Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Interview with Coronation Street Story Associate, Furquan Akhtar

Photograph of Furquan by Ben Stokes
It's time to meet Furquan Akhtar who is one of the Story Associates on Coronation Street.

In an exclusive interview here on the Coronation Street Blog, we asked Furquan about his job and what it was like to shape the stories on our favourite soap.  So, here we go....

Can you explain your job please - how long you've been doing it and how you got the job, what your experience was before joining ITV?
I’ve worked at the show for over three years now and it was my first job in TV. I started as a Trainee and I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several different departments from production to archiving. I landed a more permanent job as an Editorial Assistant and was promoted this year to Story Associate. Being a Story Associate involves pitching stories, writing to tight deadlines and putting in long hours!

How is your job different to being a script writer?
Storylining is about creating the arcs for a story. The story has to have an arc across each scene, each episode and each block. We build this from what's pitched by the script writers and editorial team at story conference. We then take the pitches and talk them through. Then we see how they can play across the next three weeks.  We write the "beats" and help choreograph the story but it's only the first step of the process. It's up to our brilliant writers and Script Editing team to shape the storylines we give them into actual episodes. They have the final say and most importantly they create the fantastic dialogue Corrie is famous for.

Look out for Furquan's name in the credits next time you watch Corrie!
Is being a Scriptwriter the "next step" for a Story Associate? Is that what you're aiming for yourself?
It's not the natural next step although it's a great jumping off point. Storyliners have gone on to write, script edit and produce. Some of the most prolific and successful writers in the country have had a stint in the Corrie story at one point in their career so it's definitely an exciting place to be. I hope to write in the future but at the moment I'm very happy with one of the most exciting day jobs in tele.

Can you describe a typical week at work?
Haha! In a short answer, no. That's what's great about it. From one week to the next you’re submerged in the wonderful world of Weatherfield. We work in three-week cycles, which spans three week's worth of story. The first week involves conference and story talk through. In week two we go away and write and then the producer gives you a storyline edit. You have to turn that around and then the Story Editor compiles them into episodes, which we'll work on again. This way you have had a hand in every story that plays on screen. 

Were you a Corrie fan before joining the show? If yes, how did that feel 'crossing over' to working and writing and helping to shape events and characters?
Oh definitely! Can you come from Manchester and not be? I have grown up with Corrie. It's the backdrop to many households and it definitely was in mine when I was growing up. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call to work at Corrie and I genuinely still feel excited walking on the cobbles.

Do you ever get star struck with the cast members?
I did when I first started.  The first cast member I met was Julie Hesmondhalgh and she set the bar really high! She's so lovely that she gives Hayley Cropper a run for her money. I've also had the privilege to meet a lot of the Corrie legends. It was an absolute privilege to cross paths with Bill Tarmey and Betty Driver.
Who are your favourite characters to write for?  Who would you have loved to have written for?
I should give a really diplomatic answer shouldn't I? I think the one thing that Corrie is brilliant at is family units. There are so many rich family units to choose from at the minute and each one brings a different joy with it. From the past - I think the Duckworths would have been an absolute riot to write for.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in working for a soap?
I was given two bits of advice. The first is quite obvious - persistence. It's such a difficult job market and I graduated in a recession so I know exactly what it's like. You just have to keep knocking on doors and trying. The second is a bit more obscure - tea. I was told that tea is a commodity. It's served me quite well. If you meet people for a tea or coffee and talk about your work or what you want to do - you instantly have a connection and a contact. You'd be surprised how many people are willing to do that.

What's your Top 3 favourite things about your job?
1) The people. If you look at how many cast members have been interviewed over the years - they always say that Corrie is a family. I'll be honest I thought that was luvvie nonsense before I worked here. I will eat humble pie and say that - I've made some friends for life here.
2) The Show. No one's bigger than the show. It's taken on a life of its own and it's a testament to Tony Warren's idea all those decades ago.
3) Storytelling. My nephew asked me what I do and I told him - I write stories. His eyes lit up. It's absolute privilege to get paid to do write stories for characters you love for a show that's a national treasure.

And finally, what's your favourite seat on the bus?
Without a doubt it's at the top, at the front and on the right. So it feels like you're driving it.

You can find out more about Furquan here and follow him on twitter @furquan

You can follow us on Twitter @CoroStreetBlog and Facebook: CoronationStreetBlog

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Tvor said...

Wow! That was really interesting!

Flaming Nora said...

Glad you liked it! It's always great to know what people do that goes into the making of Corrie.

Shan said...

Very cool. I always notice his name in the credits, it kind of jumps out at you. It's nice to put faces and stories to the names.

Wim Lammens said...

He sounds like a very passionate young man when it comes to Coronation Street... not unlike Tony Warren, perhaps!

Always a good thing to have people who have a genuine love and respect for the show working on it.

Anonymous said...

Agree with above Anonymous completely. I've nothing personal against this fellow who seems nice, smart and hardworking but if most of the rest of the writing staff are as inexperienced as him, this explains the diminishing quality of the storylines and lack of character development and especially the lack of comedy.

bbhilda said...

Great interview Flaming Nora! I don't know how you managed to track him down, but very glad you did!

Would love to meet more of the cogs behind the wheel.

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