Monday, 13 January 2014


It’s hard to write about yourself or know what to write. The first time, I was asked for a biography, I was flummoxed. It's odd to think that writers can struggle to write about themselves, but it's true. I can turnaround a CV, pretty quickly, because it just details every job I’ve done with the dates thrown in. A bio, however, is completely different. 

My first came with a word count - I had to sum up my life in 25 words. So I googled my heroes - reckoning if they could do it, so could I! Many had one-line bios, I with much less achievements under my belt, replicated what they did. I began with my name and added my profession - writer, producer, founder of Rocliffe and elaborated accordingly. Since, I have adapted that same bio for the end reader - film proposals, newspaper by-lines, festivals and once for a meeting at the UN (that’s another story for a different kind of biography).  

The main thing to remember, when writing bios, is not to let your ego (or lack of) get in the way of telling the reader a little bit about you. Don't start by assuming the mindset there is nothing to say about you! Take a different approach. Think of a bio as a fun way to present yourself to someone who doesn't know you, as a writer. Some of these tips are more relevant to BAFTA Rocliffe submissions, but overall, they should relate to most short biographies. 

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Start with your name. At this point, no one knows who you are! I can't tell you how many biographies I've seen with no identifying details. On a BAFTA Rocliffe application include your application number and contact details, and submit it as a single page.
  2. Write in the third person and present tense i.e. Farah Abushwesha is an Irish-Libyan writer and filmmaker. It states who I am, what I do and where I am from. I wear my dual nationality as a badge of honour and it explains my Irish accent. I used to find it funny when Irish newspapers referred to me as 'Dubliner Farah Abushwesha' but let's face it, it's not typically Irish.
  3. Remember if you are uninspired reading it, so will the reader be. Don't be too dry, be a bit lively. That said, it's always advisable to maintain a certain level of professionalism and don't be over-familiar.  
  4. Don't be ashamed of being new. New talent is the lifeblood of the industry. Whilst we are looking for people with potential to maintain a career, we get very excited when we find a complete newbie! If this is your first script, then say so! At Rocliffe, we have featured the work of many first time writers who have gone on to forge careers and give them their break.
  5. Generally, make your bio relate to the receiver, adapt it accordingly. When asked for an industry-related bio, do not give an autobiographical account of your life or how your parents met. Tell about your writing achievements include items like whether you have a blog? Has someone famous retweeted a tweet of yours especially if it is funny? Have you written for radio, theatre or short films? Has your work been shown at a festival? Is your work being optioned? Do you have any virals and include links? Do you write video games? The video game writers, I know, are particularly good at writing visual imagery and action films. Relate it back to writing, or similarly with directing or producing. 
  6. If you have written more than one script, don’t be generic IE ‘I’ve written a wide range of writing projects’. Brilliant that you are committed to writing, but what are they? What genre are they? Tell us a bit about your other projects. Are they for a particular medium? A bio can also show us if you are you drawn to a particular genre. We often get approached by people asking if we know writers who have written a particular genre, we look back through the bio, and hook them up. 
  7. List screenwriting courses you attended any courses or any awards or competition have you been shortlisted for or won. 
  8. Keep it positive. Include the things that make you standout in a good way. Don’t berate a former collaborator/producer. I’ve seen a bio where a writer described being ‘shafted' by someone. Another who referred to the producers he was working with as sharks. Whatever the background to the stories, valid or otherwise, it makes you standout in all the wrong ways.
  9. Don’t tell porky pies or embellish. A few years ago a literary agent, in the US, contacted me to find out what I thought of a writer they were considering representing. I had no idea who the writer was. It turned out they had claimed to have won the BAFTA Rocliffe award. No such award exists. The writer had never been selected to be showcased. It's so easy to fact-check, we keep a record of all our entrants.
  10. Final points, show your personality, allow us to begin to like you on paper. This can be done in very subtle ways with turn of phrase and wit. What really resonates is when a writer makes it personal to them. Please don’t use exclamation marks and proof read and spell check your work. Always!
Whilst Rocliffe sees all writer biographies, our selection panels are never told, until after the final three are selected. This way we ensure that only the voice of the work is the deciding factor and not the age, race, gender and experience of the writer.

My quote of the week: 
“Great geniuses have the shortest biographies” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Write, rewrite and keep writing because without screenwriters we would not have TV shows and films to make!