Andy Riley |

Mentoring for a BAME comedy writer is happening again

***UPDATE TO THE BELOW – 31ST OCTOBER 2016 – Midnight tonight is the deadline for samples. I’ve read a lot of the scripts already, but there’s still lots more to go, so I reckon it will be about another week before I make my final selection. When I do, I will inform everybody who has submitted. Thank you!***

***UPDATE TO THE BELOW – 23RD OCTOBER 2016 – about a week left to go to submit a sample; then I’ll draw the shutters down at the end of this month, read everything, and make my decision about a week later.***

I first did this back in February, with the intention of it being a yearly cycle, but I’m starting up a new mentee/mentor cycle earlier than planned. here’s what I’m offering:

A year’s free mentoring, primarily by email, to one comedy writer (or writing partnership) from a BAME background who is/are either at the start of their career or very much wants to be.

I started doing this (an earlier post has the details on that) because the comedy writing business doesn’t represent the ethnic make-up of the UK nearly enough. The first cycle is going very well. I did a twitter-burst to try to gather in as many scripts as I could from people who liked the idea. I got over thirty in the end; some very strong contenders, from which I picked Christine Robertson. Since February, Christine’s been writing for CBBC’s The Dumping Ground, she’s got stuff into development, and she’s landed her first screen credit by writing for the forthcoming series of Walliams and Friend. She’s a very talented writer and it’s all her own work, but I’m proud to have helped her along. I like to think I’ve made a bit of difference.

What with Christine going great guns, I thought: let’s up the tempo. Let’s start a new yearly cycle a bit earlier than planned. I’ve been impatient about this ever since January this year. I’ll tell you precisely why in a moment after I’ve outlined what the scheme is.

It’s modelled on the mentoring programme run by the social mobility foundation, helping bright sixth formers from low-income backgrounds navigate their way into universities and careers. They pair you with a mentee for one year who is interested in getting into whatever area it is you work in. It involves no more than a couple of actual face-to-face meetings, and the rest is done by email. E-mentoring, that’s the clumsy term for it. I’ve been involved with that, and it can work very well, so I adapted that approach.

I’ll read any comedy stuff that the writer/writers send me over twelve month period, and offer notes and advice. I can also be a sounding board, to offer advice in a more general sense about any aspect of the profession. I’ve written comedy this for a couple of decades; I’ve experienced every aspect of the job, from creating sitcoms and films to writing links, sketches and the like. I’ve met with triumph and disaster. I’m a grizzled veteran. Hopefully that’s worth something.

It can only be one person (or a partnership). As well as being a scriptwriter, I’m a cartoonist and a children’s author. That’s obviously too many careers for anyone so I don’t have acres of time. One’s the limit.

Ideally I’d prefer to have at least one face-to-face meeting, as soon as possible, as I’ve found that really helps the mentoring process. I’m based in London, so it may not be practical, depending on where you live. Too much Londoniness is another aspect of the comedy business – I could go on for ages about that – but I’ll do my damnedest to keep this as regionally unbiased as I can.

It’s not an internship. You won’t be helping me with my own work. It’s not a course, with designated work to do, and accreditation at the end. No money will change hands in either direction. It’s all informal. But I think it would be a help to somebody starting off, and when you’re starting off, any help’s a good thing. Breaking into this field is hard – probably harder than it used to be. There’s more competition than ever.

So if you’ve read this far and you’re a BAME comedy writer who likes the sound of it, here’s how it works.

Use the email to send me:

(i) a paragraph or two introducing yourself. You can include any credits or experience you’ve got if you like, or tell me about you’re into what comedy or what sort of thing you like to write, but really you can do this bit however you like. The real meat of it is part two…

(ii) a script sample of your comedy writing work, in PDF, Word, or Final Draft. This could be some sketches, a sitcom script, even something longer – I don’t really mind what or how long, so long as there’s enough to give me a good sense of what you write. But it must be a script or scripts written for TV, film, radio or the stage. I won’t consider anything in the form of blog posts, articles, journalism, or links to YouTube clips. You may well be a great blogger or journalist or performer, but this thing’s all about scriptwriting.

