06 November 2012

London Screenwriters' Festival extravaganza 2012


Another year, another London Screenwriters' Festival – once again Chris Jones, Judy Goldberg and an amazing gang of volunteers put together an incredible three-day event.

I've been lucky to be an active part of it for the past three years, speaking on a few of the panels every time. With every year the festival's grown and this time there were over five hundred participants, well over one hundred speakers – and what a roster, what a line-up! David Yates was there, so were Mike Leigh and Simon Beaufoy, just to name a few.

But I've got to tell you – the big names weren't the draws for me, they've never been. What attracts me is not the anecdotes, the insider stories, the Hollywood lore – what attracts me is the raw insight of experienced writers. I've been in this game for twenty years at this point and I know a few things – but there's always more to learn.

What also attracts me is the sense of the powerful sense of community - every single person there is a teller of stories (and I'm including directors and producers), someone who cares about all the things I care about. Whether it's about craft, about solitude, about geekdom, about film history - everyone there speaks the same language. If you're a writer, a cave dweller like me - you cannot help but soak in the spirit, the glow, the shared passion.

If you visit the blog page of the London Screenwriters' Festival - you'll find a slew of great posts already, generously penned by the one and only Leilani Holmes (aka @momentsoffilm). So here then, just my personal account in addition - here's my run-down of the three days at the LSF 2012:

Friday, 26 October
Simon Beaufoy (pic), Mike Leigh, David Yates and many
other high-profile speakers took the time to be at the LSF.
Festival Director Chris Jones took the stage with his singular energy, powered through the welcome, the logistics, the history and the rush of the earlier festivals and the promise of another unique experience – if the previous years were any indication, we were indeed in for something truly special.

I was late going into the first session – but can you blame me? There were friends in the green room – there's was catching up to be done and if the festival is about anything other than sharing screenwriting knowledge, it is about networking. It's about taking the time in between the sessions to talk to old friends and to make new ones. So, sue me, I was late and ended up sneaking into Tuke Hall where director David Yates was being interviewed by Guy Rowland. Great interview, too! I had been worried that it'd be all about Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that (David Yates has directed the final four in the series) – instead, Guy focused the conversation on the craft, on David's early days, his path into filmmaking, his early collaborations and collaborators. He was asked whether his way of working had changed in the face of the huge Hollywood franchise productions. David shook his head – nothing's changed. He apparently works the exact same way as he's always done.

Pilar Alessandra brought insights and spark to spare!
Next up I opted for Pilar Alessandra instead of Simon Beaufoy (sorry, Simon). Since the topic was "dynamic dialogue" and since I'd met her beforehand and already had a sense of her energy and passion - I jumped in - and she didn't disappoint. Clear, strong, playful, engaging, interactive - the sparks were flying as she had the audience writing dialogue on the fly. And her insights, ten useful points, are on the desk right next to me (sometimes handouts are a wonderful thing).

The green room kept sucking me back in, the speakers, the coffee, the cookies - how could I resist!? Had a long chat with the lovely and ridiculously script-wise Linda Aronson, then grabbed my seventeenth cup of java plus a fistful of cookies and charged over to the "Writing for young audiences" session. The room was packed - I guess I wasn't the only one seeing a bit of potential in that particular market segment. Again, good insights and won't spoil and won't share - it was filmed and it'll be online once it's good and nicely-edited-ready.

The "survival experts" - left to right: Richard Dinnick,
David Varela, me, Micho Rutare and Mark Pallis
Oh yeah - by the end of day one I was up for a panel session, too. Danny Stack moderated the "50 screenwriter survival tips". It was 6:30PM when we started and still the room was packed - guess when it comes to grabbing a brew vs surviving as a screenwriter - the LSF crowd was on the right track. The session was with Mark Pallis, Richard Dinnick, Micho Rutare, David Varela and I. Mind you, the intrepid Danny Stack has mounds of survival wisdom himself and could have easily run the show solo. As it was - we expanded on some of our tips, have a few laughs and gave participants our collected 50 survival tips in the form of a handout at the end.

