Thursday, November 30, 2006

Writing for Other Media: Theatre

Following on from my previous post on writing for other media, I thought I'd take a look at some opportunities in each of those 'other media', starting with theatre.

Soho Theatre have just announced the Westminster Prize for 06/07. This is open to anyone living or working in the Borough of Westminster without a produced play to their credit. It's a great opportunity to get started in writing for theatre. The brief is to write a ten minute play with two characters (no more, no less), inspired by all or one off the three photographs above. Three winners will have their plays performed at Soho Theatre. Deadline is February 2007 and full details can be found here. While you're there, scroll down to the bottom of the page for an excellent list of tips and hints, or sign up for a free workshop on 12th December or 16th January. Think I'm going to give this one a go.

If you aren't elligible for the Westminster Prize you could try the King's Cross New Writing Award. This is open to all writers of any level experience, deadline May 2007. The winning play will be produced by the Courtyard Theatre.

For writers in the North of England there's the Bang! competition. The prize is a writing mentor, a bursary of £1000 and the chance to have the work performed on stage. The organisers are looking for short dramas for the stage of, up to fifteen minutes long and they can be either a complete piece or an extract of a longer piece. Submissions should reflect the British Asian Experience. A free series of workshops are being held in various cities across the north to tie-in with this. Deadline for is 8th January 2007.

There are a number of new writing theatres and theatre companies based in London, either actively seeking new work or offering reading services. These include 10 in a Bed Theatre, who hold monthly readings of plays in progress, Theatre 503Operating Theatre Company and Canal Cafe TheatreThe Bush Theatre, and The Royal CourtHampstead Theatre among others. In addition to offering written feedback on all scripts submitted, Hampstead Theatre also run a fantastic initiative, Start Night. It's held every four to six weeks, and audience members give written feedback on the performed work. Next Start Night is 22nd January, deadline for submissions 5th January. Full details here.

This isn't an exhaustive list, by any means, so please send me any other opportunities or initiatives, especially those out of London, as obviously I'm better informed about stuff that's happening on my doorstep! Check outWriternet's guide to producing theatre companies to whom writers can send unsolicited work. Also, check out Tom Green's guest post on Danny Stack's blog.
Posts on opportunities in radio, short film and short stories to follow when I get around to it. I am trying to keep busy to keep my mind off the fact that the selections for the UK Friendly Producers Scheme are expected tomorrow...

Writing for Other Media

We all know how difficult it is as a new writer to break into film and TV writing. Last October I attended aScript Factory panel discussion on writing for other media. I wrote a report about the event for thewritewords online writing community, which I'm no longer a part of, but, I dug out the report recently, searching for information on one of the opportunities mentioned, so I thought I would post it here. Some of the information is now out-of-date, so I've put my updates in italics.
Each year during the Times BFI London Film Festival, Script Factory host SCENE, a kind of festival within a festival, dedicated to scriptwriting. Recognising that film and television offer limited opportunities for new writers, Script Factory drew together a panel of experts from radio, television and theatre to consider how writers can get their work produced and appreciated by the widest audience possible. The four experts were Abigail Morris, Artistic Director, Soho Theatre; Eileen Quinn, Director of Drama, IWCCaroline Raphael, Commissioning Editor for Drama and Entertainment, BBC Radio 4and Kate Rowland, Creative Director, New Writing, BBCMarilyn Milgrom, a Senior Tutor with the Script Factory, chaired the event, which took place at the Curzon Soho on 27th October 2005.

Script Factory took a break from running Scene this year, but I understand it will be returning again next year.

A little bit about the panellists and how they/their companies work:

Radio 4 schedules 13,000 programmes across 14 different genres each year. Caroline Raphael is responsible for drama, comedy, Book at Bedtime, Afternoon readings and poetry commissions. A large part of Caroline’s job involves sourcing comedy and as such she said she spends considerable time in ‘smoky rooms above pubs’ and camped out at the Edinburgh comedy festival, listening to comedians perform their work. Caroline also relies largely on her producers to bring in new writers.

IWC is one of the top ten UK independent production companies, though Eileen Quinn asserted that ‘independent’ is something of a misnomer – IWC and other independents are entirely dependent on the demands of broadcasters and distributors. Eileen emphasized that she is involved in the business side of the industry and her role does not involve seeking out and nurturing new talent and she will only read scripts via agents. That said, Eileen depends upon colleagues to alert her to new writers worth keeping an eye on, and will go to readings or performances based on these recommendations.

