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 1.

    Oh dear. Maybe next time...

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The percentages baffle me, I'm not mathematically inclined so it's rather like reading latin (but harder), and I don't draw anything from it, but I do appreciate the time and effort you all must make to offer this to us wannabewriters :) I didn't submit this time, so it's a relief not to receive the email that tells me I didn't get any further this time - looking forward to the next window of opportunity! Does the process by which you read the scripts ever come under scrutiny - or do you think the way you do it is successful and works?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Thanks for the break down and tips, they're much appreciated.

    "...try something new and do things differently next time." - yup, that works for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Not enough zombies or serial frog-rapists then? I guess the selection process is also about what's either big on TV now or is predicted to be in the future. So gentle stories about cars are out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What it all boils down to fella, and I mean this constructively, is that no matter what you (or I for that matter) wrote, someone out there wrote something better. It's all about learning from it and not taking rejection badly.

    Phrase-for-the-day: 'Don't get bitter, get better.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Bit difficult not to be discouraged when you get no feedback at all. And judging by the quality of the material that gets through all this sifting - originality is not always to the fore.

    Be interesting to know who these readers are (in terms of background, education) and how many of the scripts that come through are from people of a similar background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    @ lullabell - yes we look at what we do every year, and tweak what we do whenever we feel we need to. The process is always under scrutiny which is why being as open as we can like this is a good thing to do (we think)
    @ philcurry - actually, it's the opposite - if something similar is already on TV etc then that makes it harder for any given script. We don't ask writers to predict what will be big - just write about what excites them, and do it well

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    .Anthony Atkin

    But how do you get better if you do not know what you did wrong in the first place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @ simon - not quite sure what you mean re the quality of ones that get through as we don't publish those scripts - but originality is absolutely one of the key things we look for. We just don't have the resources to give feedback to everybody - we never have. There's no simple solution to that, I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @ simon - re readers, they are all very experienced professionals, a mix of writers, producers, directors, script editors, even actors. We only bring in people with demonstrable and significant experience. The readers don't know the background of the writer when sifting so it has no bearing in that sense. They are well briefed to look for big sparks of talent, and the biggest frustration we hear from them is how familiar/predictable many scripts are - they are always looking for something they've never seen before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Thanks for your comments Paul. I appreciate you cannot act as copy doctors but nothing comes from nothing as someone said.

    Personally I think complete originality is a myth. Everything written owes a lot to other writers. And too often what is original gets confused with what is shocking.

    Perhaps Clive James is useful here when he wrote to the effect that we must not expect originality but
    demand vitality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Thank you! Wow, decision day: I spent goodness-knows-how-many neurotic hours analysing the blog post after the first sift like an email from a lover and posting questions (my previous username was blondezvous). My script made it to the "serious contender for a full-read but didn't quite get there after a third look" stage, which I was pleased about, since it was quite literally the first TV script I had ever written in my life (I'm a from a print journalism background with only one screenwriter acquaintance who read my script and gave me some basic do's and don'ts). The blog posts here are really insightful and helpful, as was your talk at IdeasTap. Thank you so much and congratulations to everyone else who took part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @ simon - indeed - it's more an original touch, or a fresh perspective on an archetypal idea, than wholesale originality. Vitality is a must.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Hi, I was wondering whether it'd be possible to tell those who don't get through the next script room window if they were a maybe or not instead of just a straight no?
    I'm sure this would give many writers a bit more hope - I for one would feel a lot better if I knew that my script was a maybe, even if it was just for a second :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Having submitted my work for the first time, on the whole it was quite professional with the updates and emails but 3000 scripts is a lot even for 16 readers. It's obviously very popular and the 'Writers Room' provides the only open script submission platfform to my knowledge. Perhaps the process could be made easier if they had genre related submission windows instead these major key dates. Typically it could be 'Serial Crime Drama' one month etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It's hard being a writer, the constant rejection and the amount of work you put in for what can seem like no return. But keep going, the fact that you have finished a script separates you from the majority. I received good news today, but it may be worth mentioning how my bad news has developed. My very early rejection where about the quality of my work, but now my rejections are professional and deal with target audiences and what fits with what channel. It seems the quality of the writing is no longer and issue.

    What I'm trying to say is, you can still develop through the rejections, each one brings you closer to what you want to achieve.

    On a separate note, with systems so rigorous and the odds stacked against us in such high numbers, it makes you wonder how anything terrible ever reaches the tv screens, and it does.

    Good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Sorry for the errors in my previous post, iPad keyboard!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Its sad there is such a wealth of people wanting to contribute towards creating new television programmes, with a variety of ideas and that there are so few openings for new writers. Worst still, if you have a diverse idea that has not been produced before or even touched upon, instead of being an exciting prospect, it is something to shy away from because the market is untested. With so many TV channels to fill, repeating exisiting programmes is obviously a more finacially viable option, however I think the public want to get engrossed in new programmes and are sick of seeing the same repeats over and over again.

    Take heart writers and remember how many times J K Rowling was turned down for Harry Potter and told the idea wouldn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @ mishka - we did indicate that in the emails to those Maybe writers
    @ z ashton - that's one of many ideas on the table for the future
    @ dave m - indeed - worth saying there's a huge amount that can and does happen inbetween someone spotting talent and something getting made. It's no less rigorous - but sometimes for all the will and talent and hard work in the world, things don't always turn out as well as you'd hoped and expected. Happens all the time.

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