Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #038 with Cameron Loxdale.
If you’re someone who listens to BBC radio comedy, you will no doubt have heard Cameron’s name in the credits. He’s been steadily building an impressive CV and attracting industry recognition via the BBC Writersroom, the David Nobbs Memorial Trust, and a development deal with NOHO Productions. He’s currently working on a LOT of projects, including ITV’s new teen drama, Tell Me Everything, a slightly animated sketch show and a collection of short stories. But before we get into it…
Disclaimer: Firstly want to say that I am so wary of giving writing advice. On Twitter you will find so much noise which is written by self-assured people in very certain terms. Classic confidence trick stuff. But through writing these answers I’ve found that it’s hard to write about writing without sounding like one of them. So I want to make it clear that I can only describe what has worked and hasn’t worked for me. Cheers. Cameron.
When did you start writing?
I think I first wrote a sitcom script in the summer after I finished uni, when I was 21 and did not know what I was doing both in writing and in life generally.
I’ve always been obsessed with sitcoms and sketch shows and was happy for knowledge of them to be my personality for a good while. Let’s be honest, it still is.
I think discovering I could read scripts online helped a lot, just seeing what proper scripts look like was very helpful.
What was your first credit as a writer and how did you land it?
Newsjack (RIP), a one liner around 2015 and it only happened because I got a ‘nearly’ email the week before from Matt Stronge. I’d been writing for it half-arsed without getting anything anywhere near on for a while and I honestly think I would have given up the topical comedy route that week if that hadn’t come in so I’m very grateful that they bother to do that. That gave me the confidence to go in full-arsed.
What was your experience like writing for the show and how much has it helped you as a writer?
Newsjack (God rest its soul) helped me a lot I think. It’s been the one constant in getting properly into writing. I started not really knowing anything about the news and always thought those sketches must have been written by people with an inherent knowledge of politics but turns out just endlessly scrolling news websites looking for funny things means you’ll soak up information whether you like it or not.
The show definitely helped me learn how to tighten up a sketch and write in the voice of performers.
The Newsjack writersroom days helped even more – having to react to producer notes in a short space of time and redraft and redraft was an education in not being precious about the words on the page.
I don’t think Newsjack was for everyone though. Lots of great writers started out with Newsjack credits and lots of great writers didn’t touch it with a barge pole so I wouldn’t say it’s the only way. What shows like Newsjack can be is good external validation which feels ‘official’ and if you’re like me and are often confidence-deficient, getting something on can be a big help.
But it’s dead now and it’s never coming back. But hopefully the new open-door show will be good.
What’s your process for writing a sketch (in general, not specifically a Newsjack sketch)?
I think finding an interesting angle is obviously really important. Sometimes I’ll try and write 5 or 6 ways into an idea, because usually the first one is not the most original. It’s when you’re dredging around the bottom of the barrel that you can find something more interesting that fewer people would bother to look for. I spend a lot of time in that disgusting barrel.
Then it’s just rewriting a lot and trying not to go over two pages unless it’s absolutely justified by the premise. Everyone’s attention spans are terrible, withered by the internet, if a TikTok video isn’t doing it for me after 20 seconds I might not watch the rest. I mean look at you, you’ve opened three unrelated tabs since you started reading this interview. Best to keep it short.
You’ve also written for Breaking the News. How does this differ from Newsjack?
BTN is just jokes, no sketches and they do a lot of the work for you, by providing a great brief with all the news stories. They effectively give you a long list of setups.
Writing for it can be a test of stamina as it runs for ten weeks but it’s been a good way to improve quickly. It’s the same principle that if you write for it a lot, the producers start to recognise your name and I think once you’ve got to that point it becomes easier to get things on. Unless what you’re known for is sending in Boris Johnson puns written in your own excrement or something, but it’s competitive out there so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Though understandably they’ve stopped accepting postal submissions.
How did you get involved in Radio 4’s The News Quiz and Extinction Compendium?
I had made a comedy short film which Richard Morris, The News Quiz producer at the time had seen and that plus a few Newsjack credits I’d built up emboldened me to email and ask if they had any trial shifts available.
I was lucky enough to get two days in the writers room as an additional material writer. I was very green but managed to get a joke in the show and then got the chance to write on more episodes since then. He’s always been very supportive.
