Script Room latest: and now for the science part

Thursday 4 July 2013, 12:23

Paul Ashton Paul Ashton


If you submitted to Script Room and haven’t checked your inbox, then there should be an email winging its way to you with our longlist decision – ie whether or not your script is being given a full read and feedback. It’s taken longer than we hoped, simply due to the sheer numbers of submissions, and our need to be as thorough and rigorous as we can when dealing with so many scripts. We had a team of 16 readers working across 6 solid weeks to get from the full set of submissions to a longlist of scripts getting feedback.

So here are some stats about where submissions got to in the process – and a few thoughts about the process as extrapolated from the stats.

First sift

At the first 10-page sift, 83% of all submissions were given a NO verdict, which means they didn’t progress beyond that first sift stage. Proportionally, that’s more or less the same as the last two Script Rooms - which means that since we had more scripts submitted, more scripts progressed through and there was physically more work still to do. What we have noticed is that at this stage, the proportion of scripts in particular genres that were given a NO were more or less the same as those received overall – so no marked difference in how genres progressed at this stage.

At the first sift, 5% of submissions were given a MAYBE verdict – which means the reader wasn’t sure and wanted another reader to take a look at the next sift stage, at which point it was given another 10-page look by another reader and either became a NO or was put through for a full second stage sift. Which means the remaining 12% were put through to the second sift as a straight YES.

I’ve blogged before about why script didn’t progress so I shan’t repeat myself here, other than to say the key thing at this stage was identifying the spark of something interesting enough to make the reader want to read on.

Second sift

At the second stage, we asked the readers to do a 20-30 page sift of all scripts – making sure that a new reader looked at each given script, ie one reader didn’t sift the same script twice across the two stages. First, we looked at the MAYBEs to decide which would progress to the second sift. And then we began looking again at everything that had progressed from the first sift. Some felt confident after 20 pages of making a verdict, some read further, and sometimes readers read beyond 30 pages if they felt they needed to in order to make a final decision about the longlist. It was at this stage that the decisions in some senses became more difficult, less immediately clear, less clear cut, and therefore harder work. As such, what was a little different at this stage was seeing if and how that spark of something interesting managed to develop and grow as the script progressed. At this stage, having a fantastic first 10 pages wasn’t enough – the script needed to keep on being effective and engaging.

At the second sift, over half of the 12% we started with was given a NO verdict – which left us with a remaining 5%.

Full reads

So, the percentage of scripts going to a full read this time is 5%. That’s exactly the same percentage as last time round, and slightly less than the time before (though we did receive far more scripts this time, so it’s actually more scripts). We don’t work to a quota – so it’s interesting how close those stats are. These scripts will get a full read, feedback, and then we’ll sit down with the readers and decide which of those scripts they are recommending for a look by someone like me in the writersroom team. (Again, no quotas on that – but previously between 30-40% have then been recommended on.)

A few comparative stats for you:

Total Submissions                          vs                                 Full Reads

TV/Radio Comedy 33%                                                  TV/Radio Comedy 20%
TV Drama 24%                                                                 TV Drama 27%
Film 23%                                                                            Film 23%
Radio Drama 10%                                                            Radio Drama 8%
Stage 8%                                                                            Stage 16%
Children’s 2%                                                                    Children’s 6%

As you can see, Film stayed the same and TV and Radio Drama changed a little, but the proportion of Comedies progressing dropped a lot, while the proportion of Stage scripts progressing doubled and Children’s scripts trebled. You wouldn’t want to extrapolate anything concrete from this necessarily, other than the fact that at the second sift stage of further deeper assessment, some genres fared better than others. (We’re still collating the stats the readers gave us on the reasons for saying NO at different stages.)

What I hope is clear from this is how intensive the process has been. 2,800 scripts, 16 readers, 6 weeks. If you are one of the people getting a full read, then very well done on getting this far. If you are not – then don’t despair. Which is easier said than done, I know. But when we receive nigh on 3000 scripts in one go, the odds are always going to be stacked heavily against you. And as I think it’s always important to note, just because we are saying no, does not mean we are saying your script wasn’t any good. Our job is to rigorously work our way through everything and find a way to identify what will necessarily be a small proportion of writers that we think we should begin to develop our relationship with. 

Judging by previous times, in the end we may only be able to bring together a final group of around 25 writers – and a quick go at the maths tells you this is less than 1% of the total of submissions. With odds like that, it’s important that you don’t see failing to reach that small number simply as failure. See it as an incentive to send a better script next time. To try something new and do things differently next time. To watch more TV, listen to more radio, read more scripts in our archive, see more interviews with established writers. Whatever it takes to get better, do better, get closer. Because the real danger for that 1% is that they might think they’ve made it and the pressure is off – but they haven’t, and it isn’t. It’s just the first step on a long road – the same one you are all on. And that’s the same one all writers are always on for as long they have the desire to create better work, communicate with audiences, and continue to express their voice.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    @ snegags - agents, like us, are constantly overwhelmed by writers wanting to be noticed and represented. They are of course important, and the more you are working and the more agreements there are to negotiate, the more crucial they become. They can open doors for you that you couldn't open yourself - but once your are through that door, the rest of the hard work is yours to do and you shouldn't expect an agent to miraculously make your career happen. You must be the captain of your own ship. You can make waves and progress without one at an early stage. All agents are only as good as your relationship with them, and how much they really click with you and your work. It's not so much about getting one, as getting the right one, and that can take time, effort, persistence, and fortune/serendipity. If and when you do find the right agent, it will have been worth all the effort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Thanks for your reply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Great reply, made me more philosophical re the agent situation.

