Sunday, 17 November 2013


With the great choice of festivals, seminars and conferences of late there has been no shortage of opportunities for inspiration and networking for filmmakers. Nothing gets us more fired up and reinvigorated than spending time with other filmmakers talking passionately about the craft and new opportunities. I always keep loads of notes to draw on, which prove invaluable, in the weeks that follow. After any festival, I schedule a morning purely for writing to everyone I met. It is my way of keeping up the momentum, avoiding the post-event doldroms and making the experience last. You have a window of opportunity. To capitalise on this, here are some survival pointers which also help to avoid post festival blues.  

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Whenever you meet someone new and they give you a card, write which event you met them at. You only need to meet someone once, to 'know' them - Mitch Hurwitz's words not mine! 
  2. Carry a notebook to every event so that you can note down things. You will forget what you learned. List every production company, channel, show that a speaker references. At the end of each day, write down ten things you learned from that day. Reading these through after the festival will re-inspire you. 
  3. Write an email to all the peers you met. Send them links to your website or youtube clips or any online info about you. Ask them for their twitter accounts. Start to follow them. 
  4. Search every speaker's name on twitter and follow. Tweet them how fab they were or what you liked or learned from their talk or work. 
  5. If you go to a pitching session (always try to take part in one), write a thank you card to the people on the panel (via their companies). Ask what else are they looking for and what is the best way to send them pitches. 
  6. Look for the production companies logos in the festival programme. Then log on to the company's website and seek out their submissions process. Write to their contact email address and ask them how to submit if it is not apparent.
  7. If you have an agent, send them a list of who you met, requesting advice on to best follow this up, can they be of help?
  8. Drop your festival contact a line and thank them for the opportunity. Festivals love longevity, building relationships with people who they featured early on in their careers. Many offer a staggered payment scheme so you can book your tickets in advance. Click here to apply now for you LSF 2014 pass Quote Rocliffe. 
  9. If you had table reads, send your actors a note. They are just as keen to connect with you as you with them.  
  10. From the short films, webisodes or first time feature directors work you've seen, contact them to see if they are interested in reading your work! Collaborate to accelerate. 
It's a small world out there. Reaching out is the only way to get ahead and people appreciate you taking the time – it will benefit you. Here are some of the great talks, events, festivals I attended this year and will be looking out for next. Many will have been filmed or have post-festival virals:

The ones I am looking forward to attending in 2014 - sign up now for their mailing lists:

Feb 2014 - Dublin International Film Festival 2014
Aug 2014 - Edinburgh TV Festival 2014
May 2014 - Cannes Film Festival
Oct 2014 - New York TV Festival
Oct 2014 - London Screenwriters Festival
Oct 2014 - Austin Film Festival & Conference

My quote of the week
“The glow of inspiration warms us; it is a holy rapture.”
Don't forget to write, keep writing and then rewrite.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Anna, Lizzie, Brona, Tony, Stewart & Greg
 (C)2013 Seton Davey/BaftaNY

In October 2013, for a third year, we took five writers to the New York TV Festival where they spent a week hearing inspiring speakers from the many different facets of TV: showrunners, editors, staff writers, composers, producers and more. 

Cast with Nina Hellman, Flor De Lis Perez,
Yael Stone & Eric Keith Chapelle
(C)2013 Seton Davey/BaftaNY
Alongside the craft masterclasses, they had an incredible showcase with the 'AWESOME' GREG DANIELS, the comedy master behind The Office (US) and Parks and Recretation (which I learned was inspired by The Wire). To top it off their work was performed by a company of the best actors New York had to offer (including a star of Orange is the New Black - the show everyone is raving about).

Our writers took full advantage of all the festival programme, taking part in pitching opportunities for reality tv shows with the likes of VH1 and natural history shows with National Geographic. This year each writing team was selected to pitch to at least one commissioner and, for a second year running, one of the teams won.  Last year Sarah Courtauld won a development deal for a children's tv show with Hasbro. 

