On Screenwriters as Authors

I went to the London Film School Screenwriters Showcase on Monday night, at the ICA (that wonderful white building on the Mall).  This is an event designed to promote the work of students on the LFS Screenwriters Course, now in its 3rd successful year.  The film-making students who come to LFS - directors, producers, cinematographers – all make short films which get prestigious industry screenings. And this Showcase is an inspired endeavour to give the screenwriters a similar high profile end-of-course show.

It’s harder, of course – a film can be screened in front of an audience, but a script can’t be put on public display.  It has to be savoured privately.  But the organisers of the showcase assembled a cast of first rate actors who read scenes from each of the screenplays, and the results were exhilarating and genuinely dramatic. 

I know from experience what a joy it is for a writer to see words take flesh, when actors perform them.  But the innovation this year was to get the writers themselves to introduce and pitch the projects, and then in most cases to read the scene directions too. Some writers even went off book and described the action to the audience as if they could actually see the scene taking place.

The intention was to involve the writers closely in the showcase at all levels, and at the same time to tacitly promote the idea of the screenwriters as Authors of their own work.  For novelists, who are by definition also Authors, this seems a modest ambition.  But for screenwriters – used to the weird workings of the auteur theory of cinema – it’s immensely important and empowering.

And in every case, the writers who presented their own work carried with them a charisma and a vivid personality that was also very clearly evident in their writing.  This is why book readings work; even writers who aren’t public speakers convey a tone and an essence of self that is at the heart of what they have written. 

Brian Dunnigan, the talented and slyly mischievous director of the course, gave a charming speech;  Ben Gibson, head of the school, proved once again that he is a champion of the writer’s voice; and Margaret Glover, tutor and writer, inspired everyone.

I’ve been teaching at the London Film School for three years now; it’s a fabulous place to be, buzzing with energy, and populated with a diverse range of students from all over the world.  And every term, a vast number of short films are shot and edited and screened there, making it one of the most prolific film studios in the UK. 

Remarkably, the LFS is sponsored by Cobra beer, and so every event is furnished with copious supplies of free alcohol.  This, of course, has no bearing whatsoever on my commitment  to the school and its courses…

There is a famous list, compiled in Hollywood, defining all the people involved in the making of a feature film according to their status.  The star is at the the top, with the most status; the director comes second; the guy who runs the hot dog stall outside the studio lot comes somewhere near the bottom; and last of all, of course, comes the screenwriter. And this is a fair reflection of how the biz generally works…

But events like the Screenwriters Showcase give me hope that it is, after all, worth writing for the screen.

For those who follow such things, I’ll now give a full list of all those who honed their screenwriting craft at the LFS last year:

Jimmy Ruzicka

Ines Braga

Nina Mitrovic

Stavros Pamballis

Francia Fernandez

Matthew O’Connor

Lucia Lopez

Santiago Faz

Vivienne Westbrook

Pinyada Asahi

Francesca Zeeman

Hrafnkell Stefansson

Amos Soffian

Gabriel Vallejo 

and last but by no means least,

Andres Llorente.

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