Archives for November 2011

Jesting About 2: It's not all vanilla lattes and falafel fajitas

Rob Gilroy Rob Gilroy | 10:18 UK time, Monday, 28 November 2011

Hello. You don't know me but I am yet another of those regular people what made it through that Jesting About-initiative thing last year. I've been asked to write a blog about it. I also work part-time in a cafe, but you're not interested in that, are you?

Of course not.

So, I was asked to write about my experience on Jesting About, and I thought that as well as doing that, I would give some (hopefully) helpful tips on what to do when applying. Now, I feel it's worth pointing something out before we go any further on this prose-based journey of ours - being a writer isn't glamorous. Despite what you see on E! News and Dickinson's Real Deals; this industry isn't all that pretty. In order to fully help you grasp this concept, I have an admission to make...

When I filled in my application form for Jesting About, I did so wearing nothing but a pair of pants.

You see - it's not all vanilla lattes and falafel fajitas in this business. Nevertheless I was accepted onto the Radio strand of the scheme, where I had to write and perform sketches for a pilot show to be aired on BBC Newcastle and BBC Tees. I had my sketches looked at, spat on and pulled apart. It was difficult, as a writer, being subjected to harsh criticism but I haven't experienced anything else that has tested my comedy muscles in quite the same way. You have to earn every laugh.

It's a daunting situation to go into, even if you've already had brushes with show business before (I once met Rula Lenska in the men's toilet at the Centre Parks in Thetford Forrest, and was once seen walking past a Eurosport commentator during the International Speed Skating Championships of '97) but don't let it intimidate you. The tears I held back as I watched experts, such as Ross Noble, Michael Jacob and Dan Tetsell, rip into my babies (not literally) will stay with me, but they have put me in good stead for making a proper go of this writing lark. These are people that live and breathe comedy, with the exception of one chap who used a ventilator. So it is crucial to them that you are as funny as you can be. It was gruelling, stressful and it constantly questioned my abilities, a bit like X Factor boot camp, except Sinitta wasn't allowed on the premises. But I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I know what you'll be thinking - "Great; another BBC comedy writing scheme I won't get accepted on to" and that's exactly what I thought, but now look at me - I'm writing a blog. A BLOG for crying out loud! And did I mention I work part-time in a cafe? So do it. Don't worry about it, just do it. Find your strength; whether that's narrative, sketches or gags, and milk that funny teat for everything its worth. If you are funny, you will be found. Don't second guess what they want, don't alter your material to fit that "BBC feel", just write what makes you laugh. It sounds simple; patronising even, but there is honestly no better advice.

I met some wonderfully talented people on the scheme, from both ends of the spectrum, and I wouldn't be where I am now (cafe) without them. I learnt so much, made great friends and laughed until the tiniest bit of wee wee came out. You will get no better chance than this; so do it. Seize the day, or as the Latin folks say "Carpal Tunnel".

You can find me on Twitter as @RobGilroy; if anyone wants to know any more about deep-filled paninis. It really is a nice cafe.

Are you a writer, performer or comedian? BBC Comedy are searching for the next generation of comedy talent for Jesting About 2: Funny Gets Serious which is being held in Newcastle. Find out how you can enter Jesting About 2. The deadline is noon today, 28th November 2011.

Baker Boys

Fiona BBC writersroom | 17:05 UK time, Thursday, 24 November 2011

Returning on BBC One Wales tonight is original drama, Baker Boys. Written by real-life partners, Helen Raynor and Gary Owen, Baker Boys follows the lives and loves of a group of workers at a bakery in a small South Wales town through the lens of recession-hit Britain.

Helen Raynor has written a blog piece for the BBC TV blog about creating the series and has also filmed a video blog with Gary (below) where they talk about being writing and real-life partners, juggling home life and the process of writing the series in their PJs (or suit, according to Gary).

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Watch Baker Boys on BBC One Wales tonight (Thursday, 24 November) at 9pm.

You can also watch Baker Boys in iPlayer until Thursday, 15 December, wherever you are in the UK.

