Tuesday, 31 August 2010

In the dark

As you know, we've been working on the outline for our sitcom, trying to decide how our story will develop from the pilot script. We had plenty of ideas but we needed something to tie them all together, something which annoyingly evaded us.

An unexpected event came to the rescue last night. We had a power cut. It started just before tea time (good excuse for a family takeaway) and continued into the evening as darkness began to creep in. With no television or computers to distract us, and the intimacy of candlelight tying us to the settee, we began to talk.

There's something about face to face conversation, without a keyboard or computer screen playing gooseberry, that allows for an honest and creative exchange of ideas. What had started as a relatively unlinked set of episodes turned into an adventure that built on the story with each step and presented a new struggle with a previously unseen enemy.

Our outline isn't complete but it now has a new impetus and construct that pleases us both. If we can get it finished this week, we'll be able to post it all off to the BBC very soon.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

When Black-holes Collide

The supermassive black holes are all that rema...Image via Wikipedia
As Fiona worked her magic on buffing up the shine on the first pilot I found that I had, although fleeting, time on my hands.  This, as the universe is well aware of, is as unstable an event as throwing a black hole into another black hole followed very closely by a super-nova.  Ok, maybe not quite that dramatic. Let's just settle on, ' It's better for everyone (and everything that can be dismantled) when I have something to do'.

To cut a short story long, I've started on another pilot script.  The first one, whilst being wonderfully written, witty, sharp and entrancing is what I would class as a mainstream product, reaching out to several generations, working on several different levels.  The new pilot is definitely more in league with my own particular passion, Sci-Fi.

It was an idea I had been kicking around for a couple of months and as I had so much fun writing the first pilot, Script A, I was intrigued as to how this would compare. Imaginatively we'll call it Script B.

Dealing with two different genres is very interesting. With Script A, most of the movement is within the dialogue, character interaction and the pull all that has on the unsuspecting audience.  The Sci-Fi script however allowed me to play with environments, concepts and illusions, as well as guiding the characters around fantastical minefields.  If I had to choose which type I prefer it would be a tough call.  Although Script B appeals to more of a niche market, I found the environmental freedom liberating. However the mental challenges of Script A, of getting characters from point A to B without revealing point C until the last minute, is certainly stimulating.

I was wondering if anybody else had any thoughts/findings on this?
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Lining up the Plot

Our covering letter is finished and now we have an outline to put together to explain how we see the sitcom developing from the pilot.

In some ways, this should be easy because we have ideas aplenty for future episodes. However, we need to make sure that each idea can pad out to a full, half hour show. We also need to decide what order they come in. And do we leave the final episode finishing on a cliffhanger, or do we leave things open for Series Two? Can we do both?

We want to develop our characters in some ways throughout the time covered by the series but we also want to include a couple of story arcs too.

Are we being realistic in our thinking? Are we attempting to cram too much into a series of half hour episodes? And why am I beginning to sound like an American sitcom? (Answers on a postcard...)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Polishing it off

window cakeImage by funkypancake via Flickr
No, I'm not talking about cake (although I do love a nice slice of Battenburg now and then). I'm actually talking about our pilot. It's finished, or rather, it's the best we can make it. Fingers crossed that the BBC think that our best is acceptable and ripe for development.

The next stage is to put together the covering letter to go with the pilot script and an outline of how we see the sitcom developing.

According to the BBC Writersroom guidelines, our covering letter should state,
  • who we are
  • a brief description of the sitcom
  • our writing experience.

That is what I'll be concentrating on today. Wish me luck.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Divide and conquer?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  A BBC logo adorns...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Now, Fi's last post raised some interesting questions.

Reading between the lines, the BBC is sending out a clear message saying that they don't want half baked ideas in sloppy written scripts, which I can fully sympathize with.  After all nobody likes to have their time wasted.

However, taking the literal word, it implies that your entire premise hangs on a thread.  You may have the bestest, brilliantist, fabulocistic setting and characters, but if your pilot is catching the BBC reader on an off day, then the whole lot is discarded, never to be returned to, ever.  That seems a little callous to me.

So does this mean that it's going to be better to write two or three episodes, then submit the best one?  Or is it better to write more than one unrelated pilots and hope that one of them is taken up?  Questions, questions, too many questions.

One would hope that there are allowances and that minor faults may be overlooked.  Otherwise it seems that you have to be an experienced script writer before you can become an experienced script writer.  Paradoxical, and most frustrating.

