Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Festival / Snorefest?

Today I attended the New Writers Day at the Cheltenham Scriptwriters' Festival 2006. When it was originally advertised I didn't fall into the category of Professional Delegate according to the wesite's guidelines - "This part of the Festival is generally for writers who have been optioned, produced or who have a projects that has been accepted in competition by recognised screen development agencies." So I signed up for the New Writers Day at £90.

I received an email a week before asking me to fill in a tick list of the sessions I wanted to attend - "Please find attached a tick sheet containing the session for Tuesday 27th June. Would you be able to tick which ones you are interested in and return to me, we want to make sure that everyone will get to the sessions of their choice." When I got there I was told that people had to sign up to the pitching sessions on their arrival, something as far as I was concerned I had already signed up for on the above tick list. I was told that this was not the case and that all the pitching sessions had now been booked up and I couldn't get on one. This was the main focus of my day and I was quite furious that I wasn't allowed to attend when as far as I was concerned I had already booked my place.

To make matters worse the rest of the events/presentations were basic at best, not really geared to what I would call New Writers trying to break into the industry. The guests simply went over stuff I already knew. It was all basic stuff aimed at people who have just decided to take up writing and not those who have been writing for some while and want a little more insider knowledge to help them along.

Most of the presentations were 45 mins long and so hurried that they were brushing over large chunks of information. The question and answer sessions at the end lasted no longer than 10 minutes allowing for 2-3 questions only. The delegates were then hustled out like sheep to the next presentation by a woman with radio and headset/microphone.

14.00 - 14.45pm Getting in - A Pitching Case Study the fourth presentation was by far the worst. The first 20 minutes were taken up by the presenters telling us their bios, which we already had in our welcome pack. They then talked about how shit the industry was at letting talent in for the next 15 minutes and then during the last five they answered two questions from the audience.

I staid for one last presentation on the legal side of things (contracts, etc) and was treated to a slide show that was brushed over so fast I didn't have time to make any notes. By this time I had had enough and I left for the two and a half hour journey home.

It was a total waste of time as far as I was concerned and I will be writing an email asking for my money back.

UPDATE: I think my lack of enjoyment can be put down to my expectations. Having a degree in scriptwriting I knew pretty much everything that was covered at the New Writers' Day. I was kind of expecting the day to be aimed at those writers who hadn't yet had a sale/commision/option. I wasn't expecting it to be aimed at those people just taking up the craft. 75% of the people who have contacted me seem to agree.

I have been reliably informed by Danny Stack that the Professional Delegates Festival is a winner. I shall be attending that next year.


Sal said...

Dom, I'm sorry you had such a bad time, but thanks for letting us know. I didn't go to Cheltenham because I felt I fell between the days - not a beginner, but not earning a living yet, and also I'm totally skint. I hope you at least managed to meet people while you were there.

Optimistic_Reader said...

Hi Dom,

Yes, I'm sorry it was such a disappointment. Like Sal, I couldn't go for financial reasons and I was also irritated they didn't publicise a firm schedule before expecting people to sign up, making it impossible for me to judge whether or not I could travel up from London on the day. I had a concern from the outset with this that cordoning off new writer's from professional writer's would be a bad idea. Definitely email them with your complaints - I think the festival was a step in the right direction and the only way it can improve is if those who attended give their feedback. I wonder if the professional bit will be any better? Thanks for posting.

Dom Carver said...

I did enjoy two bits: the lovely ham, turkey and cheese baggette I had for lunch and the book I bought on pitching.

I shall be emailing them my more restrained comments. I suspect there will be lots of improvements for next year.

Tim Clague said...

What a downer. This should have been the hit of the year. I mean if this thing isn't aimed at you Dom then what is it for?

Dan said...

I can imagine we have much to learn from the Yanks on things like this. Perhaps it's just teething problems? Do let them know your thoughts as it's the only way it will improve.

Good post by the way.

Dom Carver said...

I'm not the only one. After emailing everyone who attended the New Writers' Day half an hour ago I've recieved 15 replies confirming the same disapointments

Piers said...

I almost shelled out for this - then I found that they were opening the professional days up for new writers with scripts.

So that was that. It immediately become pointless attending the New Writers' Day, and thanks to the late notice I'd already made commitments for the professional days.