Jesting About 2

Owen Cooper | 12:42 UK time, Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Last year the BBC ran a comedy writing initiative called 'Jesting About' which aimed to find new talent in the North East. It was championed by Shooting Stars' legend Bob Mortimer so myself and my writing partner Will were extremely lucky to get a place on it. I say 'extremely lucky', we actually sent in some pretty genius stuff.

'Owen and Will truly are comedy geniusi' - My Dad (and accepter of bribes).


We'd been writing comedy together for about a year but had never applied for or been part of a scheme like this, so we didn't really know what to expect. On the first day, we got to understand a bit about what we'd be doing for the next few months - we were part of a team of twelve writers who had to put together a half hour radio sketch show. Several members of the team were people who have been making a living from comedy for many years and some were people much like us who were just starting out. The finished product was either going to be really terrible or really brilliant...or really mediocre.

Throughout the scheme we were mentored by comedy icons such as Bob Mortimer, Ross Noble, Ian La Frenais and Paul Jackson. So that was alright. Also, we got free food - which was like a dream come true for us comedy writers.

Owen Cooper at the launch of Jesting About 2 with Helen Spencer.

Owen Cooper at the launch of Jesting About 2 with Helen Spencer.

Many workshops were held which gave us all a chance to go through everyone's sketches and see what worked and what needed fixing. This can be a brutal and long process which by the end, makes you feel like you've been beaten with a large stick. And not in a fun way. But when things are going well and everyone is on form, it is a really enjoyable few hours and makes you realise how beneficial it is working with other people.

I have since heard the final show was very well received by those who listened to it and is now nominated for a Sony Award next year. Hooray.

Since the initiative finished, myself and Will have gone on to write for Mock the Week, Celebrity Juice and Show and Tell and many other writers have also gone on to do excellent things. One of them won the Premiership with Leeds on Fifa 2012. The whole experience was amazing and the BBC really treated us like Kings during the whole process. They opened a lot of doors for us both literally and metaphorically and I strongly urge anyone interested in writing comedy to apply for Jesting About 2 by its deadline Monday 28th November.

Find my little egg head on twitter here: @OwenRCooper

And my writing partner Will (he made me add this) @MrWillCooper

Are you a writer, performer or comedian? BBC Comedy are searching for the next generation of comedy talent for Jesting About 2: Funny Gets Serious which is being held in Newcastle. Find out how you can enter Jesting About 2.

Read Peter Salmon of BBC North's blog on Jesting About 2.

BBC Radio 4 - Opening Lines

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Gemma Jenkins | 13:26 UK time, Thursday, 3 November 2011

We're writing this as the first short stories for the new series of Opening Lines start to land on our desk.

About to enter its 12th year, the series showcases new and emerging writers, sourced directly from the hundreds of unsolicited submissions the team receives each year.

From this pool we select three stories to be read by actors and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. We're excited that this year we are launching a special Opening Lines webpage and we will be publishing the transcripts of the six strongest stories on it. This gives us the chance to profile those stories which perhaps aren't best suited to being read out loud but are nevertheless fantastic examples of the genre.

There's always a sense of anticipation when we begin the reading process. There are a team of ten readers and we particularly enjoy getting together to champion our favourites.

It's always nice in the covering letter when writers give us a little bit of background info to the genesis of their story. In the past we've broadcast published stories, stories written specifically for Opening Lines and on more than one occasion a story which turns out to be the very first time a writer has put pen to paper. The only strict rule is that a writer must be new to radio.

We're on the look out for those writers with an original voice who perhaps explore familiar territory but with a subtle twist which makes you feel like you are reading about it for the first time. Strong stories and intriguing central characters always go down well - no surprises there!

We often get asked questions about subject-matter but we really don't want to tell you what to write - your story can be about anything, just remember that the slot goes out in the afternoon so there's a strong chance that children will be listening.

We can't recommend enough that you listen to the Radio 4 Afternoon Reading short story slot as this is the best way of finding out what works well being read out loud.

