Wednesday, 11 December 2013

10 EXERCISES TO ENERGISE YOUR SCRIPTS & KILL WRITER'S BLOCK

Finding yourself blocked, unable to get into the writing flow or feeling stuck can be a writer’s nightmare. It is easy to lose confidence and then question whether this is something you should be doing as a career. Some people call this writer’s block. 

Sometimes it simply our approach, we’ve been so conditioned to think a certain way, so as adults writing may seem like a chore. One of the best courses I attended for really learning to expand your mind creatively was The Writers Gym. It really tackles creative blocks. Ellis Freeman is a superb teacher and writer and I can’t praise the course highly enough.  

These are exercises I’ve learned through reading and attending courses like The Writers Gym. Over time, I’ve adapted them to fit in with what I am doing on my courses to elevate the helplessness that new writers we can often feel. No one says writing is easy, if you try these it can add a bit of fun to the process.

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Write a one page outline of the story using the following format - 100 words or less on the beginning, 300 words for the middle and 100 words on the resolution. If this doesn't work for you try using the 12 steps laid out in The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
  2. Change the protagonist and point of view of the story in the treatment. Telling a story from a different perspective or viewpoint, instead of the one expected, can create a fresher outlook or original take on a familiar story.  This is where the power of a word, be it a pronoun or the gender, can remarkably change the landscape of the story. When reading it back, ask what you need to add or take away? It's great to see how the emotional interactions of the characters change, and also how you will have piqued the interest of a reader. 
  3. Use WHAT IF questions that relate to characters. Try it with your character after each act. What if they did this... what if they did that... what if a meteor landed… what if they reacted this way instead of the way they do… what if the murderer is actually a figment of his imagination?  List a number of potential scenarios. Only allow yourself 10 minutes to do this and incorporate these ideas into your script.
  4. Spend ten minutes exploring the backstory of the protagonist and antagonist before the script begins - it only needs to be one page or ten minutes of writing. Now use these feelings within your script. 
  5. Spend 10 minutes writing the aftermath of the protagonist and antagonist when the script finishes.  Have they changed much or enough?
  6. In feedback we constantly use the phrase - show don't tell. To do this write down any emotions your characters are experiencing in the script, and then write a minimum of five actions that convey that emotion. Emotional actions are great because they describe what the character is feeling or internalizing. Think about how you can convey the emotion using the emotional state of the character and their point of view of what is happening without ever telling the reader what the emotional state is or what has motivated it.
  7. List 10 adjectives to describe the character traits of your protagonist, then on the same page list an adjective which is the complete opposite to create an antagonist or antagonistic forces.  Does your character adhere to these character traits and how do they influence the plot? 
  8. Sometimes the mere thought of writing can be isolating so tweet out a #writingsprint to see if any others out there in the world that want to write with you. There is no time limit or bad time to call it - makes you feel less isolated. Here is a blog about how to host a writing sprint.
  9. One of the great joys of writing is the time you can justifiably spend researching. You can watch documentaries, contact charities that deal with issues in your script, interview people, do a web-search on the subject matter, genre or theme of your stories as well as similar films or films in that genre. 
  10. Write the script without dialogue. How much visual imagery or emotional action can you create without words?  Can you use sound and colour to capture what is going on? 
I am often asked what can I do to make my work fresher, more original, less predictable? There is honestly no magic formula to freeing up a script but exercises help writers to think a little differently about how they are approaching an idea or thread. I can honestly say for me, that these exercises make the work richer and deeper. 

When faced with a writing blog don’t abandon writing. The one thing that separates those who succeed rests completely on not giving up. Should none of these exercises work, put the script away and come back to it in a week or later. Never give up the dream – and if all else fails, take a new story like a fairy tale and give it a modern twist just to do something a bit different. Commit to a career not a screenplay.
My quote of the week: 
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” Kurt Vonnegut 
Write, keep writing and then rewrite - without screenwriters we would not have films.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

10 CURES FOR POST-FESTIVAL BLUES & AVOIDING THE COME DOWN

With the great choice of festivals, seminars and conferences of late there has been no shortage of opportunities for inspiration and networking for filmmakers. Nothing gets us more fired up and reinvigorated than spending time with other filmmakers talking passionately about the craft and new opportunities. I always keep loads of notes to draw on, which prove invaluable, in the weeks that follow. After any festival, I schedule a morning purely for writing to everyone I met. It is my way of keeping up the momentum, avoiding the post-event doldroms and making the experience last. You have a window of opportunity. To capitalise on this, here are some survival pointers which also help to avoid post festival blues.  

