Archives for June 2011

Get a Squiggle On: Top tips from CBeebies

Fiona Mahon | 12:13 UK time, Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thinking of entering our CBeebies Get a Squiggle On Competition but need help finding inspiration for your script? Check out the short film below specially put together by CBeebies, with their top tips on how to approach writing for a preschool audience.

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You can also watch some CBeebies programme clips on our resources page, download a selection of childrens' scripts in our script archive, and have a read of the following blog posts:

- C.S.I. CBeebies: A fur-ensic look at perfecting storylines for Nuzzle & Scratch - Adam Redfern

- Mr Bloom's Nursery - Ben Faulks

Best of luck!

Find out more about Get a Squiggle On.

Stringsta: The World of Mancunia

Charlotte Riches Charlotte Riches | 13:17 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

BBC Radio Drama North, with the new social creativity platform Stringsta have just launched a really exciting web project which gives budding writers a platform to showcase their work, as well as allowing them the opportunity to add to and interact with other writer's stories and ideas.

It's a project which has been almost a year in development, mainly because a collaboration with an outside web platform is pretty rare in the BBC and also because Stringsta is a completely unique site - the BBC (and to be honest me at first), didn't quite know what to make of it.

I'm not a techie and websites usually send me running. I can just about work Facebook, but anything beyond typing in a status update leaves me baffled. I therefore didn't think I would be able to get to grips with Stringsta's innovative way of sharing content, but their layout is so simple that I picked up how to post content really easily and in no time at all, I managed to add some starting points to the site for a creative journey which hopefully people will want to add to and continue.

We've called the project the World of Mancunia, as it has been inspired by the Radio 4 play Crimes of Mancunia by Michael Symmons Roberts. It is a noir inspired drama, set in Manchester's dark underworld of criminals and police investigations. On the Stringsta site I've posted some photos which inspired the drama, some audio and script extracts, as well as some photos and questions about the main characters in the narrative. My content is there purely as a starting point for your imagination. You can build upon what I have posted, create entirely new 'strings' of your own, or add to other user's creations. The idea is that we begin to build a collaborative on-line world, limited only be people's imaginations.

Mancunia inspirational image.

As this type of project has never been done before, I have no idea of where it will lead to creatively, although another exciting element of the project is that the posted content will be monitored by BBC Radio Drama Producers (including me!) and we are very interested in finding users who create stand-out content and we may contact those users about further development opportunities. So your posts could lead to that first step in your work getting noticed by the BBC!

The site will run until Friday 29th July. To register on the site log on to: www.stringsta.com/bbcmancunia

Crimes of Mancunia will be broadcast today on Radio 4 on Thursday 23rd June 14.15-15.00 and will also be available as a free download until Friday 1st July from the BBC Podcasts Play of the Week series.

If you want to read the full Crimes of Mancunia script, then this can be downloaded here in the Writersroom script archive.

Laughing Stock: How to Get the Most out of a BBC Residency

David Byrne | 11:03 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

As you've probably seen by now, several other of my fellow Laughing Stock winners have written blogs about their experiences of the contest and being on residency with Aunty.

I thought it'd try and write the list I would have liked to have stumbled upon before embarking on a week away with the BBC.

Picture from the BBC writersroom Laughing Stock residential

1.Get Your Script Noticed
In order to get on a residency in the first place, you'll need to get your script noticed.

The nine scripts that were chosen for further development all possessed such strong, individual voices and it was clear that the BBC were genuinely keen to develop us all further as writers.

This came as a surprise for my initially-cautiously-pessimistic group who thought that the whole week would just be an exercise in box-ticking and that we'd be forced to sit on a production line stuffing envelopes with threatening "a-court-date-has-already-been-set" licence-fee letters (while better looking people are photographed being "mentored" to fulfil some public remit).

However, this was not the case and only one of us was replaced in photos for someone better looking. All the producers and commissioners who came to talk to us seemed to really grasp what made our writing truly "ours". I've never had such considered and probing feedback from people I'd only just met.

