BBC Radio Drama Commissioning 101
When I run workshops on radio drama what everyone really wants to know is... 'how do I get commissioned?' Here's how.
Quick fact 1. You can only pitch to the BBC through a producer, either an in-house BBC producer, or independent radio producer.
Quick fact 2. Send an idea, not a script. Hardly anyone in the cash-strapped audio world has time to read unsolicited scripts. Also, it's harder to pitch work that's already been produced (e.g. as a stage play) as Radio drama only commissions original work. Good reviews and a production or publication track record can get a producer interested.
THIS IS THE PROCESS
STEP ONE When you hear something you love, approach the producer and tell them why you want to work with them. Mention your experience or aspirations, include links to social or your website and offer to send examples of your work.
All BBC email addresses have the same format <firstname.lastname@example.org> so if you know someone’s name, you know their email address!
You can find a list of independent radio producers on AudioUK. LinkedIn and Twitter are also good for tracking people down.
STEP TWO Know your slot. For Radio4 & Radio3 consider the slots available (durations/ serials), the audience and how your idea might fit. Ask yourself is ‘is my idea radio drama?’ (i.e. not a stage-play, screenplay or essay in disguise). Is there a dramatic arc? Is sound a character? If those questions make no sense read this blog.
STEP THREE Consider the brief. Commissioning rounds happen twice a year. Commissioners issue a statement about what they do and don’t want. Your producer will help you check the viability of the idea e.g. will it meet compliance, has something similar been done recently. They will also help you interpret the 'BBC-speak' of the commissioning brief (see this example)
STEP FOUR Write your pitch. You need to distil your idea into a 250 word paragraph describing your work and why it fits the brief. Your producer will help you identify what will sell the work. Listen to their advice.
STEP FIVE Wait. The decision process is slow. If your idea is shortlisted you’ll be asked to submit a more detailed pitch responding to the commissioning editor's feedback. This will hopefully lead to a commission.
STEP SIX Sign the contract. The BBC uses a standard Writers’ Guild audio drama agreement, so you don’t need an agent to negotiate your contract or get paid. The rates increase as you rack up more broadcast hours. It's worth joining ALCS to make sure you receive all your royalties.
If the idea of writing something that conforms to a brief or a slot depresses you, consider the Podcast world. You won’t have such an instant audience as with the BBC, but you will have more freedom. Your work isn’t bound to a Radio4 agenda or schedule, you can play with format. Drama podcast producers are still slightly niche (80% of podcasting is factual). To sample what's out there try PlayerFM.
Again, get in touch with people whose work you like. Build a relationship, get things made.
Whatever audio route you take, you may find useful support through online writers groups, with people ready to do readings or give feedback on work.
Why am I helping people compete with me for work? I don't know! Maybe just 'cos I want to hear more good stuff. I hope this is helpful and wish you luck on your quest. First step, find a friendly producer!