28 May 2011

BBC Writers Academy 2011 - The First 10 Pages

So here is my first blog post, which strictly speaking isn't my first blog post. It belongs to the lovely Charlie Boddington (@CharlieWarley8 twitterers). A couple of weeks ago one fine sunny day, I thought I would post a couple of thoughts up on twitter about my Script Reader experiences with this year's BBC Writers Academy. A couple of thoughts. But before I knew it I'd typed an essay which Charlie copy and pasted in to a blog for me - and let me tell you, I was more than happy to let him do it!

The fact is, I've always felt that I could be doing better things with my time than writing blogs. Like many aspiring writers (by aspiring I mean making a full time living out of writing - the big dream) I too am trying to break in to writing and I always thought that time spent blogging could be put to better use. Like writing a script or writing up a storyline or washing up or playing with the cat or doing anything other than writing... Hmmmmm.

But, having been inspired by quite a few great bloggers of late I have crumbled and given in to blog land. So far it hasn't been too painful (HOW MANY TEMPLATES?!?!) but time will tell... So here is my not first blog post. Enjoy and be sure to follow http://charlieboddington.blogspot.com/ Take it away Charlie... 

Script Reading for the BBC Drama Writers Academy with Katie B

The following post is an UNADULTERATED, UNCENSORED (you've got to sell it, haven't you?) twitter-feed stream from Katie B (follow her at @NuttyNatter) on her experience with reading for the BBC Drama Writers Academy applications. It's a truly fascinating and wonderfully simple list on what she found and provides a fascinating glimpse into what can make a script stand out from the rest of the pile.

So, with copy and paste at the ready, here goes nothing...

Been giving some thought about posting some thoughts and general observations I've had on this year's #writersacademy as a freelance reader. Bear in mind that I was 1 reader of ten and there were hundreds of scripts, so these thoughts are just a snap shot of the process. :)

1) Reading for the #writersacademy - day 1 is always a mix of excitement of dread, you know somewhere in giant pile of scripts are some very talented writers, but you also know that there will be a large amount of writers who have not yet reached their full potential and are not ready for the #writersacademy, and then there are the writers (thankfully in the minority) who write the kind of scripts that I want to hand over to the police - more about those scripts in a bit! It is as you would imagine, we sit down with a cup of tea, a biro and take a handful of scripts from a giant, alphabetised pile of entries. Each script has a tick sheet stapled to the front and we read the first ten pages only. I mark up the tick sheet and move on to the next script... for three days. It's intense and I always have crazy dreams when I go to bed that night - my head filled with the beginnings of loads of stories!

2) What do we look for? There are lots of good blogs about this on the BBC site, but ultimately in those first ten pages we look for strong dialogue - it flows, it jumps off the page, it's believable, natural sounding, witty, it's character driven and it is emotive. Dialogue, in my mind, is the most important thing. Of course it also needs to make sense and tell a story but when I read a script where the dialogue grabs me I am much more likely to tick those boxes and recommend it for a full read.

Am I interested enough to read on? - This is another big tick box for me. If in those first ten pages I am drawn in and want to read on then this is actually quite frustrating because I'm not allowed! :) There is in fact a tick box on the sheet especially for this.

Are the character's engaging? - There is nothing more disappointing than reading a script that has clichéd characters in it... The standard of scripts was most definitely higher than in previous years (whoop whoop!) but I personally felt let down by the number of female characters I read that were merely just sex objects. I got the impression from the other readers I was not alone in feeling this. I looked for characters that had clear wants and needs, emotional depth. I got put off by characters that were 'John - handsome, arrogant'. Or 'Jane - 20, pretty, sexy'. You would probably be surprised by the number of characters I read that were similar sounding and unoriginal. An engaging character really stands out from the pile and makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them! You want to see that character succeed and win against the odds and I definitely found some scripts that gave the promise of this happening. :)

Is there a sense of structure? - Structure is important for obvious reasons, but strong dialogue and a distinctive voice are more important. Structure can be taught, dialogue is a skill. At least I think this is the case!

3) This year's trends - every year there are normally trends in what we read. If knife crime is in the news, we can expect a percentage of scripts on knife crime. This year I expected the trend to be all about the economic downturn, but was surprised that this wasn't the case. As far as trend's go, this is probably the first year I haven't seen a definite trend - which was great! With the scripts I read I found 3 mini trends shall we say... bullying, opening scenes of running through woods and women being sex objects (as previously discussed). Last year I read a lot of scripts submitted by actors, this year there were a lot of scripts written by lecturers and speakers.

4) The good, the bad and the average - when I get home after a day reading, I remember the good scripts for all the reasons already listed [above]! I remember the bad scripts, for their 'shock value' scenes, their amusing titles that often sadly go no where and their sometimes odd dialogue / stage directions. Such as 'something along this line of dialogue, but something better' as read in one script. :/ And the average scripts, the competent but sadly just lacking that special spark that takes them to that next level, those scripts I forget.

I read a lot of scripts that were average, you know the type, the characters were ok but nothing original, the dialogue did its job but didn't shine and the story was there and made sense but I felt like I'd seen it before somewhere. These scripts, the ones in the middle, the ones that with a bit more work 'could' be good, the writer 'may' have potential, these scripts are the most frustrating to read and unfortunately often end up in the no pile. :(

5) Take heart! - This year I can say with conviction that we all agreed that the standard was high and more scripts got through to the next stage than in previous years, which is great! I wish all of you that entered the best of luck and for those that don't get through this time I would recommend the following...

KEEP WRITING! Never let rejection stop you from honing your writing skills! READ SCRIPTS THAT AREN'T YOURS - there are lots of really good websites where you can read scripts - check out BBC Writer's Room links to see how the pros do it. Join writing groups in your area, read good scripts, read first drafts, read your friends scripts, read for England! It will all help with your writing - I promise. And while you're at it, get people to read your script! :)

Right, that's me done. I have my own script to battle with now! If any more thoughts hit me I'll post them up, in the mean time you may want to follow @cerimeyrick development producer for BBC drama who is tweeting #writersacademy updates and bakes a great cake. :)

So there we are - an amazing insight into the process of reading Scripts. And when you think that all of that was originally written on twitter in tiny segments, all of which are to the point and fairly brief, it shows how much gold is there for the taking really! So many things stand out at me. I've always been a firm believer in strong dialogue and agree with Katie that it can really bring a script to life and provide the edge that you need to read on. Also, Katie's segments on clichéd characters is highly informative. This debate on bad writing with female characters never fails to show itself and clearly it's a problem that needs to be addressed. Though I like to think starting with fixing quite simple issues like 'don't write women as sex objects' SHOULD be simple enough to take in. As Writers, do we not have a LITTLE BIT more imagination than this?

I also think there's a lesson to learn in making sure your script isn't average. Don't rest on your laurels and accept something that's 'good' and 'does what it needs to'. That's clearly not enough. You should make sure your script isn't just 'good' but 'FUCKING BRILLIANT' - make sure it stands out and is exciting and fresh. And, of course, keep writing and reading other scripts. Advice that's always appropriate.

A HUGE thanks to Katie B (@NuttyNatter, in case you haven't added her already) for allowing me to post her words of wisdom on here. Inspiring stuff.

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