Script Room – your submissions have been sifted!

Friday 22 June 2012, 12:13

Paul Ashton Paul Ashton

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-pic.JPG 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%)
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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I feel like Brian Clough when he was rejected for the England Manager's job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Only 6% were successful. I find that very disappointing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    yes its a disappointing outcome to months of work, the email was very short on detail as to what is the missing factor in 80 percent of the work submitted

    I find the whole system (not just the BBC writers room) odd...following all the advice about writing about what to do and how to do it and when to do it......I just want to know why is there so much rubbish produced for the screen and television ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Very interesting. I am one of the fortunate ones to have made it through to a full read but I was quite surprised at how drastic the cull was. The introduction of the second sift explains why so few people made it through.

    As to those who are a bit disappointed not to make it through, this is the fifth script I have written and the second to get a full read but it is the first time I have really found my own voice. My other scripts were trying too hard to be something that realistically might get commissioned but this time I just wrote what I had to write and stopped second guessing what other people might think. If you enjoy writing then just keep on going. Find something that only you could say and say it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I am not surprised. As a reader for competitions myself. I see it all the time. Work that shows signs of talent but ideas not fully developed or unoriginal stories. It's such a shame and I'm sure the readers felt depressed about turning so many scripts down. You see, there are hundreds of people like that who are talented but are unable yet to harness this talent. Don't give up. Just keep working at it, trying to improve, improve, improve. You will get there if you put the work in and get advice from the right people.

    I know so many writers who have been rejected by WR who are now writing for TV, Radio and/or who have won awards. It's part of the journey. So enjoy the pain!

    P.S. I agree with @Greentea. Just write from the heart. Tell the story that only you can tell. It really is the key.


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