I put my networking hat on last night and attended a Euroscript Open Evening with UK Film Council Chief Executive, John Woodward and Tanya Seghatchian and Chris Collins from the Development Fund. It was an interesting evening, with doses of pessimism, optimism, but most of all realism. Here are the selective highlights.
Following a question about the state of the British film industry, John stated that statistically, it’s healthier than it’s been for years and growing. He conceded that the perception is guided by the media, where it’s either a great success or in critical condition. One year we have winners in Cannes, the next year we don’t have any movies there. But wait a moment, maybe we have some at Toronto instead. Overall he insisted there is more good news than bad. But, he did strike a note of caution when he asserted that he believed there were tough times ahead over the next few years, especially for independent production companies. The main reasons for this are the growing complexities and difficulties in actually financing movies.
Question: Do screenwriters need to think about these market conditions when writing, or just get their head down and write?
Tanya: Don’t paralyze yourself with doom and gloom credit crunch and market issues. But at the same time never forget that you’re writing for an audience. You need to hold onto that and consider whether what you are creating is something an audience will want to see.
Question: There is a perception that development is financially starved. Do you find this?
Chris: The Film Council, BBC Films and Film Four has a decent amount of development money.
Tanya: Obviously there is our development fund. It’s a completely open door scheme. No need for an agent or any experience. It’s there for writers who have just been sitting at home writing a script. But, it still has to be high quality. The obligation is on the writer to make sure that the work is as good as possible before you submit it anywhere. After that, if the work is good, if you have a voice, you will get noticed. Because at the end of the day everyone wants to find the hot new script and new writing talent.
Chris: Keep in mind that we receive 25-30 First Feature Fund applications per week. So far, we have funded 15 projects this year and 3 or 4 of those have been from writers with no agent or industry experience. They then worked with us for 6 months, with hands on script editing support. Ultimately, the idea is these scripts go into production but even if the end result is just to get the writer an agent, it’s achieved some measure of success.
Question: Although the classic question is what are you looking for, is there anything you aren’t looking for?
Tanya: That’s a hard one. What I do want is something readable. You want to turn the page from page one. It sounds silly but when you’ve read thousands of scripts you may not necessarily be surprised, but you want to be engaged. Then there’s the usual stuff, a clear beginning, middle and end. If it’s a comedy, be funny. If it’s a thriller, be thrilling etc. This might be vague but it doesn’t make it less true. Read and watch and analyse as much as you can because the next writer would’ve done and the reader you are trying to impress certainly would’ve done.
John: It’s an old cliché but FRESH is the key word. Let’s face it there are a limited number of narratives and genres, but has it got something in there that’s different?
Tanya: Transport someone into a world you know better than anyone. One reason Harry Potter works so well is that that world is bullet proof. One script that blew me away was Being John Malkovitch. I read it before it was the big hit it later became and however mad the idea sounded, it took you into a fascinating world.
Chris: Films should be entertaining. You need to remember that. There’s a bit of a British thing that sees a lot of history scripts and biopics. That’s fine. We welcome them. There’s nothing better than telling a story about something familiar with a new take on it. For example, the upcoming John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, written by Matt Greenhalgh, which focuses on Lennon's life as a teenager as seen through the eyes of his aunt and mother. But there is also a need for contemporary stories that are about something.
John: It’s worth noting that it’s easier to finance genre movies than straight drama. But the statistics and submissions seem much more weighted towards drama. This is dangerous if you want to create a commercial, profitable industry.
Chris: If you have a musical send it now! (Post Mama Mia they are desperate for them.)
Question: The application form calls for a 3-5 page treatment. What makes a good treatment for you?
Tanya: Treatments are really hard. They should be an evocation of the film. It should give over the mood and visual experience of the film. And it should be light, not leaden – easily readable in one sitting. (If someone puts your treatment down they may not pick it up again.) Don’t do the clichéd … (ellipsis) at the end and not tell say what’s going to happen. It’s a selling document that then does nothing.
So all in all it was another good evening by Euroscript. These events are free too, so even more of a reason to keep an eye out for future ones and come along. The only sour point was my kippa (that's the Jewish skullcap) flying off down the Northern Line. But that's a whole other story.