Monthly Archives: October 2009

I’ve written a script, what next? Part Four – Writing Competitions


So, is it worth you entering writing competitions?  My answer is – YES, YES, YES!  Someone Is offering to read your script, usually for free, and although you won’t get feedback to help you develop the script you will, if you’re any good, get noticed – and that’s half the battle in this business.

Here’s a list of the writing competitions that I’ve come across just in the past year or so.  Most run annually and most are free but some are one-offs and some charge you to enter.  I’m not recommending these and can’t guarantee the people behind them all, so do make sure you do your homework.  I’ve put dates alongside them but do check out their websites for confirmed deadlines and submission procedures.


SCREENPLAY COMPETITIONS

London Independent Film Festival Screenplay Competition – October


Sequel to Cannes Short Film Script Competition – October


Scotland Writes Competition – November


L.A Comedy Shorts Script Competition – November


Screen West Midlands’ Digishorts Competition – November


Silverback Screenwriting Competition – December


Stage International Script Competition – December


End of the Pier Festival Screenplay Competition – March


BBC Writers Academy – April

British Short Screenplay Competition (Kaos) – May

Sir Peter Ustinov Award – June


Script 1 (Screenwriters’ Festival) – August

 
Red Planet Prize – dates for 2009 to be announced soon

TAPS – invitation for submissions for courses throughout the year

British Feature Screenplay Competition (Kaos) – dates for 2009 to be announced soon


PLAYWRITING COMPETITIONS


Bare Bones (Old Red Lion, Islington) – November

The Westminster Prize (Soho Theatre) – December

Ignite (Playwrights’ Studio Scotland) – January

Kings Cross Award for New Writing – May

High Tide Festival – July

Everyman Young Writers Programme – August


Off Cut Festival (In Company theatre)  – August

McLellan Award (plays in living Scots) – August

Whiting Award – August

Hot INK (New York) – September

Bruntwood Royal Exchange Young Playwriters Award – September

Scenepool – year round

Write Now Festival – September


As soon as I hear of other note-worthy writing competitions I’ll post them on here, on Script Angel and announce it on Twitter.


If you know of any others, write a comment on the blog or contact me via the Script Angel website.


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The demise of authored television drama?


Since Tony Garnett’s article in The Guardian bemoaning the state of drama commissioning at the BBC (and Ben Stephenson’s response to it), there have been numerous articles written taking opposing sides.  Many fear that the lack of authored drama, and indeed in ITV’s case a reduction in the number of hours of original drama across the board, sounds the genre’s death-knell.

Hang-on, haven’t we all got rather short memories?  Rewind to 1998
and there’s uproar –  ITV gives its Wednesday 20:00 slot, traditionally
the home of ‘The Bill’, to ‘Airline’ a new docu-soap designed to help
ITV catch-up with the BBC’s dominant position in this genre.  Indeed,
by 1999 the following docu-soaps are strewn across our television
channels:

Airport (1996), Driving School (1997), Hotel (1997), Vets in
Practice (1997), Airline (1998), Cop Shop (1998), The Cruise (1998),
The Clampers (1998), Pleasure Beach (1998), Superstore (1998),
Lakesiders (1998), The Zoo Keepers (1998), Battersea Dogs Home (1998),
The Builders (1998), Paddington Green (1999), Children’s Hospital
(1999), Mersey Blues (1999).

Drama has always been one of the (if not the) most expensive genres
and it’s no great surprise that in tough economic times our television
commissioners cut back on it.  Channel controllers remember (again)
that they can schedule something much cheaper (reality tv) which
delivers ratings that aren’t too far off those achieved by the average
drama.  Of course, as ITV1 is discovering, cheaper, reality-based shows
might not deliver the same demographic (ABC1s are deserting ITV at the
moment) and it won’t win you many awards.

Ten years ago, as quickly as this obsession (audiences’ and
commissioners’) with cheap, reality television came, so it went.  By
2000 BBC1 had a major injection of cash and most of these docu-soaps
disappeared from our screens, to be replaced with…. yes, you’ve guessed
it, drama.

