Neil Hunter on a English-language screenwriting workshop in Germany
(Photo: Writers and tutors relaxing during the éQuinoxe Germany screenwriting workshop)
I remember having a coffee by an Alpine lake in Germany with a young Austrian screenwriter, hearing quite a splash, noticing vaguely that of the two children playing on the jetty only one was currently visible, and then returning to the matter in hand, namely, why her story of redemption through industrial espionage was somehow failing to carry the reader, and then hearing a scream and a chair falling over and seeing a father flashing past us on to the jetty to rescue his boy from the shallow, freezing water. And I remember thinking: ‘This screenwriting business, it certainly takes you out of yourself.’
We were in the German Alps courtesy of éQuinoxe Germany, an English-language screenwriting workshop that follows the Sundance template in which each writer enjoys, or suffers, five sessions with five different advisers. When I advised for the French-run, now-defunct Moonstone programme, I remember someone suggesting that the first two sessions were needed to break the resistance of the writer; the final three to rebuild on sounder foundations.
If that makes it sound daunting (and rather more deliberate than the reality) it should. To have one’s writing subjected to such intense scrutiny, to have nowhere to hide, is not for the faint-hearted; however, the scrutiny will never again be so friendly, or so purely well-intentioned, or so pure.
It can also be daunting for the advisers. Although they convene a day early to discuss the scripts, and keep each other informed of the scripts’ progress over the week, each session with the writer remains surprisingly unpredictable. I have gone into sessions with closely-reasoned arguments as to why, say, the sister has to become a brother, only to receive the reply: ‘Oh, her. She’s gone.’
I think of these sessions, which can last three hours, as a type of jamming: a dual enquiry into the problems of a script, and a dual attempt to solve them. What does the writer really want to say? Where is the heart of the story? What does the writer really believe, or not believe, to be true? Any sense of hierarchy is dissolved in the heat of the problem at hand, and in any case, the writers are no beginners: they have to have had at least one script produced, and they need a producer attached to the project they bring.
All the screenplays accepted by the programme are flawed. I was surprised, on the éQuinoxe Germany workshops I have advised on, by the degree of consensus among the advisers (to the extent that writers sometimes suspect there is a stitch-up, although a moment’s introspection would banish such an idea). Not only is there usually full agreement on the flaws, there is usually a strong consensus about the most likely diagnosis and most fruitful areas to rethink and explore. Needless to say, individual advisers will disagree on details. But éQuinoxe Germany goes so some lengths to ensure that writers are not assailed from all sides with contradictory opinions. The intention is that scripts, and writers, are nursed and somehow carried through the five days; tested, but not to destruction.
So what sort of scripts, and what sort of writers, are likely to benefit most from the workshop? First of all, the writer needs to know there is a problem – though not necessarily what or where the problem is. Everyone naturally hopes their script can be solved with sticking plaster, but over the years I’ve noticed that there are some fairly consistent reasons why scripts fail to cross the finishing line in peak condition. And usually, annoyingly, it’s necessary to rebuild from the beginning.
The producer Christine Vachon has said that she relies on her writer/directors not only to have the flexibility to be able to cut when the budget squeeze kicks in – but also to know where their red lines where. To know what is essential, and what cuts would be fatal…and then to say ‘no’. Similarly, writers will benefit most if they have lived with the script for long enough to have an idea what it is they want to say, and where the heart of the story should be. There will always be room for discovery, but the borders are clear. For this reason, the scripts éQuinoxe Germany accepts are often quite developed,
I have written about scripts, rather than writers. But beyond the super-boosted development of a script, there is the growth of a writer. Beyond the intense exposure to five advisers, and the stimulation of all the other selected writers, there are screenings, masterclasses and discussions. It would be odd to emerge from the experience unchanged.
See the call for submissions for éQuinoxe 2012
The Filmmakers' Alliance has issued the following press release in response to the publication today of the independent Film Policy Review, commissioned by the government.
'PACT, Directors UK and WGGB (The Filmmakers’ Alliance, noted in the Film Policy Review report as the Creative Alliance) welcome the Film Policy Review report’s emphasis on growth and its recognition of the crucial importance of producers, writers and directors to sustain a plural and commercially viable film economy.