Extinction Compendium came about in a different way. Jon Long is my former housemate and long term five-a-side football colleague. He’s a brilliant comedian and often would bounce ideas off me in the flat so when he got a show commissioned he was nice enough to ask me to write some jokes for it.
It really helped knowing his voice and the kind of things he would and wouldn’t say when writing for him. Having that shorthand was a massive help, as was being handed a script to punch up that was already very funny. It probably also helped that Jon Holmes knew my name from getting something on The Skewer.
The comedy writer Pete Sinclair once said that his number one comedy writing tip was to ‘become best friends with Jack Dee.’ He was half-joking but when you see that they wrote Lead Balloon and Bad Move together, you can also see that he’s also totally not joking at all. I think as a comedy writer who doesn’t perform, most of your work is going to come from knowing other writers and performers so if anyone has Jack’s number that would be great thanks so much.
I find a lot of writers get credits on things like Newsjack and BTN but then struggle to build a CV. What advice do you have for finding opportunities?
I think it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing getting writing credits as a bit like being in school and passing exams or whatever – as if once you’ve got a certain number of credits you’ll automatically be selected for the next bracket of opportunities. Spoiler: the only person keeping track of your credits is you, no one else cares and it’s up to you to use them to sell yourself.
You’ve got to ask for things. Grim but true.
There are people who know me well reading this and laughing because I absolutely hate doing this and hate selling myself. The idea of writing an email to someone I don’t know well fills me with dread and fuses my fingers into a formation that can only type ‘Hello! Hope you’re well!’ A terrifying way to greet people in real life but for some reason acceptable over email.
I read Bob Mortimer’s autobiography recently and he talks a lot about how frustrating it can be to be shy and I related to that a lot. So for advice… don’t be shy I guess? Advice that I almost never follow. The worst thing they can do is say no and then immediately forward your email to their colleagues who will promptly add you to the industry-wide black list. Nothing to lose!
One option is to create your own opportunities by making web videos. This is something you’ve done along with some very talented people. What has the experience been like and what lessons have you learnt from producing and directing comedy?
I’ve got no real interest in performing, aside from little bits here and there, which is a bit like trying to get a career in comedy on hard mode but it’s much more fun to live vicariously through great performers – like Kat Sadler, Christy Coysh and many others.
I think I’ve learned a lot from making videos and podcasts and web nonsense. There’s always the danger of putting something out and then valuing what you’ve done based on likes and RTs alone. It can be helpful and show that you’re on the right track but I think it’s important to remember that there is a lot of luck involved in that side of it too, especially starting off from a small platform.
I’ve put things out which have gone for nothing that I think were better than other things I’ve put out which did really well. While something going viral is nice, that’s not the only goal and knowing and remembering what you think is good is important, instead of just chasing the algorithm, which I have been guilty of doing sometimes.
So yeah what I’m saying is, this interview better go viral or I will consider it (and therefore myself) a failure.
You’re currently a member of the BBC Writersroom’s Welsh Voices group. How did you get involved in this and what does it involve?
I got to know Helen and Emily at Writersroom Wales by applying for a BBC Writersroom opportunity to write a sketch that was going to be shown at a music festival in Swansea. I’m from Swansea and have been to a ton of music festivals so felt obliged to write something for it. I made the final six or something and didn’t get the sketch made in the end but I then sent a sitcom script which got to the longlist for the first Wales Writer in Residence competition.
After that I got invited to be part of Welsh Voices which was a great opportunity and that helped me get to the shortlist for WWiR the year after.
The group involved meeting up once a month and doing workshops with different people in different parts of the industry – workshops with John Yorke, Joe Murphy, Paul Forde and James Robinson amongst others. It also meant getting to meet a great group of Welsh writers who are all well on their way to world domination.
For anyone who is hoping to be the voice of their region – how can they get noticed by Writersroom?
Apply for all the opportunities. Even if what you have doesn’t feel quite right for the brief, just send it in and ask questions later. I sent a radio sitcom into a radio drama competition and it got through – they were probably relieved to read something funny (or they just didn’t notice there were any jokes in it, but let’s go with the former.)
Winning the big prize of these things is not the only possible positive outcome. You don’t know who their readers are and if they like your stuff there’s nothing stopping them contacting you and they might eventually be producing things.