We look forward to receiving your work.

Gemma Jenkins is the producer of BBC Radio 4's Opening Lines programme.

Opening Lines is now open to unsolicited submissions of short stories from writers new to radio for its new series. Find out more about how you can submit on the opportunities page.

Death in Paradise: My first broadcast credit

Robert Thorogood Robert Thorogood | 10:53 UK time, Thursday, 3 November 2011

I've been devouring the contents of the Writers' Room for years, so I'm a little intimidated to say the least at trying to add to the store of excellent knowledge that's already here. And for a good reason. It's not as if I have much experience of TV writing - in fact, I have precisely one experience of TV writing. But it was on my own show, so I've been trying to think what was perhaps different about Death in Paradise that meant that it got picked up, when all of my other stories and pitches before now weren't.

There are obviously a million factors as to why a show is or isn't commissioned, but I think there were two things that I did differently this time which made the process that little bit more likely to succeed. 1) I came up with an idea that only I could write. 2) I then gave it to someone who could make it.

Doesn't seem like much, does it? But I realise that in all of the years I've been writing, I've rarely been pitching/writing stories that only I could tell; and I've never managed to get them to a person who could then get the show made (QED, Death in Paradise is my first broadcast credit).

Image of the cast of BBC One detective drama, Death in Paradise.

To take the first of these points - writing a story that only I could tell. This is of course no more than a pumped-up version of the old adage to 'write what you know', but I think it's an adage that needs a little pumping up. In fact, here's what I wish I'd been told when I was starting out screenwriting many, many years ago: find the thing that's particular about yourself - the thing, whatever it is, that only you know - that you are passionate about. The world that you know inside out, or the outlook on life that only you could have. Identify how this is special to you... and then write the arse out of it with total commitment, passion and love.

That's what I wish I'd known when I started out, because it otherwise took me well over a decade to notice that the one form of TV I watch above all others is light-hearted murder mysteries. It's the genre I most love - they're the books I've always read - and it can't be a coincidence that when I finally got a show off the ground, it was in a genre that I am absolutely passionate about. (Any more than it's entirely coincidental that the male hero of my show is a middle-aged uptight neurotic with increasingly debilitating OCD tendencies. And, while I'm here in these parentheses, being sure you're working in a genre that you already adore will be a necessary crutch during the weeks of grinding work you have ahead of you).

To put it another way, if you're an unproduced writer - as I was at the time - what I think you're trying to avoid being is entirely generic. If your idea is generic - and could be written by any number of other writers - then what's going to jolt a channel or producer out of their pre-existing apathy towards you and actually commission you to write the script?

I think that you have to pitch an idea so compellingly cut throughout with your own DNA that when they come to consider commissioning a script - or even a treatment - they can't disassociate the idea for the show from you as the person who 'gets' the idea best - and lo and behold, they won't just buy the idea, they'll have to commission you (against their better judgement) to write the script. After all, it's so specifically something that you're brilliantly knowledgeable and passionate about, who else could they get to write it? Paul? Abi? Russell T? How could they? Those writers wouldn't have your command of the material or your passion.

Then of course you've just got to write it brilliantly, but that only takes years of practice, hard work, slog, blood, sweat, tears, pain, joy and misery to master, so let's just take that as read, shall we?

And this brings me to my second point. Once you've got your brilliant idea that only you could write - or treatment or spec - what do you do with it now? Well, you sell it, of course, to whoever will buy it. Um... well yes of course, that is exactly what you must now do - and any sale of a script is better than no sale, of course that's also true - but let me take you back to 2007 to a time when my career had pretty much come to a complete standstill.

(I say 'career', but I spent most of the 2000s working as a temp secretary and freelance script reader - feverishly running up and down Oxford Street picking up scripts in my lunch break that I'd then read and write reports on while back at my office desk under the guise of doing my secretarial work).

By 2007, though, I realised that while I'd been selling the odd script - maybe at a rate of one a year - I couldn't work out why my 'career' didn't seem to be gathering any momentum. It seemed, in fact, that for every two steps I was making forwards, I would then following it with precisely two steps backwards.

