Taking the Screenplay Seriously

Jaap Mees
Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk






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"Craft is not a big monster, but a little servant"
There blows a new wind of hope and expectation through the British Film Industry.

You could sense new beginnings at the `Taking the Screenplay Seriously Seminar' at the Leeds International Film Festival. Here everybody, who is professionally engaged and cares for the script, as heart of the film, gathered in the modern West Yorkshire Playhouse. This colloquium was perfectly organised by the Northern Film School in Leeds and chaired in a charming and focused way by Alby James, head of Screenwriting from this Film School. We could see the new faces of the Film Council, Jenny Borgars, Head of Film Development, who chaired the first round, called Script Development, the writer's perspective, and Paul Trijbits, who is Head of The New Cinema Fund made some comments from the audience. And Chief Executive of the Film Council, John Woodward, concluded the day with an upbeat speech.

I missed the opening talk by American script consultant / writer Linda Seger. I heard afterwards, that it was very sharp, intelligent and inspiring. One American critic, whose name I forgot, pointed out the main faults in scripts: a lack of identification with the main character, a lack of cine-literacy by the writer, who tries to reinvent a genre that has been done before, and often better. And a failure to connect with the audience.

Producer David Aukin (former head of Film Four) added that scripts usually go too quickly in production, just to get the money. He said this in the second round of this seminar called Script Development, the producer's and distributor's perspective.

Very funny and entertaining was writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, who took the piss out of the whole film development bureaucracy, he said it's like
"persuading chickens to lay omelettes." Of course script development is a very essential training process, as Stephen Cleary, ex-British Screen, one of the best script developers, was quick to point out.

But political correctness and a humourless attitude can often block the creative process. Frank Cottrell Boyce, who often collaborates on scripts with the film’s director, like Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo), Arnand Tucker (Hilary and Jacky). He recently made the highly acclaimed film Pandaemonium, about the relationship between the Romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, with director Julien Temple. Temple, who was present too, said that the relationship between the writer and director is essential for every film. He thought it was now easier for a new filmmaker to get funding, than for a more established one.

Cottrell Boyce pledged ardently for films with a sense of urgency and necessity. Writer/director Gurinder Chada (Bhaji on the Beach) agreed with that, she added that we need a cinema of ideas, not of formulas. She said she rarely came across scripts with a vision, a personal touch, that moved her. Writer and head of script consultancy Spark Productions, Bart Gavigan was a advocate of the craft of screen-writing. Or in his own words: "craft is not a big Monster, but a little Servant."

In the closing block of this successful seminar Phil Parker, Course director in Screen-writing at the London College of Printing brought this day to a climax with his passionate and caring pledge for better training for writers. Not just writers, but also producers should be trained to understand the script better. "It's impossible to fix a screenplay in a couple of weeks. It's no point making a film, when the script is not as sharp and good as you can get it.”

Phil Parker was shocked when he heard up and coming writers telling him the only reason to write, was to see their names in light on the big screen.

There are too many of these people who stand in the way of true writers. He said:

"The quality of the scripts definitely has to be raised, what we need most of all is passionate writers, who have something to say and who connect with an audience!"

On the way back I was sitting in the train, next to Rachel Caplan and Chairman David Castro, from the ever active New Producers Alliance. The NPA looks for collaboration with The London International Film School, the Screenwriters Workshop and PACT, among others. They want to get the most out of the great potential of over 1300 new producers and film makers. That is what I mean by a new wind of hope blowing through British Film at the moment. 

This article is reproduced from www.free-spirits-film.co.uk with permission from the author. 

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