Lessons from Denmark’s best scriptwriters
So if you had access to the scriptwriter of some of the world’s most loved drama series, what would you want to learn? What would you ask?
We had the privilege of wrestling with that very problem on our recent In_vent study trip to Copenhagen.
We hosted 15 business leaders from across the UK’s digital & creative sector in visiting world-class creative companies in what is often touted as the world’s happiest country. Amongst the companies we got exclusive access to was the Danish broadcaster DR – with a private session with the amazing Jeppe Gjervig Gram.
Jeppe was on the scriptwriting team for The Killing, was the lead scriptwriter for the Borgen and is the mastermind behind the upcoming “Follow the Money”. Both the Killing and the Borgen have achieved global success both in the mainstream and as cult TV series.
The fundamental question was “what leads to world class creativity?” Of course, its a huge question, but Jeppe was kind enough to share his take – here are three highlights.
Three killer ideas for world class creativity
First, to engage in world class storytelling you have to follow one vision, with one perspective.
A problem with so much creative output across the disciplines at the moment is that it is diluted to the lowest common denominator (think of most of what you’d come across on Saturday night TV, commercial radio, facebook video etc). At DR they made some tough choices when they pivoted the drama department about a decade ago to give much more control of the process to the writers. “Other people can input but at the end of the day, the main storytelling voice is the writer. Not the director, the producer, the studio executives or the talent. The Head of Drama is the only person that can give ‘executive notes’. You get better results with a small writing team headed by a lead scriptwriter, than by opening up to a never-ending stream of ideas and inputs with all kinds of agendas behind them.”
Second, creating a space and a process that talented people can work in un-interrupted seems crucial.
This isn’t the creation of an ivory tower as such, but rather a recognition that we live in a world that is soaked in distraction. Therefore, creative spaces that lend themselves to greater focus and productivity are becoming vital to crafting outputs that matter.
Hence “the writers room”. For each of the main series that DR produce (and by the way they deliberately choose to focus on fewer, more expensive and higher quality productions rather than churning out higher volumes of easier-to-make but ultimately less appealing output), there is a dedicated, physical space that the writing team occupies to fill the walls with ideas, storyboards and run their internal collaboration sessions.
Third, you engage in storytelling on two levels, whether writing great drama or simply looking to persuade.
There is always the ‘surface brief’. But there is also the – equally if not more important – ‘underlying brief’. And it’s this underlying level of storytelling that adds a whole new layer of meaning and has the power to really draw in an audience.
In the Borgen for instance each episode had the surface story of the characters engaging in everyday politics and intrigue. But the underlying story is one of society at large and how politics works (or not!) for the individual citizens who lend power to those that govern.
How can other creative companies apply these ideas?
So this all begs the question as to how can other creative companies apply these ideas? What can app developers, web agencies, brand studios and PR companies learn?
Here are some application questions that we chewed through with the delegates on the programme…
- When pursuing creative briefs, who drives the creative work? Are roles clear? Who has ultimate responsibility for creative excellence? And are the best and bravest ideas being crowded out by other agendas?
- All creatives need a process and a space. Do the processes / spaces used by your organisation help or hinder your creative output? What could change?
- Whether you’re creating your own content, pitching to a client or writing an internal report you’re engaged in the art of influence and storytelling. So ask yourself ‘what is the underlying issue that my storytelling can appeal to in order to give it more resonance?”. For instance, Fairness. Or Respect. Change. Growth. Or Human Connection. Once you’ve got it ask “How can I be more artful in drawing out this second level of storytelling?”
So, what do you think about Jeppe’s ideas? And what would your own ideas be on what leads to world class creativity?
We’re hugely grateful to Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Piv Bernth and all their colleagues at DR for hosting us so generously.