London Screenwriters’ Festival Write Up

This past weekend we attended the world’s largest professional screenwriting event, the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Across the intensive three days we attended dozens of talks from the leading lights of the film industry, from screenwriters and playwrights to directors and producers, studio executives and script consultants to top acting talent. It was an exciting, educational and inspirational experience, one we will summarise and seek to share some of the magic of the event with you.

Day One opened with Oscar nominated screenwriter of The Constant Gardener and GoldenEye Jeffrey Caine offering his perspective on “ethical adaptations” of books, historical events and the lives of biographical figures.  An interesting lecture on the obligations of a writer when approaching such projects, it was no stranger to controversy with unvarnished verdicts on the accuracy (or lack thereof) of films such as Casablanca and Gladiator. The second session, How A Script Gets To The Screen, was a hilarious, eye-opening and hugely entertaining session from studio executive Luke Ryan. Detailing the journey of the comedy Hot Tub Time Machine from pitch to first draft through numerous rewrites all the way through to a chaotic production and eventual release, this was one of the undisputed highlights of the day and the Festival as a whole. Ryan was an engaging and intelligent host, disproving the stereotype of unintelligent or uncaring studio executives with detailed answers to audience questions about the state of the industry. This was followed by an amusing discussion from actor, writer and director David Leland about his career, and, in certainly the best talk of the three days, two-time Oscar nominee David Hare. Hare pithily dispensed anecdotes, advice and opinions from his storied career, including a stirring defence of one of the screenwriter’s most valuable tools, dialogue. The impression when leaving the session was that the audience had learnt more about writing in one hour than if all the screenwriting books and courses were put together. Next came Neil and Rob Gibbons, writers of the year’s funniest comedy Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, as well as previous Partrimilgrimages Welcome To The Places of My Life, Mid Morning Matters and I, Partridge. The twin screenwriters gave a revealing insight into an unorthodox writing process for Alpha Papa, the trials and tribulations of its production and the sheer amount of work involved in crafting such a gag heavy script. The day was rounded off by a discussion of film funding from producer Richard Holmes.

Day Two began with us attending the Festival’s Writing Genre Features Advanced Mentoring Labs. Lead by producer J.K. Amalou, the Lab was intended to help six writers or writing teams with a fully developed screenplay in a specific genre move their work to the next level.  Over the course of three hours, each project’s story was dissected and characters placed under the microscope, with forthright impressions on their successes, deficiencies and potential areas for improvement shared.  We came away with numerous ways to improve our script, a film noir set in a fictional American metropolis that ranks as one of our passion projects, making it an almost certainly invaluable exercise. It was also a privilege to share a room with extremely talented writers working on such diverse and intriguing projects, ones which will surely be on cinema screens before too long. This was followed by Pilar Alessandra’s well presented session on maximizing the impact of your script on the page and a look at how drama is commissioned for the BBC in conversation with Ben Stephenson, Controller for Drama Commissioning. The final two sessions of the day were among the most inspiring of the programme. In How To Produce Your Own Screenplay, the opportunities for writers to break out of the traditional distribution model were charismatically outlined by Marcus Markou, director of sleeper hit feature film Papadopoulous & Sons and directors of Black Pond Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe. In many ways similar to what we learnt during the Show Me The Money programme in March, the brave new world of self distribution is a thrilling and fascinating new frontier for filmmakers, something this session brilliantly reinforced. The last session of the day saw festival organiser Chris Jones describe ways of Manifesting Success, a way of positive thinking and self-actualisation in your life and career.

On the Third Day, we Pitched. The LSWF Great British Pitchfest invited writers to test their mettle in pitching their projects to producers, directors and film companies. As we have never pitched before, we went along to road test two projects with industry figures and see if they passed muster. We received extremely positive reactions to our projects, one a science fiction feature, the other an expansion of a short film script we hope will be our next project. Regardless of any further developments we are delighted they were so well received. It gives us even greater certainty these stories are worth telling and further confidence to tell them. The rest of the day saw sessions from Stuart Hazeldine on writing spec scripts and epics for Steven Spielberg and Michael Mann, gifted actors Olivia Williams and Paterson Joseph discussing their film careers and the power of immersive research for writers respectively (Joseph’s impassioned plea for writers to abandon “write what they know” clichés for more expansive ideas was among the best “take home messages” of the festival) and a fun panel about the narrative potential of modern video games.

We are extremely thrilled to have attended such a fabulous festival, one so keenly focussed on storytelling and writing. Over the course of the three days we heard great advice, met new and caught up with wonderfully talented people and received some always needed inspiration in taking our work forward over the next twelve months. Any aspiring or working writer would be well advised to attend in 2014. The event was exceedingly good value and is sure to remain of use long into our career. A huge thank you to the London Screenwriters Festival team for the smooth running and organisation of such a monumental undertaking. We hope to be back again next year, and to bring a great deal many more writers with us.