For most people a trip to New York is about shopping and cocktails but for our writers it was all about the business of TV and writing. So for this blog, I asked them to share two pieces of advice - one inspired by a speaker and the other something they personally learned from the experience that would be useful to other writers and filmmakers.  


Brona & Tony winning
the VH1 Development deal
  1. GREG DANIELS said "don’t just make your spec script as good as what’s already on TV, make it better!" Among the many nuggets of advice from Bafta Rocliffe guest speaker Greg Daniels, this one stuck out for me. When he’s looking for writers for shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office, he said he really wanted two things; consistency and a few moments of gold. So basically, make sure your script has no weak spots – know which lines are letting your script down and tackle them before sending it out. He said nothing should be in there that’s less than a B grade standard! Then, make sure you have one or two killer, knock-out, timeless jokes to really make the reader sit up and laugh. Those A+ grade moments. Greg admitted he’d hired writers on the basis of reading a single joke of theirs that belted it out the park – quality not quantity was his advice. TONY COOKE (CO-WRITER NANNIES & VH1 Development deal winner)
  2. On day one of the New York Television Festival keynote speaker MITCH HURWITZ creator of Arrested Development talked about the difficulty in dealing with conflicting notes during a meeting. His advice was to take everything on board in a polite and respectful manner before tackling them in your own way at a later date. He also recalled a meeting in which he was sweating so much with nerves that his nipples were protruding through his shirt! It was hilarious and reassuring to hear someone with such an incredible CV dealing with such relatable issues. STEWART THOMSON (WRITER OF SKWIBS)
  3. MITCH HURWITZ said you really need to 'advocate for yourself' - which was a good reminder to grab opportunities by the balls! He was a staff writer on the Golden Girls for only 2 years when they were looking around for a showrunner for a spin off series. He took a deep breath& said to the executive producers  'Why don't you let me do that for you guys?!' and though they were skeptical at first about his lack of experience, by the end of the meeting... They gave him the job! Be brave! If you don't, who will? BRONA C TITLEY (CO-WRITER NANNIES & VH1 Development deal winner)
  4. Something that a number of speakers at NYTVF focused on was the value of having a good idea and sticking with it when you find it. JUSTINE GORMAN from Channel 4 said ‘a good idea is a good idea’ and if you know you have one, then all you have to do is sell it with confidence. The delegate from IFC stressed the importance of staying loyal to your vision: if an idea you pitch doesn’t make sense for them, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for another channel. It was something that came up again and again: Comedy Central said be passionate and believe in your idea; HBO said don’t just write what you think a network wants but show them you have a distinct voice; and it was so encouraging to hear JIM FIELD SMITH say - with real conviction - that if you stay true to what you believe in, it will pay off in the end. LIZZIE BATES (CO-WRITER OF NEW HABITS)
  5. I have always found the idea of networking difficult: it’s not an easy thing to approach a stranger and start talking to them. But after our week in New York it’s easy to see how important it is, and what benefits come from being confident, taking the bull by the horns and striking up a conversation with someone who is sitting or standing next to you at an industry event. I started chatting to the guy sat next to me in one of the development chats and he turned out to be a top dog at a major network. If I hadn’t started talking to him that would have been an opportunity missed. MITCH HURWITZ said something which really stuck with me: 'You only have to meet someone once to know them,’ and once you know them it’s so much easier to get your work in front of them. LIZZIE BATES 
  6. EVAN SHAPIRO from Pivot said if you're lucky enough to get a meeting with a producer, do your homework first: know the brand, know what shows they've made before and what they're working on now. And when it comes to the meeting, be friendly, open and flexible. It's not enough for a producer just to like your project - they need to feel that you're someone they want to work with too. Oh, and be on time - or even better, be early. ANNA EMERSON (CO-WRITER OF NEW HABITS)
  7. Very importantly comes this advice from STEVE BASILONE, staff writer on The Michael J Fox show. He emphatically and repeatedly said 'BE NICE!' Staff writing is an all-consuming job; they talked about periods where they stayed in the office without going home for as long as 3 days! When hiring a person who will live in your pocket for a year, showrunners will always hire the nice people who do solid work over the difficult person who may come up with killer gags. BE NICE, BE NICE, BE NICE! BRONA C TITLEY
  8. All the producers and network people we met with said they're looking for a strong voice and a unique point of view - something they haven't seen before. At the same time, of course, it's important to watch plenty of comedy so you know what else is out there, and what you do and don't like. Don't expect to know what your style is straight away (I'm still not sure know what mine is), just write a lot, write things that excite you, and your style will develop on its own. And keep going - if you stick at it you will make it in the end! ANNA EMERSON
  9. Something I was reminded of during this experience and would impress upon any aspiring writer is: Watch everything! If you want to be a comedy writer, then watch ALL the comedies you possibly can. Don't just stick to the things you like, they've already taught you what they can. Branch out, try new things. Promise yourself you'll watch at least the pilot of everything made in the UK. Figure out why things work or don't work. Ask other people what they thought. Your business is your business so get to know it! BRONA C TITLEY
  10. During her talk on day two of the New York Television Festival, DEBBIE DEMONTREUX of US TV network IFC, hammered home the point that the most important thing is to be an artist, to believe in your voice and not to try and tailor your work to a specific demographic or style. I found this to be a refreshing and inspiring piece of advice. The message was simple: original voices still have a chance to shine.STEWART THOMSON
  11. The best way to pitch ideas ‘in the room’ was a major theme of the week in New York – it seems a huge part of the US industry. I’d boil down all the advice into three rules… i) Be passionate: even if you over-do the enthusiasm, that’s better than seeming non-plussed. ii) Be prepared: essential if you’re going to show your passion. You need to be able to shut the laptop, look them in the eye, and sell from your heart. iii) Be brief: write your pitch, then cut it IN HALF. The core of your idea is what matters most. And… to add my own extra rule, enjoy it. Or at least LOOK like you are! The pitch Brona and I made to VH-1 as part of the NYTVF Development Deal Competition might not have followed all the rules, but we tried to keep it light. In the end we won the deal, so some of our positive vibes must have rubbed off. TONY COOKE
My writing quote of the week:
Life is a festival only to the wise ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Our next BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum is on the 9th December with a focus on film scripts. See you there and in the meantime - keep writing! 