Failing that though, do what I did and submit a script in a good enough font - they'll be forced to sit up and pay attention.

2.Write a Better Script

The joy of discovering I was one of the final nine sitcom writers was quickly tempered by the fact our first task was to sit in a circle and read each other's work aloud.

My heart sunk.

However good a first impression I was likely to make on my fellow writers it would be ruined by how seemingly little writing talent my script displays. I kept telling myself it wasn't going to be that bad and, after all, it had come this far. Foolishly, the night before we embarked to Bore Place, I asked my housemate to perform it with me. I realised that the only good joke in it had been ruined due to a spelling mistake and that the grammar was so poor, it felt like a tester question for a 'How To Learn English' exam.

"Why don't you just take the script that won the contest?" my housemate asked.

"This is the script" I replied, crushed.

3. Pack Properly

We were away for a week and I had decided to leave my packing until the morning of departure. Major mistake. I was called into work on an emergency and quickly threw two un-ironed shirts into a bag (which gave the impression I didn't change clothes for our whole stay in the country) along with two and a half pairs of socks.

I also forgot to pack any deodorant so stole some degraded Lynx Africa from my work's showers, which meant that I spent five days smelling of a cross between a teenage disco and a sex pest.

Unpacking in my room, I realised I hadn't emptied the bag and found, in the side pockets, three energy saver light bulbs, two sets of swimming goggles and all my childhood passports. If the staff at our accommodation had insisted on going through our luggage they would have assumed I was going through a complete mental breakdown.

The only plus side of having a half-empty bag was that it was far easier to steal items from my room to sell so others could attempt to recreate the retreat for themselves as home. For sale on e-bay right now: some Bore Place tea towels, several wicker baskets and a large oak headboard.

In the interest of BBC transparency, I should be honest and say that I'm joking: in reality I hardly stole anything from Bore Place.

4.Go with an open mind and an empty stomach
What surprised us all was the expectation that we'd come up with new ideas together as a group to pitch to various executives. This was far more fun than I'd have ever anticipated. The experience of being locked away in deep countryside with a group of other people who enjoy writing comedy was a joy. To most people I meet, writing comedy is seen alongside making animals out of pasta shapes.

To meet a group of other people, who not only enjoy it but also actively want to do it for a living, was both exhilarating and liberating.

It's worth pointing out that the food was also incredible. Starve yourself before you go, as you'll eat like a king.

There's an amazing chef, a 24-hour cheese board (which we all made the most of) and free apple juice. I've never drunk so much fruit.

A week that I'd initially worried would be slightly awkward and embarrassing was, on reflection, the best experience of my professional life so far. The myth that comedy writers are dour depressing people who are deflating to be around is far from fact; as we sat up late playing games, walked through the perfect gardens in small groups and generally lived a Brideheadian existence for just one week, soaked in sunlight, feeling that our dreams might not be so far from our reach after all, I can think of nowhere else on Earth or even in my own memories that I'd rather have been.

5.Never agree to write a blog about your experience

Writing this blog has been harder than writing the script I entered for the contest. The pressure to be entertaining while factual(ish) is only overshadowed by the feeling that this could be "part of the contest" and "they're judging my every word".

David was one of the winners of BBC writersroom's Laughing Stock comedy competition. Writers were asked to submit an original narrative comedy script with series potential.

The World of Mancunia

Fiona Mahon | 13:59 UK time, Tuesday, 21 June 2011

BBC Radio Drama North supported by the new social creativity platform Stringsta, has just launched a unique web space, where budding writers and creatives can come together to share written, visual and audio content.

The World of Mancunia takes its inspiration from the noir Radio 4 drama Crimes of Mancunia by Michael Symmons Roberts, an exciting and dangerous world of police, informants and criminals. BBC Radio Drama have provided the foundations of this world, but they want YOU to help build it further through your own story ideas, scripts, photographs and audio recordings.

