I went to some really interesting sessions at the SWF, outlined for you below. Here are my immediate thoughts on the whole thing:
Women in film MUST be included next year. I was surprised and pleased to see loads more women than I expected and there was a consensus this needs attention next year. This made most obvious at the Son of The Pitch special when the fact there was only 1 woman out of 10 pitching was noted. Unfortunately none of the speakers from the floor complaining about it put the case particularly well I thought and I was unsure that was really the time for it. We need a proper panel, with various female filmmakers, writers and script editors, all dedicated to the idea of representation of women in film.
Speakers disappear in a puff of smoke. Despite the SWF selling itself to the writing public as an "easy access" to producers, agents and various other companies, these people's disappearances to the green room in-between sessions was obvious. One has to ask why there is a green room: is it because the producers et al fear getting mobbed? If so, I think they're imagining the average screenwriter is more "in your face" than I do - when I've seen speakers after sessions, both here and at other places, I've always been amazed by how much of a wide berth writers give them.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I heard more than once complaints about people "putting it about", especially one of the speakers that DID make himself available to writers constantly for the whole four days (WTF?!! That's great, surely??) - and I heard complaints not enough people were networking either. This is quite patently ridiculous. You're a writer, you have to hustle. End of. I've heard stories from more experienced writers saying they "tag team" and requesting cards politely as soon as they see people - if that's "annoying" or "obnoxious", then we as screenwriters have to ask ourselves where we fit in if we are deemed to be a nuisance just by trying to make contact with people and companies. On the other point then, as I've always said: it's not just about the actual script, it's about you too. That script's not gonna sell itself!
Now, the sessions...
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE - Chris Jones
An inspiring talk from filmmaker Chris Jones, whose short film Gone Fishing was *nearly* Oscar nominated this year. He made the very good point there's no excuse as "no money"; there's money EVERYWHERE. You want to make a film? Get out there and do it, the money will come. These are brave new times, we have the technology to make a cinematic-quality feature, it's all about WANTING IT. In these times then, it's all about DISTRIBUTION - and "it's never been easier to get out there and produce something we can exhibit on a global platform".
HOLLYWOOD OR BUST - Doug Chamberlin
A very illuminating insight into Hollywood and its many myths, including "No one knows anything" (apparently not true in Hollywood, instead "reality is perception": it's like a giant high school - who are the popular kids?); "everyone hires their friends" (apparently majority know no one when they start out and *anyone* can break in, it's all about GUERRILLA MARKETING and getting someone to champion your work) and "everyone is crazy" (semi-true, it's "real world logic" vs. ""Hollywood logic"). Simplest and most important rule: DON'T QUIT. If you quit, you'll never break in. End of. Go for what you want.
MAKING A LIVING AS A WRITER - Janice Day
What is standing in the way of you being a writer? More to writing than talent - it's all about DESIRE. If you want to be successful, you WILL be. Are you afraid of failure - or afraid of SUCCESS? Are you sabotaging yourself? Positive thinking is key. Set your goals - make them concrete. What are the steps to achieving those goals? You have to be like the Duracell Bunny, facing down those rejections and getting on with it: Janice's book was rejected by over forty publishers. Plan your time well: Janice spends 60% of her time on her most lucrative projects; 25% of the next lucrative and 15% of her time on her "dream". Manage your financial situation properly - to do this you have to know what it IS. Don't stick your head in the sand.
THE SCREENWRITER AS DIPLOMAT - Simon Beaufoy (In conversation with Peter Bloore)
A really interesting look at one of Britain's high profile screenwriters: Beaufoy had the worst time of his life after The Full Monty for example, being sued left, right and centre by male strippers! After that there were two feature disasters, Blow Dry and The Waterhorse, which apparently taught him to approach his career differently. He says to remember producers and directors are powerful people with powerful opinions - they're not necessarily STUPID people, even if we are outraged at the notes we get and the changes we get asked to make. He used to be bitter about the development process; now he realises it's just a queue. Never say a straight "no" to suggestions you get - ask for more time to think about it. The CORE of the story is what needs protecting - "everything else is up for grabs". He had some interesting insights on DIY Filmmaking too: "budget constraints focus the mind". apparently he made a super low budget film where he was the cook as well as writer! DIY filmmaking EMPOWERS the screenwriter (I heartily agree). If you want your idea on film, JUST DO IT.
MORE OF 4 - Tessa Ross with Kevin Loader
I unfortunately arrived late, but some great behind-the-scene insights from Tessa Ross. Remember the networks are NOT a bank but part of the creative team. Slumdog Millionaire gave C4 a very good reputation - without it, they might be in a very different position. Whilst they want more success like this, they don't want Slumdog copies: C4 is about talent, risk, writing. She made the very good point the British public don't like paying for drama at the cinema because we get so much quality drama on television. C4, BBC et al also have to compete with other English Language channels like those in America. What C4 looks for: scripts that are resonant, contemporary, driven by the writer.
SCRIPT ASSESSMENT FOR PRODUCERS - Esther Wouda
A look at how people might read scripts and/or what they might expect of them. An inexact science - so much depends on emotional response - Esther nevertheless does her best to pin down some common elements, including the mnemonic "M.O.U.V.E" - "meaning, originality, universality, verisimilitude (zeitgeist/feeling of time), emotion."
WRITE IT, SELL IT, MAKE IT - Panel Discussion
Another look at "getting out there" DIY Filmmaking-wise, which certainly appears to be the "thing of the moment". Some really interesting thoughts, including Slingshot's Arvind Ethan David's thoughts on Sugarhouse: "If we HADN'T had a theatrical release, we might have made some money on this film." Also under the microscope: no budget Zombie flick Colin, Gone Fishing, the SW Screen iFeatures initiative and The Exam. Food for thought: "what is my strategic commercial objective?" And "Does my budget make sense?"
BTW, I went to more sessions than this - but the things I learnt will form the basis of some other posts with my own thoughts on the matter too in the coming weeks.