Open letter calls for recognition for writers
Writers' Guild President Olivia Hetreed has written an open letter to the Guardian calling on it to recognise the work of writers in their new film awards. The letter, also signed by Andrea Gibb amd Line Langebek (Co-Chairs of the WGGB Film Committee), comes after Guild member Lisa Holdsworth identified the omission earlier this week.
The letter is reproduced below:
The Writers’ Guild was delighted to read that the Guardian had decided to launch its own film awards, particularly as they seem to be offered in a spirit of fun and celebration, aimed at engaging readers with film. However, we are dismayed at the decision to leave out the names of the screenwriters who actually wrote the material in the Best Scene and Best Line Of Dialogue categories. It seems perverse to recognise and applaud screenwriting yet ignore writers.
We've been in touch with one of your reviewers, who explained that the writers’ names 'just didn’t seem like crucial information at the longlist or blog stage.' The reviewer also pointed out that the Guardian has not credited the nominated marketing teams either. This seems a somewhat bizarre justification: does she really mean to equate the marketing campaign and the film script?
We appreciate that this is an attempt to engage your readers but fail to understand how adding the names of the writers would prevent this process. Guardian readers seem highly knowledgeable about film and deserve better information than being given an actor's name alongside a line of dialogue. Film is a supremely collaborative medium and while it may not suit the word count of film reviewers to acknowledge this, there seems no reason for the Guardian Awards to compound their error.
It is hardly difficult to find the names of the short-listed writers. They are as follows:
BEST SCENE: Peter Baynam, Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Armando Ianucci; Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron; Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello; John Ridley; Woody Allen; Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke; Carlos Reygadas; Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix; Terence Winter.
BEST LINE OF DIALOGUE: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Bob Nelson; Eric Warren Singer, David O.Russell; John Ridley; Woody Allen; Bob Nelson; Jeff Pope, Steve Coogan; Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello; Christopher Ford; Spike Jonze.
The most disheartening thing about this omission and your reviewer’s response to our query is that it is part of a much larger problem, whereby the media consistently and carelessly attribute the work of writers to directors and actors, thereby misinforming their audience. What a shame that the Guardian’s attempt to do something “new and innovative” should fall prey to such old fashioned, lazy or ignorant thinking.
Andrea Gibb & Line Langebek
Co-Chairs, WGGB Film Committee
New survey published by the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE)
The Federation of Screenwriters in Europe has published a survey of European screenwriters' income in 2012.
The survey was undertaken to inform a series of workshops for screenwriters’ guilds in European countries entitled Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in the Digital Economy. The online survey, asking seven questions, was distributed by 21 European screenwriters’ guilds belonging to the FSE (including the Writers' Guild of Great Britain).
Seven hundred professional screenwriters for both TV and film in over 25 countries responded and provided information about their income in 2012. The anonymous survey provides factual information to illuminate the discussion about authors remuneration.
Download the survey (pdf)
British screenwriter Tim John on making the move to Hollywood
I’d read plenty of books about how to write Hollywood screenplays, but never found one that also described what living there would be like. So I decided to write one. Adventures In LaLa Land chronicles the seven years I spent riding the rollercoaster.
How does real life compare to reel life? Do the stars create more drama off-screen than on? Is the local social network really full of desperate housewives? How do writers find work?
My main reason for going to Hollywood was that I had always loved films, so wanted to be right at the heart of the industry. The tricky thing was knowing when to go. Given the colossal gamble the film business is, it's hardly the sort of move you want to risk when you have young children and a bank manager to support, as I did. Having said that, in some ways the choice was made for me because I was ‘let go’ from my job as a London copywriter when the agency was taken over by another group. Everyone who, like me, was part-time, was let go. What a strange phrase ‘let go’, it implies you'd been chomping at the bit, bursting to break free.
Deborah Espect on writing and making her award-winning short film, Dog Day
Bella Emberg in Dog Day (Copyright Georgie Angless)
I love writing because it allows me to dwell in a solitary comfort zone. But I’ve never studied how to write, so I’ve never learnt about structure; and when I start a new project I don’t have a plan. Sometimes I picture a character and a situation they end up in; then a scene develops and from there I have a story. I go on a journey with the characters and, like them, I don’t know what comes next almost until it happens. Sometimes the journey doesn’t work, or the character gets stuck and I have to start again. I encounter this quite a lot when writing plays.
