Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Script Frenzy-ing…

Like some of you out there, I'm planning on doing Script Frenzy this year. After the news that the Red Planet Prize should be announced in a month, it might be a good way of getting a first draft done before the official announcement. But I'd thought I'd do it a little bit differently.

So, I'm cheating.

Thing is, I've already got the first 10 pages of a script. I wrote them a few months ago but then never finished the script. Other deadlines got in the way, I was useless, blah, blah, blah. So, I thought I'd use Script Frenzy to finish it. Well, write it really. I've only got 10 pages… Also, it's only going to be 90 pages. But that's not cheating. That's my plan. So, there. Before writing the first 10, I also did my logline, treatment, breakdown, beat sheet, etc. That may be cheating too. Don’t care. I’m hoping Script Frenzy will be a good incentive to keep going and get a first draft done by the end of April.

So. 30 days. 80 pages to go. So that's... that’s… complicated.


Why didn’t I leave it and then I’d have 90 pages to do? 3 pages a day. Easy. Right. Maybe I’ll do 100. But that's more...

Ok, ok, I’m gonna do about 3 pages a day.

Anyway, anyone else up for it? It starts tomorrow and you can register and create a profile with Script Frenzy here. As their site says, you then just need to…

"1. Tell everyone that you are in the Frenzy.

2. Clear your calendar. (US participants: Get your taxes done now!)

3. Start some wrist exercises."


They also have lots of "How To…" articles and resources here, so you can procrastinate to your heart’s content.

Question is, how you gonna make sure you stick to your goals? Once you’ve registered on the site you can join forums, get together in groups, find out who’s Script Frenzy-in your area, put bits of script up on the site as you complete it, keep a page counter on your profile there… all of which could help you keep to your aims. Or you can do none of that, and just know that you've made yourself a promise to complete a script by the end of April.

You could also do the challenge with another writer and keep tabs on each other, give feedback as you go, etc. That’s what I’m doing. With Mr Bentley. He’s cheating even more than me… God help us.

Also, just to make things harder, I hereby promise that I will keep a daily counter on here of how I’m doing, as well as an account of how things are going. There. I have to do it now.

Course, I could cheat at that too.

You’ll just have to believe me.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Red Planet Prize 2010...

There, now... That got your attention, didn't it...

Apparently the 2010 Prize will be announced in the next 4 weeks on their website. Dominic Carver has got a bit more information on his blog ( There you go. A bit of a heads up. Go and say thank you nicely to the man. DO NOT start bombarding RP with emails...

So, will they be looking for another first ep of a series again? Who's gonna go for it?

Monday, 29 March 2010

How it all began... 2009

Right. 2009.

Well, after 2007 and 2008, what was 2009 gonna bring?

Well, it all started back in good old Norn Iron. BBC NI, who run the Tony Doyle Bursary, got together with Tinderbox Theatre Company and had the rather fantastic idea of running a new writing festival with 2009's bursary, giving it the rather snazzy title of the 360° New Writing Festival. So I headed back to the Emerald Isle for a whole host of workshops and seminars over the course of four days. Events included an opening talk from Tony Jordan which was as entertaining as it was inspiring, "The Perfect 10" from Kate Rowland of the BBC Writersroom, a session by the creator of Sofia's Diary on online drama, and a session on including music in theatre. As ever, one of the best bits was getting to hook up with other writers and talk writing. Kieran (who I'd met the previous year on the TAPS course - top bloke, but don't tell him I said so. He'll only get all full of himself...) was also on hand for a good old chinwag and some pintage. Great stuff. And that was the end of that.


There were some great sessions and it seemed a shame not to let other people know about them. And also... You know that thing when you go to a great talk and then someone asks you about it the next day and you're all,

"yeah, it was great cause they said... stuff... and they were cool cause.... cause... other stuff...

Er, actually, I can't remember a thing about it now."

