36: Chris Head (How to structure your 30 min comedy or comedy-drama script)

Danielle Krage interviews comedy director, coach and mentor, Chris Head.

This episode is a deep dive into how to structure your 30 min comedy or comedy-drama script. Then Chris and Danielle play with using the structure to brainstorm a new show.

Tactics covered include:

  • Breaking down the 3 main beats that shape your story.
  • Ways to keep your protagonist active.
  • How to navigate phases of play and structuring when writing.
  • Brainstorming a show in real time, using practical frameworks for character dynamics and story beats.
  • Bringing in a B and a C story.

You can find out more about Chris’ work here:

https://www.chrishead.com

You can find the blog post referenced here (including links to scripts):

https://www.comedy.co.uk/pro/inside_track/structuring-your-30-minute-script

CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT

Danielle (00:01.19)

Today I have with me Chris Head, who is a comedy director, mentor, and coach. And Chris was the very first person that I interviewed for Comedy Masterclass right back in March of 2023. And I’ve heard from lots of you how useful you found that episode, the frameworks that Chris shared with regards to creating narrative comedy. And in that episode, Chris actually mentioned one of his most popular blog posts, which is…around structuring your 30 minute comedy or comedy drama script.

So of course I read it, incredibly useful. I read it multiple times and Chris has very generously agreed to come back today so that we can unpack it a little bit and talk more things comedy. But before we dive in, Chris, that was about six months ago. Now, if my maths is correct, is there anything else we should know about what you’ve been up to with your work since then?

Chris Head (00:52.314)

Well, it’s all the same stuff. I’ve been mentoring writers.

Danielle (00:56.886)

Yeah, tell us in case people didn’t hear episode one.

Chris Head (01:21.386)

Oh, okay, for those who didn’t hear, and apologies if you did hear, but here it goes again, but I’ve been mentoring writers, working on scripts. I’m directing an Edinburgh show. You might think, gosh, that’s very early, isn’t Edinburgh August next year? But of course, it’s all starting now. So I’m doing that. Yeah, running my comedy courses and yeah, I could go on. But it’s, whenever anyone asks me what I’m doing, it’s kind of always that. So they could just replay that and then that’s probably what I’m doing next year, two years time.

Danielle (01:37.882)

I love it though, it means you are a total expert at that. And great though to think that in the cold, wintery November in the UK, you’re already thinking about Edinburgh next summer. That’s how it goes. Exciting though. Wonderful. So this blog post, I found it really useful. Being the structure geek that I am, printed it out, put it in my notebook, underlined it, read it again. One of the shows that you’d mentioned in it is Hacks, already watched and absolutely loved. One of the shows that you mentioned, Mo, I hadn’t seen, so went and watched it…brilliant show. Also I found it quite heartbreaking too. Made tons of notes. So I found it really useful, but for writers, who may hear the word structure and cringe just a little bit, or feel like… Oh no….why do you think you would encourage them to really engage with thinking about it?

Or a different way of coming at it if it’s easier is what prompted you to write this post in the beginning… where you thought…Oh gosh, these writers really need help for this reason.

Chris Head (02:40.342)

To demystify really. A lot of writers, particularly newer writers are a bit scared of this. I remember doing a one-to-one mentoring session with a writer who was developing a script with a production company said…I know I’ve got to get to grips with structure, but I don’t really know how to do that. And I’m a bit embarrassed to ask. So, you know, could we look at it? And it’s…It’s not rocket science, as they say.

And the other thing about it is that this structure that you can identify in a half hour sitcom slash comedy drama, you’d be very hard pressed to find a show that doesn’t do it, really. You can pick any show in this style and look for these beats in the story, and you’ll find them. So rather than being the outlier who’s writing a script where you’re not following the shape, you might as well do it, but then you do it in your own brilliant way and with your characters and you bring something fresh to it.

And before we say a bit more about what it is, the analogy that I often like to use is with a pop song. So if you’re going to write a pop song, then well, we know there’s a structure, you know, there’s an intro, there’s first chorus, first chorus. There’s some kind of middle eight, whatever that is. You know….Key change, probably outro. You know, you’ve got that shape. And if you’re going to write a pop song, you do that. And of course, you do it in your own way. And you bring something fresh to it. And the listeners who are enjoying it, they don’t really think about the shape of it. They just go, brilliant pop song. But if you’re going to write a piece of music, and you have probably about three minutes, roughly, but if you’re going to write a piece of music that’s half an hour and has no discernible verse, chorus structure. Might be brilliant, but it’s not a pop song. So, you know, it’s the same with these half hour shows. There’s a structure.

Danielle (04:48.682)

Yeah, that makes sense and I like that analogy as well. Makes total sense. And so I wondered if you wouldn’t mind, I mean, if you’ve got a different way in, no problem, but if not, just introducing us to some of the key sort of terms in the blog post, because I find language really, really helpful or terms really helpful for helping me organize my brain. And I thought the terms that you are using and have created in this blog post are very helpful for doing that. So if you wouldn’t mind sharing what some of those are, so we’ve got some ways in.

