The Skill of Television Writing - Raindance

Television writing has become an increasingly relevant skill in the entertainment business. Everyone in the industry is easily ready to dismiss the writers. Yet all studio heads and producers are looking for a writer who can put together a story that leaps off the page and stays in their mind.

Writing for film is such an incredibly complex task. It will give even the most accomplished writers high levels of anxiety and the lowest levels of morale ever known to humankind. So why would anyone want to give themselves the task of writing for television? It takes even more time, is terribly more intricate than film and just never seems to end.

Well, that’s where interesting stories are going. Cinema legend Jane Campion is known for such complex films as Sweetie and The Piano. Recently, she has switched her attention to the small screen. ‘The clever people used to do film. Now they do TV’, Campion argues.

The great migration to TV

There has clearly been a move towards television. Steven Soderbergh, never one to shy away from a challenge, was dramatically moved to television for Behind the Candelabra. Studio executives were weary of releasing it theatrically, as they judged the content to be “too gay”. The film went to television. It was a hit domestically and was released on the big screen overseas.

Soderbergh pushed the experience further, later working on his own series, The Knick. He would have been his usual idiosyncratic self, had he not initiated a great migration of talent that comprised Jane Campion with Top of the Lake, Martin Scorsese with Boardwalk Empire, etc…

These filmmakers have been driven out of the feature film form by the usual summer fare of loud blockbusters and flat superheroes. It now seems that the film business has stopped hiding the fact the best advertisement for its films are the previous instalments in their franchises. Therefore, there is very little room for original voices.

Television writing for the auteur

These auteurs found a new home in the land of television after the flood of superheroes -Raindance alumni such as Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright being this summer’s exceptions. Television had known a few master works with near authorial voices before. The West Wing had this typical Sorkin voice. The SopranosThe Wire and others were a sensation.

Then came Netflix. The new platform gave licence to filmmakers to explore story worlds. It destroyed the illusion that the blockbuster belonged in the cinema. If a blockbuster is supposed to give instant gratification through spectacle, Netflix gave the world its long-form equivalent, with great stories that hook people and appeal to people equally. David Fincher made his nest with House of Cards and is coming back this autumn with Mindhunter.

Once upon a time, parents were surprised that their children would have the patience to stay up all night to read the newest hefty Harry Potter novel. Get ready to be surprised, because long-form content is where it’s at, now.

Auteur Television Writing

The industry is now finishing a phase of bringing auteurs, filmmakers with impeccable credentials and a singular voice, into television. The experience has obviously proven successful. But what producers now need are auteurs of the television format. The visual medium is now mutating towards long-form storytelling and episodic content. Shonda Rhimes is this television mogul who is a show runner responsible for tens of hours of content. She is the exception today. In ten years, she will just have been ahead of the curve, for a while.

Netflix has $20 billion of debts just to create content. Jeffrey Katzenberg is launching his own short episodic content platform and Luc Besson was here first with Blackpills.

There is business. Not only that, those platforms are all about experimenting with new types of content, and new ways of telling stories. It’s perhaps an opportunity to go deeper in a story world. It could also be a way to create great characters that stick with audiences. Who knows? We’re certainly at the start of a golden age that we know very little about yet.

Learn television writing

Television writing is its own brand of writing. It is not quite traditional screenwriting, but we don’t know what avenues we should go down next. That is why it is necessary to learn that form in order to explore the new stories that need to be told. Our upcoming television writing course is just about the best start you can find.

Then you can start writing your pilots, go into your story bibles and get your work noticed. The future is now.



Baptiste is a writer hailing from the part of France where it is always sunny. After a stint in politics and earning his Master's Degree in Management, he was a marketing intern for the 23rd Raindance Film Festival in 2015, then joined the team permanently in 2016 as the Registrar of the MA in Filmmaking. He is passionate about diversity in film, which he researches and writes about extensively. He is the producer of the hit webseries "Netflix & Kill" and the multi-award-winning short film "Alder", as well as a writer for stage and screen. His short film "U Up?" is currently in pre-production.