'We welcome the review’s clear intention to move film funding towards the creative entrepreneur, incentivising success across a range of British films, and serving a wide variety of audiences and tastes.
'Much work is now needed – this is a transformational point and will require all stakeholders to be prepared to think creatively and radically about how to shape the future. To that end, producers, directors and writers have joined together in the Filmmakers’ Alliance to jointly move forward on the opportunities presented by the Report, and in particular how funds earmarked for reinvestment in future film development and production should be accessed and deployed.
'Finally we thank Lord Smith and the entire Review panel and support team for their hard work and urge a fast track route to the adoption of the key proposals. To that end we look forward to working with the BFI to put these dynamic proposals into practice.'
By Olivia Hetreed
It's strange what politicians do to themselves - you have an open goal and so you shoot yourself in the foot.
The 'film community' as the media likes to have it, is all poised to welcome the Film Policy Review (FPR), in which Chris Smith and industry advisers have taken very careful soundings across the industry and come up with some bold but practical suggestions to help film-makers reach audiences, grow their businesses and sustain the industry rather than stumbling from one project to the next. But before that review can be launched next Monday, as already organised by the Department for Culture Media and Sport with Ed Vaizey and others due to speak, the Prime Minister makes a pre-emptive announcement and sets the commercial cat amongst the creative pigeons.
As far as one can tell from the early hints and whispers about the FPR there is no suggestion that funding will be withdrawn from arthouse projects or that Mike Leigh or any other film-maker is being sent off the pitch. Rather there is a push to allow independent producers to build businesses and attract investment by enabling them to hold on to some of the recoupment from their films, should they be successful.
And coupled with this, in response to the very strong case argued by the Writers' Guild, together with producers' organisation PACT and Directors UK, the bodies representing the key creative triumvirate of producer, writer and director, a recognition that creators need to be connected to the outcome of their work. At present it makes no difference if a film is successful or not: unless it is an absolute runaway hit the filmmakers have no way to access the revenues generated. So when they come to make their next film they must start all over again from scratch, raising money, selling all their interest in the project to get it financed - and once again being unable to build a company, fund the crucial development of ideas into scripts, or even sustain a career in which they are a proven success.
Amanda Nevill signalled the new role of the BFI very helpfully last spring at the British Screen Advisory Council conference when she said the BFI wanted to stand beside filmmakers not between them and government (the position taken by the UK Film Council). This is what the FPR seems to be following up on: arguing for sustainable funding policies and collaboration between distribution and production and among the filmmakers themselves.
While we have to wait till Monday for the full story let's not start despairing as some knee-jerk response, when we might just be looking at a good news story that somebody has accidentally spun the wrong way!
Olivia Hetreed is Chair of the Writers' Guild Film Committee
Robin Squire's cautionary tale for screenwriters
Back in 1996 a producer told me he knew a woman who wanted her unpublished story developing into a feature film. 'She’s not in the business and she’s not a writer,' he advised, 'but she needs a script to get things moving.'
Being moderately-to-suicidally under-employed at the time, I agreed to have a go. Her ‘story’ was no more than a rambly outline, but I could see the possibilities. Not till after some financial skirmishing did a modest sum change hands, for, well-shod as the lady was, it seemed not to have occurred to her that any payment might be involved.
So off I went. My agent showed my early draft to a bankable director, who said yes. A money-hunting young producer came aboard, then a sales agent, line producer and casting director. A deal was done, a contract signed, all was looking rosy and my bank manager’s eye was starting to lose its glazed expression.
However, it wasn’t long before I became aware of, like phantoms in a graveyard, the figurative corpses of other writers who had been similarly ‘hired’ by this in every other way charming and delightful woman. If I’d hoped for a smooth transition from page to screen I was in for a protracted time of tortuous and torturous disillusionment to the point where I felt like the bemused writer played by Alexei Sayle in the Comic Strip’s film The Strike, who ended up hurling his typewriter away. And then, as inevitably as a creeping virus, it became apparent that although the industry professionals involved were happy enough with my script, the lady was not. Furthermore, she had decided to be the screenwriter herself, despite the trifling disadvantage of never having written anything before.