Chris Head (05:20.406)

Yeah, sure. And certainly my thinking here is also, it’s obviously based on my own study and my own observation, but also reading and learning from other people. So I wouldn’t claim total credit in that way. But okay, so what I’d like to do is, it’s great to have the blog post as a reference because people can read it. And also what I would like to do later on in this is I would like to figure out an episode of a completely brand new show with you within the podcast. And then we can work to these beats and figure out the story.

Danielle (05:56.923)

Oh, oh, I love it. Yeah. Great. Let’s do it. That sounds fun.

Chris

So essentially, when you’re working on a script, a helpful way of looking at it is three times three.

So you’ve got three acts to your story, which is just beginning, middle and end. Really, it’s just a fancy way of saying that. There are three big beats across the story, which we’re gonna talk about. And very often there are also three storylines. Now the first two, they’re fundamental, you’re gonna do that. The three acts, three beats.

But the three storylines is sort of optional, really. You might have two. You might have four. It’ll be unusual just to have one, but it’s not impossible. But kind of three is a sweet spot, at least as a starting point, and it’s very, very common. Now, just to say something about this word beats. So a lot of people say, oh, the beats of a story. That just means when something changes, or more simply, when something happens that moves the story on. So there’s gonna be a lot of beats within a story. But what we’re talking about here is kind of the sort of top level, the higher view of it, of the three main beats that shape your story. And so this will be your half hour TV script, could be your half hour radio script, but it could be a comedy play. You know, it could be…

could be a movie.

So we’re talking about three acts. You can look at things, four acts, five acts. So there are other ways of slicing it, particularly when you get to a longer narrative. But this will apply and can apply and be useful, within a comic novel, for example, as well. But let’s just think about what these three big beats of the story are.

So the first one is the turning points. So for your main character, your protagonist, something changes that changes everything for them. Now, it might be really fundamental that life is never gonna be the same again, or it might just be this day is going in a different direction, but something now changes and that sets them off down a different path. In movies, people often talk about the inciting incident, which can be another way of looking at it. But that’s your first thing. And that’s going to happen quite early in your script. What changes for your character? Then that sends them off on a particular direction that they didn’t expect to go in.

Then halfway through the script, you encounter the midpoint. Now, you might go, well, surprise, surprise, the middle of the script is the midpoints. That sounds sort of quite obvious, but it does a job. And the midpoint is upping the ante, heightening the stakes of your narrative, pretty much bang on halfway through. And once you know this, it’s kind of remarkable that if you pick a show that’s 22 minutes long, I think, what’s happening around about 11 minutes? Or if you pick a show that’s 28 minutes long, you know what? What’s happening around 14 minutes? Oh, oh, my God. You know, they’re really upping the ante, raising the stakes at this moment. So that’s the second of our two big beats across the narrative.

And then the third one is what I call the crunchpoint. I’ve also heard it called the worst point. Self explanatory, really. The the character has now been taken to a very challenging, decisive moment. And so you’re looking for those to hit those three big beats across the script. Now the midpoint is always in the middle, but the turning point can be sooner or later.

So in the blog post, one of the shows I write about is Alma’s Not Normal. And she has an aspiration to be an actress. And she’s had an audition. She’s very excited. She’s had to go to the job center because she’s on JobSeeker’s allowance. And she discovers that in order to stay on JobSeeker’s allowance, which she really needs to do, she has to express an interest in a job she’s not really interested in, a Subway type sandwich bar. And so that’s the turning point for her. And that is about in the script….trying to think now. It’s….maybe four pages in. So your turning point could be three pages in, four pages in, five. So we’re thinking here that your half hour script is gonna be 30 pages. So it could be quite early.

Another example is Catastrophe. So in Catastrophe, it’s an interesting example. The script is 30 pages when you look at it. Incidentally, reading scripts is obviously a very inspiring, informative, important thing to be doing as a writer. And sometimes you might get a script and you go, well, this is a half hour script, but it’s 37 pages, so I’m going to write 37 page. But everyone works by the rule of thumb – one page equals one minute, which is very rough and not 100% accurate but that’s people’s starting point,  so when you’re submitting a spec script to a producer or a competition if it’s half an hour just go for 30 pages and it’s very classy if you’ve done it in that exact 30 pages, but maybe it’s 31, maybe it’s 32.

But thinking about Catastrophe, which as it happens, so these are both the first episode of the first series that we’re talking about. The turning point comes nine pages in, which is quite a long way in for a 30 minute script, but it’s a good example because it’s one that needs more time. And in that story, with Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, their characters, Sharon and Rob…. Rob is in London on business and they have a fling, you know, and a wild affair that they know is only going to last for as long as he’s in London. And they might never see each other again. And so that happens. He goes back to the States. Sharon discovers she’s pregnant, tells him, he says, oh, my God. But OK, we’re basically strangers, but I’m going to do the right thing. I’m going to move to London, move in with you, and we’re going to be mother and father to this child. That’s a lot to set up. And for a turning point, this is enormous.

So the Alma’s Not Normal turning point is Alma having to be more realistic about what her career might be, which is a big psychological turning point. But she’s still holding on to hope.

But this is… everything is now different. And the Alma you can see, well, we can share links to both these scripts. You can find out. But one’s relatively early. One needs more time. But if you think your turning point between three and seven pages, roughly. But I mean, these things are never set in stone. But it’s act one. So the turning point happens at the end of act one.

