NETWORK Weekender: One Year On

What happens when you lock a bunch of hot young writers, directors and producers in a room?

8 November 2016
Simran Hans
By Simran Hans
Simran is a freelance writer, and the producer and programmer of Bechdel Test Fest, an ongoing celebration of films that represent women in a positive and progressive light.
With only days to go till round two, we look back at last year's Weekender where the BFI NETWORK assembled a group of their freshest talent, and took them to Manchester for a weekend of talks, panels and workshops at HOME. One year on, I chatted to some of the up and coming creatives who took part in the scheme, inviting them to reflect on the year gone by and share the things they learned, the people they met and the challenges they’ve overcome since attending last year’s inaugural event. Inevitably, these filmmakers were full of praise – after all, what’s not to love about a grown-up school trip with advice from experts like Andrea Arnold and Joanna Hogg. However, I didn’t expect to uncover such a variety of excellent anecdotes and generous responses, from the emotional solidarity experienced to candid declarations about the difficulties they’ve faced as jobbing filmmakers just trying to make it. Read on to find out about exactly what went down and what’s occurred since.
 
What were your expectations for the NETWORK Weekender?
 
Joy Wilkinson: I saw it as a chance to connect with a brilliant bunch of people [who are] at the same point in their career as me, and sit in rooms listening to a brilliant bunch of people who are further ahead.
Michael Pearce: I hoped to expand my network of other up and coming filmmakers, and learn from experienced ones.
Stewart Thomson: I was hoping to make a lot of interesting new contacts within the industry and learn all I could from the speakers.
Rachelle Constant: I wanted to meet and establish networks with fellow filmmakers and to hear from leading industry professionals about their steps to success and getting your first feature off the ground.
Francis Lee: I don't really think I had any. I always try to have an open mind.
Matt Holness: I wasn't sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find so many writers and directors share similar anxieties, insecurities and rage.
Loran Dunn: My expectation was to go to some really great workshops and seminars, but actually what was really fantastic was meeting all the other filmmakers. It felt a lot like a talent lab, and having the opportunity to talk with people within the framework of the events – and without the pressure of competition or projects – was quite freeing, and really exciting.
 
people in a cinema
 
What was the most important thing you learned?
 
Rachelle Constant: The most important thing I learned was to establish where your film fits in the marketplace and how to best market it across media platforms.
Matt Holness: Probably gaining an insight into the mechanics of selling and distributing films, something you don't necessarily think about when writing your script (or even after). 
Joy Wilkinson: How much the industry is driven by individuals. And how much we need each other.
Francis Lee: I got a lot out of the support, discussion and interaction with other filmmakers.
Loran Dunn: I think the most valuable thing I took away was about the evolution of features - it was encouraging to hear how things don't always go to plan, and how scripts change during the development process. I think features can feel like a daunting endeavor, partly because the story feels hard to keep control of. There are so many variables so hearing the experiences of others about how to manage that process was invaluable.
Michael Pearce: The difficulties you go through as a filmmaker are much the same as very experienced filmmakers. It's always hard, you rarely have the time you need or enough money, there's often many unforeseeable obstacles that affect how you shoot a scene, etc. Hearing about the challenges these experienced filmmakers faced made me think about how much you can and can't control when making a film. There wasn't a specific piece of advice [I found most useful], but the discussions around these challenges made me reflect a lot about when to be uncompromising and when to adapt to the circumstances. 
Stewart Thomson: The most important realisation I had was that everyone there, no matter what point in their career they were at, were dealing with the same difficulties and self-doubts that I was. I suddenly didn't feel so alone in the industry.
 
Who was the most interesting person you met there? 
 

