Having read Jon Plowman’s book on How to Produce Comedy Bronze I thought I’d share with you some of his advice on how to get your humorous project on the big or little screen. After all, he did produce such noteworthy shows including Absolutely Fabulous, The Office, Little Britain and League of Gentlemen so perhaps he’s worth paying attention to?
- Aspire a lot. The second you stop aspiring is the time to give up.
- Watch and listen to a lot of comedy – if only to make you think ‘I can do better that that.’ John Sullivan did it, who at first worked as a scene shifter at the BBC and thought he could do better than what he was working on at the time. He handed a producer a script which he’d written and Only Fools and Horses began its journey.
- Find out what makes you laugh – What makes these comedies different? More than likely they were made by funny people who didn’t believe in boundaries.
- Pull the wings off butterflies (not literally) – if you can, fathom why and how things work. It’s a good skill to have. To do this get hold of some scripts. Contact the writer or producer of the shows you like to see if you can get hold of one. Look at how ideas and jokes are seeded and how they pay off later. Look at how characters are introduced, what quirks they have and then how they’re woven into the show.
- Get hitched to some talent – Go to the Edinburgh Festival, go to comedy clubs and theatres. Watch supposedly funny people working. See how audiences like them (or not). Are they going down a storm or dying on their arses? If you find someone who makes you laugh and hasn’t already got a BAFTA, have a chat with them. If you know who you find funny and why, then it’s more likely that you’ll be able to see that quality in others.
- Find a wealthy and benevolent relative – You will need them. Persuade the relative to start a production company, then a dedicated comedy TV channel. But seriously now, have a good idea? Develop it, send it to a broadcaster… wait… wait some more…prepare for sorrow and then… start all over again tomorrow.
- Be clear who owns what – The usual assumption is that the writer and his or her agent owns everything to do with the future of a project after it’s been broadcast. However, the company that made the programme owns the programme, but NOT the script. In other words, the writer decides whether to write further episodes but it’s up to the channel to decide when to broadcast the episodes and to whom they sell the shows.
- Respect the talent – Respect what the talent does and know that without them you’re not very important. Be an enabler, not a bully.
- Tell people what you are doing – people won’t see what you’re making if you don’t tell them. Social media is a great tool for that.
- Come in on budget – If you’re not sure how to do that then surround yourself with people who do.
- Believe – as a producer, the most important thing about a comedy script is that you believe it. The people, the place, the plot. You have to believe that these characters are real and that the characters would do these things in this situation and that they believe in their world. It won’t be exactly like our world, but for them, it’s real. Comedy has come out of this reality. NO reality, NO comedy.
- Have a go – it’s not easy to get things on TV, but it’s easier now than it’s ever been to make things (cheap equipment; uploads to your own YouTube; etc). Give it a go and don’t be afraid to write to people whose work you like or admire, to get their opinion. But let me rephrase my advice. Don’t write to people until you’re absolutely sure that what you’re sending them is the very best it can ever be. Lock the idea or script in a draw and revisit it after three months to see if it’s still as good as you thought it was. It won’t be. Adjust accordingly, then lock it away for another three months. If you still like it after a further three months, then possibly try to get someone interested.
And finally, don’t blame Mr. Plowman if you don’t win a BAFTA at your first attempt having followed these rules. If all else fails: Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
And when you do finally win do feel free to thank him enthusiastically by name just as the music comes in to play you off.