Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brit Film #2: An Education

Once upon a time I was given a little known book called Fever Pitch. Unlike any football books at that time, it was not about the game or the players - it was about what it was like to be a fan. And not just any fan, but an Arsenal fan. Nick Horby's book, and subsequent movie, were for all of us, and as a result I have always had a special affinity for the author. His first two novels High Fidelity and About A Boy, were outstanding, and made impressive movie adaptations. Back in 2002 I did some work experience at Working Title Films and was allowed a sneak peak at a script co-written by him and Emma Thompson. But a screenwriting career has never taken off for one reason or another. So it was with great interest that I came upon An Education, which didn't immediately suggest it was obvious movie material. (Nick Hornby himself writes about the trials and tribulations of getting not just this film off the ground, but the film industry in general. It makes fascinating, if a little scary, reading.)

I read the An Education script before I saw the movie, and thought it was beautifully crafted. Dave's script review (and my comments) can be read here. But what's interesting is that what works and what you can do on paper, is not necessarily the same on screen. For example, in the script, as I said in my comments, what really works is that David comes across as genuine and charming. You're a bit uncomfortable, but you get carried away with it just as Jenny does. On screen though, the image of David you have in your head is replaced by the very real 31 year old Peter Sarsgaard - and suddenly things are very uncomfortable indeed. It's harder to believe, despite the charisma and charm, how on earth Jenny's parents can let her swan around with this much older man. The fact that is based on Lynn Barber's memoirs (what on earth were her parents thinking!) is irrelevant. But in any event that shouldn't take anything away from the brilliant script and superb performances.

It's a fantastic character study. Jenny is by far and away the smartest person in the movie - but when the denouement comes and she realises she doesn't really know anything she needs to know to get by in this world, it's an incredible moment. By the same token, Alfred Molina as her father, Jack, is for the most part characterised in one way - ignorant, simple, a man who is very much what you see is what you get. And yet there is one scene which turns this on its head. Towards the end, he stands outside his broken hearted daughter's room and confesses he knows nothing about the world and has lived his life in fear. All her wanted for her was to not be like him. He wanted her to have an education - regardless of whether it came from Oxford or a man of the world like David. It's screenwriting of the highest order.

But why have a picked it for this series of analysing successful British films. Well it's pretty obvious isn't it. As with In the Loop it got an Oscar nomination. And not just one. But one for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. It's a classy movie and all those involved have had their reputations enhanced. And they also achieved the seemingly impossible. Despite being a drama (no one wants dramas... apparently) and a period piece (goodness me are they mad) according to internet figures it made over three times its budget. Not a hit, for sure. But actually more profitable than In the Loop. And hopefully, all this will make getting the next project off the ground for all those involved, that little bit easier.

Monday, 20 September 2010

And speaking of competitions...

... this looks like a pretty juicy one - and from extremely respectable and established companies too.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Competition Caution

There was an interesting blog on the Writers' Guild website the other day, generally speaking about script competitions, and more specifically about the ones run by Kaos Films.

What was particularly interesting is that it came after a reader of this blog had emailed me, during the period where the Kaos website was down and their emails were on the blink, to ask whether I'd heard anything about what was going on. I hadn't at that stage but we both did a little digging and then Kaos was suddenly up and running again with an apology and explanation as to what had happened.

In the comments section the subject of the somewhat AWOL Rise Summer Challenge was raised, as well some other interesting points that are worth checking out.

I should say clearly that as far as I'm aware, and as far as the general consensus seems to be, Kaos have always been true to their word, and although I don't know any of them personally, I don't have a bad word to say about them.

But the question of Script Competitions is certainly worth giving some thought. For example I know there are some that are dead against any of them. The theory being that if your script is good enough to win a competition, it's good enough to be picked up by a producer where you'll get a better deal anyway and not be locked into the competition company and rules.

The trouble is, it's increasingly hard to find people willing to read unsolicited scripts if you haven't got an agent, and when you're starting out, you're not going to have one. So competitions can provide both motivation, and an outlet for your work.

Is there a difference between competitions that charge an entry fee and those that don't? The fact is script competitions are a lot of work to run, never mind about what the prize on offer might be. So I don't think an entry fee is unreasonable. Three of the most established and respected, The Nicoll Fellowships, Blue Cat and Scriptapalooza, all require an entry fee. Then again, the biggest ones in this country, The BBC Writers' Academy and The Red Planet Prize, don't. The Sir Peter Ustinov Award also doesn't. There may be other stipulations, but that is a different issue. Kaos did require an entry fee, Rise didn't. But Kaos keep delivering films from their winning scripts, and Rise has disappeared without a trace.

So I think the most important thing for me is credibility. My own philosophy is that if I'm going to enter a competition with an entry fee, I decide first whether I can afford it! And then what is the track record? If it doesn't have one, if I haven't heard of any of the people involved, I will probably think twice. If it's free, then I might just bung it anyway cos what's to lose?

Unsurprisingly, my experiences with The International Emmys and Red Planet mean I am mostly in favour of script competitions. But it's definitely worth being cautious, especially with those who charge a fee.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bit of promotion, and why not

Dear Jez,
I hope you're well. I thought readers of your blog might be interested in hearing about a free feature screenplay competition at Circalit ( in partnership with the London Screenwriters’ Festival where the winner gets a £100 cash prize, a meeting with a top literary agent, and free tickets to the festival. I hope you will help us spread the word about this fantastic opportunity by posting about it on your blog. I’ve included a press release about the competition and the London Screenwriters’ Festival itself (see below) in case you are interested in writing about it.
Kind regards,

UK Film Industry Bounces Back at the London Screenwriters’ Festival
This year London is set to host the biggest screenwriting event in Europe as The London Screenwriters Festival makes its debut in October. The festival boasts a host of world famous speakers including Tim Bevan, Co-Chairman of Working Title, and the BBC’s Head Drama Commissioner, Ben Stephenson, and will draw in hundreds of screenwriters from across the globe.

