Stewart Thomson travelled to the New York Television Festival with his script Skwibs.
The Script: Skwibs
Synopsis: The story of Francis Falkirk, a Scottish medium and spiritual detective on a mission to release the spirits of the restless dead.
Meet Stewart Thomson
How did it feel to be shortlisted for Rocliffe?
Just to be shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum feels like a fantastic achievement. To receive the recognition of such an esteemed judging panel is a huge shot in the arm for my project and writing in general.
What are you most looking forward to about attending the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum event in New York?
To see SKWIBS performed in front of a live audience would be terrifying but also hugely constructive. Comedies need to be performed, even if that means facing the jokes that fall flat.
When did you get involved in writing comedy?
I’ve been writing as far back as I can remember. Apart from a brief spell of angst ridden teenage poetry I’ve always tried to write comedy.
What inspired you to write comedy for the screen?
I think making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do as a writer but also one of the most rewarding.
Which part of the writing process do you find most difficult and which come most easily?
I’m a bit of an over-writer; my first drafts are often alarmingly gigantic. This is something I’m trying to reign in. Writing dialogue is the part that comes easiest to me.
My week at the New York Television Festival as part of the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum was a whirlwind of excitement and opportunity. As we arrived on Sunday afternoon, and our Sitcom Showcase with Greg Daniels wasn’t until Wednesday, we had a few days to soak up the festival, shake off our jetlag and explore a little of New York City.
These first few days were packed with inspiring speakers including not one but two fantastic sessions with Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz; the first an exclusive “artists only” chat followed by his keynote speech to kick off the festival in style.
Our evenings were mostly spent with our fellow artists over a few beers in the Varick Room of Tribeca Cinema. It was fantastic to meet writers, directors and producers from across the globe, all there with a vast variety of pilots, scripts and reality TV concepts. It was also wonderful (and a little terrifying) to hear that so many people were looking forward to our event on Wednesday night. The live performance aspect was the only event of its kind at the festival and it was clearly attracting a lot of attention. And having Greg Daniels on stage probably wasn’t hurting either…
When Wednesday rolled around the excitement was palpable. It was to be another packed day filled not only with rehearsals and the event itself but also with a reality TV pitch to the Bio network in between. There was barely enough time to be stressed!
Any worries about the performance were quickly blown away at rehearsals. Working under the direction of Susan Jacobson, the assembled actors (cast by Kate Murray) were uniformly excellent, diving into the material and collectively knocking it out of the park. It was thrilling to hear my words come alive and to see the actors responding so positively to the script.
After rehearsals I hurried over to my pitch with the Bio Channel. I was pitching a reality TV concept about American exorcists. To say I was out of my comfort zone would be quite the understatement. But despite being nervous it proved to be an enjoyable experience and one that I was really happy to have taken part in. It seemed pretty clear from the off that Bio were not going to rush American Exorcist into production any time soon but the pitch was a great experience and the door is now open if I want to pitch something to the network again in the future.
And so to the main event…
After a red-carpet photo call with Greg Daniels we took our seats and waited nervously for the show to begin. It was wonderful to see the three performances play out on stage, each of them completely different and enthusiastically received from the sell-out crowd. To see my own work performed by such great actors, under brilliant direction and in such a wonderful setting was undoubtedly a career highlight. My on-stage Q&A with Greg Daniels was a bit of a bright-light blur but it was amazingly encouraging to hear his positive feedback to the performance and to the work in general. As my project had previously been rejected on more occasions than I care to admit from numerous UK channels and production companies, to be sitting up there with Greg Daniels at the New York Television Festival under the banner of BAFTA Rocliffe was enormously rewarding.
Having dinner with Greg in Soho House after the event was the perfect end to an amazing day. I went to bed that night exhausted, a little tipsy and with my head spinning with previously unimagined possibilities.
With the excitement of the showcase out of the way, we could relax a little and enjoy the rest of the festival. Our final few days were taken up by yet more inspiring talks and networking opportunities with our fellow artists. It was great to hear such a positive response from the people who had attended the showcase; to many it had been a festival highlight.
The festival wrapped up in style with an awards show in which my fellow BAFTA Rocliffers, Brona C. Titley and Tony Cooke scooped a development deal with VH1 with their pitch for a reality show called Teen Time Machine. After the closing night party we said farewell to the many new friends we had met over the week and vowed to do our darndest to return to the festival again the following year.
After a whirlwind day of sightseeing on the day of our departure we flew back to the UK (in the middle of the worst storm in decades) inspired, enthused and ready to make the very most of the contacts, opportunities and possibilities that the BAFTA Rocliffe experience had provided.