• Search Keywords

  • Year

  • Production Status

  • Genre

  • Co-production

  • SA Supported

  • Indigenous creative

  • Length

  • Technique

  • SHARE THIS ARTICLE

Advice from 8 leading TV writers

Hear from Australian TV screenwriters at the top of their game including Sarah Lambert, Stephen McGregor, Mithila Gupta, Elise McCredie and more.

From dealing with self-doubt to not wearing headphones in public, Australian television writers share their tips.

Each of the screenwriters - who have worked on series including The Hunting, Lambs of God, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Five Bedrooms, Doctor Doctor and Home and Away - were asked two questions:

  • What’s one piece of advice you would give other writers?
  • What is a series you’ve enjoyed the writing of and why?

Read on for their answers.

Tamara Asmar

Tamara AsmarScreenwriter Tamara Asmar wrote the pilot episode of SBS/Lingo Pictures series On the Ropes and has written on numerous seasons of global hit series Doctor Doctor for Nine Network, as well as writing the animated children’s TV drama Alice Miranda Friends Forever (currently streaming on Stan). Tamara also was a script editor on Cleverman series 2 and script editor/writer on Love Child series 2Watch an interview with Tamara on the set of On The Ropes here  

Advice?

Keep your sense of humour. As production pressures close in everyone can get a little stressed with competing deadlines. We’re lucky to work in entertainment. I remember complaining about a hard script once to a friend who was an anaesthetist. She then told me about her day in the emergency burns unit at her hospital dealing with fatalities. It’s only TV after all.

Also, watch TV with the closed captions on - that way you’re absorbing the script with the action at the same time.

A series you’ve enjoyed?

I am obsessed with the ABC Kids’ show, Bluey. My five year old loves it but it’s one of those shows that crosses generational lines. It’s funny, clever and heartwarming and I think, a clear example of a show where the creative team have been trusted to do their thing and done it well. Bluey takes risks and has a distinctly Australian voice that has seen it enjoying huge international success. I could watch Bluey all day.

Belinda Chayko

Belinda ChaykoWriter/director Belinda Chayko was the co-writer and showrunner on SBS series Safe Harbour, which won an International Emmy Award in 2019, and co-wrote the highly anticipated new ABC drama Stateless (see the trailer here). Belinda was also a key writer on the AWGIE-winning adaptation Barracuda, co-created and co-wrote Secret City, and has written on series including Fighting Season and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Read about Belinda’s experience making Safe Harbour on Screen News.

Advice?

My key word is ‘persistence’. Keep at it. Talent is great, but it needs to be honed through working hard at your craft. You also need persistence to stick to your voice, and not be swayed by others. The first review of the first feature film I directed said: ‘avoid this film at all costs’. I could have given up then, but I’m glad I didn’t!

A series you’ve enjoyed?

I’m a big fan of Jacquelin Perske’s writing and was blown away by the episode hooks in The Cry. Elegant and shocking at the same time. I also loved The Heights and its fresh and diverse spin on the soap opera form. Sarah Lambert’s sly humour in Lambs of God was a joy, as was the dry wit of Frayed. Then there’s Total Control and Mystery Road … too many to name and there will be some I’ve missed because I haven’t seen them yet. Though it’s a couple of years old, No Activity is a show I can watch over and over. A simple premise and a beautiful, and funny, exploration of human frailty.

Matthew Cormack

Matthew Cormack Matthew Cormack
In 2019, co-writers Matthew Cormack and Niki Aken won the AACTA Award for Best Screenplay in Television for episode three of the acclaimed Closer Productions/SBS series The Hunting. Matthew’s writing credits also include the ABC short-form comedy series F*!#ing Adelaide, and feature film 52 Tuesdays, which won the AWGIE Award for Original Screenplay.

Advice?

I must say that I’m one of those writers who is full of self-doubt, so my pragmatic and creative practice has been built up around managing this doubt while also finding space to listen to it. My big reminder to myself is that writing always feels hard for me, every time, and so my simple advice to myself every day is to show up and do the work, which for me is to sit down in front of my computer and do nothing else but try to write for a long time. Sometimes I only get a good three hours of writing in a day but that time is good enough and only possible because I’ve sat down for eight and done a lot of hard thinking or procrastination or avoidance but at least I’ve given myself the time for all of it. I feel very privileged to have that.

