Thursday, May 21, 2009

Red Planet 2008/09 Overview

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.


laurence timms said...

Well done to you and the Red Planet team for making it all happen. I realise how mammoth a task it was to work through the entries.

I'd pay cold hard cash to find out what was said about my script The Camp. It got me to the second round but wasn't good enough to get me around the table on Wednesday.

Name your price :)

nearmiss said...

All very useful to know, thank you.

Something that would be hugely helpful to many up and coming (or indeed down and stagnating) screenwriters, would be an opportunity to read the winning script, and/or some of the shortlisted scripts. As I flounder around entering various writing competitions, I'm always enormously curious as to the standard of entries that win, or come close.

Do you think you could persuade Red Planet to stick The Ropes on its website? It would be in their interest as well, as it could help future entrants to raise their game once they fully understand the expected standard. Ah, have just thought, maybe it doesn't make much sense to put the script out there when it's still in development. Bugger, there goes that idea then. Ones from previous years?

I've read all the shooting scripts on the bbc, but what I'm desperate to read are the original scripts of those who break through.

Danny Stack said...

Laurence: a large quantity of unmarked 20s in a sealed envelope behind the bike shed, please.

NearMiss: Maybe one of the bloggers who got through wouldn't mind sharing their 10 pages or final script? No harm in asking. The Ropes in in development as you say, so not for public view just yet, but maybe down the line.

laurence timms said...

Danny: Oh, calling my bluff, eh? Well, the 20s are behind the bike shed as of now. Question is, where is the bike shed?

nearmiss: you're welcome to have a butchers at The Camp. As I've said, I made it through to the shortlist so it was one of (I think) about 70 scripts from which the winner was selected.

If you're interested, email me - my email address is my firstname and my surname separated by a dot

Sal said...

Nearmiss - I was at the table on Wednesday and am happy to let you see my first 10 pages. I'll post them up at SharpShooter (entitled Sex, Viagra And A New Chapter) It's a fabulous writer's forum which I belong to. Go to:

I was similarly curious last year. And you know, I didn't look at my own work and think 'This is a work of genius I am through.' I wasn't sure at all. It was 'me' and that's all I can give. As I was telling Danny on the train, I sent it to a reader in the early stages who said: "You should view this script like a one night stand. Nice while it lasted, but time to move on."
Which was like a rocket up the proverbial, I can tell you!!

Dharmesh said...

I'm definately interested in reading anything of the finalists' work. Can I contact you Laurence?


laurence timms said...

Dharmesh - sure, email me at laurence . timms @ gmail . com (just remove the spaces)

I absolutely recommend you read Sal's 10 pages at sharpshooter too.

nearmiss said...

Laurence and Sal, thank you. I'll mail you/read you.

Believe it or not I used to be a professional script reader and script editor, and have 24 broadcast credits as a writer (for the very cheesy Family Affairs). So I can kind of educated guess at the standard of shortlisted entries.

But the script reading was more than 10 years ago, way before I had ever tried writing, so I can't remember much about the good ones, and looked at them with a different critical eye. And as a script editor I didn't ever see writers' original scripts. And as a writer for FA I just had to write from a very prescriptive scene by scene.

It was a bizarre way to come to writing because all it taught me to do was write in a particular house style. Of course that's a valuable skill, but it's been impossible to get work elsewhere without an original script.

So now I'm writing my own scripts I'm having to go right back to first principles... writing them is a zillion times harder than I ever realised when I was a reader/editor. It's painful! I hate being a learner and making mistakes.

Can't wait to read your work Laurence/Sal... it'll really help to know what others are producing and inspire me as I learn the craft.

laurence timms said...

Nearmiss: this comment thread forced me to re-read The Camp, and I'm shaking my head at some of the mistakes. It's looser than a bedsheet in a force 9.

Still, write write write read read read learn learn learn.

Sal said...

Nearmiss. You've already achieved a lot. I used to love Family Affairs!
But yes, writing is painful. Still, you know what they say, no pain, no gain and all that!

Robin Eveleigh said...

Hi Danny - any chance of a hint at where we should all be directing our thoughts and ideas for this year's comp? Another series pilot? A one-off? Sitcom? Owt that's good?