Abigail Morris took over as artistic director at Soho Poly in 1992 and has seen the company through financial strife to reopen in 2000 as the Soho Theatre. Soho Theatre’s focus is firmly on new writing and has a dedicated Writer’s Centre that receives over 2,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year. Soho employs a team of 20 script readers and all submitted scripts receive a written response. If Soho is unable to produce a script they will try wherever possible to feed the script into other avenues, such as radio or television.

Abigail Morris moved on from Soho Theatre early this year, replaced by Lisa Goldman.

Kate Rowland set up BBC’s Writer’s Room in 2001 to develop and promote the BBC’s new writing strategy across television, radio and film. Writer’s Room’s 8-strong team actively seek out new writing talent by attending performances, readings, watching short films etc. In addition to this team, Writer’s Room uses 8 freelance script readers. The script readers operate by reading the first 10 pages of a script, then passing it over to another reader. Scripts are then sorted into bundles – scripts that will get a full read, and scripts that will be returned without being read further. All scripts will receive some feedback.

Opportunities for New Writers

Radio offers by far the most opportunities for new writers to get their work produced. In addition to the 
Afternoon Play,Friday Play and Women’s Hour Drama, BBC Radio also broadcast short story readings, which Caroline Raphael believes new writers often neglect. Short stories should be approximately 2, 500 words to fill a 14-minute slot. For Caroline, writing good dialogue is the most important factor for writing for radio. Kate Rowland of the Writer’s Room has commissioning responsibility for The Friday Play on Radio 4 and The Wire on Radio 3. Both Caroline Raphael and Kate Rowland cautioned against ‘filling in the gaps’ for radio listeners, for example, dialogue such as “is that gun in your pocket loaded?”.

The Writer’s Room work a lot with theatre writers and the website includes opportunities in theatre as well as TV, radio and film. Kate Rowland said that the Writer’s Room champion writers they like and do everything they can to help writers get a commission. This can take several years but the Writer’s Room also offers writing schemes and initiatives. Soho Theatre produces about 6 new plays a year and the Writer’s Centre holds two competitions for playwrights, The Verity Bargate Award and the Westminster Prize. The Writer’s Centre also operates a Young Writer’s Scheme for writers aged 15-25.
See my next post for information on the Westminster Prize.
In association with Channel 4, IWC run Coming Up, an annual new writer’s scheme. The scheme produces eight 30-minute films for television and is open to writers and directors without a primetime TV drama credit. In the first instance, writers should submit a script sample and a 1-2 page synopsis of their idea. Successful applicants will be fast-tracked through the development process, receiving support and guidance with writing first a step outline and then a first draft. Eileen Quinn works with the selected writers as executive producer. The films will be shot on digital and screened late night on Channel 4 and the intention is to produce cutting edge, boundary-pushing work. Details of the scheme are on IWC’s website, and the deadline for next year’s scheme will be announced soon. Eileen said she looks for writing ‘in pictures’ and a distinctive voice. Andrea Arnold, a participant in Coming Up some years ago, went on to win an Academy Award for her short film ‘Wasp’ and other Coming up writers have had work commissioned by the BBC.

Andrea Arnold's first feature film Red Road is in cinemas now and picked up an award at Cannes this year. Details ofComing Up for 2006 were announced in March with a deadline in April so I expect the details will go on IWC's website within the first few months of 2007.

Kate Rowland noted that the deadline for the Dennis Potter award, which aims to produce a single television drama for BBC 2, is coming up soon. Details will be announced on the Writer’s Room website.

This year's Dennis Potter Award was launched in January, so keep an eye on the Writer's Room website for updates on this early in 2007.

Do’s and Don’ts

All four women agreed that new writers should have a distinctive, unique voice. As Eileen Quinn put it, she is looking for writers who ‘have something to say and know how to say it”. Abigail Morris said she looks for honesty and integrity in writing. Kate Rowland is impressed by writers who can ‘think in scenes – no coming in and out of rooms”. Caroline Raphael advised writers to research their work carefully and to respect the intelligence of their audience. Asked what is the quickest way for a writer to ensure their work ends up in the bin, Eileen Quinn cited incorrect formatting and TV scripts written in play format. For Abigail Morris, the biggest no-no is writers who have had work rejected by film or television, and try the script in theatre without re-writing it. As for common mistakes writers make, Kate Rowland suggested over-writing and advised writers to avoid lengthy, prosaic scene descriptions. Eileen Quinn advised against sending completed scripts to production companies. She suggested writers should send a treatment or synopsis only, giving producers “less to say no to”.


