Filmmaker In Residence Project: Legacy 4 (Festival & Screenwriting Lessons)


Touring 'Wilderness' to film festivals has been an eye-opening experience in many ways. It seems obvious but the differences between touring a short and touring a feature are considerable. You soon realise (and I should have remembered from my time as a programmer) that even if a programme team likes your film, 85 minutes is considerably longer than 10 when trying to find a slot for it. 

We knew when we finished the film that it was not going to be to everyone's taste and was emotionally uncompromising and it feels that in some cases festivals may have liked it, but not known what to do with it. Yes, I know that some festivals will have also just thought it wasn't very good or liked it at all. 

This is of course disappointing because you want people to see the work and because you want festivals to be the place that take risks, but in such a competitive and financially precarious environment it is understandable. 

As mentioned in a previous post, we were accepted into 2 festivals that we had to pull out of in terms of participation. It was nearly 3 but Cambridge didn't mind that we had previewed the film to a London audience at the British Independent Film Festival. They asked that we don't show anywhere else beforehand though, which meant we had to pull the film from the lovely World of Film festival in Glasgow. That was a difficult but positive conversation as we discussed screening in Glasgow at a later date in association with the festival, when we hopefully undertake a tour of UK cinemas and universities. We've never been in that position before and found it tough, but necessary given our attachment emotionally to Cambridge and its scale as an independent film festival. 

The other festival we got into was a really big one, one that regularly receives over 10,000 entries and screens only 250 works. It's a very difficult festival to get into and it was tough to have to pull out when they felt the BIFF screening was too much of a conflict with their premiere status requirement. This was again, tough to take and made us realise the value of having clear premiere events in mind when making films. Although we had been rejected before and having got some rejections from similar status festivals earlier in the year we felt it wasn't worth the risk to not screen earlier and pin all our hopes on that one, however big and prestigious. Lesson learned. Although, it is a shame that a festival can like a film and make what amounts to quite an arbitrary decision based on statistics rather than the merits of the work and even their appreciation of it. Still.


Connected to festivals, I also learned and relearned new things about screenwriting. The prestigious Oaxaca FF in Mexico required Spanish subtitles, so I set about compiling a transcript of the film film's script to send off to translators.

It was enlightening to see how actors had performed what I had written. Beyond the odd improvisation that I didn't write, it soon became clear that pretty much every line needed tweaking before sending off.

Despite teaching the maxim that people don't speak in full word full sentences, I didn't write 'Wilderness' like that. The cast though, knew how to make it flow and so I read with a little embarrassment how many times I wrote 'I Am', for example, but watched with pride at how seamlessly and naturally they all said 'I'm' and other similar cases. 

What was also fascinating was how often they switched sections of a line, saying the last half first and vice versa and how a) no one noticed on set and b) it didn't matter. 

It was intriguing to put the two screenplays side by side at the end of the transcription and see how similar and different they are. 

What was nice though, was realising how faithful the cast had been to the written word. Being the producer and education coordinator on set, as well as the writer, meant I didn't and couldn't grasp a lot of the detail of performance, but they did me proud.