JuryBooth

Here's my pitch for a radio play called "JuryBooth".  Since updating our legal system has been a topic on the news recently I thought it seemed vaguely relevant...

I don't usually do topical.  Huh.

My top tips for a radio play pitch (based on my meagre experience in this area) are:

1) Try and tell all of the story - twists and turns and everything.  I am rubbish at this, since it is my tendency to not want to spoil the end result of the complete play in the pitch, which is obviously abbreviated and usually less atmospheric.  I've definitely not managed to be entirely transparent in the pitch below.  If you have a good producer they will pick you up on this after the first draft and ask you to pack draft two with all of the plot points you artfully left out the first time round.  It's best not to waste their time in this way, I suppose.  But I sort of think that if you can draw them in with your seed of an idea in draft one then, providing you HAVE the requisite plot points, draft two isn't so much of a pain in the bum.  Don't try and draw a producer into an idea that has gaping holes in the hopes that you can fill these in at a later stage.  You and your producer should be a team (they are the ones who will go to bat for you at commissioning rounds) so don't leave any nasty surprises or assume you can scramble something together later. Not unless you are an established genius, anyway.

2) Aim to stick with a maximum of seven voices.  I think you can get away with more sometimes - if your format is a faux documentary, for example.  Radio documentaries always have the narrator introduce the next speaker, so you can probably throw in a couple more.  But I was advised that seven is about as many voices as most audience members can be bothered to distinguish in a 45 minute play.  Adding more is just asking for big edits or character merges.

3) Try to find out the brief of the producer you are contacting.  Some of them have very specific remits on the kind of material they can produce, so there's no point sending your fluffy romantic comedy to a producer whose brief is "edgy".

4) Think about where you are setting your play.  Can you use different environments to create different sound quality?  Really focus on the audio side of things - especially if you normally write fiction, film or for theatre.  It's a tricky business getting round the fact that your audience can't see anything, but actually quite liberating once you're in the zone.

5) Read as many treatments and pitches as you can and try to work out what engages you.  It's pretty hard to compress your entire play into a short-ish pitch and it's very easy to lose the style you ultimately want, ending up with something a bit clinical and emotionless.   You've got to hope that any radio professionals will see straight past this and into the core of your idea (and hopefully they will have read or seen some of your finished works in order to know what kind of a writer you are), but it's not easy to write a good pitch... At least I find it difficult.  Two treatments I was told were a pretty good benchmark are this one for the "Minder" TV series and the one for the film "Witness" directed by Peter Weir.  I can't find it online quickly but I'm sure someone will have posted it if you have time for an internet rummage.

That's it on the tip front...

This went to two producers at BBC Radio 4, both of whom had useful comments about it.  This is the original version; it never made it to a commissioning round so I never added the tweaks they had suggested.  It's is a longer pitch than I would generally put together, but since the ideas were rolling I threw 'em all in...

* * *

There is silence and then the door of the Jurybooth slides open and Perry Travis is shoved in.  The door shuts quickly and Perry's pleas for release are interrupted by the smooth and slightly tinny recorded voice of a woman.  "Welcome to the Beacon Street Jurybooth.  You are suspected of committing a crime and have been placed in the booth by PC William James.  Please wait whilst evidence is submitted."

We cut to an interview with Sir Ian Bane, chairman of Bane Industries, reminiscing on the early days of what would ultimately become the Jurybooth.  It started in the early 2020's as a proposed anti-vandalism device.  Across the country a number of public phone boxes were replaced with the Automated Anti-Vandalism Box Mark One.  Vandalism was on the rise, and the A.A.V. Mark One, or 'The Slammer', was the first attempt to try and provide both the police and the telephone companies with an automated response to physical violence against phone and web booths.  Loud noises and physical force triggered steel blinds that descended down each of the four sides of the booth, and a powerful electro-magnet meant that these blinds couldn't be removed without a special electronic key carried by the police or a telephone engineer.  Somewhat gleefully, Sir Ian remarks that the vandals were effectively trapped inside the box they'd been trying to destroy.

In the Beacon Street booth Perry is instructed by the soft yet menacing voice to state his name, age and address. He is asked to "please hold still for facial recognition".  He has been accused of trespassing and his trial will begin shortly.  His rights, such as they are, are read to him.  He is instructed to say "yes" or hit button A to confirm that he understands what he has been told.  His efforts to protest are ignored and he has little option but to proceed.

Back to Sir Ian.  He recalls that the A.A.V. Mark One never really took off, but a new VP at Bane Industries - which back then was a tiny company, and not the international powerhouse it is today - had the idea of re-using the functionality of the booth as a holding cell.

We cut to Nadia Harris, now the CEO of Bane Industries.  She recalls the amount of research and development that had gone into "The Slammer", and it seemed a shame to waste.  With spiralling unemployment and soaring crime rates the police were being kept busy and station cells were constantly overflowing.  "We proposed that, with some amendments, 'The Slammer' could be converted to a temporary holding pen for suspects or criminals, and that the police could more or less drop them off and then pick them up when convenient. We had to make a few, er, sanitary amendments to the design, but the first roll-out of the Dedicated Confinement Box was actually put together pretty quickly."

