Sunday, 29 June 2014


This year we launch a BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum focusing on Writing for Children with the support of the London Book Fair. As with all our calls writers submit a ten page extract but rather than focus on a medium this call can be an animation or live action, feature film, TV series or sit-com – anything as long as the focus is screen writing for children. Read the full press release here.  

Writing for Children is a particular skill in itself. The diversity alone is fascinating – what stimulates 2 year olds may not be the same for 5-6 year olds and then let's not forget the 7-12 year olds. BAFTA Children's Event Producer Lisa Prime told me Children’s TV tends to officially end at 12. Although feature film is slightly different and aimed at a family audience. BAFTA's rules for the Children’s Awards that includes 12A films. 

My childhood TV diet in Libya in the 1970s were the imaginative adventures of Sinbad and Alaaedin – both in Arabic and English. In the summer when the weather was good, we could pick up Tunisian TV stations – which I called ‘tuna TV’. They had a better selection of westerns, musicals and more cartoons than the Gadaffi-filled propaganda and televised executions that interrupted broadcasts. The dialogue was dubbed into Arabic but the songs were always in English. I particularly loved stories or shows that included following colourful characters and quests, which on reflection were to some degree always safe jeopardies. They opened up my world and kept the dark moments of that period of my life at bay, as well as my western understanding alive. As I grew, my choice of viewing was very similar to my reading choices. I liked characters in stories who broke rules, were naughty – unlike my school reading books with the utterly mundane goody-two-shoes characters of Peter and Jane. I revelled in stories about the Knights of the Round Table, Greek Myths and Irish Folk Tales. 

The first show to turn me into a telly addict was the Muppet Show - as a teenager I even watched Fraggle Rock, although I didn't necessarily broadcast that. When Duncan Kenworthy was a guest at a forum, he and I sang the theme tune together. I was so impressed he had produced Fraggle Rock that I almost forgot his other work - Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill & Love Actually. I can still recall the anticipation of waiting to watch each episode from week to week. My school friends and I would discuss the characters, star guests and the sketches in between. I was even given the Muppet Show cook book for Christmas. 

As an adult, I no longer can claim to be an authority on the subject of children's TV other than the occasional Muppet Movie. Elly Brewer and Ben Ward are - check out their credits on IMBD. 

Rocliffe Notes on Writing for Children’s Television by Elly Brewer & Ben Ward

Know your market. Watch the output of the age group you’re aiming at and do some research to make sure your idea hasn’t been done before. Or if it has, that you’ve put a really fresh spin on it. Develop great characters. However unusual your concept or location, it’s characters the audience will fall in love with and keep coming back for. Make sure your dialogue sounds natural. Do people really talk like that? Read it aloud to see how it sounds – and if it’s easy to say. Keep the pace up. Get in to scenes as late as possible, say what needs saying and get out again. Fast. Show don’t tell. Make sure there’s plenty of action. And you don’t always have to use dialogue – a look or gesture can convey a huge amount. Number scenes and pages (or it’s an editing nightmare). Double-check for typos and spelling mistakes. Let your script lie overnight, give it one final polish in the morning, then submit. ELLY BREWER

You must be original. There are a lot of people trying to do what you're doing and comparatively few opportunities... so make sure you stand out. If you're writing for an existing show, watch everything you can. Similarly, if you're writing for a specific network, watch as much of it as you can. It helps to have the same terms of reference as your audience. Exploit your setting and theme. If you're set on a farm, try writing down 50 things about farms before you start. If it's about siblings, write down 50 things about siblings. If that's what it's about or where it's set you may as well get the most out of it. Don't just 'write for kids', write for yourself. If you don't find it funny or moving, it's unlikely anyone else will. Be open to suggestions for changing your work. Some of them will be good. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. There are a million reasons why an idea or a script won't make it so having a few scripts on the go can make the disappointment easier to bear. BEN WARD


“I’m not writing to make anyone’s children feel safe.” J. K. Rowling

Keep Writing!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


Many regional bodies in the UK have low budget film schemes. Like them or loathe them, they give many first-timer feature makers a way in, within a supported network. These opportunities are available to you but the trick is to apply for them in the right way. To understand more, I spoke with the team behind the Microwave initiative and asked them for their tips on making a low budget film. 

Film London recently relaunched Microwave, their feature film training through production fund. This year the scheme has come back bigger and is better than ever with £150,000 for up to six films over three years. 

Microwave helped to produce Hong Khaou's critically-acclaimed Lilting, BAFTA-nominated Shifty and Plan B's directorial debut, iLL Manors as well as Borrowed Time, Strawberry Films and Mum & Dad.  

The scheme looks for ambitious teams driven to tell singular and authentic stories which embrace and make a creative virtue of the challenges of micro-budget film making. Their aim is to support bold and surprising cinema that will grow and excite audiences, contributing positively to an increasingly diverse landscape for British film. 

Deborah Sathe, Head of Talent Development and Production, said: 'We are hugely delighted to launch our Microwave feature film fund again – and excited to find the next generation of storytellers to follow in the footsteps of LiltingShifty, and iLL Manors.' 

I asked them to share their insight into things that work and to consider when applying.  

  1. One of the first questions to ask: is this a film that will compromise itself in order to be made on a low budget? If so, it’s not the right project.
  2. Preparation time and development is your most abundant and valuable resource. Just because you've been funded, that doesn't mean you're ready to go shoot. Is the script the very best it can be?
  3. On a low budget, the narrative has to work seamlessly on the page; the script can’t hide behind production values of a higher budgeted film
  4. Do an actors read-through in advance of the shoot and incorporate changes. With a limited budget, there is no time to find the scene on set.
  5. Consult with the editor during the final draft to ensure everything needed is there, and vice versa. Low budgets don’t allow for extra fat on the script; you need the most efficient ratio possible between what’s shot and what makes the final cut.
  6. Make a panel of trusted readers to read at key stages to save on a script editor. Keep it small and consistent, too many voices are unhelpful
  7. Have the script embrace the realities of the shoot – location, budget, schedule – and not fight against them. Has it made a virtue of them? Embrace constraint as an opportunity to make something better.
  8. What is your films key location? Or are there two? Three will most likely be be your maximum, both in terms of cost, and in terms of logistics.
  9. Does it really have to be at night? Does there have to be a crowd? Is there really a child there? Is there really a dog there? Does the car really need to be moving? Do you really need that song? Find the essential narrative purpose of the scene and be faithful to it, remove the extra details that will strain your budget. 
  10. Choose your project very carefully. Are you prepared to dedicate the next three years of your life to it? No matter the sacrifice, no matter the lack of money, no matter the odds against it?
It really is worth understanding and following these guidelines when considering submitting a project. You don't have to lose the story just because you will not have the perfect budget to make it - in truth no film ever does have enough money - you can adapt it. You are the creator of that world so be challenged and be creative. Should you find you cannot create a world in which this story can exist at this budget level, then perhaps write a different story that does. 

Film making from script to screen will always be filled with compromise. The films that work have a a truth, a fundamental truth, at the heart of the story they tell - what's yours? Remember the script will carry the film from start to finish. I'm a firm believer that all writers and writer-directors are more than one idea - commit to a career not a screenplay and use schemes such as this to springboard you. 

The closing date for entries is 30 July CLICK HERE for more info. If you qualify, apply and see where you get to. Good luck! 

Keep writing!