Parallel with these disturbing developments I chanced to meet a glamorous young actress/singer, down on her luck, handing out leaflets in the street for a temp agency, and became drawn into her very different world of entertainment. Older than her as I was, we nonetheless struck up a companionship which in time developed into something more as life played its vindictive games with two freelancing souls instead of just the one, and so drew us together.
Her dynamic musical trio subsequently nearly made the big-time, attracting a hot showbiz manager, with their first gig at the London Palladium and Decca standing by with a recording contract. But, as with the ‘Britflick’, there was a fatal flaw attached. After high heady hopes on her part, the group split up and she found herself entertaining solo in lunch clubs and Care Homes for the Elderly throughout southern England to scrape a living income, during which experience – despite my terminal shyness which makes me more suited to joining a silent brotherhood who only meet at mealtimes and even then sit with their backs to each other, I became part of her act, introducing her on the microphone, telling gags and eventually singing duets with her on a journey of personal discovery that turned my increasingly beleaguered world on its head in a whole new way.
Jody Medland on his journey from Candidate Member to Full Member of the Writers’ Guild
It was eight years ago that I moved to London, and two years before that when I started writing on a serious level. As a young man whose adolescence felt wasteful and occasionally reckless, I enrolled upon a selection of A-levels that included film studies, English Literature and psychology. At the time, my choices felt quite random and were certainly not aimed at forging a potential career for myself. After all, the subjects were chosen by a 16-year-old boy whose career adviser had just told him his ideal job would be working in an independent hardware store in North Devon, so my confidence wasn’t exactly thriving! Inadvertently, though, the classes all seem to have had an influence on where I am today.
To be honest, my heart wasn’t overly invested in college. I knew that I loved telling stories and that I was passionate about films, but I had known that for years. What did stir a reaction from me, however, was the fact that my teacher in film studies was a failed director who seemed incredibly bitter when it came to young talent. This led to much frustration as I felt that I was in an environment where I could excel, but there were times when he refused to help me, and given that he was also the head of the film department, there was little I could do. One day, in a particularly heated exchange, he said the words ‘You will never make a film-maker’ to me. It was at that precise moment that both my direction and my motivation became clear.
Having learned that instances such as this could hold back your education, I decided that university wasn’t the route for me. Therefore, I left college immediately and got on a train to London. I had £400 in my bank account at the time, and I used it to make a feature film. To call the film amateurish is, of course, a complete understatement, but the process of writing the screenplay, auditioning and rehearsing with actors and physically shooting the film was enough to show me that I’d finally found something I loved.
So when I returned to Devon I worked at a video store during the day and put my insomnia to good use by writing through the night. Before I knew it, I’d saved enough money to move to London.
Once the move was complete, I threw myself into finding on-set work experience, which came in the form of several television commercials, and I can honestly say that I learned more about the industry over the course of one 14-hour day than I did in my 18 months at college.
My writing was getting stronger and my contacts were growing. I also started to develop showreels as a director and, when I was 21, I directed a short film called Over The Edge, which was shot on super 35mm, screened at Bafta and received a glowing review in an international film magazine. At that point, I felt certain that my career as a writer-director was about to take off, but that elusive breakthrough project was not forthcoming.
A joint event from the Writers' Guild, Directors UK, Equity and PACT
Are you a writer with a project to pitch, a director looking for your next script, a producer looking for cast and writing and directing talent, or a television actor looking to move into film?
If you’re looking to work on a professional independent film project, then this is for you.
The Writers' Guild, Directors UK, Equity and PACT have teamed up to bring you an evening of Indie Film Networking as part of the BFI London Film Festival. At this cross-networking event we’ll bring together 100 writers, directors, actors and producers to attend a special session at BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly, on the evening of Tuesday 25 October.
To apply, send us information on your project and we will play matchmaker for the top 25 compatible members from each organisation.
Qualifying criteria for writers
The event is open to all Full Members of the Writers' Guild with professional writing credits (in film, television or theatre) with a project prepared. There are a limited number of places and all qualified submissions will be entered into a draw.
