As I start to think seriously about my Coming Up submission it felt like a good time to watch previously successful application, Sean Conway's Kings of London. It was on Channel 4 Sunday week ago but if you missed it, I think you can catch up here.
The film is about two brothers, both named Aristotle, with the same father but different mothers (who are sisters.) The younger brother witnessed his mother being decapitated in a road accident and has not spoken in ten years. The older brother, known as Totes, owes money to a pint size, gun wielding, pre-teen gangster. Aristotle is the champion ghetto rider, a group of young black men from rough neighborhoods who hold their own private horse races for money. Totes asks his brother to throw a race so he can pay off his debt. But all Aristotle has in the world is winning these races, and he cannot bring himself to do it. Totes is killed, bringing some sort of tragic catharsis for Aristotle.
The film is highly stylised, well shot and makes good use of its low budget. As writer/director, (which I always suspect is sneakily favoured by these schemes), Conway obviously had a fair degree of control over his material and he is building a reputation of making offbeat movies. Personally, from a subjective point of view, it wasn't really my cup of tea. In fact to be perfectly honest I often find short films annoying and pretentious. They are often used as a medium for director experimentation - and are frequently be a bit short of narrative story telling, something that I think is tacitly encouraged by the industry as a result of the films that it rewards. But as a writer, whenever I have written shorts my first aim has always been to tell a good story.
From looking at Kings Of London, Coming Up are certainly not kidding when they say they are looking for "bold ideas, strong voices, originality and films that push boundaries in a way that wouldn't / couldn't be done in mainstream drama." So this is not a competition to be holding back with. But, and again this is only my own opinion, I think that even within the remit they have given, you have to stay true to your own voice and preferred style. If you write more traditional stuff, that focuses more on plot and character substance over directorial style, I think it's best to stick to that and submit something that shows off your talent and what you're best at - and don't try and mimic someone else's style or what you think the scheme wants. I will always argue that stories can still be original and push boundaries with their subject matter and characters without having to abandon conventional story telling techniques.
That's what I'll be doing anyway... which will probably end in complete failure! But hey, I am a man of principal... and limited ability. I do hope though that at least a couple of the proposed 7 films Coming Up decides to make reflect, shall we say, more traditional forms of story telling. Good luck to everyone who is entering. You have one month to go.