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 61.

    Hi Karen
    Thanks for your congratulations. :)
    Just to respond to your query - I wouldn't feel happy putting my scripts up for public display at this stage. But what I can tell you is that the feedback I received for the film script was only really pertinent to my film in terms of how it could possibly be improved and would therefore not be of any particular use to anyone who hadn't read my script. It dealt with specifics of my script rather than generalisations of scriptwriting.
    I wish I could offer words of wisdom but I am a new scriptwriter, self-taught and with no formal training, so all I have done is read the scripts available here, and watched TV and films. Much like MJB I see this as the start of a longer journey in which to hone the craft of screenwriting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Wait, wait... I think I didn't get one thing. So you've sent an email to everyone who's submitted? Even to those who have been rejected (saying like: "Unfortunately, your script hasn't bla bla bla")? Because I haven't received any email and I'm now worrying a bit, since I did send my script in.. I would feel very bad if it hasn't even gotten the chance to be read! ;(
    Is there a way to confirm that? Please?

    Anyway, I'd like to thank all of you for the work you've done to give everyone a fair chance :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The old Drama Script Unit was staffed full-time by readers who read through many interesting scripts and where necessary passed them onto producers. By contrast, Writersroom is not a full-time commitment and relatively understaffed, 5 per cent of scripts are read, less than 1 per cent of writers developed and no script ever produced. It beggars belief one writer received three quick looks amounting to 3X10 pages, but couldn't have a full readthrough! How mean is that? This information is from Writersroom itself.

    I also consider Mr Ashton’s comments re “odds heavily stacked against you”, etc - while true – especially saturnine, which will have the effect of reducing entrants as much as recent submission windows. The bureau either needs proper teeth or an honesty that it is sometimes not the scripts at fault or the writers, but lack of drama slots.

    Protecting Academy Writer careers comes at the expense of other writers, which is not democratic free-market thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Hello, I would first like to say thank you for all these blog posts you have been posting throughout the latest script room opportunity. Since I sent in my script, i have learnt alot more valuable lessons and tips from them.
    Mine was sadly rejected, but I guess you need to pick yourself back up and try again. I tried keeping a positive attitude towards it throughout the process but I guess the quality was too high. I just hope it wasn't because of my age that it was rejected? (i'm 17)

    Anyways, once again I want to say a big thank you to everyone to worked along the process and i'll definitely try again this autumn, and rest assured it will be alot better :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @Paul Ashton - great work by you all. It's never easy, and I think that people understand that with only 2 (or possibly 3 readers), there's bound to be subjectivity.

    Interesting the Nicholl Fellowship (the only other competition worth its salt) are thinking about posting readers' comments to the 5% or so that scrape through to the QF stage.

    Maybe something for BBC Writer's Room to ponder do the same for all those who made the first sift?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    "it is sometimes not the scripts at fault or the writers, but lack of drama slots"

    JASON BLACK - I take issue with everything you've said but the above quote is simply ridiculous and I want to set the record straight.

    The WR aren't looking to make drama, they're looking for writers. If you're put off by the competition then the WR don't want to waste their time or yours, and they do read every script up to 10 pages which is more than enough to either entice or put off the reader.

    Ocean T - When I was 17 I was rejected from everything I sent scripts into, it sucks but it helps you improve. I'm 22 now and I'm into the top 5% so keep writing :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @ kristi - did you get an acknowledgment email? If not email us:
    @ jason black - how many writers were actually commissioned/produced via the old script unit? I have no stats. But I know we've had 150 for tv/film and 200+ for radio. Despite the stated odds, more and more people send us scripts so that doesn't appear to be true. If you asked an academy writer, I don't think they'd say they feel protected - trained and prepared yes, but if they don't take the opportunities they've earned and excel, then there's no protection (the creator of the Academy has also left the BBC)
    @ etoile - the comments are for the individual writer, they only make sense alongside the script - and that's a complex question all in all and comes back to what the writer wants to expose (see TraaB above)

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    It's been fascinating to read all the comments, and congratulations to the talented 5% who have been selected.
    Being new to script writing I haven't submitted anything yet, and this is a reminder for me to really take my time with my screenplay. My story and characters are great - but the writing sucks! I am working on this(!!) but I won't be sending it in too soon because I only get the one chance to share the characters and their lives, and I owe it to them to give it my best shot (Very glad you have older writers, Paul. I may be approaching ninety by the time I've finished...)
    My only concern is the possible introduction of genre windows. I feel this might cause talented writers to rush their screenplays to get them in on time, whereas as it stands at the moment, you only have a few months between each submission, which is bearable.
    Off to watch the tennis now, while my script percolates...

