26 March, 2009

BBC College of Comedy

The BBC invites comedy writers to apply for a place in its College of Comedy. The scheme will run for 12 months, and six successful applicants (writing pairs will be treated as a single applicant) will be attached to an existing production, and will also be mentored in the creation of original work.

The scheme is open to writers of half-hour narrative comedy, and to sketch writers from the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland.

Applicants will have had their work broadcast; had work commissioned for development by a broadcaster or production company; or had their work performed professionally, either as a writer or a writer/performer. Applications which do not meet these criteria will not be considered.

Writers applying to the College should submit the first ten pages of a narrative comedy script, or a portfolio of no more than six sketches, together with a CV.

Applicants may indicate in their application whether a DVD or CD of their work is available, which may be requested during the selection process. They should not be sent unless requested. Links to online examples of work should be included in the CV.

Only one entry per applicant will be considered, and the deadline for submissions is noon on 24 April 2009.

A short-list of no more than 12 writers will be invited for interview in the week of May 25. Applicants will be notified as to whether or not they have been successful by the end of the week.

The successful writers will attend a residential workshop in the course of the programme, be attached to a production (with expenses paid), and be mentored in the development of an original script, which will be showcased at the end of the scheme, and for which a fee will be paid.

As a condition of the scheme, original work by the writers must be submitted to the BBC under a 'first-look' deal, which will run for 12 months from the scheme's end in April 2010. The BBC undertakes to decide within three months of submission whether or not it wishes to commission the work.

Submissions should be sent to collegeofcomedy@bbc.co.uk, which will be acknowledged by email. If candidates have not heard from the college by 18 May 2009, then they will not have been shortlisted. It will not be possible to enter into correspondence in relation to individual entries. (BBC writersroom)


The scheme is run by Micheál Jacob, who says:

"For me, the major criteria are: does the work make me laugh; does it offer an original viewpoint; can I see this writer's work on television (as opposed to radio or film)."

Here are his blogs from the writersroom blog (there is also useful advice and discussion in the comments):


Micheál Jacob:

What do I look for in a comedy script?

I want to laugh. It's as simple as that. But what works in both sitcoms and sketches is humour from character rather than jokes. So it's characters, their actions and words which make things funny. Every character should have an individual tone of voice, and an individual take on life. I read a script recently which began with an endearing rant against modern life in a coffee shop. The character was clear, the rant was true but very well expressed, and so the scene was funny. The script then moved away into a morwe conceptual realm, with jokes distributed among the characters rather than stemming from them, and never reached the heights of that first scene. So character is the key.

Anything to be avoided? Anything that's sought after?

There's nothing really to be avoided, because a good writer can take an idea with which many have failed and make it work. So one can never say never. For new writers, low concept ideas are preferable to high concept - eg, a family show is easier to write than one about extra-terrestrials working in Primark, since with a high concept, the central idea needs always to be served. The most sought-after ideas are those which will work for the particular needs of a particular channel.

Dos and Don'ts

Do make your script legible, but don't worry too much about formatting. We just need to know where a scene is taking place and who is speaking.

Do set out to write a comedy about characters, don't set out to write a sitcom. By which I mean, new writers often try too hard to be funny and come up with'comic' lines and situations which feel artificial rather than organic.

Do write from inside yourself. Don't write conceptually.

Do start work on another idea when you've sent a script out into the world. Don't sit back and wait for a response, because it will take three months or so to hear back.
It's okay to send scripts to more than one organisation when you're seeking to establish yourself, but don't send the same script to several people in the same organisation.

Do listen if you're given feedback, even if someone appears to have misunderstood your script. They may have misunderstood it, you may not have made yourself clear. But don't slavishly follow advice - it's your work. If someone has problems with a script, listen to what the problems are, and see if you can solve them your way.

Do pay attention to the market, and have an idea of where you're aiming your script. Don't copy something that's on already.

Do have a sense of perspective - very few people sell their first script. Be prepared to work at the craft. Don't be disheartened by rejection, keep plugging away. Although if your scripts keep coming back without any comments or notes, then you should probably think about trying a different form.

Do read your scripts aloud with some people you know to get an idea of timing. Don't take the laughter of friends and family as an indication of how good the script is. They're biased.

Do try and get your work performed. Even bad actors help to give you a feel for how your lines flow, and how your story is progressing.

Writing Exercises

The better you know your characters, the better the piece, and doing some character studies will help you to create individual tones of voice and get to know your characters thoroughly.

I'd suggest writing character biographies in the first person. Take one, two or three characters and put them under pressure. They might be stuck in a lift, stuck at an airport with a major flight delay, arrive at a hotel in the early hours and discover there is no record of a booking. Put two characters with opposing agendas and desires in a situation. Explore hierarchy - character A is more powerful than character B. But character C is more powerful than character A. Explore relationships - parent as child, child as parent.

As well as developing character, exercises like this can also suggest potential story avenues.

Article in full at More Writing messageboard


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