Given the enormous interest in the last post (largely thanks to a RT by Mr Linehan), I thought it might be worth following up some specifcs questions that arose.
The producer works for a company that says it doesn’t accept unsolicited scripts. Should I send it anyway?
It’s up to you. If you do, it would be unreasonable of you to pester them with phonecalls and emails subsequently for feedback. I would says there’s no harm in sending it. But, given their pre-stated policy, don’t expect anything back. Personally, saying you don’t accept scripts is a bizarre policy for a comedy company to have, given that scripts are where the jokes/money come from. But given there are tens of thousands of sitcom scripts floating around the UK at the moment, and thousands more generated every year, you have to draw the line somewhere. (Also, as someone has helpfully commented, send the script to a particular person, not a company.)
Should I send my script to agents?
Yes. You can. You probably should – especially if you feel you’re running out of options. But my experience is that agents tend not to get involved if you don’t have ‘stuff going on’. Many are good-hearted and want to encourage new writers, but they have to make a living like the rest of us. But agents are, by no means, a magic wand. Their good allies, and not bored by contracts and money, but tend not to get you sitcom work. (Some get you day-rate gag-writing work, but that's an area I'm not all that familiar with.)
Isn’t it all about relationships with producers?
Yes it is. One or two tweeted that they thought that writing sketches for shows was the way in – and this is the tried and tested formula. The likes of John Sullivan, Richard Curtis, David Renwick and Andy Hamilton to name a few started this way. In one sense, a sitcom is a series of sketches, so getting the craft of economic funny writing is probably the best foundation you can have. And through it, you develop relationships with producers, with whom you can develop longer narrative scripts. But many writers have had other routes into sitcom. I believe Simon Nye wrote a novel that he was persuaded to turn into a sitcom, and he happened to be brilliant at writing sitcom. Lee Mack has come through live performance. But sketch comedy is the best way for most, I think.
Should I send an electronic or hard copy?
I’d say hard copy. My reasoning is thinking about it from their point of view (or mine!) If I get an email, I have to print it out myself at my expense. And then put it down somewhere where I’ll remember to read it. Most likely, I'll fail to print it out, and then the email disappears off the bottom of my list, and it’s all forgotten. (I’ve forgotten to read plenty of scripts this way from people whom I know personally and like (Sorry)).
I shouldn’t bother asking where you can send them a script first out of politeness. It’s just more admin. If a script is already printed out and sitting on a table, it might get picked up and read very quickly. Especially if the first few pages are actually proper funny – which is rare. And if it ain’t funny, it goes in the bin and their day continues. We’ve all had scripts thrown in the bin. The solution is to send it someone else, or write another one.
Is it worth sending to producers as well as BBC Writersroom?
Yes. I know one of their readers very well and he knows stuff and can spot funny. You can send it to BBC Producers too – one or two – but try the Writersoom. They are mandated and paid to find new talent and encourage it. That might well involve you.
Should I send a pilot ‘set-up’ episode or a typical episode?
Send a funny episode. The debate about whether to write Ep 1 as a set-up or whether to do it in the first five minutes and then move on, or just write a typical episode is not something to worry about at this stage. Really and truly. When you are sending a script to a producer, you are primarily showing what you can do with a half-hour script. The odds of the script being turned into actually TV are truly tiny. There are so many hoops to jump through first. A script is a calling card – in the hope of developing a relationship with a producer. They get sent hundreds of pilot episodes, and plenty of typical episodes – but they don’t get sent many funny, fresh, original versions of either. It really is all about the funny at this stage. The cold-hearted planning of how you can take over the world with your sitcom comes later.
Could I send a script to you, Sitcomgeek?
I’d rather you didn’t. Sorry. I do get asked now and then. Reading a script properly – as I would like my script to be read – takes half an hour. Then you have to read it again. Think about it. And then write something useful. That’s probably a 3-4 hour job. No offence, if I’m giving away my time for free, I’d rather give it my three-year old daughter (whom I only invoice occasionally) There are script reading services available at relatively low cost. You could try the excellent and experienced writer Dave Cohen, or the delightful Hayley McKenzie.
I’m not getting anywhere at all. What should I do?
Write something else. If you’re a writer, you’ll like writing for it’s own sake – and that is the thing that gives you pleasure. But given the lack of manufacturing and an increasingly graduate population, an awful lot of people want to be writers. It’s hard work out there, and it can be slim pickings at times. And if you’re pitching a sitcom to BBC2, you’re competing with Paul Whitehouse, Steve Moffat and Ricky Gervais. You’re in with the big boys. Quit whining, and turn that into something funny. (I hasten to add I regularly ignore my own advice and whine with the best of them.)
Please feel free to ask other general questions about sitcom, industrial or scriptorial – maybe on the comments below or via twitter – and I’ll try and get to them via the blog over the coming weeks.