All panellists emphasized the need for new writers to consider other media and the importance of having work produced in some format. Eileen Quinn commented that in her experience novelists and playwrights were often reluctant to learn the craft of writing for the screen. Kate Rowland noted that it is now more common for writers to move between different media, as opposed to the traditional way of starting off in radio or theatre and moving up to television or film. She suggested writers should be ‘tangential’ in their approach. Everyone acknowledged that getting work out there is difficult and takes commitment and perseverance as well as skill. The four panellists were very well chosen and offered differing experience and approaches.. What all the experts had in common was a genuine and palpable enthusiasm for new writing in all its forms. And nice to see an all-female panel of experts at the cutting edge of new writing!

I hope that was useful (sorry it was so long!) and if any of the information is outdated now, do let me know.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cover Letters

Been catching up on script reading this week. One company I read for send me the cover letters, the CV's and anything else the writer has included in addition to the scripts. I'm always fascinated by the cover letters because they are a good indicator of the quality of the script. I've read all sorts of things in cover letters - quotes from friends and teachers in support of the writer, details of where they grew up and their childhood, their day job, instructions for how the script should be read, A-level results and a boast that the script enclosed is like "nothing else", followed promptly by an admission that s/he had "borrowed" bits from other TV programmes.

It makes no difference to me what's in the cover letter. I'm paid to read the script from start to finish so a bad cover letter won't prevent me from making a recommendation if the script is good. But it rarely is if the cover letter is bad. And not all companies have the resources to read every script submitted and a badly written cover letter is just one of many excuses they may use to filter scripts.

There's no perfect cover letter for a spec script and just because I read a lot of them, doesn't make me an expert. But there are certainly things not to include, such as the examples above. In my view it's best to keep to a couple of paragraphs. Use the first paragraph to introduce the script you have enclosed - describe the story in a sentence or two and state what genre it is. If it's TV, make sure you mention if it is a one-off a series or a serial.

In the next paragraph, include some details about yourself. Keep these details strictly writing related unless it is directly relevant to the script you've enclosed - for example, if you've written a medical drama and used to be a nurse or trained to be a doctor. Focus on whatever writing success you have had like competition wins, options and any produced work. Don't list every single achievement; be selective. If you are submitting work to a talent spotting service like Writer's Room include a line or two about the kind of writing you would like to do such as radio, continuing drama series, comedy sketches, sitcoms etc.

Scriptwriting MA's and creative writing courses come in for a lot of flack. I think it's absolutely fine to mention you've done (or are doing) a writing course in the cover letter, but keep it to the "about me" paragraph. Don't bang on about it in the first paragraph before you've bothered to introduce your script and don't include the grade you got for the script you are submitting - the only thing it shows is that you are serious enough about a screenwriting career to invest time in money in learning more about the craft, not that you are a fantastic writer.

Avoid telling the reader what their production company should be making or being dismissive of the quality of British TV or film (assuming that's the market you're going for of course). Avoid being jokey or matey in tone - even if you are submitting a comedy script! The purpose of the cover letter is simply to explain what you have submitted and introduce yourself, not to convince the reader you are an undiscovered comedy genius. Let your script do that. Don't use superlatives about your work but don't be coy either. Keep it to one page unless absolutely necessary and be polite and courteous in summing up.

I'm sure most regular readers of this blog don't need to be told this stuff, but then I've read dodgy cover letters from writers with a lot of experience, so this isn't a mistake only beginners make. The golden rule is to keep it short and to the point, including only information that is relevant to the script or you as a writer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Movie Meme

A nice little meme I found over on Is That So Wrong?

1. Popcorn or candy?

Popcorn. But mostly I don't eat at the cinema, because other people munching loudly or rustling wrappers bothers me so I feel I shouldn't do it.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.

Only one? There are loads. Hundreds. There are even several that I own on DVD but haven't got around to seeing yet. One of those at random: The Lost Weekend. It's one of those films that I keep finding on TCM when I'm channel hopping, and I've always wanted to see it but I hate not seeing things from the absolute beginning, so I have to change over. But I've had the DVD for ages and have no excuses or reasons for not watching it yet.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom?

Again, only one? I'm very tempted to pick a screenwriting category. But feel mean taking an award from a writer so instead I'm taking it away from someone I don't have an ounce of respect for. Hand it over Catherine Zeta-Jones. Come on, you knew someone would ask for it back eventually didn't you? Did you really think they choose you over Meryl Streep or Kathy Bates?
My sister has a name for Catherine Zeta Jones but I better not publish it here, I'll be flagged for inappropriate content.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be?

That's difficult. There are many costumes it would be fun to dress up in, but "steal for your wardrobe" would imply something I'd actually wear day to day, so I'm going to go with Uma Thurman's outfit in Pulp Fiction. Maybe that's a bit boring, but I can't think of anything else at the moment.
5. Your favorite film franchise is....

