Monday, 31 March 2008

The BBC Drama Writers' Academy

I've just discovered that the BBC have linked to this Blog. Suddenly I feel all official. And like I ought to take it a bit more seriously.

The Beeb are just getting their promotional campaign going for the 2008 Drama Writers' Academy. My guess is that the official announcement will be out shortly.

And, under "more information", they've linked to me here.

So, if you've come searching for advice on whether or not to apply, I suppose I'd better oblige.

If you click down there on the lower right hand side where it says "BBC Writers' Academy" (or click here if that's easier), you'll get everything wot I ever wrote about it. Slide down to the bottom and you'll get me prattling on about how I think I'll apply this year, and follow me up through the application process and the course until I get my shiny certificate saying I can write drama.

If you click on "Doctors" or "Casualty", you'll get stuff on writing for those two shows.

Or you can just stay here and listen while I go on and on about how wonderful the Academy is and how, if you do nothing else this year to progress your writing career, you really ought to apply.

I don't suppose it's for everyone. The travel's difficult if you're not based in London or can't find a spare room to crash in. And, there is absolutely no point trying to blag your way onto the course if you don't enjoy the shows you'll be writing for.

If you're currently earning a significant wage, then the prospect giving it up and of earning about £25k for 15 months' work, might not seem very enticing. But, if TV drama is what you want to do, then £25k is a lot better than a kick in the teeth. And if you're a struggling playwright selling your body each night in order to keep going, then I guess £25k is rather a pleasant prospect!

One other bug bear - they don't give you very much notice between telling you you're in and when the course starts, so you might have a problem giving enough notice to your employer.

OK, enough caveats. Why don't I just gush?

My advice to everyone is go for it. Just do it. It is the most absolutely fantastic opportunity. John Yorke actually runs it himself. Two days a week you get lectures from 09:30 until 18:00, personally by him. Then Wednesday's a writing day. Thursday is guest lectures from people that John knows - and John knows everybody! And on Friday you each get an hour-long slot for a one-on-one tutorial with him. It's his pet project. And you do this for 13 weeks.

And the course itself is excellent. John is fanatical about a certain style of writing and a five act structure. But he's equally adamant that there are other ways to do it too - he's up for discussion and argument every step of the way (and, believe me, we argued). Basically, we all had a complete ball.

After the classroom, you get those three commissions over the course of the next year under the personal supervision of series editors or executive producers. That's where I am at the moment - in up over my head in the murky Avon waters of Casualty. I do EastEnders in the Summer and Holby City at the end of the year, assuming I survive Casualty.

After that there are no promises. This is the fourth year that the scheme has run. Most of the first lot are now full-time writers on one or other of the shows. Some are core writers. The second lot have just finished their three commissions and seem headed the same way. My lot are in the midst of the real writing right now (and it's a wonderful nightmare!)

And, if you don't want to write for the soaps, we had Tony Jordan in to speak to us. He said he's watching the episodes as they come out, and that he's just waiting to steal the best of us from under John's nose.

So, the opportunities are just beyond belief. I'm not even going to tell you what an EastEnders core writer can earn, cos you won't believe me!

Sorry! I get very evangelical about it.

But, if you can find a way (and if you get through the interviews etc), then it's got to be the biggest opportunity in British screenwriting.

See you on the other side.


Anonymous said...

So how much does a core eastenders writer earn? I'm guessing 150k. Is that close?

Oli said...

That's a little tacky, anon, isn't it?

Piers said...

Oli - I don't think it's ever out of order to ask.

Paul Campbell said...

Hi Guys

I do think it's faintly ridiculous the way we Brits never discuss money. We might just about get away with talking about how much things have cost us, but it's always with a faintly embarrased "if you don't mind my asking".

And we never even hint at how much we earn. It's not the done thing at all. Quite "tacky", in fact.

Sorry, Oli. I'm not getting at you. But I do think it's a little peculiar. I have wondered from time to time how we would all behave if there was a law requiring us all to write across our foreheads in a big black marker pen how much we each earnt in the previous year. My theory is that it would shame us into a much fairer distribution of wealth. But I might be wrong.

Anyway, in fine British tradition, I'm not going to answer Anon's question. Except to say that they are very naive and clearly have no sense of ambition or self worth.