18 July 13
Lizzie Bates and Anna Emerson took their script New Habits to the New York Television Festival with Rocliffe.
The Script: New Habits
Synopsis: When Sister Adie decides she’s quitting the convent, Jules helps her get to grips with life as a single woman in the big city.
How did it feel to be shortlisted for Rocliffe?
I am over the moon! It's amazing to receive validation after all the hard work we've done, and I feel like this has really given me the confidence to believe in my ideas and writing - and to keep going!
What are you most looking forward to about attending the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum event in New York?
The chance to meet influential people in the comedy industry and receive proper feedback for our idea and script. I would also be so excited to have our script read and brought to life.
When did you get involved in writing comedy?
Anna and I started writing properly after university when we put our first Edinburgh Fringe show together, and started gigging on the London sketch comedy circuit.
What inspired you to write comedy for the screen?
I've always written for the stage so when we had the opportunity to write narrative comedy for the radio it was a really exciting new challenge, and something I enjoyed enormously. That played a huge part in giving me the confidence to start writing for the screen. There are so many fantastic sitcoms out there, it would be a dream come true to have ours alongside them.
Which part of the writing process do you find most difficult and which come most easily?
Writing late at night after a full day in the office can be really hard. It always helps to have a strict deadline so you don't mind carrying on into the night! I also find writing with Anna - throwing ideas around and trying to make each other laugh - the most enjoyable bit of the writing process. And when a joke really comes together it's such an amazing feeling.
It's hard to get across quite how incredible my week at the New York Television Festival was: how invaluable the advice we received from those in the know, and how thrilling it was to make connections with new writers and producers from the other side of the world.
BAFTA arranged some phenomenal meetings for us: we were taken to one of the top floors of HBO HQ to meet the top dogs in film, drama and comedy; we met with American agents and managers; star of the silver screen, Bob Balaban; comedy club owner extraordinaire, Caroline Hirsh; and producers and directors at the top of their game. And the festival itself offered some amazing sessions, some of which were a new comedy writer’s dream: 'Creative Editing for Comedy' and 'Staff Writing for Comedy' to name just a couple. (It seems petty in this context to mention the free beer but, yes, there was that too.)
But, of course, the main event for us Brits was the BAFTA showcase itself, where our scripts were put on their feet in front of an audience and we received notes live on stage from the legend that is Greg Daniels. I was expecting to find the event itself emotional – challenging and nerve-wracking – but the emotion really hit home in the rehearsals on the morning of the event. To see professional and extremely talented actors pick up our script and bring it to life was a very intense experience: to get a sense that the words we chose and the order that we put them in works; that we really do have an actual script that can make people laugh.
The day of the showcase is one that will stick with me forever, but there were also nuggets of advice that week that keep coming back to me. A massive highlight was Mitch Hurwitz – creator of Arrested Development – taking time before his evening keynote event to meet and talk to the artists at the festival. So much of what he said was enormously comforting to new writers starting out. He told us to stick with it, veer away from pigeonholing yourself as a writer, and – whatever you're doing – have fun doing it. He warned us against slowing momentum when we've accomplished something: you can hammer away at one project (not quite believing that you've managed as much as you have) but you need to put that to one side and try something new.
Another thing I left New York with was a lot of new contacts. It's not easy approaching strangers (and even harder trying to extract yourself from a conversation in order to meet more people when, after the initial terror, you find yourself having a really lovely chat) but, after the week of the festival, I can really see the value of connecting with as many people as possible at an industry event, even if it doesn't feel like it comes naturally. Again, Mitch's wise words come to mind: 'You only have to meet someone once to know them.' And once you know them, you're just one small step away from them reading your script. For every industry contact we met there was an up-and-coming director, writer or producer who I hope to keep in touch with and possibly collaborate with in the future. It was inspiring to hear about other artists' projects, and watch their pilots at the various screenings. To all support each other in that way felt like such a positive and thrilling thing to be part of.
I think the largest lesson I have learnt since becoming part of the Rocliffe scheme is to be confident and believe in myself. Anna and I almost didn’t enter this competition because we were worried that we didn’t have the time to pull our material together and do it justice. I'm so grateful that we did. To quote Mitch Hurwitz one final time: 'when you advocate for yourself you gain.' Believing in our project helped get us to New York and opened up a lot of doors for us. Fingers crossed, this is just the beginning.