The BBC will soon be inviting applications for the 2010 Writers' Academy, a 13-week learning experience that focuses on screenwriting for continuing drama series [CDS]. The academy focuses on four such shows made by the BBC - urban soap EastEnders [30 minutes per episode] and three medical dramas: Doctors [30 mins]; Casualty [50 mins]; and Holby City [60 mins].
At least 500 people apply for the academy, but only eight places are available. About 30 get invited to one-day workshops. From there 16 get interviews, before the final cohort is selected. The chosen eight are paid for their time at the academy, with further funding if you have to relocate. By all accounts, it's a life-changing experience.
So, how do you get to the workshop stage? Write a brilliant script. It's that simple - and that hard. I've applied for the academy twice. For my last attempt in 2008 I submitted FAMILIES AT WAR, my pilot script for a CDS set in WWII Glasgow. I've been told this got me to the last 60, but was too soapy and not bold enough to make the final 30.
[There's a delicious irony at work here. Various drafts of that same script made me a finalist for the Red Planet Prize, helped secure representation with a major London literary agency. FAMILIES AT WAR also got me a trial at Doctors - one of the Academy shows. Much as I'd love to see it produced, some scripts are fated to be calling cards.]
You might think that if you're applying for a scheme that enables people to write for CDS, shouldn't you submit a spec script that demonstrates just how well you can write for CDS? The answer's no. You need to write and submit a cracking script that shows what you alone can do, your distinctive take on the world. Fit for purpose isn't enough, you need to be great.
Scripts are assessed on eight criteria - character, dialogue, visual storytelling, narrative structure and pace, emotional appeal, credible world, distinctive voice, and does it hold your attention. Scripts that do well across all these areas will get the writer noticed. Past credits are largely irrelevant, you've got to produce the goods.
Ten years ago a soundly structured, perfectly laid out and satisfying script might just have been enough. But the recent explosion of screenwriting courses across Britain has created a new phenomenon, something that looks and reads like a script - but has nothing much to say. In some circles it's called the technically accomplished bore.
You want to get into the Writers' Academy? Put heart and passion and feeling into your work. You've got to dig deeper, get below the surface of your characters. You've got to gouge out a little piece of your soul and inject it into your script. If you haven't already started, it's probably too late. 2010 is fast ticking away. Onwards!