22 Sep 12
The Screenwriting Conference ‘Words & Images’ wound up in Sydney last weekend. Held at UTS and Macquarie University, the conference was an international gathering of academics and practitioners interested in researching and rethinking the role of the screenplay in the screen production process. Over the three days of the conference, the screenplay was discussed and debated from just about every conceivable angle: historical, national, intercultural, genre, specific works and auteurs, different approaches and platforms, even formatting.
The Screenwriting Research Network and the Journal of Screenwriting, a peer reviewed academic journal published by Intellect, have both appeared over the past three years and developed into an active and growing academic community. The focus of the network, and the conference, is on an expanded notion of the screenplay. I thought my paper, which was discussing my ambivalent, occasionally hostile relationship to the film script over the course of my filmmaking career, might stand out because of the critique of the conventional screen play it contained. However, this was by no means the case. The conference was full of examples of alternative approaches, that depart from what could be described as the ‘industrial’ approach to screenwriting and embraced other ways of writing for the screen. For instance, I was on a panel with two other speakers interested in improvised approaches to screenwriting.
George Merryman gave a paper on the improvised television drama Going Home, which screened on SBS over two seasons in 2000-1 and on which he was one of the writers. Set on a commuter train, each episode of this series was written, shot, edited and broadcast with a 24 hour turnaround, an amazingly ambitious concept for TV drama that I am not aware has been repeated. It also was designed so that the audience could submit story ideas on the web, some of which were incorporated into the show. George explained that because of Going Home’s topical current affairs content, the case for making it available on DVD has been weak. This is a bit of a tragedy because I have heard many people speak positively about the series, which seemed well ahead of its time. The only material from this series available for the public to view is this trailer:
The other speaker on my panel was Peri Bradley from the University of Portsmouth. She talked about Mike Leigh’s story and performance development process and the influence this has had on some contemporary reality TV shows like ‘The Only Way is Essex’. Peri described this as ‘reali-drama’, where non-actors perform unscripted dialogue in scripted fictional situations. It’s worth having a look at one of the clips from the series she showed, the Botox Party sequence:
There were three keynote speakers at the event. Adrian Martin spoke about where cinematic ideas come from, drawing on a huge range of films and filmmakers to highlight how the genesis of a great film idea is often developed from isolated impressions or moments of imagination. J. J. Murphy talked about the role of place in American Independent Cinema, how place can function as an integral part of the screenwriting process, and discussed many examples of films that emanate from specific places rather than characters or stories. Helen Grace presented a thoroughly researched and thought-provoking reflection on the relationship between the history of the typewriter, the gun and the role of women in the Hollywood studio system. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable event. I met lots of interesting people and joined the network email list immediately after: