Last year I got a fantastic early Christmas present – I found out I was a runner-up in the Red Planet Prize. The RPP is a yearly screenwriting competition run by the legendary Tony Jordan and Red Planet Pictures, in partnership with Kudos, and is focused on finding new writers for TV. The 2010 winner was Simon Glass (congrats!) and I feel tremendously privileged to have been one of the runners-up. Not only is it great to get the thumbs-up from proper industry professionals, but there’s also a mentoring process which is obviously a very exciting prospect.
What’s interesting about the RPP is that it got me thinking about TV in the first place. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted, someway, somehow, to be involved in films. All my other scripts have been shorts or features and I’ve always thought if I ever became a professional writer it would be as one who wrote movies – preferably ones with lots of things exploding, in space. But the harsh reality is that making a film in the UK seems to be a very hard business. Even if I got a script optioned it could be years before it ever became an actual film.
On the other hand, TV at least seems realistic and there are loads of success stories surrounding UK writers and shows like Misfits, Peep Show, Dr Who, Being Human etc. So the RPP was the perfect excuse to actually sit down and write a pilot for a series, although last year was the first year I finally got round to entering. The pilot I entered was a sci-fi drama centred on a group of teenagers addicted to online videogames, and how the lines between gaming and reality start to blur. It was actually an idea I wanted to enter into the 2008 RPP but I never got past the development phase (the development phase being me creating a file called ideas.doc and writing ‘teenagers, gaming, explosions, space, school’).
So after I failed to enter the RPP I sat down and decided to write the pilot anyway, for the next competition at least. It was sketchy and very loose – only about 40 pages while the RPP is after 60 – but I sent it round to my small circle of fellow writers for some feedback. From there I worked on tone and tried to make sense of the various themes I had flying round. I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi but writing it can sometimes lead you into a complete muddle of half-baked concepts and what you think are cool ideas that quickly become difficult to realise on the page. The great thing about doing a pilot is that you don’t have to pack absolutely everything into it – it’s designed to tantalize the viewer without giving them any answers. My rewriting quickly became about doing a simple, focused story but one that introduced elements that would be played out later in the series.
When RPP 2010 came round I already had something to work with and could focus on writing an amazing 10 pages – which is what you submit first and then those chosen for the second round send their completed scripts. Again, feedback from other writers was invaluable in stripping the first 10 pages into a tasty hook for the rest of the episode. Then, after I got over the shock of making it to the second round, I frantically polished the 60 pages and had a mild heart attack.
Then I got the news that I was a runner-up and was very, very happy. I’ve entered a fair few competitions (that you usually have to pay for) and never gotten anywhere so it’s great to get some recognition. It might just be that my concept’s got ‘something’ but that’s enough for me to keep plugging away and develop other ideas. I’ve just reread the pilot for the first time in a few months and it does still excite me. It’s also come a long way since my original idea, yet I can see where the work needs to be done. As always, it’s up to me to keep rewriting away but me actually getting something on the telly does seem (albeit minutely) possible. Me writing Blade Runner 2 is still a wild, crazed fantasy.