In the Beacon Street booth Perry is asked a series of questions by the Booth.  His rising panic and despair, twinned with the booth's constant interruptions, mean that he can't provide complete answers.  It is clear, however, that he doesn't think he has done anything wrong and that he has been set up.  He begins to get angry, and the booth informs him that, due to erratic physical movements and a rising heart rate, the hearing will be suspended for three minutes.  There is the low sound of everything powering down, and Perry shouting "Hey!  Turn on the lights!"

We cut to an interview with Michael Mundy, a human rights lawyer.  He despairs at the growing popularity of the Jurybooths and that, following the amendments to the Human Rights Act in 2025, some of the requirements concerning basic human comfort have now been abolished.  The increasing number of online jurors and the rewards they get for participating make trying to establish new rules to govern the rights of suspects and prisoners an uphill battle.

The Jurybooth informs Perry that he will find a light meal in the drawer below the main screen and interface.  "A police report has been submitted by PC William James, supported by CCTV video evidence of the attempted break in and entry by Perry Travis to 32 Walpole Hill.  There will be a twenty minute recess.  Verdict and sentencing will follow shortly.  Jurors logging in now."  Terrible muzak fills the booth as Perry coughs on his sandwich.

We cut to an excited Sir Ian.  He tells us that both the police and the public loved the Dedicated Confinement Box, or DCB.  They were a familiar site on every street corner for most of the 20's, and certain administrative features that were built into the system in the later part of the decade paved the way for the introduction of a new judicial system - and so the DCB became the Jurybooth. "The introduction of an online jury was another idea by Nadia.  She'd noticed the growing trend of online CCTV footage and the number of hits that these sites were gathering was phenomenal.  She quickly saw the potential there."

The Jurybooth.  It states that the hygiene facility will be available for the next five minutes.  There is a sloshing, sliding noise, followed by groans of disgust from Perry.  The booth begins counting down.

Nadia Harris laughs affectionately at the memories of the early days of the Jurybooth.  She admits that the idea of pulling in online jurors was her idea.  Unemployment is still an issue and benefits are hard to get.  Bane Industries offers a reward scheme for loyal jurors, who can collect points to be redeemed at a number of supermarket; Supermarkets ultimately owned by Bane Industries.  Nadia is aware of a handful of Human Rights campaigners who are protesting about the use of the Jurybooths, but Nadia's opinion is that if the public were really against them then they wouldn't log in to participate.  Their methods are governed by the wealth of people taking part, and they'll only re-think if numbers begin to dwindle.  If it ain't broken, she says, why fix it?

The Jurybooth.  The voice states; "The trial of Perry Travis is about to begin.  This trial is being judged by a jury of one million, three thousand and seventy-eight of your peers.  Perry Travis, please place your hand on the screen.  Do you swear to make an honest statement concerning your actions on this day, April 24th, 2031?"  Perry takes a deep breath and answers "Yes."

Sir Ian takes a deep breath.  Mistakes?  Given current technology he thinks that's very unlikely.

Perry makes his statement.  He works for The Clarity Group.  Their premises are situated at 32 Walpole Hill.  He wasn't breaking and entering.  He was going to work.
The Jurybooth informs him that The Clarity Group deny that he is a member of staff.
Perry begins to talk, ignoring the instructions of the booth, trying quickly to explain that The Clarity Group is a subsidiary of Bane Industries.  They've been working on something top secret, on a tiny part of a larger project, and he realises that he has seen something he wasn't supposed to.  Project Wide Eyed is coming and he doesn't know all of the details, but it has something to do with getting into people's homes, and it must be bad, or illegal, or why else would he have been set up like this?  “Bane are watching,” he cries, “Bane see everything.”
The Jurybooth informs him that due to the high volume of his speech and his rising heart rate the trial will be suspended for the next three minutes. 
There is the sound of the booth powering down, and Perry starting to sob.

Nadia chuckles again.  "The Booth is overwhelmingly popular, but we haven't been standing still.  Next year we're rolling out BoothView, which will allow the thousands of people who aren't online, or have had their computers and TVs repossessed, a free television in return for their participation as a juror.  BoothView will stream the trials live on TV across the UK, 24 hours a day, and everyone with one of our specially customised TVs can participate via remote control."

In the Jurybooth sentencing has begun.  Perry is found guilty, and must wait whilst the one million, three thousand and seventy-eight jurors vote on his fate.

We cut to Nadia.  She reflects that participation has increased exponentially since the vote to re-instate capital punishment went through.  And yes, they have considered making the executions available to watch, possibly via pay-per-view.  But as yet no firm decisions have been made on the matter.

Michael Mundy sighs.  His list of concerns about the Jurybooths is long and largely ignored by the media, who prefer to report on scandalous crimes rather than take a view on what’s wrong with the judiciary process.  That, along with certain conspiracy theorists widely held belief that Bane Industries can manipulate the system, means that standing up for what is morally right in this day and age gets more and more difficult every day.

Sir Ian closes with a final word on the recent trial of Perry Travis: "What's that?  Said he was set up by Bane Industries?  (Laughs) It's amazing how often they say that."

* * *

Just so that you know, "Project Wide Eyed" would turn out to be an integrated surveillance system inside all of the glorious big telly's that Bane were giving away, resulting in the potential for every home to become a jurybooth in lockdown... 

Told you I was rubbish at putting all of the plot points in a pitch.

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