Monday, November 03, 2008

Not Going Out

Last December, the producers of Not Going Out, the BBC sitcom starring Lee Mack, had an open call for writers. The offer was simple: write a spec script (for the show) and if they liked it, you, or your jokes, then you'd find yourself as part of the writing team for the next series. Recognising it as a good opportunity and not one to shirk away from a challenge like this, I threw myself into the task of writing a spec episode.

I wasn't wholly familiar with the show but I swotted up on what I could, and Avalon, the production company, kindly sent a few episodes on DVD. There was a two-week deadline. I was in the middle of a whole host of other things at the time (and reading Red Planet stuff) but I thought: "what the hell, give it a go, see what you can do."

First, develop an appreciation and interest in the show. That wasn't hard. Likeable lead character. Ditto female lead. A basic but effective 'will they/won't they' situation plus scope for secondary characters and subplots to create lively comedy. Oh. And gags. Loads and loads of gags. Everywhere and at every opportunity. Some hit, some miss, but always keeping the comic pace bouncing along at a rapid level. Puns, witty asides, quick put-downs, visual humour, verbal jokes and broad comedy slapstick were all fair game. Shit. This was going to be HARD.

Next, figure out a plot. I scour Andrew Collins's blog about writing for the show and how he plotted the first series with Lee Mack. I try to come up with an idea that focuses on the lead characters' 'will they/won't they' vibe, but also giving the secondary characters room to shine without stealing the limelight (as per the brief). I bash out a quick beat structure of what needs to happen. The development exec at Avalon has offered to be at hand for any questions, so I decide to give her a call. I break down my story and tell her what I have in mind. She seems to like the idea, and I feel positive going to script.

Now, write the script. Get those gags in. Whenever possible. Don't think. Write. Ah! Is it funny? I have no idea. Keep going. Finish. Phew. Read back. Not bad? Yeah, not bad. Polish some gags. I like to think I can do comedy but the level of jokes needed for this show is huge, and I'm not sure I'm a 'gag kinda guy'. I show it to my agent and she thinks it lacks depth but otherwise has some merit. A thumbs up! I think. The deadline arrives so I send the script. A couple of months later, I get a friendly email which tells me why they didn't go for my idea (reproduced here with permission):

"We didn’t think you had the characters quite nailed and although the idea itself was promising, we’re trying to focus on the characters already in place so we want to get away from introducing even more characters.

The main premise was that due to Lee’s carelessness and forgetfulness, he and Lucy have an argument and fall out. As a result of this, Lee and Tim also fall out. The trouble with this happening at the beginning, the stakes aren’t very high because we didn’t see him getting on with either party terribly well to begin with, therefore why should we care if they’re now not speaking? More importantly, now he’s fallen out with two of his closest friends, there’s nobody left for him to banter with, apart from a new friend with whom he only plays the playstation."


It's a fair assessment and the crucial factor, in my opinion, is that the characters aren't quite nailed (due to me cramming for the show). No, no gripes from me. Actually, I very much enjoyed the opportunity. A lot of writing gigs are borne out of this type of spec request, so I consider it time well spent.

20 comments:

hotzappa11 said...

How come i heard nothing about this?! I suppose it's because I don't have an agent (yet). I seriously love "Not Going Out," though. One of my favourite new sitcoms. I shall enjoying reading your script Danny.

James Moran said...

This is how you do it, folks - find the opportunity, do the research, put the legwork in, do the job, finetune it, then if you get a knockback, take it with grace and humility, learning from the experience. This is what it's like out there, and Sir Danny of Stackshire once again proves what a fine gent he is.

Danny Stack said...

**discreetly hands James an envelope full of cash**

Lucy said...

Yes. You are indeed great Danny.

[Where's my cash??]

Danny Stack said...

Divide it up between yerself & Moran...

Lucy said...

SWINDLER! Besides we all know that Moran has spent it on miniature replica mementos (aka toys) of the Tardis and a rather fetching tartan miniskirt for new year. Hark at those knobbly knees...

Robin Kelly said...

I'm gutted. Not because you got knocked back, although commiserations and all that, but because I love Not Going Out and never knew about this. Although I suspect my spec would have had them laughing for all the wrong reasons...

Danny Stack said...

And I think only 10 people had a go in the end, Robin...

Robin Kelly said...

Wow. Although I have found that - more in comedy than drama - people just want to write their own characters and get their own shows produced. But I have found writing a sitcom spec to be both fun and a good learning experience.

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Anonymous said...

Remember what their original brief to you was? "write a spec script (for the show) and if they liked it, you, or your jokes, then you'd find yourself as part of the writing team for the next series."
So you, and me, and however many writers they asked to submit a script, were all under the impression that they were looking for new writers to work on the new series. Great! However, what happens? They don't like the episode you wrote. So let's get this straight - Avalon were looking for IDEAS FOR EPISODES, not, I repeat NOT, new writers. This is another example of a production company bascially getting a load of spec stuff done for free, so they can sift through it without having paid for it. Cheap trick huh? Same familiar names who ended up writing the series though... just make sure NONE of your gags have been pinched!
Yours,
Lady Cynic