The brief changed slightly for this year's Red Planet Prize. Instead of any script you happened to have in your drawer, we wanted TV pilot scripts, preferably an hour long. Same rules applied. Send in your first ten pages. If we liked them, we asked to see the whole script. Only about 10% of the entries would get through to the crucial second round, so the decision making process was typically ruthless and subjective. From the impressive line-up of second round scripts, the next agonising stage was compiling the final shortlist and then, somehow, picking a winner (kudos to Mark Wilkinson and his drama, The Ropes).
Just like last year, the standard was really high. But just like last year, there were common mistakes, samey ideas and general no-nos that emerged. You may think that there's no point talking about standard format issues, spelling mistakes or poor script presentation but it's always a surprise to see how regularly these common mistakes appear. It's always a turn-off (but not necessarily an immediate 'pass' depending on the actual quality of the story) and people really should know better.
As the script reading began, one particular genre quickly stood out as the choice for this year's entries: supernatural drama/thrillers. Initially, this was very exciting and heartening: writers were unafraid to pitch and develop high concept TV! Fantastic! However, it soon felt like every second entry was a supernatural drama/thriller, and most of them shared a samey premise or familiar quality. There was some good writing, sure, but nothing really original or distinctive was standing out. I couldn't quite believe it but I was getting tired of reading supernatural drama/thrillers!
The entries that weren't of a supernatural design were an interesting mix of typical TV ideas that we've all seen before (a vet/fireman/doctor/prodigal son/daughter returns to their parochial village and reconnects with the community/family through their endearing quirks and relationships). These were fine but, well, a bit underwhelming. This is where we were ruthless about what got through to the second round. A lot of the style, format and presentation was of a decent standard but the writing and story wouldn't be sufficiently engaging to make you want to go further than page 10. Sometimes, you didn't want to go further than page 5. Or in some cases, page 1.
After a few months going through the first round of submissions, we managed to compile a list for the next stage. The second round is the most exciting. We get to read the entire script and experience the full flavour of what the first ten pages had hinted towards. Some of the potential didn't quite pay off for a small number of the chosen few but all showed real spark and talent with their ideas, style, ambition and conviction. Now, the real fight began to choose our favourites for the final shortlist. This is where we'd agree, disagree, change our minds and repeat the cycle until somehow we managed to have a shorter list than when we first started. A final shortlist for final judging! Hurrah. And lo, a winner was chosen. Phew. Well done again to Mark Wilkinson and his script, The Ropes.
So, there you have it. This year's rundown. And on Wednesday, a good handful of writers from the shortlist were invited to Red Planet HQ to listen to Tony Jordan talk about the opportunities open to them. Mr Jordan's passion, energy and humour is always inspiring and he didn't disappoint as he spoke at length about what he and Red Planet want to achieve. It really is a great company, a terrific screenwriting competition and a genuine opportunity to give your writing career the kickstart it deserves. I'm so proud to be a part of it.