In spring 2017 the George Mackay Brown Fellowship collaborated with film-maker Mark Jenkins of West Side Cinema in hosting a screenwriting residency.
Four workshops, each lasting a day, were held on consecutive Sundays from 11 February to 4 March in the Warehouse Buildings, Stromness. They were led by James Mavor, an established screenwriter and course leader at the Screen Academy Scotland, and writer and filmmaker Guđni Lindal Benediktsson, an Icelander based in Edinburgh.
Form and formats
In his first session Guðni Benediktsson introduced writers to the different elements of a script (sluglines, dialogue, action, etc) and to the different documents that come with a script (treatment, synopsis, pitch page, etc). He introduced a variety of screenwriting software packages and how to use them.
Character and structure
In his second session Guðni dealt with the three act structure, showing examples from Star Wars, Jaws, Titanic, and other films. He demonstrated too its importance in music videos, commercials and even trailers. He explored and analysed different steps in the structure to illuminate why this format works so well.
He also discussed character creation, considering what makes a strong character and where to start with creating protagonists.
In his first session, James Mavor discussed what happens when you try and turn one art form (for example a short story, poem, novel, news story or biography) into another (a film or TV series). He pointed out how careful choices need to be made about what to leave in and what to take out; what is essential in the dialogue and what can be conveyed in tone and expression, action and music or sound effects.
He discussed ways of dramatising prose or interior thoughts or description – and encouraged the writers to consider what ‘dramatisation’ may mean.
Examples from film and television were used throughout the sessions.
In the final session James discussed with the writers what ideas and plans they might have for the future, places where they might target their work in Scotland and beyond. He gave advice on who might read new writing; how writers might approach production companies or producers; and how they might get an agent.