Sunday, 23 May 2010

Coming Up Belfast - The Review....

Ok, so remember I said Channel 4/Coming up were coming to Belfast via Northern Ireland Screen and how fab that was and expect a post soon on how it went, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.? So, after writing that post I sent my little email requesting my place and...

It was sold out!

Well, it was free. But you know what I mean. They had over 100 places and they all went in a couple of days. They also had a waiting list of 30-odd people. So, that was me out of the picture. But, not to be deterred, I got in touch with the rather marvellous and talented Mr Ian Nugent, who had rather fiendishly managed to snag a ticket, and asked him if he would do the honours. And being the mucker that he is, he came up trumps. Based in Belfast, Ian works as a script writer, copywriter and TV researcher. He has supplied commissioned work for TV and radio, and has just finished writing episodes of Sesame Tree for Cbeebies in London. Ian considers a world without curry to be a world without hope.

Coming Up presentation – Belfast

Wednesday evening saw an event get underway organised by Northern Ireland Screen in the Dublin Road Moviehouse in Belfast. The event was organised to tell Northern Irish writers about Coming Up, an annual competition run by Channel 4 in conjunction with Touchpaper Television.

In short, they guarantee a commission on prime-time Channel 4 to 7 competition winners. Each successful entrant will get their 24 minute film made (filling a half hour slot: last year’s winners – being screened this year – will have their film go out after Big Brother in the summer), edited, and professionally finished by Touchpaper Television.

To that end, the presentation was hosted by Andrew Reid, Head of Production at Northern Ireland Screen, and his guests were Ben Stoll, Channel 4’s Coming Up Commissioning Editor, Elinor Day along and Emma Burge – producers from Touchpaper, along with Ronan Blaney, one of last year’s winning writers who’ll have his film ‘Boy’ broadcast this summer.

Attendees were given the opportunity to see a preview of 3 of last year’s winning entries, all of which are yet to be aired on Channel 4. We saw the previously mentioned Boy, along with Would Like To Meet and Half Term. A variety of stories, told in a variety of styles, with varying degrees of success. All were finished to a remarkably high standard, with both sound and vision illustrating a high degree of professional finish.

The three films dealt with, in turn, handling a spouse’s terminal brain tumour, a suicide attempt, and child abuse. Not surprisingly, in the ‘Questions and Answers’ session after the screening, the Touchpaper producers admitted they’d like to see more comedy entries into the competition.

Saying that, all three films handled their subjects with sensitivity, and managed to mix heart-warming and light-hearted moments of comedy in their weighty stories – possibly reflecting the consultative script development process that the winning writers enter into with Touchpaper Television.

As well as the call for more comedy, various other points came up in the Questions and Answers (in no particular order) –

Although Coming Up will be 10 this year, this is the first time that the producers have made it across to Belfast to encourage submissions from Northern Ireland. They are aware there is a pool of talent based here, and feel the entries leave us under-represented every year.

Coming Up is the only national annual scheme which guarantees a commission on Channel 4: the channel will also agree to screen winning entries at least once more, and the final 7 films are screened in June at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which is always attended by industry insiders looking for the next new emerging talent.

Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for Coming Up said that the competition stands for ambition, boldness and variety of tone. Writers should take note of this when considering their entries.

This year’s closing date for applications is June 9th.

The competition is open to writers, film-makers and directors. Writers should submit a 2 page treatment, along with a script (no shorter than 10 pages, no longer than 60 pages) which best illustrates their individual tone. Scripts can be excerpts from bigger pieces, but must be a complete scenes showing coherent character and story arcs. Directors must submit showreels, and they should submit full scenes rather than flashy montage edits.

From successful submission, it takes about a year to get your film from a 2 page idea to a finished piece ready to broadcast. About 6 months of this time is taken up with the selection process, as the hundreds of applicants are shortlisted and (some) then invited to workshops before the finalists are selected. Last year they had about 1000 applicants.

The producers took the opportunity to urge writers to be as bold, imaginative and ambitious as possible. As for content/tone (sex, swearing, drug abuse etc), if it’s a scene likely to appear in Shameless, it can appear in your script. Winning films will always be screened after the watershed.

They always look for work of distinction – i.e. it MUST stand out. Anything with a strong voice will stand out. If you do respond to their encouragement for comedy, it must be comedy with a purpose ... comedy with something to say.

Whatever the subject, make sure it is something you want to say, and you must be prepared to speak from the heart.

When considering your script, involves no more than about 5 characters, and think practically about production – budget will dictate that your story must be filmed in about 4 days max.

It’ll help your film if it isn’t geographically specific. For example, of coure it can be set on a beach, but if it’s that little sheltered cove at the furthest north shore of the furthest Hebridean Island you’re not going to get anywhere. Likewise, Apache helicopter attacks on fully armed aircraft carriers may prove difficult to bring in on budget.

Submissions can be made as writer/director pairs, though in the 09-10 round they separated some of those writers and joined them with directors of Touchpaper’s own choosing. They do this to give as many varied people a chance as possible.

It’s cheaper and easier (therefore more likely to result in a commission) to keep your story contemporary. Historical or futuristic stories eat set-up time and budget.

The same crew work usually across all 7 projects, and they block film them back-to-back to try and keep costs down. Budget for all 7 projects is roughly one hour of series drama – this get split across all the films.

Writers don’t need to have a previous credit as a writer, though they can still apply if they have. They can’t apply if their credit was for a prime-time commission. Same story for directors.

Directors can’t usually choose their writers, and writers can’t choose their directors. That selection and pairing process is down to the competition organisers.

Touchpaper will hold the rights to the story and characters you create, though if your winning film leads to a series, you will get first refusal on whether or not you want to write the series. Though Touchpaper will make and own the series.

Industry insiders pay a great deal of competition to the winning films, and make a point of seeing them. As far as the organisers know, every previous successful writer now has an agent.

Your story has to exist as a one-off piece. There will be an ad break roughly half way through. Aim for 25 – 30 pages.

You will get help writing your story, from writers, readers, scripts editors and industry professionals.

They don’t do boring.

More details about the competition can be found on,, and (Touchpaper’s parent company).

That's it! And marvellous it all sounds too. Thanks for that, Ian!


  1. This is great information - thanks to the both of you.

  2. No problem, Paul!

    (that's on behalf of Ian too...)


  3. Thanks for this you beautiful person! Cheers.

  4. This was invaluable.

    I thank ya, I thank ya.

  5. Love your blog
    Wanting to write for an income now instead of just for fun
    My blog is at if you fancy taking a look - all feedback welcome

  6. Hi John
    Glad you liked "Boy" ,Was by chance I came across this blog while staying in contact with writer of "Boy" Ronan Blaney, it's always great to get in touch with scriptwriters and with new script writers comes new ideas hence comes new productions and for myself comes new and exiciting challenges as an actor, So if your ever in belfast and have a new pre-production on the go that I could slide into in some way, would love to get in contact.

    Gerard McDonald aka The Boy