The Interface - A Reader's Perspective
Somewhere out there in a distant universe is the land where TV drama gets made. For most writers, even highly experienced ones, successful in the field, it's a mirage on the horizon. Does it really exist? How the hell do you get there?
All of us readers are people who work in one guise or another within the world known as the 'industry'. With this comes as an awareness of how hard it is to break through to that promised land. The sinking feeling that you get when you read a covering note saying something along the lines of, "I think Judi Dench/ Valerie Singleton/ Joan Rivers would be great in the part of Mrs X" is tangible. What this attitude implies is that we are destined to be the bearer of bad timings. Not only is Judi Dench not available, but neither are Val Singleton, Joan Rivers or even Joan Collins.
One of the hardest things to deal with as a reader is the knowledge that writers are going to be disappointed with the feedback we give. They're going to be disappointed because they're approaching us with false expectations. The land of TV Drama Production does exist, but it's distant, remote, and most of the time there aren't even any signposts. As I say, even the most experienced of writers will struggle to arrive there and see the green light. For the inexperienced writer it's even harder. That's where we come in. We are a port of call. We are the interface.
There are certain basics which if they're lacking in a script make a reader groan. An understanding of character, structure and story. A grasp of dialogue; the understanding, frequently lacking, that every story, no matter how avant-garde, has a beginning, a middle and an end. The sense of a world which is inhabited by the characters of the piece, a world which might exist in the real world, beyond the confines of the author's head. An understanding of genre and medium. All these things are essential, and frequently lacking, and it will be the ones which fail to come to terms with these basics which are unlikely to make it through the first ten-page sift.
But when you enter the full-read stage, there's something else that we're looking for. The chances of unearthing the next Pinter or Potter are unlikely. But we're looking for potential TV writers. TV is a team game, and TV writing has own particular requirements. These include the ability to respond to notes; an awareness that even the submitted draft, whilst at the time seemingly the very best the writer can deliver, still has scope for improvement. And also, finally, sheer perseverance.
On every sift day, when the readers come in to do the initial ten page read, there's a script meeting, where we feed back on the scripts we took away the last time which we feel have real potential. The writersroom is, in my experience, unique in encouraging this forum, where most organisations have a highly impersonal relationship with their readers. This opportunity for the reader to talk about why they liked the script in question is one of the most satisfying aspects of the job. Over the years of reading, certain names of aspiring writers become familiar. Satisfying as it is to talk about someone whose script you've just read and liked, it's even more satisfying when another reader champions the script of someone who you read six months or a year ago, call them Mrs T, and gave notes to. At which point you think - Great, Mrs T is sticking at it and maybe the notes I gave them helped and maybe they didn't, but something seems to be functioning, both for Mrs T and the system.
At which point Mrs T's work will go on to be read by people who are slightly closer to the distant universe where exists the land where TV Drama gets made. They've still got a long long way to go, but they're on the road. As a reader, you've done all you can.
We are not the wizards or gurus of the promised land. We're just the interface. But we aim to interface as well as we possibly can.
Find out how to submit your script to BBC writersroom.