TV Worm

Ink and acrylic on paper, 2014. Illustration for a Sunday Times LifeStyle magazine article by Isidingo scriptwriter James Whyle on the process of making a TV soap opera.


Here’s an excerpt:

A soap opera is like a worm. Each episode is a segment of a never ending  non-arthropod invertebrate. At the front end is the story department. The business of the story department is the imagining of the worm. Once or twice a year the story department meets to plot the long term arcs of principle characters and communities, generating story. Detailed notes are taken at these three day meetings (known in the trade as brainstorms) and out of these notes the head writer will delegate specific stories to specific story liners who develop them as A, B or C stories. A-stories will typically have around seven beats per episode , B stories five, and C stories three …

And here’s the editor’s (unusually detailed) illustration brief:

Segment 1: In the head of the worm is a story department meeting around a boardroom.

Segment 2: A writer furiously bashing out a script in his study … coffee, cigarette, chaotic desk, bottle of red wine …

Segment 3: An actress practising her lines in her lounge, holding her script, with bored husband/kid reading other character

Segment 4: A costume designer sketching a character’s outfit, and a seamstress adjusting another outfit.

Segment 5: A makeup artist doing up an actor in a changing room, with classic row of lightbulbs above mirror.

Segment 6: A director manically directing two vaguely unimpressed actors before a scene is shot.

Segment 7: Two cameramen shooting a melodramatic dialogue scene.

Segment 8: A haggard editor at an edit suite …

The worm ends with a TV screen instead of a tail. Its blue glow illuminates a family watching, gripped, on their lounge couch …

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