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Wednesday 25 November 2015

The Secret of Soaps: Cast and crew on how Corrie is created

Last night the Royal Television Society hosted 'The Secret of Soaps - The Story Behind the Stories' - a panel discussion and Q&A with Tina O'Brien (Sarah-Lou Platt), scriptwriter Debbie Oates, Producer Stuart Blackburn and MD of Continuing Drama at ITV John Whiston. Also in attendance, secretly sitting behind me was actress Sair Khan (Alya Nazir).

The idea of the event was to pull apart a typical episode of Coronation Street and discuss all the different cogs that make up the big Corrie machine. The cast and crew actually decided on the recent live episode - a not so typical one - as it was one they were particularly proud of, and of course Tina O'Brien's performance received much praise.

After watching a montage of the past year in Corrie, John Whiston kicked things off by reaffirming the show as one of "strong women and feckless men" (see my blog from Tuesday) and that he at ITV and all the writers remain true to Tony Warren's initial ideas. Stuart Blackburn picked up on a question by the host Paul Jackson on the longevity of Coronation Street and how storylines are concluded. He explained how once a particular story comes to its conclusion that is not necessarily the end of the story. As was seen with the fire at Carla's flat, the repercussions for different characters last far beyond the main event. Stuart also discussed the state the show was in when he took the reins as producer, and how he hopes to leave it when he finally moves on. He claimed despite his dislike of certain characters or storylines, the media speculation of cast 'culls' is always exaggerated and he preferred to work on the basis of evolution not revolution. 

The panel then touched on the beginning and end of a particular character's time on Coronation Street, Stuart and John both referring to the soap 'Gods'. Using David Platt as an example, they discussed his wayward character coming into adolescence and there was concern from some of the team that there was nowhere realistic for his character to go. So the soap Gods dictated that he was headed for either jail or death if he didn't change. Luckily for David, and Jack P Shepherd, they took him down the route of love which allowed him to grow up and change his priorities, and he became the central character we see today.

Debbie Oates then revealed a little secret regarding the demise of another character - Richard Hillman. She reminisced about being a young writer, attending Coronation Street story conferences for the first time. Back then it was more difficult for the younger, more junior writers to get heard around the table and put their ideas across, even more so if you were a woman. One particular conference was discussing the ongoing Hillman storyline and the team were struggling to agree on an end game for him and the Platts. Debbie, hidden among the primarily male writing team piped up with a question - "Is Richard the type
of man who would take his own life and take the family with him?". No response. After struggling to get heard, a male colleague repeated the question on her behalf, and the team finally listened. The rest, of course, is history, although Debbie was never credited with the idea.

The panel continued to focus on the Platt 'dynasty', how Sarah-Lou had been born on the show and now had a daughter of her own, something very strange for all concerned and a fact which made most of the room feel very old. Tina O'Brien described her discussions about returning to the show, and how it should have been much sooner, but the small matter of having a baby got in the way. She was asked about what she was expecting on her return in terms of workload and storylines. She didn't know what to expect, but she knew it would either be a very low key, short term thing, or the opposite, and we have seen on our screens that the latter is the case.

Tina also shared with us her experiences during the live episode, describing the adrenaline and pressure as quite enjoyable. She said that having those intense scenes with Callum Logan (Sean Ward) involving high emotion and choreography, was much preferable to having more normal scenes with a series of scripted lines, as the physical strain of the fight scenes allowed them to cover up any nerves they may have had. Once one scene had finished during the live episode, Tina admitted to doing a few star jumps, asking the crew how the rest of the episode was going, and trying to keep her eyes watering for the next scene. She also shared that Paula Lane, who plays Kylie, stood with a real spanner (the murder weapon) held stretched out in front of her between scenes so that her arms were tired when they started filming again, all to add to what was a brilliant series of scenes.

Moving on from the Platts, Stuart and Debbie went back to their thoughts on the future of Corrie and the potential stars of that future. Referring to the recent history of the Barlows, they praised young actress Elle Mulvany, likening Amy to Blanche and pondering what will happen to the character in the years to come. This took Stuart back to the forward planning element of his job, where even though they only work on episodes a few months ahead, he's always thinking in the much longer term.

Debbie also touched on how the past can sometimes dictate future stories even when the old story has come to it's final conclusion. They described how during a story meeting some time ago, the shooting of Ernie Bishop came up in conversation. Debbie realised it was roughly the time for the gunman to be released from prison, and it was decided to make a story out of it, even all those years later. It was also mentioned that this element of such a long running programme can also trip them up, as was highlighted on the Coronation Street blog, when a line in a script suggested it had been forgotten that Kevin Webster had had a baby that had died. The archivists come in useful in these types of situation but there is noone specifically employed to look how new storylines can be linked to old ones. 

At the end of the discussion, the audience were given the opportunity to ask the panel some questions. They revealed some interesting thought processes and unknown facts regarding certain storylines and characters:

- Carla Connor (Ali King) has always been a popular character according to polling, but she was failing to reach that iconic recognition and Corrie bosses were curious as to why this was. After much discussion, it was decided that even with the most gripping storylines, Carla was missing a more human, emotional side, and this is why it was decided that she would gravitate toward Roy and Hayley - partly to give Carla another dimension. They felt the character deserved that progression.

- "If the scene is about what the scene is about, you've written a crap scene" - a quote from Debbie Oates. We had watched a clip from the live episode where Roy and Carla were discussing his fears on 'moving on' from Hayley's death. They discuss trains, paddling, journeys. It's beautiful and shows the intricacies of not being to too blatant with the text. Here's that scene.

- Tina talked us through her live scene with Callum and how the fight itself, where they should stand, how it would play out, was not written with stage directions. A choreographer came in and talked through the scene with the actors, and they choroeographed it all themselves. Debbie added that she never likes to write stage directions for things like fights. In fact she likes to write 'they all fight' in the script then go to the pub, hilariously adding that she wished she'd written the script for Titanic - 'The Titanic sinks...' - pub time.

- In the original script for the end of the live episode, written by Debbie, a camera on a large crane was planned to rise above the whole of the street revealing each of the live scenes across the set. It was wishful thinking for Debbie, the idea was too difficult to put into practice and the shot would have revealed half of Salford's Media City in the background.

- Stuart Blackburn took issue with the idea (as stated on the RTS website) that 'Corrie is the richest training ground for budding writers, directors, designers and producers'. Stuart said this is rubbish and that all the great talent goes to Corrie once it has been established. He stressed how difficult it is to become a Corrie writer and suggested anybody who wants to send in their CV, better have a pretty hefty list of credits to their name.

Our blogger Stevie Dawson at the event!
I believe the event was filmed so I will try and get hold of a link to the video soon. You can also see a Twitter feed of quotes and updates from the event here.

The RTS have a review and article about the event - you can read it here.


Deirdre: A Life on Coronation Street - official ITV tribute to a soap icon. Available here.

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1 comment:

Tvor said...

Thanks for the great write up!!! Sounds very, very interesting!


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