Screenwriters’ Festival Launch (again)

So last night I went to the second launch night for this year’s SWF and I’ve got to say the evening was a bit of blur … not because it involved any kind of great rampage on my behalf  (it’s kind of hard to get that effect with a cup of tea and a diet coke)nor was it bewildering, star-strucking (which I know isn’t a real word – but it should be) or fast moving … no. Last night ws a bit of a blur because I forgot to take my glasses.

I’m new to the whole glasses wearing game and rarely remember to take them anywhere. In fact, I wear them so infrequently I often forget I actually wear glasses at all and sometimes spend weeks at a time wondering why the world is out of focus. So even though we (me, Piers, Michelle, Jason, Helen and Elena) were sitting on the second row (which Piers complained about) the people on stage were a little fuzzy.

I could give you a blow by blow account of who said what and when, but I’m fairly certain since journalist extraordinaire Arnopp was sitting not four seats away – he’ll be covering all that. Instead, I thought I’d give you my impressions of the underlying message and the the reality of screenwriting in the UK.

Just so you know roughly what happened while we’re waiting for Jason to pull his finger out …

Some drinks.

David Pearson (Festival Director) and Kevin Loader (Chairman) introduced the evening.

Two writers who are finalists in the ScriptMarket initiative talked about how difficult it is to break into the industry.

Two agents, Rob Kraitt (A P Watt) and Matthew Bates (Sayle Screen), talked about how hard it was for writers to break into the industry and how there actually isn’t really an industry as such to break into.

Christopher Hampton talked about how difficult it was to get a film made after you’d broken into the industry and then given up and gone to America (he’s written 42 scripts – 14 have been produced, the other 28 vanished up their own arses).

And then we had some more drinks.

A lot of what was said is interesting but the basic message I kept getting from everyone on stage and everyone asking questions in the audience was scriptwriting in the UK looks something like this:

Scriptwriting in the UK1

There are only a couple of companies with money and thousands of people jumping through increasingly smaller hoops to compete for a minuscule amount of money which has almost no chance of making you rich but might, just might, if you’re very, very lucky make you a modest living.

Getting a film made under these conditions is nigh on impossible but it does happen so although it’s mostly fruitless, it has to happen to someone so don’t give up. Even though most of you aren’t good enough and haven’t got a hope in hell.

Hmm … inspiring stuff.

But hang on, I can’t help thinking this is only half the picture.

While all these people were talking about it being virtually impossible to get a project off the ground … I’ve had seven feature films produced and haven’t had to jump through a single hoop.

One of the the writer/finalists mentioned the Microwave Feature Fund – where 90 odd projects were competing for 2 lots of funding. Funding which, if memory serves (and it probably doesn’t), is a maximum of £100,000 … so nobody’s doing that for the money. Getting that kind of funding means you can make a feature film for almost nothing as a calling card and hope it will lead onto better things, whilst basking in the satisfaction of having achieved what should be your real goal – getting the script right.

I firmly believe the script should be the writer’s ultimate goal – getting it to the point when you’re proud of it and other people think it’s good enough to get made. The feature film is the bonus at the end and belongs to the cast and crew – they made the film, you wrote the script – the two things are different.

The script is your work, your product and I think should be your ultimate goal. The produced feature film is the advert someone else makes to promote your product – your next script.

So if you’re resigned to not making much money at first and just want to get some adverts for you as a writer into the market place, then why spend all your time and attention competing for the one egg? There is another way and I’ve had seven feature films made to prove it.

True, only one of them has actually been finished so far, so it’s an experiment with no proper conclusion and may turn out to be hopelessly inaccurate – but it seems to me the full picture of screenwriting in the UK is this:

Scriptwriting in the UK

You may need to clicky clicky make biggy biggy in order to see it properly.

Or you may not. Maybe you don’t need glasses or actually wear the ones you have?

There are a lot of very rich people in this country who are happy to hand over a £100,000 in return for telling their mates (and the people they want to sleep with) they’re in the film business.

There is a lot less competition in this sector of the industry and no hoops to jump through, hence mediocre writers like me can easily get films produced … so why aren’t more people doing it?

Or maybe they are and I’m just not paying attention?

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Categories: Festivals, Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Screenwriters’ Festival Launch (again)

  1. Dear Phill, where do you find these people you call ‘rich’?

  2. Lara

    Very very true words Phil.

    It baffles me why people don’t seek out the private investment path more often. Look, private investors are never going to come to anyone’s front door knocking – but neither do most breaks in the industry anyway.

    The way I see it (and have had this discussion many times recently) is with the general market/trade the way it is, the Big Bucks Folks have shit themselves and pulled most of their cash from under the Big Banker Boys’ feet. This then leaves the Big Bucks Folks with lots of cash and nowhere to stash…enter the film maker. Ok – so no guarantee of a MEGA return on their money, but hey – you know what? They may actually get their exact money back or even a SLIGHT return! Wowser. Now there’s a revelation…

    Jump to it people! Seek and ye shall find.

  3. Is it wrong that those diagrams are turning me on?!!

  4. Pingback: Agents Q&A « Michelle Lipton

  5. I’m over here. I know, I’m a terrible nuisance, moving around all the time. But I did write up all the agents’ Q&A stuff if that makes anyone feel any better about it. You’d best read it quick before I change my mind and delete it all again.

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