Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Pearls from Cheltenham

I've settled on a different approach to covering the Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival, as so many others have covered things in depth elsewhere. So here are a few soundbites that stuck in my head over the two professional days, all of which seemed wise:

Be a writer-producer, either in reality or in your mind: think like a filmmaker when you are writing (Bill Nicholson)

Read books on negotiating – beware of saying ‘Yes’ to your first offer, or signing whatever contract is put in front of you (David Kavanagh)

Join the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain and make use of its services (Julian Friedmann)

No one owes you a living as a screenwriter. If you think the money or treatment isn’t good enough – do something else (Julian, again, sugar-coating things as always - don't hold back, Julian, tell us how you really feel!!)

He's right, of course; but, to balance it out:

A professional is an amateur who didn't quit (Stuart Perry, but I'm only passing it on - I must have read it somewhere, possibly in Julian's wonderful ScriptWriter magazine)

Change the system for the better in whatever small way you can (Valentin Tubau)

Try to work on projects that excite you, or you find fun. A film will only be any good, if the writer has had fun doing it (Michael Goldenburg)

Tell the truth – it saves time (Michael Goldenburg again - and he backed this up with a great story about Tom Hanks, who - as producer of a film that Michael was in line to write - pitched his producer's idea of how the story would work. Michael thought about it overnight, and said 'No, I can't write it in that way, but good luck with it". Within days, Hanks was banging down his door to say "Okay then, how would you write it?")

The best notes are from people who know about life, not necessarily those who know about writing ((Sir) David Hare)

Advice is terribly cheap. If someone offers you input when they have no investment - monetary or emotional - in the project, disregard that advice (Sir David, again, who had a wonderful analogy for this behaviour: the people giving advice without investment are like the blondes in Casino movies that stand behind the cigar-chomping rich guys and say "Put it all on red, honey". If you don't pay, you don't get a place at the table!)

Good writing finds its way – it may take time, but it finds its way (Diana Ossana)

The battles you have when making a screenplay work will ultimately be battles with yourself. How far can you go against your own integrity? (Anthony Horowitz)

And this was only a fraction of the pearls of wisdom on offer. But I'm mindful that I haven't got any comments from the last two big sessions on the final day. So , a brief note on each:

Simon Oakes, of Hammer films, is working on building a slate of horror pictures - aiming for at least five low budget pics per year. He may be remaking some classic Hammer films, but he's also looking to the future, particularly for psychological horror scripts. You can pitch projects to Hammer, as long as you have an agent or a lawyer.

Stephen Frears. What can you say? If you get the chance, see him speak - he's always a good performer, and the unprepared interviewer should beware. But he also has some wonderful information for writers and directors. The main thing I took away from his session was that, if one can, one should work with a director like Stephen Frears, or - if one is really lucky - a director who is Stephen Frears. He brings no preconceptions to the project he wants to work on next, he just finds a script that excites him and makes as good a film as possible from it. And he works with the writer at every stage to achieve that. The results speak for themselves.


martin said...

Yes but how about the meeting? Why was it disasterous?? Had you forgotten what the script was about by the time you actually had it? Or just too hung over fot coherent speech? ;)

Stuart Perry said...

No, my meeting with Lizzie was great, and I'm working on a new draft of the screenplay now. My other attempt was a pitch to a producer I met in the Refreshments tent - that went less well. But you can't please all the people all the time.