I guess we'll find out in the coming weeks.

So this leads on to the next question, one that Fiona raised so eloquently: Is our script ready?

I personally feel that it's 99% there.  There are a couple of lines of dialogue that need a little more zing, the rest of it is good to go.

We need to do something soon - I'm running out of nails to bite!
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Friday, 20 August 2010

The best of the best of the best of the...

After a couple more sessions of rewriting our pilot, we had what we felt was a script good enough to send off so the next port of call was to have a look at the BBC Writersroom for information on how to submit an unsolicited script.

There's a lot of useful information on there but this one gem keeps stopping me short, "We want to see the best possible draft you can achieve...". It stands out to me because as a writer, I often fall into the trap of not knowing when to stop editing my work. And of course the doubts start to seep in. Is it the best we can achieve? Is it really? Would some additional tweaking improve what we already have?

Another piece of information on the BBC site that reinforces this doubt is this under 'What we don't accept',

"Resubmissions of work previously rejected, even after rewrites - make sure you make your script as good as you possibly can before sending it to us".

We're only going to get one chance to impress the BBC with this script so do we send the script as it is, or return and do our best to hone it to within an inch of its life?

I foresee an opened bottle of red wine and plenty of heated discussion tonight.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Baked: freshly or half?

BreadImage via Wikipedia

We did it.  For better or for worse - we resurrected our pilot script.

And do you know what?  It's not three bad.  Sure there were bits that need tweaking. It certainly needs a good dollop of direction adding but overall it holds its own and is nearly ready to have its umbilical cords cut and catapulted into the ether.

At this stage we are unsure as to whether it is, given our newbie status, a good decision to seek an agent or not. The other route seems to be a more promising path: approach the big channels directly.  Either way, we have decided to concentrate on finalising the script over the next couple of days before worrying about such things.

The things that both Fiona and I are absolutely sure about include the fact that the concept is rock solid and is chock full of potential.  It has drama, likeable characters, despicable adversaries, twists, turns and a plot that can run a marathon.

More soon.

Friday, 13 August 2010

In the meantime

In the absence of working on the sitcom (which is sleeping sweetly until we start the second draft), I've been casting about for information in as many ways as possible.

First, there is the sitcom viewing, mainly at night. So far I've gone through Black Books, Black Adder, Frasier, Dinner Ladies and My Family. Then there's related blogs and twitter feeds. These haven't offered up a great deal of help so far but I'll keep on digging.

The most useful find since we started on this journey has been The British Comedy Guide website. Although it covers the whole gambit of comedy entertainment, it has a lot of interesting and relevant information for us. I've signed up for an account.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Itchy fingers and no red wine

We're not even halfway through the week of letting our first draft rest before the edits begin, and already I have itchy fingers. I suppose it's better than tearing my hair out which will probably be our state of mind next week when we're re-writing our pilot script. So to calm my frayed nerves last night over the ironing (oh, the luxury), I watched the first episode of Black Books. I had no red wine to hand but maybe that's a good thing as I was ironing shirts.

In my twenties I dreamed of owning a book shop. I also liked a drink or four and the occasional cigarette. I lusted after a life of decadence and art. The reality of course was very different - working as a secretary and barmaid in a small northern city. Black Books, in it's ramshackle, dimly lit way epitomises my dreams back then. Fran would have been my hero.

The first episode of Black Books is genius at drawing the three characters together in it's own rich and maniacal way. I found myself chortling at Manny's, gown clad, calm quoting traipse and laughing out loud at Bernard's final delight at finding the accountant of his dreams. I only hope that our pilot will be as successful.
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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Ding Ding...Round One

Image of a unified SmackDown / ECW Wrestling R...Image via Wikipedia
We've done it. We have run smack bang and head long into our first milestone: Our pilot script is complete! Well, the first draft of the script. It took a couple of days formulating the synopsis and then just over a week to press the right keys in the wrong order or the wrong keys in the right order. Only time will tell.

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, we can't share any of the details (apart from that it's got people in it, it's about stuff, and it has a few minced jokes thrown into the mixture for good measure). What we can tell you is that now we have a draft we are going to (try to) put it out of our minds for a couple of weeks with the intention of coming back to it with a fresh cynicism and critical eyes (is that the right collective term for two pairs of 'critical eye'?)

At that point, when we return to the script, we could possibly wonder what was in our blood-streams while we were writing it (I blame those herbal teas) and have to completely rewrite it. More likely (we hope) it'll only be a few plot tweaks here and there.

