Friday, 5 March 2010

The Writers Academy - So now we know

Screenwriter and author Janice Day attended the John Yorke Q&A last night - here's what she had to say...

I went to the Writers’ Room talk on the BBC Academy at the Drill Hall last night and everything became clear. There are usually about 600 submissions and only eight places available.

Conclusion: we haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of getting in.

There was the usual token writer on the panel who was accepted through a series of fortunate events. She apologised for her good fortune. How does that help us wannabes? It’s her lucky break. We haven’t had one.

But all bitterness aside, here’s the gist.

There are three ways of becoming a Beeb writer.

1. The Academy takes on eight applicants a year. It’s gruelling and intense but pays £300 a week for thirteen weeks and if you get in you are guaranteed a shot at writing an episode of each of the four BBC continuing drama programmes: Holby City, Casualty, East Enders and Doctors.

You need to know them and really want to write for them, just like the psychotherapist’s light bulb really wants to change.

Here’s the good news. You don’t need an agent to apply and you can now apply if you have ever had a professional commission, not necessarily a broadcast. They want to know that you’ve collaborated with someone in order to produce something and that you have been paid. Even a play at your local church hall, where you’ve charged admission, would qualify, said John Yorke, who runs the scheme. So quick, book that church hall now. You’ve got until mid-April to put on a show.

2. If you don’t have an agent, send a sparkling script to the Writers Room. They get about 10,000 scripts a year and 5% are passed on to ….

3. …Someone who runs the shadow scheme for East Enders, whose name completely escapes me. My excuse for not writing down her name is that if you don’t have an agent, you can’t submit to her. And if you do have an agent, your agent will know her name and what she does. If your agent doesn’t know it, then you need a new agent.

4. You can also submit – via an agent – directly to the four shows.

I know. That’s four ways, not three. Count yourself lucky.

Conclusion: we need to write a good script with a strong original voice. Oh no! Not that old chestnut!! Why can’t we write bad scripts with a forgettable voice? I’m much better at that.

Janice Day
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Janice Okoh said...

She seems to be saying what they say on the BBC Writersroom website.

What's a killer script? It's deemed killer by more than just you and your writing buddies i.e people in the industry. The higher up, the better.

This is what I understand.

Jez Freedman said...

What's a killer script? Who can say. It's just the one that works for that person, at that time. Is there a 'higher up' out there who has not passed on something that has gone on to be fantastic? Probably not. From our point of view, we've just got to work hard, keep rewriting, and make something as good as it can possibly be. After that, it's anyone's game.

Janice Okoh said...

You're right. But is "to make it good as it can possibly be" enough?

Surely you must test it?

e.g if I could get my stuff on where those writers who are selected for the WA have got their stuff put on (I don't think they're knocking around church halls although I think Conor McPhearson did once) then I'd think I was of the same calibre and be understandably confused as to why I didn't make it onto the WA.

I think that's what I mean by a killer script. Writing of a certain standard. Nothing groundbreaking.

Jez Freedman said...

oh for sure. firstly no writer can make something as good as it can be without testing it - in whatever form that takes. so feedback, readings by actors or even better, getting stuff on in quality places, will all help do that. and like you say, there's a stamp of credibility that goes along with getting things put on, doing well in comps, getting on schemes etc. the more we do to get noticed, the more, er, noticed, we'll be!