Last night I dreamed I was wandering in the House of Stories with my mum. I reckoned it was the House of Stories for two reasons: 1] because my late mum, Jan Webster, was a writer who had many stories and novels published, and 2] we were in the bedroom of one of the characters from Pobol y Cwm, the very well-scripted Welsh language soap I watch religiously. The door out of this tiny room was blocked by clothes hanging over it, and, as we forced it open, the clothes fell on us. I guess we were looking for something, but being thwarted. Well I am certainly looking for something – a killer ending for my screenplay! Even in my sleep I was at it.
I think I had the dream because, just before going to bed, I watched a very interesting little film, tacked on the end of The Good Wife DVD I had been watching. The Good Wife by the way is one of the best drama series on the TV, starring the marvellous Julianna Margulies playing Alicia Florrick, a woman who returns to her work as a lawyer after being betrayed by her politician husband. This is one of those shows which is about everything – love, ethics, betrayal, bringing up kids, how to be a good person in a corrupt world, sex, friendship, intrigue, even religion and its role in American life – and is never predictable or playing to the lowest common denominator. It is deeply satisfying to watch and Julianna M is an actor of great subtlety, who plays Alicia as a highly intelligent and aware woman who is constantly having to manage her own emotions to deal with the tensions of her familial and work world.
I had wondered why this series was so good (as good as Borgen!) and this little film explained why: the programme is produced by a very creative and harmonious collective of people, benevolently overseen by the original creators of the series, Michelle and Robert King. We see the discussions going on in the writers’ room, where a team of about ten writers ‘break’ the script, meaning work out the detailed storyline, over a week. It’s then passed to one writer to flesh out. Each writer has his or her area of expertise – the law, character, relationships – and the film claimed that they all worked together with mutual respect and productivity. They did look as if they were enjoying themselves and such moods are difficult to fake.
The collective spirit carried on into the actual shooting of the episode and the post-production – and it did not seem to be a repressive collectivism which thwarted creativity but a genuine bonding in the service of something unusually worthwhile. This was inspiring to me because, although I spend many lonely hours at the word processor, I am basically a ‘group’ person. I love working on a creative project with other people, and already I have benefitted from the insights and the creative input of friends into each draft of my screenplay. But I know I can’t ask others to be involved in a more gritty way until that screenplay is agreed by those whom I trust, respect and admire to be a truly lively blueprint for the film to come. If the basic concept is good and it is well realised so far, I reckon others will come on board with me.
But I don’t yet know if it is good enough. I am either nearly there, or about to find out that this cherished concept of mine doesn’t have legs to stand up out there in the world of other people. I reckon I will get there – but only because my friends can point out the weaknesses in my work, and then I can try to go the extra mile. Thanks, guys, and thanks to my mum for cheering me up by appearing in my dream.