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 .