Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival

I’m heading off to Cheltenham the day after tomorrow and I have to say I am looking forward to it immensely.

For some fairly obvious reasons…

I will get the opportunity to spend a week surrounded by writers and producers (OK so mostly writers), people who love story-telling and the craft of transferring words to images. There can be something quite magical about a gathering of so many people with the same interests. Conversations are easier to engage in, with each person already having an inherent understanding of the other’s unspoken background. We all know why we are there and we all know there are a great number of common-ground areas that we can nod to “I know just what you mean”! This gives far more time to finding out the really interesting stuff about those you meet.

This is a networking occasion and that in itself is something to look forward to. I was recently involved in (although I kept myself to the peripheries) a group email discussion about the virtues of attending the SWF. The main arguments put forward by those most disinclined to go were it’s ratio of payoffs compared to the cost of attending. [I am working as a volunteer this year, which is one of the reasons I stayed on the edge of this conversation, it will still cost me a fair amount in travel, accommodation and food though – is it worth it?] Well I think yes. Some of the participants in the debate had got down to some really interesting mathematical statistics. There would be a highly unfavourable ratio of sellers to buyers (100/1 was the figure put about). That for £700 (that’s cost of festival, accommodation and travel) how many leads would one gain? Someone had attended an event for £600 and made only three leads (that’s £200-a-head), they also stated that in a previous year they attended the SWF and managed to price the leads gained at £50-a-head, better than the previous event but still fairly expensive. A writer (especially in todays changing climate of recession, collapse of traditional funding methods and online content) is a one person business and does needs to consider these issues as part of a marketing budget. But… are some important factors being left out here? Is a marketing budget really as simple as dividing the amount of money spent by the number of business cards you walk away with? Some of the participants had been to the festival before (maybe two even three times before) and just didn’t think it worth their while to go again; based mainly on how much work they had managed to source from going the previous times. However I would state that as much as trying to get work (and some people can put too much emphasis on this and come across as pushy or desperate) being at the festival is just that – being there! It is a social occasion for people in the same profession. Yes go to see as many events and talks as you can, yes really try to sell the script that you believe can be the next hollywood blockbuster, but for heavens sake also just mingle and talk and make FRIENDS. You heard me folks friends, don’t see everyone as a possible business associate. With a business associate if nothing happens it’s unlikely you will get a call a year down the line offering you a job. With a friend a year down the line, when something turns up, you are just the person they will call. The wonderful Lucy Vee argued similar points to this and for those of you that are unfamiliar with her blog it’s worth checking out for useful pieces of advice. When going to these events you really can’t calculate how effective your money was, the oddest things can happen and years down the line that event you thought was a complete waste of time could just be the one that sets your career sky-rocketing. And for those that have already been three times who’s to say that on that fourth occasion some producer isn’t going to think ‘I see them here every year, they must be hardcore’! At the end of the day, it is showing your face, being pleasant, friendly and helpful to those you meet and perseverance that will help you succeed, in fact as a great example of that a wonderful friend of mine, Laurence Timm’s, has won himself a job for showing just such qualities. Check out 0110 which looks set to be a cracker!

As I’ve mentioned I’m volunteering, which I think offers a wonderful opportunity for some ‘backstage’ camaraderie. It comes with some very hard, unpaid (often unappreciated) work, but that is a great recipe for bonding and friendships that can last a lifetime.

And some not so obvious ones…

Continuing from the volunteering theme I am actually really looking forward to the work itself. Things have been very slow for me recently. Both my wife and I have suffered a few months of redundancy and lack-of-work. I’m one of those people who like to be out there in the thick of it, collaborating with others and getting stuck in. Something that is not always available for a writer. So even when it means cleaning toilets and stacking chairs – bring it on!

Travel. Simply getting away, I love it. I love my family too and it would be great if they could come with me, but I have to say I am really looking forward to just getting away from things and getting to enjoy an unfamiliar city. Who knows maybe I’ll even get some writing done! Well crazier things have happened!

2 Responses to “Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival”
  1. Margit says:

    How did it go? Did you enjoy the event? Did you have a change to attend any of the sessions?

  2. kaisavage says:

    I really loved it. There are pros and cons about volunteering. It makes it hard to attend all the events you want to especially ones that get you involved with the producers and agents (such as the scriptbites and speed dating), although I was in charge of a venue so I saw some great talks then. One the other hand it gives you easier access to people, because you can hang out in the Green Room and show speakers to events etc. I personally would highly recommend going either as a delegate or a volunteer. If you are serious about writing its a major event and really puts your face on the map!

    I am about to post a blog about what I got from it.

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