Hi There,

This fortnight’s screenwriting newsletter is the penultimate reader feedback from the 2024 Channel 4 screenwriting course readers. (The final missive by the brilliant Ray McBride will feature in the April 19th newsletter). But this time a huge thank you to Sam Cormor – for not only doing a brilliant job as script reader but for also finding the time and energy to write this insight into the joys and stresses of the reading process – which I hope will be really helpful to writers submitting for 4screenwriting or indeed any other similar initiative.

Over to Sam –

‘At the end of the reading process, Philip asked us (no pressure was stressed) if we could write some words on our thoughts, experiences, and feedback as a reader for the 2024 course. My immediate thought was absolutely not. Frankly, I didn’t, and still don’t think, I can write anything here that could be received as either wisdom or entertainment for the batch of brilliant writers who entered this year’s submissions.

However, I have always found it somewhat interesting to hear how these things are run behind the scenes. So instead, to offer some transparency in what we do after the deadline closes, I thought I’d share some sort of insight/facts about my first time as a reader for the course. It might inadvertently help writers tailor their next submission knowing a bit more about what we do to whittle down the entries. Or, more worryingly, I guess it could put some people off entirely from ever applying again (I hope not, please do keep reading).

This is what it’s like reading the 2000-ish scripts we’re sent by Philip at the start of October, with a simple, straight forward instruction to have them finished by late-November:

There were seven of us on the team. So that roughly translated to 294 scripts each to complete in two months. Or 40-ish scripts a week, or 294 scripts in one day if you fancied it.

Depending on what our day jobs are/were at the time correlated to how much we read each week. I work as a scripted development assistant, some are script editors/development producers, and others are previous writers on the course (legends). As a 4Screenwriting Reader Virgin (technical term), Philip made a very good point when he interviewed me in September, one that I probably should have listened to a bit closer at the time. I assume he was trying to prepare, or scare, me for what was to come. “As you have a full-time job, my main worry is you’re not going to have time to do this”. A completely reasonable query for a first timer on the team. Stubbornly though, I replied “Nah, it’ll be fine.”

Well, Philip, you were absolutely right. Because what I didn’t/couldn’t comprehend at the start was 294 scripts is a lot of f*****g scripts.

3rd October 2023 – Day 1

Philip gave us all access to an online system with the entries. Once we started, we were pretty much left to our own devices, aside from a scheduled zoom catch up every couple weeks to give Philip our highlights.

Couple of thoughts from the first week:

Fact: PDF IS KING. Most times I opened a script or CV in .word or .pages, the system crashed/I couldn’t open it/formatting was screwed etc. So, PDF is king, it essentially guarantees your script is going to be read the way you want it to be read.

Fact: PAGE COUNT. Your script must be over 20pages and under 130pages. We’re literally not allowed to read your script if it’s under or over. It’s heart-breaking to open a script that’s 19pages or 131pages, we don’t have a choice but to reject it even if it’s BAFTA-worthy.

We met Philip on zoom after 10 days for the first check in to see how we’re doing and what we’ve found. We had all roughly read 40-50 scripts each, so around 350 scripts so far.

Philip always asked us to choose around 4 scripts each we’d REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like to put forward for consideration of shortlist. Which is great, we’d chat about these scripts, what made them stand out, Philip disagreed on some and agreed on others. All very standard. But, only having 4 scripts each to choose means we already had to reject 322 scripts in week one. I’m saying this not to scare anyone, but to give an idea of how mad the selection process is. And to hopefully remind you that if you received a rejection letter this year –


The ones we put forward somehow have to meet a boatload of criteria other than “excellent writer”, and no one is entirely sure how to quantify those that do and don’t get put forward.

Some examples other than “great writer” (looking back at my own notes): great voice/interesting narrative/weirdo characters/visceral stage directions/spark of something unique/not quite structurally sound but I couldn’t stop reading/has Royal Court written all over it. You get the idea.

This is essentially Squid Game and there are so many trials and hoops we have to jump through to get our 50 scripts-a-week down to 4. Then each week, these 4 scripts become our babies and we have to send them to the Hunger Games.

And so, this is the process we rinse and repeat for the next 7 weeks.

Thursday 2nd November – What-Day-Is-It-Today-Day?

We were at about the half way point. The third check in meeting with Philip is today. Up to now, around 84 scripts put forward in total, around 750 scripts rejected. I’m sorry that’s so bleak.

At this point in the process, one thing all 7 readers have in common is we’ll ask one another to read a script we’re not sure on. This was especially handy if we’re biased against a specific genre (I hate horror, sorry not sorry), or if our brain physically couldn’t read anymore scripts for the day. We’d share notes and pick up each other’s slack to make sure every script has its fair go.

Once we were in our stride, it became somewhat quicker to determine what made a “put-forward-script” and what made a “rejected script” – relative to this year’s batch. For example, we can’t quite emphasise how important the 10 page rule is, i.e. something MUST happen in the first 10 pages that throws your characters into their narrative

Fact: INTERESTING CHARACTERS BUT STORY HASN’T STARTED – 25 PAGES DOWN was the definitive note I gave and one I will take forward with me forever. You have to kick over that first domino as soon as possible. It’s far less interesting watching the dominos being set up. So please, please, please, skip your protagonist waking up and brushing their teeth, and just drive the bulldozer through their front door on page 1.

Monday 20th November – The Last Supper (Week).

I’m struggling to do the maths now of how many scripts we’ve each read etc. It’s a lot.

We all probably have around 10 scripts left to read until Thursday 23rd November – our official deadline. I can’t feel my face and my laptop hates me (PDF, PLEASE) but we can’t quit now.

Philip then suggests we all meet up in person on Monday 27th November to do a final round up and see who’s on to the shortlist. EXCITING.

Monday 27th November – The Last Day (Supper)

It’s a Monday night so none of us drink, until we learn Channel 4 are paying.

I’ve done the maths… in total, we probably submitted around 140 scripts to Philip for shortlist which we REALLY, REALLY, REALLY liked. The sucker punch to everyone was: Philip now had to narrow those scripts down to a final shortlist of around 25. Which means he now had the decision of which of our babies to reject.

Out of the 294 scripts I read, 2 made the final shortlist. That is 0.68% of my batch and I read so many incredible scripts I (and others) would want to develop in a heartbeat.

FACT: the 2nd most-written phrase in my notes was: BRILLIANT BUT NOT QUITE RIGHT FOR THIS YEAR’S COURSE.

So I promise you again, if you received bad news this time, you are not a shit writer. Please submit to the course again next year.

And if you made the shortlist, welcome to the Capital.

Can you tell I’ve just watched the new Hunger Games movie? Anyhow, if you’ve made it this far down, thank you for reading. It’s been an absolute pleasure to read your scripts. There is metric ton of talent in our industry and I’m so excited to see what happens next with everyone, shortlisted or not.

All the best, Sam.’

Thank you Sam!

The next newsletter will be out on Friday April 19th

Best wishes



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

Friday April 5th 2024