Francis Lee: Matimba Kabalika [BFI NETWORK Talent Development Manager].
Matt Holness: Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey). She was hugely inspiring and full of down-to-earth, practical advice for directors, on set and off. 
Francis Poletti: I’m now writing a feature with one of the other [participants] – after meeting at the Weekender, we swapped films and decided we'd try collaborating. So far so good!
Michael Pearce: Andrea Arnold and James Wilson [producer of films including Under the Skin, Attack the Block]. Both are personal heroes of mine, and it was a real pleasure to listen to them speak candidly about their experiences.
Joy Wilkinson: I was lucky enough to sit with Joanna Hogg (Archipelago, Exhibition) at dinner. She had a rotten cold, but still managed to be fascinating and insightful about how it is to get work made and seen.
Ruth Paxton: I really enjoyed meeting [filmmaker and frequent Years & Years collaborator] Fred Rowson. 
Stewart Thomson: It was great to meet fellow Scot John Maclean (Slow West). I loved his film and it was great to chat to him after hearing his talk about his career and where he's going next. It was also great to meet Matthew Holness. I'm a big fan of his work.
Loran Dunn: Everyone! All the filmmakers were fantastically talented. It was a privilege to meet them.
 
side view of people in a row at a cinema
 
What projects are you currently working on/have you worked on since the Weekender?
 
Michael Pearce: I’m working on my first feature, Beast. I went into pre-production in June and shot at the end of July and into August and am currently in the edit.
Francis Lee: I'm now in post-production on God's Own Country and I'm developing/writing my next feature project. 
Matt Holness: I’m currently working on a horror feature and comedy horror short.
Rachelle Constant: I am currently developing two feature film ideas, one with a playwright and the other with a film/TV writer. Both are first feature projects that I’m passionate about developing.
Stewart Thomson: I've been writing a new draft of a feature script and writing a comedy pilot for BBC3. The pilot has been very challenging and draining due to the long rewrite process. Sometimes it was difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but thankfully that pilot has been produced now and is now live on BBC iPlayer. Since then, I've been working on a new sitcom treatment for Objective and rewriting two feature screenplays that I hope will go into production next year.
Ruth Paxton: I am currently working on feature, A Hymn for Mars, and have just submitted a draft to Scottish Film & Talent Network/Creative Scotland. We now hope to secure an American co-producer to the project, and move towards securing finance.
Joy Wilkinson: I’ve got a project called Blow Up Dolls on the iFeatures 2016 development slate, as well as three original feature projects in the works with producers in the UK and US. Next up are feature adaptations of The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis and a Georges Simenon novella, plus some very cool television projects in the pipeline.
Loran Dunn: Since the Weekender I've shot four new shorts – three with the backing of the BFI and one with finance from NOWNESS. I've just been awarded the BFI Vision award so I’m in the process of lining up some features for the next two years, the first of which is a follow up to our BFI NETWORK funded short The Pig Child which is a modern day retelling of the Frankenstein story called ‘Night Side’. We're also looking at a feature length version of a short we've shot this year called Lambing Season. It’s about a young boy growing up on a Yorkshire Hill Farm who releases he's been the victim of a child kidnapping, and that his parents aren't his parents at all, but his captors.
 
What is the biggest career challenge you've faced in the year since the Weekender and how did you deal with it? 
 
Francis Lee: Shooting my first feature film God's Own Country in the spring of this year has been a challenge. I don't think anything can truly prepare you for it. I just started everyday with the idea of never giving up.
Loran Dunn: I think the biggest career challenge this year has been keeping afloat financially. It's been really important for the talent I've been working with to make the shorts we've made this year. They are all massive steps up and will undoubtedly open doors for features moving forward, but it's impossible to make any money doing this. It's been a massive investment year, and I've worked really hard to deliver some fantastic films that far outweigh their budgets – but I'm hoping the pay off will come in the next couple of years!

Matt Holness: For me, the biggest challenge was realising I had to [stop working] on a creative project I'd been wrestling with for over half a decade... It was an extremely tough decision but ultimately the right one, I think.
Rachelle Constant: I would have to say the biggest career challenge I have faced since the Weekender was producing a series of short films for BBC 3 with a challenging director, having to manage the relationships on and off set, and acting as a neutral intermediary.
Joy Wilkinson: I’ve dipped my toe into the US industry, which is incredibly exciting, but a whole new mountain to climb. I’ve dealt with it by working like stink and ignoring my children. But I got them a PS4 so it’s okay.
 
 
Keep an eye out for more on this year's NETWORK Weekender coming to the site soon!