Sarah Courtauld reveals how she so nearly didn't submit her script to BAFTA Rocliffe, but thankfully there's a happy ending...
How To Prepare A Winning Script
I'd had the idea of writing a sitcom about publishing for a while. Since I work in a publishers as my day job, I had been jotting down little notes for ages. Things like: “Nathan is asleep at his desk, why?” And: “have stolen hobnobs from next door. Saskia is giving me evil eyes. She KNOWS.”
Originally I wanted to turn my idea into a feature film, but it felt like trying to fit a penguin into an ovenglove. This summer I went on an Arvon screenwriting course, and gave a couple of scenes to the tutor, Paul Fraser – who said: “this reads like a sitcom”. It made a lot of sense, and I realised it would be much more fun to write lots of smaller stories, instead of one huge script.
I wrote the first draft of the episode in one night, interrupted by frequent breaks to drink coffee, eat cheese, and stare at pictures of Tina Fey in an attempt to absorb her essence. When I got to the end, I looked out onto the street and saw a white van parked outside my window getting bigger and smaller. I looked at it for quite a long time and it didn’t stop. So I figured it was time to go to bed. Afterwards, I rewrote several scenes. I very nearly didn’t enter the competition – mainly because I was so intimidated by the stellar line-up of judges and I thought the script wasn’t quite ready.
I don't know what made this script stand out. I think it probably has to do with the fact that I really enjoyed writing it, and I'm excited about the idea, and hopefully that shows through. Also, the story world is a fun place for me to inhabit in my head, and so hopefully it’s an enjoyable world for the reader as well. Also, the sample I sent was the opening pages of quite a simple plot, so it was fairly easy to follow. Also, I bribed the judges.
When I got through to the shortlist, my mum’s interview advice was as follows:
“You should dye your hair red. Like that woman. You know.”
“You know. Rebecca… Rebecca Brooks.”
“Mum, I think she’s currently on trial.”
“Well, the Prime Minister texted her. She did well for herself.”
When Farah rang me, and told me I’d been selected to go to New York, my mum’s response was immediate and unambiguous.
“You’ll be dead at 35,” she said. “These writers, they’re all alcoholics.”
Apart from my mother’s predictions of my imminent demise, the experience of winning has already been fantastic. At the interview I got some very useful feedback from Kevin Cecil, (the writer of Black Books, Hyperdrive and other things). He was really encouraging, which meant a lot.
Now the people at Rocliffe have sent my script to lots of agents and production companies. Without the competition, my script would definitely still be sitting on my laptop, and I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to send it out.