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Whenever you meet someone new and they give you a card, write which event you met them at. You only need to meet someone once, to 'know' them - Mitch Hurwitz's words not mine! 
  2. Carry a notebook to every event so that you can note down things. You will forget what you learned. List every production company, channel, show that a speaker references. At the end of each day, write down ten things you learned from that day. Reading these through after the festival will re-inspire you. 
  3. Write an email to all the peers you met. Send them links to your website or youtube clips or any online info about you. Ask them for their twitter accounts. Start to follow them. 
  4. Search every speaker's name on twitter and follow. Tweet them how fab they were or what you liked or learned from their talk or work. 
  5. If you go to a pitching session (always try to take part in one), write a thank you card to the people on the panel (via their companies). Ask what else are they looking for and what is the best way to send them pitches. 
  6. Look for the production companies logos in the festival programme. Then log on to the company's website and seek out their submissions process. Write to their contact email address and ask them how to submit if it is not apparent.
  7. If you have an agent, send them a list of who you met, requesting advice on to best follow this up, can they be of help?
  8. Drop your festival contact a line and thank them for the opportunity. Festivals love longevity, building relationships with people who they featured early on in their careers. Many offer a staggered payment scheme so you can book your tickets in advance. Click here to apply now for you LSF 2014 pass Quote Rocliffe. 
  9. If you had table reads, send your actors a note. They are just as keen to connect with you as you with them.  
  10. From the short films, webisodes or first time feature directors work you've seen, contact them to see if they are interested in reading your work! Collaborate to accelerate. 
It's a small world out there. Reaching out is the only way to get ahead and people appreciate you taking the time – it will benefit you. Here are some of the great talks, events, festivals I attended this year and will be looking out for next. Many will have been filmed or have post-festival virals:


The ones I am looking forward to attending in 2014 - sign up now for their mailing lists:

Feb 2014 - Dublin International Film Festival 2014
Aug 2014 - Edinburgh TV Festival 2014
May 2014 - Cannes Film Festival
Oct 2014 - New York TV Festival
Oct 2014 - London Screenwriters Festival
Oct 2014 - Austin Film Festival & Conference


My quote of the week
“The glow of inspiration warms us; it is a holy rapture.”
Don't forget to write, keep writing and then rewrite.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

OUR NY TV FESTIVAL WRITERS SHARE FESTIVAL INSIGHTS & GEMS FROM GREG DANIELS, MITCH HURWITZ, JIM FIELD SMITH & MORE

Anna, Lizzie, Brona, Tony, Stewart & Greg
 (C)2013 Seton Davey/BaftaNY

In October 2013, for a third year, we took five writers to the New York TV Festival where they spent a week hearing inspiring speakers from the many different facets of TV: showrunners, editors, staff writers, composers, producers and more. 



Cast with Nina Hellman, Flor De Lis Perez,
Yael Stone & Eric Keith Chapelle
(C)2013 Seton Davey/BaftaNY
Alongside the craft masterclasses, they had an incredible showcase with the 'AWESOME' GREG DANIELS, the comedy master behind The Office (US) and Parks and Recretation (which I learned was inspired by The Wire). To top it off their work was performed by a company of the best actors New York had to offer (including a star of Orange is the New Black - the show everyone is raving about).

Our writers took full advantage of all the festival programme, taking part in pitching opportunities for reality tv shows with the likes of VH1 and natural history shows with National Geographic. This year each writing team was selected to pitch to at least one commissioner and, for a second year running, one of the teams won.  Last year Sarah Courtauld won a development deal for a children's tv show with Hasbro. 


For most people a trip to New York is about shopping and cocktails but for our writers it was all about the business of TV and writing. So for this blog, I asked them to share two pieces of advice - one inspired by a speaker and the other something they personally learned from the experience that would be useful to other writers and filmmakers.  