So we’ve been here before and we know that before long audiences
will switch off from great volumes of docu-soaps and channel
controllers will start to invest in great dramas again.  And I don’t
just mean more hours of the soaps and continuing drama series which
deliver good ratings at a fraction of the hourly cost of a one-off or
period costume serial.  No, I mean they’ll invest in bold, brave,
authored dramas, just as they have always done.  The numbers of hours
of such dramas may go up and down as our economy booms and busts but
they’re always there.  In the last twelve months we’ve had ‘The Diary
of Anne Frank’ and ‘Occupation’ (BBC1), ‘Five Minutes of Heaven’ and
‘Freefall’ (BBC2) ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Affinity’ (ITV), ‘Red Riding’ and
‘The Devil’s Whore’ (C4), to name just some of my personal favourites.

However tough the commissioning process looks, however despondent I
might be when I look at the current television schedules, I know that
it’ll all come right again (if indeed it’s wrong to begin with?) and
I’ll continue to have the pleasure of watching some great television
dramas and, I hope, the pleasure of making some.


I’ve written a script, what next? Part Two – Theatre


Writing for the screen (television or film) is as much about writing for performance as it is about writing for the camera.  So where better to hone your skills writing for actors than in the theatre?  You get your script performed and you get to see an audience’s immediate reaction to your work. Perfect!

Bear in mind as well that most of the successful applicants for the hugely popular BBC Writers’ Academy are
already writing for theatre and radio, so ignore these media at your
peril.  Writing for theatre is a fantastic way to develop as a writer,
and there are many theatre production companies dedicated to putting on
the work of new writers.  They get exciting new talent, you get your
work professionally produced – it’s a win-win situation.

Here is a list of theatres and theatre production companies specialising in new writing.

Paines Plough, London

Bush Theatre, London

Hampstead Theatre, London

Royal Court Theatre, London

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Soho Theatre, London

Finborough Theatre, London

Theatre503, London

Zeitgeist Theatre, London*

Tamasha Theatre Company, London (specialising in new British Asian writing)*

Talawa Theatre Company, London (specialising in Black British writing)

Kali Theatre, London (specialising in new writing from South Asian women)

Out of Joint (touring theatre company for new writing)

Sphinx Theatre Company (touring new writing, specialising in strong roles for women)

Clean Break (new writing commissions on women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system)

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton*

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Watford Palace Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol

Barbican Theatre, Plymouth

Northcott Theatre, Exeter

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff (joining forces with Sgript Cymru to create a new organisation ‘Contemporary Theatre & New Writing Company)*

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Rocket Theatre, Manchester

Contact Theatre, Manchester*

Northern Gap, Derbyshire

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds*

Theatre in the Mill, Bradford*

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Hull Truck Theatre

Live Theatre, Newcastle*

Druid, Galway*

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

National Theatre of Scotland, Glasgow*

That’s just the ones I know of.  If you know of any others, please let me know (leave a comment on the blog or get in touch via my Script Angel website) and I’ll update this list.  Those marked with * have been added since the list was originally published on 30th July 2009.

I won’t be covering writing for radio here but do check out a series of blogs from writer Michelle Lipton on writing for radio.  Also check out Jason Arnopp’s blog on writing radio comedy.

In later posts I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.





I’ve written a script, what next? Part One – Rewriting


I’ve written a script, what next?  That’s the question I’m most often asked by writers just starting out.  Here are my top tips:


1) Put it away.  Let it gather dust for a few weeks, then take it
out, brush it off and get your red pen ready.  Do that several times
until you can’t make it any better yourself (or you’re going barmy,
whichever comes first).


2) Ask an expert.  Get the opinion of someone else.  Family and
friends don’t count, unless they’re experienced writers, directors,
producers or script editors.  If you don’t know anyone in the industry,
then have a look online at some of the experienced industry
professionals offering script feedback (Script Angel and others).  Don’t be tempted to spend your money on the one with the jazziest website or the lowest rates, but do your homework.


