Reflections on Sci-Fi London

Sadly the Sci-Fi London Festival is over,  for now; but there are a number of great events scheduled by the guys in the future, including screenings at the NFT and another Oktoberfest. 

I attended the Festival last Saturday as part of a workshop on film treatment writing, together with SF author Tony Ballantyne and scientists Simon Park and Jon Cowie.  It was a brainstorming event – Jon and Simon and Tony provided the brains, and I chipped in with a few observations about writing and thinking for film. 

It was an extraordinary event really; the air burned with amazing extrapolations. Jon talked about a concept known as the Perfect Storm, which is a well founded prediction that sometime this century the world will go to shit, thanks to the confluence of all the bad things happening together (climate change, overpopulation, global poverty, etc etc.)  And we brainstormed how movie scenarios could be generated from this basic extrapolation. (Which is more of a firm prediction to be honest – beware the future, guys.)

And Simon Park spoke with passion about his favourite creatures on God’s own earth – bioluminscent bacteria and slime moulds.  Again, these ideas can be the basis for original stories; or they can be the backdrop for a future world scenario in which our ideas about mankind’s role as the dominant species are challenged (bacteria kick our ass as ‘dominant species on Earth’, easily.) 

There was a lively group of attendees, many of whom had already written screenplays; and the intention is that some or all of them will come back to us with 10 page movie scenarios.  Of course, each of those stories will be different - but the future extrapolations on which they are based will be similar, and based on our workshop debates. 

Tony Ballantyne spoke rather brilliantly about what a story actually is; and how some concepts can yield great stories, in the hands of the right storyteller.  Ask Tony about the Jar of Tang; it’s his speciality subject.

The whole day was enhanced by the fact we were holding the workshop in the middle of the Hunter Museum of surgery, located within the Royal College of Surgeons.  This Museum is an astonishing collection of body parts and skeletons which comprise one of the earliest successful attempts to turn medicine into a genuine science. (We had a wonderful guided tour.) And, trust me, this place is spooky as hell.

In the evening I sat in on a panel about media in 2050, with my old pal TV producer Archie Tait, media guru  Nico Macdonald, and our charming chair Paul Raven. Aside from the fact that we panellists had searchlights in our eyes, making it impossible to see the audience, it all went well I felt. Archie and Nico focused on innovation in the arts; I (rather predictably) homed in on the issue of how artists (ie writers! people like me!) will be earning their living (HOW DO WE GET PAID!) by the mid 21st century. 

It’s often argued that the internet is a huge threat to the livelihood of creative types; I argued that it’s crappy capitalist bureacracies (film distributors/ITV/take your pick) that are screwing up the media already.  And so for me, the internet is a source of hope; not a thing to be feared.

There’s a bigger debate to be had about this (The Internet: Black Hat or White Hat?)  But I do think the future of the media will be an exciting one; and our very own Orbit Books looks set to be at the vanguard of that revolution.  I couldn’t say anything about this at the panel debate, nor can I do so in this blog, because it awaits an official announcement from Orbit. But there is Bold Stuff Being Planned as Orbit seek to find a way to use digital media to help creative artists, rather than being scared of it as a mere forum for ‘illegal downloads’.  (Discussion point: illegal downloading is like immigration. It IS a problem, but it’s also hyped up by bullshitty media types as being more of a crisis than it actually is. Yes, no, or maybe?) 

Anyway – more on this anon.  I found the day hugely stimulating; and I’m hoping to hear more from the film treatment attendees once they have  creatively simmered.

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