29 April 2009

BAFTA ROCLIFFE New Writing Forum
Chaired By Mike Newell

This was primarily under the auspices of screenwriting but since the evening was based around live performance, I am including it in this blog. I found this to be varied, interesting and challenging evening. It was made clear that the actors gave their time for free but I suspect all the creative input was without remuneration and the quality of this evening surpassed any previous Rocliffe event I have attended. £5 well spent.
BAFTA and Rocliffe are delighted to announce that Mike Newell, the highly acclaimed, BAFTA-winning director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and forthcoming feature Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, will co-chair the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum.
The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum is both a platform for new writing, and a networking event. The format selects three 7-8 minute script extracts - feature film, short film or television drama sketches. The pieces are cast by a casting director, and rehearsed by professional actors and directors on the evening. A narrator sets the piece in context and the extracts are then performed to an audience of producers, development executives, directors, actors and literary agents.

Following each performance, the writer receives feedback from the industry co-chair and answers questions from the audience. The evening will round off with a Q&A with Mike Newell, and finally a relaxed networking session.

The benefits to a writer, new or seasoned, are: hearing their work read by professional actors; a development focused discussion generated by the readings; exposure to and advice from experienced industry members; feedback from an audience and an invaluable method to test out new concepts and material. Given the often isolating nature of the industry, the New Writing Forum creates an ideal environment for networking.

The Most Beautiful Angel by JR Bernucci
Narrator - Rez Kempton
Lucifer - Tony Maudsley
Gabriel - Paul Fox
Directed by Dallas Campbell
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Tom Hodge
Casting by Laura Dickens

This piece had a very good premise with very detailed back-story (to the small section we saw) but it seemed very self-conscience and lacked a little faith in the talent of whatever actors might take the roles by being too heavy on ever-so-slightly pretentious dialogue. This could easily be developed into something extremely interesting but needs some work or collaboration with a brutal but pragmatic hand. Some of the ideas were wonderful and even within the short piece we saw, there were debates that even struck a pleasing chord with this atheist. The performances were wonderful.

Mr Newell hit the ground running with an intensity that created an atmosphere knife-cuttingly still. One might surmise from his responses that he had a particular disdain for the chairperson but I am just hoping she was having a bad night. She annoyed me too and seemed to vacillate between being engaged with saying something that she felt was gloriously pertinent and then drifting into complete detachment. That said, I would not have not coped any better in her shoes - in fact, much worse.

Mike was clearly very excited about the amount of information and depth to the entire story and defended much of the criticism levied at the writer. He found the 'sex with an angel' crime (in God's eyes) after all the good intentions Lucifer had, a glorious concept. The writer said that the main thrust of his piece was that after doing so well and having such good intentions to solve so many of the world's problems that he might possibly being accepted back into God's good favour, this was completely nulled by his liaison with the Angel Gabriel. This was ultimate crime.
It crossed my mind that the other writers must have been sitting in the audience feeling deflated at this point because Mike twice referred to how much more additional detail and texture there was to his piece than either of the other two. He said it in a way that made us think he approved but I suspect he thought that his detail was as over-written as the piece we saw performed. However, while he was praising the writing of the final piece, he double checked with this writer to confirm that English was not his first language. Mike was rightfully very impressed and implied that he suspected that was why it was over-written.
I smiled so much when Mike said 'snicker-snee'. Haven't heard that in ages. He elaborated by saying 'cut & thrust'.

Boy in Amber by Julian Mountfield
Narrator - Alexandra Boyd
Edmund - Chris Overton
Petal(Francis) - Zac Fox
Chandra - Fiona Wade

Directed by Paul Callahan
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Simon Russell
Casting by Laura Dickens

First thing to say about this is that Zac Fox is to be watched like a hawk. Don't be put of by the stage school look of his website. He has clearly been watching the people he's been working with and taking notes. If he is careful, he will have a good, solid career ahead of him. The other performers were very good, given the tiny amount of time they 'd had to work on this but they were a little more heavy handed than Zac and the narrator mis-pronounced a word, which wound me up.
I feel sorry to say this but I felt as though I'd seen a similar story to this a few too many times in my living room. I don't think it would carry the right weight in the cinema but some extraordinary casting could make it work on tv. Ideally, I'd like to see it in an intimate theatre. Credit must also be given to the choice of extract, ending in the very poignant "beautiful, good" which produced an intake of breath from several areas of the audience. Obviously, I have not seen any of the rest of the script but in ten minutes SO much information about these troubled souls was conveyed with so little.

Mike seemed to love this piece too and it was at this point when I realised his praise of the first piece's back story was not to the detraction of the other pieces. The sparsity and use of staccato style language shaped the entire piece and expressed the character's dilemma beautiful. Mike was so enthused but the amount of text that had been removed from this to such great effect.

Mugs - The Life of John Bindon by Christopher Brand
Narrator - Caroline Wildi
John Bindon - Kieran O'Connor
Vickie Hodge - Alexandra Moen
Agent - David Hounslow
Newsreader - Charlotte Purton

Directed by Susan Jacobson
Backdrop by Kem White
Musical Introduction composed by Theo Green
Casting by Laura Dickens

This felt like a very well formed piece based on a true story I knew nothing about but immediately wanted to know more. The performances were good except for Alexandra who was trying too hard and being a bit silly with the pouting - which was an enormous shame because she is a stunning, natural beauty who could be sensational if she was less self conscious. She is to Hotel Bablyon what Jaime Murray is to Hustle - a bit of Kudos tottie that thinks it's enough to look lovely and flounce around like a vacuous model. Well, many models aren't that vacuous so get over yourself and see if you've got some real communication talent. I digress but I did find her antics disrespectful of the script. If she was trying to be an Edie Sedgwick she missed the point of her character and of Edie. Perhaps the fault lay with director.

The chairwoman started by describing this piece as something to watch with two eyes when she did in fact mean it was a biographical piece. She corrected herself later (sorry, but that is a huge bug-bare of mine). Mike adored this one too and commented on how it was clear that Christopher was an actor because he wrote 'speakable' lines. He said it should not really be the job on an actor to work out how to use an unspeakable script but that fate often befalls them.


The evening went on to discuss Mike's career which gave him more opportunity to give withering replies to the chairwoman. It was actually rather funny because she was clearly no match for him but I am not convinced that she knew this.

He wriggled uncomfortably in his chair when asked about work he had liked and really didn't want to say that he wasn't very pleased with anything he'd done except one piece - Bad Blood -which he said nobody saw. I think I must have caught it at the LFF because I do seem to remember it.

A woman in the audience wanted to further discuss a theme of conversation where he had referenced Donnie Brasco and as she was laboriously forming the question, he interrupted by shouting "say his fucking name!" a couple of times. She was clearly not familiar with the film and was quite shaken. It was hilarious, poor woman.

I wish I could remember more of what he said because it was intoxicating. I am sure it will spring to mind when I need a salient thought from the very, very wise.

It was a fantastic evening and any harsh or petty words written here could never be a match for my own staggeringly bad articulation.