Sam Bain on the TV production process

Great article from Sam Bain (as in Armstrong and Bain of Peep Show and Fresh Meat fame) in the Guardian, talking about the production process and the writers place (or lack of one) in it.

Well worth a read, even if only for the vicarious thrill of imagining being on the set of a hit TV show you’ve written.

The comments section below quickly deteriorated into a debate on whether contacts/old boy network or talent are more important for a comedy writer trying to break in.

My own view is that

  1. Obviously a rich family and mobile phone full of high flying contacts helps. But that’s true in all walks of like.
  2. Ability and hard graft are more important than contacts (you have to deliver). Especially if you want a long and successful career – once you’ve got a foot in the door.
  3. Unfortunately it takes a lot of unpaid and poorly paid work to become a successful TV writer and that means that those with independent means/indulgent rich parents do stand a better chance.

There was also a great comment from videovitch which I’m going to post here in entirety as I don’t think it should be lost in the cesspit of the comments section. (I hope you don’t mind, videovitch. If you see this and you do mind, just tell me and I’ll take it down.)



12 March 2012 11:20AM

I think there’s a lot of sweeping generalisations being made about how you get a foot in the door of the industry. Some of them are frankly bollocks. I am a scriptwriter from a working class background with absolutely no family connections to the industry. I got in the door by being good enough and working hard for at least a decade on becoming a good enough writer before I even got my first TV writing job.

Firstly, if you write a BRILLIANT spec script – and I mean brilliant, not passable or ok or derivative or hackneyed or insane – then believe me, you’ll get noticed. It’s got nothing to do with chance, it’s about talent. And commissioning editors and agents desks are NOT full of amazing unproduced scripts. Trust me. If you’re that good, you’ll get picked up.

How to get an agent? Write something brilliant. Or try and get a foot in the door in one of the few shows these days (e.g. Doctors) that take new writers. Again, you’ll need a kick ass spec script to whet their appetite. I got an agent via a spec script. Simple as that. If an agent sees something in you, even if it’s raw potential, they might be up for meeting you. Then you get a chance to impress them.

Don’t do what every single ‘aspiring’ writer I’ve ever met does, which is to write a passable script with loads of problems, fail to address those problems, send it out and get rejected, then rail at the industry and how they don’t understand your genius. Remember that old adage – writing is re-writing. Get people you trust who aren’t just friends who’ll praise your work to read your drafts and give you hard, difficult notes. Respond to all those notes. Repeat that process at least six times before you even think of sending anything out.

Finally, yes luck can play a part. But if you’ve got talent, you’ll get noticed. It’s not like acting, where there are thousands of talented actors languishing because there are just too many of them. If you’re good, someone out there will spot you.


So now all I have to do is get good…

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