Monday, 24 June 2013

WRITING COMEDY WITH COMEDY EXPERT CHRIS SUSSMAN


I decided to dedicate this post to comedy writing as the search for BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum focusing on Sitcoms & Sketches 2013 draws to an end. Within the next few weeks we will be announcing which of the 475 entrants will be featured at Edinburgh and/or New York. It’s a time of mixed emotions - inevitably there will be disappointment for some but it is hugely exciting to think what the future could hold for those soon to be selected writers.

The first of our showcases is at this year’s Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival in August. The great thing about festivals and events like these is that they are a brilliant way to put yourself in front of important contacts by just being present. Regardless of whether you submitted or not, the event is open to all so why not buy a ticket [click here] and see what the panel have to say? Networking opportunities don't come much better than this. 

With this in mind, we’ve approached a comedy commissioning expert, a BAFTA Rocliffe juror and one of our Edinburgh panellists, Chris Sussman, Executive Editor BBC Comedy Commissioning to give his notes on writing comedy. 

People talk about ideas and jokes but Chris touches on some of the more salient (if not serious) pointers whilst pulling no punches about the reality of it all. It should be noted that this is the man whose twitter picture (@chris_sussman) has him taking a swipe at a staple of my childhood TV watching - The A-Team's own Mr T! (And yes it really is him)


HERE THEY ARE - CHRIS SUSSMAN'S TOP TIPS FOR COMEDY WRITING 

1. Get on with it. You can spend ages thinking about an idea, driving yourself crazy, tying your brain in knots. But you won't know if your script's going to be any good or not until you actually sit down and start writing it.
2. Don't bother with a treatment. It's almost impossible to tell from a treatment how a script's going to turn out. If you want to prove to people that your idea is funny, write the script and show it to them!
3. Keep drafting and redrafting. You'll probably only get one chance to impress people with your script, so make sure it's in the best possible state it can be before you send it out there. Work on every joke until it's right. (Obviously don't drive yourself insane though. There's a limit).
4. Arrange a read-through. There's nothing like hearing your script read out aloud to see which jokes work and which don't. Why not ask your friends to come round one night and read your script out loud for you? You'll be amazed how useful it'll be.
5. Write a second episode. If you really want to put your sitcom through its paces before sending it out, why not try writing a second episode? You might find it's even stronger than the first because you know the characters and the world better and that's the one you end up sending out. Or it might give you ideas that will inspire you to go back and change your first script. Either way, it won't be a wasted exercise.
6. Trust your instincts. If you think a joke's not working, then it probably isn't. If you think your story is flawed or clich├ęd or boring, the chances are other people are going to think that too. No-one else is going to love a line or a character or a story unless you love them too.
7. Know the marketplace. If there are four sitcoms on TV already set in a school, don't write a sitcom set in a school!
8. Get an agent. A lot of production companies won't read scripts unless they come through an agent, and you'll be in a much stronger position when you've got a great agent who loves your work selling your stuff for you. I know it's hard but if your script is good you'll find someone who likes it and wants to take you on.
9. Don't give up. You're probably going to hear the word 'no' a few thousand times before you hear 'yes', so make sure you keep going. If you're a good writer and you keep putting your scripts out there, it'll happen for you eventually. 
10. Trust me - broadcasters aren't turning down loads of brilliant scripts every day. We want to read the next great script as much as you want to write it!

- Thank you Chris! 

What Chris says is so true - it's important not to give up, or to be one idea, you have to love writing and you have to love your characters. Much as I am tempted to make all of Chris' tips my writing quotes of the week - this one belongs to my comedy hero.

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl Charlie Chaplin

Notifications on the status of your comedy submissions will be sent out in the next two weeks. Your one page reports will follow in mid-July. Submission dates for feature film scripts will be announced in August 2013. Watch our website for new calls www.rocliffe.com & follow me on twitter @farahabushwesha for updates or @rocliffeforum & @BAFTA. Share and retweet away if you've found this blog useful! 

Keep writing...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

CREATING AN ONLINE PROFILE & PRESENCE


In today’s world it's hard not to use some form of social media – that’s probably what has led you to read this. It can be a great way to be active or proactive and build up a network quickly.  

Online networking is becoming an important and essential part of a writer’s life whether it's joining a mailing list, keeping a blog, Facebook, even using what I call the wild west of opinions and newsfeeds aka Twitter. Many of our featured writers first heard about the BAFTA Rocliffe Forums through retweets by the likes of Miranda Hart, Kevin Cecil and Chris Addison. By simply liking a page or following people and organisations – retweeting and interacting you can learn so much.  

