The following questions were asked of me (Ben Warren) as the lead writer on Golden Age by the University of Maidstone as part of their Media Degree course.
1. What was your first script about?
My very first script was an adaption for the stage of the famous radio show and novel ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. The adaption had to be specially crafted for a particular stage and budget, so whilst the story and dialogue was mostly already mapped out for me I found that sound, lighting and stage cues were taking up almost half the space of the document. From there I felt that I had the ability to begin work on my own original scripts, and wrote a musical about university students spending their first year together in shared accommodation, which was staged directly after Hitchhikers finished its run in the same venue and actually made more money overall.
2. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in your scriptwriting career?
Working on Golden Age has been a coming together of many friends, and has made something of many smaller ideas and concepts that we’d all been jotting down for several years. Completely self funded and brought about entirely through the hard work of those involved, it was also our first foray into writing purely for audio (which takes on a very different flavour than doing so for stage, but to my mind is more enjoyable because you aren’t shackled with budget constraints when it comes to what you envision). When series one was complete we all sat down with notepads to listen through the whole thing, ready to take notes on changes or things that didn’t work and to our surprise only one or two scenes were cut from the initial edit for pacing reasons. Making Golden Age available to everyone was a very proud moment for us, and we are all very happy with it. I think the greatest achievement for me was masking the twist at the end, and being able to make listeners hate a character passionately for eleven episodes before suddenly having to reevaluate everything about the show and that character’s choices by the season finale. The feedback on our forums and direct to our emails has been priceless.
3. What is your favourite thing about scriptwriting?
I’ve always been someone who jots concepts and ideas down on paper. In the form of doodles (I studied and work as a Graphic Designer/Illustrator) or as notes to myself regarding cool settings or characters. When I was a child people would laughingly tell me that I had an overactive imagination when they discovered whole books of such notes. One page on a science fiction character with a fantasy concept scribbles in the corner, all smudged together at random as they occurred to me. Writing scripts allows me to vent my imagination and put some of my ideas into practice. They don’t all make it, some see the light of day very much changed from what I’d imagined, but when I’m writing it’s like I’m penning something that’s unique to me. I always write for myself first, and others second, so if I feel that a small character has potential and I want to see where he ends up he’ll be coming back later. A character we’d planned to kill off early in the script for Golden Age turned out to become a series mainstay in this manner, making it all the way into main-character status by the end because he was so much fun to write and offered such a different perspective to the other characters.
4. What is the most challenging thing about scriptwriting?
Knowing when to stop is always hard. It’s easy to get carried away and write 100 pages when 40 would do the job. Sometimes being wrapped up in the characters is a good thing, it allows you to better write their nuances and have those come through to an audience, but we don’t need to hear every little thing that they think and do. Conversations should never outstay their welcome and info-dumps that drop new plot into a script should be avoided at all costs. Making a seamless and natural progression instead of stopping to dump details onto a listener that they’ll need for later is a key skill.
5. If you could change one thing about a script you have written, what would it be?
When writing the pilot for ‘Tonberry and Glass’ we were given very severe time constraints due to the fact that it had to be completed from concept to end product in just two days and have a running time of just 15 minutes. Because of this is rocks along at a running pace but I feel that some of the more delicate and funny aspects of the script has to be cut. I’d have loved to have spent more time balancing all the gags so that they all fired as strongly and allowing characters to be more eloquent than time allowed for in the end. As it was the second draft of the script went straight into production rather than the sixth or seventh that I usually send.
6. How do you judge your success as a scriptwriter?
Through the reaction of the audience and how much fun the cast and crew have making it. If people are bored or just plain fed up then it’s a very good sign that you’ve not done a great job. If you read your own script more than twice and feel bored with it, then alarm bells should be ringing. I‘ve been very lucky that the feedback on my work to date from the listeners at Cascade Studios has been very positive.
7. Who or what is your biggest inspiration/influence?
When I was younger I was very much into comics, and one Christmas I received audio adoptions of two of my favourite comic storylines at the time, ‘Batman: Knightfall’ and ‘The Death of Superman’. Both made by BBC Radio 1 and written by Dirk Maggs. I remember listening to them on repeat and loving how they didn’t have a narrator or overly descriptive dialogue, allowing me to better picture things for myself. From there my parents were able to dig into their own back catalogue of favourites to provide me with ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and shows like ‘The Navy Lark’. I also received a script-book the same year for the audio production of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and unofficially began my education into script writing. More recently I read the biography of Russell T Davies who worked on the revamped ‘Doctor Who’, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the stress behind being a script writer and show runner, but boy did it make me boot up my computer and write.
8. One piece of advice for a budding scriptwriter?
Watch everything, read everything, listen to everything. You never know what is going to inspire you. Media today, especially television, is so varied that there’s great material all around you. When I was a kid I had to go to a library and order something in, wait months and then see it. Films were released to video rental before they could be brought and made it onto tv years after they had aired. Today things have never been easier to grab and use. It’s a media renaissance. The boarder your experience the more you can draw upon when you sit down to write for yourself. Remember, George Lucas was drawing on Greek myths, fairytales and old television serials like Flash Gordon when he wrote Star Wars, and he went on to inspire a whole generation of budding writers. Try to subvert expectations where you can, not everything needs to follow the classic ‘hero’s journey’ format, or if it does then bring some flavour of your own to the formula. Above all else, have fun with it, because if you’re not then others won’t.