Saturday, 31 August 2013


The GEITF really impressed me as one of the most productive industry festivals I have ever attended. On a personal note I had my proudest Rocliffe moment when Sue Perkins said, unprompted to the BAFTA Rocliffe Sitcom Show-case audience, that this was a great initiative for undiscovered talent because only the voice of the writer is judged. When we select the scripts no reader or juror knows the personality, race, gender or experience of the writer. They are purely considering the words on the page. The event ended nicely with both John Bishop and Sue becoming patrons of the forums. You can watch a clip by CLICKING HERE ON GEITF YOUTUBE CHANNEL

The icing on the cake was when one of the writing teams, Andrea Hubert and Ryan Cull, were offered a blank pilot sitcom commission by the BBC. This was a special moment as they had been highly commended in 2012. Whilst disappointed, they went away taking on board all the feedback they received and worked on their material, re-entering in 2013. The interesting thing is no one knew who they were and they made it through to the top five this year and the rest is history.

Following the three day festival, many of the writers wrote to us sharing what they had learned and what an eye-opening experience it had been for them professionally. I asked them to disclose their insider scoops on what they'd garnered from experiencing the festival in terms of supporting themselves and getting their work out there, rather than craft itself. So here it is... 

Our Comedy Writers' Ten Rocliffe Tips

  1. Consider making a taster tape to sell your idea to producers - they can watch a short video on YouTube while they eat their lunch, whereas it'll take them longer to get around to reading a script. We went to a great session on making a taster tape, and the key messages were: Don't try and condense a full show into five minutes, think of it as a teaser to sell the idea and the characters, and leave the viewer wanting to see more, rough and ready is fine as long as it showcases your idea well. Most importantly make it funny. ANNA EMERSON
  2. When you’re thinking which channel your idea would best sit on, don’t just look at comedy shows. At the festival we got to see the major channel controllers preview their full upcoming slates of new shows, including drama, factual and shiny entertainment formats. It seemed a bit irrelevant at first, but actually looking at the whole schedule gave us a great feel for the kind of tone, people, and worlds the channels wanted to be known for and cater to. In the end, they’re trying to be distinctive, and your show needs to fit in with that vision. Looking at everything from the channel idents to the new series of ‘Baking On Ice’ can all help when you’re developing and pitching your sitcom. TONY COOKE
  3. Know your project and how to talk about it. Have one jazzy sentence that sums it up in a clear and punchy way. Then, in case the contact/producer/ stranger in the loo wants to know more, have a few more sentences ready to back it up with. If you are a writer putting yourself out there, people will ask to hear about your project. If you haven't thought it through beforehand, chances are you will waffle on for way too long about how 'it's a bit like this but also has elements of this but don't worry it's not too like that...' etc. Write your one sentence answer and your three sentence answer, learn them off by heart and then you will be like a good boy/girl scout... Prepared. BRONA C TITLEY
  4. I always used to feel like I was bothering industry people with unsolicited scripts; like I was Annoying New Writer Guy. Having been introduced to a good few more through Rocliffe, I've learned that producers/ commissioners are always open to looking at new material, if you approach them in the right way. These meetings are a bit like first dates - you have to sound confident and positive without being arrogant and pushy. It was really useful to meet some commissioners through this competition. Overwhelmingly their advice was to write what you love, not what you think they want to read. As someone who's voice is naturally set to 'weird', it gave me the confidence to continue writing what makes me laugh. CHRISTIAN MANLEY
  5. Perseverence. I sent an email to a producer requesting a meeting at the TV festival, but didn't hear back. When I plucked up the courage to speak to them in Edinburgh they were extremely friendly and very open to reading our script. The chances are that my email passed them by and, although you want to avoid getting a reputation as a stalker, it also suggests that most things are worth a second try. As a new writer, it's easy to presume that producers and others in the industry won't be interested in you approaching them - but they are all on the look out for new talent and original ideas and you could have just the thing they're after. LIZZIE BATES
  6. Don't let the real world stop you from writing. It's so easy to let the days, weeks, months pass by without even writing a scene heading - don't let this happen. You might have to do a day job that you don't particularly enjoy just to help you get by, there may be times when you have to order water when you go to the pub with your friends and excuse yourself from going out with those same people in favour of spending your weekend in front of a laptop, but don't give up. It IS worth it. No-one's going to come and find you. If you want to be discovered, you have to make the first move. There's no point keeping a good script to yourself; enter competitions, email production companies and do all you can to get it read. I went through a stage where I didn't want to bother important people with a script from an unrepresented writer with no credits. Silly, when you realise that those same important people are desperate to discover new talent. CHRISTIANA BROOKBANK
  7. Keep an open mind when networking as you just never know who might turn out to be a useful connection. It can be exciting to meet powerful decision makers but never discount someone less senior as that person might be a great deal hungrier and you never know where their career may be headed. Always try to have more than one project up your sleeve and ready to go. I try to have at least a few on the go at any one time. That means if someone likes your work but would like to read something else you're not faffing around trying to throw something down quickly that could ultimately do you more harm than good. STEWART THOMSON
  8. The most important thing I learned is probably that if you’ve worked really hard on a good script, you’ll definitely have people interested. However, though the writing and rewriting part is certainly hard, for me, meeting (and hopefully engaging) the people who can help you turn it into a show is equally challenging. From the moment we were selected to be featured, one of the most frequently given pieces of advice was to talk to people, to find out about what they do, and make connections – I believe the real grownups call it networking? It’s probably one of the most daunting things about the TV Festival if you’re not naturally prone to talking about yourself, but I realised over the three days that it’s worth ignoring your instincts to talk only to your trusted writing partner in a corner piled with canapes, and forcing yourself to walk up to total strangers, ask them questions and tell them what you’re doing there. We met some really fantastic people and we’re definitely steps closer to getting people interested in some of our projects because of a few conversations. ANDREA HUBERT
  9. One of the hardest decisions we faced was how to deal with notes. It was nice to hear commissioners and writers tell you to trust your instincts which is hard when you are a new writer. We learnt that the process is a team effort and if you feel strongly in your writing or a particular aspect of the story than you can choose which notes to take. RYAN CULL
  10. Have faith that your work will be read by the people you send it to. At the sitcom session in Edinburgh, the comedy producers and commissioners on the panel all said they read every script they receive - even if it takes a few weeks to get around to it. They are always looking for exciting new writers, so have confidence in your script, make it your best work, and when it's ready, send it to everyone! ANNA EMERSON
My quote of the week:
Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn ~ CS Lewis 
Keep writing! 

