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The search for Mairi Hedderwicke’s ” Katie Morag” is over. Glasgow schoolgirl, 7 year old Cherry Campbell,  will play the part in Move On Up TV’s new live action series for CBeebies  and BBC Childrens.Image

As far as the writing is concerned, the casting of Mairi Hedderwicke’s diminutive heroine completes a saga which began for me on a   wet Sunday in  November 2011, on the day of the Scottish BAFTA awards.  I was  meeting in a coffee bar with Don Coutts and Lindy Cameron of Move On Up TV . They asked if I was interested in the possible adaptation of the popular children’s series, Katie Morag, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwicke. I advised them that  I was a great fan of Mairi’s work , but that if the large number of episodes (it turned out to be 26) which needed to be written were to be successful, then they should consider using the Team Writing For TV method .

My colleagues and I , Dr John Quinn, Dr Gill Jamieson  and writer and actor Martin McCardie , have been developing the concept and practice of TWFTV through the module which we teach at University Of The West Of Scotland in Ayr . Over the past 5 years we have created a robust methodolgical approach to team writing which lays  down a series of crucial production steps designed to ensure that the concepts of theme, tone and  narrative coherence are successfully carried across the large number of episodes of a long running TV Series. Crucially,  it requires ALL writers to be present at ALL storylining sessions, and for detailed beat outlines to be created by the the entire storylining team. All team members have access to all others scripts and beat outlines, and the entire final product is then passed through the hands of a single lead writer. The lead writer’s  job  is to unify the entire process and reconcile production, narrative, and executive notes in order to create a coherent shooting script.

I am delighted  to report  that under the stewardship of Lindy and Don, along with lead writer Sergio Casci, and Script Exec Angela Galvin of the BBC, the Katie Morag team  have now brought the entire 26 Episode arc to a level ready for the production to go into principal photography at the end of April 2013. It is no mean feat to successfully bring  such a large scale project to fruition in such a relatively short time. I think that the Broadcasters should feel   indebted to Lindy and Don for whole-heartedly embracing the TWFTV process . At  times it would have been much easier, (and certainly less expensive)  to just send out spec outlines to a series of unconnected writers,  but they held to the plan , and I am confident that the final product will reflect this coherent approach.

Katie Morag is Produced by the Move On UP team of  Lindy Cameron,  Margaret Mathieson and Donald Coutts.   Donald Coutts  will also direct all 26 episodes. Apart from myself, the  series was scripted by  writers Sergio Casci, Martin McCardie , Jan Storie & Louise Wyllie.  Huge thanks also due to BBC’s Producers & Execs Angela Galvin, & Sarah Harkins . Angela was a key mover in the Team Writing Process, acting as the executive link between the writing team and the broadcasters and deserves huge credit for her role.

Katie Morag starts shooting in Lewis at the end of the month. I wish the entire team, the newly cast actors, and  especially Cherry Campbell all the very best for a successful shoot. We should see all 26 Episodes on CBeebies towards the end of the year.

Full details of the BBC Katie Morag Press Release can be found here

Jim Sweeney, Kolin Ferguson & Stuart Hepburn

I first  met screenwriter Kolin Ferguson on a rainy Sunday in East Kilbride about three years ago.We were working on a short film by Write Camera Action Director Linda Campbell called “Stub It Out”. I was acting, and Kolin  was holding a mike boom on what could loosely be described as a “Geurrilla Shoot”. In other words there were three of us! He told me that he was no sound assistant, but was  a screenwriter, and was developing  a 12 part TV Series about Glasgow Gangsters called “The Crews”. Not only was he going to write it, he was going to shoot it, with little or no  budget. Along with Director Colin Ross Smith, and actors Jim Sweeney and Robert Harrison, they had the revolutionary  notion  that if they actually shot the first two episodes, then they would be able to raise the cash to finish the project. The whole thing was to be shot in HD, with broadcast quality sound. Oh and they were going to nip over to Amsterdam for a couple of days to shoot there too.  I nodded and smiled benignly . I admired their chutzpah, but doubted their ability to carry it off. Nevertheless, later that year,  Kolin  and Colin came down to talk to our students on the Performance Programme at UWS and we watched their short film Sandwich, which also introduced me to their hatchet-faced co-star, Robert Harrison. I asked them how “The Crews” was going, and they told me they were going ahead with the plan. They had bought an HD  camera, and it was all systems go. They thought it might take them six months.