My self-doubt can also be very helpful and has probably instilled my practice of never being satisfied and always asking myself/ the work if I’m saying what I really want to say, if what its saying is good enough, interesting enough. My big ‘advice for writers’ is also a plea: always ask yourself if there’s a central idea to the work that is specific enough, unique enough, interesting enough, that you can have arguments for and arguments against - this is what I call the dramatic argument of the work and what it should do is continually ask the hard questions of yourself and your characters so that something interesting is achieved and in the end worth the difficult self-doubt and worth the reader's/ audience's time.

A series you’ve enjoyed?

I really enjoyed Lambs of God. The Black Narcissus-like premise drew me in, but I was warmed by the loopy kindness of the narrative and its characters and how it made literal the idea of the importance of the stories we tell, who tells them, and how this can reshape a person (for the better). Proper strangeness on Australian television.

Jonathan Gavin

Jonathan Gavin Jonathan Gavin
Currently a showrunner/creator developing a slate of projects in-house at Fremantle Australia, Jonathan ‘Jono’ Gavin most recently worked on ABC series Mustangs FC and the upcoming Network Ten series The Secrets She Keeps. Jono also co-created and wrote the Network Ten drama Sisters (now streaming on Netflix) and was one of the core writers on Offspring, as well as writing on titles such as Puberty Blues, The Beautiful Lie, and Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Advice?

I come to writing by way of a long time working as an actor. A couple of principles of improvisation I have found useful every day as a writer: First is, collaborate! Learn to get excited by other people’s ideas. Some writers bunker into their own ideas. Believing in your own ideas is essential, but refusing to allow your collaborators to play too can limit the scope of the story. Making a story is fundamentally generous; creativity should be joyful and full of generosity.

And, in that spirit, my second piece of advice is: don’t cry over lost story. I’ve seen writers get into a deficit mindset, where they fear that if this idea doesn’t work out, they might not have another. Trust that your brain is a limitless storytelling invention box. Don’t worry when great ideas get chucked out. Bring in more! Let more be discarded. None of it is lost, none of it wasted. Remember that for every scene, there are a host of different ways to write it; when it comes to rewriting, be brave. Don’t change a line here and a line there; rewrite it totally. Remember that your imagination isn’t limited, and therefore, you can command your ingenuity to imagine something else.

These two principles - generosity and generativity, will help you to stay optimistic during the hard times.

A series you’ve enjoyed?

Two shows that I’ve loved. One is Five Bedrooms, on Network Ten. In its smart, sweet and inclusive story, it has moved diversity forward in commercial network drama. We have to keep talking about diversity, and reaching for it. Total Control, on the ABC, brought such an exciting array of Aboriginal characters to the screen in an intense, beautifully articulated political and personal drama.

Mithila Gupta

Mithila GuptaMithila Gupta most recently wrote on Network Ten’s Five Bedrooms and the upcoming second season as well episodes of Aquarius Films’ ABC/Netflix series The Unlisted. Mithila’s writing experience also stretches across series including Doctor Doctor, The Heights, Playing for Keeps, Winners and Losers, Home and Away, and Neighbours. Mithila was in the first intake of Screen Australia’s Developing the Developer program.

Advice?

Embrace your voice. When you're writing on other people's TV shows it's important to take on the house style of that series. I thought this meant suppressing my personal voice, but what I've found is that many creative producers hire writers for their specific passions and traits. So own those! I try to pick my battles but I've taken time to address my deal breakers and I now feel so much more connected to my work.

Also, and this is specifically for fellow POC [people of colour] writers out there – know your worth! We are no one’s cultural consultants. We bring craft and creativity AS WELL as our specific cultural insights, so the credit should never be smaller than anyone else in the room. It's hard to say no to these positions in the early days - trust me, I know! But I've always left a cultural consultant gig feeling undervalued and anxious. You will find fair collaborators - those who hire you for the whole package - so try to not settle for any less. Power to you! 

