10 Lessons from the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2013

Icon-Writing-150So, London Screenwriters’ Festival is over and some semblance of a new normal has emerged. It was a wonderful time, immersed in opportunity and community and I’ll be going again next year. There were some things I learnt whilst there, some of which relating to the festival itself, some of them related to writing and all of which I wish I knew ahead of time, so I’ll share them now:

  1. I won’t tease, I’ll put the most important one up front: Do everything! Seriously, don’t leave a thing out. Competitions for table reads or mentoring? It can’t hurt to try. Informal drinks ahead of time? Go! Meet everyone! Fill every slot of the festival itself, go to additional slots either side of the event, soak up as much as you can, attend every social. Meet people, drink with them, get to know them; they are your tribe, your supporters and cheerleaders.
  2. If you have a project, even if you think it’s not quite finished or sufficiently polished, Pitch It. Is it terrifying at first? Absolutely. But then it turns out you’re just spending five minutes talking to someone who wants to love your project as much as you do.  It might not go anywhere, but then you’ve lost nothing. Or it might open doors you couldn’t have imagined.
  3. Loglines. I’m probably going to do a separate post on loglines, but they’ve gone from being ‘those horrible things I’m not very good at writing, but if I have to‘ to ‘the most important thing ever‘. Seriously, do loglines for everything, polish them, practise them in front of people, writers and non-writers alike; do them for your feature, your TV serial, each episode of your serial, hell, do them for your characters, write one about yourself. Learn how to do a logline; at an event like LSF, and for the rest of your screenwriting career, you’ll need them.
  4. A word on Festival Preparation.  I did as much as I could ahead of time, so how did it all work out? Business cards: Yes! (A warning to some people: Put your damn email address on the business card!) Website branding? No. Loglines? See above. Pitch documents? Yes! Writers’ CV? Good to have, but nobody asked to see it. Script for Actor’s Table Read? Yes, dear god, don’t forget that! Printed schedule? Don’t bother, get a new one every morning from the registration desk.
  5. I am a total convert to the benefits of a Table Read. At LSF you had a director, a narrator and actors workshopping your script segment. But even if you don’t have that available to you, I absolutely recommend getting some people together to read out your dialogue. Only when you hear it out loud can you truly find your unnecessary or clunky dialogue. I read just the other day how most writers never hear their dialogue spoken out loud until they go to watch their movie. It’s too late then, get it done beforehand. Apparently next year’s LSF will have more Actor’s Table Read slots, and will also allow an audience.
  6. A word on Outlines. There was some debate as to the value of outlines, though the message often got muddied as to whether people were talking about outlines created ahead of the script to give it structure, or outlines created afterwards to describe the project in detail. You can’t get around the latter, so you may as well learn it as a skill. And the former? There were a lot of people who considered writing an outline ahead of time to be akin to The Man coming in and crushing all art and creativity out of a beautiful butterfly. Guess what? None of those people were professional screenwriters; even professionals that didn’t use them still knew their value. Determining the approximate story structure ahead of sitting down to write dialogue won’t kill the story, it is the story. You don’t have to keep to the outline, but you need an idea of what you’re departing from.
  7. I had some thoughts on Constraints when Pilar Alessandra was teaching about loglines, about how our creativity is stretched and challenged when we have less room to manoeuvre. This was only compounded by J. Blakeson in his Script to Screen of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, where he talked about writing a script that he could film in his own flat with just his credit card to finance it. It didn’t turn out that way of course, but he wrote it with the constraints in place and I do believe it helped craft such a wonderfully tight narrative. Oh, and as it turns out, J. didn’t write an outline for it.
  8. Everybody talks about Networking, and it never ceases to conjure an image of hyper-slick marketing weasels having power lunches. Well, especially at an event like LSF, it’s just a whole bunch of people having a drink or two together who all have something in common. Unlike the real world, you can talk to any of them, ask them what they’re working on, what they’ve been enjoying of the festival so far or where they’ve come from. All without prejudice or agenda or fear. We’re all in the same boat, so get to know your fellow seamen. Remember, these people are your community, your tribe. And they all want to hear your logline.
  9. Chris Jones‘ slogan, repeated often throughout the festival, constantly rings in my ears. “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.” And it totally applies to this blog post too.
  10. Did you know some utter maniacs set up the London Writers’ Circle while at LSF and that you should totally come?