Brewing before we spill - Writing as a team

Posted on 2020-03-31 by Rhys Stacey

(This article is liable to changes. V.1, 31/3/2020)

In this article, I’ll be discussing how the Spilt Coffee team approach our writing and how our writing processes have changed with each new project. Using case studies of our completed work, I’ll walk you through each one from inception to completion (with links for you to listen to and engage with.)

‘The Glass is always cleaner on the other side’ is a project written by Benjamin Brake who enlisted Daniel, Connor and myself to produce and act, whilst it signalled the first time we would all work together it was based on a script that Benjamin had written himself. We had such an enjoyable time making it that we decided to continue working together.

(To read a more in-depth article on this project: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/blog/the-spilt-coffee-bean-the-glass-is-always-cleaner-on-the-other-side).

Click this link to listen to it now: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/the-glass-is-always-cleaner-on-the-other-side

Case Study: Black Signal

Our first group work came in the form of ‘Black Signal’ which was a University project for producer Connor. He asked Daniel, Benjamin and myself to help come up with a script of 10 minutes that somehow involved extra-terrestrial soundscapes.

We met up at Bournemouth University and the 4 of us, with space as our springboard, spit balling ideas – things that would lend itself well to an audio drama. Naturally, our minds fell to a horror – monstrous noises, screaming and helpless travellers – things that would be impactful in a short time frame (and something that satiated our collective love of science-fiction).

We came up with a skeleton structure and decided; unsure of how to approach the actual writing, to go away, write a script each and then take the best part of each and smash it all together.

We met up again about a week later and did a table read, noting which scripts had stronger elements and then created a more definite structure. Then, once everyone was happy, Benjamin went away and typed up our Frankenstein’s monster. Once he was done, he sent it to us for us to critique once more, polish it up and make sure everything was perfect.

Once we were happy, we sent it to Connor who was very happy and started working on it instantly.

(To read a more in-depth article on this project: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/blog/brewing-spilt-coffee-creating-black-signal).

So, in short, for this project, our writing process was:

Click this link to listen to it now: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/black-signal (It got him a First.)

Case Study: Honour

For our second project, the team were actively looking for something new to tackle; something with a little more scope and something more challenging. We were talking on a regular basis, suggesting ideas to one another but nothing seemed to stick. That was, until, Connor suggested that we work on another of his University projects (his Final Major Project), this time a 30-minute drama. We jumped at the opportunity.
We met up in person and started talking to Connor about the sort of things he was interested in, something that he could work on for a long time and enjoy. He told us about his undying love for Japanese culture, how he was actively learning Japanese, immersing himself in art and culture from East Asia. So, there it was, we had our starting point.

I speak for the 3 writers here when I say that Connor’s excitement and energy really filled us with the ambition and spark that meant it took us a very short time to discover the story we wanted to tell: 16th Century, Feudal Japan. A disgraced Samurai who pleads with his Daimyo to kill himself honourably, recounting the trespasses and treachery he committed during his dishonourable life.

But, how do you break that down? Well, we decided on breaking the story down into 3 distinct sections: his childhood, as his most dishonourable self and towards the end of his life.

Logically then each of the 3 writers would take a section, then we would trade parts; critique them and make changes until everyone was happy with everything.
Over the course of a month and a half, the scripts went through a great many changes but, once compiled together, created a project that we were all incredibly happy about.

(To read a more in-depth article on this project: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/blog/grinding-the-bean-how-we-made-honour).

Connor began the long road of producing it but the pay-off was incredible. Not only had he crafter an excellent radio drama but he was awarded the highest grade possible. The project was so excellent that it was put to use that we enter it to competitions, which we did; winning the Bronze award for ‘Best Speech Programming’ at the SRA awards, 2018.

So, in short, for this project, our writing process was:

Click this link to listen to it now: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/honour

Case Study: Fragments of War

With a keen interest in continuing working together as a team, we kept discussing what it was the we could work on next. Was there anything in pop culture or a national holiday that we could hit to perhaps ride a wave to widen our audience?