Sometimes the turning point is a little earlier in Act 1, and there’s some kind of other ratcheting up of the stakes at the end of Act 1. But it’s very common for the turning point to also be end of Act 1. Then what you do is you’re working towards the midpoint. And in Alma’s Not Normal, she’s been holding out for this acting job. Exactly halfway through, she discovers that she’s not got it. You know, things have got appreciably worse. And by the end of act two, which is where your crunch point is, she has decided to go have a night out. She’s also split up with her boyfriend who’s carried on with his life and they ended up sleeping together again, but that’s very bad and complicated. And she decides to kind of get it all out of her system, you know, go clubbing, maybe meet a guy, have fun, feel better about herself. But by the end of the night, she feels totally shit. Hopeless, I’m stuffed and that’s the end of Act 2 which is the crunch point. So you’re looking for the crunch point to be that end of Act 2 moment and then Act 3 is what of course wraps it all up.

Now if we’re thinking about the first episode it’s also going to be the thing that goes that tees up everything to come and in Alma’s Not Normal she decides to become an escort. And I’m talking about the pilot here. The first episode of the series proper, they kind of retold the story in a way. Quite often the pilot becomes episode one, but in this case they did a new episode one, but covers the same beats essentially, but in a slightly different way. But in both cases, the end of the episode is, I’m gonna become an escort, teeing up everything that’s to come.

The end of Catastrophe is Rob and Sharon are in bed together after this fling and she’s thinking basically I’ve got this more or less stranger in my bed and we’re gonna make a life together and she looks at the ceiling, she’s like fuck. She doesn’t say fuck, but that’s the expression on her face, you know, and that’s sort of teeing up everything that’s to come. So you can read more about those beats on the blog post.

And in terms of the storylines in Catastrophe, there’s one main story. There’s the A story, which is Rob and Sharon getting together. But they put in a B story, which is Sharon getting diagnosed with something they call pre-cancer, which is something that’s not yet cancerous but is a concern. And in fact, it’s fine in the end. But that creates a B story and adds more tension. But that script, there’s a lot of focus on the A story.

In Alma, so the A story is needing work, wanting to be an actress, that not working, deciding to become an escort, that’s the A story. B story is her situation with her ex. The C story is stuff that’s going on with her mother and grandmother. So that has got Alma’s absolutely classically shaped. The three acts are three big beats and the three story lines, whereas Catastrophe is actually three two and the A story is much more substantial than the B story, although the B story is meaty. So you’re looking to do those things in your script and when you’ve identified that, be hard pressed to…Well, you just won’t see a show that doesn’t do these things, you know, just whatever you watch.

And sometimes people go, oh, is it just episode one? But it’s any episode. You know, to get a story going, something has to happen. So something changes for your characters. They hit a midpoint. The stakes raise. They hit a crunch point. So it’s like a sandwich in that act one is one slice of bread. And then act two is most of it, which is the big filling of the sandwich. And Act 3 is the other slice of bread. So you could think five pages, 20 pages, five pages, although it’s not quite that neat. But it’s roughly that shape.

The other thing on this is people sometimes say that these three acts are actually a disguised four act because the midpoint you could look at as an end of Act 2. And then the rest of Act 2, you could call Act 3. At three you could then call act four and certainly when you get to writing what they call the commercial hour of TV then you are looking at four acts, but actually it’s the same thing But you suddenly you’re now calling it four acts in instead of three So I’ve said a bunch of stuff there. I hope that’s all clear and also I I’m aware that this is technically a conversation and you’ve not got a word in.

Danielle (20:04.779)

Yeah, that makes loads of sense. Yeah.

Chris Head (20:12.598)

But could I just tell people that I’m not like this in real life? If you meet me, I will ask you questions, and you will be able to say things. It’s, yeah, this is, I’m on kind of transmit. Yeah. So do you have any questions, Danielle? Yeah.

Danielle (20:24.13)

Yeah, no, I can vouch for that, but it also makes sense that you’re laying out a whole map for us. I do, I do, I do have some questions, but thank you, it’s helpful to lay all that out, I appreciate it.

So one of the questions I wanted to ask is, how do you think thinking about the structure helps ensure that the protagonist remains really active? Because I think that’s one of the things that I think this structure is really useful for.

Chris Head (20:52.746)

Yeah, yeah. So first of all, you’re thinking what’s going to change that’s really going to challenge my protagonist, that’s going to really shake things up and change things for them. And, you know, depending on where you’re pitching your narrative, if you’re in the comedy drama space and you’re looking for something really quite dramatic, then this is going to be a big thing.

But if you’re…maybe you’re doing something more naturalistic or, you know, kitchen sink drama style…. then it, then it will be something a bit smaller, like, you know, the cat’s gone missing or, you know, but, but either way, it’s still that turning point and it makes your character act. They need to, they’ve got a problem now that they need to address. They need to take decisions. They need to do stuff. And so they’re, they’re now doing that. This is not what they expected to be doing today, but now they’re doing this.

