Screen Academy Scotland MA Screenwriting graduate Chris Lindsay on his experience writing an episode for Holby City. Holby City is a 1 hour a continuing drama set in a hospital. It runs weekly, 52 weeks of the year on BBC One. The episode Chris is writing is Ep40 of series 16 and will be transmitting in mid July.
Writing for Holby City
From start to finish the whole process of writing an episode of Holby City takes about three months…
It began with me being sent half a years’ worth of storylines to read, so I would understand what happens in the show between what was on air and the events of my episode. A few weeks later, I was given my ‘story document’ – this is a summation of the plot elements my episode had to include. On Holby City each episode is a part of a larger picture and it’s the job of the writer to take this material and make it their own – fleshing it out and creating their own guest characters to interact with the medical staff.
A week after this I attended my ‘Commissioning Meeting’ where I had to pitch my take on the story to the producers. I then had a week to put together a ‘beat sheet’ – an outline of how I was envisioning my stories, which the producers gave me feedback on.
From getting the OK on my outline to writing a first draft script I was given two weeks. An episode of Holby City is about 85 pages / 65 scenes long so this was a lot of work to do in short space of time, especially as I had to incorporate a lot of complex medical research.
I was then given eleven days to do my second draft. While the first was well liked, I had quite a bit of work to do – one storyline clashed with an earlier episode and another needed heavily resequencing. Also there were characters yet to appear on screen who’s ‘voice’ I hadn’t got right so that took up a lot of my time.
I had just over a week to do my third draft. By this point the producers were happy with the basic shape of the script – the bulk of the work was now about honing the details and deepening the emotional resonance of my storylines.
After that came a couple more drafts with quick four day turn arounds – by now the director and production team had started working out the practicalities of shooting and gave feedback on what needed to be clarified/simplified to be achieved on screen. Once this was all done, I had one last mini-draft to do – just to clarify some details and tidy up some more practicalities. This was then published as the ‘shooting script’ which is what the cast and crew started filming – only five days later!
Writing for Holby City was a great experience – very demanding but the production team were very supportive and encouraged me at each stage to give it my all.
Chris Lindsay is an Edinburgh based screenwriter who graduated from Screen Academy Scotland in 2011. He has written for Holby City and CBBC as well developing original work for La Plante Productions, 2AM TV and BBC Productions. He is currently creating a young adult series for Hat Trick productions.