Paul Abbot, author of ‘Shameless’

‘Shameless’ – a Coventry Conversations session

  • unlike any other show: audiences are constantly going up
  • Why did ‘Shameless’ succeed?
    – it’s unique; it’s not something we’ve got anywhere else on TV
    – TV content is usually determined by the comfort of the audience; ‘Shameless’ is trying to avoid that; contemporary dramas are ‘too polite’
    – 75 % of cast had never appeared on TV before (as of Season 1); their anonymity has helped the series
  • On censoring in the BBC:
    – they count the number of ‘fucks’ per episode and have a limit;
    – the crew have negotiated to exchange 3 ‘fucks’ for a come 🙂
    – it has to be after the 20 min.-counter
  • But still: ‘You have to use ellegance to sell something
    – attention to detail: make it look epic
  • Before succeeding with ‘Shameless’, Paul Abbot had tried five times to write the same story and pitch it
  • It took him 7 years to get the story from concept to screen; it usually takes two.
  • The concept in ‘Shameless’ is about kids being parents and parents being kids; it’s based on Paul Abbot’s own family life
  • ‘Shameless’ is based on the UK / British culture; it now also has a US version
  • Question: ‘You have been very successful, you have made a lot of money etc., so why don’t you retire?’
    Answer: ‘Writing is compulsive. Earning money from writing is a byproduct.
  • Even after these ten years, he hasn’t felt tired
  • He’s the author, but most episodes have other screenwriters; he allows other people to evolve his concept – in this process, it is very important to not overcontrol.
  • He never directs;
    Besides your voice, there are more layers: the director, the actors, sound, etc.
  • On working on set: ‘That line wasn’t written that way’; not everything is filmed exactly like it’s written; sometimes you can’t make any more corrections, because the set has been removed, they can’t make the scene again, and you just need to correct the story in progress
  • He told about one episode he had to rewrite in 5 days: the producer turned on page 42 and said: ‘That’s your new start’
  • On being able to sell anything you’ve written just because it has your name: ‘It’s bad; I am in this position, but it could be devastating’.
  • He said, when writers start to write for money, they’re not writers anymore – they’re not writing for the story, they’re just doing it for money.
  • On the US version:
    They chose the lowest bidder for the licence for the US
    They wouldn’t want to set it in the South (like ‘My Name is Earl’)
    It had to be a home; to match the UK idea
  • On the production process and deadlines:
    For the UK version, they start producing next January’s series this January
    For the US version, they start producing this January’s series in October
  • On ‘Family Guy’: ‘That’s the show I wish I’d written’.
  • His main advice for writers:
    ‘Learn how to tell a story!’ – it’s the fundamental requirement for storytellers;
    ‘Discipline yourself’;
    Make sure you hang out with excellence;
    Good viewers make good writers.

In conclusion, the key points in this session were passion and professionalism.


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