The festival comes at a time when the UK film industry has suffered a series of losses. The demise of the UK Film Council has overshadowed the collapse of the New Producers Alliance and the end of the Cheltenham Screenwriters’ Festival as it goes into receivership.

Tim Bevan, Chairman of the UKFC, commented, “Scriptwriters and producers (and those who work with them) need a festival like this to share experiences and make sure that British scripts and films can compete in the global market.”Dean Craig, screenwriter and director of DEATH AT A FUNERAL added, “I'm really excited to be a part of the London Screenwriters' Festival. It's vital that this resource exists for writers at any stage of their careers to develop their skills and contacts.... It's going to be like Cannes for writers, but without the sun and yachts.”These comments come amid concerns that changes in industry funding and the effects of the recession will make it harder for screenwriters to get spec scripts produced.

Creative director of the festival and Oscar shortlisted film director, Chris Jones, commented, ‘With the emergence of new film technologies and the growing importance of online distribution, the number of film makers embarking on new projects has risen sharply over the last few years. Film making is increasingly being democratized. At the same time, the institutions that once supported the creative industries are collapsing around us. That is why we decided to create the London Screenwriting Festival to provide the invaluable support that writers need to turn their project into a reality.

The London Screenwriters Festival is a vibrant, illuminating and forward thinking gathering of creative professionals.’The three day event is taking place at Regents College in Regents Park, October 29th-31st 2010 and offers writer a series of seminars, workshops and events on film related subjects, including the chance for writers to pitch their screenplays directly to agents and producers.

Literary agent Julian Friedman commented, ‘Screenwriting is very often an isolated profession and the one thing holding many writers back , particularly in the UK, is a lack of industry contacts. The London Screenwriters Festival is a chance for writers to fully immerse themselves in the industry alongside many peers, whether you are an A-list writer or relative beginner. In a deep recession we all need to work hard to build relationships and stay abreast of industry developments so that we can find leads and niches which are relevant to our individual talents. The London Screenwriters’ Festival is designed to do this in spades.’US born festival manager David Chamberlain adds, ‘We have been amazed at the support and help offered to writers by people at the top of the industry. With over 60 speakers in attendance, every single aspect of the screenwriting industry will be in discussion. From writing masterclasses to seminars on self-producing or pitching your screenplay, it’s truly fantastic to see so much advice and so many opportunities being offered to emerging writers.”
Tickets cost £299, with discounts available.
For more information or to request an interview contact:
Judy Goldberg
London Screenwriters Festival
+44 (0)7850 122 370
Get an Agent with Circalit and the London Screenwriters’ Festival!
The London Screenwriters’ Festival have teamed up with Circalit to offer screenwriters a chance to get representation. Screenwriters are encouraged to enter the free competition at The winning writer will meet with a top London agent, get £100 and free tickets to the London Screenwriters’ Festival! The competition will be judged by the executive team at the London Screenwriters’ Festival and is free to enter. The deadline for submissions is October 15th. Creative director of the festival and Oscar shortlisted film director Chris Jones commented, “We’re very excited about this competition with Circalit. Circalit’s unique style of competitions don’t just give writers the chance to win prizes, but also to share their work, gain valuable feedback and make industry connections. Circalit are doing the screenwriting community a great service with their free online social network and we’re very pleased to be able to do a competition with them.”

Hannah Oddie
Marketing Manager

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Comedy, and a bit with a dog

I went to see Tamara Drewe last night and a couple of interesting things happened (possible spoilers coming)

Firstly, the film is a comedy. Most of the people in the cinema were laughing consistently all the way through. But towards the end the film either veers into black comedy, or turns away from comedy all together and becomes a drama to deliver an emotional pay off - I'm not quite sure which. But during this sequence a man gets trampled to death by a stampeding herd of cows - and there was a fair bit of laughter scattered across the cinema, including from the lady sitting next to me. A few minutes later and a dog got shot - and the same lady was literally covering her eyes she could barely begin to look. How very British.

Second thing - I was in the loo afterwards and overheard a couple of gents talking.
Gent 1: So what did you think?
Gent 2: Was alright. Quite funny in parts
Gent 1: Yeah
Gent 2: Gave up caring half way through though
Gent 1: I know what you mean

Whether I agree or disagree is not the point. What occurred to me was that (A) had I been the writer and overheard that I probably would've thrown up in the toilet there and then - and (B) everyone is going to have an opinion about the work you produce. And you are never, ever going to please all of the people all of the time.

So commiserations to those who got a pass from Red Planet yesterday - it really doesn't neccessarily mean your work is no good. And of course congrats to those who made it through.

Tonight sees the onset of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was almost a year ago that I started work on Dough and I realise I haven't updated you in a while. Well the script is basically finished (as much as any script can be whilst it's not actually been shot and edited.) It took virtually the whole year to go from outline, to treatment to many drafts (not telling how many) to get to the final one. And now starts the fun and games of trying to package it, as they say, and actually make it.

But for me, whilst I'm still working closely with Viva Films during that process, it's time to properly start a new project. Because juggling Dough, my part time job, my reading work, and life, has meant that I haven't really written anything else for a year. (aside from some pitch documents, one pagers etc.) I know what I'm going to work on. And I'll will keep in mind the lessons learned from last night.

Keep the audience laughing, keep them caring - and whatever you do, don't shoot a dog.