Dog Day was going to be a completely different film to what it is now. I had just watched London To Brighton and Fish Tank, and I really wanted to write about a real woman in today’s England. This in itself was nothing new or original, but so much has already been written about everything that, for me, it’s always been more about what I do with an idea than the idea itself.
Dog Day was going to see our protagonist, a 30-something woman, take her young children to the zoo. There wouldn’t have been much dialogue, other than when she’d tell her kids off for trying to jump off a fence to touch an animal, or when she’d have to explain that the toys they wanted in the souvenir shop were too expensive. The lack of words would have represented her relentless solitude. But I wasn’t particularly confident with that set up.
The thought of working with children was rather daunting for someone as inexperienced in the film industry as me, and shooting in a zoo presented all sorts of logistical problems. So, instead, I decided that my 30-something woman would be visiting her mum in Brighton, on her 70th birthday. Again, the script didn’t contain much dialogue, because the two women just didn’t know how to communicate with each other. Instead, there were a lot of awkward silences and frustrated faces.
Tracy Brabin reports on the launch of the BFI Statistical Yearbook
Facts&Stats – the BFI launch the Statistical Yearbook 2013
Statistics, love them or hate them, they’re the only thing that gives any argument validity, but on a hot and muggy day it was with a heavy heart I entered the BFI. Will the room be full of statistical gonks and geeks? I needn’t have worried. After a couple of quips on the Royal Birth; ‘this baby (the report) weighs in at 205 pages after a 7 month labour,’ Sean Perkins got underway with the difficult job of translating his department’s analysis into easy to digest numbers for non-numerates like me.
Some figures were extremely positive. UK cinema admissions were the third highest of the last 40 years, up at 647 releases. Revenues were at an all time high with ‘Skyfall’ setting a new Box Office record at £103 million, followed by independent films ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and ‘The Woman in Black’, all in a market worth £4billion.
UK writers also proved a draw to audiences; only 5% of films released during the year were adapted from UK story material but accounted for 23% of the total box office. These films were based on characters first written in 1937 (The Hobbit), 1958 (Bond) and 1983 (Woman in Black), a clear reminder of the enduring economic value of British cultural excellence.
We also discovered that the cinema-going audience is ageing and there was a rise of the over 45’s buying tickets, up from 14% in 1977 to 36% in 2012, with Simon Beaufoy’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ topping the viewing chart.
Clive Dawson on finding favour in Hollywood with his feature film script Last Days On Mars
Liev Schreiber in Last Days On Mars, adapted by Clive Dawson from the book by Sydney J Bounds
If it’s something you aspire to, rest assured that no matter what stage you’re at in your career it’s never too late to have a crack at Hollywood. It goes without saying that you’ll need a little talent, preferably some kind of track record, and a great deal of good fortune. Above all else, you’ll need a good sample script. Getting through the doors in the first place is the hard part; the rest is relatively straightforward. There’s no set way to go about it, but here’s the approach that worked (more through luck than judgement) for me.
Until its cancellation I was a regular writer on TV series The Bill, and had been for many years. I enjoyed writing for the show, particularly in its earlier incarnation of half-hour, stand-alone single dramas, but towards the end it became clear to many of the writers that the show was unlikely to survive; ITV had tampered with the format to the point of destruction. I’d written for other shows over the years but had never found another ‘home’ and, despite constant submissions and occasional development deals here and there, my original series and single drama ideas never seemed to find favour with the network heads. In short, my screen credits were limited, and once The Bill was axed my prospects in TV didn’t look good.
Fortunately, I’d never entirely given up on the hope of working in film. I’d had an original screenplay (a World War II psychological thriller entitled The Bunker) produced many years previously. Although I all but disowned the director’s turgid film version the screen credit itself was welcome and my screenplay continued to prove a well-received writing sample. Nevertheless a subsequent film project, funded by the UK Film Council, ended up in legal limbo due to the collapse of the production company, and my long-standing agent gradually seemed to lose interest in promoting me. Now, with my regular TV work gone, it was time to either sink or swim.
