An insight into BFI NETWORK’S first Story Day

Dionne discusses NETWORK’s inaugural story day and how to kickstart your career.

13 May 2016
By Dionne Farrell
Dionne spent two years working in factual programming on a variety of projects, before joining the BFI as a trainee Script Editor.
Every now and then I have a ‘pinch myself, you’re so lucky’ moment, and I think I can now count Friday 6 May 2016 as one of them, having been privileged enough to attend the BFI NETWORK and Script Cube’s first ever story day. Given that this was a day dedicated to all things ‘story, I thought it would be appropriate to write this in the style of one. But then I couldn’t think of any! My brain is too full of quotes from Lemonade and Views, so this may well contain a few song references instead (play spot the lyric, if you will). Anyway, let’s set the scene shall we?
 
INT. BFI SCREENING ROOM. DAY
 
Armed with a new notebook (courtesy of BFI NETWORK) 25 writers, directors and producers selected from the postroom gathered in one of the BFI’s screening rooms to hear a lecture on the ‘anatomy’ of story. The amazing, infallible, indefatigable (seriously) Angeli Macfarlane  took us back to basics, explaining the essential building blocks of screenwriting in layman’s terms. For me, this was exactly what I needed. Sometimes screenwriting books can be a little overwhelming, and once you’ve got your head around act breaks, turning points and inciting incidents, you may have forgotten what you even wanted to say! But Angeli has a way of putting the ‘anatomy’ of storytelling in terms of feeling. It’s a personal experience as much as it is theoretical, and my quote of the day would have to be “you cannot separate storytelling from the storyteller”. I realised that much of the process of screenwriting – finding your ‘voice’, pinning down your story – is about coming to know yourself.
 
I don’t mean to make this sound super psychological, but in some respects it is. It took over an hour for us to get down to plot, because that’s the ‘easy’ part. Getting your characters right, their motivations and behaviour, and the world of your film is integral to honing your idea. If you’re finding the development of your project challenging, then good, it should be! As one of the attendees said, a big mistake is when we make things easy for our characters in order to make it easy on ourselves. Developing your film may force you to interrogate yourself in ways you hadn’t imagined, but stay with that, because that is when you know you’ve struck on something.
 
close up on a hand writing in a notebook
 
So I’m going to interrupt my DMT (Deep Meaningful Thoughts), because we’ve come to the part where a handsome man enters with useful advice. And we were lucky to have not just one, but two:
Enter ALEEM KHAN (writer/director of Three Brothers) and ROBIN MUKHERJEE (writer of Lore).
 
After a break with teas, coffees and biscuits (the perks are endless) we watched Khan’s Three Brothers and spoke about the process of development. Both shared invaluable advice and anecdotes about their experiences of writing and making films, and Robin was later joined by Femi Kolade for a Q&A on what makes story work. Hearing Aleem speak about the inspiration behind his short, and Robin speak about the years of research that went into Lore, was the reassurance I needed to know that I don’t have to rush my process. Sometimes I think we all feel a pressure to run out and make something, because every week there’s 10 new releases at the cinema. But guys, films take years! Don’t worry if you’ve had that idea about the cat who falls in love with a dog since you were 13 and it’s only now turning into a script. Beyoncé wasn’t built in a day!
 
3 people sit on chairs in front of an audience in the cinema
 
INT. BFI STEPHEN ST. DAY
 
The speakers weren’t the only good thing about Story Day: of course, getting to have a chat with these guys over lunch was amazing, but it was also great to meet and talk to the other attendees. Sometimes I find it really intimidating going to industry events and meeting loads of talented, passionate people who are also eager to make their mark on the industry. But this isn’t about competition, it’s about growing and supporting new talent. The level of enthusiasm, and the breadth of experience in the room was astounding: from recent graduates to Bafta winners, playwrights, independent filmmakers, and people with day jobs completely unrelated to film, this was an event for anyone with a passion for filmmaking. So rather than feeling out of place or deterred as I have done in the past, I found myself thinking, ‘Damn, Daniel!’, I’m among the filmmakers of the future.
 
 a group of people chat around a table
 
Another thing that has constantly daunted and eluded me is money. As someone to whom funding has always been a mystery (writers don’t need money, we live on words and dreams, right?), finishing the day with a talk about funding was a massive plus. We were joined by executives from the likes of the Scottish Film Talent Network, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Creative England (who we later got to have a drink with). They  were able to debunk some of the concerns and queries we all had about what they actually do, applying for funding and getting our films made. It made the whole idea of actually taking a script from page to screen that much less frightening, and these giant corporations we gawk at on the internet that much more accessible.
 
INT. MY BRAIN. TIMELESS
 
To conclude. Sometimes when you’re working on a script it can feel a bit like this:
 
Drake sitting on top of a very tall tower
 
But after the NETWORK and Script Cube’s Story Day I am heartened to know that it doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, there are people out there who are interested in nurturing new talent, and are ready and willing to support you.
 
A group of people in a cinema