Sunday, 18 August 2013


I got to thinking, as we approach the first of our two Comedy Showcases at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, about how important networking has been to my career and driving it forward. BAFTA and Rocliffe recently held a master class with the shortlisted writers on networking and pitching with the wonderful Julian Friedman who advised the writers to sell the script and not to tell the script.  

For many networking sometimes can seem like a dirty word – but all it is about getting yourself out there and meeting people that may or may not be of value to you now! That said every person you meet carries with them the opportunity to learn something new you didn’t previously know.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can sell yourself and to do that you need to find out who is buying. That means reaching out to hear who is looking for what and whether you’ve got it! It is about learning and listening intelligently to the hearts of what established people have to say and from an absolutely impersonal point of view, about what they are looking for, otherwise your outlook may be coloured.

It’s nice to presume that they are interested in meeting you to discuss you, your project, your profession etc. Always remember the meeting isn’t about you – it’s about what is the part you might be able to play in their lives. Don’t be disheartened if nothing comes of all your networking - look at it as gathering information, maybe not for today but perhaps for a future date. You may well have something to offer them, possibly in the future, so see how it plays out. Look at every encounter as another opportunity.

Think about who you know who know people – can they set you up with a meeting. Networking is about talking to people, seeing movies, interacting and acting on opportunities. It’s about forging relationships with people and increasing the ‘who you know factor’. All that said, no amount of networking and charm will make you successful. It still comes back to a good script. Every writer may have started out by getting a meeting with an exec, but they had to follow up with a script that sealed the deal. A script is what will get you work and noticed – if your work is genuinely good you will be discovered. Don’t ask about how do I get into this industry? Because the answer is at your finger tips: write a great, compelling script that a reader can’t put down. Ultimately what you should be asking is how can I make my work better? How can I hone my writing skills? What forms of networking can help me do this?

