London Screenwriters’ Festival: Breakthroughs, Draft Zero and Spaghetti

In April, we had the pleasure of attending this year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to attend this prestigious event, especially with the impact of last year’s WGA Strikes. Throughout the festival we attended various informative sessions surrounding the craft and got to speak with several professionals in the industry. 

Breaking into TV 

One of the first panels we attended was called Breaking into TV which featured Thara Popoola (Sex Education), Philip Lawrence (Casualty) and Tony McHale (Eastenders). All of the writers talked through their backgrounds, what got them into writing, obstacles that they faced and how they overcame them through extraordinary breakthroughs. 

Thara discussed how she originally studied law and worked as a paralegal before she  transitioned into writing. This meant that she initially struggled to navigate the industry due to her path being clouded. However, she soon found writers who offered her great advice, such as getting an agent. This paved the way for a work opportunity to write on the Netflix series Sex Education, during its fourth season. 

‘Write something that reflects you before you have to listen to executives as this helps with freedom and imagination’. Thara Popoola

Philip’s pathway into the industry looked a little different. He started as an actor, but soon realised that he wanted more creative control over his work and to help with the writing process of projects. This led to two big breakthrough roles where he worked on the popular BBC soap series Eastenders and Casualty.

Tony also started his journey working as an actor in theatre and later transitioned into film and television. After several rejections for various scripts in soap operas, he submitted a script for a drama series to the BBC. His drama script meant he was able to obtain an agent and work on the early development of a small (unknown at the time) soap, called Eastenders.

‘It’s all about finding multiple routes rather than just one into the industry.’ Tony McHale

This session illustrated the diverse backgrounds that writers can come from. Each had to overcome their own personal obstacles and find different paths into the industry highlighting how there is no one size fits all approach to the screenwriting industry, you often have to pave your own way. 

Rewriting Draft Zero

We then got the opportunity to listen to a talk from Horror Filmmaker, Pat Higgins (Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead). Pat spoke about the development of scriptwriting and how he rewrote draft zero before it turned into a completed first draft. 

Pat explained various techniques writers can use to look at their characters to determine if they have satisfying arcs and tone of voice. This showed just how many steps there are between a writer’s first idea and their final shooting script. It is a key skill to refine your scripts and Pat’s advice was to always make the draft zero script filled with everything so that you can then cut it down and craft your story.

‘Grab every single opportunity that comes your way. Whether it be writing a promo for a local business or writing a short film for a local drama group. All of those experiences help you run your craft.’ Pat Higgins

The Future is TBD

Lastly, we had the pleasure of attending a talk from Central Film School’s Chair of the Board, Stephen Follows, where he discussed both the current and future use of AI in screenwriting. 

During his talk, Stephen identified various ways AI is used within popular internet culture. One of his examples was how AI is used in memes. This was demonstrated by Stephen taking two separate, polar opposite images (Will Smith and Spaghetti) and then combining them to create a completely new image. This posed the question on how far AI can go within the development of creativity. 

According to Stephen, some good uses of AI are creative prompts, such as using ChatGPT, to insert a story title or line. This can help to spark innovative ideas for writers. Another great use of AI is storyboarding/moodboards, using AI to create a visual collage for a project can help writers to expand on their ideas. 

However, some of the more negative uses of AI within storytelling can be manufactured reality, anomalies or the risk of possible job displacement.

‘Write as much as you can, read as much as you can, seek out feedback.  It’s about seeing yourself as a verb (i.e. “I am writing”) rather than looking for someone or something to make you into a noun (i.e. “You are now officially a Writer”).  Plus, the near future for screenwriters is going to be hugely affected by AI so get ahead of the coming wave by playing with the free tools already out there.’  Stephen Follows

Overall, the London Screenwriters’ Festival was a weekend full of valuable insights into the incredible craft of screenwriting and we are already looking forward to attending again next year