This cooling down period is an excellent time for us to concentrate on researching potential strategies on what to do with the final draft once we're happy with it. Don't worry - we'll be sharing all of the details and responses as they happen.

If you are going through, or have been through similiar, then please, please, please share your findings.
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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Obstacles to Entry

STOP sign in Australia.Image via Wikipedia
A hundred million years ago, when I was but a bloodied-knee tyke with a slingshot, television sets were not only monochromatic marvels but were so round they looked as if the picture was projected onto the bottom of a mixing bowl.  There were but three (terrestrial - they're out there, man) signals upon which pictures and sounds were magically transmitted.

Broadcasting was in its infancy and, for exactly that reason, rubbish, by today's standards anyway.  Please don't get me wrong: that was not a criticism, nor even disrespect. After all you don't criticize a baby taking its first steps: you nurture it, encourage it and help it reach its potential, which is what we all did for around seventy years.  Over those two thirds of a century, either through public or advertisement based funding, the companies were able to branch out, taking shows that covered every topic which touched on every part of our lives, ambitions and imaginations.

John Logie Baird, BustImage via Wikipedia
These times showed us or at the very least gave us a hint of what televisual media was capable of from the legendary to the lame, the best to the worst, and just about every possible combination in-between.  The number of categories of different types of show list into their hundreds and the shows themselves into their thousands.  For each and every single one of them since John Logie Baird hit his oscilloscope hard enough to get a picture out of it, someone had to read a script, read it and approve it.

As I mentioned earlier, back in the day there were only a couple of TV stations on the air.  This meant that there were only a finite number of shows that could be physically aired in a 24hr / 7 day week period.  With the population expanding, along with the related unemployment, it was logical to assume that script agencies were being bombarded by scripts on a daily basis.  You can almost see why barriers were set up to slow the whole process down.

Now that was twenty years ago.  Back in the early 90s, the night sky was given a few more dots.  These dots were multimillion pound/dollar satellites that could stream not one or two, but hundreds of TV channels into our living rooms.  TV was revolutionized.  At the time, as there weren't sufficient new shows being made, the main fodder for these new channels were re-runs or imports from afar.  Things have moved on, kind of.  As is the natural order of things, some channels have upped their ante and show current and popular programming that appeals to the masses and have attained a prominent place in the viewer's pecking order.

The point that I'm trying to get around to is this. If there are an increasing number of channels who are, as I gather from what is currently being shown, chomping at the bit for new, original and brilliant material, why is the industry shunning potential Mozarts, Bachs, and Pavarotis of the TV writing world? Perhaps shunning is too hard a word.  However they certainly don't appear to make it easy.  I mean, without extensive research and asking around, would you know who to go to to publish a script?  And if you think of your favorite writer, find our who his/her agent is and approach them, I can practically guarantee that they won't even look at your script unless you have been recommended or have already published.

I really do hope that I have to eat my own words and can prove some of the last part wrong over the next few months.  I suppose we shall just have to wait and see.

Blah.  Hate waiting.
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Friday, 6 August 2010

Tweet, tweeeeet!

I already use Twitter for my writing blog and our business Murdering The Text so I thought it would be a good idea to increase my already overflowing daily workload by creating a Twitter account for the Sitcom Skirmish. What's one more thing to update and maintain on an hourly basis? I can cope (quick - more coffee).

So for the Twitterati amongst you who would like to follow our daily tweets, you can now find us under the name sitcomskirmish.

The chicken and its blasted egg...

The first draft is virtually put to bed so we can return to it refreshed in a week's time. On to the next exciting step in this rollercoaster, helter skelter journey? Or perhaps not.

We've come up against a rather large obstacle. I wouldn't call it a 'wall' because that would suggest that there's no way through, that we've turned down a cul de sac from which we're creeping away before the curtains begin to twitch. No, it's more of a hurdle because I know that we'll get over it if we put our brain muscle through a couple of marathons.

Here's the situation. Agent or TV company? Which of those should we send our pilot to? A little (ok, a lot) of investigation online brings the realisation that most agents aren't interested unless you've been accepted by a TV production company already or you are a seasoned comedy writing veteran. Investigating the other side of the equation, the TV production companies, brings a similar result. And yet there has to be a way in for writers starting out on this path.

A conversation with a lovely TV person Tweep points to the BBC being a good place to head next so for the time being we shall investigate that port of call.

