Well, with a little nudge to the script editors in question, I got my rejection from the BBC this morning. Here’s what they said: “Huge apologies for the delay in responding to your submission - we were slightly overwhelmed by the number of pitches that came in (over 2,000!), so it's been taking far longer than we originally anticipated to get back to everyone. I can inform you, however, that we have now decided on the final short-list and I'm afraid that your pitches haven't been successful on this occasion. We are trying to respond personally to everyone who submitted an idea, however, so you should receive a letter from us in the next few days.”
As a writer, and as a new writer especially, constant rejection of your work inevitably leads to indignation and frustration that the system is all wrong. ‘How can I get a TV commission if I don’t have an agent - how can I get an agent if I don’t have a TV commission?’ ‘The script reader clearly missed the point, what was he, twelve?’ ‘This is heaps better than most of the stuff I’ve read on-line, are they nuts?’
A not-so reassuring thought: it doesn’t get any easier when you get an agent or when you get your first commission. Everything gets harder. However, while the frustration and disdain for ‘the system’ may well be justified on some occasion, and it’s certainly flawed, inevitably it exists to protect itself from the talentless hacks that make a lot of noise (empty vessels and so on, those who threaten lawsuits/violence), and to leave that tiny gap of opportunity open to those who really can write. It may not seem like it but y’know, the system does work.
Take for example Paul Farrell’s journey from submitting a spec script to the BBC writersroom right through to writing a commissioned episode of Silent Witness.
A couple of years ago I read a spec script for Miramax which I was very taken with. It was a low-budget UK comedy-drama but it was original, warm and funny, and not without a delicious dark streak. It’s one of the handful of scripts that I’ve given a double recommendation (Writer: Recommend, Script: Recommend).
Luckily, with only slightly less enthusiasm, the exec agreed with my assessment and called the writers in for a meeting. He pointed them in the direction of ICM, bigtime agents. And then, I believe, ICM said we love the script but we need to see more. “What else have you got?” The writers went away to write another script with the promise of high level agent interest. I don’t know what’s happened to them but both the exec and I sat back with some satisfaction: the system worked.
And I suppose, on a personal level, the system has worked for me too. Optimistic Reader asked about my script that won the BBC Tony Doyle award and how it’s developing, and I’ll talk about that at more length soon, but before all that, the script served me well in getting meetings and nabbing my agent.
I started script reading in 1999 and I read like a maniac. Night and day. Ten scripts a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes books too. The whole point was to read what was out there, recognise what was good and bad, and raise the quality of my writing to the highest professional level. By 2003, I had written a couple of good scripts but now I felt I had to write something that was original and expressed my voice clearly. I wanted to write a good sample script that demonstrated I could create an interesting situation and setting, and take the characters on an emotional and dramatic journey. So I wrote ‘Run For Home’ (the script that would win me that Tony Doyle award).
It’s a low-concept domestic drama that I never expected to get made but would hopefully get some attention because of the writing. And it did. It impressed my agent enough, along with my other work, to want to take me on, and the script was a good sample to get me in the door of Doctors. It’s proved a solid and reliable sample ever since, and after winning the Tony Doyle award, I've been lucky enough to have it optioned by Parallel Films, one of Ireland’s leading production companies (they just produced Breakfast on Pluto), and with hunky Irish actor Liam Cunningham attached to star.
By the way, winning the Tony Doyle award was an extremely close call between two other terrific scripts, one by Ruth McCracken and the other by Martin O’Brien. I was particularly envious of Ruth’s writing and thought her script was sure to be the winner (we were given the shortlisted scripts before the award ceremony) but Liam Cunningham was on the jury and championed Run for Home all the way, er, home. Coincidentally, I wrote it with Liam in mind but had no idea he was going to be on the jury. But that’s another story.
Looking back on the whole experience thus far I can safely say this: the system works. So don’t give up and don’t take no for an answer. Keep writing. Constantly improve the quality of your work. Be professional and dedicated. The system will recognise your efforts soon enough. It may be 2036 before they do so but hey, the system might work but it’s not perfect…right?