And when you get to the midpoint, you’re twisting the knife. You know, you’re making the challenge bigger for them. And so if it’s comedy drama, you know, I don’t know, the turning point is the characters found a long lost daughter they didn’t even know they had, you know, it’s really massive or, or it’s something smaller like the cat’s gone missing. Say the turning point is, well, it’s interesting actually because sometimes the turning point can be something that the audience knows but your character doesn’t. So in this case, it might be the audience discovers that this young woman is an imposter. She’s not who she claims to be, but your protagonist doesn’t know that. So. That’s an interesting turning point. It creates dramatic irony. The audience knows something the character doesn’t know. So kind of the turning point, it’s much more common for something to confront your character directly. But it can be something that the audience discover, that they go…oh, this is more complicated than I realized. So that could be a midpoint.

But like in the cat storyline, let’s say the midpoint is the cat very sadly has been run over by a car. But don’t worry, it is still alive. There’s hope. But there’s the midpoint. And the crunch point with the cat, she’s got to decide whether to put it down or not. The crunch point with the daughter is the woman suddenly starts to suspect something might be up. And she’s deciding whether to push this or challenge this person. But this sudden daughter’s filling up a hole in her life and she decides to, no, I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to think about it, you know?

And so there’s a couple of examples of, you know, different levels of drama, but that are both kind of significant for those characters. But those would also be, you know, the A stories, like the B story and the cat episode could be, you know, we’re thinking more everyday stuff. The cat owner has had problems with her TV reception, and the guy who’s going to fix the TV area was coming round. And, oh, but it’s really complicated because the cat’s gone missing, but I really want it sorted out, you know?

And the thing with the daughter appearing, maybe our woman in that story, she’s under a lot of pressure at work and there’s going to be downsizing and a load of people are going to lose their jobs. And because she’s under a lot of new…stimulation, pressure with this girl suddenly appearing, it’s sliding at work. And it could be that at the crunch point, she gets made redundant, you know, so the, so the B story collides there.

But when you’ve got really serious things going on, the quite often the C story is a more, a lighter story. It’s not always the case, but quite often it’s a lighter story. So in the in C story…. I don’t know. She’s wanted to get a tattoo and she’s trying to decide what it is. And it’s a bit a bit kind of lighter and it’s kind of played in a more sort of playful way. Obviously, I’m just thinking of this off the top of my head.

But, you know, it’s so much easier when you’ve got that….you’ve got that rhythm and you’ve got that structure because you know what you need to do and you know what this story needs to do. And you can hit those beats and know that you’ve got a well shaped story. And not only that, it’s a story that anyone reading your script will either know about this, and of course, if they’re in the industry, they’re going to know, but even if they don’t know, kind of intuitively, it will feel right. If it gets, you know, if it gets made intuitively to the viewer, it’s going to feel right. Because this is what I’ve seen a thousand times, but they’ve just not thought about it.

Danielle (26:13.054)

Yeah, I love that. And I want to ask… if there are any writers who are listening or watching, who are like… ah, but I’ve already spent ages working on this script and I didn’t know about the structure and maybe I’m doing some things right, but some things not….what would you say to them? Because I know that you’re really good at helping writers who bring scripts in all kinds of states for all kinds of reasons.

Chris Head (26:34.058)

Yeah. Well, the first thing I’d say is it’s really, I would say when you’re starting on a project, it’s a really good idea to take a step back and not worry about this, actually. So if you’ve written a bunch of stuff without thinking about this, that is no bad thing. And to give you an example, I did a Zoom session with a writer this morning and she’s working up a new idea.

And in fact, she’s done some training with me before on a Zoom course and is sort of well aware of all of this and kind of came in with the thought that we would talk about this stuff. And we sort of touched on it. And I said, but let’s not let’s not worry about it too much for now. You know, you’ve got this really interesting relationship between this couple. It’s a good dynamic, but just write some scenes, write me five scenes with this couple. And and in fact, don’t make them particularly significant or dramatic scenes. Let’s just see them rubbing along together in life and in different situations and try and understand who they are and what’s funny about them.

And so, if you’ve written a bunch of stuff and you haven’t thought about this, well, great, because you’ve got the raw materials and you’ve learned more about your characters and your world.

And I would say the next thing actually is to disassemble your script and look at it as a bunch of scenes. And then if you kind of give each scene a title and write that title on a post-it note and then stick it on the wall and maybe if your landlord wouldn’t mind or if you own your house if your partner or whoever wouldn’t mind you could draw a line on the wall you know this is end of act one this is the turning point this is midpoint this is crunch point at the end of act two or somehow demarcate it and go…….. what are these scenes i’ve got what if i were to reorganize them in this shape. What scenes don’t I need? What scenes do I need? And you can start to reconstruct it on that basis.

Danielle (28:36.154)

Yeah, I love that. And I used to be really resistant to writing scenes that I didn’t think I was going to use. I think it’s like that scarcity of time when you think… I’ve only got this amount of time, I have to make it really count. But it so worked against me. And in the episode with Sherice Griffiths, she was incredibly encouraging about, and described really well a lot of the scenes that she writes just to get to know her characters.

So shout out to Sherice for the prompt to do that. I think it’s, I totally agree with you now. And now it’s great because you can really play and have fun and find unexpected things and still then bring it back to the kind of structure, like you say. And I do, though I could draw a black line on the wall…. I tend to use Scrivener now for organizing things. I know not everyone likes that, but at least now I can divide it into my acts and you could demarcate it and move your little things around the cookboard. Though sometimes it is nice to see it all on the wall, isn’t it? Yeah, I love it.