I wanted to fix stuff in my head so I wouldn't forget. Anyway, I wrote up the sessions and stuck them on Sharpshooter (I'll put them up here sometime). And then someone wanted to put them up on another site... so then I had to get in touch with the speakers, and Writersroom, and BBC NI, who then wanted to send them out as well, and ... well, it all got very complicated. But the good thing was, I got friendly with a few people through doing that and was allowed to send in my radio script to a BBC producer! No promises, but they would read it. Hah! In my short little screenwriting life, that was a result.

All excited, I went to hunt out Francesca and Giorgio, my radio script. I had finished it at some stage the year before, during one of my "put-the-learning-into-practice" phases. But I couldn't quite remember much about it... Strange... Why was that..?

Cause it was crap. Oh, God... You know when you're learning? And you get to a year later? And look back on something that you did in your first year? And you still know jack? And even if you dont know why, you just KNOW that what you're looking at is baaaad! Well, it was like that.

But worse.

So, I took a deep breath and took it apart. And then put it back together again. Then it was straight up onto Sharpshooters for some feedback. And then I wrote a nice email. And hit SEND.


In the meantime, I'd also sent it to a friend to for feedback, who knew another radio producer and did I want them to pass it on? Hell, yes!

Another nice email, and a reply saying she'd be happy to have a look!

Double result!

All that time coming up with TV ideas and scripts (well, a few) and suddenly radio seemed to have doors that were much easier to open. Who'd have thought? Well, that is, if they liked it...

Now for the waiting game....

That's not all for 2009, but this post is getting far too long, so I'll leave the rest for next time.

Friday, 26 March 2010

RIP The Bill...

But do we care? And should we?

ITV announced yesterday that, after 27 years on the air, they are cancelling The Bill. It had been on the cards, if truth be told. In light of the big, bad economic climate, ITV Drama have made a lot of changes over the past year, axing or “resting” shows such as Heartbeat and The Royal. The Bill itself was cut from two episodes to one, shifted to 9pm and revamped to reflect the new slot.

It didn’t work.

With ratings rarely reaching 4 million, it was only a matter of time before the axe swung. Of course, articles in the media today have all mentioned how those ratings have fallen – the show was reaching 7 million in 2002 – as if that’s the reason it’s been axed. Hardly fair. The fact is, audiences for drama (and pretty much everything else) have been falling steadily for years, and any comparison between a show’s ratings now and anything beyond a year or two ago is meaningless.

Still, “tumbling ratings” makes better copy.

Almost all BBC and ITV drama these days reaches around 4 – 6million (anything that isn’t axed that is), with 6 million being really pretty good. Only the soaps and a handful of shows are at the 8-9 million mark. That’s where EastEnders is these days. In 2002 it had closer to 12 million. That hardly means no-one wants to watch it any more. It just means audiences have changed and fragmented as the number of channels, and the take up of those channels, has increased. Oh, and the internet has taken over the world and brainwashed everyone. Nothing new in that story.

Anyway, I'm not here to argue whether The Bill should have been axed or not. The fact is, in all those 27 years, through all the different revamps it went through (and there were a LOT. It was originally an hour long series, which then morphed into a twice-a-week 30 continuing drama, then 3 x week, then back to 2 x 60 mins, and finally 1 x 60 mins, but moved to 9pm).

Anyway, I digress. The point is, in all that time I never saw an episode.

Not one. Ever.

And I remember when it started. Fact is, as I've said before, although I lurve television drama, I'm not into procedural shows. They just don't interest me. Never have. From The Bill to Silent Witness, Starskey and Hutch to Walking the Dead, Hill Street Blues to NYPD Blue and everything in between, I've just never really got it. I think it's probably because they are more story than character. Now, before you all shoot me, I know there are probably a MILLION examples where that is not true. And I love sci fi, and that's often more story than character. Same for big action films. So, it’s not the only reason why they don’t work for me, but… I dunno. I’ve just never got it. So, as a drama, I won’t miss it.

