Most writers are accustomed to working alone while polishing a script, Bell says. It’s the earlier stages of story development that predominantly occur inside writers’ rooms, where narrative arcs are sketched out on whiteboards.
You find yourself revealing things you probably wouldn’t say at a barbecue.
Screenwriter Keith Thompson on TV writers’ rooms
“In a writers’ room, we can riff off each other’s ideas more fluidly without internet lag getting in the way,” says Neighbours script producer Kate Bradley. After suspending production to introduce social distancing measures, the series resumed filming last month. “There were a few teething issues when we started working from home but we’ve very much found our rhythm.”
Indeed, life in lockdown has been a source of inspiration.
“We’re a show about the joy, conflict and heartaches that come from people living with their families, spouses and friends – and that’s about all we’re all doing at the moment,” Bradley says. “I do miss walking around the studios and the back lot with the script team. You forget to take those breaks when you’re working in isolation.
Husband-and-wife creative team Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope (The Librarians, Upper Middle Bogan, The InBESTigators) are better placed than most. They’ve used their time at home to develop various projects while also filming and producing a six-part series called Love in Lockdown.
Actor and singer Lucy Durack, whose lead role in the stage musical Shrek was cut short when theatres were forced to close, approached Butler with the idea of a romantic comedy set in isolation.
Using Zoom, they co-wrote the series; less than three weeks later, it was released on YouTube.
This was no mean feat given the actors – Durack, Eddie Perfect and Annie Maynard – never saw each other in person. It was Hope’s job to teach the cast how to use the lights and mini-cameras he sent to their homes, then direct their scenes remotely.
“Development [of a series] takes forever but especially now,” Butler says, “That’s why it was so much fun to not wait for anyone to say yes to this little project.”
Keith Thompson, the script producer of Channel Nine’s Australian drama Doctor Doctor, is looking forward to working in the same room as his writers once the restrictions are eased. (Nine is the owner of this masthead.)
“You find yourself revealing things you probably wouldn’t say at a barbecue, which helps make the writing feel more truthful,” Thompson says. “It’s kind of a rule that what’s said in the room stays in the room.”
Michael Lallo is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.