WHAT OUR COMEDY WRITERS GARNERED FROM THEIR WEEK IN NEW YORK:

Brona & Tony winning
the VH1 Development deal
  1. GREG DANIELS said "don’t just make your spec script as good as what’s already on TV, make it better!" Among the many nuggets of advice from Bafta Rocliffe guest speaker Greg Daniels, this one stuck out for me. When he’s looking for writers for shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office, he said he really wanted two things; consistency and a few moments of gold. So basically, make sure your script has no weak spots – know which lines are letting your script down and tackle them before sending it out. He said nothing should be in there that’s less than a B grade standard! Then, make sure you have one or two killer, knock-out, timeless jokes to really make the reader sit up and laugh. Those A+ grade moments. Greg admitted he’d hired writers on the basis of reading a single joke of theirs that belted it out the park – quality not quantity was his advice. TONY COOKE (CO-WRITER NANNIES & VH1 Development deal winner)
  2. On day one of the New York Television Festival keynote speaker MITCH HURWITZ creator of Arrested Development talked about the difficulty in dealing with conflicting notes during a meeting. His advice was to take everything on board in a polite and respectful manner before tackling them in your own way at a later date. He also recalled a meeting in which he was sweating so much with nerves that his nipples were protruding through his shirt! It was hilarious and reassuring to hear someone with such an incredible CV dealing with such relatable issues. STEWART THOMSON (WRITER OF SKWIBS)
  3. MITCH HURWITZ said you really need to 'advocate for yourself' - which was a good reminder to grab opportunities by the balls! He was a staff writer on the Golden Girls for only 2 years when they were looking around for a showrunner for a spin off series. He took a deep breath& said to the executive producers  'Why don't you let me do that for you guys?!' and though they were skeptical at first about his lack of experience, by the end of the meeting... They gave him the job! Be brave! If you don't, who will? BRONA C TITLEY (CO-WRITER NANNIES & VH1 Development deal winner)
  4. Something that a number of speakers at NYTVF focused on was the value of having a good idea and sticking with it when you find it. JUSTINE GORMAN from Channel 4 said ‘a good idea is a good idea’ and if you know you have one, then all you have to do is sell it with confidence. The delegate from IFC stressed the importance of staying loyal to your vision: if an idea you pitch doesn’t make sense for them, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for another channel. It was something that came up again and again: Comedy Central said be passionate and believe in your idea; HBO said don’t just write what you think a network wants but show them you have a distinct voice; and it was so encouraging to hear JIM FIELD SMITH say - with real conviction - that if you stay true to what you believe in, it will pay off in the end. LIZZIE BATES (CO-WRITER OF NEW HABITS)
  5. I have always found the idea of networking difficult: it’s not an easy thing to approach a stranger and start talking to them. But after our week in New York it’s easy to see how important it is, and what benefits come from being confident, taking the bull by the horns and striking up a conversation with someone who is sitting or standing next to you at an industry event. I started chatting to the guy sat next to me in one of the development chats and he turned out to be a top dog at a major network. If I hadn’t started talking to him that would have been an opportunity missed. MITCH HURWITZ said something which really stuck with me: 'You only have to meet someone once to know them,’ and once you know them it’s so much easier to get your work in front of them. LIZZIE BATES 
  6. EVAN SHAPIRO from Pivot said if you're lucky enough to get a meeting with a producer, do your homework first: know the brand, know what shows they've made before and what they're working on now. And when it comes to the meeting, be friendly, open and flexible. It's not enough for a producer just to like your project - they need to feel that you're someone they want to work with too. Oh, and be on time - or even better, be early. ANNA EMERSON (CO-WRITER OF NEW HABITS)
  7. Very importantly comes this advice from STEVE BASILONE, staff writer on The Michael J Fox show. He emphatically and repeatedly said 'BE NICE!' Staff writing is an all-consuming job; they talked about periods where they stayed in the office without going home for as long as 3 days! When hiring a person who will live in your pocket for a year, showrunners will always hire the nice people who do solid work over the difficult person who may come up with killer gags. BE NICE, BE NICE, BE NICE! BRONA C TITLEY
  8. All the producers and network people we met with said they're looking for a strong voice and a unique point of view - something they haven't seen before. At the same time, of course, it's important to watch plenty of comedy so you know what else is out there, and what you do and don't like. Don't expect to know what your style is straight away (I'm still not sure know what mine is), just write a lot, write things that excite you, and your style will develop on its own. And keep going - if you stick at it you will make it in the end! ANNA EMERSON
  9. Something I was reminded of during this experience and would impress upon any aspiring writer is: Watch everything! If you want to be a comedy writer, then watch ALL the comedies you possibly can. Don't just stick to the things you like, they've already taught you what they can. Branch out, try new things. Promise yourself you'll watch at least the pilot of everything made in the UK. Figure out why things work or don't work. Ask other people what they thought. Your business is your business so get to know it! BRONA C TITLEY
  10. During her talk on day two of the New York Television Festival, DEBBIE DEMONTREUX of US TV network IFC, hammered home the point that the most important thing is to be an artist, to believe in your voice and not to try and tailor your work to a specific demographic or style. I found this to be a refreshing and inspiring piece of advice. The message was simple: original voices still have a chance to shine.STEWART THOMSON
  11. The best way to pitch ideas ‘in the room’ was a major theme of the week in New York – it seems a huge part of the US industry. I’d boil down all the advice into three rules… i) Be passionate: even if you over-do the enthusiasm, that’s better than seeming non-plussed. ii) Be prepared: essential if you’re going to show your passion. You need to be able to shut the laptop, look them in the eye, and sell from your heart. iii) Be brief: write your pitch, then cut it IN HALF. The core of your idea is what matters most. And… to add my own extra rule, enjoy it. Or at least LOOK like you are! The pitch Brona and I made to VH-1 as part of the NYTVF Development Deal Competition might not have followed all the rules, but we tried to keep it light. In the end we won the deal, so some of our positive vibes must have rubbed off. TONY COOKE
My writing quote of the week:
Life is a festival only to the wise ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Our next BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum is on the 9th December with a focus on film scripts. See you there and in the meantime - keep writing! 