But as a writer? Should we care?

"ITV intends to use the multimillion-pound saving from axing The Bill to create shorter run drama series for the 9pm slot", says The Guardian. So that's all right then. Except... Except… Except even if I never watched the show, even if I never would have been interested in writing for it, there is a hierarchy in writing jobs in television. That’s just the way it is. And soaps and continuing drama are part of that. And The Bill in particular had a fairly unique place in that balance of shows. And whether you like it or not, going through Doctors, EastEnders, Emmerdale, The Bill, Casualty, etc, learning your trade, is an important way of getting commissions under your belt, getting experience, getting a name and getting a break. Then you can think of your stripped-across-the-schedule-five-nights-at-9pm-authored drama. Until then, these shows are the first port of call and your way in. They are also hugely useful in teaching writers about writing for television, within the “safety net” of script editors and producers who know what they are doing and who can guide you as your take your first steps. And the loss of The Bill affects that hugely.

Firstly, it takes away 52 hours of that a year. 52 chances for emerging writers. Or indeed any writers.

Secondly, the place that The Bill has in the balance of Continuing Drama shows was important. Need your first TV credit? Go to Doctors. If they’ll take you. Or radio drama. Or children’s TV. Or Hollyoaks…. And, er… God, I’m finding it difficult to find an example of where you could go on ITV… Anyway, you get your break. Somehow. You get some commissions. Then you graduate to some of the other CD soaps – EastEnders or Emmerdale.

Wanna progress to one hour drama? That’s where The Bill, Casualty and Holby come in. One hour drama is a very different beast. Different rules, different rhythm. And procedurals are a different beast again, with a story of the week and regular character and serial arcs jostling for space in a different way than they do in something like Casualty. In that sense, surely The Bill was a great training for all those other series procedurals like Waking the Dead, etc. Has axing The Bill now made it that much more difficult for writers who want to write those shows to make that leap from soap? Was The Bill a bridge between the two?

Even if ITV are replacing The Bill with “shorter run drama series for the 9pm slot”, I can’t see them replacing it with 52 new hours of drama. Writers are gonna lose out in terms of quantity of work available. Secondly, what they put on is much more likely to be written by established writers. Of course it will. It’ll be new. More risky. So, the role The Bill had in the development and training of writers in the UK will be lost.

So, no, I wont miss The Bill.

But I do think axing it has made things that little bit more difficult.

What do you think?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

How it all began... 2008

2008 started with lots of good intentions to write, write, write. As well as continuing with reading every blog going (a mixture of research and procrastination, if truth be told) I'd been trying to put what I'd been learning into effect by re-writing 99'er - draft after draft after draft. And it was getting better. Sometimes. Sometimes I was just fiddling with dialogue for hours on end (cause writing's about the dialogue, yeah?

"No, John!").

And then came along the BBC Writersroom Sharps comp. Write a 30 minute script with the theme of "The Health of the Nation". God, that theme went round and round in my head for a long time. What to write about? Sitting on the tube one day going to work, I noticed three or four stories on the same page of one of the freebie newspapers which gave me one of those, "Jesus, what is the world coming to?" moments (it was early in the morning). They were only a few lines long but they were all about internet stalking, etc. And there was my idea. Why not take those, develop them and see if there was a way to link them? Tell four different stories in half an hour. There was a challenge! Problem was, I only had a few days to the deadline (see a pattern emerging here?). I went home, sketched out the storylines and got writing. Three days later, I'd finished it and stuck it in. And waited.

And didn't get chosen.

Oh, well. Three days work was never gonna get me down to the shortlist. They'd had 600 entries for 25 places on the course for the finalists. Still, I liked the idea of my script so maybe one to re-write.

The best thing to come out of Sharps though was that through the discussions on the writersroom blog, someone had decided to set up an online writers group. We were invited to put up our scripts and give feedback on others. Sharpshooters was born! If you don't know about the group, I suggest you get straight over there and sign up. It's great for new writers to get feedback on their scripts, exchange ideas and news about opportunities, and just have a good old chinwag. It's a great group of people and makes the solitary world of writing that bit easier.

