Monday, 29 October 2012

Cue the Sun!

Truman: [to an unseen Christof] Who are you? 
Christof: I am the Creator - of a television show that 
gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions. 

Truman: Then who am I? 
Christof: You're the star. 
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." I'm inclined to agree. Which is why, as a screenwriter, I love thinking outside of reality. There's got to be more. Unleashing my imagination is where I feel truly free. That's not to say my 'real life' is a drab misery, I hasten to add. I've been blessed with a wonderful wife and daughter, and great, supportive friends and family. 

But let's apply "the reality of the world" to my chosen career path: Writing for film and television.

Blocked at every turn. Beautifully synchronized, don't you agree?
Last weekend, I attended my second London Screenwriters Festival, at Regent's College in London. It hardly felt like a year had passed, and upon arriving, I chanced upon some delegates from last year's festival - and the conversation flowed like we'd hardly been away. The slippers were on, and it was cosy, warm and safe. Our war stories were swapped, and the mutual support and encouragement was flowing like a good wine.

Now, here's a brief insight into my year: I wrote a six part comedy/murder-mystery at the start of 2012 ("Glee meets Scream, in the tone of Shaun Of The Dead"), and I had big plans for the rest of the year. Literally, "this month I will write this, followed by a re-write of this, followed by working on my pitches..." Ah, not so fast, Mr. Bond! My reality was a 5 month stint of EXTREME nerve pain in my face/jaw, which made my head feel like it was going to explode. I just wanted to claw the pain out of my head! During this time, I couldn't think straight due to the pain. Months of pain-killers later, and I'm back to normality. And it's August. YIKES. 

So I worked my backside off. Having learnt a good lesson from last year's speed pitching, I chose the snappiest idea that I could pitch. One that gave me - a nervous pitcher - an easier time in the pressure cooker of pitching.

Script finished in time for the festival (well, first drafted!), I felt slightly relieved, if somewhat robbed of my chance to really prepare for the festival. (In fact, I almost cancelled my ticket because I felt unprepared.)

But: I went for it. 

"Somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!" 
Friday was an odd day to say the least: After Chris Jones's motivational opening talk, I went off to the Great British Pitchfest. After 80 minutes of waiting, it was crunch time. Remember the start of "Saving Private Ryan?" The soldiers on the boat, throwing up? I must have looked like one of those poor guys. But in I went. 

I pitched my Groundhog Day-style fantasy feature film script "Nostalgia" (*Heartbroken Jasper must venture into the memory of his ex-girlfriend to answer a burning question: 'Did she ever love him?'*to Carlo Dusi from Scott Free, then Jason Taylor from Bad Hat Harry, followed by the lovely, dad-like Ned Dowd (whom I wish would adopt me). All of them asked for my one-sheet and details. 

I then pitched my comedy/murder-mystery to the BBC Comedy exec. He was a lovely, friendly chap, but he essentially told me to push the script aside and do something else. I then pitched the same idea to Sky's exec, and he said "This is something I can see playing on our channel." Go. Figure. Anyway, he closed our chat by saying I COULD send my script in, but it would take an age for it to be read - or else either get an agent or an indie producer to rep it, and things will move a lot faster.

In the afternoon, I attended a talk about comedy on the BBC, which left me feeling a bit despondent about the state of mainstream comedy. Personally, I'm not a fan of 'Miranda' - but I recognise that millions are, and that the show has been a big hit for the Beeb. It's just not my thing. (Ferris Bueller, Benny Hill and Laurel and Hardy ALL did asides to the camera.) But this style of tv comedy is where the Beeb are currently focusing. Fine, I get it. 

I later attended a script clinic session, which, in all honesty, did not go well. I attended a session last year which was really great and inspiring and I took a lot from it. This year's session was a very long 50 minutes of disagreement. I won't go into details, but I came away feeling trampled, rather than motivated. I love script notes that challenge me to make my work better, as hard as they can be at times. But this session simply failed to deliver anything I could practically work with. Hey-ho.

