• Search Keywords

  • Year

  • Production Status

  • Genre

  • Co-production

  • SA Supported

  • First Nations Creative

  • Length

  • Technique

Podcast – Plotting and writing 30 episodes of TV

The Heights season 2 script producer Romina Accurso and script editor Hannah Carroll Chapman on writers’ rooms and advice.

Romina Accurso and Hannah Carroll Chapman

Romina Accurso and Hannah Carroll Chapman

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

Screenwriters Romina Accurso and Hannah Carroll Chapman break down some of the roles in the script department, from note-takers to storyliners, script editors, writers and script producers.

Accurso and Carroll Chapman discuss how the second season of 30-episode ABC serial The Heights was written, and how the series has been bringing in new voices by employing first-time and emerging Australian creatives.

The pair also reveal lessons they learned working on soaps like Home and Away, their writing process, and practical advice.

The Heights season 1 is available on ABC iview, with season 2 set to air on ABC from 12 March.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. On this episode of the podcast, I'm joined by two screenwriters in the Australian industry: Romina Accurso, who was also script producer on season two of ABC serial The Heights, and Hannah Carroll Chapman who was also script editor on season two of The Heights. Both of them were screenwriters on the series as well for season one and season two, and they explain what their various roles involved as well as other jobs that you might find in a script department. In addition, Romina and Hannah discussed plotting and writing a 30-episode series like The Heights, the lessons they learned working on soaps like Home and Away, their writing process and practical advice they have for writers. They also touch on how The Heights is trying to bring new voices into the Australian industry by employing first time and emerging Australian creatives across both seasons. If you haven't seen The Heights yet, season one is available on ABC iview with season two set to air on ABC from March 12. Just before we go to the chat, remember you can subscribe to the Screen Australia newsletter and we'll send you industry updates, funding announcements and opportunities once a fortnight. Also if you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe, rate and review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts and send any feedback to [email protected]. Now here's script producer Romina Accurso and script editor Hannah Carroll Chapman to talk about The Heights. 

[00:01:41] Caris Bizzaca So Romina and Hannah, welcome to the Screen Australia podcast first of all. And to start off with, could you tell me a little bit about your role in the industry and maybe some of the titles that you've worked on? 

[00:01:55] Romina Accurso So I'm Romina. I have been a TV writer for about, eight or nine years now. I started at Home and Away as a script co-ordinator and worked my way up in that script department. I was the storyliner, the script editor, associate script producer and associate story producer. And then after about four and a half to five years, I was like okay, I think I'm done. So I went freelance and so as a freelancer, I kept writing for Home and Away, I did some work on Neighbours, the second season of Here Come The Habibs and I also worked as a trainee script editor on the fourth season of Love Child and then I got the call to work on The Heights and I've been doing that for about three years. 

[00:02:40] Caris Bizzaca We'll get into that in just a second, but Hannah, what about you? 

[00:02:43] Hannah Carroll Chapman So I actually started off in post-production because I was too scared to admit that I wanted to write for a while. Then I got a job working in development at Matchbox Pictures where I got to sit in on lots of their fun projects and I realised actually I really, really want to be a writer so I took myself back to film school and learned that trade and realised that, you know, really to get some proper experience, I should probably try and get a job on a show. And I, luckily, through Romina actually, got a job as a storyliner on Home and Away. And so I started off as a storyliner, went on to kind of work as an associate story producer and then wrote a whole bunch of episodes, which was fantastic, and then got the call for working on The Heights, which was kind of through, I guess, predominantly working for Matchbox Pictures. You know, I'd already established that connection. And then because I'd worked on soap before they brought me in to say, how do we make a soap and who do we get on to this? 

[00:03:48] Romina Accurso And then I got the job. A beautiful symbiotic relationship.

[00:03:52] Hannah Carroll Chapman  Scratching each other's backs a lot. 

[00:03:54] Romina Accurso Both figuratively and literally. 

[00:03:58] Hannah Carroll Chapman Actually, yeah. 

[00:03:58] Caris Bizzaca The job of screenwriters. And so for anyone that hasn't seen The Heights, in which case they should obviously go and watch it. It's on ABC iview catch-up. What is the plot? What is the show about?

[00:04:13] Hannah Carroll Chapman So The Heights is a series set in a social housing tower in a city in Australia and it's about the people that live in that tower and also the people that live in the rapidly gentrifying area around that tower in that neighbourhood. It's essentially a story of a neighbourhood and of people who are connected within that place. We wanted to tell a story about a unique group of Australians who feel like they do make up a microcosm of what Australia really is. 

[00:04:42] Romina Accurso And about a community that care about each other. Even if they don't agree on everything. 

