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!