> Rene Zandveld
Having worked as a writer, storyliner and now Supervising Script Editor, the name Rene Zandveld has featured regularly in the closing credits for the past four years. Here, Rene talks to us about his career, the move to Eleven and the part he played in one of Neighbours' most defining moments...
Can you tell us a little about your writing career prior to starting work on Neighbours?
In a previous life I was a drama teacher who quit a perfectly secure career being tormented by 15 year old adolescents to try and become an actor. As you will see when you read my answer to question 12, I couldn't act to save myself. So I ended up in a call centre during the day and got most of the way through a screenwriting diploma at night. In 2004 I got my first script on a drama series called Last Man Standing and contacts I made on that show have gotten me every other writing job I've had, including Neighbours.
Were you a fan of the show before you joined the crew?
Absolutely! I've been watching and following Neighbours since it began and when I was a really bad actor, had several bit parts on the show (more on that in Q12. Feel free to skip to that question now. I know you want to).
When did you begin writing for Neighbours and what are your memories of that first assignment?
I spent 6 weeks in the story room in 2007 and had a ball. I was offered an ongoing contract as a storyliner but couldn't take it. But I did keep in contact with Lara Radulovich (the then script producer, who I also went to uni with) and got my first script in 2008. I was Mr Mum at the time and that first script was written with 12 month old Daisy making her own contributions on the keyboard. I now realise she was trying to write herself into the show.
How does a typical writing assignment work for you?
Writing for Neighbours is a bit different for me because I'm now one of the supervising script editors on the show. But typically, scene breakdowns are released every Friday in blocks of 6 episodes. They go to individual writers who have 2 weeks to deliver their one and only draft. Then the editors and supervising editors polish the drafts to production. On top of my editing work, I write an episode about every 3 weeks. These days it takes me about 2 days to write a script and that's how I spend my weekends. That and mowing the lawn and making babbling sounds by running my index finger up and down my lips.
Which elements of writing an episode prove hardest?
Because I'm constantly writing and rewriting episodes of Neighbours, I think I'm on top of most elements. If I had to single one out, I'd say getting to the emotional heart of a scene, mainly because of the speed at which I have to work. And also because I have no heart.
How do you ensure that the script will translate well onto screen?
By watching the show and knowing the characters. You kind of get a feel for what works and what doesn't work and if I don't I'm usually told by my script producer (Emma Gordon, who has the single best story brain on the planet) or by my wife.
Neighbours is well-known for achieving a good mix of comedy and drama - how do you ensure that your scripts have a balance of these two elements?
The story team usually try to balance the heavy storylines with a lighter one in any given episode so by the time the writers are allocated their scene breakdown, hopefully the right mix is there. My scripts tend more to comedy because I'm extremely hilarious in real life.
Who have been your favourite characters to write for during your time with the show?
Without question, no character comes close to Donna Freedman. Whatever I wrote for Margot, she delivered in spades. And she's a gorgeous person, inside and out. She is headed for super stardom and I still cry myself to sleep at night that she's left the show. Of the current characters, I love writing Tash and Kyle. In fact, there are no characters I don't enjoy writing, just in case the actors read this interview.
What have been your favourite storylines over the years?
I've been involved in so many stories, it's all a bit of a blur. The ones I like writing the most are the lighter ones with lots of banter. It's no secret that if I had my way, Neighbours would be a sitcom.
What do you most enjoy about working at Neighbours?
I get to spend 60 hours a week making stuff up about a group of characters I really love, with an amazingly hard working, talented team of people I really love (just in case they read this interview). What's not to like? Apart from the 60 hours bit?
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Neighbours format?
I can't concentrate on this question because question 12 is so close.
You are credited with the roles of 'bank teller' and 'witness' in some early 90s episodes of Neighbours. Would you elaborate on this?
Okay, here we are. In the early 90s, I had several bit part roles as an actor (again, I use that term loosely). I was a bank teller and a reporter but my most memorable role was that of the witness. You see, I was the guy who witnessed Todd Landers get hit by the van that resulted in his death. Huge iconic Neighbours moment and I was part of it. Ruined it with bad acting in a bad suit. Despite that, I'm pretty sure I made it on to the 20th anniversary Neighbours Moments DVD.
Your daughter, Daisy, was cast in the role of Chloe Cammeniti for the return of Oliver and Carmella. How did this come about?
When I was in the story room in 2007, my daughter Daisy was only 4 weeks old. I remember storylining the complications of Chloe's birth during that time. When I heard that Nat and Dav were coming back for a guest stint, I mentioned that to Emma and we realised that Daisy would be almost exactly the same age as Chloe, but with better looking parents. Daisy came in, was comfortable enough in the studio, so she got the gig. She was brilliant too. Clearly we're not related.
What do you think accounts for the success Neighbours has enjoyed over the past 26 years?
Great characters and stories that, while things happen that are a challenge to the community, there's always the sense that with the support of friends, family, neighbours, you can pretty much get through anything. That and not taking me serious as an actor.
How do you think Neighbours has fared so far in its new home on Eleven?
Everyone is surprised and delighted about how well the show has made the transition to Eleven. I personally think it's found a comfortable niche on the right channel for its demographic. Neighbours is currently the highest rating show on any Australian digital television station. Imagine how well we'd do if they'd actually promote us.
And finally, what's next for you?
Bed. I have a script to write tomorrow.
For more from Rene follow him on Twitter @Renesonse
Interview by Kate. Added on 26th March 2011