We are only weeks away from the London Screenwriters Festival and the whole festival team is now working round the clock to deliver an extraordinary event for writers, film makers and creatives.
So for those who have already signed up, I though I would share with you a fantastic article about getting the most from the festival – it was just published on www.twelvepoint.com and was written by Dominic Carver.
You probably think that’s all you need to do other than turn up but you couldn’t be more wrong. If you want to get the best out of your Festival experience then you need to prepare. Yes, I am about to say the ‘Homework’ word.
First of all, you’re not going to be at the Festival just to listen to industry people speak and then go home. If that’s what you’re expecting, sell your ticket, stay at home and make a promise to yourself to give up writing. You might as well buy a few books and save yourself some cash. What you are really going to the Festival for is to network. You’re going to become a networking whore, a social networking love machine. Everyone is going to know who you are and you’re going to know who everyone else is. You’re even going to talk to the tea lady, although you might find she won’t actually be able to help you with your sitcom but at least you’ll get a decent cup of tea out of it.
How do I prepare for the Festival, I hear you ask? I’m glad you asked that question because here is my guide to Festival survival.
To whom should I listen?
First of all go to the website (www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com) and download the schedule, then you’ll have a better idea of what’s happening and, more importantly, where and when speakers will be, well, speaking, and what about. (The website should be checked regularly as the detailed programme changes from time to time.) Then download or print off the bios of the speakers. It’s important that you read their biographies very carefully so you know exactly what they have done or are doing. You’ll only make an ass of yourself if you try and approach someone who has only ever worked in drama to talk about a sitcom. I speak from first-hand experience. People are flattered if you have obviously taken the time to research them and they are more likely to listen to what you have to say. It is also important to read their biographies so you can pick and choose what sessions you are going to attend. You don’t want to sit through an hour of someone talking about documentary drama if that sort of thing bores the pants off you. Rather you should go to sessions that might open up new avenues for your writing career (like transmedia).
Made your decision? Good, now a day or two before the Festival print off the schedule and speaker list again and make sure you catch up on any late additions. Put the schedule and the biographies into a small, slim folder and put it into your bag. If you carry it with you during the Festival at all times, you will be able to refer to the photographs, making it easier to spot someone with whom you would like to talk. It’s also good to write notes about any conversations you have with them under their notes for future reference.
They are just as important as the speakers themselves because you never know to whom you might be talking. Forget the big names, everyone wants to talk to them. It’s the small, relatively unknown producers or directors with whom you want to get chatting and, trust me, they will be there among you.
So how do I get to know them? Again, another good question. At previous screenwriters’ festivals in Cheltenham there has been a delegate list, with photographs, you could print off. Whether there is one this year remains to be seen but if there is, it will be your most valuable networking tool. As I said above, there will be relatively unknown but really good producers and directors walking amongst the delegates this year, especially as the Festival is now being held in the capital. So if the list does become available, print it off and research every single person on it. At the last Screenwriters’ Festival I did this and met many interesting people, some of whom I worked with and others I didn’t. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Being shy or lazy is no excuse.
Again put the print-out in a slim folder and put it in your bag.
Keep it with you for note-taking and helping to recognise people.
Hopefully the badges will be clear, easy to read and will indicate whether the wearer is a writer, producer, agent and so on.
Don’t forget your fellow writers either. Writers can be extremely generous towards each other. For example, is producer X or Y good to work with? Another writer may have done your research for you. Or there are two sessions that you want to go to but they are at the same time, so you go to one and share your notes with a fellow delegate who has gone to the other one.
Also, don’t spend the weekend hanging out with your old mates. Sit next to a stranger at every session and every meal and talk to someone you don’t know every time you have a coffee or a drink.
The pad and pen
So small, so easily left behind, but the most important thing you will carry with you on those three days. Buy yourself one of those little notebooks with a pen attached and keep it in your pocket at all times. Not only will you then have a pen on you at all times, you can use the notebook to make those all important notes about people. I never go anywhere without mine, even to Tesco, because I never know when a thought might pop into my head that I need to write down. If you don’t take one with you then you’re a fool. Sorry if that sounds harsh but it’s true. As a writer, carrying a notebook at all times should be automatic.