Also, and I don’t know the best way to say this, but don’t worry about making it too Welsh, on a superficial level. The characters don’t need to be wearing daffodil hats, they don’t need to crowbar in jokes about dragons – they can do, sure, but don’t feel like you have to cram the fact that your idea is Welsh down their throats.
You made the final six for the Wales Writer in Residence Award 2021 and were shortlisted for the David Nobbs Memorial Trust. What does it take to write a script that stands out?
I try to go into a new script having really done my homework to make sure it doesn’t feel like something that has been done before. If I can’t convince/fool myself that I’m putting something out there that is in some way original, I struggle to see the point in starting. It probably means I write fewer scripts than I should, but it’s the only way I can conjure up the motivation to actually finish something.
Someone said that ‘writing is just racing against your own dying enthusiasm’ and that’s absolutely it. My enthusiasm can die pretty suddenly so once I’m into it I have to finish a first draft as soon as possible or risk the whole thing never happening. Once the first draft is done it exists and I can then spend time trying to make it good enough to show to another human. But that bit before the first draft is finished is always touch and go.
The Writer in Residence and David Nobbs scripts were very different to one another so I don’t know if there was a common thread that made them stand out. Both of them were redrafted 2 or 3 times and run past other writers who gave great, detailed feedback so that didn’t hurt. Sending your script to other writers you respect and trust the opinion of for feedback is the best thing you can do. And then returning the favour. I mean with writers you know, obviously.
You regularly collaborate with Kat Sadler. When did you two start working together and how does it work writing as a partnership?
We met on a comedy writing course in 2016 and started writing stuff together after that.
The first thing we wrote was a sitcom called Party People. It was awful and will never see the light of day, not even sure if we hit save. Kat will be furious that I’ve even mentioned it. But writing that was a great thing to do, because we got that out of our system really early and quickly knew the kind of thing we did not want to write, while also working out how to write together.
We then made a few sketches and a short film with Turtle Canyon Comedy and have written a number of sitcom scripts which we decided that on balance were worth hitting save on.
We now run everything past each other, from full scripts to tweets. If you ever receive a ransom note from me, with letters cut out from magazines, it’s likely that Kat helped punch it up and tighten the gags so she’s therefore legally an accomplice.
You have a project currently in development with NOHO Productions. Congratulations! What was the process to get to that stage and how is it going?
I wrote a script with Kat over lockdown, I think to submit it for a BBC Script Room. It was an idea we’d had knocking around for a while and had done a ropey version a year before but we now had time to work on it and get it right, basically starting from scratch. Of course it then went nowhere in the Script Room, knocked out in the first round so we forgot all about it.
The script was then sent out by Kat’s agent to production companies and thankfully Robert, Camilla and Emily at NOHO really loved it and optioned it.
Since then over a few months with their thoughtful and detailed notes we have redrafted it and improved it a lot. It has been a great experience and definitely made me a better writer.
You’re on the writing team for a new ITV series, Tell Me Everything. I’m guessing that you can’t tell me everything… but what CAN you say about the project?
I have no idea what I can or can’t say to be honest! It’s a great new show created by the brilliant Mark O’Sullivan. As soon as me and Kat read the pilot script we both knew that we desperately needed in on this. The show is also being produced by the great NOHO, so that was our link, but we still had to sell ourselves and pitch for it. Felt like I was in the right place at the right time but I guess that’s how everyone feels when they get an opportunity like this.
The cast is so good and from the rushes I’ve seen so far, I think they are all going to be megastars. It’s very exciting to be a part of it.
What were you like as a teenager? Are you able to find inspiration from your own lived experiences or is it too painful to go back there?
An absolute dweeb. Terrified of getting in trouble (still true) but very capable of thinking up funny things for the brave kids to do or say while taking none of the responsibility for them inevitably getting in trouble. Probably the best training for writing for performers, just sending endless Swansea teenagers to their doom.
Also I think I was very cynical (still true) and there are definitely some lines in the script that channel that energy.
How does writing a drama compare to working on comedy?
There was a great tweet years ago, like maybe even ten years ago, by a Simpsons writer and I would love if anyone reading this could find it cos I can’t. The tweet was along the lines of: ‘must be so easy writing drama. You get to the end of a scene, read it through and go ‘good, that definitely isn’t funny.’
