Friday, 30 April 2010

How it all began... 2010

Hey! And hello!!! Bet you thought I'd disappeared!

Ok, much more likely that you didn't even notice....

Right, well, I've just spent two weeks stuck under this:

In Lurgan. Lucky old me. But at least I was at home sitting in front of the fire watching lots of fab TV and eating soda farls and potato bread. So, I was a lot better off than both. Any road up, back in Rome now. The sun is shining. Life is good.

Soooooo....after the shenanigans of 2009, parts one, two, three and four (what was I thinking...?) let's get up to date with 2010.

January started off with the second BBC NI/Tinderbox 360° New Writing Festival. Which is a bit of a mouthful by anyone's standards. They had a cracking line up this year - Paul Ashton from the Writersroom, Comedy Writing by Humphrey Barlclay and Vanessa Hay, Michael Jacob from the BBC Comedy Academy, Tim Loane - Writing for TV, Hugh Costello on writing for radio, Matthew Dench on Agents, David Ireland on writing for the stage and current events.

There were the usual networking opps and the chance to get together with other writers and chinwag about writing. Last year I'd sat in the corner with a plastic cup of crap wine at these things, but this year I thought to hell with it and got stuck in. And it's weird, but you realise that chatting to some development producer about cheese n' onion crisps and neopolitan ice cream fetishes (rather than trying to push your script on to them) is actually a bit of a laugh, all the stress goes, and you find yourself suggesting that you send them a script. And they say "Course!" like your their best friend. So, lesson leaned. Networking: Good.

I've got some reports on most of the sessions so I'll bang them up here next week.

Another good thing was that I got to arrange another meeting with the radio producer there I'd been talking to at BBC NI. Last time we'd spoken she'd told me that she was taking one of my ideas to her Execs to talk through. But that had been about four months ago. We'd emailed and chatted but work, life and busy schedules had taken over and I hadn't really heard anything. It's difficult to know what to do in that situation. Which brings us on to the thorny problem of the THE FOLLOW UP.

You’ve had a meeting. They liked something. They’re taking it forward. You're gonna get a commission! You're career has just taken off!! Endless riches and power are yours!!!!! Ha-HA!!

Then they disappear.

Well, course they do. You have to be realistic about how many projects these people are juggling, managing, producing, directing, writing follow up reports on, reading, etc. They may even be trying to fit in a bit of a life too, the mad fools. And as a new writer trying to get in that door, you are not the only thing on their list. Developing those relationships with new writers is part of what they do, but only a part, whilst for you it is huge. So, you end up with this awful clingy feeling like you're back at school, desperately hoping the person you really fancy who spoke to you last week will notice you again.

Course, that could just be me.

So, what do you do? You don't want to send endless emails, saying,

"So.....??? What did they THINK?? Instant commission or what?''

On the other hand, you DO want to know. And what if, in their busy schedule it's somehow slipped, and they'll actually be really grateful of the reminder? It's always a difficult call, dependant on how well you know them, how busy they are, when the deadline is, etc. You just have to hold strong, keep you desperation and paranoia at bay and send a gentle reminder after a month or so that doesn't make it sound as if you're chastising them.

The only real way to deal with it is just to get on with other stuff, which is what you are forced to do anyway. After a week of checking emails every five minutes and eventually realizing that it's probably gonna take a while, you just get sick of it and go do something else. And all the better if that other thing is some writing. For when they come back and say "no".

Anyway, the festival allowed me to suggest we got together for an update and a month later I was back in rainy Belfast for a coffee and a chat, which was rather nice timing as the commissioning round for Radio 4 drama was coming up. I also re-sent my ideas just to make sure she had a copy at hand, which turned out to be a good idea as she then took it to her Exec and they chose a different idea to take forward this time. Except... I'd written a biographical/true life story set in the 80s.

(Or at least I was going to. This was still the one-page pitch. If BBC NI liked it enough to put it forward to the pre-offers then I had to re-write the one pager. If the commissioner liked it enough to put it into the formal offers round, then I would have to develop a two-pager. And if he still liked it enough to commission it, THEN I had to write it.)

