Talent Campus 5.0: Crucible reaction and updates

Hello everyone! Last time I caught up with you I’d just finished the Talent Campus 5.0 Ignition phase. Well now the Crucible has come and gone, and I thought I’d recap that as best I could, along with some new announcements.

The conclusion of Talent Campus 5.0 was both an end and a new beginning. Because while we would all have loved it to go on forever, there is no way myself and my fellow campers will be disappearing from each other’s radars any time soon. There were many hugs, tears and promises in the end. I’m not normally the most emotional guy but even I had a moment near the end. And there exists a tangible possibility that, not content with walking on glass and fire and pitching with tarantulas, we might be jumping out of a plane in the summer!

Chris Jones and the Talent Campus crew have a habit of getting you to dive into extremes you normally wouldn’t. In the end this wasn’t like a regular course at all; they had us dancing, massaging, opening our hearts with closing speeches- and we went for it. Even if we’d never so that normally.  The Talent Campus was about showing us the most extreme person we could be. The person we need to be to make deals with execs without freezing up.

And so, after the five day Ignition phase and three weeks of writing pitch documents, it all culminated in the Pitch Party. Around thirty execs/directors/agents were invited to enjoy complementary drinks and chat to some properly ignited screenwriters.

Apparently some of them approached Chris afterwards to express surprise at how different we were to most screenwriters. Over the last two months we’ve been trained to go against our instinct to pitch straight away, and instead just chat casually and present ourselves as cool people to work with. I honestly forgot to pitch to most of them as I was enjoying the conversations too much. I could have carried on all night!

I have left the Talent Campus 5.0 with a group of friends and memories I will cherish forever, and a new mindset that I am already seeing results from. Talent Campus 6.0 is already underway, and I encourage you all to stay tuned for a Talent Campus 7. I kind of wish I could go through it all again.

But it doesn’t end here. As a result of the experience, all of us are working on projects to keep the magic going in different ways. I myself will be starting a new initiative with seven of my fellow campers.

It will be called ‘Hear Screenplays Here’ (there were some Withnail and I fans in the room). Every month, we’ll assemble local screenwriters and actors and host table reads of shorts and feature segments. It’ll be a great fun way to play around with the craft and hopefully be of use to screenwriters who’d like to hear their dialogue free of industry pressure.

So a lot is happening in the world of James. I must get back to the several drafts I’ve promised numerous people. Until next time, everyone!

A recap of Talent Campus 5.0: Ignition

Hello everyone. I have just returned from a life changing experience that I’d love to share with you all in detail.

As you may know, I have regularly been to the London Screenwriter’s Festival for the past four years. Over that time I’ve repeatedly heard about something called the Talent Campus, and in September I heard a particularly high praise of it. So I decided to apply for it, and to my mild surprise, I got into the Talent Campus 5.0. If you are at all interested in screenwriting, you need to know about this.

I first knew things were going to be crazy when I arrived in London the day before. I saw on the facebook group that a couple of fellow ‘Campers’ were nearby so I went to say hello; they invited me to join them for dinner. We discussed our projects and I mentioned a TV pilot that’s been going nowhere for well over a year. Upon hearing the premise, one of them simply said, “it sounds like episode 6 should be episode 1.” And she’s absolutely right! A huge problem with my concept that I’d missed for so long- fixed just talking to a fellow writer before the Campus had even started.

And it only went up from there. I think every single day I came across a new little detail in one or two scripts that needed fixing. So many incredible people were there to offer insight into the film and TV industry.  I was going to do a detailed section but I’d be here all week so these are some of the people who spoke:

Gub Neal (producer; Cracker, Prime Suspect, The Fall)

John Yorke (exec; Eastenders, Shameless, Life on Mars, author; Into The Woods: A five-act journey into story)

Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty, Bodyguard)

Gareth Unwin (producer; The King’s Speech)

Eleanor Greene (exec producer at Wall to Wall)

 Jean Kitson (agent)

 Samantha Horley (marketing exec)

 Rachel Paterson (Casualty)

 Oh, incidentally, Rachel was a previous Talent Camper. That’s how she started.