Then I decided to go for the TAPS Continuing Drama Course in Wales. Three days working with writers and script editors from Emmerdale and The Bill, etc and insight into the world of continuing drama. There was also a script to write at the end of it, with the best being filmed on the Emmerdale sets. They wanted a 10 page script sample and CV. I honed the beginning of 99'er (ditching the 10 page first scene), put it up on Sharpshooters for feedback, rewrote it, and sent my application off.

And got in! I was off to Cardiff!

And just before I left, I got a nice surprise. An email from the writersroom saying that even though my script hadn't made the final cut, I had got through to the second round and a full read. Down from 600 scripts to 80 odd. Hardly my own primetime series on BBC1 but nice encouragement.

August arrived and I packed my bags for Cardiff. I was nervous as hell, to be honest. I felt a fraud, After all, I knew nothing, had no experience and not even the whiff of a commission in sight. What if I was found out?

It turns out, I wasn't the only one (although EVERYONE seemed to have more experience than me) but I really enjoyed the course, not just for the sessions (especially those by the wonderfully entertaining - and quite scary - Bill Lyons, writer for Emmerdale), but mostly because I felt like I was getting somewhere. I was in a room full of writers and professionals and they were taking me seriously (fools that they were...). Probably the best part about the whole thing was meeting other writers like Piers, Kieran and Rob. Great guys who've Ive stayed in touch with and who've helped me no end since then.

And then there was the script after. We had to write a 30 minutes standalone story using only 3 sets (out of a choice of 6) from the Emmerdale standing sets. No more than 20 scenes, with a cliffhanger at the 15 minute ad break. Oh, and no more than 6 actors. We had 3 weeks. Doesn't sound that difficult but I'd not been used to writing with restrictions (hell, I'd not really been used to writing) and I found it a tough call.

I sweated and planned and wrote and re-wrote and sent it in. A few weeks later came my feedback and the news that I hadn't made it to the shortlist. But Rob did! And you can see his marvelous winning (filmed!) script here.

So, back to the drawing board for me. A little wiser. A bit more experience.

I'm still learning.

Next up... 2009 and Francesca and Giorgio makes a comeback, Fair City comes calling and I go speed dating at the Screenwriter's Festival!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How it all began... 2007

So after yesterday’s nonsense, a proper introduction…

I’m a writer (doing a boring admin-y job to pay the bills), who wants to get into telly. I love continuing drama (so sue me), sci-fi and all the fab American series. Actually, to be honest, I love ALL telly drama. I can watch ANYTHING. I love everything from EastEnders and Six Feet Under to Doctor Who and Gossip Girl to State of Play, Holby City and Dexter. About the only thing I’m not into is procedural drama, as a rule. I love film too and I know a full-length screenplay is probably important to have in the old bag of spec goodies, but… I just prefer telly.

So there.

I’ve also become increasingly interested in radio drama, rather to my surprise. To be honest, I started writing radio plays because I’d heard (and read) that it was a good way in, but the more I did it and the more of them I listened to, the more I realized that it’s a great way to tell stories.

Anyways, I’ve been writing for about three years now (on and off) and a bit of a recap seems about as good as any of starting this blog. So, without further ado.

The story so far…

Year One and it all started off when I saw this – BBC NI’s Tony Doyle award, for new and up-and-coming Irish Writers, writing about Ireland and looking for a break into television.


I’d had an idea in mind for… well, I’d been having ideas for about 30 years, if truth be told. I’d just never done anything about them. But one in particular had been knocking around for a while and seemed perfect for the comp. Only one problem, the deadline was in a week!

So I took a week off work, sat down, wrote the whole thing and sent it off.