[00:04:47] Caris Bizzaca And with The Heights, could each of you explain what your specific role was? Hannah, you first. 

[00:04:53] Hannah Carroll Chapman Sure. I was kind of technically a script editor, but I was also part of the plotting process so I was lucky enough on season 1 to start in the first brainstorm room and started off as a writer and then kind of moved on to script editing and so in season two, we had a core team that we'd had from season one where it was myself, Romina, Megan Palinkas, Warren Clarke and we had a trainee script editor Sarah Bassiuoni, and we plotted the show together and then we wrote a few episodes but we also, Megan Palinkas and I as the senior editors, basically edited every script and we were able to go into a lot of the cast rehearsals along with Romi. And even though my role was script editor, what was great about season 2 was that we were there from the get go, from the kind of inception of each story right up until the end. 

[00:05:50] Caris Bizzaca And then, Romina, your role was script producer? 

[00:05:53] Romina Accurso Script producer on the second season. On the first season I was a script editor as well, and we really nutted it out in the first season which took a lot of work. And then in the second season, I think my role changed a little bit where it became a bit more on one side managerial so you know managing the schedule of script releases and trying to make sure that we're producing scripts that were shootable (and) within budget so there was a lot of that. And then on the creative side, I think there was in the room we were all plotting, but I guess ran the room so I kind of played devil's advocate. (laughter) 

[00:06:30] Romina Accurso I think that's the nicest way of saying it. Yes I fully admit that maybe at times I was difficult. 

[00:06:38] Hannah Carroll Chapman No you weren't, you were amazing.

[00:06:41] Romina Accurso But yes, so I think like editorially, I kind of oversaw. 

[00:06:45] Caris Bizzaca And like questioned things so that people think of different outcomes instead of just going with their first instincts or things like that. 

[00:06:51] Romina Accurso I maybe was a little bit too, I won't say perfectionist, but I challenged. 

[00:06:59] Hannah Carroll Chapman I have to say in a fantastic way. I think part of what I loved about working with Romi was that you know, we would often plot something in a brainstorm room and you get to a point where you're very happy with that on the day. But then it comes in and it's in break down form or script form. And what I think was really great about Romina, was that she wasn't afraid to go, "Have we told this story well enough? Is this truthful? Does this story have a satisfying beginning, middle and end? And if it doesn't, then we're going to rework it.". And I think I truly believe that season 2 is better for that because she wasn't afraid to go, "I'd like to destroy your life next week". (laughter)

[00:07:40] Romina Accurso Oh you guys wrote a really great script, but let's throw it out and start again. 

[00:07:49] Hannah Carroll Chapman But it did. She never questioned it for any reason other than it needed to be questioned. I wholeheartedly believe that.  

[00:07:58] Romina Accurso And you answered it in the best possible way. Like, "Now I get it. You're right. I got the solution. Let's do it." 

[00:08:07] Hannah Carroll Chapman But it was, it was a great challenge and it meant that the way we told stories wasn't set in stone and I don't think it should be. Often there is a better way to tell a story. 

[00:08:16] Romina Accurso And I think that was the mission of like The Heights in general. We wanted to, like not to say that Home and Away or Neighbours is formulaic. Like there is a formula on those shows and rightly so, and they're well and truly tested as good things. But on the Heights, I think we're like, okay, let's see if we could subvert the formula ever. Let's not look at cliff-hangers. Or let's find ways. And I think that was always achieved by questioning, by going ok well is this how we would have done it on another show or is this how we want to do it on this show? And let's pull it apart and start again. 

[00:08:51] Caris Bizzaca And the intention from the get go is to kind of subvert some of those things. 

[00:08:54] Hannah Carroll Chapman Well yeah cause Neighbours and Home and Away, they have to produce around 300 episodes a year of content whereas we had 30. So we have room to be able to do that. And we took advantage of that because you don't have that opportunity on Neighbours or Home and Away. You just can't. 

[00:09:11] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And there was a role that you both mentioned, storyliner. Just in case anyone is unaware of what that is, could you explain that briefly, what a storyliner is? 

[00:09:21] Romina Accurso So I don't know if there are many shows that have storyliners anymore. But on Home and Away, it's essentially the constant junior writer in the plot room because on Home and Away and I believe on Neighbours is the same, the story team and the script team are kind of separated because of just the sheer amount of quantity. And so a storyliner will help develop the storylines. They'll plot the episodes with the associate story producer or the script producer depending on whichever way it is arranged at the time. But yeah generally speaking the storyliner will help develop the storylines, they'll do some research and then a lot of, like I think  as you become more senior in that role, you start editing the scene breakdowns, which is like the first draft for the writers. So they send in their scene breakdown based on the plot and then with guidance from the script producer and the associate story producer, the storyliner will edit the scene breakdown and give notes to the writers and liaise with them on how to write their first draft. 