Not all social media outlets will be for you but they will create that all essential online presence and help to get you noticed. Your online profile can say so much about you. Try them out and see which one suits you best, disregarding the ones that don’t.  The internet can open doors in ways that knocking alone won’t.

It can be uncomfortable at first engaging in such a faceless world.  Some people can find it awkward, distracting and frivolous – in truth any interaction can be.  Many writers are doing it so why not try it? Share your views on films, topics of discussion, research and learn about new opportunities.  Here are a few suggestions to help you set up your online profile, as always these are only guidelines and by no means the definitive way,  but enough to get you started.

My Ten Rocliffe Tips

  1. For me Twitter is one of the best ways to hear about news and opportunities as well as an online resource. My favourite writing-related twitter accounts to follow are @BAFTA @bbcwritersroom @TheWritersGuild @SkillsetSSC @Bang2Write
  2. I love joining the Euro Scriptchat on Twitter on a Sunday at 8pm. Using the hashtag #scriptchat you can meet other writers online and discuss the weekly topic. They also organise Q&As with great industry guests. Ask questions always using the hashtag #scriptchat at the end of your tweet.  Join in, share your opinion, reply to tweets and interact.  Scriptchat also organize monthly meet ups so you can meet and interact in person too. Scriptchat Website
  3. Write a Blog! It can be about any subject or topic that interests you.  They can be easily set up using something like Blogspot or Tumblr. Stick to a pattern weekly, fortnightly or monthly and then tell people about it. Encourage others to comment. Don’t let your blog get in the way of your script writing. It should compliment your work, not distract you from it.  Follow other blogs (like this one) or Stephen Fry, Lucy Hay, Ben Blaine’s Blog on Shooting People. 
  4. Facebook pages are great to keep up with what’s going on and there are loads of useful links and discussion topics.  Have you joined BAFTA or Rocliffe’s?
  5. Get onto mailing lists. There are fantastic newsletters, which list events, competitions, training and generally more opportunities for you that you may not have known about! I recommend BAFTA, BFI, BBCWritersroom, Skillset and BLAPS (Channel 4’s online comedy vehicle) to start with. There are also some great regional ones ie Film London, Northern Ireland Screen, Creative Scotland, Film Agency Wales. Every region want to tell you what they are up to. Know what’s going on in your neck of the woods!
  6. Social media is all about interaction and engagement so it is as much about recognising other people’s comments as it is contributing your own points.  For example tweeting and retweeting people will make others take an interest and follow you back as a result.
  7. Sharing helpful information is a good a way to get yourself noticed and could be the introduction to someone useful.
  8. You can build communities really quickly but like everything worthwhile it takes time and effort so work on developing your network on one channel rather than building up profiles on five. It needs commitment and content on a regular basis. 
  9. Watch online masterclasses and then tweet, post, blog about them – there are thousands. Try the BAFTA’s Guru site - you can watch things from 90 seconds to 30 minutes and it is free.  And another, listing Joss Whedon’s Ten Writing Tips! Now, why not look up Joss’s twitter account, follow him, tell him what you liked or just tweet the link with “Really useful Writing Tips from @josswhedon” – you never know he may just favourite it, retweet it or better still follow you. How cool would that be!
  10.  At all times protect your online reputation. Don’t put people or an organisation down and don’t be really rude about them.  Remember social media sites are like standing on a mountain and stabbing a feather pillow on a windy day. You have no idea where those feathers will land. Only tweet or post what you would be happy shouting out on Oxford Circus. Avoid showing your anger about rejection or complaining about a production company, agents or editors. That’s for discussions with your friends and family who know you. 
My writing quote of the week:

...only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things Anton Chekhov


We will be open for submissions from August 2013. No details as yet so watch our website for new calls www.rocliffe.com & follow me on twitter @farahabushwesha and for updates @rocliffeforum & @BAFTA 

Keep writing...




Tuesday, 11 June 2013

GETTING THE TREATMENT RIGHT



Treatments are notoriously hard to write. Not only do they have to be entertaining and engaging but they also have to reveal the beginning, middle and end of the story within what can feel like a very tight word limit. They are an acquired skill and as with all skills - practice makes perfect.

Think of a treatment as telling your story in a fast-forward sort of way. Use them to show off your descriptive writing skills as a filmic story teller. It is an opportunity to captivate a reader - being entertained will make a reader like a script more!

When a treatment is written in the style of 'and this happened and then that happened' it can be dull and at times confusing. The last thing we want to do is put the reader off before they get to the script. So ENGAGE! Choose words that sell and drive the story. Don't tell us what makes this such a great script - beauty is always in the eye of the reader.

In all good story-telling there is no ‘magic factor’ as to what makes something great to read but here are some guidelines which may help you to get there.