BBC Radio Drama Mancunia project.

Not only is this a rare opportunity for you to become part of a shared creative experience in a unique on-line environment, but it is a chance for you to get your work seen and heard by Producers from BBC Radio Drama who will be monitoring the posted content.

To register on the site log on to: www.stringsta.com/bbcmancunia

Read a short guide to Stringsta to see how it works and how you can start uploading your ideas.

Crimes of Mancunia will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursday 23rd June 14.15-15.00 and will also be available for a week as a free download from Friday 24th June from BBC Podcasts Play of the Week series.

The full Crimes of Mancunia script will be available on the BBC writersroom script archive from 23rd June.

Laughing Stock: A winner's perspective

Shazad Mohammed | 10:44 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

Sending in a script to the BBC for a competition is always a challenge, especially if you miss the last post before the deadline and have to take the train from Birmingham all the way to Euston to drop it off at Grafton House. That's how my journey for the Laughing Stock competition started. It got easier after that.

Homegrown, my comedy about the lives of four young Muslims living in the UK made it to the final nine and I had the pleasure of attending the residential in Kent. Before the residential there was a Masterclass to attend at BBC Television Centre in White City (a lovely historic property comprising of amongst other features; studios, offices and a through lounge, see your local estate agent if you're interested). The Masterclass was a great opportunity to hear about the other scripts that had made it to this stage, twenty five or twenty six in total I think. Adil Ray and Rebecca Front had some great advice about what makes great comedy characters and what actors look for when they're reading a script. At the beginning of the Masterclass Mark Freeland (BBC Head of Comedy) gave us a little inspirational story about how the room we were in was being used by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant the week before and how Merchant had held onto his BBC ID Card from when he was doing a Producers course years ago so basically everything good in comedy begins at the BBC.

Laughing Stock residential.

The residential itself was a full-on intensive about both writing and pitching. The table read of all the scripts was a great opportunity to get a real feel of the script as a living breathing organism. The highlight of the residential was Graham Linehan best known for Father Ted, IT Crowd (adored by Osama Bin Laden), Black Books and errr Radio 4. It was fascinating and instructive to hear him go through his method for putting a sitcom together especially the part about how some of the episodes of Father Ted were constructed. Meeting and talking to Executive Producers and people from Comedy Commissioning like Jack Cheshire, Davina Earl and Kristian Smith gave me a clear sense of direction for my script and their notes will hopefully prove to be invaluable in the process of getting Homegrown made.

Shazad was one of the winners of BBC writersroom's Laughing Stock comedy competition. Writers were asked to submit an original narrative comedy script with series potential.


Mr Bloom's Nursery

Ben Faulks Ben Faulks | 11:06 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Mr Bloom's Nursery started off as a piece of street theatre that I had written. It was an interactive walkabout performance piece that engaged with families at festival events. I played a gardener who had dug up his baby vegetables and taken them out for the day in an old Victorian pram. The show toured nationally & internationally and it was during this time that I had ideas for how the show might translate into a television programme for children.

So, I approached the BBC. I took the walkabout show into the office, gave a tiny performance and presented my ideas of how it could be adapted for Television. Luckily they were interested in developing it and so began a fantastic seven-month adventure. Although I'd written and produced shows for stage, this was the first time that I had been involved in the development and writing of a TV script. Some things were familiar but others were very different but I thrived on this. I'm always looking for the chance to work within different mediums so having this opportunity was priceless experience, as well as a real learning curve.

It involved lots of trips between Manchester and London, lots of sample scripts written and rewritten, discussions on eating characters / not eating characters, but one thing that stood out during this time was the dedication to the show format. This was incredibly important as this was the blue print by which all subsequent episodes would adhere to. Every time it seemed you could say, 'there that's it, we've got it', something would crop up and the format would have to change. But far from this being a negative it taught me about patience and the amount of work that goes into making sure that the finished article is honed to perfection.

