Debut Screenwriter subgroup chair Mia Bays considers the challenges of being a fledgling screenwriter.
To quote William Goldman: ‘The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.’ All writers know this, but write they do. Why? Because as Kafka said: ‘A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.’
If the first screenplay teaches a writer anything, it’s what not to do the next time should they have the courage to continue down this creative path: more cautionary tale than hero’s story. Most writers I rate all say the first thing they wrote was worse than fracking. What they all have in common is that they didn’t give up, and the next thing they wrote sucked less.
William Goldman was told, by almost everyone in the industry, that he wasn’t a writer – that he had no talent – that he should do something else. He went on to give us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, A Bridge Too Far, Marathon Man, Misery and many more.
The screenplay is the foundation. You cannot build on it if it isn’t sound: ‘Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.’ – George Cukor.
All the debut screenwriters nominated for this year’s British Independent Film Awards are writers who studied, practiced and pushed themselves, who showed the necessary level of dedication and commitment, who didn’t give up – who sucked less until, over time, and very likely many disappointments, they had honed their craft.
HOPE DICKSON LEACH: THE LEVELLING
‘I find myself very attracted to stories about grief’ – Hope Dickson Leach.
Hope Dickson Leach’s film is steeped in loss. The screenplay is economic and smartly written for a smaller scale budget, without compromising on emotional impact and depth. This is a terrific debut screenplay by a woman rightfully on everyone’s ‘one to watch’ list.
RACHEL TUNNARD: ADULT LIFE SKILLS
The production notes describe the film as: ‘Basically the same as Rocky. But with thumbs. And a cowboy. And no boxing.’ The wit of this wonderful work by Rachel Tunnard even extends to the accompanying materials – so complete and thoughtful is the vision. Editors are often the ones who give the best script notes, and it is no surprise that Rachel is an accomplished editor. This screenplay is taut and quick-witted, packed with warmth and charm.
ED TALFAN: THE PASSING
This Welsh-language feature has a potent political subtext cleverly buried within a smart and thought-provoking genre screenplay that avoids clichés and tropes to deliver a really haunting audience experience. The writing is terrifically charged and sophisticated. This was a hugely popular choice from the very early days of committee viewing and it’s wonderful to see it rewarded. Director Gareth Bryn and writer Ed Talfan have a symbiotically powerful partnership on-screen, as this film keeps its imprint in the memory of the viewer a long time after it has finished and that’s usually the sign of a special work.
SIMON FARNABY, JULIAN BARRATT: MINDHORN
Being daft is most certainly a British trait, and Mindhorn encapsulates that to the full. Reminding us what’s great about humour and entertainment, it’s unashamedly absurd, bonkers and wonderful. Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby have delivered another British cult movie with an underdog as our hero that we love to get behind.
JOHN CAIRNS, MICHAEL McCARTNEY: A PATCH OF FOG
Robert is everyone’s worst nightmare, and John Cairns and Michael McCartney develop his character throughout with stealth and guile. The constant swing of who has the upper hand in this film keeps you guessing to the end, maintaining the audience’s empathy for both lead actors. Though the plot may be simple in theory, the delivery is immense. British thriller writing at the top of its game.