Unabashed Gushing: London Screenwriting Festival

Full disclosure: I can be quite the cynic. I probably think that I am more than I actually am, but still… It’s not often that one finds me gushing over anything or anyone unless we’re talking about my kids, my husband or my writers (in that order), so when I find myself coming at something from a position of complete and entire enthusiasm, well… For good or bad, that’s just not my every day experience. The good news here is that I love my job. I love teaching. I consider myself very fortunate to spend the better part of my days supporting and empowering writers. When I get invited to teach, I am grateful first and foremost for the opportunity to connect with so many writers out there. So when the London Screenwriting Festival reached out to me to come teach as part of its Festival Week and Screenwriting Festival, I was honored and excited.

When I arrived in London for this year’s event, I knew little about the event beyond what I heard from my good friend Pilar Alessandra, and what the website had promised: Experience, inspire and connect. But then again, every event, every festival or conference or expo has a tagline associated with it, right? I had hopes, sure, but not an overwhelming amount of expectations.

Whenever I teach outside of Los Angeles and New York, I am never quite sure what to anticipate regarding the writers in attendance; sometimes the audience surprises me in the best ways, proving to be as astute and well-versed in the world of screenwriting as its Angelino counterparts. Other times, I may encounter the cliche: A collection of hobbyist screenwriters each touting a single script that they’ve been slaving over for the past 10 years, aiming to sell it for the sort of money that screenplays are rarely sold for any more, to entities, such as studios, who haven’t made that sort of movie in the last decade. The bottom line? You never know. But as soon as I arrived at Regent’s Collage to begin teaching my Career Transformation Day as part of London Screenwriting Festival’s Festival Week, I realized that here I was facing a serious, shrewd audience: These writers had their stuff together! Each one of them knew where they wanted to end up, each one of them eager to learn and take action towards whatever it was they needed to do in order to get there.

To my great surprise, the audience was comprised of not only European and Australian writers, but also a fair share of Americans who came to partake in the festival. Delegates who came over from Arizona, from Illinois from Colorado and Florida and New York – to name a few – made a point to introduce themselves. I found this perplexing: Of all of the US events that take place every year from June until September, these screenwriters opted to travel across the pond, on a longer flight and at greater cost? Throughout the weekend, I would come to develop a clear understanding of why so many chose to do so.

Throughout my four days at LSF, everywhere I turned I was confronted by determined writers, young and old, set on giving this a go. And by no means were they all on the starting line: I met one writer who was repped by Echo Lake, while another secured representation with ICM. For many, this was their second, third, or even fourth time out. I found the audience to be appreciative but level-headed, eager to really learn, to really connect, to really get inspired.

And, to my delight, the LSF team delivered on their promise every step away. Chris Jones and his team are invested in making this a huge incubator for inspiring and educating writers, and it shows. Whether it was with their big “get” that landed renowned filmmaker Joel Schumacher on their main stage two nights in a row, the pitch event ran expertly by pitch-event veteran Bob Schultz who hails from The Great American Pitch Fest, or table reads with actors, there was something going on at LSF far beyond your regular classes at every given moment. This event is not as straight forward as it sounds, and I do mean that as a compliment: This is an incubator, an environment entirely dedicated to screenwriters, nurturing their creative and professional growth. It doesn’t compete with the sort of events you find happening throughout the summer in Los Angeles. Instead, and in a very positive way, it provides something that stands entirely on its own, and is wholly “other.”

The gorgeous backdrop of Regent’s Collage, safely tucked in at the south corner of Regent’s Park, provided an unusually safe and constructive environment for writers. At any time when I walked through the grounds, I could find one of the teachers, among them my good friends Julie Gray and Pilar Alessandra, sitting on one of the benches, surrounded by interested writers, long after her session was up. Every day the delegates drank in all the information they could get their hands on from seasoned, renowned instructors, and every evening at the networking events they connected with other writers and mentors and unwound. I met more writers, made more friends than I thought I would, and felt more inspired than I had expected to become.

Perhaps part of the safety of this event comes from the physical distance it has from Hollywood. There is no cynicism in this festival. It is straightforward, nurturing event, dedicated to inspiring, educating and empowering its audience. Just as Chris Jones and his team had promised.

This post is dedicate to my trusty LSF/Career Transformation Day team: Ollie, Sid and the amazing Zoe. Can’t wait to see you all next October!