Thursday, November 17, 2011

The BAFTA TV awards situation

I'm feeling strangely respectable at the moment, because I've written an article for Broadcast magazine. It's in this week's print edition, live on their website now, and reproduced below with permission. And yes, I really do love America's Next Top Model. And Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model. You should see me during makeover week. Anyway, comments are open on this, for debate, links, etc, but I will be wielding the Meat Hammer of Deletion for any trolling, derailing, or devil's advocate time wasting. Here's the article:

New award for reality shows is an insult to writers, says James Moran.

Bafta must recognise wordsmiths

17 November, 2011

Each year, Bafta has two awards ceremonies to celebrate the best of UK TV. The televised event features glamorous actors in posh outfits; the Craft awards, however, aren’t screened as they feature the people who viewers supposedly aren’t interested in. Like writers. You know, those unimportant people who make up stories in their heads from nothing.

The televised ceremony heaps praise on the nominated shows, and many of the winners talk about the brilliant scripts that got them excited about the project. But you won’t see the writers at the awards, unless the producers allow them to come up on stage, or if the writer is a producer. There’s the Dennis Potter award, for ‘significant writing contribution to television’, but nothing for the creators of shows that might sweep the televised awards. Even Dennis Potter himself, if he were still alive, would be relegated to the Craft section.

TV is driven by writers. You can’t make a soap, a drama, a comedy or narrate a documentary without a script, so it’s baffling to be sidelined like this. Maybe they think we’re not photogenic enough. That’s clearly nonsense. Lots of writers have got that smouldering, broody artist thing going for them. Because that’s what’s important, right? Looking good on the red carpet? Don’t worry, we’ll scrub up and dress nice for you, Bafta.

Worse still, in the Craft awards, there is only one writing category. There should be at least two, to separate drama and comedy. You wouldn’t make Downton Abbey and Peep Show compete for ‘Best TV Show’, because they’re completely different experiences, so why lump all writers into one box?

In the main show, there are six acting awards in total. Drama and comedy shows are rightly split into single drama, drama series, mini-series, continuing drama, comedy and situation comedy.

Directing, while still hidden in the Craft awards, gets three categories – factual, fiction and multi-camera. Sound and editing get two each. But we just get ‘writer’, one award to cover the entire spectrum. What sort of message does that send?

Last time this issue came up, John Willis, then chair of Bafta’s TV committee, said there were “a finite number of categories for each ceremony”. If that’s true, why have they just added a new category for reality shows?

I have nothing against the genre – I love America’s Next Top Model – but you can’t claim there’s no room for writers and then squeeze in an extra category. The “finite” number of categories should be allocated more evenly.

It all affects how writers are perceived, and Bafta seems to be saying that writers aren’t important. I’m sure it doesn’t really think that – Bafta does lots of fantastic events with screenwriters, for example – but it really does need to address this issue.

Sure, in the great scheme of things, it’s hardly genocide. But writers get devalued and ignored enough, without getting left out of the one event where they should be celebrated. British TV features some of the finest writing in the world. It’s about time Bafta recognised that, in public.

➤ James Moran’s credits include Spooks, Torchwood, Doctor Who and Primeval and the horror film Severance. He blogs advice for writers at

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Free writing seminar blog post in a box

Thinking of going to an expensive writing seminar?? Stop! And read this instead!

You're probably aware of my feelings about how-to-write books and seminars. Short version: not a big fan. If you're just starting out and want a general overview, any one of the (cheaper) books is fine, they all pretty much say the same thing. As for seminars, there are some that can be useful, but I'd strongly advise against the ones that charge new writers several hundred pounds for a bunch of platitudes and common sense principles. Especially the ones delivered by people who aren't working writers - if you're going to pay someone for writing advice, at least make sure they've written stuff that got made. I don't like seeing people get ripped off.

Some of the bigger, so-called "script gurus" go on tour with their seminars, charging large amounts for stuff you can find out online for nothing. One of them is in the UK now, charging over £500 (not including VAT!) for a 3 day seminar. Whether you feel you get something out of it or not, that's a lot of money to hand over. But many actual, working writers happily answer questions and share their knowledge on their own websites, for free. They could probably make a lot of money selling their advice, but they know how hard it is when you're starting out, and want to help.

