Michelle Lipton

Michelle Lipton

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BBC Writersroom Policy Change

November 23, 2009 ,

An interesting and passionate debate has developed over at the BBC Writersroom blog following the recent announcement of a change to their terms and conditions regarding unsolicited scripts from overseas.

Several writers living overseas have expressed their frustrations articulately and with great spirit, feeling that the door is being closed to them.  Paul Ashton has answered their comments making an equally persuasive argument as to why the policy change is necessary. 

I know several people who will be effected by this change to the terms and conditions, both British citizens living abroad and European writers keen to work in the British radio and television industry, so I do sympathise with their frustrations.  However, it’s also true to say that the vast majority of writers I know who’ve successfully launched their writing careers, have done so by making contact with producers and script editors directly – and not from being passed along on the basis of an unsolicited script.

For this reason, my opinion has come to be that whilst the service offered by the Writersroom is a valuable and important one, it is an extra, additional avenue for writers to explore, and not the only route in for new writers. 

For those writers who’ve commented on the Writersroom blog expressing their concerns about finding a way into BBC Radio Drama, the breakdown of the Radio 4 commissioning process I wrote up earlier this year contains details of independent production companies who produce radio drama including which slots they are eligible to tender bids for as well as a link to the contact details of various in-house BBC radio drama producers – all of which is publicly available via the Radio 4 website itself.

Since writing that post I know of at least one writer who has used this information to diligently research and approach producers directly and now has several radio drama proposals being considered.  And bloody good on him, I say.

In terms of television and film, there are still many independent production companies who will accept unsolicited scripts, and the same goes for theatre companies if you’re interested in writing for the stage.  Hayley McKenzie has compiled helpful lists in each of these areas providing links to companies who may be willing to read your work, as well as a list of writing competitions which is another great way for writers to get their work read by producers looking for new talent.

Alternatively, as would be required for any British writer attempting to seek work in America, an agent would open doors directly to producers and production companies and if you’re confident that your work is of saleable quality perhaps it’s time to consider making an approach to an agency for representation in the UK.  At the start of the year I posted a Q&A with agents on how writers should go about making contact with agents, and you can also search the Writers and Artists Yearbook for details of agencies and the sorts of writers they represent.

In short, whilst it may be frustrating to feel that a potential route into the BBC has been closed off by this policy change, the Writersroom is just one avenue to explore.  And whether you’re inside the UK or living overseas, pinning all your hopes on squeezing through one small doorway may not be the best approach.

Why not try the side entrance?

What do you think?

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The diligently researching writer? That’d be me, then :)

I absolutely agree with you, Michelle. Don’t pin all your hopes on a single shining path into production. Writersroom is not the be all and end all. Keep trying all the angles.

I used Michelle’s excellent radio drama commissioning information as a starting point for my own research. I looked up a shedload of indie producers, found out a lot about them, made a shortlist and got on the phone. No hopeful emails fired into the void for me. I did the scary thing and phoned people direct.

Now I’ve got a script under consideration with one producer and another one assessing one of my spec pieces. Not bad for five hours research and about ten phone calls, eh? Even if nothing comes of it this time around, it’s the thin end of the wedge.

I think the problem is that many people are looking for the One True Way into scriptwriting success, and they latch on to Writersroom as that very thing. The truth is that there is no One True Way. There are dozens. You’ve just got to find them.

Oh, and guess what? I haven’t actually got around to submitting anything to Writersroom yet. I keep on meaning to, but…well, you know. Too busy contacting producers.


November 23, 2009

I think most people are trying side entrances. It’s just the idea of (and what makes the WR different is) having real people- read (even just 10 pages) is so enticing… what it means is if you are an amateur, and by some lucky draw of gene pool actually have talent, you might have a chance.


November 23, 2009

Writersroom is a great tool and Iunderstand that it may be seen as the closing of a door for some but you are completely right Michelle, it isn’t the only way to go.

Recently, I developed an idea for a pre-school series. After completing the spec script I sat down and went through the Cbeebies website, listed all the shows and then researched which companies produced them. I wrote or emailed (depending on the pro-co’s preference) and have now got one company considering my work and great feedback from two others.

Yes, it was a bit time-consumming but it seems that is the nature of the beast – much time is indeed spent on researching the people to go to and networking as best you can.

Lisa Barrass

November 23, 2009

And what’s more, LB, those prodcos will have your name on their radar. Next time you approach them, you won’t be an unknown.

I’ve read the comments on the WR blog. Fair go to all concerned, I genuinely feel their pain. If I was stuck out in Ghana trying to break into UK radio drama (or whatever) I’d be pretty pissed off too.

One interesting fact that emerged from Paul Ashton’s replies is that producers want to build a fruitful relationship with a writer rather than simply producing their script. Now this might be blindingly obvious to a lot of people, but it’s an important concept for newbie writers to grasp.

This is borne out by a cursory examination of the names of writers, producers and directors in the credits for Radio 4 dramas. You can see the relationships.


November 23, 2009

I agree Liv – knowing that your work will definitely get read by the Writersroom is a massive plus and it’s what makes it such an important asset for new writers – but as Laurence and Lisa have said here, making contact with producers yourself can and does work.

It took Laurence one day’s worth of effort to get his stuff on the desk of a producer – it takes about four months to get feedback from the Writersroom.

And surely picking up the phone and talking to a producer is a better connection with a real person than sticking a script in an envelope and hoping for the best?

I don’t think the Writersroom should be ignored, it’s a great place to send your work, but if the door is closed – which it seems like it might now be for some people – there are alternatives.

However you go about getting your work read by producers, talent always, always, stands a chance.


November 23, 2009


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