[00:10:22] Hannah Carroll Chapman It's a fantastic job. 

[00:10:23] Romina Accurso  Totally. Well you live and breathe plot for a long time. I mean it's five days, 10 hour days of just story. 

[00:10:31] Hannah Carroll Chapman Yep. I think just before I started on Home and Away, because I went straight into the storyliner job which is actually quite a weird and odd way to do it. Often you start off as a script coordinator and then kind of go on to storyline but I kind of jumped into it. Because I hadn't watched Home and Away in a while, prior to the job I watched about 100 episodes and every night I dreamed of Alf. And that kept going for a while. 

[00:10:58] Romina Accurso Hey every now and then I still dream of Alf. I still dream in flamin galahs. 

[00:11:08] Caris Bizzaca Summer Bay is frequently in your dreams. 

[00:11:12] Romina Accurso You can't escape it. 

[00:11:12] Hannah Carroll Chapman It's a big part of our psyche. There's no letting go of that one. 

[00:11:14] Caris Bizzaca And so you're saying like with The Heights, your soap experience really helped with The Heights and I'm guessing that's kind of because of the length of episodes that's on The Heights, which is like quite unusual in this day and age where most series are kind of, you know, 10 episodes or less. 

[00:11:32] Romina Accurso Totally. Because The Heights is 30 epsiodes. And so that's a lot of story. And we have a lot of characters as well, a lot of regular cast and sort of to manage to juggle that, I think we learned the skills to do that on Home and Away and Neighbours as well. Like that is something that's not super common anymore so I think it helped. 

[00:11:51] Hannah Carroll Chapman Like the workload is immense on Home and Away and Neighbours so it set us up for the amount of workload on the Heights.  

[00:12:01] Caris Bizzaca And so in terms of the, I'm just trying to wrap my head around the whole idea of a plotting 30- episodes series, even though you said 300 episodes for those soaps, but 30 episodes is still a significant amount and so how do you go about it? Do you plot the entire thing in terms of big beats from episode 1 to episode 30 and then are you kind of breaking those episodes down, you know, while filming the earlier ones that you've written. How does it work? 

[00:12:33] Romina Accurso We did, I think, for the second season, we had a brainstorm almost a week after we wrapped the first season. So we knew what we'd done. We knew our characters a little better. And so we'd had this couple of weeks of brainstorm, which were really big picture and kind of decided upon stories for each character, like where their arcs were for the second season. And then we went away for a bit and then we came back and started it all over again. But we had some foundation on what we wanted to tell. We didn't know how we would tell them across 30 episodes. And I think that was the biggest challenge of not burning story. 

[00:13:09] Caris Bizzaca And with an ensemble of keeping all the characters going at the one time instead of just focusing on a couple for too long. 

[00:13:15] Romina Accurso Totally. The balance of that is, was, a challenge. 

[00:13:19] Hannah Carroll Chapman Yep, totally. And what I liked about our process was that it all does start with the characters. You look at the characters you have that you've fostered over the first season and gone, 'what stories can we tell for them this season? What's truthful for them?' And it is a bit about kind of mapping that over the next whole season, but making sure that you are servicing all of the characters across the season. I mean not every character is featured every episode, which is great, but making sure that each of them have their- 

[00:13:48] Romina Accurso Have something to say.

[00:13:53] Caris Bizzaca Like an arc over the series. 

[00:13:54] Hannah Carroll Chapman Absolutely. Where they start at the beginning and where they finish. 

[00:13:57] Romina Accurso So once we had those kinds of ideas and like you know, general arcs for the characters, that's when we started breaking them down into...so we would plot four episodes - so a block of episodes is four episodes - and we'd do that over three days. Well we would plot them for three days but usually the in-house team would pre-plot for two or three days. 

[00:14:18] Caris Bizzaca Is that in-house team the core team that you were talking about earlier Hannah? 

[00:14:20] Hannah Carroll Chapman Yeah. So Sarah, Romina, Megan and Warren. 

[00:14:25] Romina Accurso We'd all get together, kind of think ok well these are the four episodes we've got to plot for the next week. What are the stories we want to do? Let's try and think of A, B, C for each episode and where the character starts, where the character ends in their 30 ep arc. 

[00:14:39] Caris Bizzaca And just quickly, for anyone that's not aware, A, B, C is in terms of the storylines through the episode. 