Against this backdrop, I decided to risk a little of my own money obtaining an option on a published short story, The Animators, by the prolific British author Sydney J Bounds. It’s an extremely creepy 11-page science-fiction thriller that I first read in an anthology many years ago, and I’d always felt it could form the basis of an effective film. A series of internet searches and emails to publishers finally led me to Philip Harbottle, the agent representing the estate of Syd Bounds. My initial query was polite and simple: were the rights to the story available, and if so, would it be possible to negotiate an option? To my amazement, the answer to both questions was yes. Phil was extremely accommodating and we eventually agreed an option for an initial sum, against a larger additional payment if the project went into fully-funded development.
At the Edinburgh Film Festival this weekend, Andrew Walsh, Treasurer of the Writers' Guild, spoke at a lively panel session on writing for multi-platform media - Thinking Outside the Page: Expanding Models of Storytelling (pictured, above).
Fellow panellists were Phil Parker, founder of the legendary MA Screenwriting at LCP, and now launching a website www.bcre8ive.eu, where all kinds of creatives can meet and work together on a wide range of projects, and Olivia Hetreed, screenwriter and new President of the Guild. The panel was chaired by James Mavor, also a screenwriter and lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University.
The panellists discussed their own wide variety of working practices and range of experience from video games to television and feature films large and small and also explored with the audience the challenges and opportunities of new media and the practicalities of audience reach and financing such blue sky ventures.
Later, Olivia Hetreed was joined by Andrea Gibb, incoming co-Chair of the Film Committee and one of Scotland's most successful screenwriters, to present the findings of an international survey of film festivals, Written into the Picture. While many of the findings present a grim picture - 80% of surveyed festivals invited no or fewer than five writers as guests and over 60% do not have a Screenwriting Award - we also found that North American Festivals have a more positive attitude with two thirds inviting writers. While the statistics are shocking the survey also revealed the pressure festivals are under financially, from distributors and press and caused some festivals to reconsider their attitude to writers.
In an informal discussion with a large audience at the Traverse Bar, Andrea and Olivia considered the further action that can be taken by the Guild and by individual writers to improve the situation, including follow up surveys, awards for best practice - Edinburgh itself is one of the most writer-friendly festivals, with many events and a large number of writer delegates - with the aim of shifting perception among the festivals, press and public regarding the truth about the complex creation of a feature film.
The event was followed by a very popular networking drinks event where it was good to catch up with Guild members and especially Scottish Branch rep, Julie Ann Thomason. Scottish members should get in touch with Julie via the Guild to be part of future events.
More photos: www.facebook.com/thewritersguild
Paul Goetzee reflects on his recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival with the Maison des Scénaristes
Are you a scénariste? Or are you an auteur?
In France apparently all screenwriters are expected to be auteurs. A legacy of the anti-literary La Nouvelle Vague, Les Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer and all, no doubt. There is no such thing as a writer in film, only an auteur, which my French dictionary defines as ‘author, creator... perpetrator’ – the last one probably very apt in a lot of film-making.
However, as far as Sarah Gurévick and Nicolas Zappi, founders of the Maison des Scénaristes (the House of Screenwriters) are concerned, writers should not have to be burdened with the obligation to direct. They are screenwriters, not auteurs, creators nor indeed perpetrators.
This may sound odd to English ears. I don’t know about you, but as a screenwriter I feel I’m constantly being nagged to ‘write visually’, ‘think like a director’ and so on. In France this is a given. You think up your story, plan your film... then get behind the camera and make it.
I have to admit I do like directing as well as writing. Whether I am any good at it is another matter. I like planning the whole project from the back of the envelope to the back of beyond. I like working with actors. I like designing sets and costumes, drawing up shooting scripts and storyboards. But a lot of writers I know don’t care about directing – whether it’s a play, a film or anything else. That’s someone else’s job. Someone with more energy, skill and, well, hubris. Writers are there to come up with a good story, then tussle with and defeat all the little narrative gremlins of plot, structure and character motivation that almost always – no, always – rear their beastly little heads.
So what exactly is Maison des Scénaristes (MdS) and how did I come to take part in their event in Cannes?
