Daniel Brierley and his writing partner Nicole Paglia flew to New York to have their work performed at a BAFTA Rocliffe New Comedy Showcase at the New York Television Festival (NYTVF). The trip was part of their prize as one of the winners of a nationwide competition, run by BAFTA and Rocliffe, to find the UK's most promising comedy writers without a television commission. Here Daniel blogs about his experience...
In July, I was hard at work on my latest masterpiece/watching daytime TV when I got a phone call from Nicole saying we'd won the BAFTA Rocliffe New Comedy competition. 'Gosh', I said, closing my laptop/muting Jeremy Kyle, 'that is amazing news'.
Fast-forward - or simply move your eyes to the right - and you'll see we're now in New York City. Nicole and I, along with the stellar talents of Izzy Mant and Neil Warhurst and the one-man surrealist mastermind that is John Sheerman are about to have our work showcased at the SVA Theatre in front of a large audience, many of whom are not escaped lunatics, desperate to ask us bizarre questions. But more of that later...
Before we'd even got to America, we were given the opportunity to pitch to 14 different broadcasters in the US, from MTV to Nat Geo, who were keen to hear from the next generation of programme makers, as well as random comics from the UK. We bashed out some truly oddball ideas and sent them off, and were delighted that three broadcasters liked our ideas enough to want to meet us 'Stateside'.
BAFTA had also arranged meetings for us writers with Comedy Central, Gersh Talent Agency, HBO, Kim Cattrall (I know!!) and Caroline Hirsch, a legendary comedy club owner, who knows every comic in the game and casually talked to us about giving 'Larry' and 'Jerry' their big breaks.
Everyone in America is super friendly and once you get over your natural suspicion, it quickly becomes pretty neat. (Americans say 'neat' all the time, just go with it). Farah [Abushwesha, Founder of Rocliffe] had drilled it into us before each meeting that we had to 'network' as much as possible, and we gave away our business cards in those meetings like drunken salesman, sometimes getting little cards back, sometimes not.
(Nicole and I made a point of stalking the festival events like a tag team, blurring the lines between friendly/aggressive and making some great contacts/mortal enemies).
The NYTVF is different than other festivals in that it's artist-led so there is great camaraderie, as people tend to be more supportive of each other's projects, which are all up for various pilot awards.
Or so it seemed. The festival also laid on like 4,000 bottles of Stella, which might have helped. (As an aside, Stella is considered exotic in the States! Who knew?)
Perhaps the most intimidating part of the experience was Pitch Day. You're given 10 minutes with the execs of the broadcasters and staff are on hand to give you yellow cards once you've had five minutes and a red card when time's up.
Other pitchers were pacing around the waiting room, wearing suits and in one case a glittery feather boa. Least I think it was, I was pretty nervous and not really paying attention. I'd also drunk like 100 coffees and my eyelids were twitching.
We pitched to Channel 4, ID and Nat Geo, and came out of all of the meetings with that irritating faint glimmer of hope you get in interview situations, even as you know deep down that really, you ain't going to get the gig, that it's all been sorted out behind closed doors and the dude in the feather boa is gonna be hired.
In hindsight it might well have been a scarf.
Ten minutes of our scripts were to be staged at the Showcase. The excellent Susan Jacobson literally took our scripts to pieces with us beforehand, so the extracts would be punchy and suitable for a staged reading.
Having had a couple of readings before, I was expecting a sedate affair, with little 'acting'. But from the first rehearsal, our actors were rolling around on the floor, fighting, biting and scratching. They were fantastic and brought a life to the script that even as writers we'd not expected. The actors had been in shows like 30 Rock and Girls and for them to give us their time and skill was truly humbling.
After a mere three hours total rehearsal, it was time for the performance. As a steady stream of industry, friends, the cold and the truly lonely filed in, we were introduced to the special guest, Stephanie Laing, producer of Veep and Eastbound And Down. She was funny, kind and supportive throughout.
Nicole and I had worried beforehand about our piece going last, thinking the audience might be all laughed out. And as the audience rolled around in laughter at the other writers' pieces we started to get a little antsy. And when half the audience (or so it seemed) disappeared between John's piece and ours, we were getting more and more nervous.
I personally can't remember much of the performance; I was too wrapped up in it all. It seemed to be over in two minutes. I remember being on stage in the Q&A and barking like a dog. I remember a woman telling me where on 12th Street to get my nails done. I remember Stephanie's notes. I remember being very careful not to trip up on the raised bit of the stage. I remember people laughing at some of the jokes and the praise afterwards.
The following day- we didn't do much.
But on Saturday was the awards ceremony, when all the winners of the pitches, and the festival pilot competitions would be announced. As us writers gathered in the Tiki Bar on 8th Avenue beforehand for a meal of tater tots and strong cocktails, we weren't overly optimistic.
But amazingly, Nicole and I won two development deals, with Channel 4 and ID! We were so shocked our speeches were pretty awful, filled with mumbles and surprised curses. We spent the next few days in a daze, and as I write this four days later, it still feels a bit odd to write.
It was a wonderful experience and we are going to pitch ideas to Comedy Central, as well as to other contacts we've made. I think it's going to open up a lot of doors for us. Or at least, I won't be watching Jeremy Kyle for a while. And that can only be a good thing.
For more information about the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum, go to: www.bafta.org
Daniel Brierly grew up in Somerset and is now London-based. He graduated with an MA in screenwriting from the National Film and Television School and has written plays including Turning Barley, The Hobo Code (Soho Theatre), Daytrippers (Theatre Royal East) and Farmyard Rules (Bush Theatre). His feature script Toyhunters has been optioned by Gunslinger Films and his 2010 sitcom Gypos was a finalist in BBC's All Mixed Up and performed as a stage play at the Soho Theatre. Previous projects include a short film for the BBC starring Olivia Williams as a giant panda and My Face in Space, nominated for Best British Short at Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2012.