Crime Pays


From guest blogger Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters Festival 2010

The last semiar I did today was Crime Writing with Rick Drew, Daniel Eckhart, Andrew Taft and Barbara Machin.

Crime is one of the most popular genres and in the workshop the writers discussed with us why that might be. The overall consensus seemed to be that the techniques of writing crime are techniques that would serve any genre of film well but set within the worlds of crime the stakes are much higher and so the human stories tend to be of larger intensity, often life or death. They can allso allow for smaller more identifiable stories alongside the main A story. A lost dog, a drunk and disorderly . People conquer their fears about their world and can identify and empathise. Time and again throughout the panel the writers reitterated the fact that character really matters.

Though the seminar was largely about TV crime writing the tips given could in some cases apply to film. Where there was a difference it was with regard to sustainability. Some of the most popular crime dramas run over many seasons and for many years. The characters need to develop whilst still remaining their familiar selves for an audience. Backstory is the key to this, it provides rich threads from which future stories and revelations can be woven.

As far as plot goes it was mentioned that the types of crimes themselves can tell you something more about the characters in long running dramas too. History and society issues can play a large part in this. A long running German crime drama Tatort (meaning 'crime scene') is a bit of a national treasure by all accounts and has been running for forty years now with each regional TV channel producing it's own episodes with it's own lead detective and stories set in that region (therefore very much connecting the dram with the people of that region and making it personal to them). This was a fascinating concept to me and again drew in the fact that characters and places/situations and even politics that people can relate to is a very big sustainer of long term drama.

The crime dramas that the writers spoke about were quite vastly different for various reasons. A new Canadian drama for both Canadian and US television, the German series just mentioned, the hit seasonal show Waking The Dead and the long running week in week out crime procedural The Bill. Each had issues to contend with and each had something fresh about them when the shows were comissioned. What seemed to come up a lot were again, character and character complexity, building on the premise and backstory and going back to earlier episodes to find small things that might fuel future development storylines for the characters and the writer's voice, the freshness, the way you reveal character.

The seminar had to be moved to a larger hall so that peple could all fit in and ran a little overtime with the Script Chat proving highly popular too. Crime certainly is popular, no wonder it pays.


Leilani Holmes

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