Last week I held a zoom Q&A to answer any questions about the 2021 CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE. In this newsletter I will answer some of the questions I didn’t have time to get to, and answer some of the ones I did a bit more fully and coherently!
Entries for the course are now open until 5pm on Friday October 2nd.
Since entries opened, I have been sent quite a few questions, 90% of which are answered on the FAQs section of the webpage. So please make sure you have read this page thoroughly before sending me questions. If the information you’re looking for is on the web page, I won’t respond to your message – I have to prioritise my time and focus on reading the scripts. To be blunt, I have deleted quite a few emails over the last few days without responding – because the questions asked are either answered in the FAQs or show a lack of initiative.
Please can I also ask you to make sure you submit your script before the final day for submissions (Oct 5th). In the past few years, so many people have tried to submit on the last day that the website has slowed or crashed and then I get a lot of messages from writers fearing they’ve missed the deadline. Please try to avoid a stressful day by submitting your script ASAP. Avoid the last minute rush!
You used the term ‘subversive’ several times. Can you expand on what you mean by that? Thanks!
I mean, if you’re going to write in a conventional genre (eg crime, medical) it makes sense to go for a more C4 version of the genre, to ‘subvert’ the genre as a C4 police show like NO OFFENCE did.
I have a question about the type of writing that should be submitted: Should we take factors like budget, corona virus restrictions and ease of casting into account to show we understand the limitations of what can practically be produced, or is the sky the limit with creativity?
The latter – ‘the sky is the limit with creativity.’ We are primarily interested in your unique voice and point of view as a writer. At this stage, issues like budget and a script that is ready for production are less important.
With such a vast amount of entries, how does the reading process work? And – really hope it’s okay to ask this – what is the fee paid to writers who are successful?
I have a team of 7 script readers (although it may be 8 or 9, depending on the number of scripts we receive). Each reader is allocated 1/7 of the scripts and writes short reports for me on each script. They also grade each script. I read all of the scripts that are given the higher grades – and any others that look promising. We also have a weekly meeting to discuss the scripts read that week. This process goes on for 6 weeks.
Yes, the writers are paid a fee for coming onto the course but I’d prefer to keep the amount confidential.
How many applicants are long listed/short listed for interview? What are the interviewers looking for from the interviews vs the written applications? What criteria are applied when selecting course participants?
About 35-40 writers are short-listed for interview. In the interviews we discuss the ideas the writers are interested in writing if they get on the course; their interest in screenwriting in general and C4 drama in particular; their other writing work and life experience.
What proportion of course participants have got representation since the course?
Particularly in the recent years of the course, almost everyone who gets onto the course gains representation by a literary agent either during the course or soon afterwards.
Is a writer’s age a barrier to being a successful candidate?
Absolutely not. We try to have as broad a range of voices on the course every year – in terms of – gender, age, ethnicity, where the writers are from / live, sexuality / gender politics, theatre / screen background, disability, writing experience, etc.
Channel 4 has a remit to deliver ‘high quality, alternative content that challenges the status quo’ – is there interest at Ch 4 for dramas that tick all of those boxes and may include older protagonists? Does CH4 ’s understanding of diversity include age of characters portrayed as well as gender, race, disability, LGBTQ?
As above, absolutely yes. One of the main reasons the course exists is to encourage and foster unique, diverse voices in every category.
Asking for a friend but if a person had applied for the scheme several times previously, would that count against them?
Absolutely not. One of the writers on this year’s course had applied every year since 2011 before he finally got onto the course in 2020. One of the most persuasive things is a writer who applies for 3 or 4 years in a row with different but equally impressive scripts. We take note of as many writers as possible every year – not just the 35-40 whom we shortlist for interview.
Should the writing sample ideally be the sort of thing that could appear on Channel 4? If so, realistically, how often are writers selected whose writing sample was for radio or stage?
We are looking, ideally, for voices that have some connection to a Channel 4 sensibility – but this is very hard to define and we often take a chance on scripts that are brilliant but only very loosely connected to a C4 sensibility. Numerous writers have got onto the course with theatre scripts; and several with radio scripts.
What CAN’T you teach someone on the C4 screenwriting course?