Sunday, 3 November 2013


One of the big changes in 2013 has been our focussing each forum on a particular medium. This helps us target who we ask to be on our panels and has helped us to secure a really exciting group of well-established industry players and those making massive waves within that sector. 

The best part of having these specialised panels, is that some of the participants reach out to writers, even those who didn't make the final selection - because a good idea is a good idea, and sometimes with a little help, can become a great film.

So, what do we look for when reading the large pile of submissions? My note to the jury is choose work you would be prepared to pay to watch in the cinema, seek out at a festival or watch online with Netflix, Lovefilm or iTunes.  

Writers who send us their extracts often ask: what can they do to improve their submission, to make their projects stand out. Whether you are sending your work to us or production companies - the answer isn't straightforward and will always be subjective. There are no hidden tricks or secret formulae. That said, when I asked the panel about what worked for them, they said that there were some things that resonated more than others.

So here are our Film Panel's Rocliffe Tips:

What connected every time was an original voice – all the ones that felt they were derivative or trying to bend into a genre were much less interesting; also immediacy – having the drama happening in the present, not relying on lengthy backstory and exposition. Surprisingly few scripts had a genuinely dramatic idea that would happen in the duration of the film. And funny dialogue that was actually funny! ANDREA CALDERWOOD, PRODUCER

Always make the reader want to know what is going to happen next. Many bad scripts waste a lot of valuable time talking about what happened before. What happened in the past of your characters is only important if it moves things forward in the film's present. Even if the film is driven by the characters and not the plot, then we should still be eager to know what they are going to do next. This is vital not only from scene to scene, but for every line of scene description and dialogue. JON CROKER, WRITER

