Monday, September 20, 2010


This is the next instalment of my reports on the London Screenwriters Festival short MetFilm evening class course ... phew. There was a two week break between the second and third evening, and I've been a bit busy the last week hence the delay.

New speaker Justin Trefgarne a writer-director. He is a man with strong views, but a very gentle way of putting them. He has experience not only as a writer and director, but as a script reader and script editor of many years, so he knows what he's talking about.

As with Claire Moorsom he asked everybody to say who they were, what they'd written and their favourite film. As usual there was a wide variety which he noted with interest - since when he does this with students the choices tend to be limited to Pulp Fiction.

His first bold statement was that all writers should direct - at least once. Possibly one or two in the audience had while a few more of us had had something produced. His reason for this is his viewpoint on scripts: A script is just a manual for the director and the actors, and a writer needs to know how that works.

Then we got into his fundamental view of what a film is: A set of questions and answers. The concept of the central dramatic question is well known, but in his view a good film goes further than that, it is a constant posing and resolving of questions - sometimes questions are resolved immediately, sometimes partially, sometimes not until the end (occasionally never). The hard questions to answer are the real dramatic questions, others are simply "practical" questions.

The more dramatic questions a film poses, and the way it answers them, is what makes it good.

He then demonstrated by asking us to watch the first 15 minutes of Michael Clayton, it wasn't a huge hit when it was released and that was probably to do with the title. But, as it turns out, the title is fundamental to the central dramatic question of the film: "Who (really) is Michael Clayton?"

It was a very interesting exercise, one that I'd recommend. After we'd watched the fifteen minutes we spent the rest of time going through it slowly and looking at the interplay of the questions and answers. With occasional running off at a tangent, except they were always very useful tangents: explore a character by what other people say about him/her; close-ups make the audience worry because they can't see what's around the character (used a lot in horror) but in Michael Clayton the camera is on him a lot of time even when other people are talking.

Quick report ... now it's back to work.

What's on the turntable? "Catwalk Blues" by Gordon Giltrap from "The River Sessions"

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