Annoyingly it’s not as easy as that.
What’s your number one tip for writing dialogue?
Read it all out loud, ideally to someone else. Like me you’ve probably heard that tip a lot, but not doing it gives you no chance to declunkify all the clunk that you’ve left in there unintentionally. Better for it to die coming out of your mouth in your room than the performer’s mouth on the night.
You’ve recently launched an animated Twitter sketch series Taking Stock (@Taking_Stock_). It reminds me a little of Dr Katz in that the animation is so basic that it creates a really unique mood and feel. Where did the idea originally come from?
For anyone reading who doesn’t know – Taking Stock is a (barely) animated sketch show for Twitter. All the sketches are written by me and Dan Kiss and they’re set in a corporate office workplace. We recorded them as audio sketches with an outstanding cast. Far better people than we required.
I can’t remember where it came from initially. It had been knocking around in an ideas document for ages and felt like a lo-fi, DIY idea that would be easy to do over Zoom. I have worked more than my fair share of completely pointless London office-based jobs in my time and it was good to try and at least turn some of that into material. Sometimes the idea for the sketch came from office experience, sometimes the character came fully formed just by looking at the stock image.
I’m glad you think it’s got a unique mood too. We’ve been editing some recently and I think they all share quite an unsettling vibe which I really like. We definitely thought a lot about world-building and tone, as much as you can within two minute videos. As a result we’ve got an in-universe ‘Meet The Team’ page. Not many web shows bother with a ‘Meet the Team’ page, but here we are. If you click into certain images, you’ll find a sketch from the series.
What was the process like creating the series?
We wrote around twelve episodes over Zoom together, nine of which managed to outrun our dying enthusiasm and make it into the series. We then put together what is now episode 3 as a proof of concept pilot, just to check that it would work.
Then we thought of who would be good to be in them and asked them, sending a script plus this video and somehow despite all that every person we asked agreed to do it.
We recorded everything remotely with either their own mic set ups or just recording into their phone, to keep it as simple as possible. Some people in the cast we knew well and some we’d never met before but everyone was great and brought their own take on the character put in front of them.
What’s so funny about stock photos?
A great question. I think maybe it’s trying to work out who they are for. Who could possibly want, or make use of these? Why are there so many of them? What was the shooting day like? There’s always just something off-kilter, uncanny about them too. Like they exist in a universe just slightly beside our own, there’s always a detail that is a bit off.
I think if I bumped into any of them I’d feel starstruck. What a legacy, what a way to be immortalised, standing next to a printer, forever.
The Beastie Boys eventually got to the stage where they would record pieces of music just so they could then sample it. Their final album, I believe, is made up entirely of “fake” samples, complete with fictional artist and track names in the liner notes. Do you think you’d ever get to the point where you’re manufacturing your own stock photos?
Haha – never knew that Beastie Boys story, that’s great. I think half the fun and challenge was the limitations we had to work around with the free images we had. I think if we opened it up to write anything and then maybe the stock image later, it would get worse. A lot of the characters in Taking Stock just arrived because of the image, so we wouldn’t want to lose that element.
What kind of response have the sketches received so far?
It’s been really nice. Especially something with quite a high buy-in, relatively speaking, for online stuff. They’re all around 2 minutes long, which is probably at the high end of attention spans now. Also in the first few seconds of a Taking Stock sketch, someone watching it cold has to adjust to the fact that they might just be watching a static image for a decent while, they don’t know what’s happening, there’s no black bar at the top which reads ‘Things Not to Say to Your New Housemate’ to ease them in (actually did that with another web series I put out a few years back called Viral Town.)
But I think that small level of investment needed is a good thing. I think once people have engaged with it, they generally liked it and hopefully want to watch the next one. It is not for everyone and that can be a good thing.
So the response has been good for a silly little idea, having nine episodes has helped it build a little bit of momentum. But always humbling to keep in mind that nothing you ever put time and effort into making will ever be as widely shared as some Laurence Fox type saying something horrendous.
What else have you been writing recently (that you can tell us about)?