Has anyone else come across this situation?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Which sitcoms did you grow up with?

I think most of us can anchor our childhood years around one particular Doctor Who. For me it was Jon Pertwee with his distinguished grey curls and dulcet tones.

I caught an episode of 'The Good Life' last night. Felicity Kendall looked annoyingly attractive even when covered in mud and Richard Briers flirted a lot with Penelope Keith in a yellow mac (she was wearing the mac, not him). It got me thinking about whether sitcoms could sit on a peg in our childhoods (or teenage years or decades of our lives) in the same way that the many Doctors can.

Sitcoms I identify with being a child include On the Buses and Sykes. I also liked the Goodies. In my teens, there was Terry and June, Only when I laugh and Only Fools and Horses. I'm sure there were many others but as my father was in charge of the television set, he chose the evening viewing. The one thing all of those sitcoms had in common was a cast of characters we wanted to watch. Whether we admired them for their tenacity and hard work (Tom and Barbara in The Good Life), were tickled by their mad antics (The Goodies) or just wanted to see how naughty they could be (Roy Figgis in Only when I laugh), it was the characters who made us turn on our sets every week.

What sitcoms did you grow up with?

Another day

I expect that we will keep having these. They keep happening. At least they are in the right order now.

One last act to write then the whole thing will be locked away in the Chest of Hopes and Dreams, before being dragged to the bottom of the Cave of Despondent Reflections. Once there it can sit and think about what it had done to deserve such treatment.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Where is we at?

I'm sure you are aching to see what progress we have or rather haven't made.

Contrary to our nature we engaged a sensible approach and composed a synopsis. We did this to see if we could actually come up with a concept from which we could sprout further plot branches. After all, it wouldn't be good to have the offer of being taken on for eight episodes and then be left scratching our heads on where to take things next.

The idea for our sitcom came from a murder mystery play we wrote for our business Murdering The Text. No, we're not going to kill anyone off in our sitcom (not in the pilot anyway). What we took from the play was the setting and the characters. As happens in many of our plays, we had created a cast who just wouldn't shut up. Even though their story was finished, they wanted more. And like the parents we are, we didn't want to ignore their cries for attention. Behold, our sitcom was born.

We had the luxury of knowing our cast already, their quirks, their appearance, even their life histories. We could explore our setting past the one stage set we had created for the play. In fact, creating the physical world of our sitcom has been one of our favourite tasks so far.

The first draft of the pilot is virtually complete. The next task is to hide it away for a few days then return to it with a fresh eye.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

How to write a Sitcom? Not.

If you are here to learn the best tips and strategies employed to write the next 'Friends', then I'm afraid we can't help you.

This blog is all about the journey - the journey from a writer's perspective of having a written pilot in front of them (which they themselves think is a potential hit) to taking it through to its natural conclusion.

The best case scenario is obviously international renown, BAFTA awards, a knighthood, winning the nobel peace prize, bronze statues being erected in the nation's capital etc. The worst case is a simple journey of experience and the script lining the floor of our guinea pig cage (Pink, Red and Rosie - ask our 6 year old why?!).

At this stage we simply have no idea what will happen. We have three quarters of a script written, with a clear path of what will happen in it.

Our next step is to decide on whether it best to approach an agent for representation, or to contact a TV company directly? Any suggestions?

May fortune favour the foolish!

The Warmest of Welcomes

During the last few years my wife Fiona and I have dabbled with verbs, trounced on adverbs and plain out and out harassed adjectives all in the name of fun. (See what we have been up to in our other blogs.) Our meticulous misalignment of conjecture has over time congealed into various forms of the written word across several types of media. Now we find ourselves on the brink of entering what is, to us, brand new territory: the Sitcom.

Being avid fans of shows such as Black Books, Green Wing, My Family, Frasier, Father Ted, The IT Crowd (Ok - we watch too much TV!), we set ourselves the task of writing a brand new sitcom - new characters, new settings, none of which had been used in this format that we were aware of.

In addition to this, as Fiona is already an accomplished blogger and I myself have dipped my toe into that murky pool, I thought that the journey we are setting out upon a worthy subject on which to base this very blog. We welcome comments of all varieties, from people thinking of setting out on a similar path, to experienced and published authors who would laugh at our 'noob' mistakes, and everyone else in between.

At this stage we have no idea of where this journey may end. All I can say is thank you for any support you may offer and we hope you will become a part of and enjoy the trip!

Kindest regards,
Paul and Fiona