Clint Rolfe was lucky enough to spend some time in Home and Away‘s script department as part of his TV production course. Here he takes some time out to tell us how Home and Away evolves from initial ideas to a finished script.
Interview conducted by Chris in November 2003 for our predecessor site AussieSoap
I was working with the script assistants. A typical week starts off Monday morning with a script department meeting, where the whole department attends (except the writers). We raise any problems we are having and talk about new characters and how they are being introduced into the show, we also talk about characters that are leaving.
Tuesday, the script producer Coral Drouyn is away from the department preparing for the two days of plot ahead of her. The script assistants catch up on any outstanding synopsis that needs to be written (we write a synopsis for every episode – this is what is sent to TV Week etc.)
Wednesday and Thursday are the plot days where the writers come into the department. Home and Away like all shows is written and produced as a ‘block’ – a block on Home and Away is five episodes. Coral will have plotted the whole week out in advance, and she tells the writer what she wants. The writer has the chance to ask questions and also make suggestions.
During this day, the script assistant assigned to that block will be on the computer writing ‘meeting notes’ – these are released to the whole script deparment (and writers) so they know what is going on in Summer Bay. It is a very full on two days.
The hardest part of the plot is the fact we are restricted by how many sets and locations we can use. And also how many episodes per week the cast are contracted to appear. Alf is the only character who is contracted to appear in all five episodes, the other cast are generally only contracted for two or three episodes per week.
Friday is when the script assistants write up set and cast memos and release them to the production side of the show. This is so they know if they need to hire in extra actors or ring up semi-regulars like Leah’s family.
The Script Process: After the writer leaves the plot, they have a couple of weeks to write a scene breakdown. This is a description of what is going to happen in each scene. Coral will look over this and make sure the writer has what she wants. A couple of weeks later the first draft script is due. This is the only draft that is written on Home and Away. The show is moving that fast, that they do not have time for multiple drafts.
The script editor will go over the first draft and pick any mistakes in it. They will also make sure the timing is right, they may need to cut bits out or even add them if its running short. Coral then has the last say with ‘over edits’. She can change an episode completely if she wants. When she is happy with a block, it goes to “release”.
Were there any dramas while you were there – any last minute re-writes needed?
Sometimes a script is not up to standards, so Coral and the script editor assigned to that block, will sit down and fix it – requiring rewrites. However, Coral is very sure in what she wants, and what I found, is that she is great at getting that across to the writer. However, mistakes are a part of life, and sometimes they happen.
Does the script department (or did you personally) have any interaction with the cast?
When I was there, Nick and Paris left the show. Both the actors came up and said good-bye to Coral and the department. The actors and script are two very busy sections of the show. I found the most cast interaction was happening on our lunch break, passing them in the corridors at Channel Seven. They do know the script department exists.
One of the things we love about Home and Away is how they are always mentioning characters and events from the past. Have all the writers been working on the show since the beginning, or do they have files full of notes to remind themselves?
The script department is truly blessed to have Daniel Bennett working as a right hand to Coral. He is the shows producers’ assistant, but he is also one of the best writers (and he is only 23). Daniel has been watching the show since he was a kid, and knows everything about the show. Coral and the department will ask him some of the most random questions, and he knows the answers.
Lastly, have you worked on any other shows during your course? If so, what are the similarities or differences they have to Home and Away in the way they are produced?
Before starting my degree, I worked on Water Rats, the action drama that was on Channel Nine. The only similarity is that they are “dramas”. That is where they part company. Home and Away being a serial has exploding storylines, something that will generate a lot of story interest and keep the stories running for a while. Water Rats on the other hand was an imploding drama, where a storyline would be played out in one or two episodes. Both shows were interesting to work on.