Monday, October 09, 2006

Guest Post: Arista Workshops

What a weekend*. The lovely Sam Moore came to visit with her hubby and 5 year-old twins. Not being accustomed to more than two guests in the house, and the eating/playing demands of toddlers, I'm genuinely amazed and in awe of parents who deal with this kind of routine on a daily basis. Highlight of the weekend was an exploding bottle of Coke (my fault, I had left it in the freezer) which burst in truly spectacular fashion, sending global shockwaves that gave the North Koreans a little fright. Anyway, right now I'm knackered, and I have a shedload of script reports to write, so I've got to try to stay awake in order to finish them.

So, a nice time for a guest post courtesy of Matt Hurst, a Nottingham based freelance writer who’s been attempting to co-write sitcoms for the past ten years, and is currently "refocussing his delusions on writing longer stuff all by himself". Matt attended an Arista Development workshop earlier in the year. Arista have established themselves with their "highly regarded workshops that have trained Film and TV professionals from 25 countries around the world". This is how Matt got on:


Back in April, my local screen agency emailed me offering a bursary to go on an Arista development course. A week all-in at a nice hotel in Cyprus enveloped in the warm bath of screenwriting expertise at someone else’s expense? Yes please. As it turned out, funding wasn’t quite that simple - shock - and in the end it was Italy, and not entirely at someone else’s expense. But, as they say, whatever.

The bottom line is that Arista, for me anyhow, was very, very good. It manages to undercut welded-in writer cynicism, mostly through sheer focus on story, but I suspect alcohol, dislocation, and knackeredness help too. I wasn’t the only one to find it - mysteriously - emotionally as well as professionally intense.

Mornings are lectures: story, theme, scene structure, the usual. They can’t help feeding into whatever project you’ve brought to work on.

Afternoons focus on people’s projects. I’d taken a feature script (largely set round a TV programme) which I wanted to use as a spec to shift from sitcom to longer, more comedy-drama stuff. My tutor, Colin Young - ex UCLA head, and founder of the NFTVS - opened up by saying he never watched that kind of TV programme and he didn’t do theory. Both fine with me, as was his rather nice Ardbeg single malt.

He focussed on specifics, complementing the theory-heavy lectures. I knew my real problems were with the story; I know how much you need for half an hour, but for two hours? No idea. Like most of the writers, I went back to treatment to sort it out. Colin’s approach was to ask me a question, let me prattle away till I figured out my response, then send me away to write it up over night.

By Thursday/Friday evenings most of the writerly types were grinning by the time they got to the bar in the evening. Everyone had a lot of rewriting to do (and had done a lot during the week), but a lot of basic story problems seemed solved, at least for the moment.

It leaves you knackered, and slightly high on the whole experience. But with a story in a lot better shape than when you arrived.


Thanks Matt! I did the Story Editor workshop a couple of years ago now and it's true, it's an emotional and intense experience, but I think you only get out of it what you're prepared to put into it. I was assigned to help a writer/director on his pet project but he was, shall we say, a bit sensitive, so it was an interesting lesson in how to deal with the type of filmmaker who has a more delicate disposition.

Guest posts still very much welcome. If you haven't got a blog (hey, why not?) but have something interesting, amusing or practical to share, then get in touch. You know you want to.

*It was a cursed weekend for football. First, Forest (my team) lost 4-0, at home, to Scunthorpe. That's right, Scunthorpe. And it was on TV. Then Ireland (my national team) lost 5-2 to Cyrpus. That's right, Cyrpus, oh woe. It wasn't on TV. England drew against Macedonia. Wales got hammered by Slovakia 5-1. At least Scotland had the good grace to beat France 1-0 and restore some balance to the universe.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I can promise you that a bottle of exploding coke is nothing in comparison to the Linda Blair-style vomiting (minus the rotating head) my daughter can undertake at a moment's notice. It truly is a sight to behold...With this in mind then, can we come to stay at the weekend?? ; )

Great guest post by the way.