Scripting for a living

20 May 2014

Pictured from left to right, Scriptwriter and producer Toni Graphia and Catriona Miller, MA TV Fiction Writing programme leader

Pictured from left to right, Scriptwriter and producer Toni Graphia and Catriona Miller, MA TV Fiction Writing programme leader

American TV writer and co-executive producer Toni Graphia,  here in Scotland as filming commences on Outlander, a major U.S. series from Sony Pictures Television, wasn’t giving away any storylines as she visited MA TV Fiction Writing students on Friday, May 16.

Instead, the experienced Los Angeles-based scriptwriter and producer, whose credits include Battlestar Galactica; Grey's Anatomy; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles; and HBO’s Carnivale, offered a firsthand account of the writers’ room and how she got her break in the industry.

Her first writing job was as a research assistant on the critically acclaimed Vietnam drama, China Beach. She said:  “It gave me the opportunity to get inside the inner sanctum, working directly with super talented writers, before I was given the opportunity to pitch one of my own ideas, which was then bought. You have to pay your dues."

The award-winning television writer shared her top tips, offering advice on how to pitch ideas to producers as well as the opportunities open to aspiring writers due to the growth of digital channels and online forums such as Netflix and Amazon.

Graphia likened the process of scriptwriting to a symphony.  Each writer on staff brings a unique strength and colour to the process, contributing to the final vision. Outlander is being developed for television by Battlestar creator Ron Moore, from the best-selling novels of author Diana Gabaldon, and will premiere in the U.S. August 9, 2014 on cable network Starz.

Speaking about the relationship between academic and industry, Graphia who has taught writing courses at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Santa Barbara, emphasised the importance of intertwining both practical and theoretical practices. She was inspired to pursue scriptwriting after taking a screenwriting class as an undergraduate.

Her visit was enjoyed by students, alumni and industry professionals, including screenwriter Marc Pye, who has written scripts for Eastenders, River City and The Street.

Graduate Johnny Austin said: "I'm a big fan of sci-fi and of Graphia's work. It's a big deal to have her on campus."

Catriona Miller, MA TV Fiction Writing programme leader, said: “As one of the first American writers to visit the students, Toni gave a glimpse of life in the writers’ room in some of the biggest TV series and stressed the importance a strong work ethic, which is needed to succeed."

"She highlighted the universal nature of scriptwriting and the opportunities open to students in a growing and ever-changing industry.”

The MA TV Fiction Writing programme enjoys the input and support of industry leaders, including Shed Media, Fremantle, the BBC and Warner Bros.

"Despite being up to 3am, I have the best job in the world," Graphia told students.

View the trailer for Outlander here