Send us one A4 page (max) on:
- Why you want to attend
- Who you would most like to meet and why
- What sort of project you have
If this event is successful, we will be looking at the possibility of running further events outside London.
Creative England officially started work today (3rd October 2011), supporting a wide range of industries outside London, including film, television and games.
Creative England was formed when, in November 2010, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey announced that the network of regional screen agencies outside London would transform into Creative England, 'a simpler, more efficient structure with an expanded remit to support the creative industries across England'. The UK Film Council was also abolished, with the majority of its responsibilities moving to the BFI and Film London.
Creative England now receives government Grant-in-Aid from the British Film Institute (BFI) to support the strategic development of film in the English regions, and is a BFI delegated body for the distribution of National Lottery funds for film.
The Film Culture Fund will be the first Creative England scheme to open for applications on 17 October 2011.
Talent Development funding will open for applications from November 2011. There will be support for organisations and networks working with talent on a local/regional level, and for individuals, such as writers, directors and producers.
Preparations are also underway for an English regions-wide digital feature film initiative, which will provide an integrated development, production and training offer to writer/director/producer teams who have already demonstrated exceptional ability and vision in relation to their work in shorts, television, theatre and other related fields. This is planned to launch in late 2011/early 2012.
Full Talent Development funding guidelines will be made available on the Creative England website in November.
The Government has announced a review of film policy, to be led by former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Chris Smith.
He will chair an eight-strong independent panel of film industry experts, including writer Julian Fellowes and representatives from the new Board of the British Film Institute (BFI), which recently became the lead body for the delivery of film policy in the UK.
Lord Smith and the panel are expected to issue a call for evidence next month and produce their report by the end of the year. They will look across the UK film industry considering film development and production, distribution and exhibition, and inward investment.
Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey said: 'Through this review Chris Smith will bring the different branches of the industry together to identify what the key problems are and then look at how these can be tackled. We need to work hand-in-hand with the recently strengthened BFI and the industry to find solutions and make sure that the Government has a framework of policies that support successful business models, nurture our celebrated film talent, contribute to economic growth and create a flourishing film culture across the whole of the UK.'
The panel will help set the Government’s strategic direction for how the UK film industry can best be supported to develop successful business models that allow them to contribute to economic growth whilst nurturing our celebrated film talent and engaging with UK audiences.
Chris Smith said: 'We want to hear from the industry, from film-makers, from experts, from audiences, and from all who have a contribution to make to the debate. Getting the right framework of policy in place for supporting British film is the challenge we are aiming to address.'
The review panel will comprise:
- Will Clarke – Independent Cinema Distributor, founder and former CEO of Optimum Releasing
- Lord Julian Fellowes, Oscar-winning writer and actor
- Matthew Justice, UK Film Producer and MD of Big Talk Productions
- Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Tim Richards, Chief Executive of Vue entertainment
- Tessa Ross, Channel 4 Controller of Film and Drama
- Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television at Olswang
- Iain Smith, film producer and Chair of the British Film Commission Advisory Board
Guild submits response to the Creative England consultation
In response to the consultation document published by Creative England earlier this year (pdf), the Writers' Guild Film Committee has submitted answers to a series of questions.
Creative England, which will formally commence operations in October 2011, replaces the previous network of Regional Screen Agencies (RSAs) which operated across England. The organisation will be based in three 'Hubs' which will operate from Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester but its activities will cover all the English Regions.
Here is the full text of the Guild's response to the consultation:
The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) represents all kinds of professional writers in the UK, including screenwriters in film and television and videogames writers. Affiliated to the TUC, it plays a vital role in supporting an almost entirely freelance workforce. It puts forward the voice of writers to government and industry.
The WGGB negotiates agreements with broadcasters, theatre managers and producers. It speaks for writers at regional and UK level and has branches in the regions and nations. It arbitrates in disputes over credit and supports writers over unpaid contracts and other problems. It administers pension plans and digital rights payments for writers.
Since many members of the WGGB live in the regions and are involved in developing creative projects the future of regional government support is of crucial interest to the Guild.