The business card
This is the second most important tool you will need to carry. If you don’t have any, have some made. Don’t make your own and print them out on rubbish bits of paper as it smacks of unprofessionalism. These cards are the one thing on which you can’t skimp. You’ll need at least two hundred cards with your contact details. Business cards are like confetti so hand them out accordingly. Two years ago Tim Clague went around introducing himself to random people and handing them each a card. That year he was the person who gave away more cards than anyone else and you won’t be surprised to know that it paid off.
When you receive a business card from someone and you’ve finished your conversation with them, write a short note on the back of the card about what you discussed. It’s always important to follow up these conversations after the Festival even if they don’t immediately lead anywhere. Once you’ve made a contact, they might open doors for you in the future so you have to think of everyone as a potential friend and work colleague. Also, take a small business card box with you in which to keep all your contact cards. There is nothing worse than collecting fifty business cards only to lose them on the train on the way home. Keep them safe; they are your lifeline to future work.
No one, especially me, likes to talk to someone with breath like a baboon’s arse. Start a conversation, pop a mint; it’s polite after all.
Networking the bar
The most important thing is to take plenty of cash with you. However, you are not there to become drunk every night; you are there to network. If you want to get drunk, stay at home with your friends as they probably won’t mind your drunken ramblings on how you think EastEnders is written by a group of escaped monkeys from Monkey World (Dear EastEnders, I do not subscribe to this idea. In fact I love your show and wish to write for it one day soon. KTHANKSBYE!). This money is to make everyone else drunk. Why? The answer to this is simple: if you make others drunk they’ll start talking and you might find out a crucial bit of information to help your career. Just imagine if you did but you were so drunk you couldn’t remember it or decipher your own drunken notes the following morning. Not helpful, is it?
One or two pints should be your limit, after all, you don’t want to throw up all over Mr Tony Jordan’s shoes, now do you? It’s OK if he throws up all over yours as this is something you can remind him of when you submit your drama pilot to Red Planet the following week. Besides, going to hear a speaker the next day with a stonking hangover isn’t clever and neither is stinking of stale alcohol. Stale alcohol breath is not appealing or sexy, as my wife is always happy to remind me every weekend.
Networking the loos
Don’t do it, no matter how desperate you are to talk to someone or how difficult you’ve found it to attract his or her attention all day. If you slip your prize script to them under the cubicle door, don’t be surprised if it is flushed away along with their breakfast. This is a no-no. Leave people to their number ones and twos in peace; they’ll thank you for it.
Don’t take any work with you
Now you’re probably thinking what I have just written is mental, especially as you’re going to be networking like a nutter, but it isn’t and here’s why. Would you like to go to a Festival and go home with a ton and a half of scripts in the boot of your car? No. Well then, neither does anyone one else, so do everyone a favour and leave your scripts, outlines, series bibles and one-page treatments at home. You honestly don’t need them at the Festival.
What you can do is about a week after the Festival, email your script to a few people you have spoken to at the Festival, reminding them of who you are, of course, and ask them politely if they wouldn’t mind reading your work. Trust me, this is the way to go and might just help you on your way to a successful career.
Make every opportunity count
This should be your law, something by which you live every day, but you’ll be amazed how many people miss out on important conversations just to be the first one down the pub. This is your Festival; make the most of your opportunities. If you don’t then why did you go in the first place? Someone else will be making those vital career-progressing contacts while you’re on your second rum and coke. This is not a fun weekend away; it’s a chance to improve your career chances, your contacts and your opportunities. Think of it as work and don’t waste a moment of it. The cost is, of course, tax-deductible.
So don’t forget your pad and pen. Regularly check changes in the three-day schedule (see above) and plan your choices like a military operation. If you can’t go to everything, arrange to cover sessions for each other. Take plenty of notes. Have those business cards to hand. Keep the ones you are given safe and remember to write notes on the back of them. Take a shop load of mints with you and don’t get drunk. Stay sober and you’ll learn much more and be better remembered than if you dance on the bar naked at the end of the night declaring your all-consuming love for Jason Ar
The Festival is what you make of it and the preparation you do beforehand will make it that. Be a winner!
Graduate of the BA (Hons) Screenwriting for Film & Television degree at Bournemouth University, Dominic Carver has written several episodes for the online web series Mr Vista and has had a silent short broadcast on Norwegian television. He is currently writing a children’s novel.
Onwards and upwards!