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 lured in by 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 of them 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, screenwriting competitions and production companies accepting unsolicited scripts. I’m going to concentrate in this blog on the first of those, theatre.
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.
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
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
Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol
Barbican Theatre, Plymouth
Northcott Theatre, Exeter
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
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
Live Theatre, Newcastle*
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
That’s just the ones I know of. If you know of any others, please let me know 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.
In later posts I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.