(Pic: Passing, A 2009 Galway Film Centre RTÉ short winner directed by David Freyne)
The Galway Film Centre recently hosted an information session for this year’s Short Film Awards, co-sponsored by RTÉ. The two winning projects will receive €9,500 in funding as well as equipment and facilities provided by the Centre.
The afternoon kicked off with a screening of some of the recent winning films and was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Declan Gibbons, GFC manager. The speakers included a number of past winners: Keith Bogue (writer, The Day Trippers), Thomas Hefferon (co-writer/director, Switch), David Freyne (writer/director, Passing), James Phelan (writer/director, The Ottoman Empire), Conor Ferguson (writer/director, The Wednesdays), and AnneMarie Naughton (producer, The Wednesdays). Also featured on the panel were Eilish Kent (RTÉ Development Executive Drama), script reader James Finlan, and Galway film doyenne Leila Doolin.
Each of the filmmakers gave a brief account of their background as well as how their project came together, and then the floor was opened up to questions. The nuggets of advice dispensed revolved not just around effective approaches to the application process but also how to generally go about crafting a successful short film.
While many complain that there is a sameness to the body of short films that get made each year, Eilish Kent stressed that they are indeed always looking for the offbeat and unusual, but too often a great idea is undone by poor execution on the page. Voluminous numbers of scripts are submitted each year, and the primary criticism, echoed several times, was poorly written scripts that haven’t had enough work poured into them. The revision process was stressed, as was the need for getting as many people as possible to read one’s script. Cut out all fluff and superfluous elements, and strive for clarity at all times.
Typos are an obvious pet peeve that always bears repeating. Too much dialogue is another recurring problem. Film is a visual medium, particularly in short film, and wall-to-wall dialogue tends to put off readers. An overreliance on film jargon or camera angles can also work against the piece. The visuals should be conveyed in the writing. By the time a script is submitted, it should be honed down to a finely tuned piece of work
Another issue is length. For years, upwards of fifteen minutes was acceptable in short film/festival circles. According to Eilish Kent, however, the trend lately has been towards films with a maximum ten minutes running time. This is of particular importance when considering the handful of television broadcasters that programme short films. Accordingly, writers should endeavour to keep their script in the 10-12 page range, if not shorter.
A thick skin is also required. Rejection should be looked upon as part of the process, not the end of the road. Many of the projects had been submitted once or twice before finally succeeding. Some of them had even proceeded to the interview stage. One should learn from the application/interview process, then go back and rewrite their script again.
If one does make it to the interview stage, preparation is key. The style notes submitted along with the application should be as well thought out as script itself. Thomas Hefferon was particularly insightful on this matter, recounting how he showed up for his interview with ninety pages of notes that included detailed storyboards. Furthermore, he deconstructed his script to such a degree that he felt there was no possible question that he wouldn’t be ready for. Not surprisingly, he got the film award.
Finding a producer for a project can prove problematic, even for a shortlisted piece. In one instance, over fifty producers were queried. James Phelan approached an up-and-coming production company in the area where he envisioned shooting the piece. David Freyne and Keith Bogue both utilised production companies they had set up with colleagues. There is no hard and fast rule except one must be persistent and creative.
As far as the actual production, perhaps the most salient piece of recurrent advice was, despite budget restrictions, always aim high. Approach the name actors and well-regarded DPs, as well as other top behind the scenes personnel – the worst they can do is say no. They may actually come on board for any number of reasons, from wanting to keep busy or expand their CV, to simply having an affinity for the script. Favour trading or calling on friends are also time-honoured practices. Finding locations that need minimal dressing up is also a time and money saving advantage. Again, preparation, persistence and creativity are all key.
The deadline for this year’s Galway Film Centre/RTÉ Short Script Awards is 11th March. Guidelines and application info can be found at www.galwayfilmcentre.ie