I always have what feels like far too many things on the go at once. You know that Simpsons scene where Mr Burns has so many diseases that they’re actually getting in each other’s way and keeping him alive? That’s me and projects. I have to have too many cos the second I slow down I’ll explode. No hang on, that’s the film Speed. Anyway:
I’ve written some TV sketches for Age of Outrage which should be going out on BBC One Wales very soon.
Trying to get a short film off the ground with a great director in Cardiff.
I’m also trying to develop my David Nobbs shortlisted script for TV and adapt another one into a play.
I’ve also written around 30 short stories this year. Trying to work out what to do with them, how to present them in a way to people who wouldn’t normally read short stories.
What are your current writing goals?
Obviously would love to get more things commissioned for TV, radio, film, theatre etc, that’s a given. In terms of stuff I can control, I’d like to get more examples of my writing out there in interesting ways. I think Taking Stock is part of that and I’d like to push on with short stories and other things that exist just to be a piece of writing, not a blueprint for an expensive production.
Would also love to talk more with agents – if any happen to be reading this on a Sunday morning and are interested, it’s not hard to find me. And what an origin story for us, imagine meeting on a blog. If you’ve read this far it would be rude not to contact me, actually.
If you could reboot any series or movie, what would it be and what would you change?
I spend far too much time thinking about making a live action Wacky Races film. Just think the characters and the format of a race are perfect. Matt Berry as Dick Dastardly? Think it would be great. Unfortunately I think when that gig comes around there may be writers better placed to have a stab at it.
Are there any books or scripts that you would recommend to other writers? (can also be podcasts, youtube videos, blogs etc)
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders is probably the best book I’ve read about writing generally. It’s not remotely related to comedy writing but I really enjoyed it.
You kindly messaged me once to say congrats after a Springsteen thing I contributed to The Skewer was broadcast. Thanks for doing that! It’s always nice when writers reach out like that. What’s your experience been like when it comes to the #WritingCommunity?
This question makes me sound really nice which is ideal. I only started doing this sort of thing fairly recently, I think because I read that Russell T. Davies does it a lot. I really struggle being earnest so I try and keep praise to DMs and emails. I tell myself that maybe messaging in private stops it from looking performative too, like you want something out of them, or want to be SEEN to be liking a show, @ing in the creators can sometimes look a bit cringeworthy in public, even if your intentions are pure. I’m probably overthinking it – it’s always nice to read someone has enjoyed your writing.
Also if anyone hasn’t heard Chris’ Springsteen thing, it’s in series 2 episode 6 of The Skewer and it really is great.
Sticking with Springsteen as I know you’re a fan – What’s your favourite album and what appeals to you about his music?
Oh wow. The Rising is my cool answer, but it’s Born in the USA isn’t it? There’s just no getting away from it. For me, it’s more Springsteen the person than his work though, his whole story and ethos. He’s just worked really hard for ages.
The Skewer is a strange but a very creatively fulfilling show to write for. What kind of process do you go through when you submit?
It encourages you to think in a different way and maybe make more oblique connections between things. It means the end result is more often than not something completely unique because no one has previously been bothered to splice up Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and Mark Drakeford’s announcement of a firebreak lockdown. It’s a great show.
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
Not being able to walk down the street or go to the shops without being recognised. I mean, thank you, I’m glad you liked my one liner on Breaking the News, but please stop asking me to do the punchline, I’m just trying to live a normal life!
No it’s managing rejection of course. In the last couple of years I made the final interview stage of the BBC Staff Writer job twice and just missed out, was a David Nobbs finalist, just missed out on Wales Writer in Residence, among other things and I’ve been lucky. It’s all part of it. Sometimes it can feel like there’s a chasm between getting the gig with all the opportunities attached to it and missing out. Even if that’s not actually true.
Social media is also tough. Having to self-promote is horrible. It’s so hard, maybe impossible, to self-promote without sounding obnoxious. I’ve been told by people who know better than me that you have to do it because it can generate more work and I think that is unfortunately true. So we’re all contributing to this obnoxious, toxic thing and evaluating each other and there’s no end to it. Yet here I am RTing this very interview as self-promotion.
What makes you laugh more than anything?
Contestants on quiz shows answering really confidently and incorrectly. Nothing funnier.
You can follow Cameron on Twitter, visit his website and see his credits on British Comedy Guide profile. Don’t forget to check out Talking Stock on Twitter.
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