Behind the scenes: Story-liner
EXCLUSIVE to the official Shortland Street
What is a story-liner? And where do they get their ideas from? We get the inside scoop from current Shorty story-liner, Edwin McRae.
What is a story-liner, as opposed to an ocean-liner or
bin-liner? If Shortland Street was the British Secret
Service, and Chris Warner was James Bond, then the story-liners
would be Q and his gang of white-coated assistants, locked up in
the basement, their mission to come up with cutting-edge gadgets
for James to utilise or destroy, as is his want.
We are the ones who come up with the ideas, the characters, the plots and the cliffs.
Where do we get our ideas from? A secret tree-house base in Takaka, jam-packed with highly trained, fiction-sensitive possums banging away on ancient mechanical typewriters.
The world is full of bizarre medical tales, odd adventures, funny anecdotes and tragic love stories coming in geometrical shapes of all types. We keep our eyes, ears and brains open and on a Monday we sit around a big table at South Pacific Pictures with Jason Daniel, the Producer. We wrack our brains and throw our ideas into the pot to be stewed and served up as plot-lines for the week for our core characters. In short, this is where we decide what broadly happens for the week.
Then on a Tuesday we start doing a thing dubbed 'detailing', where the story-liners work with our noble leader, the Story Editor, who, going back to the James Bond analogy, is wise, old Q. The story editor works out the structure for our episodes, like Q would draw up rough plans for a range of spy gadgets disguised as household appliances. Together we flesh out the details of each episode, working out the exact functions, colour and style of, say, an anti-aircraft toaster. Then it's our job, as story-liners, to go away and write up these plans up and get them working. What we end up with, after twelve hours of thinking, sweating and typing, is an 'episode breakdown'.
What's an 'episode breakdown'? It's when MC Hammer goes
'break it down' and everyone shuffle-dances in baggy
pants. Well, kind of. The breakdown is a
description of what's going to happen in that episode.
Then Q goes through the episodes and tweaks and tunes them until they sing (or go 'bang' and shoot down stolen ex-Soviet stealth bombers - going back to the anti-aircraft toaster example). Along the way, our resident medical advisor, fills in all the blood and guts bits that we don't understand, like a 'truncal vagotomy and drainage'. Our five episode breakdowns are then put together to make up a Block (what we call a week of story). Job done and then we do it all again next week.
Now, you could wonder how we story-liners manage to weave all of the different characters and plot lines into the dramatic tapestry that is Shortland Street. Maybe this will help. We work out each story separately at first, then chop it up into scenes and mix it with other story bits. Then w put the pieces together in such a way that it all makes sense, characters aren't jumping around implausibly and that we get the most gripping combination of events.
Story A - Mark / Tania / Libby - the plot unfolds with amazing twists, gut-wrenching turns and a completely startling, cliff-hanger ending.
Story B - Chris / Toni / Sarah - events conspire, perspire and expire until we reach the spire of an inspiring story.
Story C - Alice / TK / Shell-Shock Shtan the Shimmying Shuperhero who wants to shave humanity from exhausting its dwindling supplies of 'sh' alliteration. Larks, hilarity and shenanigans abound in this light-hearted yarn.
We would take these three stories; chop them up, just like you might do with an Aubergine, Bacon and a Carrot, mix them to the right consistency and then bake them in a quiche, a quiche of Drama! Mmmm - quiche!
So, I hope this bin-liner has been able to effectively tear and pour his knowledge onto the kitchen floor of your understanding.
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