Mamma Mia!, Slumdog, Timelords at Screenwriters’ Festival

MUMBAI: This year’s Screenwriters’ Festival in Cheltenham has announced a roll call of many of the biggest names in the film and television industry, including the scriptwriters for Slumdog Millionaire, Mamma Mia and Dr Who.

The lineup of guests and delegates reads like a who’s who of the business, with a programme of speakers confirmed including screenwriting heavyweights Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), Catherine Johnson (Mamma Mia), Armando Iannucci (In the Loop), Mark Tonderai (Hush), Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars), as well as a whole host of writers and producers from decades of Dr Who.

Now in its fourth year, the Screenwriters’ Festival (26-29 October at The Cheltenham Ladies College) is a four-day event which brings together international screenwriters and key players from the industry including directors, producers, agents, development execs, financiers and commissioners. It offers an arena for pitching, networking and hard business as well as a chance to listen and learn from the best in the industry at screenings, seminars, keynote speeches and workshops. Most of all, it puts writers in their true place at the heart of the industry.  

The festival will bring together the figures and organisations responsible for commissioning the vast majority of all original TV and film drama in the UK including BBC Drama Commissioning controller Ben Stephenson ,  BBC Films creative director Christine Langan,  BBC Drama controller Series and Serials Kate Harwood, and Film4 / Channel 4 controller Film and Drama Tessa Ross  along with leading independent production companies like Warner Brothers, Kudos, Company, DNA and Big Talk, providing an opportunity to find out why mainstream audiences get the shows and films they see on TV and at the cinema.

Festival director David Pearson said, "The Film and TV industry’s key decision makers will be joining the UK’s leading writers, producers and directors, and this year there will be more market focussed meetings and networking that will once again lead to new projects being progressed and made. With our extended public events like Armando Iannucci’s ‘Funny Bits’ and Catherine Johnson’s ‘Musical Magic’, we are giving an even wider audience the chance to hear from the world’s leading screen story tellers."

The festival a talk by Big Talk Productions joint CEO Kenton Allen who has been responsible for TV and feature film hits including Spaced, Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. Also speaking will be writer/director Armando Iannucci (In the Loop, The Thick of It) and award-winning comedian/writer Francesca Martinez. Bringing a musical note to the festival will be Mamma Mia screenwriter, Catherine Johnson, who will talk about her favourite musicals and how they inspired her to write the script for the biggest grossing musical of all time.

The festival will also pay homage to Dr Who – one of the most remarkable and enduring icons of British television, which captivated and terrified family audiences from 1963-89, before being successfully revived in 2005 to thrill the nation all over again. To celebrate this, SWF presents Once Upon a Time Lord – a raft of sessions featuring writers, producers and script editors (including Terrance Dicks and Philip Hinchcliffe) from across the decades to discuss how the world’s longest running sci-fi show has stood the test of time.  

Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy, whose hits include Slumdog Millionaire and The Full Monty, will talk about dealing with the power shifts in the development process of bringing a film to the screen. He’ll be speaking to Peter Bloore, a leading academic in creative writing and film studies and screenwriter in his own right (The Truth About Love, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Dougray Scott).

The resurgence of the Brit-thriller is represented by guest speakers including writer/director Mark Tonderai (Hush), as well as Leigh Campbell and Lindy Heymann (Kicks). Also speaking will be one-to-watch courier-cum-director, Marc Price, whose ultra no-budget zombie flick, Colin, was shot for just £45 using an old camcorder, PC editing software, and extras rounded up through social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace. After screening at Cannes, it was picked up by a distribution company and is expected to hit cinemas in time for Halloween.

Conversion will be a central Festival theme, exploring ways to move from writing in one industry sector to another. How does one move from writing for TV to writing for film? From radio to TV? Or from producing to writing? SWF will host a series of sessions to help delegates ‘convert’ their talents and recognise their transferrable skills. And British TV writer, Ashley Pharoah, whose co-creation Life on Mars has already received a US makeover alongside other UK exports including The Office, will talk about the differences of writing for the UK and US markets.

Short films will also form a core theme of the festival, being the format in which most writers and filmmaker start, and the easiest way to get a script produced. Noted screenwriter Tony Grisoni (Red Riding, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas) and producer Kate Ogborn will talk about their short, Kingsland #1: The Dreamer from conception through to production and on to distribution, while Chris Jones will talk about the unique way he funded his Oscar listed and award-winning short, Gone Fishing.