In praise of the smaller more intimate sessions at LondonSWF


I know from feedback that we get from delegates, that they love the idea of the big name speakers, the large hall, the buzz… Often it’s why people buy tickets. But I also know that more often, people report that their biggest moment at the London Screenwriters’ Festival, paradoxically, was actually a small encounter or session. Foccussed, hyper relevant, personal even.

Mark Salmon wrote to me a few days ago, speaking about this, and here is his email… (and by the way, the session he refers to is the session I mentioned in the keynote as being what I believed would be the highlight of the festival). Read on…

The best session I went to was in D06, on Saturday, at 2pm. Lisa McMullin and Rachel Paterson brilliantly described the experience of being a newly professional writer. They did it with candidness, authority, giggling abandon and great wit. At the beginning of the hour, the human contents of room D06 made a pact. What happens in D06 stays in D06. I certainly don’t intend to betray that pact now. Suffice it to say that I entered that room wanting to be a screenwriter, was then subjected to a string of grisly truths and finally emerged wanting to be a screenwriter even more.

My Dad’s favourite saying is “You pay your money, you make your choice”. Lisa and Rachel made their choice; perhaps without knowing quite how difficult it would be to succeed in an incredibly demanding, competitive, bank account-challenging vocation. The sense I got was that they love to write, are bloody good at it and have found that they’d prefer to do nothing else. In their own special ways (compare the Black Sparrow ballistic missile to a vast field of unaccounted-for land mines), they blasted their considerable talents under the noses of people who recognised it, made a difference, helped them or were in a position to be helped.

Lisa and Rachel persisted. Talent and persistence is a lethal combination. The odds of success in becoming a screenwriter are slim. It’s our job to continue to improve our own chances until we meet the right opportunities. That’s the minimum requirement. Up close and personal, Lisa and Rachel shined a ten thousand watt bulb on that reality. In Tuke Hall, I’d listened keenly to writers, producers and directors. Each time, I did so from a distance. I wanted to emulate those people on stage, but my ambitions were nebulous thoughts, parked somewhere in between world peace and the hope that Crofton Park would soon have a decent kebab shop.

At 3pm, on Saturday, in D06, it was different. I looked at these two writers and thought, “ You are both so impressive… Hold on. I am doing now what you have done before. With tremendous effort, I can do in future what you are doing now”. That’s enough arse-kissing for one day.

So, big up the little room! Be proud of being small, interested and interesting. Grow a step at a time. Tuke Hall is fantastic, but it’s something else.

Bring on 2020.

Mark Salmon