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!