Be A Small Screen Scribe

Television Writing


Writers are all the rage now. Believe it. Digital content is the order of the day, and those who can produce the content are kings. “PR firms, film promotion agencies, marketing agencies, advertising production houses, everyone wants a good writer these days,” says Chirag Mahabal, a television writer and currently the creative director of Love by Chance, a romantic comedy on Bindass. And for a medium like television that serves to entertain 24×7, writers are always in demand.

An all-encompassing job
In several instances,writers are brought in as early as the genesis of a show. “While developing a fiction show, sometimes a writer is brought in to write character sketches, to help develop the characters or to write what are called the ‘I Am’ notes, the character arcs, etc,” says Mahabal. Then there is the task of actually writing the script. This is governed by a strict deadline. A daily show that does five episodes a week requires the writer to write at least four scripts on a weekly basis. Some shows require their writers to work all seven days a week to meet deadlines. “Typically in daily fiction shows, the story, screenplay and dialogues are written by three different writers,” explains Mahabal. “This is done so that it lessens the burden on one writer to deliver, and you can hire writers that specialise in a particular dialect or can write dialogues really well for a specific region from India.”
Gajra Kottary, the writer for Balika Vadhu, adds, “When you are experienced and you make a habit of thinking on your feet, then it’s possible for a scriptwriter to do two shows. Two, I think, is optimum; it’s like a full-time job. When I say two shows, I mean story only, not screenplay. Otherwise, attempting an eight or 10-page screenplay is quite a bit for a day.”

A pampered lot
“Good fiction writers are some of the most well paid, most pampered people in Indian television,” reveals Mahabal. The pay in television has scaled astronomical heights in recent years. “I know writers who’re making close to a crore of rupees a year. Kids should know that the TV shows running for more than 10 years now pay their writers Rs. 60,000 per script per day! Let that sink in. Still want to be an IT engineer?” he adds jocularly.


The stresses
In the melee of tight deadlines is the constant revision to your script. Scriptwriting never ends with the writer’s submission. “At every stage, there is enhancement; at every stage, there is a little bit of adaptation and modification,” says Kottary. Mahabal adds, “Channel producers are extremely unpredictable. If they don’t know what they’re doing or if they know what they’re doing too well, they can ask for several re-writes of the same episode.”
All writers face writer’s block and television writers are no exception. Working on one project for months on end fatigues writers. Mahabal advises taking frequent breaks and working on a variety of shows to banish the blues.

The joys
Good money apart, television writers enjoy flexible working hours. “You can literally work from anywhere in the country,” says Mahabal. “You  still have to answer to your production house and the channel, but as long as you submit your script on time and then the changes on time, you’re good.”

Becoming a TV writer
If all this sounds good to you and you want to learn the craft, there are a number of scriptwriting diplomas offered in India. But both Kottary and Mahabal insist that the best way to learn is to work in television under an established writer. “I was made a writer at Channel V when I didn’t know anything about TV,” says Mahabal. “I learnt on the job. I swung it. How does someone teach you how to write well? You either have a flair for writing or you don’t. Learning on the job is the best way to test yourself. Force yourself down the industry’s throat, man! That’s the only way to do it!” We couldn’t have said it better.

Career facts: television writing
Job profile: A television writer scripts all sorts of television shows – fiction (serials, sitcoms, etc) as well as non-fiction (reality shows, game shows, etc). While in fiction shows the writer is hands-on with writing character sketches and scripts, in non-fiction he/she might have more of production role – deciding the format, tasks, etc.

Income: A newbie may earn between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000. Increments are exponential and depend on the talent of the writer.

Skills set: Good imagination, good writing skills, ability to think of stories in episodic sequences, adaptability, ability to work under a deadline, discipline, ability to take criticism.

* The Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
* Asian Academy of Film and Television, Noida
* Zee Institute of Media Arts, Mumbai
* New York Film Academy, USA
* National Film and Television School, UK


Volume 4 Issue 3


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