“But’, I said patronisingly, “NOBODY does it that way. It costs too much time and energy to do that. What you have to do is write the first episode, complete a one page synopsis, and punt it round the broadcasters. That’s what EVERYBODY does”. “We’re not everybody”  they said, and ignored me. I am glad they did, because these brave, creative innovators have  at a stroke,   re-written the text book on  TV Script Development. I know this because on Tuesday night, a full two years after our conversation at the UWS,  I sat with an enraptured audience at Cineworld in Glasgow and watched the completed first  two episodes. All proceeds from the 300 tickets (sold out)  were going to Spiritaid, and I was happy to be there for  the good cause. Because of the way in which The Crews had been developed,  I had prepared myself  to be in turns embarrassed, bored or  even  mildly impressed. What I was not prepared for was to be  completely blown away by the whole event.  “The Crews” rocks!   Using complex  techniques such as  fractured narrative, flashback within flashback, and a bewildering  multiprotagonist storyline,” The Crews” is ambitious, demanding and unsettling TV. Its the sort of thing we normally see on HBO or  AMC. “The Crews” is tailor made for BBC4 or Channel 4. It’s the sort of show  which  unfolds at glacial pace and with the cadence and  authenticity of work  such as Simon’s  “The Wire” ( 2002)  and Scheuring’s  ” Prison Break” (2005). The  joint creator’s bill “The Crews”  as “The Glasgow Sopranos” , but for me, it has more in common with David Simon’s televisual masterpiece from Baltimore. You thought Omar Little was nuts? Wait till you meet Stevie Turner.

Whatever it’s worthy progenitors, while it’s Glasgow through and through, what makes “The Crews”  unique is that to my uncertain knowledge,  no one in the UK has ever done anything on this scale before . It’s no exaggeration to say that if this makes it to the small screen, this impressive product out of Dennistoun by East Kilbride and Ayr  could prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of British Television making, and you can quote me on that.

At the moment, the finished DVDs are with the BBC, and STV, and the guys are planning to take on the States at some point in the future, to see if funding can be attached. I am a writer and actor and no expert on the distribution side of things, but it seems to me that they need a selling agent or exec producer to convince a broadcaster to come up with the development and production money. They have personally spent more money than they can afford to get this far, and when I look at the standard of some of the stuff on TV at the moment , and think of “The Crews”, there is no justice if it doesn’t get made and seen by a wider audience. Kolin has the detailed plans for the rest of Season one, and , wait for it, has sketched out a full five season 60 Episode Arc.

Caveat Emptor! I can’t enthuse too much about this as I am a cast member too . The silver-tongued KColins managed to cast me in a small role. (In fact, the banner above is a still from ” The Crews”  taken by the Show’s make up artist, Yvonne Lynch. Yes, it was that sort of shoot!) On top of my cameo as DCS Watt, about 10 of our  Performance BA Students were involved in the project, with special mention to great performances from  Martin Haddow and Suzanne Morrison, and if you look very carefully you will see that quite a few of the locations were shot at our UWS Ayr Campus. Does this make it sound like some sort of an amateur profit share film? Possibly, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. “The Crews” is professional in all but name, take it from me. David Hayman’s another cameo player in the mix, and he shares my opinion that this work must be seen by a wider audience, and all the professional actors involved are of the same mind.

The point is, will the industry listen? My hunch is that middle of the road  TV exec  types  will  probably look on “The Crews”  with mistrust . Why? Because this is a done deal. The talent is in place, the roles cast, the director decided, the first two episode shot and edited. Conventional Producers and Broadcasters( in Britain at least)  tend to defend and implement  their right to make major creative decisions over the heads of the real creatives at the cliff face. Will any of them have the stomach to  put their money and reputation  into something as left field as this which has been created by a bunch of  virtual unknowns from Glasgow? Only time will tell, but I for one won’t bet against Colin and Kolin  making it against all odds. All it will take is one broadcaster or commissioning editor, one cable company or distributor  with enough courage   to back them.

You can get an idea of the show from this interview on”  The Culture Show” , if you go to 17 mins and 15 Secs , or have a look at this trailer on Youtube.

If anyone deserves a break, it’s the  KColins and all those who backed them from the start.

If you want to support them, please forward this blog to anyone you think  may be able to  help get this on screen.

The UWS Crew. Anna Barclay, Suzanne Morrison, Garry Hogg,Kirsty Bagan, John Quinn & Evelyn Caputa

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