Indiana Jones. But I think they should leave it well alone now.

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?

William Goldman, John Cusack, Alfred Hitchcock, Jane Campion, Susannah Grant. I'd invite them because they are all people whose work I admire or have been influenced by in some way, so I'd have plenty to pick their brains about and because I think they're a good mix of people. I don't know what I would feed them (what do you feed a dead man?) but we'd drink mojitos. Why? Because I like them.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?
Throw them out, ban them from ever attending that cinema again and sent their picture round to every other cinema in the area, telling the managers not to admit them.

8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days.

Ripley. I don't know if she'd be a better bodyguard than the other ladies, but I think she'd be the best company.

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?

The Exorcist and The Shining are probably the two films I find most scary. There are any number of terrifying images to choose from the former, but I think the bits that unnerved me the most are the moments when you are waiting for something to happen. That long shot of Regan's bedroom door, shut always chills me. It's the anticipation of what's lurking behind. The Shining achieved something similar with the shots of the little boy on the tricycle, cycling around the hotel - you know something bad is going to happen. Although it took me a long time to shake the image of the woman in the bath from my mind. Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

10. Your favorite genre (excluding "comedy" and "drama") is....
Okay, so you're looking for sub-genres here - comedy-drama? drama-comedy? Psychological drama or thriller? Supernatural drama? I really don't have a favourite genre and I don't have any particular genre I would unequivocally steer clear of.

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?

It would be about what I wouldn't greenlight, rather than what I would - sequels might be greenlit but only on the condition that the same creative team are on board, same cast etc (unless of course a character is killed off. No City Slickers 2 shenanigans!). No big screen versions of TV shows and no comic book adaptations. No $20m paychecks for stars and no astronomical budgets either. Writers and filmmakers get creative freedom but not unlimited budgets - boundaries can be productive.
12. Bonnie or Clyde?
You can't have one without the other.

13. Who am I tagging to answer this survey?
Anyone who fancies it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Q and A: BSSC Semi-Finalist Eleanor Tucker

I've been getting a lot of traffic to this site from people searching for info on the British Short Script Competition, which I mentioned in this post back in April. It's always good to get some insider info on any script competition, especially those with a fee - you want to know it's worth parting with your hard earned cash! As it happens one of my script reading clients, Eleanor Tucker, recently reached the semi-finals of BSSC so I asked Eleanor a few questions about her experience with the competition. Eleanor is based in Edinburgh and currently has a short script in development with Fluid Eye Productions and her two minute short script was just produced by The London Film Academy. You can find out more about Eleanor or get in touch here. 

Q. What prompted you to enter your script, 'Something Unforeseen', to the competition?

A. It was actually the first competition I’ve ever entered. I’d heard the BSSC mentioned on Shooting People and a couple of other screenwriting websites and I thought I’d look into it. It appealed because there was no restriction on genre and they seemed pretty organised. The competition has got some high profile sponsors, plus the top prize is getting your film made, which is a pretty attractive prospect to a rookie writer like me.

Q. Did your write your script specifically for the competition?

A. Kind of. An anecdote my husband told me gave me the idea for it, and this was around the same time I saw the competition advertised. The two things just sort of combined. I like working to a deadline and the closing date provided me with just the incentive I needed to sit down and write it. I was also looking for a break between drafts of my feature.

Q. What’s the script about?

A. It’s a drama about a woman who’s trying to leave her husband. Things don’t go according to plan, to say the least. I wanted it to be about moments of clarity. And how sometimes fate – if you believe in it – can behave in mysterious ways. The story is told backwards. I like mucking about with structure because it can create a very different kind of suspense.

Q. Do you think the entry fee was justified?

A. The competition is well organised with an informative website and high-profile judges, so I think it’s fair enough to contribute to the administration. Which, with the amount of entries, must be a nightmare.

Q. When - and how - did you find out you’d got through to the first round?

A. Later than I expected, July I think. It was a reasonable wait having got my script in for the early deadline in April. I think they had more entries than ever this year, about two thousand. I found out I’d got through to the first round just by checking the website (which I’ve done quite a lot of over the last six months!). Kaos Films (the production company that produces the winners) also send out a newsletter reasonably regularly that keeps you informed of when they’ve posted each round’s qualifiers on the website. It also has news of previous winners, for example if they’ve started filming or won at a particular festival.

Q. And how many rounds are there altogether?
A. This year there were three rounds, then the semifinals. The qualifiers for each round were announced about every four to six weeks. In their newsletters, the organisers kept apologising for the delays, so I think a few people were complaining. I was just really excited and couldn’t believe it when I kept seeing my script listed at each stage.