With that - day one came to a close. As with every such festival - the amount of input is mind-boggling. Not just information, far from it. But all the personal exchanges, all that shared passion - it all flows and flows and juices you and drains you at the same time. I have no doubt every single participant slept like a baby that night.

Saturday and Sunday, 27 - 28 October
As every morning, I walked across Primrose Hill and Regent's Park to get to the festival. It was cool going on freezing and I enjoyed it thoroughly ... and arrived late - had the cafeteria to myself! Then snuck in the back of Charles Harris' "Hour of Power" session. Charles is a great motivator and has more than a few tricks in store. While I usually do just find kicking myself in the butt to move forward with my projects, I decided to go with it ... and enjoyed it thoroughly. Did some visualization exercises and participated in sharing goals and committing to them. The most fun actually was having to pick a buddy - I connected with a young Russian writer, Valeriya Ordinartseva and tried to get her hooked up with a producer right away.

The LSF - I'm telling you, it's so easy to make connections here - the danger is not making the most of them after the festival. Meet new people, talk to other writers, find the execs and the directors - talk, pitch, exchange business cards ... but don't waste those opportunities. Try to be different - try to be/have/say something that sticks in their mind - and then contact them as soon as possible after the festival ... if you wait three months - most likely they won't remember you - and in addition, what does that time lapse say to the person you reach out to?

Disruption Entertainment's Luke Ryan
Both on Saturday and on Sunday I had myself a dose of Disruption Entertainment exec Luke Ryan. Here's a guy worth listening to - not just because of what he knows and what he shares - but how he shares it. If you're interested in working for the global market, you'll need to understand Hollywood and Luke was sharing a great deal in a casually passionate way. You could see the kid who loves movies, you could hear the exec tossing a bit of fun around the room, you could just sense him in the meeting room with the writer - waiting for the pitch. If you want to be in the room with that guy (and by that I mean any Hollywood exec), you need to understand and speak their language. Had a great deal of fun in his sessions and if you have a chance to catch him somewhere - go for it!

At some point later that day I glanced into a session - don't recall what it was, but I saw a guy standing there and reading, word for word it seemed, from the papers in his hand. Well, I silently snuck back out - life's too short. The upshot was, of course, more time in the green room! And a few conversations with delegates later, I jumped into Tony Lee's session on writing for comics. Tony's a pro in ever so many ways - and fun to hang out with, too! I always enjoy sessions the way Tony does them - they show beginning writers that the business is tough, that making it is near impossible and that you should be in it for the love of storytelling. Have fun doing it! And all that passion, all that fun - it'll seep into your stories and that just may, sometime soon or years down the line, get you a foot in the door somewhere.

On Sunday Linda Aronson took me and a packed hall of delegates through the non-linear minefield - wasn't as scary as it sounds. She's great when it comes to making sense of flashbacks and the many great uses. Luke Ryan followed with an immensely useful session on "The future of storytelling" - interesting to see how an exec sees it, where Hollywood sees it going, where the shifts are, what the wants are and will be. With the example of "Hawken" - an upcoming online game world, he showed how immersive and multi-faceted storytelling is becoming - and where the opportunities for everyone from writers to studios are.

Chris Jones, the gang and the standing ovation.
I could go on and on but this would end up being a book instead of a blog. Yes, there's more - much more. Aside from a fun panel on writing in the horror genre - I also enjoyed an interview with Frank Spotnitz, one of the masterminds behind the X-Files and currently the main man behind "Hunted". That pretty much brought it to a close - the end was the traditional get-together in Tuke Hall, with Chris summing it all up - echoing what was going through everyone's mind - three incredible days - already history! A huge round of applause when all volunteers, a great bunch of people, took their bows on stage.

I doubt that a single person in that room that evening left the festival with anything less than 200% worth of sheer screenwriting juice. If you didn't make it to the London Screenwriters' Festival this year - shoot for 2013. It'll come and you'd be missing out on so much if you didn't make the time. So I guess I'll see you there then - right!?

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