A Reader Speaks

OK - this week I thought I'd hand over the blog to David Roden. He works with me as part of the Academy team, and his job is mostly to read scripts that are sent to us. I asked him what he thought... he did this:

"I read scripts.

I read a lot of scripts.

I can't tell you how many scripts I've read this year because I've lost count.

I get asked on a reasonably regular basis "what makes a script stand out?"

I read so many of them, and have read so many over the years, I can tell very quickly what I've got in store for me as I pass from page two to page three and onwards.

Most days I'm never wrong, but some days ... and, god I love those days ... some days I couldn't be more wrong about what a script holds in store for me. Some brilliant soul out there has told me a story that completely knocks me for six.

That's why I am passionate about the job I do. There are a lot of brilliant writers out there ... and also some good writers... some competent but dull writers... writers who are technically not brilliant but have something really exciting to say... and some very deluded people who think they can write... and I read scripts from all of them on a daily basis. Not all writers are the same.

But every single time, I will pick the "technically not very accomplished but got a spark of something really special" script over the "technically hugely accomplished but got no life or heart at all" script. I promise you. Structure can be taught. Heart, passion, and soul can't.

A trial script for a TV soap... I will scream if I get sent another bloody one of these. I want original scripts - something a writer is passionate about. Not some half-arsed attempt at a soap you barely watch.

Cop Shows full of clichés - such as: a rogue detective with psychic powers; good cop / bad cop routine with dialogue ripped off from Quentin Tarantino's back catalogue of films; cop with a self-destructive vice because they've lost their partner in a failed bank robbery; high flier with a dark secret goes back to seaside fishing village where they were born; blah, blah, blah.

Short Film Scripts - a completely different medium and style and format. Don't ... just, don't.

Angels and Demons - science-fiction scripts that feature an age old battle between heaven and hell in a post-apocalyptic city that are pitched at a Saturday tea time slot - and, one of the main characters has died and is trapped in this limbo, and to find a way out they have to solve the mystery of how and why they died. You might think I'm joking, but I get at least two versions of this story a week. Every week. Please don't be derivative of your favourite shows - be unique and bold and brilliant. Make me sit up and say, I wish I'd thought of that.

Starting with a voice over or a monologue - just because the brilliant 'American Beauty' did it, doesn't mean every script should start that way. More often than not, it's a lazy way of imparting information.

Directing in the Stage Directions - 'whip pan to', or 'crash zoom', or 'crane up to ...' Stop it! Stop it now! You are telling me a story, not telling me how you would direct it. Your stage directions should be brilliant prose. They should read like a novel - an un-put-down-able novel. They should be sparse, exciting, precise, punchy, create an atmosphere, make me laugh, draw me in ... but NEVER tell me how it should be directed, because I'll assume that you'd rather be a director instead. Read a Russell T Davies script - he is the master of genius stage directions.

Irrelevant Stage Directions ...please don't give me too many stage directions that tell me information about characters' family trees or feelings... a note I often give is 'can we try to find a way of dramatizing the stage directions'... if you can't dramatize it, cut it out, it isn't necessary. And, don't break up a wonderful, passionate piece of dialogue to say something bland like: 'She sits down slowly' or 'She nervously fiddles with the toggle on her parka' ...

Irrelevant Time Jumps - Unnecessary flashbacks, or flash forwards, or flash forwards within flashbacks ... you get my point!

Spelling - I shouldn't even have to say this, and yet ..."

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by shining shadow

    on 8 Jun 2009 02:23

    This is exactly what I expect and hope your readers to say, with regards to the passionate voice over technical competence. So this is good. Could you clarify though please, something unoriginal but written with passion, this is possibly what you get attracted to most? In other words, the ultimate - something original and written with passion, how many or few of these do you actually see come in? I wouldn't be surprised if it's hardly any. In other words again, haven't all areas of life been written about and shown on TV and film? How many more oblique angles do you want to see on a subject before you bar the subject altogether? I hardly watch one new TV drama or sitcom without thinking I've seen that in some measure before, which may be annoying, but I can't help feeling is inevitable now. You say be original, but that's nigh on impossible after TV has covered so much. Isn't what you are really looking for is tried and tested subjects but written in a 'new' and exciting voice? So maybe in sitcom terms, we get Steve Coogan one year, Ricky Gervaise another year (doing the same old comic monster in another slant), and whoever the new toast of comedy is going to be next year. Come on, you lot must know surely, everthing's been covered hasn't it? It's just trendy new voices you're looking for now, no?

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Bloofs

    on 19 May 2009 16:55

    Aha! First mistake - writing for a soap instead of something original. OK how about a story about an east-end gangster called Liff going mental in a dustbin dressed in velvet. Other stuff happens too. But that's the first scene. And it gets weirder. And it's aimed at Radio 4.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by Bloofs

    on 19 May 2009 16:53

    Something like Phil Mitchell going mental in a dustbin, dressed in velvet. That might make Eastenders more interesting.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Piers

    on 18 May 2009 10:46

    I don't know.

    But when you think it's ready to send to us, there's an easy way of finding out. :)

  • Comment number 14. Posted by Bloofs

    on 16 May 2009 19:08

    If someone's script just went a bit bizarre and literally, mad, would that grab your attention?

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Piers

    on 24 Feb 2009 14:35

    Roger: We Hopefully you've already seen this by now: 7 on 7 is a new topical sketch show on BBC radio 7 which is currently asking for scripts from new writers.

    Not quite as big as the Academy, but a really good start for people wanting to try their hand at sketch comedy.

  • Comment number 12. Posted by Ceri Meyrick

    on 4 Feb 2009 14:16

    Sorry I meant "Someone out there may know different" above - apologies for incoherence!

  • Comment number 11. Posted by Ceri Meyrick

    on 4 Feb 2009 14:14

    roger-the-shrubber...

    - A person's adverbs are their own business!

    - We only read full scripts - not treatments.

    - As far as I am aware, there is no similar thing for sketch shows. Someone out there may no different.

    rumplefish...

    Point taken. The pictures are better on radio.

    Zuhaib101...

    David works with me in the Drama Department. We are only able to read scripts submitted to us via agents or passed on by the Writersroom.



  • Comment number 10. Posted by Zuhaib101

    on 4 Feb 2009 10:58

    Hi,

    If we want to send scripts to David, do we sent them to the BBC Writersroom?

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by rumplefish

    on 2 Feb 2009 23:35

    ".....yes, we read radio scripts here, but only with a view to finding writers who want to progress onto TV..... "

    Progress...?

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