On Monday night I went to the BAFTA Rocliffe Forum event at BAFTA on Piccadilly. I’d not been to one of these events before and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but along with a friend (the lovely Carys, who I met on The Two Phils course back in March) I decided it could be my sort of thing.
And I wasn’t wrong. What better way for a scriptwriter to spend the evening than having a few drinks, watching a number of extracts from the winning dramas and listening to people debate scriptwriting. This was the first Rocliffe Forum on TV drama and I definitely hope they do one again, there were a lot of passionate people there and it was fascinating to get different people’s opinions on pieces.
Aisling, Romily and Natalie all seemed lovely, I cannot imagine how nervous they must have been sitting on the stage answering questions from the audience on the extracts of their scripts that had been performed. Aisling’s extract interested me the most, as it was set in a world very similar to my own and on a subject I know much about, so much so that I even gave her my card and we’ve already been in touch via email. A very wise Phil at the course I did in March advised us to be generous and help other writers, I had never before considered how I could until that moment.
So watching the extracts was a great experience, as was being surrounded by other people who share my interest in the subject of scriptwriting. However the part of the night that inspired me the most was listening to Ben Stephenson. For those of you that don’t know who he is, Ben is basically the God of BBC drama as he is the Controller of Drama Commissioning (BBC1, 2, 3 and 4 all included). He was such a presence in the room, self-deprecating, humerous and honest – someone I could truly believe first read “In The Flesh” on the bus on the way to work – and someone I can only hope will one day commission my scripts.
So what did Ben say that touched me so much:
- Allow us to walk in the characters shoes
- Narrative first, politics second if trying to make a point
- Make sure relationship dramas are must have / must watch rather than nice to have / nice to watch – that is a real challenge
- Set things up but set it up as if you aren’t setting it up – not at all hard then!
- Get a professional person (agent or producer) to back you, engage with you and fly the flag for you
- Ask yourself, why are you the only one who can write this particular piece?
- Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing
- In movies, it is the director who gets something the green light, in TV it is the writer
- Treatments are dreary, do not use for pitching – sell your pitch verbally in person
- Let your story establish how long a piece you are writing. The story should dictate whether it is 60 minutes, a 90 minute feature, a 2 part drama or a series of x number of episodes. Don’t condense it or string it out just to suit.
Every single one of the points Ben made that I have listed resonated with me. He made me consider my Sophie project, and whilst it will never be a BBC1 mainstream drama it could attract a BBC3 or E4 audience so that is what I should be aiming for. And the story idea that has been buzzing in my ear recently, well that could make a decent mainstream drama or a BBC2 style one, and I need to decide my market before I go any further with it.
My night at Rocliffe was brilliant, I really enjoyed it and spending time with a friend talking about writing is always a positive. Ben inspired me, I am enthused about writing and next year I want to be there on that stage with my extract being performed. I cannot wait for the next Rocliffe Forum and the BAFTA ticket website is now at the top of my favourites list!
I can’t wait to do it again!