"Oh, you're too late! There's nothing left to explore!"
So I came away after day one, reflective and a bit 'blah' about things so far. I will fully admit that this is just my personal experience, and not reflective of anyone else's experience of the event. Saturday kicked off with a talk from some agents, which included some fiery-yet-understandable challenges from the audience. There was a growing sense of negativity, and it made me question why. 

I've read a few posts on-line about individuals considering agents as 'gate-keepers' who don't really want to help new writers. I'm sure that's not true - again, I'm sure they want to help every good writer, but time/money and finding the right client is always going to factor in. But when Sky commissioner's "Get an agent and I'll happily read your work" is met by an agent's response of "I don't want people coming to me with deals/possible in-roads", it does provoke your inner child to chant "Redrum! Redrum!"

Is it that the tv/film industry in this country is in such a poor state that it was being reflected through the talk? Is it that there is no money, times are hard, everything is being cut and everybody is worried about losing their jobs?

Big, BIG questions. And then I attended Luke Ryan's talk, and my spirit soared. Here's a guy whose passion and energy is crystal clear. His talk was completely inspired and motivating, and I left the session feeling like I had dined on the finest cake and wine known to humanity. Simply brilliant.

That's our hero shot.
I attended 3 more sessions that day, during which I made some fantastic new friends. I cannot stress enough how great it is to chat and build genuine friendship with people. In the evening, I spent about 90 mins on the delegates network assisting a fellow delegate to hone their pitch. I was tired, sure, but I wanted to spread the love and support! This is the best thing I can say about the festival. It made me want to help others wherever I could. 

Sunday: Luke Ryan's second big talk, and my goodness, it topped his previous session. Half-way through, the hairs on the back of my neck were up, lightning bolts running through me. I had been waiting for at least ten years to hear somebody say what Luke talked about, and there was a sense of "FINALLY! Now yer talkin'!"
In that 2 hour session alone, my ticket price was justified. Not to over-dramatize, but it was a nigh-on spiritual revelation. Honestly!

Then came Mike Leigh - a personal, long-time favourite of mine, and a law unto himself. I totally admire him for doing things his way, in such a unique style of working - and I would state that, as Mike opened his talk with "Film IS film", Mike Leigh IS Mike Leigh. He is to be loved and treasured, but I put place him on a Werner Herzog-level of 'mad genius'. Some directors are gruff and don't suffer fools because of their ego. It seemed clear to me that Mike is wired in a particular way that the rest of us aren't. And it simply cannot be emulated. On one hand fascinating, on another extremely blunt. And God bless him for it.

"You never had a camera inside my head!"
Now, I forgot to mention that whenever I come to these events, something seems to happen in my personal life. My first time at a Chris Jones event, my wife and child were in a car crash. Last year, my poor wife had to deal with our child diving out of their cot during the night - my wife had to sleep on the floor outside our daughter's bedroom to stop her from escaping all night long. And this year, my almost-4 year old daughter caught tonsillitis, with a temperature of 40+ and various frenzied trips to the out-of-hours doctor with suspected meningitis. Did I mention that I really love my wife? She really seems to cop it when I go off to 'film land'. Real life doesn't stop, and we all have our fair share of hard times to wade through. These events can have a personal cost as well as financial!

So, by 3 pm Sunday afternoon, I'd got what I wanted out of LSF, and I scooted home to see my family. Yay!

What did I take away from this weekend? Do not accept reality. Just because reality tells you to think medium-sized or smaller, you need to step out of that reality and do what you've got to do. And the crazy thing is, we all know this. But when reality confines you to your own personal Shawshank, daring to dream can feel like a crazy person armed only with hope. So it's down to us as individuals to claw our way out.

I'd like to close by thanking all the volunteers, speakers and Chris (and his team) for bringing all of this together this year. You all did a brilliant job. And thanks to the delegates: I had a great time growing friendship, and met some excellent people. Bring on LSF 2013, and in case I don't see ya...

 ... good afternoon, good evening, and good night! 

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