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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn ~ CS LewisKeep writing!