But the main focus of the Talent Campus is not to teach you how to write, but to get you ready for the business of writing. For instance, we were given a very entertaining variant of the prisoner’s dilemma in which we had to bid against/negotiate with a rival team to win a theoretical script before it sells to a big distributor; an insight into production companies. Organiser Chris Jones had us read the script and review successive cuts of his short film Seeing Him; an insight into the editing process.  John Yorke set us an exercise to create a pitch for a drama series in groups; a taste of working in a TV writer’s room. And Stephen Follows brought some of his brilliant and fascinating data analyses into audience trends, which give you some surprisingly useful pointers for structure.

Coupled with that, it purges any fears or hang-ups you may have about talking to the great and the good of the industry. The first day was a super intense ‘getting to know everyone’ session. Anyone who’s been to the LSF knows what a force of nature Chris is, and he’s absolutely on fire at these things! If you’re the kind of person who’s not comfortable with hugging and dancing around and being generally Californian, don’t worry- you will be by the end of a day like this like I was. Everyone gets over their hangups together and the momentum just takes you away.

And that’s just as well, because this event is designed to make you face fears and overcome them. The grand finale on day one was walking over broken glass!! But once you get over the anticipation of negativity and just do it (nice and carefully), it’s no worse than walking on pebbles. 

Then there’s day two, pitching a script which a live tarantula or cockroaches crawl over your hand and arm! Now I’m not too bad with spiders but I know I’m lucky in that regard, and the bravery I saw from some of the people in that room was astonishing.

But all that was just preparation for what followed on Saturday night: a fire walk.

We walked across 20 ft of 1600 degree hot coals. And the strangest thing was, I didn’t feel a thing. My feet were completely unscathed. And even those that got a little crispy had no burn marks at all the next morning. Watching these people transform into the ones that walked through that fire was truly amazing. And more importantly, this was all to raise money for a human rights campaign that you can still donate to, and I truly urge you to as it’s very personal to one of the Campers. The link is below:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/open-your-eyes-to-human-rights#/

I’m a different writer to when I started the Talent Campus, and a slightly different person too. Now I must go back to my assignments before the crucible (more on that at a later date!) But until then, I cannot recommend the Talent Campus enough. If you have any desire to write for film/TV professionally, I can only say sign the hell up for the next one!! 

2018 End Of Year Review- A Year Of Firsts!

Hello there!

So it’s the end of 2018, my fourth (official) year since I decided to start screenwriting. 2018 has been a year of firsts for me, so I thought I’d put this together to note the important ones.

My first stage play- For a couple of years, my friend Wayne Liversidge had urged me to write a stage play based on a story he’d wanted to tell for some time. Well this year that finally happened. The Engagement first saw the light of day in a reading at the Sussex Playwright’s January meeting. I say reading- they essentially put on a full production. It was the first time I’d seen a full length piece of mine performed by actors in front of an audience and it was an experience I will never forget. The response to this reading landed us a director and gave us the energy to put the play on at the Rialto Theatre for Hove Grown.

I think I can call The Engagement my first true success as a writer. We ended up packing the theatre, getting a good audience for the Brighton Fringe, let alone a smaller more local event. While I still intend to focus mostly on screenwriting going forward, the contacts I have made doing this play have already made that path a little clearer.

First audio drama- If you haven’t been listening to The Other 1% on iTunes or Spotify, you really should check it out. Within the next 2 months, the episode I wrote, entitled A Night in Balcombe Tunnel, will be online. It’s really exciting to be involved with a project with such a global reach.

First time hosting a screening- My latest short film A Medium Chance was screened at the Caroline of Brunswick this August along with several other shorts made with the same cast or crew. Between each film were general discussions, some terrible jokes and the odd drink, which probably made it all work!

First pitching competition- After submitting a video pitch to Enter The Pitch, I  unexpectedly found myself making the longlist. In the words of Palpatine, “a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one!” While I didn’t make it to the shortlist, knowing how many people voted and expressed their support was incredibly moving, and definitely a confidence booster.

First time getting blind robbed in broad daylight and stranded in a foreign country after also being detained for possession of a possible offensive weapon-… yeah this year wasn’t all marvellous. Moving on.

First time co-writing- I’ve written the ending of a feature draft with Justin Hayward, who has written the beginning and previous drafts. This is proving a most enjoyable process because the story is already there: the hard work is done! Just focusing on the craft of writing a script while coming in with the story almost formed is a nice change of pace. Also, I’m definitely going to start writing the end and working back from now on!

