My first impressions of Bristol: it was rainy (like everywhere else right now), it was quite pretty, based as it is on the River Avon, and people there really do talk like Justin Lee Collins.
The workshop took place, rather bizarrely, in a conference room upstairs in a youth hostel. What sort of YHA has a conference room? Anyway, I arrived in the nick of time and joined a large circle of people comprising of me, 4 other writers, producer Rachel Wardlow from the LFA, two professional actors, a paying audience and BAFTA-winning director Richard Kwietniowski. The morning was spent with the actors reading each 2-minute script several times, with suggestions of alterations coming from the writer themselves, the audience, the actors and Richard Kwietniowski. Then the actors would read the script again with the alterations included. It was really interesting and loads of good ideas got thrown up. What was particularly good was that they asked loads of questions of your work - for example, with my script Older Woman, they asked what Jackie had been doing before Josh showed up, the relationship she had with her husband, whether Josh always dressed neatly or whether he'd dressed up to see her. They also suggested changing the last line from "Yeah..." to "Yeah?" which does in fact work a lot better.
At lunchtime, everyone voted for one script to be acted out and filmed in the afternoon. In the meantime, we headed off to the cafe in the Watershed centre that is the hub of the festival. Located along the river, it's a large, modern building that holds three cinema screens, a cafe and bar and several big meeting rooms. I scarfed down a pie and mash - while in England, a pie always seems like a good idea...
Back for the results, Mark Shand's excellent script Cherry Cola had been voted in as the one to get the film treatment. I voted for my own, but if I'd voted for anyone else's it would have been Mark's - it's a story about a security guard dealing with a shoplifter who just happens to be his ex-partner and (possibly) the mother of his child. When we read it in the morning, it got a lot of laughs and is indeed a funny script. But as the afternoon session goes on, Richard and the actors Charlie and Emily start discovering layers to the story that weren't apparent at first glance. As the rehearsals go on it becomes, in fact, very poignant.
The actors and Richard give out advice at intervals - less is more, especially with dialogue. If an actor can't remember or doesn't understand a line, many times there is a problem with that line. Get your friends to read scripts aloud for you so you can hear which lines sound clunky.
Then they block out the scene using tables and a chair as props and shoot the whole thing from about a million different angles. It's at this point, as Richard gets Charlie and Emily to do close-up acting and they act out the same funny line for the hundredth take, that I realise for sure that I could never be an actor. How do they produce emotion on demand like that?? Then, after a satisfactory but gruelling day, we all watch the rushes. It's mad how much has been achieved from Mark's two-page script in less than eight hours.
Afterwards everyone hit the pub and I sampled some of the lovely local cider. At nine p.m. it occurred to me that I really should check into my hotel so I went off and did that, before going to a selection of naughty late-night shorts.
The next day was more rain and more shorts. I think I saw about 21 in total over the two days and they ranged from awful to amazing. There was also a great Q&A session involving some producers, a cinematographer, a sound recordist and two writer/directors, Eran Creevey who wrote/directed Shifty and Andrea Arnold, who penned and directed the fantastic Fishtank.
The last two are completely different: Andrea Arnold started off doing shorts, Eran Creevey began as a runner before eventually graduating to doing music promos. Then he wrote and directed Shifty, the story of a day in the life of a Muslim drug dealer in London. He storyboards everything and preps in advance. She shoots on the fly and doesn't rehearse or prepare much. Her advice was: "Don't think too much about it and don't worry what everyone else thinks". Creevey says he lies in bed during a shoot having anxiety attacks.
I got to talk to Andrea Arnold a bit afterwards and asked her if she wrote treatments before embarking on a script. I kind of expected her to say she didn't, but no, she does treatments. Her opinion was, you have to have a plan but then you can go off plan and do what you want knowing you have it as back-up.
All too soon it was five o'clock and I had to head to the airport. I really enjoyed this short trip and would definitely consider going back next year. The pie and cider alone are worth the trip :)