08 February, 2010

Confessions of a Subtitle Script Writer

I write for Doctor Who.

At least that's what many people seem to think when I attempt to explain exactly what I do.

In fact I write for the BBC Doctor Who DVDs. I write Production Information Text scripts. Production Information Text is a subtitle option on Doctor Who DVDs that appears whilst as a series of on-screen captions, providing a constant feed of factoids about each episode as you are watching.

These subtitles include such fascinating trivia as deleted scenes quoted from the scripts, details about when and where certain scenes were shot, potted histories of cast members' careers, observations of continuity errors, and discussions about the writer's influences, amongst other gems.

I delivered my first set of subtitle scripts in September 2008. This was for Planet of Fire, Peter Davison's penultimate adventure. I've been intending to write something about creating the subtitle scripts for this story, but I've been waiting patiently to do this until the DVD has been released. That way it will be relevant and it will also enable me to post screen-grabs to illustrate what I'm talking about. Planet of Fire was to have come out last month (as part of the Kamelion box set), but has been delayed until sometime around June.

I've just delivered a second set of subtitle scripts. I can't say yet which story this is for, as there has yet to be an official announcement. Such information is commercially sensitive. Numerous threads on Doctor Who message boards are filled with postings fervently speculating which story will be announced next. (As the number of stories yet to be released on DVD decreases, the chances of guessing the next title correctly correspondingly increases; it's expected that every old surviving Doctor Who story will be out on DVD by some time in 2013).

I was commissioned to write this to-be-announced story, along with another couple of 'TBA' stories, not long after delivering my first set of scripts. At the time, a delivery date had not been set (or at least not communicated).

When I wrote the subtitle scripts for Planet of Fire I set aside around six weeks during which I worked on no other projects so that I could apply myself to the task with minmal distractions. This time around (possibly unwisely in hindsight), I decided instead that I would tackle the project in small concentrated bursts. The scripts were not needed anytime soon, so I worked on them as and when I felt like it; the odd day or few hours here and there. This was a great way of taking short breaks from my other writing, which is a fairly long non-fiction book analysing comic strips, and quite a different disicipline from the subtitle scripts.

Three weeks ago I received a wake-up call in the form of an email out of the blue from my editor, asking how I was going with the scripts. He explained they were significantly over-deadline. There was a bit of leeway for late delivery, but they were needed as soon as practicable.

Although I had done most of the groundwork and had compiled a set of rough notes, I had yet to actually start writing the scripts. I may not have known what the deadline was until it had passed, but nor had I asked about it in the intervening months. At this point I went into a state of mild panic.

I can at times be a terrible procrastinator which is a trait I've discovered I have in common with many freelance writers. An overdue deadline is however a powerful motivation tool. I made a concerted and sustained effort to sit down at the computer and force myself to just keep going, hour after hour, day after day. I devoted just about every spare hour I could to working on these scripts. Even when I wasn't writing, I was constantly thinking either about what still needed to be done, or how to compose the next section I needed to write.

I finished and sent the completed set of scripts yesterday evening - three weeks after learning that the deadline had passed. I felt an immense weight shifting from my shoulders after I wrote the last line on the final script.

I'll blog about the specifics of this set of scripts as and when the story is released on DVD, but I've written about this experience here and now, whilst it is still fresh in my mind, as a reminder to myself not to let myself let a writing project sit on the back-burner by for so long again.

1 comment:

Jamas Enright said...

Just to let you know, I'm going to constantly mis-read that title as "Subtle Script Writer"...