Nicolas Small talks scriptwriting tips and winning BAFTA Rocliffe's 2012 comedy writers competition in his Secret Diary Of A Call Girl inspired blog...
How To Prepare A Winning Script
Until last week, I had never won anything. My Labrador Minnie once came second in the ‘waggliest tail’ category at the local village fête, but I fail to see how her training regime (lots of walks, the occasional treat) is relevant to the topic under discussion. I’ve also never blogged before in my life, but have watched enough Secret Diary of a Call Girl to give it a go.
Happy As Larry was the first comedy script I wrote. Having had various producers at UK companies pronounce it as ‘too American’ I thought it best to embrace this criticism and re-work it for the US market. As luck would have it, it was whilst I was doing this that I first heard about the Rocliffe competition via a couple of friends, and decided to give it a shot.
Winning the competition means a huge amount. Firstly, there’s the cachet of what it means to be recognized by BAFTA as well as world-class writers like Jennifer Saunders, and then there are the one-on-one development meetings with comedy gurus like Shane Allen. Most importantly however, I now get to tell my wife that I’m ‘award-winningly funny’ whenever she rolls her eyes at me, which is a depressingly frequent occurrence.
In my opinion there is no ‘right’ way to write a winning script. The only thing that’s ever helped me is discovering how my heroes – Tony Gilroy, Aaron Sorkin, Martin McDonagh, Eric Roth – approach their craft, (they all have VASTLY different routines by the way) and to slowly figure out what works best for me….which is as follows:
1) Read as many scripts as possible. Good and bad. Seeing how not to do it is just as important as pouring over the pilot for The West Wing.
2) Only watch good television. If you haven’t seen every season of Breaking Bad, Arrested Development and The Thick of It then there’s something wrong.
3) Read Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. Just because.
4) Somehow manage to balance the belief that you’re the next Mitchell Hurwitz with the crippling insecurity that you’ll never make anyone laugh ever again. Without the necessary hubris, you’ll never do anything of any value. Without the potentially crippling self-doubt, you’ll never strive for perfection with the intensity that comes from the fear of failure.
5) Remember that we’re all the same. When it comes to writing, there’s no such thing as an ‘overnight sensation’. Yes – JJ Abrams seemingly walked straight out of university and into an office at Paramount, but the vitriol I have for him is somewhat tempered by the fact that at one point or another, I know he’s been sat in a small dark room, staring blankly at an innocuous piece of dialogue that has not only stopped being funny or interesting, but has ceased to make any sense whatsoever.
6) Lots of walks and the occasional treat. Minnie’s problem is that she lacked discipline.