The London Screenwriters’ Festival

I spent most of last weekend at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Although the festival’s been running for a couple of years (effectively replacing an entirely unrelated festival held in Cheltenham), this was my first visit, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

The Festival takes place in a very pleasant private college, spread across a number of teaching rooms and lecture theatres, including a very well-equipped theatre. There are four events going on at any given time, which means there’s usually something you’re interested in – and there are frequent breaks for coffee and socializing!

In addition, there are special events, many of which you have to sign up for in advance: speed pitching to UK and US execs and producers, a number of script labs focusing on different genres or media, free personal feedback on your work provided by Euroscript analysts, 90-second elevator pitching (in a real elevator!), and the Saturday night Pitchfest, where hopefuls pay an entry fee and pitch to the audience and assembled speakers in order to win the cash kitty.

So, as a first time attendee, what did I think?

On the Friday night, I was talking to a woman in the bar who expressed surprise that many of the people she’d met when she first started attending didn’t come any more. I was rather less surprised than she was – because LSF is pitched very much at the beginner screenwriter, and I can see how a writer would eventually outgrow much of the teaching and advice on offer.

That’s not a criticism. It’s beginner writers who need the most help, support and camaraderie, and if LSF pitches itself squarely at that market, who can blame it? And they cater to it very well: the caliber of speakers was excellent, and there was something for everyone. If you don’t have an agent or industry contacts, it’s worth attending just for the pitching sessions – I heard about a lot of promising contacts being made there.

But if you’re a more experienced writer, is there anything for you at LSF? I would say: yes. I got onto an excellent 3-hour pitching and idea development lab with Gub Neal, and learned a lot. I entered the elevator pitch for the hell of it, just to try out a brand new idea: and if the slightly bemused exec trapped in the lift with me didn’t want to buy my period detective/western, I wasn’t exactly surprised! I had some excellent free feedback from Euroscript, cheered the terrified entrants at PitchFest, and really enjoyed sessions with Julie Gray, Tony Lee, and Linda Aronson.

Best of all, I got to meet a lot of people I only knew through Twitter – and a few Wolfblood fans!

So if you’re a new screenwriter, I’d recommend LSF wholeheartedly: and provided you plan ahead to make the most of the more advanced or personalized sessions, I’d recommend it for the more experienced writer too.

Now, if they could only improve the quality of the lunches in the college canteen…