So that’s my 2018 in firsts. The first immediate thing that awaits me in 2019 is the LSF Talent Campus, which I shall be attending in mid-January.  Until then, don’t overdo it tonight, and Happy New Year to all of you!

James Alexander Allen

London Screenwriter’s Festival 2018 Recap.

Hello all you lovely people! 

Well I’m currently experiencing a pretty hard climbdown from the London Screenwriter’s Festival 2018. So as a form of therapy, I thought I’d recap my experience and vital things you can gain and learn from this wonderful three-day event.

I decided to throw myself in at the deep end this year and start with the pitchfest. You have to book this a week in advance and it’s incredibly tense, but it’s your chance to practice pitching to industry execs and agents. I say practise because you mustn’t go in expecting success; follow ups are rare.

In fact, despite being my fourth festival I managed to bomb spectacularly this year. But if that happens you just have to put it aside and move onto the next one. If you learn to pitch well, you’ll be able to do it the day it really leads to great things.

As I said last year I find the Actor’s Table Read the most fun session, and this year I was able to return to it with my new TV pilot. The director was really on point, and seemed to know the material intimately, and with each run through the actors performance brought the script more and more to life. You don’t really realise what you’ve written until you hear the words spoken properly, which can be a huge relief or a welcome wake-up call in some cases; I found myself scribbling frantic revisions as the scene was playing out a couple of times, and had the biggest stupidest grin on my face each time. 

Between all this of course, you had the incredible panels on offer. It was a pleasure to catch up with Scott Myers from GoIntoTheStory once again this year; his talks are always funny and insightful. I also met David Baboulene, whose panel may have fixed a script I have laying around from years ago (which I really must get back to now I think of it).

Being a huge fan of Yes Minister, I loved seeing Jonathan Lynn reminisce about writing the show with Lord Robin Butler, a civil service who helped them with research on it. While Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne are no longer with us, hearing these two discuss the show and the politics behind it was like seeing the spirit of the programme revived. When they realised the panel might run ten minutes late we all cheered; we could have listened to them spout lugubrious truisms about life in Whitehall for another day!

But perhaps one of the most momentous moments this year was the Doctor Who panel. At the end of this panel with Katy Manning, Pearl Mackie, Ingrid Oliver and Robert Shearman. Being a bit of a Doctor Who fan, I shared my attendance of this panel to social media. Afterwards, I took the opportunity to tell Robert how influential the episode ‘Dalek’ was to me as a teen all those years ago. And literally as I was finishing talking to him, my phone buzzed; it was Justin Hayward, a wonderful Brighton actor who performed in both my most recent short films.

These two went to school and performed together.

And before I knew it, I was chatting with the guy who made the Daleks awesome again about a friend we’d both worked with.

The morale of the story is connections. Everything you do in this world brings you closer to someone you wouldn’t believe. The more effort you put into making these connections, the better your chances will be. And for a hopeless optimist British screenwriter struggling to get it together in the Film and TV Industry, there are few better places to start than the London Screenwriter’s Festival.

Reviews for ‘The Engagement’ 27th-28th March 2018, Rialto Theatre

Hello all!

It’s a little late coming, but I would like to thank everyone who took part in the production of ‘The Engagement’, my debut stage play. Faith, Owen and Eden absolutely knocked it out of the park, Thomas, the director, made brilliant use of the venue and our producers gave it a truly professional edge which really shone through. Sales were double my expectations and both nights our cast got the audience they deserved.

We’ve had a couple of reviews, one from Simon Jenner (Fringe Review), who also reviewed our first reading, and Roz Scott (Fringe Guru). Respectively they gave the show ‘Must See’ status and a four star rating. These are some highlights I wanted to share with people:

The Engagement is a love story with a difference. It’s a new play written by James Alexander Allen, inspired by a true story from Wayne Liversidge. Allen, an emerging screen writer and playwright, collaborated with Liversidge to tell his story as part of the Hove Grown Festival. (….) 

I recommend The Engagement as a debut play which has great potential, and was very popular with the audience. As Allen’s first play for theatre, it certainly provides food for thought, and could be developed into a longer piece allowing for more character development at the start. I’ll look out for his future work.

Allen should be applauded for tackling issues often taboo in polite society, and Wayne Liversidge also deserves respect for his courage in telling his story. True stories are often the most compelling.”