Mr Bloom's Nursery.

When it came to writing the scripts it was both extremely enjoyable and remarkably tough. On one hand it was just like writing a script for stage other than a change in layout but on the other hand it was a completely different exercise of the imagination.

Having come from the stage where in some respects you're quite restricted by what you could achieve in real time before an audience, I was thinking big. I was imagining all the incredible things you could achieve on TV; grand sequences, elaborate sets but in reality a lot of this simply wasn't possible. I learnt that TV allows you to use your imagination but you have to be very economical with what you're proposing. Episode time is limited, shooting time is limited, budgets are limited, there are so many things to consider. That's not to say fantastic things weren't possible, they were, it's just that you had learn what you could afford to include.

The length of scripts was also a good test. My initial treatments were far too long and tried to incorporate mountainous storylines into a tiny Twenty-minute window. No good. Not only is twenty minutes exceedingly small when it's broken down but the tempo and pacing of a show that's for 2 - 4 yr olds has to be delivered on their terms. You cant try to cram too much in and whip it along too fast because they wont be able to take it in. But at the same time, it's got to be punchy and keep them engaged, less they switch off.

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Complexity was another issue to be tamed. I found myself overcompensating with the narrative, as if there wasn't going to be enough of interest to hold the audience. Everything had to be simplified. Audiences of 2 - 4 years don't need subplots and cliff-hangers, they need a good story, told simply and clearly. This process of boiling things down was really useful in hindsight. It helped to really get to the core of what the episode was about and what your were trying to convey with the time you had.

What's more we were figuring it out as we went along. This was a new series. From the moment that the production started, the format continued to be revised and developed. Essentially the show only existed in our minds and a few illustrations from the art department. We were still establishing so many fundamental aspects for the show. It took a time to get the feel for the show, what the nursery was like inside and how the characters engaged with it.

Testing times. Lots of going back to the drawing board but it was all good and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to be involved in the process from start to finish. Key things that I've taken it from it are...

- Know the main selling point of your idea inside and out.

- Know your audience and how your idea will connect with them.

- Keep it simple, clear and reduce things down to their essence.

- Research & develop your idea with your audience wherever possible.

- Allow for the audience to feedback into your work and your ideas.

- Be prepared for things to take time. Don't force it.

Ben Faulks is the creator and writer of Mr Bloom's Nursery, he also stars in the show as Mr Bloom.

Read a script from Mr Bloom's Nursery in our script archive.

Our Get a Squiggle On competition gives you the chance to write for CBeebies. Find out how to enter.

C.S.I. CBeebies: A fur-ensic look at perfecting storylines for Nuzzle & Scratch

Adam Redfern Adam Redfern | 16:52 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011

Nuzzle & Scratch are back for a third series on CBeebies. For the uninitiated and/or the over 6's, Nuzzle & Scratch are two idiotic, accident-prone puppet alpacas with two very funny series under their belts already.

Having written for series two, I can't wait to write more for these guys; comedy characters like this are a gift.

The process begins in typical telly fashion. After a meeting with the writing team round the table where we're briefed on the new show, the producer and script editor ask all the writers to submit one-line story summaries and the best ones will be commissioned, simple as that.

This is often the way things begin and is a very, very healthy first step to take whether you're writing your own totally original pilot script, or contributing to a commissioned show - can you describe the story in just one sentence? If not, it's almost definitely not simple enough - especially for preschool.

Nuzzle and Scratch

Here's the brief for Nuzzle & Scratch series 3: the show is subtitled "Frock 'n' Roll" and Nuzzle & Scratch have somehow found work assisting in the titular fancy-dress costume shop.

Every episode, they need to simply deliver two identical costumes to two identical twins, but every single time, Nuzzle & Scratch are distracted and end up trying to carry out some task or job related to the costumes (which they are now wearing themselves).