Sunday, 3 November 2013

X MARKS THE SCRIPT & OTHER WRITING TIPS FROM THOSE IN THE KNOW



One of the big changes in 2013 has been our focussing each forum on a particular medium. This helps us target who we ask to be on our panels and has helped us to secure a really exciting group of well-established industry players and those making massive waves within that sector. 

The best part of having these specialised panels, is that some of the participants reach out to writers, even those who didn't make the final selection - because a good idea is a good idea, and sometimes with a little help, can become a great film.

So, what do we look for when reading the large pile of submissions? My note to the jury is choose work you would be prepared to pay to watch in the cinema, seek out at a festival or watch online with Netflix, Lovefilm or iTunes.  

Writers who send us their extracts often ask: what can they do to improve their submission, to make their projects stand out. Whether you are sending your work to us or production companies - the answer isn't straightforward and will always be subjective. There are no hidden tricks or secret formulae. That said, when I asked the panel about what worked for them, they said that there were some things that resonated more than others.

So here are our Film Panel's Rocliffe Tips:


What connected every time was an original voice – all the ones that felt they were derivative or trying to bend into a genre were much less interesting; also immediacy – having the drama happening in the present, not relying on lengthy backstory and exposition. Surprisingly few scripts had a genuinely dramatic idea that would happen in the duration of the film. And funny dialogue that was actually funny! ANDREA CALDERWOOD, PRODUCER

Always make the reader want to know what is going to happen next. Many bad scripts waste a lot of valuable time talking about what happened before. What happened in the past of your characters is only important if it moves things forward in the film's present. Even if the film is driven by the characters and not the plot, then we should still be eager to know what they are going to do next. This is vital not only from scene to scene, but for every line of scene description and dialogue. JON CROKER, WRITER


The one thought I would add to prospective writers pitching in this way, is to make sure the outline is clear.  On quite a few occasions i found myself getting confused by the one page outline - having to go back and reread paragraphs a few times to try and make sure i was understanding the set up of the story.   It doesn't make for a good start, especially when one is reading one pitch after another.  The extra time spent making it easy for someone to get into the writers story, can only be of benefit (try it out on a  friend to see if its a clear as you think it is). CHARLES STEEL, PRODUCER

I’m always a little surprised at the number of writers who want to write for Film or TV who don’t really bother watching it. I think that’s why I still read so many scripts that are supposed to be feature scripts that read like something you’d watch on a Sunday evening on BBC 2. Film especially needs to be international otherwise its almost impossible to finance. My other big tip is relax and stop trying to impress people with intellect. I read so many scripts filled with knowledge that the writer has picked up and feels compelled to share with us. SEAN GASCOINE, AGENT

Every line counts. Don't take up space on the page if you don't have to. If a scene takes place in a cafĂ©, for example, it's almost never important to hear what the lead characters are ordering off the menu, nor is it generally vital to introduce a waiter or hear them take a drinks order. Be economic. Take a long, hard look at your dialogue – particularly in comedy – if lines could be swapped between characters without anyone really noticing then your characters are lacking their own voice. Characters don't all need to be dramatically polarised, but if the Character headings were taken away or read aloud, one should be able to tell them apart.  LIAM FOLEY, DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE

Find the stories you want to tell, not the stories you think will sell or get made. You really have to nurture your own voice. The scripts that stood out for me weren't necessarily the most ground breaking ideas but I believed in the characters and world they were trying to create. Sometimes over ambition and heavily plot driven ideas can get in the way which can make the script less accessible, that shouldn't be confused with being bold and brave with ideas, just to always maintain a truth. If you truly believe it, the reader will believe it. MANJINDER VIRK, ACTRESS, WRITER/DIRECTOR


Make sure the info on your one sheet (title, synopsis, characters) is really enticing (but keep it succinct) so the reader will be excited about reading it. Rocliffe script selection panels have lots of scripts to get through so this is important! Make sure the extract you submit is appropriate for the format it will be showcased in - a 10 minute sequence without dialogue might work great on screen but may not work as well staged. The extract you choose should work as a self contained performance without the audience needing to read the rest of the script for things to make sense. Most of these are personal things I considered when I submitted SIXTEEN in 2011, so other panellists might well say the opposite. Main thing is to submit the right extract so the industry audience will be intrigued by the performed reading and want to read the whole script afterwards. ROB BROWN, WRITER/DIRECTOR (Past featured writer 2011 & BFI LFF Award Nominee)

Have an interesting story both in the whole script and also in the scenes selected – often the scenes were set-up or a selection of different tonal parts from the script rather than telling the nub of the story.  Let the action speak - have as little stage direction as you can get away with. Characters need to leap off the page without being caricatures, even in comedy. Don’t send something in tiny typing to get more lines in, that’s just irritating or unreadable. JEAN KITSON, AGENT

In an earlier blog I wrote how a good writer is a good reader and this was mirrored by Sean Gascoigne. Writing is a craft and writers need to hone and study it. This will show in your work.  This was repeated in New York by GREG DANIELS (The Office (US), Parks and Recreation) in conversation with a new writer who asked how to be a better writer - he told her to read scripts and write in the style of that script or show. Building on what Andrea advises about funny dialogue needing to be funny, one of the best pieces of advice JULIAN FELLOWES told the Rocliffe audience was give your script to someone else and don't ask them what they think: ask them to put an 'X' where they get bored. 

Apart from the great quotes here, whenever it comes to writing tips, I know you can’t beat Orwell. 

So, my writing quote of the week:
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 
1. What am I trying to say? 
2. What words will express it? 
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?” 
~ George Orwell
As I said to the audience at the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum with Greg Daniels in New York - where would we be without writers making work for us to make? It all starts with the script - so keep writing! 

Monday, 14 October 2013

THIS BLOG COULD NOT BE WRITTEN BECAUSE

 

...I've spent the last six weeks working on a production... a film called Pressure. The thing about this project is that it went from being written to fully financed and shot within a year of Alan McKenna writing it. Alan, who has a good CV as an actor, realised that even he needed to be proactive to make it happen. He made the time to write - and wrote himself into the film - whilst still acting, being a dad, and getting on with life. Alan had written other work but this was his first script to be produced. Now he's meeting with literary agents and researching his next project. So often we hear ourselves and other writers say that they don't have time, or that when they sit down to write they would rather be elsewhere. No one is questioning the desire to write but if there isn't the action of writing - then the desire can seem like talk with no substance. 

Diablo Cody wrote in her recent piece on 7 Lessons of Being a Screenwriter that when she made Juno, suddenly everyone she knew aspired to be a screenwriter. Her response was to say: go ahead, take a crack, because it is the best job in the world. Out of all the professions in film - acting, directing, writing - writing is technically the only one you can do yourself. With acting you have to be cast, with directing you need a script, but writers create the work that gives the actor and director something to do. I've also written before about not confusing passion with desperation, and there is also a difference between failing and not starting to begin with. I don't believe anyone who says they are passionate about something when they don't make the time to do it. There is no point being well-intentioned - a writer must write. 