[00:14:43] Romina Accurso Yeah A, B, C storylines. And because The Heights is, because it's on the ABC, it's actually a little bit longer than a half hour on commercials so we generally needed a D or an E storyline as well. Because it's 26 minutes. It's just over 26 minutes of content which is long. You really notice that extra five minutes. (laughter). So we would do that. We'd have some general idea and then we'd bring a bunch of writers in. So people who were writing the episodes and we also had storyliners in every plot. Then we'd plot the four eps which was hard. 

[00:15:17] Hannah Carroll Chapman Over three days. 

[00:15:22] Romina Accurso Over three days. And then the writers would go off and do their scene breakdowns and then when they would submit, we would all meet again and start dissecting those stories. So we'd do that on four episodes per block and we'd do that every two or three weeks. 

[00:15:35] Hannah Carroll Chapman Yeah. We'd have a week of plot then we'd have a week of catch up. Then we'd have a week of going through the scene breakdowns, editing them, having writers meetings, reworking story if we needed to. 

[00:15:50] Romina Accurso And yeah but we were, we did start filming halfway through. So we'd only plotted 20 eps before we started filming. 

[00:15:57] Caris Bizzaca But did you know the, you still knew the endpoint? 

[00:16:00] Romina Accurso We knew some. They change. 

[00:16:02] Hannah Carroll Chapman  They changed a lot. 

[00:16:05] Caris Bizzaca Because as you're discovering the characters and stuff, they might take you in a different direction than what you initially thought when you just had things on a whiteboard. 

[00:16:14] Hannah Carroll Chapman There's a unique kind of anxiety that comes with the show already starting to film when you haven't even plotted the last 10 episodes. 

[00:16:21] Romina Accurso And all the actors start asking where's my character going? You're like ah I don't know, just leave us alone.

[00:16:26] Hannah Carroll Chapman I literally don't know. 

[00:16:27] Caris Bizzaca  It's a surprise. You'll have to wait and see. 

[00:16:33] Romina Accurso Do you have any ideas because we're dying. (laughter)

[00:16:36] Caris Bizzaca And so you were saying with the scene breakdowns, so it's the writers that are assigned to episodes after you've done that block of plotting and then they go away and do the scene breakdowns and bring them back?   

[00:16:50] Hannah Carroll Chapman Usually we assigned them an episode once we'd done a bit of a pre plot. 

[00:16:55] Romina Accurso And so yeah. Like I think the writers would then come in, they would read the pre-plot notes which were somewhat detailed on what kind of stories we wanted to tell so they would come in with ideas on how to shape those stories. And so in the plot all four writers of that block would be in the same room for three full days. So other writers were also helping plot episodes they weren't writing. So it was quite collegial and it was quite collaborative. And then the writers of that episode would go off and write their scene breakdown. But by that stage, we would have decided where the scene is, who's in the scene and what happens in the scene in quite a bit of detail. So they're just kind of neatening up the document to send onto the network for feedback at that stage. 

[00:17:37] Caris Bizzaca And so then you send it to the network for feedback, which in this case is the ABC. And they come back with additional notes from there? 

[00:17:48] Hannah Carroll Chapman And then that's when we'd start working on the process of getting the writers onto their first drafts. 

[00:17:54] Romina Accurso With a combination of the ABC notes and our notes and where we where we want to go. Because sometimes you're like ok I think we're telling a story too quickly and we need to pull it back a bit because you know, it works better in the next episode or whatever.  So yeah, I feel bad for the writers. 

[00:18:10] Hannah Carroll Chapman It was great experience though. 

[00:18:13] Romina Accurso  Especially because we did have a lot of emerging first-time writers and I think they were like, wait what? It's all changing. 

[00:18:20] Caris Bizzaca This is next episode now?

[00:18:26] Romina Accurso We'd swap storylines. We're like sorry. 

[00:18:26] Caris Bizzaca You're like it's learning curve guys. Get used to it. 

[00:18:29] Romina Accurso I mean in all honesty, it is. I think that's something we learned on Home and Away. The pulling apart and putting back together quickly was something that we definitely did on Home and Away a lot. And it really does train the brain to be quick at writing and, you know, at delivering. 

[00:18:47] Hannah Carroll Chapman In fact I think my very first episode I ever wrote for Home and Away, I wrote the scene breakdown and then came back in and they're like, yeah, you know, that episode that we plotted? None of that's staying.

[00:18:57] Romina Accurso It's all new. 

[00:19:04] Caris Bizzaca And so how long did the writers actually have to then write the first draft? 

[00:19:09] Romina Accurso Two or three weeks. Yeah it was while. And then they also got a second draft, they probably got another two weeks for the second draft. 