Clear as mud? Well welcome to the world of Nuzzle & Scratch. Think of the show as a furry and farcical hybrid of Mr. Benn, Open All Hours and Fawlty Towers aimed at 4-6 year olds and you should be fine.

So, back to the story pitch, and inspired by playtime with my own young sons at home, I suggest a story for police costumes that goes like this...

Nuzzle & Scratch arrive at the scene of a crime and meet a policeman who needs their help: - a priceless ruby ring has been stolen and the robber needs to be caught.

And that's it. One sentence and we have the costumes, (general) location, key prop, and additional characters and of course a simple story, brilliant! Time to pour a cuppa, pull the chair up to the keyboard and dive into the first draft, right?

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Well, not quite. Feedback comes through from the script editor (drum roll please). He's happy a police story will work and I'm commissioned (Yes!), but the robber is a problem - the character's just too out and out naughty for CBeebies (Nooo!).

But just before I pace the room calling the script editor various names for throwing a huge spanner into the works of my beautifully simplistic storyline, I see from his email that his criticism is also constructive.

He suggests an alternative police story with a new direction... what if Nuzzle & Scratch discover an important parcel and escort it from A to B - and what if a Postman had lost that parcel and is constantly appearing in the background, trying to get it back? Nuzzle & Scratch leap to a completely wrong police conclusion that he's a naughty thief and chaos ensues.

Now although this is a totally new direction to my story pitch, the key to me understanding why is the following editor's note: how do Nuzzle & Scratch achieve a simple task in a policemen-like way?

Aha! So that's the heart of the show that only the script editor, who's living and breathing the format of the series across all 26 episodes, can know better than me as single episode writer.

In other words, he's got the bigger picture in his head - and his storyline makes sense: Nuzzle & Scratch don't have to literally help the police if they're dressed as such - or even realise they're helping anyone at all! Any successful task they complete is more often than not completely accidental - that's totally Nuzzle & Scratch.

The Postman now becomes, of course, an accidental antagonist and suspected parcel thief - allowing me to riff on the baddy theme I originally wanted in my script, but in a far funnier, pantomime way - with comic confusion at a simple enough level for the young audience to enjoy. Then at the end of the episode, everyone is revealed as goodies for the perfect preschool conclusion.

So there you have it - a hopefully helpful example of the work that goes into getting the storyline right first, before I even begin on the full draft of the script.

Because the script editor and I had agreed on the new, better story direction from the outset, the full script came together very quickly (with gags and scenes full of walkie-talkie jargon, handcuff slapstick and silly stake-outs all flowing easily onto the page), with just a couple of drafts needed before it was ready to shoot.

...And, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, for further evidence of this episode, then I politely refer you to exhibit A: the full episode script on this 'ere website and B: the short clip of the same programme - hope you enjoy it.

Watch Nuzzle & Scratch: Police Officers (written by Adam Redfern) on iPlayer.

Want to write for CBeebies? Find out how to enter our Get a Squiggle On writing competition and win the opportunity to develop your script alongside the CBeebies team.

TV Drama - The Writers' Festival 2011: Booking deadline extended

Fiona Mahon | 16:11 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

The deadline for bookings for this year's Writers' Festival has now been extended until June 23rd. Please send all completed application forms through to writersroom.events@bbc.co.uk by midnight on this date.

We've just announced more guest speakers on the festival page - with a fantastic line-up to include Jimmy McGovern, Frank Spotnitz, Jack Thorne, Paula Milne, Toby Whithouse, Stephen Butchard and Alice Nutter to name a few, it's shaping up to be a very exciting year.

Image from TV Drama: The Writers' Festival 2010.

Some of the session titles announced so far include: "Team writing US style", "The Curse of the scripwriting guru", "Know Your Audience - Writing for the Youth Market" and "Is it the writer's responsibility to change the world?"

Find out more
about the festival and how you can apply for a ticket.

Look forward to seeing you there!

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