Chris Head (29:14.466)

Exactly.

Danielle (29:32.75)

Brilliant. So I wanted to ask a couple of other questions and also then it’d be great to know if there’s more things you’d like to put in before we wrap up. And one of them is….because you’re so helpful with doing these frameworks, is there any particular flavour of advice that you just find that writers really struggle to take on board? And you just kind of sit there, seeing over it again from the outside.

Because I think there are some things like, for example, for me, definitely it was being prepared to write things that I wasn’t going to use was something that I just struggled with for a while. Are there any things that you think either in particularly helpful to get people out of different ruts or that you just kind of patiently wait for writers to realize that when they do listen, it’s going to be so much easier for them.

Chris Head (30:20.203)

Well, one thing I’d say is to be aware that there’s two different kinds of writing and don’t try and do them both at once.

Danielle (30:30.714)

Oh, oh, you’re hitting me right in the… Because it took me so long to learn that. Say more, please. Save people some pain.

Chris Head (30:39.559)

Yeah. So the two different kinds of writing, one is the play when you’re having fun and exploring. And the other kind of writing is actually the hard work where you’re putting structure and shape and form to it. And if you only do the play side of things, then it’s a formless mess, but fun.

But also if you only do the structure side of things, you can still write something, but it can end up a bit feeling dry and mathematical. So you wanna do both and you can’t do them both at once. So it’s like deciding what am I doing? Well, right now I’m doing this. I’m just, I’m playing and I’m gonna create a load of scenes and a bunch of stuff and put them away. And okay, now I’m in phase two. I’m gonna put some structure and some shape onto it.

And being aware of those two phases and moving between them is really helpful. And actually, the other thing I want to say while I think of it is that the audience and the reader of the script actually shouldn’t really notice the structure. So someone reading it analytically and thinking, how is this a well-structured script? They’re going to be looking for it and they’ll notice it. But ideally, even someone like me, who’s thinking about this stuff all the time, will just go, wow, these characters are great and I’m loving this story and I want to turn the page and it’s making me laugh. And so it’s there, but it’s the support that you’ve forgotten about because you’ve got characters and a world and a story, and that’s what we’re now interested in.

Danielle (32:20.578)

Yeah, I love that. Beautifully expressed and honestly, like when you say it so beautifully, simply like that, I cannot believe it took me so long to figure out like really separating those modes out. And I think I spent quite a long time veering back and forth between trying to get really, really organized and outline everything and be hyper-structured… and then like trying to veer the other way and then ending up with a mess… to try and actually find a process that works for me, and being clear about what I’m doing. I feel like it took me a ridiculously long time to figure out. And I’m sure I’ll still forget and have to remind myself many times. It’s great having this podcast. I can really listen to my own podcast in the gym and hear Chris reminding me what to do. So that’s great. Love it.

Chris Head (32:57.418)

Yes. Fantastic. So what I want to wrap up with is you and I brainstorming a show idea. But go on, if you’ve got another question, go ahead.

Danielle (33:06.998)

I want to do your idea. So let’s do that. I’ve always got 50 more questions. So let’s do it. Sounds fun.

Chris Head (33:21.79)

Okay, so what I want to do at this point, as we’re coming to the finish, Danielle, is to think about a show and imagine that we’re writing a script. Now, one thing I want to just say as a side note is, so in this world of, you know, writing TV half hours, trying to get the attention of a producer with your work, a piece of advice people often give is don’t send episode one. You know, send episode four or whatever they say.

And that’s all right. That you know, that’s not bad advice, but because it well, the reason why they say that is they go…oh, there’s no other episode like episode one, episode one, setting everything up. It’s like an outlier. So send one that’s more typical. And I think that sends you down the wrong path and gets you thinking about it in an unhelpful way in that. Yeah. Episode one is going to be of course walking the audience into a world and into characters. However, what it should be doing is showing off the characters that we’re gonna love, the kinds of situations they’re gonna be in, the kinds of conflict that they experience, the kind of funny stuff that we’re gonna enjoy, whatever episode, you know, that should all be there in episode one. So episode one should be as good an example of what this thing is as as any other.

And I was talking to Lucy Lumsden recently, who I’ve worked with in various ways and you’ve spoken to on this series.

Danielle (34:53.766)

Hmm. Yeah. And she’s been on the show. Yes. Listen to Lucy’s episode. She says so many wise things.

Chris Head (35:00.81)

Amazing. She’s really great. And so she’s a TV producer now, having been a commissioner in the past. And I spoke to her about this and she said… Send in episode one. I want to see episode one. You know, I’m like a viewer who’s being introduced to this world and I want to come into it at that point. I don’t want to feel like I’m joining halfway through a series. So so there you go. So I would say maybe don’t get so hung up on that. Or more importantly….Episode one should be a showcase for everything that’s great about this series and don’t think of it as an outlier So there’s tha.

So we’re working on episode one of this show. I had to think what it could be so what I thought is…so you’re doing these Podcasts, and it’s a comedy masterclass, and I thought okay. Well it let’s make up a show where someone’s recording podcasts.

Danielle (35:36.718)

Right, that’s good.