By Nick Yapp
Bryan Forbes, who died on 8th May at the age of 86, was a key figure in the history of cinema for more than 30 years. With John Mills, Richard Attenborough and Kenneth More, he was one of the band of actors who refought much of WW2 on the back-lots of British film studios. He was a master of most cinematic trades – a screenwriter, director, producer and key executive, becoming Managing Director of Associated British Productions in 1969.
But he was also one of the group of screenwriters who met at 7 Harley Street in London on 13th May 1959 to create the Television and Screenwriters Guild (TSG), a forerunner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. With Ted Willis as Chair and Forbes as Honorary Treasurer, the Guild embarked on an ambitious programme of events to recruit members, among them a series of lectures on writing for the cinema. The lectures were held at the National Film Theatre (2 guineas/£2.10 to attend the whole series, 5 shillings/25p for each individual lecture). Forbes was in illustrious company – other lecturers in the series included the film critic Dilys Powell, the director Karel Reisz, and John Trevelyan, then Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors.
The TSG became the Screenwriters Guild in 1961, with Forbes continuing as Treasurer. The early Sixties were dubbed the years of 'Fun and Aggro' by members of the Guild, but times were financially hard. Forbes was a man of vision with high hopes for the Guild’s future. 'We should aim for a staff of at least ten,' Forbes told Guild members, 'so that you can have the sort of service you expect.; That dream has yet to come true, but Forbes worked tirelessly to strengthen the Guild’s financial position, repeating over and over again his mantra: 'We must find more money from somewhere.'
His most ambitious plan, and one that still sets the adrenalin going at the thought of ‘what if it had come true’, was presented to the Guild in 1969. EMI had just bought Associated British from Warner Brothers and had put Forbes in charge. He took his work seriously and was incredibly conscientious about scripts submitted to him, reading up to ten scripts a day even though he found on average that 80% of them were unusable.
To quote from The Write Stuff (the history of the Writers' Guild):
'What Forbes wanted were ideas for low budget, original, comedy films which didn’t fall into the "dreaded mid-Atlantic category". He welcomed unsolicited material, and asked "everybody to believe that every single submission" would be considered. Those writers who showed promise he directed to the Guild, and his great ambition was to make Elstree a Guild studio.'
With Carl Foreman, who had succeeded Willis as President of the Guild, what Forbes hoped to achieve was a Guild shop within the entire British Film Industry, along the lines of what the WGA had set up in the United States. It never happened – well, it hasn’t happened yet – but the 1960s were in many ways a Golden Age for the Guild. The prestigious series of Annual Awards Dinners held at the Dorchester Hotel from 1961 to 1970 helped raise the profile of the Guild to an enormous extent. And it was fitting that in 1962 the first ever Best British Comedy Screenplay Award went to Forbes for Only Two Can Play – a screenplay that was also nominated for a BAFTA that year. From 1971, when he resigned from Associated British, Forbes divided his time between the UK and the USA. The Guild lived on, in no small part thanks to the pioneering work that Bryan Forbes had put in from its earliest days.
If such titles existed as ‘Hero of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’, that awarded to Forbes would have been First Class.
Nick Yapp is author of The Write Stuff, the history of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Tributes paid to writer and director who was prominent member of the Writers' Guild
(A photo taken at Bryan Forbes's home in Virginia Water - complete with blue plaque in his honour - in the summer of 1997. From left: his daughter Emma Forbes, grand-daughter Lily, Bryan Forbes, Alison V Gray (former General Secretary of the Guild), Alan Drury (former co-Chair of the Guild), Rosemary Anne Sisson (former Chair and President of the Guild)
The writer and director Bryan Forbes has died at the age of 86.
As well as being a noted screenwriter of films such as The League Of Gentleman and King Rat, and directing films including The L-Shaped Room, Forbes also wrote books, acted and was a founder-member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB).
Forbes was Treasurer of Screenwriters' Guild (the forerunner to the WGGB) from 1959-1962 and President of the WGGB from 1988-1991. He won Guild awards in 1962 for Only Two Can Play and in 1964 for Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Paying tribute to Bryan Forbes, Writers' Guild General Secretary, Bernie Corbett, commented:'Bryan Forbes was one of the pioneers who set up the Writers’ Guild. He may be remembered now mostly as a great director and film executive, but at heart he was a writer and he never forgot the vital role of the writer. He was on the writer’s side. If film and TV writers now enjoy fair contracts, good fees and royalties and residuals, and proper recognition in their industry, that is the legacy of Forbes and his trailblazing colleagues, and that is why we will never forget Bryan.'
