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 21.

    @ kissanotherfrog - yes - though I'd say In the Flesh and Wolfblood are exactly the kind of untried, original idea from a new writer where a risk has been taken and it has worked

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Oh dear, I didn't receive a shortlist notification I emailed my script to you originally and I'm sure I received a confirmation horrible if I missed out on this round? What now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @Paul - you wrote in the comments section of the comedy blog post from May "So even if it clearly needs 'gagging up', a script that is working hard with character and comic narrative and comedy structure will progress past the first sift". I'm surprised that only approx 10% (my maths could be wrong) of comedy scripts appeared to meet the quoted, admittedly subjective, but to my mind basic, criteria? Was that fundamental quality really so lacking, or do you think your quoted description of the requirements to make the first sift was too generous?

    I'm not saying this to try to catch you out, I appreciate all your comments. I just want to understand why the success rate for comedy is so low compared with everything else, except radio drama? Thanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Re radio plays. A couple of weeks ago a play about Lowry was aired on Radio Four. As usual I was asleep after the first ten minutes because the play was laboured, overwritten and had as many adjectives in it as the whole of War and Peace. Two characters one of whom is in bed does not a great play make yet some bright spark at the beeb decided this was interesting. The whole play took me three go's to finish it. Whoever commissioned this or sanctioned it as innovative new writing says a lot about what the beeb thinks is good and out there. What this does prove is that they are selective and pretentious and stick to an agenda as far as writers are concerned and anyone who believes wholeheartedly in the choices needs to realise that their choices are not always the best. So any of you writers out there who take their comments on board need to get opinions from other sources before you start agreeing and believing in what they have to say. Lowry should not have got past the ten page rule.

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    Comment number 25.

    @ nescio - the comedy only dropped comparatively when they got into the second sift, where there was greater examination. The general feeling from the readers at that stage seemed indeed to be that the comedies were struggling more than the dramas. But we weren't comparing comedies with dramas - we assessed genres together, so we just focused on finding the best comedies out of the comedy submissions. Hard to say why they struggled ...
    @ suzette - am a little confused - you emailed us your script? We don't accept submissions by email ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @ kecasper - you're fully entitled to your opinion - but it only proves that you didn't feel it was good enough - nothing more. There's no agenda. The radio commissioner buys an idea from a writer as offered by a producer that he thinks will be good, and that he thinks they will do well. There are so many single plays on radio 4 that a great deal of faith is placed in them to deliver. But it's somewhat misleading to extrapolate proof from one example - listen to a large proportion and if they predominantly seem to indicate the same thing to you, then fair enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Well done to anyone who actually finished a script and then had the bottle to send it to the SR. The odds against being shortlisted are staggering - but at least you were part of the game.

    Paul Ashton - I really appreciate the breakdown of submissions info into percentages, it is always interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Anybody who has read/listened to anything about scriptwriting will know it is all about the first 10 pages. You have that long to make an impression. Given the rubbish that gets made you do wonder what followed in pages 11 to Fade Out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    OMG me and my mate Lucy won't be with Depp on the red carpet after all...

    Me and my script didn't get read past the first ten pages either, but it has taken me about two hours to stop creating visuals that involve me giving Paul Ashton a right pasting around the head with a large, frozen, suitably miserable looking cod, and move onto a bucket of ice cream, a box of tissues and a three hour phone call to my mum much of which was 'why not? But why not? BUT WHY NOT!....

    I am still going to write various things and send them to people, perhaps I will try again with the bbc writers room, perhaps not. I sometimes think that I am a little old at nearly fifty and that my ideas will not be the kind of ideas that the bbc want (my interest in zombies ended with Thriller in 19whatever it was) and when I saw the photographs of the people channel4 chose to develop last year the average age was I think, twelve :) I will keep creating with words because I love the process..

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Hi Paul.
    Are you saying you've now sent out yay or nay emails to everybody who submitted?
    Only, I haven't received any word.
    Before you ask, yes, my email address is current and working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    When people criticise the current output of TV as a load of old dross or rubbish, it makes me sad because one day I would like something I have written to be on TV and I don't think what I write is rubbish - rough around the edges maybe, but not rubbish.

    There are lots of very good programmes on TV & Radio but sadly, people are more motivated to criticise the poor hour that they watched/listened to and all the good stuff surrounding that hour barely gets a mention.

    @Oldbirdee - Because you are nearly fifty you have tales to tell, so keep writing them. Oh and stick the cod back in the freezer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @ oldbirdee - believe me when I say that age is irrelevant. Lucy Gannon didn't try to write anything til she'd turned 40. Coming to writing later is not at all uncommon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Paul Ashton as a listener and qualified authority, my opinion isn't only based on one production and that is a ludicrous and crass statement to make. And being patronising does not mean you are right either. However there are better writers out there whose work is not being produced and Lowry was the prefect example of a play that shouldn't have been. The writer of Lowry didn't have a distinctive voice or style or entertained the listener any differently than an episode of Crossroads.Not all readers opinions are objective and I have read many pieces by writers that have been submitted to you that have subsequently turned down for reasons only known to the BBC. And if there isn't an agenda how come most of the work sounds exactly the same time and time again. Yawn, yawn, yawn. But hey lets produce it because it's about an important historical figure and more importantly his mothers reticence not to believe in him. A story that went nowhere but to bed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @ mikey - did you get an acknowledgment at the same email address? Verdict emails went out today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Yep, I got an acknowledgement email. Oh, and the email in late Jne when you said the Script Room decisions would be made in July.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @ keScasper - just responding to your comment, which referred only to one bad play. Hardly crass or ludicrous. As I say, you're entitled to your opinion. Listening figures would suggest some of the audience disagree with you. Which is also their prerogative. There's no agenda. Really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @ mikey - we'll check it out - email us

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I don't want to start an argument or anything but it just grates me when people claim that there is so much rubbish on television. Who are we to say that anything else is rubbish? These programs are popular, people listen to/watch them and, even though the majority may think they are poor, there is still a significant minority that like them.

    The BBC has to cater to all tastes, not just original new ideas.

    P.S. And If your script hasn't made it then maybe it isn't as original or new as you think it is

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Thanks Paul. Email sent. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Paul Ashton says 'but originality is absolutely one of the key things we look for.' Any body who listens day in day out to the BBC radio plays must know that statement is untrue. And because the radio is switched on doesn't mean to say people are listening to it. Figures ? You sound like David Cameron. And the reason I refer to the Lowry is because it is proves 'Lessons have not been learned.' writing going backwards not forwards. And if a play is interesting enough no matter how original if it grabs a viewer they will listen. That allows the listener to be subjective and if your readers aren't allowing for that because they don't appreciate something out of their personal what chance for new writers if description of objects and environments takes priority over story and character. Banging doors and coal on the fire isn't enough.


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