Sitcom Trials: What are we looking for?
As producer for the Sitcom Trials: Midlands, I really want to find the best scripts in the areas, from the best writers, but I know comedy can be subjective. I got our team of readers together to discuss the things which are most important to us in a script. We are sharing them with you here to help give some guidance on what we are looking for in our winning entries.
We are a theatre company, not a TV studio. Although we are welcoming TV submission, we need to be able to stage them. Think about that when you are sending in your script. How would you put that on a stage, with limited props and scenery. That’s not to say you can’t have complex set ups, but think about how we are producing this and make sure your script can still be funny without huge set pieces.
Likewise, with characters. It’s a 10 minute presentation initially. We want to fall in love with your characters – so don’t put too many in. Let us get to know and understand each of them individually. Making their jokes and predicaments even more resonant too us. None of our actors want to play the bin man who walks on just to get a bucket of water thrown at him.
Our group is made up of actors, who love the chance to get into great roles. So we LOVE big bold characters. All of our favourite sitcoms are fronted by witty, believable and dynamic characters. Watch your favourite sitcoms. Which is most important: where they are? Or who they are?
We see a lot of scripts which are four, very similar, characters sat around discussing their, very similar, views on the world. We want to see tension, drama, conflict. All of this can be driven by character.
Stand out scripts, for us, will involve strong characters with a clear voice. We find scripts with diverse characters exciting. A good marker - We should be able to cover all the characters name and guess who is speaking.
Another note on characters: we want realistic female characters. We want them to be funny, original, dynamic and believable. Look at the women around you (or look at yourself!). They have ambitions, history, personality and spark. They are not just present to set up your male leads punchlines.
Stand out scripts, for us, will involve dynamic female characters. We have some extremely talented female comic actors that work with the Old Joint Stock Theatre (our midlands host) and we want them to have the chance to
Narrative drives a story and helps compel us to continue watching. We want sitcoms that leave our audiences wondering what will happen next.
We see a lot of scripts which are four characters not really doing much except trading insults. We want to see tension, drama, conflict. All of this can be driven by character.
Stand out scripts, for us, will involve a driving narrative for that episode, maybe even contributing to an over-arching series narrative. Give your characters something to do. Make us believe this is a strong sitcom and not just a very long sketch.
Dirty, fowl, gross out humour
We know, we’ve heard them, we get it: everyone loves a cock joke from time to time. But we need a little more than that. We will not be impressed by 15 pages of debauched characters living out lives that are really just the writer’s fantasy. No matter how many imaginative ways you find to describe coitus. If you can show us believable characters, involved in a plot, that is laced with dirty jokes and innuendo we will be thrilled.
Stand out scripts, for us, will be stageable at our venue (check out their website to see the calibre of acts). The dialogue may be dirty, but it certainly won’t be vile. After all, we have to ask actors to say these things to a paying audience.
Obviously, we expect it to be funny. One joke every 45 seconds? One joke every 30 seconds? These are both suggestions we have seen used around similar competitions and in stand up. If you put a mark by every ‘laugh’ in your script, how many would there be?
Stand out scripts for us will be tightly written with frequent humorous lines, shared out between characters (no one wants to play the dull female receptionist taking notes while her male employer cracks one-liners at her). Maybe even use a variety of joke styles: one liners, abstract, similes etc.
Long paragraphs of two characters recalling how they met are useful for the audience, but they can also be a bit boring. Find a way to show us what happened; not tell us. Set your script in the action, not the discussion after it.
Because of this…. And then because of that
Stories need actions and consequences. Don’t let your script be a series of disconnected scenes. Let every action have a reaction, that affects your central characters and drive them towards your story climax.
Watch and read sitcoms
Get a flavour for how other people do things and lay out their scripts.
If you would like more help with writing your script, we recommend the BBC Writersroom site, which is jam packed with information.