    Many thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    @ blackers.

    Hello, still alive and well, no goodbye cruel world just yet. I've been keeping myself busy with a few projects, you know what they say about idle hands. Nice of you to worry about me though. Well done to those who made it through to the 5%. To those who didn't, dont dispare, there's always a new idea out there somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Jane Saunte - Thanks for your question. I have often wondered why the bar for established writers who have had ideas successfully commissioned in the past seems to be set differently than that for new writers, but just sort of accepted it. Its interesting to see that it might be because the commissioning process at the two levels works differently. New writers have to produce full finished script to get an idea commissioned and more established writers are able to get work based on treatment/ synopsis/ extract and quality of work produced previously. But if past work doesn't necessarily always act as reliable indicator of performance, you'd think they would use same system. Although, that said it must be heart-breaking if your idea is commissioned and then for whatever reason during comes out at end of the process not as you would have hoped but still with your name on it. Pros and cons I guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Yes, Dunnoaboutthat. It's depressing to think that even success doesn't solve all problems. I think Paul has been trying to tell us that for some time, actually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    @ Mr Midnight - oh I am pleased, I was concerned for you. Read recently about Ben Elton's axed sit com. Poor fella, he is a sensitive soul. So there you have it , even the high and mighty suffer rejection.

    I was reading about Caroline Aherne's last script for The Royle Family (Christmas special) not being ready. Before I say anything else, I need to make it clear I empathise totally with her mental health and this is by no means a dig at her, but is there a back-up for situations like this. What is the procedure at the Beeb if scripts aren't produced on time please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    If I haven't even received a 'not today' email... does that mean my script wasn't read or even received by the bbcwritersroom? If so, then I can enter it in the next run can't I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Hey Paul, two questions...

    Does it matter if there is a single or double space after a period/full stop?

    For the next window, does a dark comedy Tv script come under TV DRAMA?

    cheers Paul

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    I read a mail which informed me that the submitted scripts were going to be reviewed by mid May. We were then told it was taking longer than expected, because of the big response. However, we're at the end of July & still no word..?

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    @ annied + rickanne - all verdict emails have gone out - if you've received nothing then email us to find out Don't resubmit until you know for sure if it has been received and assessed.
    @ stevieboo - no it really doesn't matter. You've answered your own question - if you see it as a dark comedy then surely it's a comedy not a drama?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    @ paul
    What do you class breaking bad? Blackpool? Californication? All dark, with comic elements and also drama -- this intrigues me. I wasn't clear -- I see it as a "dark comedy drama", as I do the above examples... or am I talking babbage...

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I meant that on NETFLIX for example they have "TV Comedy Drama" "TV Comedy" and "TV Drama" (as do other sites), my work I class as "TV Comedy drama, 1 hr episodes" -- so does that go into "Drama" in the next window or Comedy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    This time round I actually submitted on behalf of somebody else, worked a script editor, then became named writer due to substantial input. This submission was a first rounder, the script was a touch offensive, but I was suprised about the first round rejection, though I suppose it was a particularly competitive script window. Slightly defeated I turned on my TV, and what did I find 'BADULTS' the saviour of my comedy writing, if a misguided commissioning editor was able to find a nutty grain of hope in this pile of culutral feaces I'm sure I will have better luck in the future. On fourth to the next rejection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    No gripes about falling at the first hurdle. However, did enclose SSAE with my script ('Hemingways-
    TV Comedy), but have not received it back yet, can you tell me what happened to it please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I sent my latest script to the writers room armed with a confidence born out of good reviews from successful producers. I was curious to see what the readers would think of it. Did the writers room work? A previous piece of low budget rubbish I had sent in - a story set in the East End about a dullard who keeps seeing things - had been considered worthy enough by the readers to be selected from the sea of hope and considered in the last 5%.

    Surely my latest script about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a script put through coverage by an Oscar winning production company, a script which reached the latter stages of appraisal for funding at the B.F.I, would be a shoe in. To my surprise it didn't make it past the first ten page clear out.

    So don't despair if, like me, you have been rejected after a ten page read by the readers, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad script, in fact it probably doesn't mean much at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I haven't had a Bad Luck or a Thanks for Trying message. Did my script go walkabout? Gem

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I hand my script to Michelle at the Euston Road building, my laptop having died of exhaustion on the final day for submissions. But I've had no feed back.


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