Daytime TV is getting some top talent and some top writing next week, starting next Monday (May 18th) and continuing every day until friday: Jimmy McGovern’s MOVING ON is airing five 45 minute episodes in which the central theme is moving on in your life. Even better, friend of the blog and Bang2writer Marc Pye’s episode “Bully” is part of the series, airing on the Tuesday (19th May). As regular readers of the blog know, I think Marc is frighteningly talented and an all round top bloke, so I was only too happy to publicise Moving On here. Knowing however there were – shall we say – a few behind-the-scenes schenanigans to “Bully”, I thought I would invite Marc to share his experiences with you first hand as it makes for very interesting reading. Enjoy…
“I got asked to come down to Liverpool (my home town) for a meeting at LA Productions on a new commission they’d been given by Liam Keelan, head of daytime TV. It was for 5 x 45min dramas stripped over one week. Jimmy McGovern would exec produce and it was just a case of coming up with the idea for the series, what it would be about. This was a different way of working. Usually the idea would be in place before the commission. In this case it was the talent that was in place, some quite decent writers led by Jimmy and made by a producer and production company with an excellent track record. If the writing was good then, like The Street, it was bound to attract great cast, which it has. I think there were about 40 writers in the room and we all pitched in themes and stuff. It sailed dangerously close at times to a series I had in development with Coastal Productions, but ended up becoming Moving On, which was based on the central theme of how to move on and reach a turning point in your life.
I’ve always liked the play for today type idea so this really appealed to me. Years ago the opportunities were there for a lot of writers to make their mark by writing a stand alone drama. Bleasdale, McGovern, Peter McDougal, Alan Bennett, Willy Russell, to name just a few, have all done them in the past and I think this is something that’s sadly missing in TV today, so it’s great that Liam Keelan has decided to bring it back.
We were all asked to go away and write up a pitch or two and send them in. I did two. One was called Last Woman Standing. The names were taken off the pitches so Jimmy could select them purely on the story. Mine was chosen, as was Arthur Ellison’s, who is a good mate of mine from The Street, so we were really happy to be working together and with Jimmy again. As Jimmy was busy on series 3 of The Street at the time the writers worked closely with the producer Colin McKeown and by the time the third draft was done Jimmy was ready to read them. When he read mine he didn’t like it. I was gutted and so was Colin. It wasn’t the reaction we’d expected at all. We’d spent a lot of time on it and expected Jimmy to feel the same way about it as we did. But if there’s one thing Jimmy knows it’s story and this one just wasn’t working. As the shoot date was approaching and the script was so far off the mark panic set in, but Jimmy remembered that I’d written a script called Bully, which he’d read and as it fitted the theme he wanted to do that, as it was in really good shape.
But there was a bit of a problem. The pitch for Bully had originally been shortlisted for series 3 of The Street. I’d written on series one, ‘The Flasher’ and had come close on series two, but things had taken off for me after my ep came out so by the time series two came round, although we all wanted to work together the ideas from my already overstressed brain weren’t cutting it, so I never got commissioned. I came back with all guns blazing on series 3 and Jimmy and the exec loved the Bully story and I left Granada that day convinced I was back on The Street, until it lost out at the selection process. The exec said, if they were making 7 it would be in there. Now some of my best stuff is written when I’m angry and missing out on series three of The Street I was well angry. I found myself with 5 days spare and wrestling with the self doubt and all the other emotions we writers experience I just had to get this script written because the way I saw it I believed in it even if they didn’t. I had something to prove, if only to myself. I wrote it in three days and hit upon the idea of a common theme for a series, so I then started putting together a bible and story lines for the other episodes. I got Terry McDonough (who was my director on The Street) on board and he loved the pilot script, the series idea, and took it to Coastal Productions. So I now had a series bible and a pilot script, ready to go into the BBC through the makers of Wire in the Blood.
But there was one thing I wasn’t counting on: this situation on Moving On and Jimmy wanting the Bully script. I tried explaining in the time since he’d read it it was now a pilot script for a series, in with another producer. But he stuck to his guns, saying the other script was too far off the mark to deal with in the time we had. It was either that or they would use one of the other stories. I had to make a decision. I spent the weekend ranting and raving “who does Jimmy McGovern think he is!” I felt like I was back at school and a bigger boy wanted and had taken my bike. By Monday I had gone through all the emotions and had calmed down. I weighed up all the odds. It was just a script at this stage. There were no guarantees it was ever going to get made. On the other hand the script was perfect for Moving On and it was guaranteed to get made. It wasn’t a bigger boy taking my bike at all. It was a case of me getting real and stop being so precious about a script that might otherwise never see the light of day as a drama. It was time to make the call to Coastal. Sandra, the producer understood completely, telling me to get it made. At the time very little was getting commissioned, and as Sandra put it, we still had other stories that formed the series. I could always write another pilot. Plus, the script Last Woman Standing would fit in perfectly with my series with a rewrite, now that I knew what was wrong with it. She was great and totally took the pressure off. I emailed Jimmy, told him we were in business and he was really pleased and did a rough edit that afternoon, as it was written as a 60 min piece so needed 15 pages cut. We had a quick meeting in Liverpool, I did another draft, which was no more than a tweak really, and it filmed after Christmas. I’ve seen a cut of it and it’s a great piece of work that I’m really happy with. The direction and performances are second to none. Oh, and I’ve still got a bike, albeit a different one.”
Thanks Marc, can’t wait to see it – don’t forget, if you’re at work when Moving On is on, there’s always the iPlayer!!! Definitely one not to be missed. I know a lot of Bang2write laydeez were “phwoaring” over the appearance of Lucas North in SPOOKS in the last series, so Richard Armitage fans may also be interested to hear he will be in, “Drowning Not Waving” by Sarah Deane during the week too. Excellente!
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