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Capture the setting, genre, atmosphere and tone of your script/series.
  2. Write in prose, third person and present tense. 12 font is fine. Don't use dialogue or too detailed action.
  3. Tell the story in the order of the script. Make sure you refer to the action of the script extract you are sending us, even if it is only a brief reference, so the reader knows where the extract comes in the screenplay.
  4. Don't avoid ending your story but do avoid dot dot dot endings - you need to reveal how you tie up all the loose ends.
  5. Really identify the conflict between the characters and their motivations, and then show us the resolution. You don't need to name every character just the main ones. Gradually add detail but don’t get bogged down, concentrate on getting to an end.
  6. With our submission calls we ask for no more than 300 words for TV Drama and Film, 300 words for Comedy. [NOTE: Other initiatives/schemes may ask for more]. You may feel the need to write this many, less can be more, and similarly exceeding the word count by 50 or less words won’t mean your submission is penalised. The same length of treatment is required for TV series, short film or feature film calls.
  7. Use this as an exercise in writing (not torture!). If you are struggling to create a treatment try breaking it down: 100 words on the beginning or set up of the world you are creating; 300 on the middle or muddle if it is a comedy and 100 on summing it up.
  8. If you are still struggling then perhaps you need to ask yourself do you really know what story you are trying to tell? Have you developed your plot enough? What is at the heart of this tale? What are your characters reasons for being, their motivations? What do they want or need? Is there enough believable conflict between them and how is it resolved? Only you, the writer and creator of this world, can tell this story and make these decisions - so you have to know your story and what it is about. Sometimes the  difficulty with treatments lies not with the treatment-writing itself but with being sure of the story you are trying to tell.
  9. When you have finished writing the treatment, print it out and read it. How does it relate to the extract? If you are not happy with it change it.
  10. I read once that the key to writing a good synopsis is to read, reflect, write and revise. So now put it away for a day and revisit with fresh eyes.
My writing quote of the week:

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork ~ Peter de Vries

We will be open for submissions from August 2013. No details as yet so watch our website for new calls www.rocliffe.com & follow me on twitter @farahabushwesha and for updates @rocliffeforum & @BAFTA 

Keep writing...




Sunday, 2 June 2013

CHOOSING THE RIGHT EXTRACT


With each call for scripts, many writers wonder what sample to submit. Isn't it so hard to know exactly which extract to pick? Some people think we ask for your first ten pages. This isn't the case... and there is no special secret or formula - send us your ten BEST pages! We want to say we were the ones who discovered a new writing talent and that new talent could be you. So we want to see ten pages that sell you and your story.  

The most important part of a submission is the extract. When the support material is weak, the extract is always the deciding factor. 

Here's what some of our jury members have had to say about extracts:
“Your first scene is almost certainly too long. Make it shorter and get the story going more quickly.” – Kevin Cecil, writer (Black Books, Little Britain) 
“If possible, don't submit an extract from an opening episode: First episodes can all too easily become bogged down by the set up. A later episode can often showcase the comedy and the characters far better.” – Saskia Schuster, Commissioning Editor, Sky Comedy
My Ten Rocliffe Tips:*
  1. The Rocliffe Forums are staged readings but make sure that the scenes you pick aren't just chat. 
  2. Choose an extract that is dramatic and dialogue driven and relates to the central question or plot. It must sell the story.  
  3. Don't just use the first few pages of a script because you think it'll make more sense: for instance in the horror genre the first few pages are about set up and atmosphere but we want to see drama! SEND YOUR BEST SCENES.
  4. Some writers worry that a scene is too visual. Some of the best writing is in the action. Our narrators will bring that to life. Although avoid unnecessary action ie chase sequences, helicopters.
  5. Make sure the scenes are representative of what you have told us in the the treatment (overview).
  6. Don't worry about how many characters there are in the scene - our directors and casting director will work with you on the extract.
  7. Remember you have to entertain the reader/panel. We're looking for work that is a 'must read' not 'nice to read'. Allow us to get caught up in the story and ultimately want more. 
  8. Don't think about what you think the panel want or what is the most appropriate for the stage - ask yourself is this the best extract to demonstrate your skills as a filmic story-teller? 
  9. No matter how tempting it is to want to feature more than 10 pages - a solid 10 page extract will entice an industry executive to read more of your work. If they don't like the ten pages little persuasion or an extra page will entice them to read more. Check Rocliffe's Terms & Conditions as page counts may vary depending on each particular script call. 
My writing quote of the week:

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make ~ Truman Capote


*Since first publishing this blog, feedback from the jury was that non-consecutive scenes were confusing and as a result this is now, no longer an option.

Keep writing...