Chris Head (35:59.742)

A woman like yourself. But just to fictionalize it a bit, I thought it could be a money masterclass. So it’s kind of about investing and etcetera. I’m not the most kind of money fluid person. So that was the end of my money knowledge. So maybe I need to do some research before we write this. But so that’s what we’re going to do.

Danielle (36:00.282)

Great. Yes. Crypto, I don’t know, maybe funds. Yeah. Okay.

Chris Head (36:28.678)

Another topic that I’m going to broach right at the finish here. And I could say a lot more on this, but I’m going to be fairly focused for this. The central character, basically you, a fictionalized version of you, they’re the protagonist.

Danielle (36:41.69)

Hmm. Oh, great. Got my own show. Yep.

Chris Head (36:57.566)

But yeah, I like to call the protagonist the Striver. That’s my own word for that character, because it just reminds you what they should be doing. You know, they’re constantly striving to better themselves or to get out of their situation, improve their life or, you know, win that job or that person or whatever, become a millionaire, become famous, whatever it is, they’re striving away. Then above them, you need a boss. So I’m not using that word to be synonymous with manager, although there could be a manager, I just mean the person with some with authority who’s got power in the situation. So we’ve got the version of you who I’m going to call Dani, who’s doing her money podcast, bringing in people from the world of finance. And in fact, unlike what we’re doing, they’re coming around to her house. So we’ve got some in-person stuff more interesting to look at on TV.

So quite often, I would say a boss character is going to be her guest, because…You know, they’re an authority in the world of money. So relating to, to Dani who wants to learn more about savings and investments and markets and things, they’re a boss. So I guess they’re often going to be a boss to her. And she also, she really needs them. Otherwise she’s got no podcast. So there’s a real possibility there for them to kind of mess her around or give her the run around or be arrogant and inflated or, or be, you know, not as knowledgeable as they made out, but putting on this authority. So there’s a lot of fun to be had there with those characters.

But we also need someone who’s like…. just because I think in this show, probably each episode there’ll be a different guest. So it will be a bit like a Fawlty Towers setup where you’ve got, you know, someone new each week, but we need someone in Dani’s world who is… Who’s the boss, you know, the person with power over her. Who’s just in her world all the time. So Danielle, who could that be?

Danielle (38:58.446)

Oh, who do I want to have power of me? So it could be, so if we’re going for… if it’s a rented space, it could be the landlord or landlady of the space who interrupts or,who  is nosy or wants to know what the comings and goings are of all these people.

Chris Head (39:26.862)

Perfect, yeah, perfect. And a couple of times in my life, I mean, when I was much younger, I sort of rented a room in a, well, once in a house and once in a flat, well, where the landlord would live there. I guess you’re kind of a lodger really in that setup. That’s always really tricky. So let’s have the landlady there, the owner of the house. And I did want, this was so long ago, but I rented a room in a flat in Fulham and the woman who owned the flat was very elderly, very cantankerous and just seemed absolutely furious that I was there despite the fact that she’d advertised the room and I was paying her money.

So let’s base our landlady character on her, so this cantankerous older woman. The thing I always remember is sitting in my room and hearing her going, Mr Head! Mr. Head! Up the stairs. And I’d open the door and go…yes, and look down the stairs. And she’d go…there’s crumbs in the kitchen, or whatever it was that I’d done.

And I moved out of there fairly quick. But so Dani is in this house. And let’s say she has invested some money in setting up a bit of a studio. So she’s done some soundproofing, and she’s got her equipment in. So she’s more stuck. So the thing I was going to….I was starting to think is why does she stay? So the rent’s really cheap. That was the other thing about the flat in Fulham. I think she wasn’t totally up to speed with current, you know, rental rates in that part of London. It was cheap. But it wasn’t enough to offset the pain of being there. So, yeah, we’ve got those things. It’s really cheap. And I guess Dani is, you know, trying to invest money. I guess she’s losing a lot of money with her investments. So that’s a nice kind of background sort of stress.

So what you have is you’ve got your Striver in the middle, your protagonist, and you’ve got the Boss, figure out who that is. Also the guests are bosses. Now what we need is a Fool who is the character, who’s kind of a bit of an idiot or socially awkward or just stupid and who’s creating problems for Dani. And so who could that be?

Danielle (41:23.958)

Yeah. I like it. I’m wondering if there’s maybe like, even if it’s like lo-fi, like this one, a sort of show and Producer Editor. Because it’s not as easy as it looks. Riverside says you just press the button, but actually there’s a bunch of stuff that happens, I’ve learned the hard way, afterwards. So I wonder… but maybe because she doesn’t have money, it’s not someone she can really pay. So it’s a kind of friend who’s a bit more techie than her, but also has lots of  incompetencies.

Chris Head (41:59.415)

Ha ha ha. Perfect, yeah. So the Fool character is very often just stupid. So a classic example would be Baldrick or Manuel. But sometimes the Fool actually is intelligent, but it’s their kind of social awkwardness or their kind of naivety that makes them a Fooll, like Niles in Frasier. He’s actually the Fool of the piece. The father is the Boss. Obviously Frasier is the Striver.

