Norfolk writer Matt gets his break on EastEnders
Stacia BriggsFrom Wymondham to Walford in one summer - Matt Williamson was plucked from a crowd of young hopefuls to help create an EastEnders spin-off drama aimed at teenagers.Stacia Briggs
From Wymondham to Walford in one summer - Matt Williamson was plucked from a crowd of young hopefuls to help create an EastEnders spin-off drama aimed at teenagers. STACIA BRIGGS spoke to him about his first big writing job.
When you're in a remote region of Spain, teaching children how to speak English, it's not the ideal time to take a call from an EastEnders producer asking you to produce a script.
But Matt Williamson, 21, who is currently studying in London but hails from a village near Wymondham, was more than happy to oblige.
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'I didn't have any internet access, so I had to find somewhere I could get some reception, find out a bit more about EastEnders!' said Matt, who has written one episode of E20, a spin-off of the BBC1 soap which is currently airing online.
'I then phoned my sister, who is a big EastEnders fan and had a chat with her about the characters and what had been going on recently. She was in Italy at the time, so it was all a bit stressful!'
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EastEnders: E20 is a 12-part series about four new characters, Fatboy, Leon Small, Mercy Olubunmi and Zsa Zsa Carter, who move into Albert Square seeking solace from family life.
Squatting together in 89b George Street, the flat previously lived in by EastEnders character Amira Masood, who was recently involved in the soap's big New Year Muslim wedding plotline, the secrets that drove the teenagers from home will slowly be revealed.
Matt's involvement in the project began before last summer, when he answered an email sent to the National Youth Theatre, of which he is a member.
The email asked for would-be writers aged between 16 and 22 to contact the BBC if they would be interested to helping to create a new EastEnders spin-off drama.
'I was immediately interested,' said Matt, who studied at Wymondham High School and Notre Dame High School, in Norwich, and is currently in the middle of an English Literature degree at King's College in London.
'I did think the chances of me being picked were very slim, but I thought I'd give it a go. Then I went off to Spain to teach children English and while I was there I got the call.'
Having created a character of his own ('it was a young lad, a bit of a layabout. I drew on my experience of being a bit of a layabout myself when I was in Norfolk!') Matt was asked to write a dialogue between his character and an established EastEnders character.
'I'd watched the odd episode of EastEnders and it was one of my family traditions to always watch the Christmas episodes, but I wasn't really up to date with what was happening,' Matt admitted.
'I was always a bit more of a Hollyoaks watcher, but I think that's part of the motivation for the project - to target younger people and tempt them back to EastEnders.'
BBC Vision Multiplatform commissioned the online spin-off in the run-up to EastEnders celebrating its 25th anniversary on February 19. Episodes, each written by a young writer and lasting between six and 12 minutes, will be posted on the EastEnders' website after the TV episodes of the primetime soap.
'I wrote my dialogue between my character and Libby. I was toying with the idea of using Stacey Slater, because I know her better, but I thought that was a bit obvious,' said Matt, who used to belong to the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre.
'When I heard I'd got an interview, I was delighted. I had to ask them to put it back a bit so I could finish teaching in Spain, but luckily for me the BBC was very helpful.'
After his interview, Matt was offered a place on the E20 summer school with a group of 12 other young writers and together they came up with plotlines and new characters which would form the basis of the spin-off show.
'I think I found out within a day that I'd got a place, and then it was pretty much straight into it,' he said.
'It was a four week course and we were taught the basics of writing, how to plan your scenes, how to create characters and dramatic arcs - it was amazing. After the summer school, we were each given one episode to write.
'Mine is episode eight, which is about eight to 10 minutes long but took about a month to finish what with all the story changes and rewrites!
'It's difficult because you have so many restraints: you're told where scenes can be set, how many night shoots can be done - the mechanics of writing a soap opera are far more technical than you might think!'
Matt's episode will go live at bbc.co.uk/eastenders at 8.30pm tonight and sees new character Mercy erupting with fury when Fatboy accuses established EastEnders character Tamwar Masood of being her secret boyfriend.
'I think I might have to lock myself away in my room when it's on so that I don't have to see other people's faces while they watch it!' laughed Matt.
'I've seen nearly all of the episodes now and I'm really pleased. They seem really modern - the producers have moved away from the EastEnders' format and E20 has lots more music playing and edgier camera work.
'The whole thing has been so exciting and fantastically interesting and it's really made me want to write more. I'd love to write drama - my favourite drama, probably of all time, is Funland, which was actually written by a former EastEnders writer.
'It was quite dark and surreal, but it was great. It'd be brilliant to get my teeth into something like that.'
No plans have yet been made to shoot more episodes of E20, with the 12 episodes forming their own self-contained drama, but Matt would love to be involved if further episodes were commissioned.
'It's been really rewarding, with a bit of pain thrown in for good measure!' he said.
'I had to write while carrying on with my uni work, and my social life disappeared but I loved every minute of it. You don't often get a chance to look round the Albert Square set and I couldn't quite believe I was there.
'I finish my degree next year and I want to build on what I've done. I've had a brilliant opportunity and I'd love to be able to take it further, I just need to take the next step.'
Diederick Danter, executive producer of EastEnders: E20 said: 'We're asking a whole new set of people to come at EastEnders from a fresh angle and to surprise us - and the audience - with what they do.
'Not content with having E20 written by new writers and our theme tune remixed by the audience, we've now found four talented newcomers from London to front the show.
'It's very exciting.'
Find out more about E20, which is aired online after each EastEnders episode until January 25, at bbc.co.uk/eastenders/e20.
Are you making a name for yourself in the world of television? Call reporter Tracey Gray on 01603 772418 or email email@example.com