Saturday, May 17, 2008

Opportunities, and their knockers

There are no shortage of schemes designed to find and nurture new writing talent. Some have pre-requisites built-in that mean not everyone can apply. For example, a recent UK Film Council scheme stipulated only writers with an agent could submit. I don't have an agent, so I couldn't apply - but I didn't take it personally. Some people went on line and cried foul, berating the UKFC for this a restriction. [Some people will always find something to whine about.]

Hell, there was a Channel 4 scheme last year that excluded anyone who had already had a professional radio drama writing credit. I've had a play on the BBC, so I couldn't apply. But that radio credit means I can - and have - applied for the BBC Writer's Academy. Last year you only needed to have passed a Skillset-approved writing course. This year you need a professional TV, film, theatre or radio drama credit. Swings and roundabouts. But opportunities still abound.

The BBC writersroom has unveiled a new opportunity called Sharps. You write a 30-minute TV drama that explores 'the nation's health'. One entry per person, applicants must be aged 18 or over on Monday 28 July 2008, and resident in the UK or Eire. The scheme is only open to those with no previous writing credit for a network television programme over 15 minutes in length. I haven't got a TV drama writing credit yet, so you can be sure I'm submitting to Sharps.

Setting the issue of rules and regulations, there's another issue to consider regarding restrictions. Sharps is remarkably unfettered in this regard. You can write and submit any script you want, so long as it runs roughly 30 minutes and is no longer than 35 pages. Even the brief - 'the nation's health' - is delightfully open to interpretation. The writersroom says it's looking for 'writers with the talent, ideas, insights, and imagination to captivate an audience ... a fresh, surprising, entertaining take on a universal theme.'

Sharps has given me an excuse - and better still, a deadline of June 16th - to write a new spec script. I spent much of the last week fleshing out a one-page series of bullet points into a four-page synopsis. This wasn't just an exercise in plotting and structure, though obviously that came into it. Could I capture the story's tone [tragic] and visual style [sordid cruelty meets magic realism], all the while creating a compelling narrative? Time will tell.

I believe the worst thing any writer can do is second guess what others want. Yes, you should absolutely write within the parameters of a given brief. But within those parameters you should let your imagination run free. Don't just invent another medical precinct drama. Write a story you want to tell, something about which you're passionate. Second-guessing leads to second-hand writing, you try too hard to meet some perceived expectations.

I've been a professional script reader for nearly a year, and the script's I've enjoyed the most are the ones that surprised me. That defied my expectations. Even when the script was not the world's most polished, slick effort, a story with heart that goes places I didn't see coming twenty pages away wins the day. For Sharps I'm going out on a limb. I'd rather write a story that touches my heart than one which merely ticks the right boxes.

Life's too short to waste time producing material that can best be described as 'fit for purpose'. Writing should be imaginative, fresh and original. The best script I've written will almost certainly never be made. But as a calling card for what I can do, it's a good sample and I'm proud of it. I've no idea if my Sharps entry can match that, but I'd rather fall flat on my face trying than contribute another dull script to a pile of predictable dross.

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