Yeah, great. So she’s got this kind of techie nerd who helps her out, but she’s not paying and is socially awkward and unpredictable and unreliable. Yeah, so that’s the Fool that she’s got to deal with. And every now and then, one of the guests might be a Fool. They seem to have the credentials, but actually, they’re a Fool. So in this Boss Striver Fool setup.

It’s also really helpful to have a Foil.Who’s the normal kind of grounded character. So this is like Tim from The Office or Polly in Fawlty Towers, who’s like the more reasonable person that the audience can actually identify with and who really sees how mad this setup is. So who could this Foil character be in Dani’s life?

Danielle (43:10.722)

Mm. I’m wondering about like a boyfriend character who, when they come into the world and sees that… because, for example, I used to run a theatre company and sometimes my house, I would realize when someone came around who wasn’t involved in it, how mad it must look because the living room would be overtaken with pieces of set and I would be doing all these things that I’d agreed to do at like almost no notice. And so I’m wondering someone who comes into that world from the outside, like a boyfriend or a best friend who has it, has a job, has things figured out.

.

Chris Head (43:57.922)

Great. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Spot on, exactly what I was going to say. Because you want to have you want opposites. So, yeah, Dani’s losing money on her investments… has got this big idea. Any day now, you know, I’m going to make £100k and everything is going to turn around and I’m doing these podcasts. I’m learning stuff, but yes. Raising my profile, maybe someone would give me a job.

You know, there’d be, so she’s got all of these hopes, but actually she’s really struggling for money and is living in this crazy place. And you’ve got the boyfriend who is the sort of grounded one who has got his stuff together. And I think he’s constantly on it….Dani why don’t you move in with me? I’ve got this flat, you know, we’ve been together for, you know, two years now, it’s time, you know, come on, just get out of this place. We can set up your studio. But of course she’s, you know, she’s reluctant. She likes her independence. She’s not totally sure about this guy. And so we’ve got our worlds set up here. And so now what we need is the, I’m wondering if this should be two episodes, but what we need is the….so the A story of this episode…we need a turning point.

So Dani is in this whole kind of situation and she’s got a guest coming along. Let’s say to raise the stakes that she’s got a former governor of the Bank of England who… I don’t know, her mother goes to the gym with and she’s been on at him for like 18 months and he’s finally, finally showed up. So, well, I mean, maybe that’s the turning point. The mother phones up and says, I’ve got, you know….Mark Carney that he’s going to do it. You know, so that there we go. That could be our turning point for the episode.

So she’s kind of kind of, you know, bobbling along, the landlady’s on her case. You know, maybe this guest she did have lined up. It seemed a bit flaky anyway. You know, they’re nowhere to be seen. Suddenly I’ve got Mark Carney. Oh, shit. Wow. So here’s a big turning point. So obviously now get a new outfit, tidy the place up, maybe redecorate, you know, really revise, be on top of, you know, the topic, get snacks in, yeah, get everything ready.

So Mark Carney shows up. So what could be a midpoint in terms of something going wrong or raising the stakes?

Danielle (46:45.762)

Yeah, so, hmm, I’m trying to think whether it needs to be something for her or whether it’s one of the, linked to one of the other characters that we have. So who have we got? We’ve got the landlady, we’ve got the boyfriend, and we’ve got the tech person. So, hmm, everything that I’m thinking of is a little bit little for midpoint.

Hmm. I think something with the landlady. Go for it.

Chris Head (47:08.206)

Okay, I’m going to give you a thought. So I mean, this is quite sitcom-y, but what I’m thinking, which is fine, if you’re doing something very big and broad and silly, you go sitcom-y, but of course, if you’re in the comedy drama space, it would be a bit different. But a kind of more kind of broad. A really broad comedy thing is the Fool was out on a bender the night before and she’s trying to get a hold of him. She’s struggling to get him to come in, finally does come in, but he just sort of pukes everywhere and can’t do it. Oh my God, I’ve got vomit to clear up, staggers out of the place. And then, I mean, that could be a midpoint. But I’m thinking she, in kind of sitcom land, she recruits the landlady to do the tech for this interview with Mark Carney. Yeah.

Danielle (48:04.518)

Oh, okay, yeah, because I was like going down things like power cut, but then I was like, but then it really nixes it and makes it… yeah, so that uses the characters, I like it. Yeah, that’s good.

Chris Head (48:14.634)

Yeah, so that could be a midpoint. It’s like, oh shit, I’ve got to, my landlady’s gonna do it. So probably she hasn’t shown up yet. So she’s got to brief the landlady. And I think, my feeling is she’s quite excited about it. I think.

Danielle (48:34.05)

Yeah, I was going to say what if she likes it a bit too much? I could see it. Yeah.

Chris Head (48:36.542)

Yeah, yeah, because you might go, oh, she’s very cantankerous and she’s going to be pissed off about doing it. But actually, I think it’s more fun if she’s going with it and is a bit excitable and we see a different side to her. And in fact, you know, Dani’s having trouble putting her back in her box. Then you know…

Danielle (48:56.582)

And she might be interested in the money. We might have found one of her like key motivations, the landlady. Yeah.

