BBC Writersroom event 4th Dec 2008, Brighton.
My first one.
My first multi networking.
Actually got to give away some business cards!
Remember back to when it was that exciting for you?
Obviously the highlight of the fantastic evening was meeting the lovely Michelle and the fabulous Chip in person.
We all went for an impressively artsy-fartsy cakes and coffees in this quaint bistro/bar/deli/shop thing (very Bright-on) with real screenwriter and Noddy Holder lookalike Andy G afterwards. (The Bill, TV dramas Features, etc)
I even got a hug from Michelle! (Red Planet finalist/ BBC academy, Stage plays, etc)
Hope some talent rubbed off on me…
Anyway, dear reader, here’s my report as salvaged from my scribbles…
Paul Ashton, the development manager at the BBC Writersroom aided by the lovely Jan, a dedicated staff script reader, (she beat 500 other people in the race for the job) presented the amiable, low key road show.
They’ve been whizzing up and down the UK, (see site for details)and had presented their spiel in Cardiff the previous night.
To be honest, there was nothing new here, you can get all, in fact much more, info and tips from their excellent site, but it was nice to see the human face of the BeeB.
In fact, Paul went to great pains to point out that they are Human.
That they really do care.
That they do understand the massive responsibility that we, and the Beeb, have thrust upon them.
As befitting a packed auditorium of screenwriters, he showed us, not merely told us about, an image of a huge pile of scripts in the Writersroom script room.
“What do you see here?” he asked.
“Despair!” some happy go lucky chap shouted out.
Bring us all down before we’ve even got the low-down on the odds of the being the one good one /lucky one /thing of the moment script that shines brightest amongst the 10,000 or so sent in each year.
So I countered with “Hope!” –‘cos that’s what I came for.
I think a lot of the other people there came for a bit of hope too.
The Hope that the Writersroom really do read all the scripts. (They do.)
The Hope that they do guide/mentor/direct an exciting new talent to the Promised Land. Or preferably contract. Or at least, the right course… (They do.)
The Hope, that one day, “It” will happen.
Well “our” Paul reckons “It” might…
If you’re good enough.
If you’re lucky enough.
If you work hard enough.
Especially the latter.
His favourite phrase, to describe every phase of the process was “It’s very hard. Successful writing is incredibly hard to do.”
Paul didn’t see a slush pile in that picture.
He said the Writersroom doesn’t have a slush pile.
Unlike everywhere else, it has a pile of scripts waiting to be read, that will be read as per its remit.
He saw “hope, blood, sweat and tears” in the script mountain.
Jan saw fingerprints.
She meant, of course, the essence of the individual’s voice on the page.
Though, I must admit, what with the blood reference as well, I had this nasty image of some poor sod literally typing away until his/her digits were just bloodied, mushy stumps.
Apparently there’s a fine line between dedication and insanity…
Both Paul and Jan came across as excitingly enthusiastic about their mission to find, help and nurture new writers, if, as Paul kept saying, they had the raw talent.
And that mystical original voice.
And of course, can tell a good story.
The BBC, through the Writersroom, has an open call policy on scripts.
Anything, on any subject, as long as it’s over 10 pages so they can assess your Writer’s voice.
All, yes ALL, submitted scripts are read.
Even the over zealously packaged, though probably not the one someone had carefully tied with a together with a length of garden hose, sealed in covers decorated with a mosaic of garden tools items loving cut from the Argos catalogue and dispatched to the Beeb in a small wooden tool box!
“Please” said Paul. “Just send your script. It will tell us all we need to know.”
Don’t forget to add your contact number, name and address with it.
It seems obvious, but apparently a large number of us wannabes forget that bit…
Every script is subject to the infamous 10 page shift.
Contrary to popular believe, the Writersroom doesn’t use trainees/work experience/unpaid students for this.
A special team of contracted readers are brought in to assist the 10 staff readers with the cull.
A sort of Script SAS.
Each is an industry professional (directors, writers, producers etc).
Each has a different speciality (animation, comedy etc) though all with the “ability to cross read all genres.”
Every script which has a full read gets feedback.
Paul emphasised the importance of the first 10 pages/10 minutes.
“It’s far too easy to hit the off button, change the channel, surf the net.”
We have to hook the audience straight away to keep them intrigued.
Paul went so far to say that in his opinion, (which really counts!), we have only got 1 to 3 minutes to hook the money.
“Get us to page 10. Then make us turn to page 11, then 13-14-15 etc. Hook us in” he said. “We really want to read a great script. It’s what drives us. It's what excites us” he enthused.
He challenged us to excite them by throwing out a series of clichés and sound bites.
But these ones work…
“Say what you mean, be clear in your script.
Write what an actor or director can show.
Play to your passion. Write what you just have to write.
Don’t try to second guess what the industry wants. They’re way ahead of you.
Be yourself, your own original voice.
Throw us into the middle of a scene.
If it doesn’t need to be there to move the scene forward-cut it!
Start on page one and don’t stop until you reach the end!
Character IS everything.
For every scene think what does your character want now/tomorrow/end of his/her life?
Make the reader have an emotional experience.”
And my fave of the evening:-
“Drama has to go somewhere - it’s like a bicycle – if you stop pedalling you’ll fall off.”
Paul admitted hardly any of the spec scripts are actually made.
We have to think of them as calling card scripts; to get the BBC to notice you and develop you as a writer.
He cited Angie Clark (“Eyes down”), Keith Brumpton (M.I. High), Paul Farrell (“Silent Witness”) as writers, among others, who had been developed and mentored into the industry directly because of their spec scripts sent into the Writersroom.
The night finished with a question and answer session and the offer to take our scripts back to the BBC “but only if you are sure they are the very best they can be. If they’re not, polish them, refine them, and submit them another time.
The door is always open…”
This seemed to work its trick, because out of the packed audience, relatively few handed in their prized Opuses. (Opi?)
It was what I went for.
I imagined Paul and Jan reading my drama in the comfort of their chauffeur driven BBC limousine ride back to London, hardly being able to contain their excitement, already drafting up that big, fat contract.
Hope I remembered to include my name and address…