Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mixed Bag Blog

Just a few random things for the weekend that may or may not tickle your fancy.

First, I’m off to see the new Harry Potter this afternoon which will be the first one of the series I’ve actually seen in the cinema. Which may seem odd but quite often I am happy to let the blaze of hype and publicity peter out until it’s more calmly available on DVD or Sky Movies. Plus, although I love family fantasy films, I’m not overly keen on the archetypical fantasy of wizards and goblins and magic. Luckily, Harry and Frodo have done them exceedingly well but the range of scripts I read that try to emulate their success is wholly dispiriting (four this week).

Had a few rejections last week which is par for the course, nothing earth shattering about their denials whatsoever. One was particularly frustrating and disappointing however, from the BBC Afternoon Play:

“Thank you for all the work (you) must have put into the synopsis. It’s a great idea. We also really liked the world of *******, it’s prime territory for the Plays, and the tone was nicely judged between warm family feeling and a comic caper. However, I did slightly worry that the plot lost focus slightly towards the end, and wasn’t sure that it would translate into an outstanding Afternoon Play as well as some other submissions we’ve had.”

(I still might pursue the idea anyway, that’s why I left out what it’s about).

It just goes to show that a synopsis, whether it be one page or two page, really has to be 100% water tight and complete for the decision makers to want to take it forward. I’m frustrated because the ‘plot focus’ they speak of could easily be remedied before I start to prepare the script but to be fair, the slight blemish is probably the result of my haste to get my idea in on time for the deadline, so I’m not complaining, just frustrated that I came close (unless it’s a generic rejection letter, anybody else get a reply?).

Other rejections came from Sundance Festival about my short film (didn’t expect to get it in, the Irish Film Board paid for the submission so I thought ‘what the heck’) and an unofficial rejection from another BBC series that I was recommended for through a friend who works on the show, and their line was “not quite ready yet, needs a few more broadcast credits to be properly considered.” Which is fair enough.

On the plus side, I’ve had two favourable responses from a couple of other pitches I made so now I wait to hear what they want to do next (a commission would be fine fellas). And speaking of pitches and possible opportunities, the Bearded Ladies have just put out a call for sketches for their new comedy series. Full details below. Have a great weekend.

The Bearded Ladies are four performer/writers Oriane Messina, Fay Rusling, Charlotte McDougall and Susie Donkin, who will be returning to Radio 4 for their third series in Spring 2006. They will be joined, by one male performer and the show’s producer is Carol Smith.

Bearded Ladies aims to be a fresh, contemporary sketch show, exploring modern themes and instantly recognizable situations. Ideally, an audience should listen to it and think, ‘I do that’. The show comments on the way we are today by being funny and accessible to both its male and female audience.

We want funny sketches – obvious I know, but you would be amazed at the number of sketches we read which don’t contain a single joke.

We want sketches that use interesting characters and interesting situations with jokes along the way to hold the audience’s attention, not sketches that rely solely on a funny tag.

We want only finished sketches, i.e. sketches you have thoroughly self-edited after writing, not work in progress. Don’t expect our Script Editor to finish a sketch off for you when you can’t think of a tag or find an interesting way out. If you can’t make what seems like a good idea work as a sketch, please don’t submit it.

We want clear situations and clear characters. We are looking for original sketches that reflect how women see and are seen in the world and what the world really offers them – be that from a female or male perspective.

We are looking for material about friendships, colleagues, work, play, sport, money, travelling, buying a house, keeping fit, being a parent, having a parent, having children, not having children, first dates, last dates, going out, staying in, relatives, ageing, in fact any situation or relationship that we all find ourselves in today.

We want sketches that, where possible, involve more than just two people talking – ie, group sketches, action sketches. Most importantly, we want sketches which surprise us.

Sketches with a rich sound texture work well – whether that comes from location, situation, character or all three. Music is also important and can help to set the mood of a sketch. Try to imagine the sounds you would here in the location of your sketch. Do they influence the dialogue in any way? (For example, if your sketch is set beside a busy roadway, do your characters have to shout over the noise of the traffic?). Dialogue with no atmosphere behind it sounds unreal, flat and uninteresting.

Always bear in mind that our cast consists of four women and one man and the women do not play any male roles, nor the man a female one.

We want sketches where our male performer takes the lead as well as female led sketches and, most importantly, we want material that both men and women will find funny and be able to relate to.

We are looking for both quick sketches (½ page to a page) as well as longer sketches (3-5 pages).

Finally, on a practical note, do bear in mind that the show will be going out in the 6.30 slot which puts some obvious restrictions on language and situations.