Q. How many people got through to the semi-finals?

A. About 60. Then there was a wait of about ten days until the finalists were announced on the 13th November. I wasn’t too disappointed I didn’t get through to the final because I was just so pleased to reach the semis.

Q. Were there prizes for semi-finalists?
A. No. My husband bought me a bottle of bubbly, though...

Q. What are you doing with your script now?

A. I posted a pitch for it on Shooting People last week and I’ve had some interest already. I’m hoping it will appeal as it’s a good length (ten minutes) and low budget in terms of location. Oh, OK, I’ll admit it – I think it’s a good story too…

Q. Will you be entering the competition again next year?
A. Probably, yes. It's been quite fun but I suppose that's maybe slightly to do with the fact I got to the semis!

Q. What do you feel you've gained from getting through to the semis?
A. It's a good calling card for my script. And I think it's given me a bit of validation about what I'm doing, which helps enormously when you're just starting out.

Q. Finally, would you recommend this as a good competition for new writers?
A. Definitely. Although there are a lot of entries it's pretty high profile and I don't think it breaks the bank, either.


Many thanks to Eleanor for sparing your time to answer these questions. Congratulations again on reaching the semis, and good luck with Something Unforeseen and your other projects!

The blogger gremlins are nothing if not idiosyncratic. This post wouldn't publish while it contained the ampersand...

Saturday, November 18, 2006


It's been an up and down week. Been doing loads of work on the outline for submission to the Friendly Producer Scheme. It's not quite there yet, but feeling better about it than I was. One minute I thought it was fine, the next all I could see were the things that didn't work, and was at one point near tears of frustration because I knew what was wrong, but not how to put it right. But my lovely fella came home from work early, whisked me off to the pub with my outline, listened patiently while I moaned about my frustrating day, and then read through the outline and offered some cracking advice. Confidence restored! John August has just posted about crises of confidence, and how to tell if it's lack of confidence in your own abilities, or a realisation that maybe the idea you are working on is actually crap. He's got some sage advice, as always. I think my little lapse was the former. It's something that happens to me often enough that I really should instantly recognise it!

Frustration hasn't been limited to writing this week. Discovered an independent film festival called Unheard Voices last week. They are running a series of all day workshops throughout one week, all priced at £5 or £30 for the lot. Been trying to book tickets for a couple of the workshops. The booking form on the website doesn't work. I've phoned, I've emailed, I've left voice messages but to no avail. No one has got back to me. They clearly don't want my money. I've switched my days in the office job so I can go, now I just need to get the bloody tickets. Most annoying, and I'm feeling so petulant about it I'm refusing to post the link to the website. I'm not usually this peevish but I do hate bad customer service.

On that note, an off-topic irritation: just booked a flight with one of those delightful "no-frills" airlines (are any airlines "frills" anymore?). The latest additional charge is £5 for priority boarding. So you can pay an extra fiver to have "priority A" stamped on your boarding card and be the first group called to board. But unless you have sharp elbows that you are prepared to use to shove people out of the way, it really doesn't matter what letter is stamped on your boarding card, because the airline staff only ever half-heartedly request that "all other passengers remain seated at this time". All other passengers do not, EVER, remain seated and by the time you've pushed your way through all the people standing in your way, the airline staff are calling the next priority level anyway. Last time I flew with this airline I was priority B and was one of the last people to board. But next time things will be different. I have sharp elbows and I'm not afraid to use them!

If you've persevered and read all of this ranting post, I salute you and invite you to share your own week's woes, writing related or not.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


This Friday's Shooting People screenwriter's bulletin helpfully contained a list of screenwriting and film podcasts. I've had Creative Screenwriting Magazine's podcast page bookmarked in my favourties for months now, and not got around to actually downloading anything. And I've had Mark Kermode's Five live film reviews podcast bookmarked for a while too. Told you I'm a procrastinator. Anyway, the SP list was the motivator I needed to actually download some stuff, and I've just spent the last couple of hours listening to screenwriting podcasts while cleaning the flat (and I looked a picture strutting about with my marigolds on and my i-pod attached to my hip). I might be a terrible procrastinator but I am capable of multi-tasking! Best so far was the Creative Screenwriting Q&A with Noah Baumbach, writer-director of the wonderful The Squid and the Whale, which I just saw this week. His discussion of his writing process particularly struck a chord with me, especially the fact that he doesn't outline. Yes, I'm still struggling with the outline for my latest project, which I'm trying to sort in time to submit for the UK Friendly Producer's Scheme. Time is running out. More on my outline anxiety and lessons learned from Baumbach another time. Right now it is time to watch trashy TV and forget about my woes. For a bit.