 -Roz Scott- Fringe Guru

“It’s back. James Alexander Allen whose experience lies in screenwriting, has turned a true story by actor Wayne Liversidge into a haunting three-hander of delirious love turned dipsy nightmare and plunging somewhere darker than drink could imagine. (….)

This is a true story, and heart-breaking enough. There’s a gritty cautionary note sounded too, but most of all this is about love against unimaginable odds.

 

Allen’s new version presented for Hove Grown is a fine script: idiomatic, even swifter, keenly observant in its naturalism. Which makes it all the more shocking. It proves one of the absolute highlights of 2018’s Hove Grown Play Festival.”-

Simon Jenner- Fringe Review

Many thanks to both for their kind words. The full reviews can be found below, albeit with spoilers. I feel it is safe to say that ‘The Engagement’ will return at some stage.

I have cautious hope to be back with more news soon.

http://fringereview.co.uk/review/hovegrown/2018/the-engagement/

http://brighton.fringeguru.com/reviews/2016/the-engagement

 

Star Wars: Ranking the Lightsaber duels 1-11

Just in time for The Last Jedi, here are each of the sword fights from each of the films, ranked in my personal order of preference. SPOILERS and mildly controversial opinions incoming. (Apologies for the sound discrepancies near the end, this is due to a corrupted audio file I found out about literally right at the end of editing)

 

Thoughts from the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2017

First of all, apologies for the horrendous lack of content over the last year. Life has rather got away from me but I am back on track at long last!

So yesterday I got back from the London Screenwriters’ Festival. They hold this each year at Regent’s University in London and this was my third time going. I cannot recommend it enough if you’re looking to get into the screenwriting business like me. It’s a bit expensive but if you book soonish for next year it really is worth it, I find.

This is different from other festivals in that there’s not really competitions or anything like that. Just a load of panels and events on. You can really group the panels they show into ‘fun’ ‘career’ or ‘both’. They frequently bring in geniuses like Pilar Alessandra and Lucy V. Hay who can give you so much advice on the craft, but they’ll also get in the writers of big movies and TV shows to just talk about their careers and share anecdotes. This year they had Jeb Stuart (Die Hard), Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I),  Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) and many more. Just imagine going to university with a few childhood heroes- that’s what this is like.

Aside from the panels, you can also sign up for the Pitchfest and the Actor’s Table Read. The Pitchfest is kind of built up as the cherry on top of the festival. Basically there’s a load of directors, producers, execs, even agents in this room and you’ve got five minutes with each one to sell your script, but more importantly to sell yourself (not that way you dirty sods!) If you play your cards right, you could get a few very interesting contacts by the time the last bell goes. I know it can be scary to sit in front of these big powerful people and expose your ideas to them, but you’ve got the wonderful Bob Schultz to prep you for it beforehand.

Honestly the Actor’s Table Read is one of my favourite activities; to my regret I didn’t go for it this year but I’ve found the last two brilliant. Basically you take a small scene from your script and give it to a director and a couple of actors and they perform it in front of you in this little room. You can take so much away from these sessions as you can see what actors take from your script at face value, and what they add to it when they hear more about it from you. If they give the performance you want before talking to you, you could be onto a winner! Also, you never know what actors you might get; a few of them have been in some quite major stuff….

The event is run by Chris Jones, who I’m pretty sure is a walking fusion reactor; he just projects energy. Every year he does this big rallying opening event that makes you all feel a bit mad (don’t worry; you are but that’s OK!) There is a real charm to this festival and everyone is super-friendly. There’s a load more stuff going on, but even after three years I haven’t got round to all of it yet!

But the most important thing of all is at the end of each day when everyone goes for drinks. Because it really is everyone- a first time writer looking for advice on their first project or the brains behind one of your favourite movies. Bring business cards to this because just meeting people, making friends who’ll read your work will do more for your career than any big pitch to a Hollywood exec. Just walking around this weekend I spoke to Scott Myers from GoIntoTheStory; you could not meet a more a pleasant or insightful guy. I also chatted with Linda Aronson, who gave me some brilliant advice for a certain project I’m working on at the moment.

Because the London Screenwriters’ Festival is really a metaphor for the industry. It’s not a big scary corridor leading to increasingly important rooms; it’s one giant room, and everybody’s in there somewhere. You just have to always be on form and talk to everyone you can, and you never know what might happen. If you’re a writer with some free time next September, I cannot recommend the LSF enough.