In 1992, when 21-year-old Chris Jones made his first micro-budget feature, there wasn’t even a British independent film industry. “I was one of four indie films made in Britain that year,’ he recalls, “25% of the entire independent sector - a ridiculous statistic.”
Twenty-one years on, times have certainly changed – in no small part down to the evangelical Jones himself. Co-author of the hugely successful Guerilla Filmmaker’s Handbook he now heads up the London Screenwriters Festival, helping neophyte filmmaker foot soldiers to storm the movie world’s citadel.
A three-day extravaganza of script labs, pitching sessions with industry bigwigs and guest speakers, this year’s LSF begins this weekend and is headed by Hollywood heavyweight, Joe (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) Eszterhas. Jones proudly describes it as “a screenwriting university compressed into three days - inspirational and aspirational,” backed up by an online video library and vibrant community.
“For three days the lunatics run the asylum,” declares Jones. “We’re creating opportunities for new talent to shine but not in the old-school way of going to the BFI and asking for £40,000 to make a seven-minute film, which is frankly obscene in 2013. We should be making these films on iPhones. Talent should rise because of creativity not budget.”
Jones talked to Dazed about the “not necessarily favourite, but definitely formative” screenplays that have defined his approach to guerilla filmmaking.
Screenwriters: Jim Thomas & John Thomas
This was pre-Internet days so what I had was a 56th generation photocopy - actually it was then called The Hunter - and it was like gold dust. It was the first Hollywood screenplay I’d ever seen, until that time all I’d seen were BBC scripts, which were generally ‘kitchen sink’ [dramas]. I wanted to make movies with cars and aliens and explosions. When I read it, I got to the end and started reading it again. Then I went to see the film seven times in a row!
The Elephant Man (1980)
Screenwriters: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
I’d made two films by this point and I was looking for scripts of great films to study the screenplay and find distinctions between the shooting script and completed movie. I’m slightly dyslexic so I struggle to read an entire script in one go. But The Elephant Man, I started reading it at midnight thinking I’d read ten pages then off to bed - and was still reading at 3 am. I thought it would be a little dry or stuffy, but it was absolutely compelling. It’s one of those stories where you have such massive empathy for the characters and I was interested in the historical context of John Merrick. I think it’s one of David Lynch’s best films because he was forced to be a filmmaker instead of a maverick.
Screenwriter: Sam Hamm
Or The Batman as it was called on the title page. That became Tim Burton’s Batman movie. In those days movie nerds couldn’t get information on films, so reading that script again felt like having Hollywood in my hand. It felt more like a thriller than a camp superhero story, you know, the Batman ‘60s TV show, with his shark repellent canister spray! I’d always loved that but it was also not what Batman should really be. Funnily enough the script wasn’t nearly as good as the Predator script. My first impression was, blimey, where’s Batman? This should actually be called The Joker.
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan
Blimey, the film is hard work in all the right ways! I cannot begin to fathom writing that nested structure and making it all work. What I love about it is that it’s contemporary, commercial, popular cinema that isn’t stupid - almost European filmmaking gone crazy in the Hollywood studio [system]. The main thrust of the story and how you keep that moving while all the other interlocking parts… it’s like a fine watch. You know how it works, but to build it from scratch and have it be unique, is just worthy of marvel.
The Script You’re Writing Right Now
This is bizarre and inspirational and I say it knowing full well I’m deluded saying it. But you’re going to spend a lot of time writing and in love with your script and if it isn’t in your top five scripts, you’re having an affair with the wrong script! I’m writing a film, Rocket Boy, which is a direct evolution from our Oscar-shortlisted short Gone Fishing (above) – and I’ve got to think it’ll be one of the greatest scripts ever written otherwise I’ll never get through the process of getting it to the screen. You have to believe in your work.
The London Screenwriters Festival runs from October 25th-27th. For more information visit www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com