[00:19:18] Hannah Carroll Chapman And something we really, really wanted to and I think we did pretty well was making sure that they felt like they could contact us at anytime if they came into any roadblocks. We really wanted to make them feel supported. Because that's how we felt in-house I think on Home and Away when we worked there. You know you'd often have more senior people in the in the writing team saying just sling us some pages if you want to check anything. 

[00:19:44] Romina Accurso I mean, when you work in-house on a show, you can literally just turn around and go, hey, I need a line and like oh, there's a joke here and I don't know what it is. And is this dumb? And that is a luxury when when you're in-house. But when you're freelance or working remotely, you don't have that. And so we kind of wanted to create a vibe where those writers who weren't in the office every day or weren't living and breathing the show like we were, were free to come to us and go look would this character say this? And I think that helped. Well at least I hope it did. And, as I said, there were so many first-time writers on this show that I think that would've been even more daunting to kind of send something in and not have any idea what you're doing or, all that stuff. 

[00:20:27] Caris Bizzaca Because that's one of the things about this series, right, is that, you know, being 30 episodes, you can bring on people who don't have the level of experience that you might not be able to do if you have a four-episode show. 

[00:20:41] Romina Accurso So we had four first-time (writers), like this would be their first-

[00:20:44] Caris Bizzaca On season two? 

[00:20:45] Romina Accurso On season two. I think season one was the same. .

[00:20:49] Caris Bizzaca And is it true on season 1, some of the people who were new then were able to step up for season 2. 

[00:20:55] Romina Accurso Yeah. We had Katie Beckett. She wrote for the second season as well and was in the room. She was also storylining and was in the plot for the first eight I think of season two.

[00:21:08] Caris Bizzaca And she was on on season one as well?

[00:21:11] Romina Accurso She was yeah. So she was brand new. Brand new writer on season 1 and then so that was really good to kind of help. Because we were helped. We're still being helped but we were helped. 

[00:21:21] Caris Bizzaca And if you look at the industry, you know, 20 years ago or more when there were all those serials and Water Rats and Secret Life of Us. 

[00:21:29] Romina Accurso 22 eps a season. 

[00:21:29] Caris Bizzaca Whereas now it is just Home and Away and Neighbours in terms of soaps and now The Heights is the only kind of other long running thing that's out there. Do you think that makes it harder for writers that want to get their start? 

[00:21:46] Hannah Carroll Chapman Absolutely. 

[00:21:48] Romina Accurso I mean, I feel lucky that I even got a job at Home and Away when I did because I don't know what... I just don't know how to make it otherwise, like how to get your foot in the door. And those jobs just don't exist anymore. There's four script co-ord jobs in the country. 

[00:22:06] Hannah Carroll Chapman Yeah. It's really tricky. 

[00:22:07] Romina Accurso So many shows they have a skeleton crew of script department. If they have a script department. I mean, we kept getting comments on The Heights like, oh, I haven't worked with a script department before! It was like, 'cool! That's cool.' Because usually the scripts are written by one person and then sent on and then there's not a huge amount of liaising or training. 

[00:22:31] Hannah Carroll Chapman There's so much you can learn from writing a script and then having to go through all the process of getting that shot and having to change things and work with other people like directors and actors and and networks who all have a different opinion on, you know, what it what it should be. 

[00:22:50] Romina Accurso And just having to work with the weather. The amount of times the weather ruined stuff for us and we're like ok we're going to have to rewrite this whole strand because we can't go outside now.

[00:23:04] Hannah Carroll Chapman  Just being adaptable. 

[00:23:06] Romina Accurso And you do learn that on the long running series because you can't stop shooting. You can never stop shooting so therefore you have to fix it in script. 

[00:23:14] Caris Bizzaca Do you think though that with... there is this hierarchy of like you said, you know, stepping stones that you can take if you're on a Home and Away or Neighbours or starting out on The Heights where you can move up through the script department. But if there isn't many of those kind of shows around, are many writers kind of coming in sideways? 

[00:23:33] Romina Accurso Yeah, I think look, people will find a way in if they're dedicated enough and good enough. And I think people are creating their own content. I think like web series and all that kind of stuff is really helping a different aspect of the industry where people are content creators in a very new way. And I think that's interesting. And, you know, sometimes I get jealous that that's not what I did. 

[00:23:56] Caris Bizzaca But those people also have an opportunity, I suppose, to find their own unique voice on those platforms and instead of being part of a larger voice.

[00:24:06] Romina Accurso Totally. I find that sometimes those people struggle to adapt into a show though. So that's an interesting thing. Like, you know, sometimes some writers will have written something of their own and it's fantastic and then they get a job on a TV show that isn't their own and it's hard for them because they've never had to kind of write in somebody else's voice. So that's a different skill that I think is an important skill to have. 