Who will actually read your script, what’s their name?  Look them up on IMDB
to check they’ve got the credits they claim to have. What length of
report will you get for your money?  Some may claim to give you a 4
page report but what you actually get are a couple of pages of synopsis
(you already know what’s in your script so that’s a waste of money) and
only a page or so of useful feedback.  Beware of lazy ‘reader’ reports
which are generic, littering their reports with phrases like
‘naturalistic dialogue’ (or lack of), characters needing better
delineation.  That’s fine if it is followed by tangible examples of
what you could do to change it.  You could ask to see a sample report
from several and compare them.


Ideally your script editor should be keen to keep working with you,
helping you to develop as a writer.  Drop them a line and ask for a
chat to see if you actually get on with them. Most good editors are
approachable and helpful and don’t hide behind anonymity.


3) Rewrite. The feedback should be constructive, giving you ideas on
how to make your script better (not just telling you what doesn’t work)
but it will also be critical and that’s hard to take.  Develop a thick
skin, remember the criticism is of the work and not you.  Take heart
from the fact that the very best writers at the very top of their game
still get notes. Now take your precious script, and your feedback, and
rewrite your script to the very best of your ability.


4) Get it out there.  Many people think that the next step is to get
an agent – after all, you can’t get your work produced until you’ve got
an agent can you? Well, actually, for most writers it’s the other way
around. As you’ll see from Michelle Lipton’s Q&A with agents,
most agents are interested in writers who are already getting their
work out there, not writers who have just written one spec script.


So, you want to get it noticed, but how?  There are three main ways
that spring to mind – theatre, radio, screenwriting competitions and
production companies accepting unsolicited scripts. 


Most of the successful applicants for the BBC Writers’ Academy are
already writing for theatre and radio, so ignore these media at your
peril.  Writing for theatre is a fantastic way to develop as a writer,
and there are many theatre production companies dedicated to putting on
the work of new writers.  They get exciting new talent, you get your
work professionally produced – it’s a win-win situation. 


So in my next post I’ll look at ways for new writers to write for theatre.  Then, in later posts, I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.


Screenwriting – Breaking In


Having set up Script Angel, my own script consultancy business, I recently decided to join The Word Cloud
– a forum for experienced and aspiring writers. What struck me was how
hungry for ‘insider’ knowledge the writers are. There may be
information out there for aspiring writers but how do they know where
to look?


Over the past ten years I’ve been lucky enough to earn my living as
a professional script editor on a variety of UK television dramas. Now,
taking a break from the hectic pace of script editing on dramas in
production, I’ve set up my own script consultancy business. What’s
struck me is how cosy it is inside the world of television
professionals and how hard it is for writers on the outside to even
understand how it works, let alone to break into it.


I’ve been very fortunate to work with hugely talented editorial
teams and, most importantly, exceptionally talented writers. They, and
I, earn our living from writing/editing drama that millions of people
will watch – and it’s only now stepping outside it (albeit with my foot
firmly lodged in the door to stop it closing) that I appreciate how
impenetrable the whole industry must appear. The writers I work with,
without exception, have earned their position as a professional writer
by combining sheer creative talent with hard work and determination.
But what we take for granted is the knowledge, gained after years in
the industry, of what to do to turn an idea into something that will
ultimately get made.


Through my blog and Script Angel
I’d like to help writers find the information they need and understand
how the industry works. I want to help them get their scripts into the
best possible shape so that when they do decide to send it to someone
in the industry (agent, production company, etc) their work is the best
it can possibly be. Over the weeks I’ll blog not only on my experiences
as a script editor but I’ll also try to pull together as much
information as I can about what to do to become a professional
screenwriter.


As well as checking out Script Angel, it’s other worth checking out Michelle Lipton’s Blog
– a talented writer just starting to get her first commissions and
helping others to understand the process as she goes through it.