Gavin Grant explains how he took conflict resolution from the office to the screen, and won a Scottish BAFTA New Talent nomination for The State of Greenock
(Photo: Gavin Grant with actor Rowan King filming on location)
There is an acronym in corporate-lingo-jargon known as the BATNA. The letters stand for the ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’. The theory goes that whichever side in a negotiation has the better BATNA, is therefore in the stronger negotiating position, as they are less likely to settle for an unsatisfactory (albeit fully negotiated) agreement. When I first heard about the BATNA, I was a solicitor who wanted to be a screenwriter. My goal was to somehow negotiate my way to becoming a full-time, paid, screenwriter – even though I naturally assumed this was a totally unrealistic dream. In trying to maintain a level head about my career, I knew I had to work out the best alternative that would make me happy. What was my BATNA?
Back in 2009, I wrote an article for a Scottish legal magazine as part of a feature called ‘Films in Focus’, in which lawyers were asked to reveal their favourite film about the law. When I heard the magazine was running the feature, I remember being very keen to write something – anything – just to get the chance to talk about films and filmmaking. I wanted to avoid the courtroom drama and the predictable Grisham adaptation, so I plumped for the crime thriller Dirty Harry. And I got completely carried away. I effectively wrote a mini academic essay on the right-wing attitudes and ‘rule of law’ themes underpinning the film. Oops. I have always loved movies.
At that time, I was working as a solicitor with Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP. Outside of work, I had developed a growing interest in screenwriting and was attending evening classes at the University of Edinburgh. I became mildly addicted to books about the art and craft of screenwriting. I was learning about the film and TV industry, but, more importantly, I had started writing scripts.
WCOS 2.0 takes place in Barcelona 9-10 November
Building on the success of its 2009 event in Athens, Greece, screenwriters from around the globe will meet in Barcelona, Spain on November 9 and 10, 2012 to discuss changes to their craft and the business of film and television.
Organized by the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE), in conjunction with the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds (IAWG) and Foro de Asociaciones de Guionistas del Audiovisual (FAGA), the Second World Conference of Screenwriters will feature speakers on the cutting edge of new technologies and some of the most creative minds working in film and television, online and branded content, immersive and transmedia entertainment.
'The new global space holds exciting opportunities for creators and, admittedly, many challenges too,' says FSE president, screenwriter Christina Kallas. 'The second World Conference of Screenwriters will bring leading figures from around the world to discuss all aspects that play a role in defining the way professional writers and their organizations can position themselves in relation to our changing world. WCOS2.0 will formulate a vision.'
'In a market more and more dependent on international co-productions, and a borderless internet, it’s essential for writers to share information on what is happening in each other’s jurisdiction,' says Sylvie Lussier, screenwriter and IAWG policy and research group chair.
Together, the three groups represent approximately 50,000 writers from Europe, North America, Mexico, India, Israel and New Zealand. The organizers also hope to attract delegates from emerging film industries in South America, Asia and Africa.
The conference is sponsored by generous donations from the Spanish collecting societies Derechos de Autor de Medios Audiovisuales (DAMA) and Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE).
Darren Jones on how his experience as a film editor has informed his scriptwriting
I grew up with TV rather than books. Books became important eventually, but the moving images and the stories that spilled out from that small screen were the ones that first captivated my imagination. I always wondered how it was done and if, maybe, I could do it too. That never left me, but later, as a young teenager on the Isle of Wight, I feared it was only a dream, and probably an impossible one. All that exciting media stuff seemed to happen in Hollywood, or at a pinch, in that semi-mythical place, ‘London W12 8QT’. Even that felt a million miles away at the time. True dreams have a habit of inspiring perseverance however, and eventually I did scrape myself into film school.
I was always wrote (mostly bad) short stories, short scripts, kids’ plays. I was interested in making up and telling stories, but telling them with visual media – after all, I wasn’t taking an English degree. Film school exposed me to other areas: photography, sound, working with actors – and, of course, film/video editing.