Please put your name and email on the script sample itself (use the headers or footers, or just stick it at the top of page one) so I have everything I need right there if I want to get back to you. Having to refer back to covering emails is fiddly when you’ve got to look at lots of them.

As and when I find something I’m sent that I really like, and makes me go yes, I’d love to read more from this person, I’ll be in touch. I won’t go ahead until I’ve got that feeling.

Some provisos – please read these before you send –

– You must be eighteen or over.

– You should live in the UK or Ireland.

– If you are one of the people sent me stuff in February for the first cycle, who I didn’t take on as a mentee that time, you are absolutely welcome to submit again. Some of the scripts were very good and it quite a finely balanced decision in the end. You can send an entirely new thing, a rewritten version of what you sent before, or the same script again. I’ll leave that up to you. I will read all submissions afresh. Note it’s a different email this time – I’m not using that Yandex one any more.

– I can’t commit to a time scale for the selection part, because I don’t know how many scripts I’ll get. If I get sent loads, that’s more reading, and reading takes time. I don’t have a budget to pay other people to read; it’s all just me. I’ve got to fit this around my own writing, cartooning, and life. So please no follow up emails. Unless your server pinged it back, assume I got the first one. My guess is that I will make my final choice at the start of November.

– I’ll announce on twitter (@andyrileyish) and on this blog when I don’t need any more script samples, and when I’ve found someone for the 12 months.

– Just to restate the key point: this is only open to people from a black/asian/minority ethnic background.

– It’s comedy – so please no drama!

A point I have to cover, because this does come up; when throwing the net wide like this, there’s a chance I’ll be sent something that’s in a similar setting to a project I’m currently developing. This sort of thing is much more common than most people think. In 2010, Kevin Cecil and me got a sitcom on BBC2 and BBC4 about a group of ramblers, called The Great Outdoors. But when we were first selling it a year or two before, the first thing we discovered was that somebody else was coincidentally developing a show from exactly the same premise. Luckily for us we won the rambler-com race and got ours on TV. More recently, we wrote a script called Crashing, then discovered C4 already had a show lined up called Crashing. Not the same premise, that time – but you get the idea. This stuff happens all the time. I’m not going to stop developing a thing I was already doing just because somebody happens to send me a script set in a similar situation. And I’m certainly not going to steal any of your material; professional writers don’t do that. Most likely I’ll stop reading your script as soon as I realise there’s a clash.

You don’t need to read beyond this point, but I’ll fill you in about what jolted me into this mentoring scheme.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to write/produce for seasons three and four of HBO’s Veep – an absolute Rolls Royce of a sitcom. Last year we won the best sitcom Emmy. That was a terrific night, one of the best. Mel Brooks gave us the award, then he SQUEEZED MY ARM on stage, a moment I shan’t forget. Jan 23rd this year was the Producers’ Guild of America Awards, and I went along as another lovely expenses-paid trip.

It wasn’t nearly as much fun as the Emmys, and not just because we didn’t win (we didn’t). This was in the run-up to the ‘oscarssowhite’ Oscars. Lack of representation was the topic of the hour. Thankfully there were POCs nominated, and winning, too: Shonda Rhimes got the Norman Lear Achievement Award Winner in Television.

But as I looked around me at a huge hall of maybe a thousand fellow producers, something felt very wrong. Not everybody sat in the chairs was white… but it was a hell of a lot more than 63.7%. That’s the proportion of Americans who are non-latino white, according to the 2010 census. I’d put the white figure closer to the 95% mark. Everybody knew this was messed up, and that’s why there was an awkward atmosphere in the room all night. And this, fifty years after the victory of the civil rights movement.

On the plane home I mused that a similar room in the UK wouldn’t be much different. The BAME population of the UK is lower than in America – it’s about thirteen percent here – but you still don’t see that reflected in the film/TV trade. I’m just one freelance guy in the industry, so I don’t have clout like a channel controller or a head of a big prod company, but I realised I can do a little bit more than nothing. Hence all this.