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Shortland Street

Weeknights at 7pm | TV2

Behind the scenes with the writers of Shortland Street


After 22 years on the small screen, Shortland Street has become a well-oiled machine, but it doesn't always go so well for the men and women behind the scenes. We talk to two of the show's scriptwriters about their favourite storylines, their biggest regrets, and Grace-gate, the story behind Grace's twin boys!

 

Paul Sonne is Shortland Street's script producer, and has been writing for the show for 22 years:


What is your favourite Shortland Street storyline?

There have been so many. Also to write them, you have to connect, believe, identify, so you end up attached to them all. Mind you, now and again you can fall right out of love when you see them coming back at you.

Biggest regrets, have you ever seen something you’ve written and gone “why”?

It’s much more a case of thinking I could’ve done that better. It’s such a collaborative thing writing Shortland Street that there are a lot of checks and counterchecks along the way so we all do our best to save each other from big regrets.

Favourite cliff-hanger ?

Lionel and Kirsty’s plane crash.

Do you draw inspiration from your personal life, for example characters, names, stories etc?

I’m constantly raiding my personal life and that of anyone I know for material – language, opinions, everything.

Who are your favourite screenwriters/authors?

Soren Sveistrup (The Killing), Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge), Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax), Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) Wes Anderson, Barbara Trapido, Kate Atkinson, I could go on and on...

Do you have any weird writing habits?

Apart from chronic procrastination, not really.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Teaching, acting, directing, running a B&B.

Grace’s twins, what happened?

Despite the fact that I was around at the time, it completely escaped my memory that Grace (off screen) gave birth to twins, Scott and Kirk.  No-one else from back then remembered either. This may be because Grace’s pregnancy was merely a device to explain the absence of the character, Ellen Crozier, for several weeks.

There were a couple of scenes where she got a call from Grace and she informed David Kearney that she was off to Oz to help Grace.  She returned with pics of the twins, showing them to Rachel and Minnie Crozier.  This was back in 1997.  The twins were never heard of again until a repeat screening of the episodes around this time.

An outcry rained down on us for our memory lapse. The lesson we’ve learnt from this … don’t give a character an interesting reason for taking time away unless it is dealt with in a satisfying way when they return.  Because the twins were really no more than a passing mention and so faded into the mists of time. But they live on now – they’ll be seventeen.  Then there are Chris’s triplets. But now there’s a worry – are there other forgotten babies out there?

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Lynette Crawford-Williams has been writing for Shortland Street for 13 years as a storyliner, dialogue writer, and script editor:

 

What is your favourite Shortland Street storyline?

That’s like saying which one of your kids do you love more. Anyway, I loved anything to do with the Hudson family way back in the early 2000s. Victor Kahu was the man. He was still the man when his son, Nelson, stole his wife. They had a great set upstairs in the studio. People just coming and going all day long.

I think it was our biggest set and housed the greatest number of characters- I’m guessing about that fact, but it felt like it. There was a lot of warmth from that family. I loved the Heywoods just as much. I think I came up with Marshall’s frozen urine sculpture story.  

Biggest regrets, have you ever seen something you’ve written and gone “why”?  

Nicole’s Wedding! Oh my goodness, who would’ve thought the nation would hate me so much. Anyway, my version was a little different than the version that made it to air… Nicole was supposed to flick through a magazine, see that some chicks in The States had married themselves- it's true, google it! Laughed it off. Then as her friends and family started to set up date after date, she grew more annoyed.

Finally she declared that she will marry herself. She goes through the process of sending out invitations, buying a wedding dress, a cake, the works. All her friends and family think that she’s lost the plot and try to get her into counselling. Finally the big day arrives, she gets to the altar and... a hot hunky new guy walks into the room and says… "you can’t marry yourself because you have to marry me"!

Favourite cliff-hanger?  

1995. A truck crashing right into the hospital. I wasn’t even working for Shortland Street then but I can remember it clearly.

Do you draw inspiration from your personal life, for example characters, names, stories etc? 

Yes, all the time.  We were trying to come up with names for Grace’s baby – names that Harry would like.  Of course, we needed two names because Harry didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl.  So I’m sitting there going ummm, then I thought of my twin cousins – Tash and Byron.  The night that ep aired, my cousins Facebooked me immediately.  They thought it was hilarious.  

Who are your favourite screenwriters/authors? 

Billy Wilder.  ‘Some Like It Hot’ is an amazing screenplay.  It bolts along.  When I first went to read it, I thought this is so old (1959) it’s going to drag.  It didn’t.   We probably wouldn’t have the pace we have now if Billy didn’t set it up for us.   Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ – structurally flawless.  Richard Curtis for ‘Love Actually’ – structurally flawless.

Do you have any weird writing habits?

I don’t think so.  I feel more comfortable with quotes around me so I suppose that’s a bit weird – my favourite is Billy Wilder’s ‘Don’t bore people!’ 

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I’d be waiting for my agent to call. Yip, I’m an actor turned writer. Actually, a musician turned actor turned writer. So I think I’d be teaching flute. 

 


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