It may seem a simplistic observation - and I think I was somewhat dimwitted not to have noticed sooner - but I realised I'd been thinking of the sale of a script as an end in itself - as though that was the 'prize' in and of itself (a not unreasonable assumption when the cash a script sale generated could briefly pluck me out of the clutches of the typing pool). But what I slowly began to understand was that the 'end' of a script sale shouldn't be the sale, it should be the production of the script. In effect, what I needed to do was find a producer who not only wanted to commission a script from me, but who also had the clout, drive and similar insane passion as I did to get the script produced.

My great stroke of good fortune was that I came to this realisation at about the same time that Tony Jordan was establishing his Red Planet Prize (the only script competition in the UK worth entering, IMHO - it's free and the rewards for entering are tangible, as I can attest - ahem). Tony announced he had set up his company with the express intent of finding new talent and he promised, as an established show creator, that if he found any ideas out there he loved, he'd do everything in his power to get the show made, no matter how inexperienced the writer was.

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It was like a lightbulb going off in my head. I had to get to Tony - by whatever means. So I entered the competition, got into the finals and eventually got the chance to pitch my 'Copper in the Caribbean' idea to him. Luckily for me, Tony and his team loved the pitch, and now I saw for the first time what happens when you have a producer attached to your idea who has real clout and passion. No obstacles were insurmountable, no doubts were to be brooked - we were going to make the show or we were going to die trying. Now that's the sort of Producer you should be trying to find to work with.

Of course, not everyone has the good fortune to have Tony as their Exec (although, can I point out that the Red Planet prize for 2011 is launching again in the next week or so?), but the principle still holds: when you've got your perfect idea that only you could write, you must try with all your will to find that one producer out there who feels the same about the idea as you do - whether they're established or a complete newcomer - because their passion and commitment to selling the idea is arguably going to prove more important in the long run than your ability to write the idea well in the first place.

Okay, so that's me done - thanks for sticking with me for this long - but before I go, there's one last thing I feel I should say on this blog, even though it's such a dangerous idea - seditious, even and possibly the least helpful thing you'll ever hear. You won't necessarily thank me for this, but here goes:

Never give up. I was an unproduced screenwriter who had been struggling for years when it happened out of nowhere for me.

You could be next.

Robert Thorogood is the writer of BBC One's new detective drama set in the Caribbean, Death in Paradise.

Watch Death in Paradise on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesdays.

Catch up on episode 1 and 2 on BBC iPlayer.

Read a blog about working on the series from Gary Carr, who plays Det. Fidel Best, on the BBC TV blog.

BBC Radio 3: Free Thinking Festival 2011

Fiona BBC writersroom | 11:20 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

This weekend, Free Thinking - BBC Radio 3's festival of ideas, returns to The Sage Gateshead for a series of thought-provoking talks, debates and performances.

Flyer for BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival 2011.

The festival theme this year is CHANGE, exploring the mania for change sweeping the globe, with talks from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Germaine Greer, William Hague, Susie Orbach and Margaret Drabble.

We might be slightly biased....but we're most excited about brand new live drama A Summer Night,starring Daniel Kaluuya. Written by Jack Thorne (The Fades, Skins, This is England) and directed by BBC writersroom's very own, Kate Rowland, the drama will be broadcasting live on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday night at 9pm.

Promo image for A Summer Night by Jack Thorne.

Set during the recent riots, A Summer Night tells three personal stories from the night when the capital changed shape. A policeman on duty, a carer trying to get to her patient, a teenager on a night out - their paths cross and collide in ways you won't expect.

If you'd like to be in the audience for the live recording at the Baltic in Gateshead - there are still some tickets available - it's free to attend, and you can book online via The Sage website.

Download the full programme of events on the BBC Radio 3: Free Thinking festival website.

Tickets for all events are FREE. To book call The Sage Gateshead on 0191 443 4661
or visit The Sage website.

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