This time last year I was waiting anxiously to start my Scriptwriting degree at Bournemouth University. I’d only ever really written short stories and poetry but had a strong interest in the screenplay format. So to sit here now, jet-lagged, after having travelled half way across the world to represent my screenplay in a Film Festival is a really strange feeling. I can’t wrap my head around how it happened. How did pretty much my first ever short screenplay make it to the semi-finals of an international film festival competition? I can’t say I have an answer for that, but I’m not going to question it now!
It all happened so quickly; one day after submitting my script, I received an email telling me I had been officially selected, along with an invitation to the Hollyshorts Film Festival in Hollywood – one week later! After the screaming had subsided we quickly started making plans, desperately trying to find a way for me to get to LA in time for this incredible opportunity! With the immense support from family and friends, and a grant from my Uni, I had managed to plan a trip to Los Angeles in only three days. I can honestly say without everyone’s generosity and support I wouldn’t have been able to go. And then I was off; it was the craziest thing! I remember sitting on the plane, still not fully able to wrap my head around the idea that I was going to Hollywood, entirely alone, not knowing what to expect. I think it was when I stepped off the plane that it actually finally hit me. I’m in Los Angeles as an actual writer. That feeling never really went away.
The actual festival itself was quite overwhelming but absolutely incredible; the quality of the short films was just amazing. Being surrounded by so much talent and soaking in so many award-nominated films, as well as being able to actually meet and talk to the filmmakers themselves on an equal level was definitely a highlight for me. It’s a surreal experience to be in a theatre watching Full Metal Jacket, only to then have Matthew Modine himself standing 10 feet away from me, addressing us as a room full of his peers. The wealth of knowledge that everyone in the film industry has is worth somuch to me, as an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker, and I really think that the amount that I learnt and can now take away from this experience will really change the way I approach my future scripts.
For the 10 days of the festival I pretty much lived and breathed cinema. The screenings ran for almost 12 hours a day every day, and were arranged into screening blocks according to their genre, or significant features. The blocks included everything from horror, comedy and drama, to things such as otherworldly, Adult Animation, LGBT, coming of age, cinematography and international. The list goes on! There was definitely something for everybody, and you could see in every screening just how engrossed the audiences were, without fail. After a few days I decided I would carefully pick and choose which screenings I’d attend so I would actually have time to eat and sleep. I decided I’d try not to stay in my comfort zone and chose a mix of blocks to watch; some of my favourites and others that in my day-to-day life may not have been my first choice. And genuinely, it was a learning experience to discover that I enjoyed certain genres that I usually avoided. Some of the most memorable shorts for me were from the Dark Comedy and Sci-Fi/Fantasy blocks; two genres/styles I usually avoid watching. So it’s been interesting for me to come back home and realise there are so many more things out there to enjoy if you just open your mind and try new things!
Aside from the film screenings, the festival also included a Panel Conference with experts from all over the world sharing their knowledge and experiences in the film industry. I was able to attend a few of the panels, and learnt so much from script experts, writers and consultants such as Danny Manus and Alan Watt. It was so useful to hear what experts in the industry look for in a screenplay, what they avoid, and what they think makes a solid script. Another panel I attended was called The Future is Female – Wonder Women in Hollywood, and it was really empowering! I realised a little late into the talk that it was aimed at Female Directors (which I am currently not), but they still had so much information to offer me as a writer. Equality and diversity were at the forefront of the conversation, and it was great to see so many people so dedicated to seeing more representation in the film industry, both in front of and behind the cameras. It was also great to see a conversation about feminism stressing the importance of intersectionality (this is a great article on intersectionality, written by the Professor who coined the term).
So okay, to sum it all up, I didn’t win the contest, but I did win something. I genuinely feel that I won a prize by being able to attend this festival. I won the experience, the contacts, the memories, the knowledge, the inspiration. I’ll be starting the second year of my degree this month, and I know I’m going into it with a whole different perspective.