How do I know if I am writing Sitcom or not?
Sitcom is a half an hour TV show about life compressed; a small cast of characters trapped in dysfunctional relationships. Often they will be or at least act like a family - mother, father and children (The Good Life). They do not grow or learn. You must ask what it is they want out of life and then don't give it to them. Plots must be trivial and domestic, ideally with two escalations and a resolve that either leaves your main 'monster' character hanging or returns him to where he started.
Can I have a narrative thread running through it?
Yes but it will diminish your chances of a sale. A running story implies character development but also means the series would have to be viewed sequentially. One of the great advantages to the Sitcom genre is any one episode can be dropped into a TV schedule without the viewer needing prior knowledge. This is why it is so well paid.
What about Comedy Drama?
Comedy Drama is sold via the drama department. Each episode is 50 minutes long and there are limited slots in the UK. Shameless, Doc Martin and Fresh Meat are Comedy drama. They have narrative character arcs, ongoing plots/subplots, a bigger budget and faster cutting. They are more 'real' - but also require an overall thematic question. E.g. should we fit the demands of others or stay fat and happy (Fat Friends)? Can a semi-criminal family function as 'normal' (Shameless)? Think on this and about your intended TV slot before you proceed.
How long does it take to write a script?
It varies, but the hard work is all in the planning. Developing the idea, situation and characters and - the hardest work of all - the plot. This will take months, but the episode, once you have it nailed down, can take as little a ten days for a first draft. Less, if you are working in tandem, as many do.
How do I format a script?
CELTX is simple and free to download and has both TV sitcom and Screenplay formats with simple instructions. BBC Scriptsmart is also free from the bbc.co.uk Writersroom website. Many professional writers use Final Draft, which has a variety of formats and spoken narrative if required. There is even a profanity count- although your swear count should be nil.
What is required when I want to submit?
Make sure it's the best it can be. Check for typos. Many writers' misuse 'your' and 'you're' and 'their/they're' and script editors find this tiresome. If you are unsure of spelling, punctuation or grammar, have it checked through. Likewise with other reading problems. A script comes in at roughly 35 pages or 6/7000 words. Don't forget to number the pages.
What about character and scene descriptions?
Keep it simple. When introducing a new character, use apposite adjectives (never 'feisty' or 'bubbly'). Describe locations with the bare minimum. As to camera directions, only include them if CUT TO or CLOSE UP is essential. In general write as if you are the camera. Write what you see and always show and don't tell us things.
How many scripts do I send out?
Just one will do, plus character biogs and plot outlines at the back. If a reader is sufficiently interested he will read on. Your script ought to be a 'middle' episode - one in which there is no clumsy exposition explaining how the characters got into this position. Drop us right in. TV audiences will get it right away. I can tell if a script is any good in ten pages.
What about my covering letter/email?
It ought to be a polite request to read and little else. Outline the title and idea in no more than a paragraph and include only relevant writing experience. If an agent/reader reads and likes, he will be in touch. Put your email address or contact details on every page.
Where do I submit my script?
Most of the Independent Production Companies do not accept unsolicited scripts. You can find those that do by searching their websites or via forums on sites such as comedy.co.uk. Read Broadcast Magazine. Meet with other writers and go to events where you can share information. If you send your script direct to the BBC and it is rejected, you cannot submit it again in that form, which effectively wipes out selling it anywhere else. Options are limited but there are always ways and means - otherwise nothing would get made.
What about submitting to an agent?
A good agent will get your work read, and if you are his client you inherit the kudos of their agency. Getting one is hard, as an agent generally keeps about thirty clients and is working for them. Best to try and find a younger, hungrier agent who will work hard for you. Again, you must do your research, starting with the Artists and Writers Yearbook (A&C Black), which, interestingly, seems only to be available via legacy print (paper).
Any other tips for this as a career?
Persevere. The first script probably won't sell. The goal ought to be to build up a portfolio of scripts and script ideas. You may allow at least two to three years for this (so continue with your daily drudgery for now). Your next aim is to get a meeting. Producer contact will help a lot. Enter the competitions run by The Sitcom Trials and Mission.
What's the money like?
Not great for radio, but the starting fee for a single half hour TV script is currently around £5000. If commissioned for a pilot, a second is usually included. Once your first series is up and running, don't forget about repeat fees and worldwide sales, plus merchandise, DVD and many other hidden benefits. Top sitcom writers are very much in demand. Remember that once a drama goes out, you know whodunit - but sitcom is endlessly repeatable.
Do you accept other forms of writing in your script service
Yes. Novels (three chapters and synopsis), Comedy Dramas (one episode and series outline) and screenplays (treatment and Act One). I will read sketches if you have a batch equivalent to one half hour. No poems. I will NOT write the thing for you. You are the writer.