Chris Head (48:59.548)

Nice. Yeah, maybe she fancies Mark Carney as well. So, you know, yeah. Hey, hey, he turns up. And I think there’s a lot of fun actually in trying to train her and keep her back in a box. But so then I think actually the crunch point is Mark Carney turns up. So this is the end of Act two. You know, we’ve probably got about five, six pages left. And he turns up and it’s a total fiasco, of course, because the landlady’s all over him, unwelcome hospitality, messing things up technically. Dani’s absolutely tearing her hair out. And Mark Carney goes… I was willing to do this as a favour for your mother, but I’m not doing this. It’s like, oh, no, please, no. So it’s nice. You’re kind of going, oh, poor Danny. We’re starting to be invested. So this is her crunch point. He storms out. And…So now we’re into act three and it’s going to be the next day, I’d say, as we go into act three. So obviously, there’s time passing between act two and three. I’m going to say obviously, but I mean, act three is never going to be just immediate. There’s always at least an hour or something, but more commonly, it’s later that day or that night. But the next day is super common, or a couple of days later. But we’re now the next day.

Maybe the boyfriend is consoling her. And can we give her a happy ending? What’s the happy ending at the end of the episode, Danielle?

Danielle (50:34.328)

Yeah. I like happy endings. So yeah, because I don’t want the boyfriend and the giving up path to win. So I’m trying to think who she could get a call from. Is that a bit cheesy?

Chris Head (50:58.998)

Maybe, or maybe, you know, in terms of this story, maybe Mark Carney comes back or it’s, well, basically your character’s gonna win or they’re gonna lose, yeah, go on.

Danielle (51:09.094)

But I’m wondering, also this might be the feminist in me coming out, but I’m wondering if there’s someone that’s even better than Mark Carney or if that’s not the thing of the crunch point. If like she thought she wanted the suit and him, but maybe there’s a better option, maybe there’s a female guest.

Chris Head (51:18.454)

Nice. I like it.

Chris Head (51:34.55)

Yeah, great. OK, so let’s say it’s Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor, that she lands, and who just happens to know the mad landlady from days of old. And the landlady has got flowers, is apologizing, and has turned it around. And here’s Rachel Reeves. And oh, my god, that’s a nice, nice happy ending. So there you go. We’ve made something up that feels OK.

Danielle (51:39.242)

Yeah.

Chris Head (52:03.722)

In fact, it was quite fun, you know, in not much time. But what facilitated that was having that structure. And once you’ve got the characters in the story, you sort of forget about it because that’s the raft that took you to the other shore. You don’t need to carry the raft around with you. You just get on with the characters and the story that you’ve now got.

But one thing I will say is that’s the A story. So now I’m not going to do this any depth, we would now be thinking about the B story. And the B story can also hit those beats, although you’re a little bit more relaxed with the B and C. But you could mirror those beats in the B story. So the B story, probably something about the boyfriend, and he’s trying to book a holiday. She needs some time away from this studio, and he’s trying to get this holiday sorted. That could be the B story.

And C Story, the landlady’s trying milk deliveries. And something happens with that. So you’re starting to get it. And so this is what I mean. You know what you’ve got to do, what the shape is. Sometimes people go, oh God, it’s so formulaic. Or I don’t wanna tick those boxes. But it’s your friend.

Danielle (53:06.486)

Right. Yeah.

Chris Head (53:27.282)

So go, I’m going to write a pop song. Well, I need a chorus. What’s that going to be? Oh, now I need some verses. And you know what you’ve got to do.

Danielle (53:33.263)

Yeah, no, totally. I love it. And also when you have that structure as well, then it doesn’t mean then….you don’t feel closed off, but you can look at a piece. Like my first instinct is to say… happy ending, but then immediately, as a contrarian I want to be like….Oh, well, if we look at the other ending, but now I’m only looking at one piece as opposed to the whole thing to test it. And also lovely if working with writing partners, or groups, or getting feedback… to have the structure to be able to talk around.

Because I’ve been involved in a few different collaborative processes. And when you have just got that blank page, it can be so hard. And particularly if it’s like…we’re over here doing characters and setting…but what are they actually going to be able to do? To kick it around and go back and then go back to…. oh, but what if this was the turning point instead? Or what if this, or if we did this B point? It gives you some stable ground to be able to play on instead of trying to play in a swamp. So I love it.

Chris Head (54:28.354)

Very good, very well put, exactly.

Danielle (54:32.198)

Yeah. So thanks so much for your time today, Chris. You’re such a comedy genius brain. I love it. Thank you. And where should people go to find out more about you and your work?

Chris Head (54:43.382)

Well, Chrishead.com is the simplest place. And I’ve written a couple of books, one on standup, one that has got some standup stuff in it, but is about half hour comedy scripts and other kinds of comedy…creating comedy narratives for stage and screen. My second book particularly ties in with this stuff. But yeah, I mentor writers all the time and I’m running courses. Most of which are actually now on Zoom, which is really great because I have people from here there and everywhere joining them. Yeah, so I think visiting my website is a good first port of call.

Danielle (55:25.246)

Yeah, totally. And I’ve taken one of Chris’s brilliant courses and had help in a one-to-one session and it’s just so useful. And Chris asked brilliant questions. So he’s brilliant at giving this framework and also asking really insightful questions that will melt your brain and turn it around in new ways in the best possible sense. So thanks so much, Chris. It’s been so fun chatting with you today.

Chris Head (55:45.826)

Great, thank you. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you, Danielle.