Benjamin came with an idea, to write 3 standalone episodes centred around the First World War, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary and to use it to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

Perfect, we had a new project and now we got to choose an element of the war that interested us and craft a story around that. All self-led (under the banner of a war story) we each went in very different directions (a testament to the different tastes and flavours we bring to each project) – Benjamin writing of soldiers trapped in a collapsed tunnel, Daniel a story of a young pilot following in the footsteps of his heroic father and myself writing about the pain and heartache of those left at home during the war, not knowing if their loved ones are safe and alive.

Writing individually was something new to the SC process; to be self-led and push in any direction you wanted was a real departure from what we had been doing but, and again I speak for the 3 of us, it was the most liberating approach.

Once the 3 scripts were done to a level that we were individually happy with, we swapped with one another; critiqued and polished then shuffled them over to the next person. An editing carousel, if you like.

Once the editing was complete, we sent them to Connor who then detailed everything we would need to get them made. This was our first experience of producing as a team: prior to this, the University and Connor’s head of course helped to get the work made.
Sourcing actors, self-funding, booking studio space was handled by the team and, in the space of 5 days; everything was expertly recorded and ready to be put together.

Released weekly over the commemoration of The Great War, ‘Fragments of War’ represented for us a work that was helping a great charity, had a good listenership and was nominated for ‘Best Speech Programming’ at the SRA awards, 2019.

So, in short, for this project, our writing process was:

Click this link to listen to it now:
Episode 1, Beneath: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/fragments-of-war-beneath
Episode 2, Behind: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/fragments-of-war-behind
Episode 3, Above: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk/our-work/fragments-of-war-above

Case Study: Let’s Not Fallout

‘Let’s Not Fallout’ provided us with our biggest challenge yet: make an episode radio drama.
Following on from the energy of our first award, we knew we had to think bigger and better. So what else other than an entire season of a radio drama? But, what should it be about? A flash of genius – an alternate history of the Cuban missile crisis except this time the missiles go off and the world is plummeted into a nuclear hellscape as the backdrop for a sit-com style 5 people stuck in a submarine trying to get along.

Following the British television tradition of 13 episodes, we constantly discussed and planned the overarching idea before plotting out different ideas for episodes – where could they go? Would they be singular stories or fall into part of a longer arc?
Daniel and I wrote 4 episodes each and Ben wrote 5, including the extended season finale. Again, much like ‘Fragments of War’; we each brought what interests us to the episodes which, whilst cohesive because of the continuity between characters bring a wild and differing flavour. We go from surrealist comedy to horror, family drama to a Christmas war.

In writing each episode individually meant that we had that same level of freedom as we did with ‘Fragments of War’ but certainly a better sense of how it all fit together.
Once all the first drafts were finished, the 4 of us met up in Naked Coffee in Bournemouth to do a 9 hour-long table read of every episode. This allowed us to diagnose all of the issues the scripts had, make notes and begin second drafts.
Once these were complete, we met up again; this time at Bournemouth University, to get the scripts to exactly where we wanted them to be.

We are currently waiting to gather all of the resources we’ll need to undertake the recording of this project (which is astronomically big but certainly something we can handle) before we gear up to unleash it on to the world.

There will be several more articles written about the process of putting this project together, this is just indicative of the writing process. Keep up to date with our blog to find out more.

So, in short, for this project, our writing process was:

In this article, I’ve discussed the writing processes of each project the SC team has worked on and detailed just how that process has changed. Writing as a team can often prove difficult but, in this wonderfully creative medium, letting projects grow and your working patterns develop organically to compliment the work undertaken is the best take-away from this.
Writing as a team is about doing what’s best for the overall project.
The only real advice that can be given is: Don’t be precious, kill your darlings.

If you would like to know more about Spilt Coffee, head over to the website: https://www.spiltcoffeeproductions.co.uk