I’ve had a few questions about how the script development process for Wolfblood works, so I thought it might be useful to lay out the process from start to finish, for anyone who’s interested in the process of television writing.
Of course, this is just us. Different shows work in different ways. But the basics, in my experience, are much the same…
The development of any given season starts with a two or three-day writers conference, bringing together all the writers working on that season, the script editors, and the producer. (In fact, we have two of these, one for the first half of the season, another for the second.)
This conference is basically a process of exploration: where do we want to take the characters, what kinds of stories to we want to tell about them, what elements of our world haven’t yet been fully explored? Everyone is sat round a table throwing in ideas and thoughts on an equal basis, anything is possible, and frequently the season emerges from this conference as a very different beast to what we’d all envisaged going in!
Sometimes writers arrive with fragments of stories they want to tell, but mostly, both the ongoing character arcs and the story of the week emerge from discussion during these days. It can be a pretty spirited discussion at times – at least one episode in season two provoked a pretty heated moral discussion on what decision a character should make! – but the goal is to make sure the show as a whole is the best it possibly can be, and we’re all looking to choose the best idea, wherever it comes from.
All of these discussions are recorded, as typed notes and as a chart detailing what happens in which episode. By the end of the conference, the fledgling episodes are allocated to writers, and we all set off home to start work.
The next stage is to create a basic outline a few pages long, detailing the beginning, middle and end of the story, and concentrating on what danger or obstacle the characters face in this story, and how they grow and change to overcome it.
Once the outline is working, which might take a couple of tries, the writer moves onto a scene by scene outline, which is much more detailed. As you’d expect from the name, this document goes through the plot scene by scene, detailing exactly what happens where, and to whom.
The scene by scene outline is basically an abbreviated script without dialogue, and it’s your chance to ensure that all the elements of the plot make sense and slot neatly into one another. This is usually the point where you realise that a character can’t actually be in this scene because they’re ten miles away at this point, or that it will be impossible to shoot this scene in this location, or that the big crowd scene would actually work better as a quiet conversation between two people.
Scene by scenes can take a couple of attempts to get right, but this is where a lot of the real work of the writing gets done, potentially saving you a couple of drafts of the script. And the earlier you identify and tackle any problems, the easier they are to fix. (Indeed, I’m seriously considering writing scene by scene outlines for all my film projects from now on, because they save so much time and effort at the draft stage!)
And once the scene by scene is in good shape, work can begin on the script.
Every draft of the outline, scene by scene or script is, of course, followed by notes from the script editors and producers. In my experience, these notes fall largely into two areas: things that will be difficult or impossible for practical shooting reasons, and things you haven’t made clear enough.
The practical stuff is self-explanatory; though Wolfblood is a pretty expensive show by CBBC standards, we have a lot less money to create each minute of screen time than a prime time show would, and we have to spend it wisely. Crowd scenes, scenes that will be complicated to shoot, exterior scenes and (most of all) wolf effects have to be strictly rationed, and used where they’ll have the most dramatic effect.
The other notes tend to be about having an effect, too; making sure that you’re getting everything you can out of the characters and the situation. Wolfblood episodes pack in a fair amount of plot and character development, and it’s easy to lose track of one element while you’re concentrating on something else. It’s also fatally easy to assume you’ve made a plot point or a character’s feelings clear, when you actually haven’t. To my mind, script editors have two main skills: they have the objectivity to spot the problems you can’t, and the experience, the understanding of how story works, to help you solve them…
Anywhere from three to eight drafts later – some stories are just a lot harder to get right than others! – you have a finished script. Only it’s not quite finished yet! Once the director comes on board, typically about a month before shooting, they’ll have a few notes – again, a mixture of story notes and practical problems. And there will inevitably be a few changes during shooting, and even more in the editing room…
And that’s basically how a Wolfblood script is written – with hard work, a good team of people, and the occasional bar of chocolate…