Bafta and Stellar Pitch Up! – pitching tips

I went to Bafta Pitch Up!, the TV drama and comedy pitching event the academy runs with the Stellar Network, and while I wasn’t pitching I came away with some great tips on pitching.

The advice comes from the best source possible – the panel of TV experts and producers on the panel, and the ones who ultimately decided which of the ten writers pitching would get to chat with the expert of their choice about their idea.

A lot of this advice can be found among the best books on writing and storytelling, but there’s nothing like hearing it fresh from the horse’s mouth.


The story of The Artist will have a happy ending

The Artist has just swept the nominations at the Oscars and I’m betting it will win an award for its script, so why was it a week ago I was asked “it doesn’t have words, what if we don’t enjoy it?”

My girlfriend asked me that, but I felt the same. I know, if I was some highbrow type my immediate reaction would be to scoff, but it was a concern – an hour forty and no one speaks, we’ll be bored!

We were wrong on both counts – there is some speaking, and we weren’t bored by a long shot.

No one hates being wrong, or at least my instincts being wrong, so I did what anyone else who’s slighted would do – I analysed the film to find out who was right, was it a good story or was I caught up in the hype?


The second joke

A fart joke that makes you think.

The concept

It’s not often I say those words but 5 Second Films, the high concept comedy troupe who came up with 5sf Joke Pitch #734, did so with this sketch.

For those of you who can’t watch the video, the first joke is that someone pitches a sketch in which he shoots himself dead… and does this. Asked “where’s the second joke?”, he farts.

Not exactly highbrow, but two jokes in five seconds is a good rate and a lot more than some comedies and sketches I’ve seen of late.

Laugh by numbers

YouTube states it has nearly a million clips classed as comedy but there is a reason why the 5 Second Film clip made me think.

After I watched it, I started my own little test and, like the sketch, asked “where’s the second joke?” whenever I listened to or watched a comedy sketch.

I stopped laughing.

Not completely, but enough to make me notice that sketches that featured only joke came across as one note.

Cowards and the test

Case in point – Cowards. Having been told how wonderful they were, I thought I’d put my theory to a rather shaky test (I made it up on the spot) and listen to their radio show.

“Decidedly monotone” was my feeling, or, if I were Judge Kritic (more on him another day) “boring with intent”, each joke in the sketch stretched to beyond the tension point.


Yet it’s not just sketches that the second joke applies to. Sitcoms and comedy films too can find a need for a second joke, not just per scene, but for the whole work.

For example from Only Fools and Horses – A Losing Streak, courtesy of


                                          Leave it out will you Del,
                                          you've only got two pairs.

                                          No, no, Trigger. It's alright,
                                          let Del have his little
                                          moment, come on Del let's see
                                          your two pairs.

                                                  (Laying two cards
                                                   onto the table)
                                          I've got one pair of aces.


                                          And I've got...
                                                  (Laying another two
                                                   cards onto the table)
                                          ...another pair of aces.

                               Boycie is stunned as he realizes he has been beaten. His
                               cigar falls from his open mouth. Del smiles sweetly at
                               him. Rodney, Grandad and Trigger stare disbelievingly
                               at the four aces on the table.

                                          That's four aces!!

                                          I didn't know that you were
                                          good at Maths either Boycie.

                                          Four aces! I ain't never seen
                                          it before!

                                          Four aces! Four bloody aces!

                               Rodney turns to shout Grandad in from the kitchen, not
                               realizing he is stood beside him.

                                                       Rodney (cont'd)
                                          Grandad! Sorry! He's got four
                                          aces, SEE!

                                          I thought Del Boy might have
                                          something up his sleeve!

                               Del reacts to Grandad's comment, indicating that is exactly
                               where the other two aces came from.

                                          Oh look at all that lovely

                                          I told you I could do it,
                                          didn't I, eh?

                                          Well done.

                               There is general celebration, back-slapping, etc.

                                          Oi Rodney now careful what is
                                          your game?

                                          Well done Del.


                                          Nicely played.
                                          Where d'you get those our
                                          bloody aces from?

                                          Same place you got them Kings!
                                          I knew you were cheating

                                          Oh yeah, how?

                                          'Cos that wasn't the hand I
                                          dealt you!

The first joke – Del has won despite it seeming like he hadn’t. The second, that he has cheated. The third, so had Boycie. And he still lost.


A Losing Streak has some other good comedy examples, such as the recurring joke (again, a subject for another day) but I think it’s the weaving of more than one joke per scene (as indeed does other Only Fools and Horses episodes) that helps make it better.

The second joke makes me think of reversals, something else to be written about, and the how reversals coupled with jokes is what makes a good comedy. But this post is already long enough as it is.

So let’s leave with a question for you – does the second joke count or is it a nice addition, but not essential, to comedy?