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Just wanted to take the chance to thank you Paul and your team of readers. I was lucky enough to receive the coveted email and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity of feedback from such seasoned professionals. Humbled. Sure this particular draft has many areas for improvement but I am just so chuffed your team liked the story. It's all about the human story- and the opportunity to breathe life into characters you love and have them reach others. Thank you so much for the confidence boost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I enjoyed the whole process. creating a story and writing and rewriting dialogue for a radio drama. I discovered Writers Room after I had started, it was a real encouragement to carry on, Matt Carless’s formatting info enabled me to make the writing feel more professional.
    I will not have the pleasure of hearing my play on Radio 4’s Afternoon Theatre but hang on a minute, it has been performed,… in my head, I know the voices of my characters the ambient sounds of the environments where the scenes take place and I listened to a really good final scene.
    Thanks, Writers Room just for being there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I started writing another script as soon as I sent my first (ever) to the writers room. Even though I didn't get through I already have a finished first draft of my next script to be excited about. All I've got to do now is make it good...

    I hope that with each line I write I'm improving, whilst reading and learning as I go. Really enjoying the whole process: thank you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Hi Paul This was my first submission. I presumed that as my play was for radio the submission was for 30 minutes, therefore I based my play to fit within the time limit. My play has the capacity of being developed for stage or tv. My ambition is to be recognised by my style of writing. The general consensus is that the best way make a mark is through radio.
    Writersroom quotes ' Unfortunately your script did not progress through to the subsequent full-read stage, and as such it will not be considered further and will not receive feedback. We would like to note, however, that your script was in serious consideration at this point; following the first sift, a second reader assessed the first 20-30 pages, and then a third reader took another look before the final full-read list was decided'.
    In this respect my script was just for 30 pages, therefore surely my script should have got feedback. Feedback helps a writer to develop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Very few 'things' that you might enter as a budding writer, will give you written feedback at all, unless you are a finalist - which could amount to just a handful of people.

    There is another 'thing' that I enter every year alongside the SR and this other thing provides no feedback whatsoever. When I say no feedback, I mean that they don't post any information at all regarding submissions received, nothing, no info at all. If you are not one of their finalists the first you know about it is when the winners are announced. No communication, no discussion, no feedback.

    Silence is feedback.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Thank you for your congratulations Karen. Very kind of you., I have to agree with TraaB in that I don't feel ready to share with everyone yet. I am a new writer and learning daily. I would like to say however, that as is life, it's a learning curve. My film screenplay couldn't be more different from the 6 part TV series, and it came about after meeting a couple of people. Storytelling is addictive I think. It certainly is for me since I started to write. Once I started, I couldn't stop and I'm passionate about it now, despite my 'insecurities'. As an actor, rejection is something that you have to accept, and it's the same with writing. Even writers at the top of their field receive rejection on a regular basis. Like TraaB, I have had no formal training with writing, so I want to keep learning and improving. It's exciting, exhilarating, scary and addictive. It's a funny world sometimes, we all doubt ourselves. But we should embrace this passion we have with telling stories and enjoy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Should anyone have a little time on their hands and the inclination, might it be constructive to set up a writers' forum for the 2,800 of us submitting work to the Script Room? Moral support, a quiet corner for those who wish to vent, comfy chairs, that sort of thing. Just a thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I agree with an older post from Paul. Why, he asks, are we all posting here when we should be beavering away at our writing? I am 59, and apart from a book published at 40, have been trying to get my foot in the door all my life. In between I have travelled, brought up children, looked after an elderly mother, worked. A few weeks ago another book of mine (different genre) was accepted for publication.
    My script was dashed off in a matter of weeks from a book I had self-published (and which got good reviews), so I am delighted it got to a second reading.Now I am about to adapt another. I get up at 5am to write.
    I enjoy writing, its part of who I am, and I am obviously not a 'natural' so I work at it. Please, all of you, go and apply 'the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair' (advice given to me years ago by an aunt who wrote children's stories). Enjoy the process as much as the result. And dont give up your day job!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I can take rejection - I've had thirty-five years of it(!) But what can't take is seeing total crap like 'Quick cuts' on the box instead of mine! How old are your script readers, incidentally? I'll lay odds you have nobody over forty!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Best of luck to those who are through to the next stage!

    Thank you for reading my first ten pages.
    Next time I shall be a better writer.
    Next time I shall write a 10-page script that takes half an hour to read through!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @Andrea. Writing is a solitary business, this is the closest most of us get to socialising, let alone networking. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @ colin - yes we have readers over 40, and none below 30 I suspect (we don't make a habit of asking their age, we just ask for considerable experience - if they can demonstrate that, then age has no bearing). We were/are not involved with Quick Cuts, so the comparison is irrelevant. As I've said before often, readers need to have significant experience to work for writersroom.


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