Writers Vic: Participants in your upcoming screenwriting bootcamp will learn how to create characters and stories that have longevity over a full season. Do you ever use observations and experiences from your own life when developing characters?
Chelsea Cassio: I think most writers take from their experiences and surrounds, which is why most writers are keen to absorb so much from their environment. I might occasionally take pieces of characters from people I know but not necessarily the whole character. For me, the fun is in developing a character from scratch. From crafting a personality out of thin air.
WV: You’ve written for a range of very successful television series, including ‘Home and Away’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘The Doctor Blake Mysteries’. What is it about television storytelling that appeals to you?
CC: I really enjoy the pace of TV storytelling. TV has the job of keeping an audience fixed to the spot and intrigued right up until the end of an episode. It then leaves an audience desperate to watch the next instalment – so much so that real life feels like it gets in the way. That’s the skill of a TV writer and I love that challenge.
WV: A good screenplay combines a compelling plot with strong dialogue and engaging characters, among other things. Do you think screenwriting teaches you skills that transfer over to other formats?
CC: Definitely. Knowing the rules of storytelling naturally helps you write across many formats. The difference is that TV screenwriting requires the writer to reveal character while also moving plot forward, while also drawing an audience in with great dialogue and engaging characters. So where a novel can afford to spend pages only describing a character, TV can’t.
WV: What are some common mistakes that aspiring screenwriters make when they’re starting out?
CC: Emerging screenwriters can be under the impression that once their script is written it’s ready to pitch to a producer or network. But it’s important to find a good script assessor to go through your work in order to make it market ready. Where a writer might think they’ve finished the script and it’s a final draft – there might actually be more work to do.
Another mistake some emerging writers make is in trying really hard not to make mistakes. But the learning is in the mistakes. Allow yourself to fail. The more you write, the more mistakes you’ll make and the better you’ll become.
WV: Are there any particular television series or movies that you would recommend to aspiring screenwriters who want to ‘see how it’s done’?
CC: I wouldn’t recommend emerging screenwriters watch any TV shows or movies because what they’re watching is the final product – and what screenwriters are responsible for is the beginning of that process. Read as many scripts as possible instead. And rather than recommend TV shows, it’s preferable that writers choose their favourite TV shows to read. With our original work, we gravitate towards writing what we’d like to see on screen. So we should read what we like to see on screen too.