“99’er – a 60 min first ep for a series. A girl from London struggles to adapt when she suddenly finds herself living in the backwaters of Northern Ireland and working for an over-bearing boss in a company where everyone hates her. As things go from bad to worse, salvation unexpectedly arrives in the form of a mad, chaotic Irish-Italian family who own the local ice-cream parlour – especially when our hero meets the daughter…”

How could they not love that?

Well because I did almost EVERYTHING wrong. The first scene was 10 pages. 10 pages! Of two people talking!! I didn’t plan it out, or structure it (structure? what was that?), I just started writing. Page 1, line 1 and off I went. I didn't use any recognisable formatting. In fact, I didn't use any formatting AT ALL. And the descriptions... Pages of description of clothes, furniture, ice cream cones, anything, they went on FOREVER. Then people started talking (cause I couldn't have them actually DO anything, naturally. That would be too obvious. No. Just long, long speeches and people just…. talking… about themselves… for PAGES AND PAGES.

I knew nothing. Bless. Considering how obsessed I’d been with TV my whole life, it amazes me looking back how little I knew about story or character or... anything.

The upside? I wrote. Solidly. For a week. And I loved it. I had a ball. Best. Time. Ever. Nothing will ever replace the absolute joy I had that week just... writing. And not only that, but realising after all that time of talking about writing and thinking about writing and not writing that I LOVED it. The fears that I'd had in the back of my mind that I couldn't do it, that I'd never finish it, that I wouldn't know what I was doing just disappeared. They didn't matter. I was having a ball. And despite all the mistakes, despite all the flaws, I finished it. And that changed everything. Knowing that I could actually finish something.

A few months later a polite “no thanks” letter arrived.

I was gutted. Kinda. The fact is, I’d spend the intervening months reading every blog and article I could find on t’internet, so I was beginning to realize the error of my ways, and just what a bag of poo I’d sent out. But still, I'd had that little hope that they'd recognize the genius behind the crap.

They didn't. They just saw the crap.

I'd obviously done a REALLY good job of hiding the genius.

Undeterred, I moved on to the RTE Radio Drama P J O’Connor Awards. I’d never even thought of writing for radio before, but I was young and innocent and up for anything.

Well, innocent anyway.

Oh, and I had three days before the deadline. And I still went for it. Like I say, innocent. Or maybe just stupid at that point. Anyway, I didn’t make that deadline (go figure...) but I did start to think in radio terms. Well, after pacing around the room for hours trying to work out clever ways of NOT writing:


FRANCESCA: Hello! Why, it’s Giorgio! How are you, Giorgio? And is that your brother, Luca, you’ve brought with you? And what’s that you’ve got there? A present? For me! Oh, a new coat! And it’s blue! My favourite colour!

You get the idea (and if anyone can tell me how to indent the dialogue there like it would be on the page, I'd be very grateful).

Trying to overcome the fact that the audience can’t see anything, and yet finding ways to make them “see” what you want them to, is a bit of a head shift, but once you get your head round that it’s great fun. Overcoming the challenges is often what leads you to the best ideas. Anyway, once the deadline had passed, I lost interest (I’m good like that).

However, “Francesca and Giorgio” was to prove to be surprisingly important in the long run…

Later that year, I entered yet another competition, this time run by - “Staffroom Monologues” . You had to… well, write a monologue… for a teacher… in a staffroom. You also had to be a teacher to apply, or involved in teaching/schools in some way, but I figured my 5 years teaching English as a foreign language made me eligible. Monologues had to be 800-1000 words in length and the whole thing was judged by Tony Marchant. To be honest, I thought it would be fairly easy (stupid guy pops up again). But coming up with something that has an impact in such a short amount of time was a tough call. Also, looking back, I was looking for competitions that I felt were doable in the timeframe and which might get me some kind of credit, rather than writing what I wanted to write. I was also being tempted by competition deadlines as an incentive. And easy habit to fall into, but do you actually want to write whatever it is they’re asking for? Competitons are great, and a great way of getting noticed, but you have to make sure that the parameters and context are something that you feel comfortable with. Still, it was an interesting thing to go for and, best of all, kept me writing. Check the winners out here.

