The BBC and indies need to join forces to address the dearth of new writing talent in the UK, producer Caryn Mandabach told Broadcast’s Production and Post Forum this week.
The US-born producer behind BBC2’s critically acclaimed Peaky Blinders and US hits Roseanne and Nurse Jackie said the only way to grow new talent is for producers and the corporation to jointly fund apprentice writers.
“The BBC and indies together should fund at least one apprentice writer for every big-budget production. There should be a mandate because the only way to learn is to sit with a senior writer. It needs to be acknowledged that it’s a craft that has to be passed down, just like a cobbler making shoes.”
Mandabach said shorter episode runs in the UK and the lack of a writers’ room meant there were too few opportunities for writers to learn their trade on the ground, unlike in the US.
“The magic of the writers’ room in the US is that you have access to the person holding the pencil. In the UK, the budget simply doesn’t allow it.”
Mandabach, who launched her indie Caryn Mandabach Productions in the UK in 2005, added that a writer such as Peaky Blinders scribe Steven Knight could select an apprentice and decide on the level of their involvement, but should at least share drafts and explain the thinking behind their script and subsequent changes.
“It’s important, especially as far as everyday storybreaking is concerned. It’s not so much about dialogue, or the specific technicalities of a murder, for example.
The emphasis needs to be about the bones of the story; that’s the real difficulty at the heart of writing.”
Mandabach told delegates she expected to have news on whether the BBC had commissioned a second series of the Birminghamset drama, which ended with a consolidated figure of 2.5 million viewers, any day. News on a US sale is also imminent.