It’s so hard for new writers to get a script commission in the early stages of their career. So, to get onto the BBC TV Drama Writers’ Programme, to receive a paid script commission with one of the leading independent production companies in the UK, to write an original series plucked from the depths of your imagination, can only be described as a gift.
It all started with a callout to Agents and I applied with a TV pilot and a pitch document for a series idea for BBC Three. I was then invited to an interview with Ros Ward and Abigail Gonda. We discussed the pitch I sent in and some other ideas that had been bubbling away. Soon after, I learnt that I made the short list!
There was then a second interview with the Head of BBC Writersroom, Anne Edyvean, and development execs from New Pictures and BBC Studios. We talked a little more about ideas and things we liked on TV, and I was just really honest about where my ideas came from and why I wanted to write them... A few weeks after that I found out that I was one of 14 writers who got a place!
The 14 writers on the 2017 TV Drama Writers' Programme
We started the programme off with a residential full of lectures and seminars – and wine in the evening, can’t forget that… It was not only informative but a great bonding experience with the other writers. Once we had packed our bags and checked out, it was off to start our projects.
I paired up with New Pictures (The Missing, Indian Summers, Rellik, Requiem) and the wonderful Kim Varvell and Gus Lewis. We talked deeply about the right idea for the programme, and, naturally, it wasn’t an idea I’d initially pitched. It was a story that had something to say about the state of the world right now and looked closely at girls in gangs. We started off with research – including meeting with a girl who used to be in a gang. Then we got cracking with the pitch document followed by an outline/beat sheet for the pilot script. Kim and Gus were brilliant in getting close to the world and helping me generate ideas. Once we felt we couldn’t beat it and research it anymore, I started writing the first draft.
The TV Drama Writers' Programme script read-through
During all of this, we also got to attend seminars and workshops with some of the leading UK TV writers and producers (including Red Productions, Dan Sefton, Bill Gallagher) and their advice about writing television drama was invaluable. It was also lovely to hear how my fellow writers were getting on with their projects and help each other – it really was a warm environment and far from competitive.
By the end of the programme we had to deliver three drafts and two pitch documents. We had to then choose a 20-page extract for the read-through (which is always the most difficult task of all). I went with the final 20 pages as I felt the momentum and the political message was at its strongest.
The event was directed by Andy Hay with a cast of prominent actors – Emmanuella Cole, Lindsey Coulson, Farzana Dua Elahe, Patrick Miller, Steven Miller, Sean Sagar. It was so nice to hear each writer’s script and the worlds were so different.
I had to wait until the very end to hear mine read out, so the nerves – that had been building for two days - were real. Also, picking the final 20 pages meant I had to explain what had happened before. It was such a warm and open environment and the entire cast offered deep and insightful feedback afterwards, not only in response to the extract they had read, but the series as a whole.
The response I got for mine was out of this world. MORE than what I could’ve hoped for. It was so good to hear the words I’d written read out loud and hear the encouragement in the room that this drama should get made. In fact, as I write this – a couple of days after the read-through – a BBC commissioner has asked to read the full script (!!) so crossing all fingers, toes, and eyes.
The actors and director at the read-through (l-r Patrick Miller, Lindsey Coulson, Steven Miller, Emmanuella Cole, Sean Sagar, Farzana Dua Elahe, Andy Hay)
The read-through marks the end of the Programme, but it’s just the beginning really. I’m still working with New Pictures and hope that the BBC commissioners give us the green light.
The BBC Writersroom team are still there for support and advice. The scheme has been truly invaluable in these beginning stages of my career and the relationships that you build – particularly with your production company. It’s a collaborative process and this scheme really teaches you that.
Despite what happens next, I have a script I can be proud of, and a deep relationship with a production company I admire.
(Please note this is a separate scheme from our open submission Script Room with more restricted entry criteria)