INDIE TRAINING FUND Courses that I’m running in the next few months-
May 19th 1 Day SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/script-editing-essentials/?event=3953
June 21st 1 Day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS MASTER-CLASS http://www.indietrainingfund.com/courses/narrative/?event=4060
This week, a guest blog by screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS. Via my website, I’ve worked with Laurence for a while – he has written a number of excellent comedy scripts, and it’s great to see him starting to get the success his talents (and hard work) deserve.
He has written here about his experiences on the BBC WRITERS ROOM COMEDY ROOM scheme. His article is full of excellent advice and insights for screenwriters.
Thank you very much to Laurence for writing this, and if you want to keep up with Laurence’s exploits, then I suggest you follow his highly entertaining and informative twitter feed – @loztrat
‘I entered Scriptroom 9 (Comedy) back in March 2015. At the time I was living in Melbourne, and I actually wrote my sitcom whilst sitting on a park bench as I had no internet at my flat. Amazingly they liked my script and in July I was invited to the BBC for an interview. Then in September I was told I’d been selected as a winner. Out of two thousand two hundred scripts they selected ten writers and five others from talent searches and competitions, to take part in the Comedy Room.
The Comedy Room was a six month development scheme with the BBC Writersroom, designed to introduce writers to BBC producers and executive producers, allowing us to establish connections, as well giving us guidance and advice through a series of targeted workshops and masterclasses.
Our first meet-up was in October. As the youngest writer there it was a little intimidating at first but there was no reason to worry. Everyone was very friendly and it was a really eclectic mix of people, some directors, some stand-ups but all of us writers. As a group of comedy writers unsurprisingly we had a lot of fun. The highlight of this process for me has been meeting such an interesting group of people and getting to know other screenwriters.
We met up seven times over the six months, most of our sessions were in London but one of the days was in Salford, focusing on CBeebies and CBBC. CBeebies is a great place for new writers to start, if you have a genuine interest, then I’d thoroughly recommended writing a spec script for them. They have longer running seasons, some shows have fifty to a hundred episodes a season, so they are always willing to bring on new writers. CBBC is another avenue for emerging writers; they have multiple writers working on a show, similar to the American writers rooms, allowing writers to get credits without having to have their own show commissioned.
Something that stood out for me was the palpable enthusiasm of those who worked in children’s television. Mark Oswin spoke to us about writing for various CBBC shows. There seemed to be less pressure from outside influences, and an understanding that the writer was key. Although never having had a show commissioned, Oswin has been earning a living as a screenwriter and seemed to absolutely love his job.
During our first meet-up in London, we were told the BBC3 comedy feed was the best avenue for getting a script commissioned, so over the six months each writer worked on developing their own feed. To anyone who doesn’t know, the comedy feeds are a group of pilot episodes that are released onto BBC iplayer every summer and usually two or three are picked for a full series.
In November we all pitched comedy feed ideas to Richard Webb (comedy producer). We were all nervous but the experience was not as bad as first feared. We were asked to speak for two minutes and were then given constructive feedback. Richard emphasised that our feeds should have a ‘hook’ that sets them apart from other pre-existing sitcoms. After that we had to compile a one-page pitch outlining our series in greater detail. We then received more feedback from three different producers during our Salford meet-up.
In January our opening scenes were read out by a cast of actors. Hearing your work performed is both thrilling and petrifying at the same time – there’s nowhere to hide if a joke doesn’t land. There’s also something quite addictive about hearing people laugh at jokes you’ve written. I can see why stand-ups get hooked.
We were given notes by the comedy guru Andrew Ellard. Graham Linehan once remarked ‘I wish Andrew came as an app’ and I can see what he means. His ability to analyse each writer’s opening scenes and instantly give constructive feedback was quite amazing. He also spoke at length about writing sitcom; he has worked on shows such as The IT Crowd, Chewing Gum and Miranda. He talked about the importance of writing active comedy characters – characters that do things and create comedy rather than merely being casual observers.
We were given the night to re-write our scenes. The next day we had one to ones with Andrew to discuss some final changes before our scenes were read out again. I loved this process — writing to such a tight deadline really forces you to trust your gut instincts and just get it written. I could really see a difference in everyone’s scripts on the second day.
In our final two sessions, Steve Pemberton, Katherine Jakeways and Gregor Sharp talked to us about their own writing. Steve Pemberton told us how he generates ideas for his brilliant show ‘Inside No. 9’ — just by noticing small details in everyday life. Gregor Sharp was a writer turned commissioner, turned writer and then back to commissioner whose ‘Two Doors Down’ is currently airing on BBC One. And Katherine Jakeways talked about how she took her Edinburgh Fringe show and turned it into the acclaimed ‘North By Northamptonshire’ radio series.
As this was the first incarnation of Comedy Room the Writersroom was still trying to work out how to best make use of our meet-ups. There was some resistance by producers to get involved, and many didn’t seem to have an idea of what the Comedy Room was. But I’m sure the Comedy and Drama rooms (which the BBC are trialing this year) will go from strength to strength as Anne Edyvean (head of writersroom) is trying to make the department an integral part of the organisation, not just some side project that gives new writers a pat on the back.
Finally, as I’ve gone on far too long. Here’s few things I’ve taken away from the scheme:
–Be a nice person. This might seem like an obvious point but many people stressed the importance of being easy to work with. Producers aren’t going to want to spend six months with someone who’s annoying or rude.
–Learn to handle feedback. It’s not personal, even though the script might be your most treasured possession. No one wants to make your script worse. Even if the note seems ridiculous, there’s a reason they’re not understanding something. Work out what that is.
– Networking is key. You have to be able to talk to strangers – something most writers, including myself, find quite difficult. Alcohol helps but I wouldn’t recommend it in the long run. At the minute I’m in touch with a radio producer who wants to work with me, and that all came from a five minute chat we had back in October.
– Learn to collaborate. Meet other screenwriters and like-minded people. Writing in a vacuum is impossible but when you’ve got people to feedback off it makes the process so much easier. So get out there and speak to other writers, directors etc.
–Try writing for radio. It’s a great place to start and they’re more willing to give first time writers a chance. Newsjack has an open door policy so if sketch writing is for you – go for it! I think their next submission period will be in autumn this year.
– Always save your notes. Steve Pemberton told us that before he starts any new show he gets out all his old notebooks and leafs through them. I concur. I’m always saving notes on my phone, so much so that I’m constantly having to transcribe them before I run out of space. Keep your notes; you never know when they will be useful.
–Be in this for the long run. Comedy is probably the most brutal medium to go in for. People always have strong opinions over whether something is funny or not and there never seems to as much funding for comedy shows. So love the process and see getting commissioned as a bonus.
Follow Laurence – @loztrat
Until Friday April 22nd,
All the best
Friday April 8th 2016