My Ten Rocliffe Tips

  1. The internet is your best friend. Get on the internet – you can network without even leaving your bed – write a blog, tweet, facebook - get your name about online, be witty, proffer answers to people’s questions. Get chatting - be plucky, get talking!
  2. Film events are also very handy in terms of meeting and networking with producers/directors who may be looking for a particular type of script and you may well be the one who has written it. Attend film or TV festivals or writers conferences – if you want an excuse to talk to the people sitting next to you ask them what they’ve seen or are looking forward to seeing or where did they hear of this event?
  3. Volunteer to work at a film festival or event or organization – great way to get inside track on what’s going on and meet other people.
  4. Ask people to meet you for some informal advice. When approaching people don’t bombard them, pitch at them. Sum up your script in less than a minute or one line. At the meeting tell them why you want to meet them and ask would they meet you for a coffee at a time and location convenient to them? When meeting people know your script and sum it up in one line not twenty. Don’t use this as an excuse to bombard the person with long rambling pitches. Give them enough to want to read the script, not spoil it.
  5. Be clear about what you want from a meeting – is it representation, feedback, advice, solicit someone to work with you or introductions to people. Have a clear objective. Before meeting do your homework. Watch some of the projects they’ve worked on. To every event or meeting you go to prepare yourself. Questions you can ask: How did you get into this business? Who helped you most when you started out? What would you do differently? What’s attracts you to a project? Most people are more comfortable talking about what they know so get them to talk about their experiences. And don't forget to breath as you ask questions. 
  6. Online Q&A sessions – you can ask questions sessions (BAFTA have a huge catalogue of lectures) and YouTube can be your best friend with screenwriting master-classes with established writers. Always research someone before you see them speak. Watch their body of work if you can.
  7. Be more than one screenplay. Have a body of work that you can sum up each one in a line with a clear hook to draw them in. Read Lucy V Hay’s blog about maximising your portfolio.
  8. Ensure you have business cards that give all the information they need to – email, mobile, twitter, skype and that you carry them with you. A chance encounter with an exec or producer can change your life. You give them your card, they may give you theirs.
  9. Follow up meeting someone in writing within a few days of the meeting so you can’t be forgotten. Who knows what can happen if you make sure that this opportunity doesn’t pass you by. Picking up a pen or dropping an email is not the sign of a stalker – well not unless you bombard them with enquiries and solicitations. If they gave you their card the invite is there and they must have been interested enough to begin with. If they haven’t look up their company and drop them a line. What’s the worst that can happen once you’ve contacted them – they don’t respond. How many incredible stories have we heard about chance encounters? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  10. Ask someone to mentor you – a good mentor can teach you so much just by sharing their experiences. They don’t necessarily give you script notes but can guide you. 
My quote of the week:

No man is your friend, no man is your enemy, every man is your teacher.
Keep writing

Sunday, 11 August 2013


At every event we have held, we have heard time and time again our guests say - regardless of the genre or platform - it's all about CHARACTER, CHARACTER, CHARACTER. 

Conflict, drama, comedy everything comes through the characterisation - not the setting or idea of what the film or series is about.  What makes a film or series stand out from the next is the characterisation. It is intrinsic to the quality of the narrative. Characters can be so compelling that they can compensate for a weak plot. Without characters there would be no story or plot - it is the characterisation that drives the plot. How similar are genres and films in theme and setting? What makes them different? It always comes back to the characters! 

Characters need a huge amount of thought and work. Biographies need to reveal different parts of the character’s appearance, personality and background about that character’s traits. Our May 2013 Guest Ben Stephenson described it as us needing to 'walk in the character's shoes'.

The biographies serve many purposes. They relate the central conflict of that character to the role they play within the plot, and in the case of Rocliffe assist with casting our events and help the cast know more about their role. 

Here are some pointers when preparing your submission materials.

Our Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Write no more than 100 words per character - don't just give us a one liner. 
  2. Only give biographies of the relevant characters in the extract. 
  3. Give your character a name. Avoid giving them all similar sounding names or names beginning with the same letter. Is there a reason why Nick, Nancy, Nathan and Nemonie all have to begin with N?  Use names that reflect their personalities.
  4. State their exact age - not 20s/30s. There is a huge difference between someone who is 22 and 28! 
  5. Allow their personality, flaws, physicality to come through if relevant to the plot. You can make your characters more interesting by providing a deeper exploration of their personalities, in particular their wants and needs. Show what they feel about things, what kind of opinions they have about the world. 
  6. Include character arcs to demonstrate how each evolves throughout the series or course of the feature film.  
  7. How do the characters relate to each other? You need to show who everyone is and how individually they will connect or conflict with other characters. 
  8. Do bring in their backstory if it is relevant to the extract and treatment but ultimately helps to sell your story.
  9. Don't use pictures and wish lists of cast at entry stage.
  10. If you are writing a comedy then use your comedic writing skills with the descriptions. 
My writing quote of the week:
I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose - Stephen King

Keep writing!