to an emotional incident to reading a book that inspires some other tangent. With The A Word, for example, I had a lot of experience of and interest in autism from my years as a teacher, and then it was seeing the series Yellow Peppers that I felt gave me permission to write about the subject - and of course provided a wonderful template in terms of tone, character, plot and humour . . .
TVBIZZ: Do you follow international trends when you prepare new projects or do you focus on local demand?
PB: I’m not sure I do either. I think of stories that I might want to tell and that people might want to hear and go from there. Clearly I am aware of the market in terms of scale of a project. For instance, I am currently developing a World War 2 drama that will be told from multiple international perspectives so am aware that will have to be a huge co-production if it is going to fulfil the ambition of the show. But I don’t think it will affect the storytelling as such. I have often written the script before we go to market as it were. With The A Word the first series was partially written and pretty much worked out before we went to the States and clever people worked out the deal with Sundance, for instance.
TVBIZZ: How do you cooperate with producers to make sure they turn your stories into what you want them to become? How important is it for you that your shows travel internationally?
PB: I’ve been very lucky in my career to work with a small group of producers who I know and trust. These include Patrick Spence at Fifty Fathoms, Derek wax at Kudos, Damien Timmer at Mammoth and Nicola Schindler at RED. What they have in common is that they all come from a script background and for a writer this is incredibly important. They understand the process. They are also a talented bunch and nice People which makes a huge difference. On The A Word Marcus Wilson has been a rock. Everything he has done has been done to facilitate the vision of the writer and the director.
I love the idea of my shows travelling internationally. I think television has become a small world and is a great medium for promoting greater cultural exchange and understanding. Having said that, I don’t write with that in mind. I just want to tell a good story and hope it finds an audience.
TVBIZZ: Drama becomes more and more popular on a global level. Is competition also growing among writers on your market? Does the great demand result in more work and cash for you?
PB: Writers are both pretty communal and mutually supportive - we have a shared solidarity because we all know the daily fear of being faced with an empty page - but it is obviously a competitive industry. Only so many slots. Only so much money. I am not sure the demand means more cash but it probably means more opportunities. The thing that has changed in the last few years is the demand for volume. The era of the box set has changed the way we regard the long runner. Orders can easily be for 10 episodes per season as 6 now. I worry that the short form single drama and two and three parter might get lost in the mix here. Not least because I write a lot of them!
TVBIZZ: Do you work with distributors to turn your shows into formats?
TVBIZZ: How do you make sure your ideas and copyrights are well-protected? Have you had problems of that type?
PB: I have an agent - Bethan Evans - who is lovely to me and scares the shit out of everybody else. In that regard I am well protected!
TVBIZZ: Is Netflix the future of series?
PB: Netflix is part of the future of series. It isn’t the entire future of series. There will always be room for a variety of formats and genre for many reasons - the main reason being that stories come in different shapes and sizes and the audience remains for that variety. I can see how the market currently demands long running, returning . . . But the market is responsive to other forms as well, if the audience demand is there. I suspect the future of series is just as likely to be driven by two young people posting their own stuff on you tube as it is by Netflix.
The novel still seems to be thriving . . .
TVBIZZ: What do you do more often: watch TV or read books?
PB: Watch TV. And unapologetic about that. It is the leading art form of our age. I read books too. It doesn’t strike me as an either/or. It’s like saying do you listen to music or go to the movies?