Sorry we’ve gone a bit quiet – but following the deadline on 21 May, our sterling team has been opening, checking, logging and organising the 1899 scripts we received. I’ll just repeat that: One Thousand, Eight Hundred, and Ninety Nine scripts. That’s nearly half of the total number of unsolicited scripts we processed for the whole of 2011. Here’s what a selection of them looked like as they slowly took over our working lives:

Script room submissions

What we decided to do next was break the total down into genre piles, and here’s what we got for each in numbers (and percentages of the total):

TV DRAMA: 473 (25%)
TV COMEDY: 478 (25%)
FILM: 426 (22%)
RADIO DRAMA: 278 (15%)
STAGE: 127 (7%)
RADIO COMEDY: 90 (5%)
CHILDREN’S: 23 (1%)

And then came D-day – or rather, S-day. The sifting. Our team of hardy, battle-worn readers gathered together in a quiet part of a little known BBC building, and readied themselves for two and a half weeks of total script immersion. In the old system, the readers just picked scripts off the pile randomly, but this time we decided to compare like with like, and they looked at one of the above genres for a day or half day at a time, then moved on to another genre. That way, they were able to compare film with film, radio drama with radio drama and so on - allowing themselves to maintain a focus while also staying fresh day by day.

Each day, we would regularly catch up and talk about the scripts they liked, the recurring problems and difficulties that arose, and any patterns that were emerging. We also asked the readers to make a simple note of the recurring reasons why scripts weren’t managing to get through the first 10 page sift (and we’ll be blogging about this data at a later date when we’ve had chance to crunch the numbers and try to make some sense of them).
Some interesting things emerged anecdotally. At this stage, they were particularly impressed by the better film scripts and stage plays they were reading. They felt a lot of TV and radio scripts, both drama and comedy, tended to struggle to do something really original or exciting – perhaps because writers felt inhibited by the demands of broadcast schedules and formats. But originality and excitement was a recurring struggle for the readers across a large proportion of scripts.

By the end of the second week, all the scripts had received a first 10-page sift, and the readers had put through about 20% of all scripts to the next ‘read-on’ stage. Which also meant 80% would not progress. But that’s the reality of script assessment – we’re only looking for and expecting a smaller proportion to make it through. At this stage, I had already started doing some second reading and the readers picked up the baton, working through that 20% to second read between 20-30 pages and see if and how they progressed. This second sift is one of the new elements we've introduced to the process, and it helped us find and focus on the scripts that were crying out for a full read and script feedback. By the end of the final week, and after a final double-check by myself and Henry Swindell (our man in the north), we had ourselves a pile of 100-plus scripts – or 6% of everything sent in.

All the emails have now gone out to writers who reached every stage of the process. So if you sent a script but haven’t received an email from us – please check your junk/spam mail, and check the email account is working fine. And if it still isn’t there, then email into our general inbox with ‘Script Room’ in the subject header and your full name and script title in the body of the email, and we’ll endeavour to get back to you. But be patient – we’re a very small team.

To those who didn’t make it through – don’t be disheartened, but do make sure that if and when you submit another script to us in the future, make sure you give it the time, effort and development it needs before you send it off. Even if that means waiting not just for the next submissions window, but the one after that. Because another strong feeling from the readers was that many scripts just hadn’t been developed and reworked and rewritten enough before they were submitted. And to those who did progress through, well done – and bear with us while the readers take a full look at your script.

Comments

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  • Comment number 39. Posted by Ian Bell

    on 24 Jan 2013 15:49

    It sounds almost like Paul Ashton and his team are complaining about receiving 1899 scripts. Here was me thinking the BBC was a broadcaster - ie in the market for scripts.

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  • Comment number 38. Posted by sthlondoner

    on 12 Jul 2012 11:37

    I have an invitiation from writersroom to submit a script for a full read (from last year). Is this still valid under the new system?

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  • Comment number 37. Posted by mikelmouse

    on 10 Jul 2012 22:36

    Received a letter to say that the department I sent my script to does not accept unsolicited scripts but did not think to send it to the right department ie the scriptroom Despite the letter, still no script returned and it was an SAE.

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by mikelmouse

    on 3 Jul 2012 18:24

    Still not heard about my script. I emailed the writers room but still not heard back. Any clues as who to contact for its return, or to find out what's happened to it?

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  • Comment number 35. Posted by Jan Doncom

    on 27 Jun 2012 17:10

    Haven't recieved any emails at all. Emailed Writersroom but am not hopeful :-(. I am guessing that if the script impressed I would have heard something. A shame, because I got an invitation for my last script, which made me very hopeful (I included it with this submission) but maybe it was a fluke.
    Well done to everyone who got through. An exciting journey is ahead of you. Only wish I was coming too..

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  • Comment number 34. Posted by C2theD

    on 27 Jun 2012 17:07

    Hi Paul, sorry to be a pain - I have tried emailing the writersroom. I sent a feature length script called 'leafy and affluent' on the 1st of May. It was an invited submission as a result of a script I sent last year but I did use a scriptroom cover sheet. I haven't heard anything about it and am slightly worried. Would you be able to let me know if you received it? Thanks for your time.

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by mikelmouse

    on 27 Jun 2012 11:15

    Hi Paul I contacted the writers room as I had sent my script to the old address, it was sent with an SAE but so far have heard nothing or received my script back. Is this still in process or being returned. It is not the only copy, but just need to know if it arrived.

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  • Comment number 32. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 27 Jun 2012 08:49

    Mhepton - what we do is nothing like X-factor and I'm very glad of that. We could consider spending a huge amount of money feeding back some basic info about why a particular script didn't progress - but how much use would 'the characters weren't engaging enough' really truly be? In the X-factor they'd probably just say 'you can't sing'...
    Mikelmouse - absolutely - the readers are very well practiced at assessing a script for what it is or is trying to be - rather than what they would like it to be. It's possible to use your subjectivity to make an informed, objective decision. And yes, I agree about page one

  • Comment number 31. Posted by mikelmouse

    on 26 Jun 2012 16:59

    I would have thought (and hoped) that the readers would be unbiased in their opinion on what genre they read, (unless they specialise in a particular genre) and go by what they read as being worthy of commisioning. I life you cannot please all of the people all of the time and the same can be said for the media in which we write. Like everything,changes need to be made in order to move forward. Hopefully this new reading system will work.
    As for the first ten pages needing to grab the readers attention, I was taught the first page was essential.

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  • Comment number 30. Posted by mhepton

    on 26 Jun 2012 16:25

    This writers room a very difficult thing to quantify, we are dealing in subjective abstracts with a writer making a story about carrots while the reader only likes spuds ...mind you we are told it has to be engaging (?) , we have to find our "voice" ........now there's an idea ......perhaps the readers can sit in chairs looking away while we read the scripts out aloud and if they like em they can spin around...nah.....it will never work.

    By view is that with the XFactor you get three judges saying your rubbish and whats wrong, with the writers room you get one reader and a bulk email...am I right?

    Aye this siftin-n-shiftin is tough for us...oh well back to basket weaving I suppose.

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