Thursday, July 20, 2006

There's Always One

There's Always One

Our workshop leader has done his intro spiel, dispensed with some jokes and is now in the midst of imparting his wisdom to the group of thirty odd wannabe screenwriters, a good proportion of whom have receding hairlines. We've reached the rule of 'conflict' when -

"Just to play devil's advocate -"

I twist my head from its forward facing position so it can see which twit has decided to take that line this time. If my ever increasing knowledge of workshops has taught me anything - other than that I get the giggles when Almost Alan Rickman puts his hand in my face - it's that there's always someone, inevitably male, who spends the entire workshop trying to trip up the person leading it. Now I have ego (you may have noticed) and, yes, I know there are certain things I am good at, of which I like to think writing might be one. But this does not mean I have nothing to learn, on the contrary, I have a burning desire to learn, to be better, to reach out and one day win that Olivier/Tony/Oscar/Booker/Nobel Prize [and, yes, those days when I've been surgically attached to the photocopier I have thought about my acceptance speeches*]. I don't know everything, I know a little bit more about dramatic writing than the average person does. And one can assume that there is a reason why the person is leading the workshop as opposed to taking part in it. The fact that he makes his living as a Screenwriter and none of the other people in the room do might have been a clue.

"Not all films have conflict - just to name two, Straight Story doesn't and neither does Forrest Gump"

I can't comment on Straight Story, but Forrest Gump I do know. It's one of the films that has me losing half my body weight in tears. And yes, the word 'conflict' would be alien to Gump but that doesn't mean it isn't there. The film's riddled with it.

"Because the guy in Straight Story - he's pretty easy going, he's not angry -"

I think I might want to maim this guy. Not only is he wanting to show off, he's patently not listening enough to realise that conflict doesn't have to mean people shouting at each other.

The workshop leader's clearly not impressed either.

"I'd say the fact that the guy's dying and wants to live is a pretty big conflict".

Ha-ha, surely Advocate Guy can't come back from that.

"I think he's pretty ok with everything"

The workshop leader looks directly at him and Advocate Guy looks back. I notice that the over-powerful lighting in the lecture theatre at York St John College** is bouncing off what is clearly the beginnings of a bald patch. I have an almost overwhelming urge to throw my water bottle at it.

"I want to tell you all a story -"

This practically comes with neon flashing lights telling us to STOP. Everyone takes their eyes off of Advocate Guy. Even I stop trying to work out the power I'd need to hit the bald spot.

"My brother - he makes furniture. And when he was 17 he went to furniture making college -"

Wow, is there really such a thing as furniture making college? I wonder if it still exists given that pretty much everyone now gets their furniture in flatpacks from Ikea.

"And during his first week there he had to attend a lecture - rather like this but the lecturer was obviously much older and less attractive than me -"

Really? Ok, I'll just let it pass. I'm starting to like this guy.

"It was all about Chippendale furniture and my brother couldn't see why he had to attend when he just wanted to get on and make, well - a chair. So he told the lecturer this"

Oh, bad move I'm guessing.

"The lecturer's response was 'here we clearly have a maverick' and he pulled out some bits of wood and gave them to my brother, telling him to come back next week with a chair. Which my brother thought was great -"

Me, I'd have just looked puzzled at the bits of wood and wondered where the instructions were.

"So he came to the lecture the week after with the chair and presented it to the Lecturer. And the lecturer commended him and told him to sit on it for three hours, which of course my brother did"

"He was, naturally, in traction for the next week and couldn't sit properly for weeks after that. And from then on he went to the lectures without complaining".

Dude, this screenwriter's great. And his brother, I'm sure he's proud that this story is being re-used.

I crane my neck to see if Advocate Guy at least has the sense to blush. He's looking vaguely sheepish, but by this stage sheepish isn't good enough for me. I'm wanting him to lie prostrate at the workshop leader's feet and promise that he will never again use the phrase "devil's advocate".

"So, by all means write a screenplay without conflict in it, but don't expect it to get made"

Game, set and match to the screenwriter I think.
*You may think I'm joking. Sadly I'm not.
**Alma mata of some of my favourite people, including whoever directed the wonderful Adam and Eve Mystery Play which I saw on Sunday.

1 comment:

Val said...

I like the sound of this lecturer/screenwriter - it doesn't sound like anyone I know from St John's though