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Set a time each day to write. Put on the alarm clock two hours early before going to work. Spend that time writing. 
  2. Create a writer's DNA. Ask: when do you write best - morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you write to deadlines? What environment makes you the most prolific? I know a writer who likes to write in a busy cafe, telling me the noise and bustle keeps him focussed. My favourite two places are the British Library (which is filled with writers and free to get a reader's pass) and a quiet cafe near me called Food Lab. I bumped into one of our Comedy Writers 2012, who regularly works in there too. Now there is a small community of writers who turn up and beaver away over a cooling cafe latte - and the cake is good too. 
  3. Writing has to be something you love. Think of it as spending time with someone you love: if you hate writing or what you are writing, then why would you spend time doing it?  
  4. If you can't work within a timeframe of an hour, then set goals of page count, scene count or word count.  Don't let yourself leave until you have achieved your goal
  5. Should you find yourself struggling to write, go back and edit the work you have written. Check that what you have changed now works within the framework of your story or plot. Take a storyline or even a news article and play what ifs with it - integrate these into the story. List 20 what ifs to get the stories going. Be as crazily creative as you want - it will free up the story and will refresh you. 
  6. Build in eye breaks to your writing schedule. Allow yourself time to go to the toilet, surf the internet, tweet or facebook but TIME it.  Less guilt is involved when it is part of the schedule - 5 minutes at the end of each hour. 
  7. Allow yourself to take story or script problems for a walk, sleep or meditate on them.  
  8. Don't tell people that you've started as you'll have them asking how's it going or when can they see what you've written? It can feel like the writing is a sentence rather than a creative opportunity
  9. If you work, however taxing the job, take some vacation and go on a writer's retreat, sign up for a writing course or join a weekly writing course or group. All of this will stimulate you and you will look forward to the time to write. 
  10. Find a reason to write - for pleasure, work, purpose, exploring a truth. You need to write with purpose. I can't write all the hours God sends, but I can sit down and write. Start by writing an outline - a beginning, middle and end and then fill it in. Remember writing is a privilege. 
I come from a family of writers on both sides - Libyan and Irish. My childhood was filled with my father writing for two days solidly through the night before he would stop, sigh in a satisfied way, and then sleep for twenty-four hours. When it became too dangerous for him to write, during the Gadaffi regime, he took to painting as he said they were too stupid to politicise art. There was an intensity to his creativity that fascinated me - to this day, be it art or written word he is still as prolific. Summer holidays with my uncle (poet Macdara Woods) would have the house vibrating with the sound of him typing one of many books on his woodstock typewriter, which he used until 1989. I envied their ability to sit and write. During the Libyan revolution I was asked to write articles to tight deadlines with a word count for newspapers. I had to, because my work was informing people about what was going on. My proudest moment was when I published a piece on returning to Libya after three decades in the Irish Times because I finally got to tell my story. 

Scripts, stories, books can do that too - they tell a story, your story, your characters' stories - but what use are they in your head?  

My writing quote of the week:

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen ~ Michael Jordan

Keep writing. 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH - OUR COMEDY WRITERS TIPS FROM GEITF 2013


The GEITF really impressed me as one of the most productive industry festivals I have ever attended. On a personal note I had my proudest Rocliffe moment when Sue Perkins said, unprompted to the BAFTA Rocliffe Sitcom Show-case audience, that this was a great initiative for undiscovered talent because only the voice of the writer is judged. When we select the scripts no reader or juror knows the personality, race, gender or experience of the writer. They are purely considering the words on the page. The event ended nicely with both John Bishop and Sue becoming patrons of the forums. You can watch a clip by CLICKING HERE ON GEITF YOUTUBE CHANNEL

The icing on the cake was when one of the writing teams, Andrea Hubert and Ryan Cull, were offered a blank pilot sitcom commission by the BBC. This was a special moment as they had been highly commended in 2012. Whilst disappointed, they went away taking on board all the feedback they received and worked on their material, re-entering in 2013. The interesting thing is no one knew who they were and they made it through to the top five this year and the rest is history.


Following the three day festival, many of the writers wrote to us sharing what they had learned and what an eye-opening experience it had been for them professionally. I asked them to disclose their insider scoops on what they'd garnered from experiencing the festival in terms of supporting themselves and getting their work out there, rather than craft itself. So here it is... 