I can only assume from the opening up of the professional days and the fact that I got called up twice by a nice lady who said "Hello, you appear to have abandoned your application half-way through, can we help?" that take-up wasn't as high as they were hoping for.

I still think the idea of the festival is good, and I'd like to go along.

But not to a New Writers' Day.

James Moran said...

That's such a shame, particularly as the pro days sound so good. There isn't really anything for new writers here, unless they want to do the college courses available. They should either tailor it to reflect the suggestions of the disappointed delegates, or just let new writers go to the pro days, where they'll probably learn a lot more.

Nick Ostler said...

Hi Dom,

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the session we did on the New Writers Day. I think you're right that 45 mins wasn't long enough and also that we didn't leave enough time for questions at the end. But we were approached by several new writers after the talk and throughout the day and we were happy to talk to all of them for as long as they wanted. It's always difficult to know how to pitch these things as the audience will inevitably consist of people at different levels. Personally I find that simply hearing another writer's experiences is the most interesting and useful thing sometimes, which is why we started by telling you something about what we'd done and how we'd got to the stage we are at. I've been wracking my brains to remember what we said that could have been interpreted as us saying "how shit the industry was at letting talent in", because that's really not how we feel and isn't our experience at all. On a more general note about the festival what I would say is this: it's a new venture, it wasn't perfect and there are certainly issues about the new writers/professional delegate split, the pricing and billing which need to be addressed. But if we all give constructive feedback and encourage it to develop and improve each year, then it might just end up being an important date in the UK screenwriting calendar. Most people I spoke to there had got something positive out of it both in terms of ideas and contacts. I hope you'll send your feedback to the organisers. But bear in mind that all the speakers gave their time for free and many travelled a long way to be there. Cheers.

Robin Kelly said...


What's the pitching book? Do you recommend it?

Michael Colman said...

Having enjoyed the whole week down at Cheltenham as a runner I missed most of the New Writers Day but enjoyed about 80% of presentations on the next 3 days including Jimmy McGovern, in scintillating form, and Bill Nicholson’s tales of dealing with Hollywood.

I also enjoyed all I could eat, plenty of free booze and great networking.

Being on an MA myself I suspected that I was already beyond the New Writers stage and talking to some of the New Writers at the network party my suspicions were confirmed.

Quote:- “I ve got a couple of hundred pages of really funny stuff but I ve just got to tie the story up”.

I am sure the Festival Director, David Pearson would be very responsive to comments on your blog in order to make next years festival even better.

Who knows, next year I may even be a delegate!

Michael Colman

Paul Campbell said...


I think they never really got to grips with who the Festival was for. The divide between "newbies" and "pros" was skewed too far towards the Newbies. I blagged my way ino the Pros days and thoroughly enjoyed them. Most of the other writers I met were at the "newbie" end of the "pro" spectrum. You'd have been right at home.

Sometime in the next day or so I'll be posting thoughts on the whole shebang. If you can afford the dosh, I'd make an effort to put the date in your diary for next year.

Stewart McKie said...

Dom - I'm a new writer and skipped the first day as the content looked poor, but ended up paying £150 for the first day of the show as it was the only one I could make (only to find out that there was a "special offer" at the show that meant I could have gone to the new writers day and the first day for less, which was annoying).

All I can say about the pricing for this show generally is that it would have been more cost effective to fly to LA!

Although I enjoyed the anecdotes of the luminaries I did go to one session entitled something like "taking the call" that basically turned into a pisstake of Americans. Everone had a good laugh about how they never know the time in Europe and think we all have bad teeth but come on... we all know this from Austin Powers ... we don't need "experts" to tell us that.

As I'm married to an American and have lived there for 10 years I found this rather condescending and sat there hoping there were no Americans in the room to listen to the rather snide jokes. I can't imagine the same thing happening at a US event...An 18 year old I met after the session agreed and made the wordly observation that "Americans are always an easy target for cheap cracks."

Trouble is they run the film business so maybe a few more people should have paid attention to the subtext of the sessions by Julian Fellowes and Bill Nicholson both of which were excellent on the theme of UK screenwriters: WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE...

Mr. Pearson deserves emmense kudos for getting this show off the ground and on the road but it needs better quality control over the content and more reasonable pricing.