[00:24:29] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Well, everyone says that, you know, writing is like a muscle. You train different parts and if you dedicate all your efforts into only one side of it, then you're not going to be able to be adaptable. 

[00:24:44] Hannah Carroll Chapman And that's also applies to only working on a soap. I remember asking Blake Ayshford for advice before I started on Home and Away because he worked on a number of soaps before he became, you know- 

[00:25:00] Romina Accurso Blake Ayshford? 

[00:25:02] Hannah Carroll Chapman THE Blake Ayshford. And his advice to me was that soap is one of the best ways to get into the industry. He's so grateful for everything it did for him. But his one piece of advice was be aware that often you don't have the time in soap when you're plotting a story to kind of take it to the emotional conclusion or spend the amount of time that you need getting that story to its emotional conclusion that doesn't feel rushed. And he said that you've always got to be aware of that and not let yourself, that become the rule for you-

[00:25:36] Romina Accurso For your own writing. 

[00:25:37] Hannah Carroll Chapman Exactly. For your own writing. 

[00:25:38] Romina Accurso Totally. And it is hard. It is like, you know, when you're in any show but when you're in a show that has so much quantity, it is hard to find not only time to write your own stuff and find your own voice and make sure you're not losing that. But like, yeah, you struggle to not write in the voice that you've been writing for the last six months. So you definitely need a little bit of a palate cleanser between working epically hard on one show and then kind of pivoting back to your own work. That's a challenge. 

[00:26:08] Hannah Carroll Chapman It is a challenge because working on Home and Away and working on Neighbours, they are full time jobs man, like they're six, seven days a week sometimes. So finding the time to write your own stuff- 

[00:26:20] Romina Accurso And not lose yourself as a creative because you are giving a lot of yourself and your creative drive to a show that isn't yours. And I think you should. I think if you're committing to a show like any show, you should give all of yourself to it. But when you come out of it and you're like, oh, I got to write my own thing, but I forget how to...? So that's a challenge. 

[00:26:44] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Juggling that if you want to be telling your own stuff. And I mean, well, what advice do you then have for writers, you know, whether or not they are wanting to work on one of these soaps or if they are wanting to do more of web series or their own things. Do you have any general big pieces of advice for writers out there? 

[00:27:01] Romina Accurso Do both. I think, you know, from personal experience, working on Home and Away in-house and on The Heights in-house, I have learnt a lot about production. So like, I know how to make a show. I've seen how a show is made. 

[00:27:17] Caris Bizzaca Well, especially as a script producer. 

[00:27:20] Romina Accurso Totally. And I know what everybody on a set does. I understand the mechanics of making a TV show as well as the politics and the business of making a TV show. So I didn't create Home and Away - it wasn't at all my creative vision. But I got to watch it being made from concept to cut. I got to see everybody work on it. I got to understand how the networks see something, you know, so you learn so much working in-house on a TV show, particularly high quantity one, that I just don't believe that you can't use that to your own advantage later. And I think that's something that I'm taking from Home and Away and The Heights, that I got to see it all. And that can only make me a stronger content creator in the future. At least I hope so. And so I think that's advice: Don't think you already know how to do it. Go watch other people do it. 

[00:28:09] Caris Bizzaca Mm hmm. Hannah? 

[00:28:11] Hannah Carroll Chapman I think my advice in terms of like cracking into the industry. I mean, another way of doing it is going and getting yourself a note-taking role at a production company, because that will in so many ways get you into meeting those production companies, the people that work in-house for them, other writers, and start to create a kind of list of people that you can contact for future jobs, for people to help you hone your skills. I'd say if you're going into a room as a new writer, one piece of advice that I got when I was starting out was don't ever be afraid not to say anything when you're like, when you're in a room plotting. Often you can feel like you need to say words because you're being too quiet. Often, actually, the worst thing you can do is verbally diarrhoea out your internal thought process, which is something that I have absolutely committed, a crime that I've committed. Sometimes it's just best to kind of sit with an idea until you feel like actually yeah I can contribute something that's worth it instead of just saying words because I feel like I haven't spoken for a while in this room. 

[00:29:23] Romina Accurso I think something a lot of newcomers do is they misunderstand that it actually is a professional environment. Like a writer's room can be rude and fun and everybody's swearing and cracking jokes and all of that stuff. But those people have probably known each other for decades, number one. And at the end of the day, it's still a professional environment. And I think you should attack it like a professional. You should show up 10 minutes early. You should show up with your laptop. You should show up ready to work a full day. You should be prepared - it's a hard job. It's a rare job. So if you get it, be on your best game. Because you'll get noticed that way. 

