Following on from my last post, the BAFTA Rocliffe Forum For New Writing happened last Thursday at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, and I’m still alive!
The process started back in March when the call went out for emerging writers interested in having their work staged with live feedback from industry professional(s) and an audience. I’d been following the Rocliffe Forum for some time, but was prompted to enter when they announced one of their forums was to be staged in Edinburgh. I was also just about to start rewriting the feature I had graduated Screen Academy Scotland with, Masterbaker, so it was perfect timing. Masterbaker is the tale of a broken-hearted, small-town baker who is unexpectedly inspired to save his family business by diversifying into a new line of earth-moving, erotic cakes.
The application process called for a 10 min extract from a project, logline and synopsis, along with some background material. I entered, then promptly forgot about it, until I got the good news in May that I had been long-listed. And then, rather thrillingly, quite quickly afterwards, got the call that said I was 1 of the 3 lucky writers chosen to be showcased.
A couple of weeks later, and the day itself finally dawned. I’ll admit to a few sleepless nights and stage-frighty mornings in the build-up, because although I was delighted to let the world (or at least some of it) see Masterbaker, I wasn’t that enamoured with the idea of undertaking a Q&A session LIVE on STAGE. It’s not my natural habitat. However, the chance to have feedback face-to-face with the industry guests and audience was too good to miss, especially when the guests were announced as BAFTA winning screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy) and BAFTA winning producer from Red, Nicola Shindler (Unforgiven, Clocking Off). I was also a little concerned that the excerpt I had chosen might not represent the whole project as well as it could, however I decided to abandon that concern until the feedback stage – viewing it as a bit of an experiment – the staging of a 10 minute abridged excerpt live on stage, from (in this case) a 95-minute feature film for the big screen was a challenging prospect.
On the day itself, I was first up for rehearsals in the impressive and comfortingly old-skool environment of Edinburgh University’s Teviot House. Director Susan Jacobson put the actors through their paces, massaged the excerpt into place for the stage, and very kindly checked that I was happy with everything. So far so good – the dialogue read well, and got a few giggles (it’s a romantic comedy) in the right places, and whilst I’m not sure that one of my monologues will survive the next draft for the screen, on stage it worked well and gave a real high-point to the final minutes. The actors were fantastic – supportive, talented, enthusiastic and very kind.
Cut to later, and a final quicky technical rehearsal where I learned that I was to be the first excerpt up (cue silent scream), met the other 2 writers and then we walked through the stages of the evening to come. Matt and Nicole would feed-back on the staged excerpt (not having seen the whole script), I’d have a chance to respond, and then take questions from the audience. With the process to be repeated for the other writers.
We were all positioned on the front row, and became aware as the technical rehearsal neared its end, of a growing hubbub – the audience was arriving (cue terror and excitement). Before I knew it, the lights dimmed – full house – and then suddenly Masterbaker was being introduced, with specially composed music while the screened image and logline was shown above. The actors performed their socks off – the audience laughed – i began to sweat a little more than is normal and then I was up on stage with a microphone.
I’ve done a few Q & A’s in much smaller venues, mostly to do with projects I’ve been involved with but haven’t written, but never on my own work, and never on a major stage with full lighting rig beaming into my eyes – you really can’t see very much, and it’s definitely a strange sensation to be the focus of a few hundred pairs of eyes. After a chance to explain Masterbaker a little more fully to the audience (thank goodness my mind didn’t go blank, as I feared), Matt and Nicola gave their thoughts, and were constructive, helpful and perceptive. I even managed to respond a few times without gibbering. Then, to the audience. I had a few questions, and apparently I answered everything in the correct language and in a vaguely understandable way, but to be honest, I can’t remember a thing (but thanks to having a handy mate taking notes – thanks Fi! – I have the evidence).
Marc and Rob, the other 2 writers followed the same pattern, and accomplished themselves admirably, and then Matt and Nicola had a Q&A of their own. Then, lights up, done. Phew.
After the event there were networking drinks at the bar. Many contacts were made, drinks were downed, and discussions were had.
Following the event, I’ve some contacts to follow up on, and am now suitably inspired for my next draft. I’m even considering a change of medium – perhaps an experimental draft will be next just to see where it takes me. I’d definitely recommend the event to writers – it’s a workout of your idea and your extract. It showcases what you can do to a large audience, some of whom are established in the industry, and it opens you up to ideas and advice – some inspiring, some less so, but all interesting – it’s up to you whether you take them/it. It was also a great place to meet people and talk about writing – once you’ve been on stage and people know your face, it’s amazing, subsequently, how many will approach you to chat about the event, and in some cases (thank you!) tell you how much they liked the project. Don’t be put off if like me, you haven’t much ‘stage’ experience, as everyone involved with the Rocliffe and BAFTA were very supportive, and everything was talked through beforehand. Also don’t try to second-guess what the Forum will want – alongside my romantic comedy, there was a horror, and a drama with links to a war-torn country.
Be bold. You’ve nothing to lose but your inhibitions. And quite frankly, I’m now rather keen to get my hands on another microphone just for the sheer hell of it. Maybe.