Sunday, October 31, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #3


Wake. Pack. Check out. And carry heavy bags to the college. Hide heavy bags under a table, then discuss with Event staff person about storing them, and she says she'll move them to the cloakroom.

Today I am travelling light, just the one fairly light bag.

Eat a hearty breakfast when they finally let us in - 15mins ahead of when they should. I didn't quite such a hearty breakfast as things were not ready. Oh well.

None of the morning sessions impressed me, so I just hung out in the refectory and drank a lot of coffee. And then some people started returning from the sessions. It seems a shame to say this but two sessions of that morning had people walking out because they weren't very good. Hopefully the persons concerned will put this on their feedback form.

Anyway I went to the "Actors" session with casting directors and they'd managed to find an actor (Will Kemp). I was interested to learn what actors are trained to do with scripts.

The first thing we were asked to do was twin up with someone sitting beside us and each to give the other some line - any line - and then that person had to say it. This was to give the idea of what it's like to be given a line to say by someone else.

I love this sort of thing. I was sitting with William Gallagher again. I gave him "There's no way I'm doing that" and he gave me "Family's just people you can't be yourself with". We went round the class and I got the point (I think): Given that line to say I was figuring out who would say it and how it should be said. (I've done a fair amount of acting and improvisational stuff.)

Interesting stuff: In the US actor's agents won't even read a script unless the project is already financed. That's it. (Though of course if you have a personal contact with a major actor that's a different matter.)

But in the UK they will.

So what does an actor look for? A part with meaning, with emotion, with a journey, subtextual rather than expository. In fact precisely the things that we're supposed to put in anyway.

There was much discussion of the casting directors role, auditions, screen tests and chemistry tests (not heard that one before).

And what do they do if the dialogue is rubbish? The best they can.

I used my negative approach to choosing the first afternoon session, namely what don't I want to see? And as a result went to see the main man himself Chris Jones talking about "Winning Your First Oscar".

Here's the thing: Anyone can make an Oscar-winning short. It's the one Oscar category that's completely open, and you, as a writer, can get up on that stage and get your little gold man.

That's what he set out to do (for very specific reasons) and he was one place away from an Oscar nomination with his short film "Gone Fishing".

You have to be deadly serious about it - but if you are you can get the finance you need just by asking, and then asking again, and then asking again.

Not that he was suggesting it was easy. It takes real hard work, there are certain things you have to do and festivals you have to win in order to get into the long list. But it can be done. You can win an Oscar.

Chris has an online seminar on his site, and he did a detailed blog about the whole process when he did it at

My final session was about writing Crime Drama. A panel discussion chaired by Barbara Machin who created Waking the Dead. There isn't really a whole lot to say about this, beyond the fact that both Cops and Docs are good because they have drama built-in and can be used to tell human stories. And that's why they are so popular and successful.

But they still have to be character-driven.

Following this was the only informal scriptchat that I attended, with the panellists. This went on for another 45 minutes or so and allowed us to get close to and get to know these big players in the business.

The event wrap part was going on at this point but contacts are more important than drinkies.

After this I chatted with a few peeps, said long goodbyes and headed back to my parents where I stay during the week while working in that Fancy London.

This event was as good as the Cheltenham events, and in one very specific way, better. At Cheltenham the guest speakers had been isolated from us writing hoi-polloi (Ancient Greek for "The Many"). But here I had already had deep conversations with a couple of the speakers (with no clue as to who they were), just sitting in the Refectory - because they mucked in with the rest of us and were enjoying the event themselves.

I can only apologise to Julie Gribble for completely failing to find time to talk to her.

Roll on next year.

What's on the turntable? "The Cloud-Making machine, Part 1" by Laurent Garnier from "The Cloud-Making machine"

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