Emerging writers offered opportunities to work with high-end dramas

Call the Midwife and Doctor Who are the first series to offer opportunities to writers under an innovative new programme designed to give emerging talent the chance to break into high-end drama.

The ScreenSkills New Writers Award for Production Companies has been devised by the ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund to help production companies collaborate with writers they have not worked with before.

Writers, who must not have written on a high-end TV drama series previously, are awarded a bursary of £15,000 to write a speculative script for a single episode as part of a production company’s returning series.

ScreenSkills has been working with producer Marcus Wilson (Luther, The A Word) to help drama production companies identify new writing talent to participate. With the support of the award, Zoe Cooper has just delivered a script for Neal Street Productions’ Call the Midwife and a writer will start on Doctor Who on the next series.

The award is now open to further applications from production companies with high-end TV dramas. The initiative is open to production companies who have a returning or greenlit drama (or one that is in an advanced stage of development) that pays into the High-end TV Skills Fund.

The new writers benefit from the experience of working alongside the contracted series writers or potentially in a writers room and take part in a valuable development experience. If the script isn’t transmitted, then the writer will keep the bursary and can use the script as a spec. The scheme reduces the financial risk to production companies in trying out new writing talent.

Zoe Cooper is a playwright who was shortlisted as most promising playwright at the 2019 Evening Standard Awards for Out of Water and won the same title at the Off West End Awards in 2017 for Jess and Joe Forever. She will undertake an attachment at the National Theatre in 2020 and is also a lecturer at Newcastle University.

Zoe expressed her admiration for the series’ creator and writer Heidi Thomas and the experience of working on a script. “I have been a fan of Heidi Thomas' work for a very long time, and since Call the Midwife first aired I have admired the way that the drama interweaves the narratives of working class women from the east end with important social and medical stories,” she said.

“This was my first real foray into television and the chance to learn about structure, plotting and the other fundamentals of screenwriting in the context of a narrative world that I so revere was truly wonderful.”  

Call the Midwife producer Ann Tricklebank said: “Call the Midwife and Neal Street Productions are delighted to encourage and support new talent in an industry which is rapidly expanding and would like to create more opportunities for up-and-coming writers. We are pleased to assist writers creatively as they work their way from the conception and development of an idea to the script stage and the production of the script. We also aim to help the writer navigate their way through the industry making it possible for them to fulfill their ambitions.”

Sheena Bucktowonsing, Script Producer for Doctor Who, BBC Studios said: “All of us at Doctor Who are thrilled to be a part of this innovative scheme which supports our mission to bring new talent to the show. We know that the future of Doctor Who, indeed all British drama, depends on more and better routes to production for new and diverse writing talent. Thanks to ScreenSkills for helping to open another door.”

Marcus Wilson said: “It is vital we create opportunities for talent on high-end productions and we are thrilled that both Call the Midwife and Doctor Who have been working with us in this endeavour. We are now looking to secure more placements for writers with drama production companies that are making HETV drama.”

Kaye Elliott, ScreenSkills Director of High-end Television, said: “We all know that making primetime drama is now an expensive and risky business which makes it understandable when companies turn to tried and tested writers. The New Writer’s Award helps de-risk the process of working with a writer a production company hasn’t worked with before. Even if the episode is not used, the writer gets invaluable experience. If used, they get a credit.

“Our ambition is to provide more opportunities for up-and-coming writers to showcase their work and to establish positive relationships with drama companies and win writing commissions in the future.”

The ScreenSkills scheme complements BBC Writersroom initiatives in offering writers opportunities on BBC shows.

Further details and how to apply here.


Back to news