[00:30:03] Hannah Carroll Chapman Absolutely. And you know, look at the show that you're in there as a new writer for. Go and watch other shows that are in that world, read everything, prepare, just come absolutely prepared. 

[00:30:15] Romina Accurso If you know, if you get a list of who's gonna be in the room, Google them all. Like in all honesty, know who you're going be talking to that day. 

[00:30:24] Caris Bizzaca  Do your research. 

[00:30:27] Romina Accurso Do your research! 

[00:30:27] Hannah Carroll Chapman And also, a big piece of advice I have for new writers as well is when you're going into these rooms and even if you're a note taker, have things that you've written yourself that are in your voice, because there are a lot of very generous writers in this industry who will be more than happy to help young new writers get a leg up. 

[00:30:48] Romina Accurso Who want to read and want to help. Not just happy to, but actually actively want to.

[00:30:54] Caris Bizzaca So even if you've got a very junior role on something, always have kind of some of your work, ready to go to show someone if they're like 'oh what are you working on lately?'. 

[00:31:02] Hannah Carroll Chapman  Totally have the pages. Have the pages. Have written something. 

[00:31:10] Caris Bizzaca Like actually have the printed out pages? (laughter)

[00:31:15] Hannah Carroll Chapman Make sure they're centred. (laughter)

[00:31:18] Romina Accurso Have something ready to go. If somebody asks to read your stuff, have it ready. 

[00:31:24] Caris Bizzaca And you said note-taker before, just again if someone isn't sure what that is, what's a kind of note-taking role?

[00:31:31] Hannah Carroll Chapman A note-taking role is where production companies, often they'll have a very early idea that either they've come up with or a writer's brought to them and they will have formed a room of writers and maybe a producer who are in there to brainstorm that idea or maybe even to plot it if they're a bit further along. But let's say it's just a brainstorm. So they will have collected a bunch of writers that they think will be great brains to create that world and to create a Bible or a pitch document and then what they'll need though, is someone who's in there to take notes. Note-taking is probably the hardest job because then, you know, you spend all day in that room taking notes from the ideas that are coming out of people's mouths. And then you have to go home and you have to put them in a legible (document).

[00:32:24] Romina Accurso Edit them to a point where you are creating those like... 

[00:32:27] Caris Bizzaca Organise it. Figure out the throughlines. 

[00:32:31] Romina Accurso Totally. And it's a tough gig. But if you're good at it you're going to get work. You're going to get invited back. 

[00:32:37] Caris Bizzaca And you were saying before some of the roles and I was just wondering like with something like, let's say The Heights season two, so there's a creator, a head writer and then we've got script producers, a story editor. Can you kind of define what some of these different things are because you can be a creator of a show and not be a writer? But you can also be a creator of a show and be a writer. 

[00:33:00] Romina Accurso So the show was created by Warren Clarke who was also the showrunner, and Que Minh Luu  who now is an executive at the ABC. So they created the show, the concept of the show, five hundred thousand years ago. (laughter) Que left and went to the ABC and is our executive. And Warren remained as the showrunner, so he very much was part of the writing process. I mean, he's in every writer's room and he wrote for the show, every plot, like it is his vision, but his job also when it got into production particularly, he also has to deal with every other aspect of production. 

[00:33:41] Caris Bizzaca Because as a showrunner you're also a producer. 

[00:33:41] Romina Accurso Yeah so he was spread thin. And that's why the script department, particularly like myself, Hannah, Megan and Sarah Bassiuoni kind of, we didn't take over but we were the machine working. Like he still had editorial say, and he still oversaw every script and would give notes and was part of the plot when we were plotting. But he wasn't part of the day to day script jobs. He oversaw more so, particularly when we got to Perth. 

[00:34:11] Caris Bizzaca Which is where it's filmed. 

[00:34:12] Romina Accurso Yeah which is where it's filmed. Whereas Que was, yes a creator, but she then became the network executive that we liaised with. So she would give notes or collate notes from her team,  the development team at the ABC, and she represented the ABC, but is still a creator of the series. 

[00:34:33] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, okay. Yeah, interesting. 

[00:34:35] Romina Accurso  I think it's odd. Like I don't know how common it is for a creator to then be at the network. 

[00:34:40] Hannah Carroll Chapman It's a rare thing. 

[00:34:45] Romina Accurso But I think it worked well. 

[00:34:47] Caris Bizzaca She would have understood the story. 

[00:34:48] Romina Accurso Totally. And she was super dedicated and really very passionate, very passionate about the show and you know, gave notes on every draft. Everything, you know she's in the cuts. So her fingerprints are very much on the creative product. 

