London Screenwriters Festival

London Screenwriters Festival

Photo: Liz Slade interviewing William Nicholson.

I attended the London Screenwriters Festival nearly two weeks ago. Postponed due to the pandemic, it was run as a hybrid event with an in-person part in London and an online event, mostly running after it. Held it in its usual venue, Regent's Park University, it was good to do something normal again, even if it meant wearing masks during every session. 

The event was run over 3 days but I only stayed for the first 2. Here are some selected highlights. 

R Kurti

Spoke about always having a spec script and always being ready to pitch. These can help you: 

  1. Break in
  2. To protect your idea
  3. To change genres
  4. Stay sane (if paid work dried up)

Always say 'yes' if offered the rewrite and try to compromise. The longer you stay in the more chance of ensuring your name is on the final film. When receiving feedback, don't react to it on the day.

Pitching

  • Can you sell with passion?
  • Can you relate it to your own life?
  • How does it resonate with others?

If your spec moves you on in your career, its done its job. 

Phil Hughes and Ted Wilkes

Their take is that character defines structure. That a character's decisions define the story type of which they have determined there are 5 types, based on the character's response to an invitation (to be heroic). These are based on fairly tales and are: 

  1. Unable (to believe): ugly ducking to swan
  2. Unknowing: drink potion then regret the consequences
  3. Accidental: fall down rabbit hole and return
  4. Willing: volunteer then burn the forest
  5. Mistaken: kill the goose and regret the decision

Superhero films are usually number 1 but more frequently 2 e.g. Unbreakable, Logan. Least used is 3. 

Romcoms are often accidental e.g. Groundhog Day, Knocked Up. Not many willing romcoms.

Horror are mainly 1 e.g. heroic girl at the end or Dutch in Predator. 

Roland Joffee

Roll and talked about his career initially. He recalled a quote from Ron Howard who said success was less about talent and more about leave as since you fail at so many stages you need love for the craft/industry to keep going.

He likes to being with a 3-5 page document about the story before he starts to write. Start with the beats you like. Then outline, 12-15 pages. Don't forget: hook, reversals, twits, reveals and cliffhangers. Have a bank of floating ideas that may or may not contribute to the story. The final battle should follow the low point. Seed the solution early on. 

The Saturday finished with a great double bill of speakers: Sally Abbott and Jed Mercurio. Jed was his wonderly acerbic self but I won't repeat any of his swipes here. 

Sally Abbott

Sally was a graduate of the 2004 Talent Campus cohort. A distinguished alumni. She did the BBC's Writers Academy run by John Yorke. She wrote for soaps after that including Eastenders. Her most memorable episode featured Billy Jackson's funeral. She believes that you shouldn't always give the audience all that they want.

Her new series is The Coroner. She spent a lot of time on the back story of the main characters, creating a romance between them which creates tension in the present day as they cannot act on any past feelings. They can never kiss.

She has a recurrent theme in her writing of 'doing the right thing'. Each character tries to do what they think is best. She's also found that putting the strongest thematic argument in the mouth of the antagonist. 

It was an enjoyable 2 days and I managed to catch up with half a dozen of my Talent Campus 5 alumni. I'm not sure I will go again as I'm finding that I'm learning less and less each time from the speakers. Of course, many are still entertaining and informative if not instructive. In addition, the festival is unlike a conference in that the speakers do not attend the event other than to deliver their talk/workshop. Therefore the networking is limited to other screenwriters which I've found to be enjoyable but not very useful. Pitchfest starts this week for 2 weeks. I've signed up for a session next week.