This was a very popular session as we all hoped to catch that piece of golden advice that will eventually get our scripts on Robert Jones’s or Jonathan Darby’s desk. And here’s how you go about it:
Calling card scripts
Write several good calling card scripts in order to demonstrate your skills and to show that you can handle different genres: one 30-minute episode of a series, one 60-minute script for TV, one 90-minute feature script. Have one script with lots of good dialogue.
Do not write a spec adaptation (unless you really want to set yourself up as an adaption writer) but consider taking a novel that’s out of copyright and transferring it to a contemporary setting.
Make sure your calling card scripts are as good as you can possibly make them. Get input from other writers (join a writers’ group) and send the scripts to a professional reader or script editor. Your career should be worth that investment.
Script / commissioning editors
You can follow who is commissioning what on the Broadcast Commissioning Index (however the grapevine has it that this will be turned into a subscriber-only service sometime soon).
Check the credits of TV shows for the script editors; if you find that the same name pops up consistently in episodes that appeal to you, write to that person to tell them you like their work / style and that you would like to work for them.
Broadcasters, producers and agents
You have submitted your spec work to a broadcaster and been rejected. Now you want to send it to an indie producer… can you do without mentioning the rejection? Julian’s answer is a clear “no” – that would be unethical unless you tell the indie it has been rejected by the broadcaster (which is why the Blake Friedmann Agency generally don’t submit client material to broadcasters until they have tried independents). It is possible that a good independent will add value to a script by way of a director and cast, which might make the broadcaster decide to do it.
Agents and producers are usually more interested in you as a writer than in your spec stories – those are basically just to prove you can write. Therefore your submission packet should also contain information about yourself – why you write and what your passion is.
You can find out about agents through various handbooks, but an agent who belongs to the Association of Authors’ Agents or the PMA is to be recommended. Julian suggests that even if you have an agent, don’t rely on them always doing the right thing – you must read the trades yourself and get out and network. And do not sign any agreement that binds you for a year or even longer.
Producers’ biogs are available from PACT (UK indie producers’ trade association). Check them out, build up your own database of production companies. When talking to a producer, try to establish your financial benchmark – join the Writers’ Guild and make that “visible”.
Do not address your letter to “Dear Sir/Madam” but address them by first name. Try to get a recommendation. Make sure you research your target and what they’ve done, touch on that in your submission.
One effective way of writing selling treatments that you can use to submit is to break them into the following parts:
* One paragraph similar to the back blurb of a novel (possibly without the ending)
* Character biogs – five lines for main and two lines for secondary characters
* Statement of intent with personal info; tell them why you are the person to write this particular story
* Synopsis of max. three pages – make this visual and write it in the present tense to give a sense of pace
* Contents page at the front
(For more excellent advice on how to write treatments that sell check out Julian’s articles on TwelvePoint.com.)
And finally, as for rejection…
… get used to it! And keep going!
PS This is my last instalment of SWF 2009 session notes. Next year you’ll all have to check it out in person – the festival is definitely worth it!