Our Comedy Writers' Ten Rocliffe Tips


  1. Consider making a taster tape to sell your idea to producers - they can watch a short video on YouTube while they eat their lunch, whereas it'll take them longer to get around to reading a script. We went to a great session on making a taster tape, and the key messages were: Don't try and condense a full show into five minutes, think of it as a teaser to sell the idea and the characters, and leave the viewer wanting to see more, rough and ready is fine as long as it showcases your idea well. Most importantly make it funny. ANNA EMERSON
  2. When you’re thinking which channel your idea would best sit on, don’t just look at comedy shows. At the festival we got to see the major channel controllers preview their full upcoming slates of new shows, including drama, factual and shiny entertainment formats. It seemed a bit irrelevant at first, but actually looking at the whole schedule gave us a great feel for the kind of tone, people, and worlds the channels wanted to be known for and cater to. In the end, they’re trying to be distinctive, and your show needs to fit in with that vision. Looking at everything from the channel idents to the new series of ‘Baking On Ice’ can all help when you’re developing and pitching your sitcom. TONY COOKE
  3. Know your project and how to talk about it. Have one jazzy sentence that sums it up in a clear and punchy way. Then, in case the contact/producer/ stranger in the loo wants to know more, have a few more sentences ready to back it up with. If you are a writer putting yourself out there, people will ask to hear about your project. If you haven't thought it through beforehand, chances are you will waffle on for way too long about how 'it's a bit like this but also has elements of this but don't worry it's not too like that...' etc. Write your one sentence answer and your three sentence answer, learn them off by heart and then you will be like a good boy/girl scout... Prepared. BRONA C TITLEY
  4. I always used to feel like I was bothering industry people with unsolicited scripts; like I was Annoying New Writer Guy. Having been introduced to a good few more through Rocliffe, I've learned that producers/ commissioners are always open to looking at new material, if you approach them in the right way. These meetings are a bit like first dates - you have to sound confident and positive without being arrogant and pushy. It was really useful to meet some commissioners through this competition. Overwhelmingly their advice was to write what you love, not what you think they want to read. As someone who's voice is naturally set to 'weird', it gave me the confidence to continue writing what makes me laugh. CHRISTIAN MANLEY
  5. Perseverence. I sent an email to a producer requesting a meeting at the TV festival, but didn't hear back. When I plucked up the courage to speak to them in Edinburgh they were extremely friendly and very open to reading our script. The chances are that my email passed them by and, although you want to avoid getting a reputation as a stalker, it also suggests that most things are worth a second try. As a new writer, it's easy to presume that producers and others in the industry won't be interested in you approaching them - but they are all on the look out for new talent and original ideas and you could have just the thing they're after. LIZZIE BATES
  6. Don't let the real world stop you from writing. It's so easy to let the days, weeks, months pass by without even writing a scene heading - don't let this happen. You might have to do a day job that you don't particularly enjoy just to help you get by, there may be times when you have to order water when you go to the pub with your friends and excuse yourself from going out with those same people in favour of spending your weekend in front of a laptop, but don't give up. It IS worth it. No-one's going to come and find you. If you want to be discovered, you have to make the first move. There's no point keeping a good script to yourself; enter competitions, email production companies and do all you can to get it read. I went through a stage where I didn't want to bother important people with a script from an unrepresented writer with no credits. Silly, when you realise that those same important people are desperate to discover new talent. CHRISTIANA BROOKBANK
  7. Keep an open mind when networking as you just never know who might turn out to be a useful connection. It can be exciting to meet powerful decision makers but never discount someone less senior as that person might be a great deal hungrier and you never know where their career may be headed. Always try to have more than one project up your sleeve and ready to go. I try to have at least a few on the go at any one time. That means if someone likes your work but would like to read something else you're not faffing around trying to throw something down quickly that could ultimately do you more harm than good. STEWART THOMSON
  8. The most important thing I learned is probably that if you’ve worked really hard on a good script, you’ll definitely have people interested. However, though the writing and rewriting part is certainly hard, for me, meeting (and hopefully engaging) the people who can help you turn it into a show is equally challenging. From the moment we were selected to be featured, one of the most frequently given pieces of advice was to talk to people, to find out about what they do, and make connections – I believe the real grownups call it networking? It’s probably one of the most daunting things about the TV Festival if you’re not naturally prone to talking about yourself, but I realised over the three days that it’s worth ignoring your instincts to talk only to your trusted writing partner in a corner piled with canapes, and forcing yourself to walk up to total strangers, ask them questions and tell them what you’re doing there. We met some really fantastic people and we’re definitely steps closer to getting people interested in some of our projects because of a few conversations. ANDREA HUBERT
  9. One of the hardest decisions we faced was how to deal with notes. It was nice to hear commissioners and writers tell you to trust your instincts which is hard when you are a new writer. We learnt that the process is a team effort and if you feel strongly in your writing or a particular aspect of the story than you can choose which notes to take. RYAN CULL
  10. Have faith that your work will be read by the people you send it to. At the sitcom session in Edinburgh, the comedy producers and commissioners on the panel all said they read every script they receive - even if it takes a few weeks to get around to it. They are always looking for exciting new writers, so have confidence in your script, make it your best work, and when it's ready, send it to everyone! ANNA EMERSON
My quote of the week:
Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn ~ CS Lewis 
Keep writing! 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

NETWORKING - THE VALUE OF INTERACTING FOR WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS


I got to thinking, as we approach the first of our two Comedy Showcases at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, about how important networking has been to my career and driving it forward. BAFTA and Rocliffe recently held a master class with the shortlisted writers on networking and pitching with the wonderful Julian Friedman who advised the writers to sell the script and not to tell the script.  