Good question! Well, we select the 12 writers from a huge pool so we are very lucky to be so spoilt for choice. And every year we love the scripts by the writers we choose and we know that we’re working with 12 writers of real talent.
I suppose the one thing we can’t teach (although we very much encourage it and talk about it a lot on the course) is the initiative and self-starting motivation you need to make a successful career as a dramatic writer. You don’t just need to be able to write, you need to develop a knowledge and awareness of how the industry works, of where you fit into the industry, seek out potential employers, the right agent and make sure that you can do justice to your ideas and your identity as a writer in meetings and pitch documents. As I say, we talk about this a lot but I’m not sure that we can ‘teach’ this.
Are there any specific genres / styles Ch 4 is looking, or have a preference, for? (Or any genres that should definitely not be sent in?)
That’s for you to research – watch C4 drama, read up about what they’re looking for. BUT one of the joys of the course is that writers often write ‘what they think should be on C4, not what is actually on C4’ (to quote C4’s head of drama). We are looking for something fresh, original, distinctive, ground-breaking. But I wouldn’t say there are any genres that you shouldn’t send in. Just be sure that your script is doing something interesting and distinctive within that genre.
Do the scripts submitted need to have a UK setting?
No – but think carefully before submitting a script not set in or about the UK – how much UK / C4 TV drama is not set in the UK? (Indian Summers is a rare example – but this was a series that had a lot to say about the UK.)
Is the CV used as part of the application process to whittle down to the final writers or is the decision solely based on your view of script quality and voice?
Initially the script is the only thing we read. We look at the CV when thinking about the short-list for interview – we try to have as wide a range of experienced and as many inexperienced writers as possible on the interview short-list.
Would you be able to tell us a little more about who the readers are that will be sifting through submissions this year? A decade’s experience of submitting has led me to the hypothesis that understanding who the gate keepers are is integral to opening the gates!
Good question! We receive a lot of applications to be one of the course script readers. The selected script readers are usually aiming to become TV drama script editors and normally already have extensive experience as script readers / dramaturgs in TV and / or theatre. We select 3 or 4 of the team of script readers to go onto become trainee script editors on the course, shadowing more experienced script editors. These shadow script editor roles are of great interest as one of very few formal script editor training / entry schemes in the UK TV drama industry. So the calibre of the readers (arrived at through applications that include CVs and sample script reports, then sending the interviewees a test script to write a report on, then an interview) is very strong. Over the 10 years of the course, many script readers on the course have gone onto become successful and respected script editors, producers and executive producers in UK TV drama.
Will submitted scripts need our names/details on or are they being read anonymously?
They will need your names on.
Is the aim for submitted scripts to have them read in their entirety or will it only be the first 10-15 pages of each?
I advise my readers to read a minimum of 20 pages of each script. Each reader needs to get through 200+ scripts – so I encourage them not to finish scripts if by p.20 they are clearly not top-12 contenders. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or resources to give feedback to applicants. The readers’ brief is to find the 50 or so most exciting scripts. But I make sure that the readers have read enough of each script to be sure that they’re not missing something outstanding.
Do scripts need a logline/short synopsis upon submittal?
I run a script mentoring service through my script consultancy (nothing to do with the C4 screenwriting course) and we currently have capacity to take on one or two more writers.
Finally this week, a quote about the state of the nation –
‘It was uphill work for a foreigner, lame or sound, to make his way with the Bleeding Hearts. In the first place, they were vaguely persuaded that every foreigner had a knife about him; in the second, they held it to be a sound constitutional national axiom that he ought to go home to his own country. They never thought of enquiring how many of their own countrymen would be returned upon their hands from diverse parts of the world, if the principle were generally recognised; they considered it particularly and peculiarly British. In the third place, they had a notion that it was a sort of Divine visitation upon a foreigner that he was not an Englishman, and that all kinds of calamities happened to his country because it did things that England did not, and did not do things that England did.
They believed that foreigners were always badly off, and though they were as ill off themselves as they could desire to be, that did not diminish the force of the objection…they believed that foreigners were always immoral…that foreigners had no independent spirit…’
No, not a critique from this week’s New Statesman about the state of the conservative party – but Charles Dickens from LITTE DORRIT, published in 1857. Plus ca change…
The next newsletter will be on Friday Oct 2nd
All the best
September 18th 2020