Anyway, the rest of that year was spent on the internet – reading all those blogs (including ALL the old posts), gobbling up other people’s experience and hoping some of it would rub off. And it was great training. There is a wealth of stuff out there. Danny Stack, Jason Arnopp, David Bishop, Lucy Hay, Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton – all full of advice and experience. And entertaining too. If you haven’t already read those guys, get over there right now. It's absolutely INVALUABLE stuff. Of course, I didn't understand the half of it - turning points, inciting incidents, loglines, treatments and endless discussions on story versus character. What were they on about? To be honest, I still don't get some of that stuff, but the more I write, the more it slots into place (usually when I've messed it up for the nth time and then read some blog and look at my script and go, "Ahhh... the hero's not being active!" or "Ahhh... the hero's want doesn't conflict with his need!" or "Ahhh... there is no hero..."

But I'm learning.

Next time... 2008 and I get somewhere in a comp, TAPS comes calling and the Sharpshooters are born...

Monday, 22 March 2010

A New Visitor to Blogsville...

John ran down Blogsville High Street, scanning the street signs of every alleyway and side street.

Bikers Avenue… Fad Diets Cul-de-sac… Religious Extremists Road

Where was it?

He ran on. And then-


Cutting through the crowds, he picked up his pace and made a sharp left. His breath catching in his throat in the excitement, he dashed down the narrow street and skidded to a stop, throwing up a cloud of dust, almost obscuring the sign in front of him.

“Welcome to Scribosphere Alley!”

John grinned widely. He’d arrived!

“Hey, everyone! I’ve started a blog too!!. Weh-hey!!”

He punched the air excitedly and waited for the high-fives from friends old and new from across cyberspace.

But nothing came.


John's grin faded. He stared down the street as the dust began to settle. In the distance he spotted something. A tumbleweed.


He turned around slowly, looking up and down Scribosphere alley.


Where was everyone?

No-one. It was deserted. Nothing but an eerie silence. Except for… There was a kind of low whistle. Something… He couldn’t quite put his finger it.

What was that?

And then he recognised it.

The Winds of Disinterest.

Dejected, John turned away and headed back down the street, shoulders heavy.

That’s when he saw him.

A solitary figure, sitting on his porch, lazily swaying back and forth on an old rocking chair. John made his way down the street towards him, and saw that the man had a battered old fedora pulled down over his eyes, and, closer still, he could see the never-ending circling of his jaw as he chewed on… tabacc-ey. Or grits. Or….something.

John stopped in front of him and waited, not knowing whether to interrupt him or not. He was about to speak when...

The rocking stopped.

The man spat. From under his hat. A wet gob landed at John’s feet.

So that's what they chewed around these parts.


“You wantin’ somthin’?”

John jumped. “Oh… right. Sorry. Yeah.”

“So…?” There was contempt. John could definitely hear contempt. Or was it distain? Hard to tell the difference sometimes…

“Well, I was just wondering… I mean… Where is everyone... from the… scribosphere.”

And the old man laughed. He threw back his head (although, strangely, his hat stayed in place) and he laughed, a great hacking cough of a laugh that caught in his throat, no doubt brought on by years of hardcore Hubba-bubba chewing.

“Yeah, ok. I know it’s a stupid name. But… they’re supposed to be here… and…”

The man slapped his leg and took his time letting his laughter wind down. When he’d finally had enough he let out a long sigh. And then seemed to completely forget that John was even there.

John cleared his throat. “So?”

“They’ve all gone….”

“Gone? Gone where?”

The old man gazed down Scribosphere Alley and beyond Blogsville Street and on out to the plains of Cyberspace. He paused dramatically.

“To Twitterstown.”

John gulped.

“Is no-one out there?”