In the next in a series of interviews about writer’s techniques, Tim Loane has kindly agreed to answer my list of questions. A highlight for me is when Tim talks about the how and the what of storytelling. I’m also more resolved now to write better treatments…
You can find out more about Tim Loane on his Imdb page.
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What’s your track record – what have you written?
I write for theatre occasionally – mostly political satires for stage in Northern Ireland – Dario Fo kinda stuff. And various TV dramas – mostly my own shows including three part family drama Little Devil (ITV) Four part conspiracy thriller Proof (RTE) Sex-swap comedy Reversals (ITV) and I’ve written for other shows like Ballykissangel and Casualty (BBC). And I created Teachers for Channel 4. Most recently I’ve been lead writer on Versailles for Canal+ my (first time choosing other writers, giving them notes and all that).
Why do you write?
Good question. Wish it was an easy answer… it gives me a real buzz sometimes – although not as often as I would like. I started as an actor but found writing more satisfying, and consistent! I love being at the very start of something – which becomes collaborative by its nature – but for me, I love being the one that starts it all off.
Mind you, there’s nothing beats the excitement/fear of watching your work on stage in front of a live audience. That’s another motivation for sure.
What makes a successful days writing?
I suppose it’s when things start to fall into place. Writing for screen can often feel stodgy in the early stages of a project’s development, as you try to make things fit together. There’s a great feeling of achievement when stories/characters/moments feed into each other and start to chime – it confirms that you’ve got the right ingredients – and brings huge relief.
I know a writer who used to say he’d write ten pages every day and then stop. Some days I can write twenty – other days I’ll agonise over a single scene – those are the ones that drive me nuts, when you go round in circles. So for me, a good day is when the work flows, regardless of how fast – when it feels like you’ve got the story clear, you know exactly what the scene is, it’s just a matter of getting it down on the page.
When do you feel most productive?
When the deadline’s looming. I once wrote a 50 minute episode in four days. Because I had to. (and it was pretty good, if you ask me) Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
I’m at my desk about 9:30 every morning until 5:45 exactly. Just like a real job. I try to avoid working nights, but I do when I have to. And I have found late nights very productive when I need them to be. But for me, it’s a full 8-hour day on average. All good screenwriters I know are very disciplined that way.
What stops you from writing?
Bad energy. Usually from producers who change their minds or claim that they made their needs clear long ago when they didn’t. In the past, I have let that frustration distract me – but as I get older, I think I’m better at moving on.
More specifically, pinning the idea down can be a real time of frustration. I’m on something at the moment where I’ve spent weeks researching and jotting down thoughts. But the big idea is eluding me, so I haven’t written a word. Mind you, this can also be the best bit! When the gears turn and the lock clicks open… when things go well.
What stops me, or slows me down is wrestling with the how, rather than the what. I have no shortage of ideas. I think most writers are the same – so the challenge is finding the best way to put the ideas into practice. That’s the real skill of the screenwriter.
Say you’ve hit a slump. What do you do to get going again?
Not sure what you mean by a slump. I’ve certainly had times where I’m out of work – in that case, I rack my brain, read loads and work-up a few new treatments in the hope I can land them as commissions.
What advice would you give someone who can’t get their writing going?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do lose my way in the middle of an idea sometimes – and there’s only one way out: to go back to first principles – character, objective, motivation, conflict etc. If a script or a scene isn’t working, I’m pretty methodical about trying to isolate the problem. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to fix. The biggest mistake aspiring screenwriters make is banging on with the same ingredients even when it’s clearly not working. You have to keep forcing yourself to go back to basics and make radical changes. Trial and error – the only reliable method. The idea is the easy bit – it’s turning it into drama that takes love and care – and patience.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever had?
I was dead keen to write a first draft script when a tutor on a writing scheme looked at me in dismay: “How could you write a script when you know the treatment isn’t right?” From that day on, that’s been my mantra – get the story outline/treatment right first… there are times when I’ve redrafted a treatment ten times. It is hard work – but if you get that right, the script should come more easily. Paul Abbott nailed it saying something like: “Screenwriting IS structure”.
Playwright Graham Reid told me to cut my favourite two lines before I submit a script – as it hurts a lot less than having a producer/writer/actor do it later.
Where can people find out more about you?
You can contact me via Queen’s University, Belfast. I don’t do social media or I’d get myself into terrible trouble and I’d never get any work done. There’s some stuff on the internet maybe on imdb, linkedin, tinder…