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...