And that's where this blog post comes in. It's a free seminar! A seminar in a box! Except it's not a box. Or really a seminar. It's mostly links from my past blog entries, because I know them, with links to other essential sites and articles. But it's free! It's not a 3 day seminar, but you can read it over 3 days if you like. And it won't cost you several hundred quid. If you find it useful, and think it was worth something, why not send a few quid to your favourite charity?? I'd much rather places like Cancer Research, Lifeblood, Children in Need or the Red Cross got the money instead of some rich "guru" who likes taking cash from people who earn a lot less. Update: Childline could really do with some help right now, Adrian Mead's book below gives the profits to them, and/or you can donate to them directly here:

So, welcome! Sit down. No, you two can't sit together, you'll just chat - you sit there, and you go over there. Quiet at the back. If you see me drinking from a bottle inside a paper bag, that's just water, I swear. Let's start!

Starting and breaking in

My big writing FAQ, featuring how to get started, how to get better, getting an agent, feedback, and my writing routine:

How I taught myself screenwriting:

Finding inspiration, trying to break in, and how Eminem helped me keep going:

How I got an agent:

General meetings for writers - what to do, even what to wear:

Phill Barron on common writer complaints:

Adrian Mead's book on the nuts and bolts of starting a writing career (profits to Childline):

Writing the script, and the writing process

Kurt Vonnegut explains, very simply, the big secret of how to tell a story:

How I got the Torchwood job, my initial episode idea and how I developed it:

Summary of every screenwriting "how-to" book, ever:

Introducing characters on the page:

Naming minor characters in the first 10 pages:

Writer's block - what is it?

Writer's block - how to deal with it (also covers my writing process):

Restructuring a script using notes and a skeletal outline to keep things clear:

Things to avoid when writing horror movies:

Backing up your work:

Jason Arnopp on the magic of Draft Zero:

Chuck Wendig's 25 ways to plot, plan and prep your story:

Antony Johnston's fantastic article on his writing process:

Bill Cunningham on structuring a 90-minute genre script:

Paul Cornell's short story tips:

Script frenzy - a fun way to motivate yourself and write a script in 30 days:

Getting your work out there, and working in the industry

Doing drafts and getting notes:

Pitching (including several links to other writers and their pitching tips):

Dealing with rejection:

My 5th blogthday revelations - things I've learned along the way:

My busiest ever two weeks, or "what happens when you take on too much work":

The panic that sets in when you first get paid to write something:

Getting slightly well known, or "internet famous":

Jason Arnopp on the myth of "luck":

Chuck Wendig's 25 questions to ask yourself as you write:

Danny Stack on getting your script read:

John Rogers on pitching:

Guest speakers

BAFTA Guru is a new site full of interviews with writers, directors, actors and crew who make TV, movies and games. It's a goldmine of expertise and information: is a new site from John August, answering screenwriting questions - how to format a script/montage sequence/slugline etc:

Joss Whedon's top 10 writing tips:

Danny Stack's screenwriting articles, and PDF files on how to be a professional writer (read ALL of these):

John August's blog, full of writing advice:

Collection of story writing tips from many more authors, on the SFX site:

William C. Martell's free script tip per day, and excellent Blue Books of writing tips (the Blue Books aren't free, but are well worth it):

And there we have it. Plenty of stuff to get through, and take you through plotting, writing, re-writing, breaking in, and working as a writer. Every other website mentioned has got plenty more stuff to read, so have a look through the archives and find out even more. Check out the links on their sites too, there are many, many more professional writers out there, giving free advice. So save yourself some money...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Screenwriting questions and answers

John August, who already has a fantastically helpful and interesting blog, has launched a new site answering basic screenwriting questions - what is the proper script format, how do you show a montage sequence, what's a slugline, etc etc. It has tons and tons of stuff, all incredibly helpful and free.

You can even submit questions if there's something they haven't answered yet. If you write scripts, or want to write scripts, or even if you've been writing scripts for ages and think you know it all, go check it out!