[00:35:02] Caris Bizzaca And for both of you, just wondering, like personally, your writing process, what that is like? Like if you're writing a script, what is your process? Do you give yourself working hours for that day where you're like, 'okay, I'm gonna get up and I'm gonna write from this time until this time' or 'I need to be able to produce this many pages in one day'? Or you will just write until it's done? Do you have a process or it changes? 

[00:35:32] Romina Accurso We both are terrible. It depends. Deadlines help.  If I've got a deadline, I will work until it's done. If it's for myself and I give myself deadlines but they're really easy to ignore. So I do try and leave the house and go to the library from 9 to 5 and try and treat it as a job. 

[00:35:56] Caris Bizzaca So you have a different place that you go to to work. 

[00:36:00] Romina Accurso I used to work in my office at home and that kind of drove me a little bit mad because I found that like I'd get out of bed at 6, 6:30, sit at my desk and then all of a sudden it's 10 o'clock and I'm still in my pyjamas and I've had four coffees and I look like the Babadook. So I kind of started to go, no I need to treat this as a job and go somewhere every day when I'm working from home. And that helped for a bit.

[00:36:29] Caris Bizzaca What about you Hannah? 

[00:36:29] Hannah Carroll Chapman I actually find that working with other people, like even when you're not working on the same thing, like going to the library with them. 

[00:36:37] Romina Accurso We've spent some time at your place together and pottered around. 

[00:36:42] Caris Bizzaca It's almost like you're accountable because someone else is there? 

[00:36:46] Romina Accurso Totally. Making sure you're not actually lazing about. 

[00:36:51] Hannah Carroll Chapman How many pieces of toast have you eaten today? (laughter)

[00:36:54] Hannah Carroll Chapman But yeah, I mean and I guess my writing process is the one thing that I've learned is like vomit draft. The vomit draft is... just get it down. Like both from a I guess a craft thing but also from a mental health perspective. Just like knowing that you've actually written the whole thing, even though you loathe every word of it, it's still, you've got the foundation blocks there and you can go back and go. 

[00:37:21] Romina Accurso Delete?

[00:37:23] Hannah Carroll Chapman Wow you suck! (laughter) 

[00:37:26] Romina Accurso You'll never make it! 

[00:37:28] Hannah Carroll Chapman All those fun thoughts. 

[00:37:31] Caris Bizzaca It's like the vomit draft and then you can work on that to the point where it is actually the first draft. 

[00:37:38] Hannah Carroll Chapman I mean editing, editing, editing, editing. 

[00:37:42] Romina Accurso Writing is rewriting. 

[00:37:47] Caris Bizzaca It's so annoying when those sayings are actually true. 

[00:37:49] Romina Accurso I know! It's like shut up, I just want to write one thing once and it be good and done. Why does it have to be so hard? And like, writing isn't necessarily just writing. Like sometimes my day will be just reading pilot scripts of shows that I love to kind of go, 'okay, how did they do it? Why is that good?' Like I am learning my craft I think in that. So even though I'm not creating pages, I'm kind of going, I'm thinking critically. 

[00:38:14] Caris Bizzaca Well you're analysing it, you're thinking about pace, or how they've kind of crafted those characters. 

[00:38:20] Romina Accurso Exactly. How did they nail that tone? Or what what was successful about this and what can I learn from it? 

[00:38:25] Hannah Carroll Chapman Actually, that's so true. I feel like that's another piece of advice. Read scripts. Have a trove of scripts that you find of shows that you love or respect. The internet is a magical place where you can find all of those scripts. And then you can read exactly how those writers- 

[00:38:44] Romina Accurso It's so strange. Like, I don't think anybody would expect a novelist to not have read a book. But, sometimes you do find writers who haven't read screenplays. And I'm like, 'what? Why? You didn't just watch the show. Read it.' They're going to be different. You know, not every script is going to be shot word for word, even though sometimes we wish they would. (laughter) Read scripts. Get familiar with that language because it is a different language. 

[00:39:11] Caris Bizzaca Great. Well, we'll leave it there. But thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and talking to us all about script departments. 

[00:39:19] Hannah Carroll Chapman Thanks Caris. 

[00:39:19] Romina Accurso Thank you. Thank you so much. 

[00:39:22] Caris Bizzaca That was screenwriters Romina Accurso and Hannah Carroll Chapman. Remember you can check out their most recent work when The Heights season 2 airs on ABC from March 12. Also, don't forget, you can subscribe to the Screen Australia newsletter and we'll send you all the latest industry news, articles, videos and podcasts every fortnight. Thanks for listening.