Do you agree that the strategic priorities are the right ones?
'The three strategic priorities are developing creative talent, nurturing film culture and helping to maximise inward investment.'
While the Guild supports these aims it has significant concerns as to how Creative England plans to deliver on them.The great strength of the existing RSAs has been in developing local networks, fostering local talent and backing this up with modest but crucial investment. It is a matter of concern to the Guild that three hubs to cover the whole country will not be able to fulfil this local function and will simply be a window dressing version of regionalism, which will be less effective at developing creative talent at regional level and more expensive than honestly admitting that there is no governmental will to fund regionalism and abandoning the project.
How can Bristol-based talent finders or minders have boots on the ground in Margate and Land's End? Or Northumberland for Birmingham? And if they are not actually in the region, then in an era of global connectivity, what will they be able to do that could not be done equally well from an office in London?
A summary of the film credits arbitration process has been published by the Writers' Guild
Credits Arbitration is one of the Guild’s most important services to its members. It protects the professional reputation of every screenwriter by making sure that the credit each receives is accurate and appropriate.
In the interests of transparency and to clarify its arbitration process the Guild's Film Committee decided that it was important for the essence of how the service worked in practice to be published on the website in order to aid both writers and those working with writers.
The procedure outlined is all about integrity. The process itself is discreet and without prejudice. The result is binding on all parties.
The short document below captures the essence of the Guidelines.
Download further details of the arbitration process (pdf).
Update (12.04.11): This article has been revised to reflect the fact that the guidelines are 'new' (ie it is the first time they have been published) but the process has not been 'revised' as previously stated.
Creative England, the new organisation that will replace the network of Regional Screen Agencies (RSAs)which operated across England has opened a consultation on its plans and priorities.
The organisation, which will formally commence operations in October this year, will be based in three hubs operating from Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, but its activities will cover all the English Regions.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has confirmed that for the year 2011/12 Creative England will have an initial budget of around £2.5m Grant in Aid and roughly £2m Lottery funding for film from the British Film Institute (BFI). Creative England says that it will use this core support to leverage additional funds from other public and private sources.
Creative England has identified three strategic priorities for its film activities in 2011/12:
- Developing creative talent - in conjunction with the BFI, Skillset, Film London and industry partners.
- Nurturing film culture - in partnership with the BFI, Arts Council England and others, to support innovative approaches to the exhibition and distribution of film, that increases choice and grows audiences
- Helping to maximise inward investment - in partnership with Film London (which will have an expanded remit taking over the Office Of the British Film Commissioner) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
Creative England says that it ‘will not be a new quango’. Instead, it will be a joint venture company of existing agencies with no extra costs or staffing.
Their consultation, which closes on 31 March 2011, is asking organisations and individuals the following questions:
- Do you agree that the strategic priorities are the right ones?
- What comments do you have on the aims and objectives attached to each priority?
- How can Creative England best build upon the work of the Regional Screen Agencies in supporting these priorities?
- What are the key challenges, in addition to funding?
- How can Creative England best ensure that these priorities are delivered in a way that meets the needs of all the English Regions?
Guiding Lights, the British film industry’s highest profile mentoring programme, is now accepting applications. Twelve screenwriters, directors and producers will be selected to take part in the fourth round of the scheme, due to launch in June 2011.
Guiding Lights supports and develops promising UK-based filmmakers through high-level mentoring complemented by a range of training and networking activities. Successful applicants will each be matched with a well-established film industry professional who will provide advice and guidance over a 9-month period. During this time a number of face-to-face meetings will take place with phone or email contact in between as appropriate.
Alongside the one-to-one mentoring, participants will benefit from a number of industry training and networking events, including during the Galway Film Fleadh and London Film Festival. Further access to high-level filmmakers and business professionals will be facilitated by an online networking facility.
Writers are eligible to apply if they:
- Are a UK resident
- Have had at least one piece of work produced OR optioned. This can include shorts, features, TV drama, novels and plays for the theatre or radio
- Have written a minimum of one feature-length script (this does not necessarily need to have been produced)
- Have at least one other feature-length script in development.