The one thought I would add to prospective writers pitching in this way, is to make sure the outline is clear.  On quite a few occasions i found myself getting confused by the one page outline - having to go back and reread paragraphs a few times to try and make sure i was understanding the set up of the story.   It doesn't make for a good start, especially when one is reading one pitch after another.  The extra time spent making it easy for someone to get into the writers story, can only be of benefit (try it out on a  friend to see if its a clear as you think it is). CHARLES STEEL, PRODUCER

I’m always a little surprised at the number of writers who want to write for Film or TV who don’t really bother watching it. I think that’s why I still read so many scripts that are supposed to be feature scripts that read like something you’d watch on a Sunday evening on BBC 2. Film especially needs to be international otherwise its almost impossible to finance. My other big tip is relax and stop trying to impress people with intellect. I read so many scripts filled with knowledge that the writer has picked up and feels compelled to share with us. SEAN GASCOINE, AGENT

Every line counts. Don't take up space on the page if you don't have to. If a scene takes place in a cafĂ©, for example, it's almost never important to hear what the lead characters are ordering off the menu, nor is it generally vital to introduce a waiter or hear them take a drinks order. Be economic. Take a long, hard look at your dialogue – particularly in comedy – if lines could be swapped between characters without anyone really noticing then your characters are lacking their own voice. Characters don't all need to be dramatically polarised, but if the Character headings were taken away or read aloud, one should be able to tell them apart.  LIAM FOLEY, DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE

Find the stories you want to tell, not the stories you think will sell or get made. You really have to nurture your own voice. The scripts that stood out for me weren't necessarily the most ground breaking ideas but I believed in the characters and world they were trying to create. Sometimes over ambition and heavily plot driven ideas can get in the way which can make the script less accessible, that shouldn't be confused with being bold and brave with ideas, just to always maintain a truth. If you truly believe it, the reader will believe it. MANJINDER VIRK, ACTRESS, WRITER/DIRECTOR

Make sure the info on your one sheet (title, synopsis, characters) is really enticing (but keep it succinct) so the reader will be excited about reading it. Rocliffe script selection panels have lots of scripts to get through so this is important! Make sure the extract you submit is appropriate for the format it will be showcased in - a 10 minute sequence without dialogue might work great on screen but may not work as well staged. The extract you choose should work as a self contained performance without the audience needing to read the rest of the script for things to make sense. Most of these are personal things I considered when I submitted SIXTEEN in 2011, so other panellists might well say the opposite. Main thing is to submit the right extract so the industry audience will be intrigued by the performed reading and want to read the whole script afterwards. ROB BROWN, WRITER/DIRECTOR (Past featured writer 2011 & BFI LFF Award Nominee)

Have an interesting story both in the whole script and also in the scenes selected – often the scenes were set-up or a selection of different tonal parts from the script rather than telling the nub of the story.  Let the action speak - have as little stage direction as you can get away with. Characters need to leap off the page without being caricatures, even in comedy. Don’t send something in tiny typing to get more lines in, that’s just irritating or unreadable. JEAN KITSON, AGENT

In an earlier blog I wrote how a good writer is a good reader and this was mirrored by Sean Gascoigne. Writing is a craft and writers need to hone and study it. This will show in your work.  This was repeated in New York by GREG DANIELS (The Office (US), Parks and Recreation) in conversation with a new writer who asked how to be a better writer - he told her to read scripts and write in the style of that script or show. Building on what Andrea advises about funny dialogue needing to be funny, one of the best pieces of advice JULIAN FELLOWES told the Rocliffe audience was give your script to someone else and don't ask them what they think: ask them to put an 'X' where they get bored. 

Apart from the great quotes here, whenever it comes to writing tips, I know you can’t beat Orwell. 

So, my writing quote of the week:
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 
1. What am I trying to say? 
2. What words will express it? 
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?” 
~ George Orwell
As I said to the audience at the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum with Greg Daniels in New York - where would we be without writers making work for us to make? It all starts with the script - so keep writing!