In some ways it’s easier to pin down the sort of thing we are not looking for, than what we are. We are looking only for sketches set in 2005, so no futuristic stuff or sketches set in the Middle Ages. We are not looking for the surreal – all material needs to be grounded in some sort of recognizable reality. Political or satirical material is not at the top of our agenda, but if it falls within our take of ‘a woman’s view of the world or a man’s view of what is increasingly a woman’s world’ then we will look at it. It might be interesting if characters were repeated within an episode, but we are not looking to repeat characters through the series.

It’s important to stress that although this is predominantly a female sketch show in terms of performers, the show is not looking to make men the butt of the jokes – we are absolutely not looking for sketches that make men look ridiculous or stupid.

We are not looking for songs or poems.
We do not want any ‘bottom drawer’ material.
We do not want any material that has been rejected by any other shows.
We do not want sketches originally written for any other medium.
We do not want to be blitzed with huge numbers of sketches from everyone submitting, send us only your very best (maximum 6 – if we want more we will contact you and ask for it)

We want all material submitted by 14th January. When you are submitting, please make sure that your name and telephone number are on every page that you submit. Also, on the first page, please clearly mark how many pages in total you are submitting. Make sure you submit your sketches in Radio script format.

Again, please don’t bombard us with sketches. Send us only your very best. We are looking for quality, not quantity. Make sure that you have edited and polished them until they are the best they can possibly be. All material submitted will be read. If we are interested in using your material, we will contact you.

If we do not contact you, it means we have read your material and it is not suitable. I’m afraid that due to the expected number of submissions, we know that giving feedback on individual contributions will be difficult. We cannot return any material, so, if you are submitting by post or fax, please make sure you keep a copy.

If your material is used, we will try and contact you in advance of broadcast, irrespective of which you will be sent a contract and paid after the broadcast.

You should send sketches to:

Fax: 020-7765-1242
By Post: Bearded Ladies, Room 509, Henry Wood House, Langham Place, London W1A 1AA


Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Sorry to hear about your afternoon play rejection. I was just wondering when you found out and whether they got in contact with you directly or your agent and if it was by post/e-mail, as I too threw in a hastily written synopsis but haven't had any kind of response since. The person I talked to was called Bridget, I think.

Also, have you ever submitted to/had experience of the Moonstone Screenwriters' Labs, which I think are connected to Sundance, the deadline to submit a script is end of January.

This is probably a crazy idea but you seem to have had a lot of experience/know a lot of 'insider' stuff about the industry, the only reason I read this blog, have you ever thought about approaching a publisher to write a book about the reality of the writing industry, there have been lots of books about 'how' to write, but none, as far as I know, which write about the industry/how to make it, the way you do. I would certainly buy it and I'm sure a lot of others would too.

C P Healey

iBrotha said...

Thanks for the tip on Bearded Ladies. Do you know where any of their previous shows can be heard?


Anonymous said...

That's tough, Danny. Isn't it always?

I put two ideas in, one via my agent and the other via someone I know in BBC Drama. Haven't heard anything from either.

I'll shout when I do.

Danny Stack said...

CP: i heard via my agent, via a script editor, via bridget who's will trotter's PA. never submitted anything to moonstone but it's very reputable & useful, depending on what stage your project is at. hadn't thought of a book but now you've given me the idea... ha.

ibrotha: check out radio 4's website for any previous shows, don't know if they're downloadable, but they do keep a blog, which I linked in my post about writing sketches/sitcoms.

paul: i'll keep my fingers crossed, good luck.

Anonymous said...

I've just had the biggest kick in the arse bastard rejection of my entire life (and of course, it's not the first and probably won't be the last) and it hurts, oh it hurts... and I have to get up and keep writing my other stuff like I still believe I can 'make it'. Why? Why? Why do I do this to myself? Oh, because I want to... apparently...

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I've just found your blog and am really impressed.

Do you know of anyone who has heard positively from BBC Afternoon play. It appeared from the tender that they weren't looking for fully worked stories but from your experience it weems that wasn't the case.

What are your thoughts?


Danny Stack said...

Hard to say. It weems (love that) Paul and CP are in with a shout, so do let us know fellas when you hear either way.

Also, they must have received at least 100 pitches so it's difficult to guess or imagine how one might impress over another. A good synopsis will always help but a bit of luck too (an idea that's pertinent to them, something they had discussed whatever) will probably swing it.

Anonymous said...

yep, weems, it's great isn't it? My very own shorthand for it would seem...

Lord, they're never going to commission me when I can't even spell.

back to the data inputting...

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny

One down, one to go...

I've just had a rejection for one of mine. Different wording to yours, so maybe they are putting some effort into it. Mine said "Dear Paul,
Re: Citus. Altius. Whatever
We’ve now had a chance to read all the submissions for the Afternoon Plays and I wanted to thank you for sending us your idea. I read it with interest and thought it was a well-plotted, offbeat story. However I’m not sure it takes the genre any further and I’m afraid we have decided not to pursue it any further.

Sorry it isn’t better news and many thanks again for sending it through.
Best wishes,