A series you’ve enjoyed?

I loved The Family Law for its authenticity and insight. I felt invested in the characters and stories because they felt so real and beautifully flawed. Bring on more of this!

Sarah Lambert

Sarah LambertSarah Lambert was the showrunner/writer on the 2019 acclaimed Foxtel series Lambs of God, which won the AACTA Award for Best Mini Series and scooped up a record-breaking eight AACTA Awards in total - the most for any television series. Sarah’s 20-year career also includes creating, writing and producing Channel Nine’s #1 hit drama Love Child, and writing on award-winning and beloved series such as Love My Way, Dance AcademyA Place to Call Home, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and All Saints. Read more about what Sarah has coming up via Inside Film.

Advice?

My advice to writers would be find your people. By that I mean, your trusted peers and fellow writers, people who will have your back and who can make what can be a very difficult and lonely job as painless, rewarding, inspiring and even fun. These are people you admire and are really good at what they do, and sometimes have skills you don’t. They become your writing family. These are the people who are not sycophantic or self-serving but are there to help you make the work the best it can be.

A series you’ve enjoyed?

I really enjoyed Robbie Hood this year. It was one of those really surprising little gems. I love work that has an original and authentic voice and this had that in spades. Great characters, genuinely funny, moving and a hell of a lot of heart.

Elise McCredie

Elise McCredie Elise McCredie
Elise McCredie is the showrunner of upcoming ABC series Stateless, which she co-created with Cate Blanchett and Tony Ayres, and wrote with Belinda Chayko. The series is set to air in 2020 (see the trailer here). McCredie also co-wrote Ride Like a Girl – the biggest Australian film at the local box office in 2019 – and wrote/co-created the SBS series Sunshine as well as writing on series including Nowhere Boys and Jack Irish.   

Advice?

Don’t wear headphones or airpods in public!! Listening is less and less valued in this singular, cushioned world we live in. But listening to people’s conversations is compulsory for a writer. You discover great characters, you learn things far beyond your own experience and you hear different cadences and rhythms in people’s speech. Also I once heard Paul Cox say that when he got stuck writing a screenplay he took his dilemma in his arms like a baby and lay down with it. Best advice ever (and also a great excuse for a ‘working’ nap).

A series you’ve enjoyed?

Frayed. I haven’t laughed out loud watching an Australian show for a long time. I think Sarah Kendall is brilliant. The writing is sharp, original, hilarious and humane. On top of Sarah's terrific dialogue Frayed is also very cleverly structured. The characters all have individual journeys but the final episode connects them all, culminating in a perfect cliff hanger. Bring on season 2!

Steven McGregor

Steven McGregorAward-winning writer/director Steven McGregor wrote on the 2018 ABC ratings hit Mystery Road as well as its highly-anticipated upcoming second season. Steven has won AACTA awards for his writing on feature film Sweet Country and TV series Redfern Now and his extensive writing credits also include acclaimed teen series Ready for Thistelemovie Redfern Now – Promise Me and documentary Blue Water Empire.

Advice?

Don’t beat yourself up about procrastinating. I’m the worst procrastinator in the world; I get hesitant to attack the story. I worry if it will be sh-t.  But I’ve learnt that I do some of my best thinking when I’m just sitting there, or cooking in the kitchen. A good friend and great writer Jimmy McGovern once said to me ‘you can tell a writer by their garden’ (because it’s immaculate), and it’s true.

On the other hand, if you’re on your first draft, just put something on the page. One of my biggest fears is sitting in front of the computer and staring at a blank page. Just don’t leave it blank for too long because it becomes scarier and scarier. Get it out, put it on the page, there’ll be something you can sort through to get you started.

A series you’ve enjoyed?

It’s maybe a bit left-field, but I really liked Bluey. I’ve probably watched both parts of series one multiple times with my six year old. It’s so smart, enjoyable and a story that speaks to many ages and many levels without trying to complicate itself. The characters are engaging and relatable, and audiences can see something in themselves or someone they know in each of them. I just wish I’d come up with it!