Monday, July 09, 2007

Festival Fever

The Screenwriters' Festival is only in its second year but already feels like it’s a long-standing part of the UK’s film and TV calendar. Like the name implies, it’s exclusively tailored for the British screenwriter, professional and aspiring, and there’s four full-on days of screenwriting geekery to enjoy. The schedule is divided into two; the first couple of days devoted to ‘New Writers’, and the remainder focused on ‘Professional Writers’.

Last year, the festival was heavily criticised for the New Writer section because it was too basic, and not very good value for money. It would seem the organisers have taken this criticism on board and completely revamped the New Writer days so that it’s suitably informative and inspiring. In fact, the sessions for this year’s New Writer days were arguably more inviting and interesting than the Professional Writer schedule.

The festival opened with a keynote speech by Tony Jordan. Relaxed, charming, funny and inspiring. The guy speaks, writes and works with his heart on his sleeve, and he perfectly set the tone for the sessions that were to follow. There was no time to leave the Marquee and duck out of the next session (if you didn’t fancy it), it just followed on from Tony’s speech, and it was headed “What do Agents Do?” Julian Friedmann (of Blake Friedmann and editor of Scriptwriter Magazine) chaired a discussion between a few leading agents about the Dos and Don’ts of approaching and having an agent. All good, solid stuff.

David Thompson then gave a talk on ‘How BBC Films Work’. I took notes on this one so I’ll put up a separate post, but it was a good presentation because Mr Thompson was charming and used relevant clips from BBC’s filmography (and in production) so as not to bore us with too much talk. The schedule then broke off into separate sessions held in the Marquee or at the Manor House, giving you a chance to ‘Meet the Agents’ or attend a ‘Scriptbite’ (smaller more intimate sessions giving advice on a particular subject) or learn more about ‘The Business of Being a Writer’.

After lunch, it was time to launch the Red Planet Prize with Tony Jordan. I was nervous but excited, and Tony led the way with his infectious charm and humour to announce the competition (as you can see from the clip). We had to turn away people from the room we were allocated, so that was a shame, but Tony held a mini-session afterwards in the car park for those who missed the launch. Other sessions were going on during this time, but next up for me, and for most who attended the launch, was the BBC’s writersroom presentation on ‘The Perfect Ten’: how the first ten pages can make or break your script. This session was in big demand, and had to be relocated to the Marquee so everyone could listen to Paul Ashton deliver his pearly pearls on what the first ten pages is all about.

Between sessions, it was fairly easy to network and socialise. All you had to do was say ‘hello’ to someone while you were in the coffee queue, or sitting in your seat, and you were exchanging business cards in no time. It was also groovy to hook up with fellow bloggers, and put a name to a face, and all that malarkey. Coffee, lunch, drinks, jokes were all exchanged between myself, Jason Arnopp, Piers Beckley, Helen Smith, Martin Adams, Paul Campbell, Stuart Perry, as well as other new friends and on-line buddies (Evan, Aidy, etc). (I kept on borrowing the same tenner from Jason over two days, but not needing to spend it the entire time. You’ll never see me or the tenner again, Mr Arnopp, mwah ha ha).

One of the highlights of the first day for me was ‘Get out of Hell’, Justin Trefgarne’s frank and funny insight into script development, and how to deal with it when it all goes wrong. His first bit of advice was the most important, I think: ‘Stay true to your original idea’. In other words, when you’re a few drafts down the line, and have incorporated all the execs’ notes, make sure you’re still writing what got you excited about the project in the first place, otherwise you’ll lose your focus, energy and passion, and the process will become frustrating and counter-productive (and you’ll get fired!).

Then it was time to chill out and attend a Networking Party, sponsored by Skillset's Screen Academy of Wales who supplied tasty nibbles and free beer, so god bless the Welsh. Drunk and tired, the first day came to a close with last orders at the Harvester (because it’s next to the Travelodge, and the centre of town was a couple of miles away), and a nightcap courtesy of Piers’s private stash of whiskey. That was the first day over with, check in again to see what happened next.

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