My feedback from the producer and Exec was that they liked the themes and ideas, but could I write a modern version? Which meant no true life story about quite famous person, no 80s context (which was crucial to the way this guy's life played out) and err.... a completely different story. So of course I said,

"Yeah, fine! I'll do that! No problem! Where do you want it?"

The reasoning was that the Afternoon Play doesn't really do biographies or historical. At least, not from new writers. They have enough of that and want contemporary stories. Which is fair enough. They gave me a week to come up with the new idea.

So, off I went and re-thought the whole thing, did some research, developed a new story with the same themes and arena, and sent a new one pager off to the producer.

And waited....

Meanwhile, I'd also arranged a second meeting over on the mainland with the other radio producer who'd been waiting on my re-write of Francesca and Giorgio. Well, waiting is probably not exactly correct. She probably couldn't have cared less. But I'd done the re-write and sent it off to her, along with some ideas. We met and she was absolutely lovely and encouraging and informative. The reallly mad thing was that, having this meeting so soon after the other one, I was struck by how they both said exactly the same things about what works and what doesn't in terms of commissioning for Radio 4. With that in mind, we also discussed F & G. She still liked it but wasn't sure it was something the commissioner would go for (again, it was set in the past, had lots of flashbacks and some other stuff that wasn't usually commissioned). Also, she felt that after the re-write it still wasn't quite there. I had to agree with her. There was something not quite chiming with it. It had been my second script, and I'd learnt so much since then, that fixing it was taking more time and effort than starting something completely new. And to be honest, from my point of view, that little script had done so much for me - getting me these meetings and interest, getting me interest from Fair City too - that I really felt it had done its job and I was ready to leave it.

So we discussed my other ideas. Another thing I learnt that day was that (and this is quite complicated, so bear with me):

Two internal producers from two different geographical parts of BBC radio can't put the same writer in to the offers round for the same slot, even if it is with different projects.

Got that?

Ok, read it again.



Remember, that is for internal producers. Independents may be able to do what they want. Oh, and new writers can only be put up for the Afternoon slot, not Woman's Hour or anything else. So, having two producers that you're talking to doesn't necessarily double your chances. With two offer rounds a year, that means that, as a new writer, you only really get one shot with one idea for each round. Oh, and the September round is really only to fill in the gaps. The main slot is March. So, that's kinda one chance with one idea per year.

And radio's supposed to be "a good way in"....

And yet, it is! I got two producers talking to me in a relatively short amount of time. And if I can do it, anyone can. So, go for it!

The upshot of our meeting was that we'd keep in touch and I'd send her some ideas over the summer and maybe we'd put something in for the September round.

So, I went home to wait for the news from BBC NI on how my new idea had gone down. Would it be going into the offers round and under the eyes of the commissioner?

The news came a few weeks later.... and it was good! The drama dept had had their meeting and my idea was one of the ones chosen to go forward to the pre-offers round. Excellent!! The commissioner would be looking at it, they'd have a meeting within the month, and I'd know if it was going to the next stage - the formal offers round.

Oooh, the waiting....

In the meantime, I also managed to get Fair City working again for me to watch, so that was back on! I got in touch with the script editor, told her the good news, and she advised me to get up to speed over a couple of months and come back to do the trial. Weh-hey!

That's it for now. Next time.... what the commissioner thought....


  1. OK final Script Frenzy tally:

    Feature - 102 pages - just finished - and one ugly baby it is.

    10 Page Short - done - needs a rewrite.
    4 page short - done and filmed - best forgotten about.

    60 minute piece - decided to wait for Red Planet announcement/couldn't be arsed. I already have 10 pages down though.

    So cheating pages: 126
    Actual pages: about 49/50

    So Script Frenzy fail, but more importantly - Alfonso Gallmon challenge prize - win or lose?

  2. Oh, I think that's a definite win, Mr Bentley. I concede defeat! On one condition, though.

    I get to see the filmed short...

  3. You will see it at about the same time as I see Hands Together.

  4. Oooh, that's evil.

    And almost worth it. You may have a deal...