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The complete solution to solving story problems in Factual TV and Film

What does it mean when a story isn’t working? Answering this question is the key to producing a successful TV programme - in every genre.

Story is complex, mysterious and endlessly fascinating - but also frustrating. With so many hard-won elements in a TV programme - a hook or unique take on the material, special access, amazing characters, cinematography, music and sound design - it can be hard to see that the reason a story hasn’t taken off is due to problems at a much deeper level of structure. Like a building with poor foundations, a programme without a solid structure is always close to collapse. Whether a fly-on-the-wall observational documentary or presenter-led history programme, get these right and your programmes will fly.

For the first time, Nigel will share his unique approach to fixing stories. By exploring story at its most fundamental structural level, it will give you the security to recognise and fix story issues - from development to problems in the edit. Issues such as: Why does the story run out of steam? Why do we have to remake the opening over and over again? How can we produce a satisfying ending? Why does it seem like a list and not a story? How can we make this story work at feature length - and what exactly is missing? What does it mean when the chronology of events doesn’t seem to match the story you are trying to tell? Why does this just feel wrong?

Nigel Levy
Beginning at the BBC, Nigel Levy is an award-winning writer and director who has both worked in Hollywood - directing stars such as Sharon Stone, Mia Sorvino and Christina Ricci - while also creating and producing successful Specialist Factual series for US TV and Emmy nominated drama-documentary. Most recently his skills have turned him into one of the most in-demand story fixers. From story development to help in the edit Nigel has ‘fixed’ natural history documentaries with David Attenborough and high profile documentaries in the genres of history, science and the arts, for BBC2, BBC4, Channel 4, Netflix and multiple global broadcasters. He has taken programmes from un-broadcastable to becoming RTS nominated, multiple award-winning, and critic’s choice in national newspapers in a matter of weeks.

His approach is based on the latest theories in story analysis. Using before and after samples from multiple examples of his work, this seminar will cover:

  • What a story is - and the difference between a story and a tale.
  • The concept of the story mind, and how we can explore the argument a story is making.
  • The difference between structure and story telling. How both are vital skills, but how it is essential to separate out the two and identify where your problem lies.
  • Throughlines. How breaking open the story into fundamental through lines gives you complete control and the ability to add richness to the story without compromising elements you already possess.
  • What exactly is an act, where does this idea emerge from and how can we use them in our structure?
  • Genre and theme, which naturally emerge from structure. How can you define them, or find them, in your programme?
  • How do you accurately add drama or jeopardy? Option locks and time locks and how having both will only confuse your audience.
  • The danger of reacting to your story rather than constructing it.
  • What do we mean when we are asking a character to go on a ‘journey’?
  • Fool-proof ways to know the scenes that are needed to begin and end your film.
  • Pitching - designing a story based on the profile of your intended audience.
  • How a solid structure can then lead to creative and novel directorial choices.
  • Software tools that can help you with the process.

These are fundamental insights that can help any story that you are working on, in any genre. From commissioning editors watching a cut that just isn’t working to pitching an idea, these concepts will give a security in understanding story that will stay with your throughout your career.

Those attending will leave with a toolkit which will allow them to understand story in a fundamentally different way and give them all the new solutions that they need to resolve the vast majority of problems in factual programmes.

Participant Profile
Development execs, producer and directors, executive producers and commissioning editors. These skills are essential to anyone who comes in contact with a story at any level.

Caroline Hawkins, Creative Director, Oxford Scientific Films
“Nigel has the remarkable ability to look at a film and pinpoint exactly why it isn’t quite working. His insight is generally sought when others are at the point of despair but his intervention is never demoralising. Quite the opposite; with his deep understanding of story structure he optimistically offers simple changes that can turn a struggling film into an award-winning one”.
Exec. Producer : Meerkat Manor, Fatal Attractions, Pandas 3D IMAX

Colin Goudie, Editor ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’, ‘Monsters’
“Having worked with Nigel in both his capacity of Series Producer and Director it’s clear that as a film maker his impressive visual style is augmented by an exemplary knowledge of story telling and the science behind it”

Gary Mitchell, multiple award-winning playwright and screenwriter
Working with Nigel helped me become a better writer. He always has ideas, persistently studies and probes, and offers many alternative views from different angles and he consistently finds an answer to all story problems. Writer in Residence - National Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, The Donmar Theatre, The Abbey “The Force of Change”, “As The Beast Sleeps”, “Trust”, “Loyal Women”, “In a Little World of Our Own”

Erin Wanner: VP Production, Animal Planet
“I will start by saying bravo once more - what you've presented us is such an artistic and storytelling achievement and we understand that it was quite an undertaking. We love the acting, direction, shooting, writing and editing. You've created something so special”. Fatal Attractions (Animal Planet)

Jeremy Bradshaw, Founder, Tigress Productions
“Nigel has real experience of story, character and dramatic structure. If you want to know why a programme isn’t working, then he’s the person to go to. He comes up with solutions which are simple to put into action but where the underlying complexities have been really thought through”. Executive Producer : Meerkats: Secrets of an Animal Superstar - with David Attenborough (BBC2), How to Win the Grand National (Ch 4) RTS Nomination

Peter Collins, former Head of Specialist Factual, STV
“Nigel’s innate and methodical approach to story telling really turned our film around. Understanding these sign-posts in the narrative has changed my approach to film-making for the better.” Executive Producer : “Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks for a Tudor Queen” BBC 4