Up at 5am. Pick up Tim. On the road at 6am. Two hours into the journey and we miss the turn off for the M5. Tim tells me it's because I was so engrossed in his new pitch but I have my doubts. Still, we manage to avoid Wales and get ourselves on the M5, arriving into Cheltenham shortly afterwards at around 9.15am.
We're only ever-so-slightly late for Barbara Machin's opening speech. It's an inspiring talk but not nearly as controversial or ranting as she said it might be in the intro. She talks eloquently and passionately about writing and writers, and it's the perfect speech to get the festival up and running.
The next session, How to Make a Living as a Screenwriter, felt a bit rough around the edges but the panel of speakers (comic book writer, sketch writer, radio writer) do a good job of telling the throng about the various writer-related ways you can earn some money while pursuing a screenwriting career.
Next up is the highlight of day one. Stephen Woolley and Kevin Loader talking about the 10 Producers' Secrets that Writers Need to Know. This was mainly Stephen's session, and was largely improvised. He said he didn't know if he had 10 secrets. He could have 8 or 80, and tomorrow he could have 50 more. He wasn't wrong. He filled the session with a wealth of information and insight from his vast experience in the industry. You could have listened to him all day.
I missed David Bishop's talk on comic book writing but you can check out how his experience at the festival went at his blog.
The scriptbite sessions (informal roundtable talks with guest speakers) were well underway, which also brought us up into lunch. Then, a talk with Oscar-winner Ronald Harwood about his career and routine (lots of coffee, cigarettes and writing, all before 9.30am! not bad for a 73 year-old!). It was really amusing and entertaining, thanks mainly to the slightly odd interviewer (an Irish psychologist) and Mr Harwood's openness about his life and times.
Lots of great sessions followed - Deborah Moggach, The Politics of Being a Screenwriter, How to Write a Good Treatment, Code of Practice update and a BSSC film screening, and the day ending with a Mike Leigh interview. Somehow I manage to miss all of these sessions as I spend the rest of the day talking and networking with writers, bloggers, producers and script editors!
At the end of the day, I sit in on a scriptbite session with the Head of Development at Ealing Studios, which is enjoyable as the roundtables allow you to listen & talk in a more intimate manner. The early start and long drive begins to catch up on me and I'm exhausted and thirsty. A couple of pints of cider sees me right, not to mention a few visits to the chocolate fountain where marshmallows and strawberries are supplied for dipping. Delicious! I am awake.
I manage to grab something proper to eat, and the drinking is moved from the main tent to the nearby Harvester (which is next to the Travelodge hotel where a lot of the delegates are staying). Most of the blogging movers and shakers are there, and a few more besides, and once we're kicked out by the alarmingly young and short bar manager, it's straight to Room 109 (take a bow, Piers Beckley) for a nightcap or two. This is quickly becoming a Screenwriters' Festival tradition. God bless you, Piers.
The Red Planet session is on first thing in the morning so I call it a night at about 1.30am, leaving Room 109 still in full swing. A really enjoyable day. Great to see so many familiar names and faces. A hugely friendly and positive vibe emerges and hangs around for the entirety of the festival. On to day two...