Continuing our series of articles from the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, Film Ireland’s own Niamh Creely reports from the UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition and Story Campus at the 2012 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
This year’s JDIFF had a lot to offer screenwriters looking to perfect their pitch and there’s more to come this May.
This year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) was as successful as ever, filling the city with cinema from across the world andIreland. But along with the premieres and Q&As, there were also some excellent events aimed at encouraging the source of good film: screenwriters. Two of the events, the UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition and Story Campus, focused on what you need to do after you’ve had your big idea – get other people on board.
On Friday, 24th February, a group of hopeful writers and filmmakers gathered to pitch their idea to a panel in a cinema filled with onlookers. The UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition, in association with Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board (IFB) and JDIFF, selected five finalists from almost 200 entries to pitch their projects in the Lighthouse cinema and win an award of up to €16,000. The session, chaired by the IFB’s development executive Andrew Meehan, was a chance for the finalists to present their idea to an industry panel of leading Irish producer James Flynn, actor and writer Mark O’Halloran, talent agent Charlotte Kelly and JDIFF festival director Gráinne Humphreys in front of a public audience.
You might have thought the theme ‘1916’ would have yielded fairly homogenous results but the variety of ideas pitched was impressive. It varied from broad comedy with Hugh Travers’ The Players, a black comedy about ex-IRA members who join an amateur drama group; to Anne Marie Casey and Joseph O’Connor’s biopic Grace 1916, the story of Grace Gifford, an artist and icon of a revolution; Jasmina Kallay’s alternate history Das Irland that asks the question ‘what if promised German help had materialised in 1916?’; and Virginia Gilbert’s drama about the truly enigmatic Paidraig Pearse The Boys.
However, it was Jamie Hannigan and Michael Kinirons’ noir thriller Come Monday, We Kill Them All that deservedly took the prize. The story follows a down-on-his-luck smuggler who reluctantly agrees to help a wealthy politician find his missing daughter only to become embroiled in murder, conspiracy and rebellion. Those in the audience had not read the excerpt the panel had received in advance but in just a few minutes this project already had the feel of a complete world.
Another outstanding event for screenwriters was Story Campus, which took place in the Light House on Saturday, 18th February. Led by filmmaker David Pope and director and screenwriter David Keating, Story Campus was an all-day event. We heard from producers David Collins (Once) and Brendan McCarthy (Breakfast on Pluto)and writer/directors Margaret Corkery (Eamon), Marian Quinn (32A) and Carmel Winters (Snap), and writer John Banville (Albert Nobbs).
It was fascinating to hear the individual preferences of the people you probably want to approach with your idea and quite handy to know who prefers shorts below 10 minutes and who doesn’t want to read anything over 90 pages in a feature script.
The day was filled with little insights. One of the ones I took away was the observation that when you are communicating your idea in a presentation you should speak at a speed at which your own words can affect you – otherwise they won’t affect anyone else. And of course – don’t forget to introduce yourself!
Story Campus was such a success that Filmbase and the two Davids have got together and will be bringing us another edition on the 2nd of May 2012. I spoke to Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild member David Keating to learn more about how these workshops came about.
What’s you background in film?
I started as a runner in post-production and then worked up the grades as an assistant director in Ireland and then the UK. I got my break as a director making docs for Channel 4 and RTÉ and then changed direction and became a screenwriter, working in Los Angeles and London. I got my first writing credit on Jim Sheridan’s script for Into the West and then got to direct some TV drama and then co-wrote and directed Last of the High Kings and, more recently, Wake Wood. For the last few years I have also directed theatre.
When did you first start running events like this?
I got interested in the workshop process when the producer Noëlle Deschamps brought the Sundance model to Europe and created the screenwriting lab called Equinoxe. I got offered a place as a writer on one of the early workshops in France and realised how much you can advance your project when there’s generous people on hand to share their knowledge and experience and you can stay open to what you hear about your work. Noëlle Deschamps asked me to make a film about the Equinoxe process (a screenwriting workshop) and then later she got me to kind of rep Equinoxe in Ireland. So in recent years I’ve tried to help Irish projects go to the workshop – to Equinoxe Germany in particular, which I think has been pretty successful.
Basically, a script lab is a great way to help make a good film project become even better. As I got to make more films I was invited to be a mentor on a number of workshops in Europe and Africa including Moonstone, Equinoxe Germany, and Maisha Film Lab – which is Mira Nair’s initiative for East African directors and writers – so I’ve done that kind of stuff on and off for a while and I sometimes run workshops at film schools and universities. I recently ran a day for MBA students at Oxford, which was very interesting. Last year I was asked to put together the Project Hot House workshop for Screen Training Ireland and the IFB, which was in some ways based on the Equinoxe/Sundance model but also experimented with some new ideas and, I think, worked very well. Running workshops is a bit like making a film in that there’s a lot of planning and, also like films, they have a life of their own, which means they usually have some fantastic hiccups and left turns. I’m a filmmaker first and foremost and I’d rather have something to watch on screen at the end of the day but workshops have a special magic. Running them, you get to learn at least as much as the participants, plus they’re endlessly surprising and dare I say fun, so again, much like films. I’m enjoying doing both whenever I can.
What does the workshop involve?
Story Campus is a workshop that filmmaker and trainer David Pope and I designed to explore key areas we think are important if you want to get a film made. De-mystifying the process is pretty high on our agenda. David and I are both filmmakers so we concentrate on what we think is important in getting projects green-lit, which in a nutshell comes down to being able to tell your story well using a variety of materials and formats. Irrespective of whether you’re writing a script, meeting an actor, pitching to a financier, or if you’re a director walking onto a film set, the big issue facing you is storytelling. But like I said, Story Campus is principally about helping people get their films made, but bear in mind it’s not like David and I are big story gurus – much of this is common sense. Getting films into production usually involves a certain showbiz thing, not to mention luck. But it’s also art and craft and business all rolled together and as the film industry is evolving rapidly so are the ways for us to present our stories so that they make an impact. So we try to help people understand what filmmakers are up against on a daily basis trying to get films off the ground and how to deal with those challenges. As David Pope would say, we try to get people past the feeling that they have to ask permission from someone to go out and make a film.
How can writers get the most out of the workshop?
To get the most out of any workshop – Story Campus included – I’d say writers, directors, producers should try to come with enthusiasm and energy. Come to share what you know and don’t worry about having your pen poised to write down that all-important note. Listen. Contribute. Throw yourself into meeting lots of people and talking and doing stuff and taking risks, and parking your ego, and being open, and then staying open if you’re lucky – for as long as you can. I mean come on, it’s not like Story Campus is so intimidating, it’s a very friendly atmosphere, and it’s not like we get people to chant and roll on the floor… although…. hmmm… maybe next year! Ok, just kidding.
This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Summer 2012 issue 141, published 26th April 2012.