The Script Process - by Bevan Lee

Home and Away's Script Producer, Bevan Lee, tells us all about
the sequence of events that take place between an idea being drafted
to the moment it appears on our Television Screens.

Ideas are coming to the Script Producer (who comes up with most of the stories
for the show) all the time. They come not only when you're sitting at the table
with the writers, actively generating the episodes. They come when you're lying
in bed at three in the morning, socializing with friends, sitting on the toilet
:-), watching movies, exercising. Little events in life generate them
spontaneously and you store them away in your mind until you feel it's an
appropriate time for their use on the show. When that time is depends on many
factors - which character(s) is(are) most appropriate to be central to the story
and do they need a new story yet - the story balance at the time - can the
budget afford the story if it is an expensive one to execute - will the story
require new characters (and if so, can the budget afford them) etc..

If you decide the time is now, you map the story out roughly in your mind. Then
you start to weave it in to the show, episode by episode, as you feel best fits
the dramatic balance. How you do this depends not only on what is dramatically
right, but on the budget constraints of the week. Each actor has a set number of
episodes that he/she is contracted for in a week. There is also a set amount of
outside shooting that can be done. And a set pattern of how many sets and for
how many scenes you can use them in the week, When you're shooting five half
hours a week, you have to craft your stories rigidly around these parameters to
ensure that it can be shot in the given time. So you proceed to realize your
original idea as you craft it in to a story within the set constraints.

It's a good thing I have a degree in pure mathematics, as dealing with that many
variables as you're being creative is often a logical nightmare. And often you
must make compromises in the storytelling. You simply can't tell the story the
way you would like to because you can't afford to. Remember that when you
criticize certain things you see. Why isn't so and so in a certain scene?
Because we can't have them in the episode. Why did the car blow up off-screen?
Because we couldn't afford to see it blow up on-screen. Etc. etc.

Anyway, the stories are shaped in to five half hour scene breakdowns each week
that are given to the writers. They go away with a complete prose breakdown of
what to write - usually about a ten page document. They have three weeks to
write a script from this (which is an art in itself). A good writer can make
that prose document soar as a script, a bad one can kill a good story document

The five half hour scripts come in each week and the Script Producer and Script
Editor for that week will read the scripts and have a full day meeting
discussing the changes required for quality and continuity. Changes made to a
script will range from a nip and a tuck for a good script to a complete rewrite
for a bad one that has completely missed the mark. The latter is required more
often than I would like. The Script Editor has two weeks to edit the five
scripts. We have three Scripts Editors working in a two weeks on (editing)/one
week off (writing) cycle.

At the end of the two weeks, the Script Editor hands in the five edited scripts.
The Script Producer goes over them, often doing significant extra work once
again for continuity or if the editor has still missed getting certain scenes.
This is called the over-edit. An over-edit on a good week of scripts will take
about half a day. On a bad set, it can take two or three days. (that's when a
Script Producer can get VERY grumpy).

These scripts are then released to production by our invaluable script typist
(the wonderful Erika Clay). This is three weeks before the Directors Meeting.
During this time the production staff are breaking the scripts down and
preparing a shooting schedule. At the Directors Meeting, the director asks
questions re the scripts from a point of view of character, narrative logic and
production. Changes will often be made off the director's questions, to further
refine story and character or to make the material easier to shoot. Once again,
these changes are sometimes minor - and sometimes major if the fresh eye of the
director has picked up a flaw in scripting that has snuck in under the wire.
This usually happens at times in the year when everyone is getting tired and the
minds are not working as sharply as they should.

A week after the Directors Meeting is the week where the exterior material for
the five scripts is shot. (4 day shoot) The week after that is the week where
the studio is shot (5 day shoot). In any given week two dedicated crews are
working, one shooting exterior, one shooting interior.

The shot material is then edited, the cut is viewed and refined by the producer
(this is a two week process), if the episodes come in short, extra material is
written and shot and included. The episodes are then scored - the music is added
and the sound mix done. About four weeks prior to viewing in Australia, the
finished week is ready for viewing by publicity to see what angle they'd like to
push in getting it in to the various magazines. And then...

Its on the airways, looking as if it all just happened relatively spontaneously,
rather than being 17 weeks of mind-numbingly hard work on the part of everyone
involved. And it never stops, it goes on like that week after week, for forty
six weeks of the year. Keep that in mind next time you don't like something in
the show. We turn out the time equivalent of a feature film a week. There will
always be flaws - it is impossible for there not to be. The miracle is that we
get it so right so regularly.