Scotland Writes and BBC Television Drama

Last night I went to an Edinburgh Screenwriters meeting where the guest speaker was George Aza-Selinger, a  TV drama script editor at the BBC. He talked to us about Scotland Writes and about submitting material to the BBC.

The first point of contact for new writers is the BBC Writersroom. They will read the first ten pages of all scripts submitted to them. If you are submitting a script via a production company or an agent it can go through BBC e-commissioning.

There are two common mistakes that people make when sending scripts to the Writersroom: failure to get into the drama right from page 1 and sending a script that is not suitable for the BBC channels.

George Aza-Selinger says, “You really need to hook the audience from the top and then keep hooking them throughout.” If you don’t have your viewers gripped right from the beginning they will turn off the TV or change the channel.

He gave us a brief summary of the TV drama slots available across the four BBC channels. You can read about the requirements of each slot here. George Aza-Selinger told us that BBC3 “is really interesting, seen as a clean slate and being concentrated on at BBC Scotland” which made me think that it might be good to bear the drama content of BBC3 in mind when writing my script for Scotland Writes. He did warn us, however, “don’t write too self-consciously for the slots. Let the story tell itself. Think about the characters.” After you have got the story and characters down you can think about which slot your script is most suited for and do the rewriting with that in mind.

While the Writersroom is a great starting point for new writers, George Aza-Selinger pointed out that “it is really difficult to get your own original drama on BBC.” He suggested increasing your chances by writing for long-running drama series such as Doctors or River City first, or writing for radio. “There’s a lot more opportunity to come in at grassroots level in radio.” If writing for radio appeals, check out this excellent post from Michelle Lipton on the Radio 4 Commissioning Process.

Although the Scotland Writes initiative is funded by the BBC Writersroom, the guidelines for sending scripts into the Scotland Writes competition are more specific than the Writersroom guidelines. The writer must have been born or be living in Scotland. The script must be a 60 minute pilot episode for a series or serial and must reflect contemporary Scotland. George Aza-Selinger strongly advised basing the script in Scotland rather than having a Scottish character in another country. The Scotland Writes judges will be looking for “authenticity of voice.” They don’t want scripts where “the writer is trying too hard or the characters aren’t quite right or it is too much like something else on TV.” We were told not to worry about budget when writing our scripts. “If the script is strong enough it might be possible to raise the money for it. Or you could go back to the characters and find a way to rewrite keeping the good bits and losing the expense.”

To enter the Scotland Writes competition you need to send your pilot script and two page summary of the series, along with your application form, to the BBC by 2nd November 2009 .

Postcards and Poetry

I love collecting postcards, especially the free ones you get in cafes and youth hostels. They make good souvenirs.

My collection started when I was a baby on holiday in Italy with my parents. As well as the two droll postcards they sent home for me (Dear Helen, You won’t remember being here but I carried you over these ancient stones. I hope you will do the same for your old mother some day! Dear Helen, Here is a picture of your hotel where you are having a marvelous holiday. Some day you must bring poor Mum and Dad back!), there was also the handful I grabbed off a display stand at the market while no one was looking and shoved down the side of my buggy. I never liked to pay for my postcards.

I picked up the most recent addition to my collection, a postcard advertising the BBC’s Poetry Season website, at the library today. Well, I thought, if the BBC is going to hand out free postcards, the least I can do is have a look at their website.  It was well worth stopping by. I enjoyed reading poems by Carol Anne Duffy and Roger McGough (to name only two), found out about slamming events happening around the country, and watched videos offering advice on reading, writing and performing poetry. I’ve posted Dreadlock Alien’s video on performing poetry below because I think it has some useful advice for anyone who has to read their work before an audience and because I think that poetry in particular can be made much more accessible when it is read in an engaging way. I loved hearing Mark Thomson perform his poems and although I’ve enjoyed reading them too, they don’t sound quite as good in my head as they did when they were read out loud by the poet.

more about “Performing Poetry“, posted with vodpod

Scotland Writes

I moved back to Scotland in January after 3-and-a-bit years abroad. I never intended to stay here, I was just stopping by en route to London. Then I became aware of all the great opportunities for writers in Scotland and have been absolutely blown away. There was Screen Lab in February, Radio Lab is coming up, there is the Dundee Literary Festival this month and the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, both offering workshops for writers.  It’s just far too exciting here for me to be able to leave now.

The most recent event to come to my attention is the launch of Scotland Writes on Thursday 25th June in Edinburgh. It is a FREE event (but you have to book a place) giving screenwriters based in Scotland the opportunity to take part in a question and answer session with Kate Rowland, Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC, and to be inspired by a panel of film and television industry professionals.

If you are in or around Edinburgh next Thursday, it might be worth looking into. I’ve booked my place, so if you can’t make it, you can read my notes here afterwards.