For many networking sometimes can seem like a dirty word – but all it is about getting yourself out there and meeting people that may or may not be of value to you now! That said every person you meet carries with them the opportunity to learn something new you didn’t previously know.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can sell yourself and to do that you need to find out who is buying. That means reaching out to hear who is looking for what and whether you’ve got it! It is about learning and listening intelligently to the hearts of what established people have to say and from an absolutely impersonal point of view, about what they are looking for, otherwise your outlook may be coloured.

It’s nice to presume that they are interested in meeting you to discuss you, your project, your profession etc. Always remember the meeting isn’t about you – it’s about what is the part you might be able to play in their lives. Don’t be disheartened if nothing comes of all your networking - look at it as gathering information, maybe not for today but perhaps for a future date. You may well have something to offer them, possibly in the future, so see how it plays out. Look at every encounter as another opportunity.

Think about who you know who know people – can they set you up with a meeting. Networking is about talking to people, seeing movies, interacting and acting on opportunities. It’s about forging relationships with people and increasing the ‘who you know factor’. All that said, no amount of networking and charm will make you successful. It still comes back to a good script. Every writer may have started out by getting a meeting with an exec, but they had to follow up with a script that sealed the deal. A script is what will get you work and noticed – if your work is genuinely good you will be discovered. Don’t ask about how do I get into this industry? Because the answer is at your finger tips: write a great, compelling script that a reader can’t put down. Ultimately what you should be asking is how can I make my work better? How can I hone my writing skills? What forms of networking can help me do this?

My Ten Rocliffe Tips

  1. The internet is your best friend. Get on the internet – you can network without even leaving your bed – write a blog, tweet, facebook - get your name about online, be witty, proffer answers to people’s questions. Get chatting - be plucky, get talking!
  2. Film events are also very handy in terms of meeting and networking with producers/directors who may be looking for a particular type of script and you may well be the one who has written it. Attend film or TV festivals or writers conferences – if you want an excuse to talk to the people sitting next to you ask them what they’ve seen or are looking forward to seeing or where did they hear of this event?
  3. Volunteer to work at a film festival or event or organization – great way to get inside track on what’s going on and meet other people.
  4. Ask people to meet you for some informal advice. When approaching people don’t bombard them, pitch at them. Sum up your script in less than a minute or one line. At the meeting tell them why you want to meet them and ask would they meet you for a coffee at a time and location convenient to them? When meeting people know your script and sum it up in one line not twenty. Don’t use this as an excuse to bombard the person with long rambling pitches. Give them enough to want to read the script, not spoil it.
  5. Be clear about what you want from a meeting – is it representation, feedback, advice, solicit someone to work with you or introductions to people. Have a clear objective. Before meeting do your homework. Watch some of the projects they’ve worked on. To every event or meeting you go to prepare yourself. Questions you can ask: How did you get into this business? Who helped you most when you started out? What would you do differently? What’s attracts you to a project? Most people are more comfortable talking about what they know so get them to talk about their experiences. And don't forget to breath as you ask questions. 
  6. Online Q&A sessions – you can ask questions sessions (BAFTA have a huge catalogue of lectures) and YouTube can be your best friend with screenwriting master-classes with established writers. Always research someone before you see them speak. Watch their body of work if you can.
  7. Be more than one screenplay. Have a body of work that you can sum up each one in a line with a clear hook to draw them in. Read Lucy V Hay’s blog about maximising your portfolio.
  8. Ensure you have business cards that give all the information they need to – email, mobile, twitter, skype and that you carry them with you. A chance encounter with an exec or producer can change your life. You give them your card, they may give you theirs.
  9. Follow up meeting someone in writing within a few days of the meeting so you can’t be forgotten. Who knows what can happen if you make sure that this opportunity doesn’t pass you by. Picking up a pen or dropping an email is not the sign of a stalker – well not unless you bombard them with enquiries and solicitations. If they gave you their card the invite is there and they must have been interested enough to begin with. If they haven’t look up their company and drop them a line. What’s the worst that can happen once you’ve contacted them – they don’t respond. How many incredible stories have we heard about chance encounters? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  10. Ask someone to mentor you – a good mentor can teach you so much just by sharing their experiences. They don’t necessarily give you script notes but can guide you. 
My quote of the week:

No man is your friend, no man is your enemy, every man is your teacher.
Keep writing