Oscar-winning writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty) talked about the writer’s role in the development process. Screenwriter / consultant / lecturer Peter Bloore moderated.
Simon Beaufoy recalled how he used to walk into development meetings “prepared to be ruined” and indeed has had scripts “taken away” even after his first major success with The Full Monty (he cited Blow Dry as an example). However, his approach is different now: bearing in mind that the people a writer faces in these meetings are never stupid but always powerful, with powerful opinions, the writer must find a way to ADAPT others’ ideas while maintaining the core of his/her script. While you may not have the luxury of choosing your allies, the director and producer must understand this core, the soul of your script.
The key to a successful development meeting is MOMENTUM. It’s all about moving the script forward, and everyone should walk out of the room with something gained. While this is actually the producer’s responsibility, successful screenwriters are good at achieving this. Simon Beaufoy also maintained that the writer does not necessarily have to fulfil all development notes – in his opinion about 60% should do. (Note: in the “How to Be Good” SWF session Kate Leys and Rob Kraitt advised writers to make sure that nothing is “their fault” and comply with any and all notes. For a good write-up on this session – and two others – go to Margit Keerdo’s blog .)
Prompted by Peter Bloore’s question, Simon Beaufoy confirmed that going for low-budget films was a conscious decision he made after the Blow Dry disaster, naming his lowest budget film, This Is Not a Love Story, as his best creative experience ever. “Budgetary constraints focus the mind!” So he tackled the project backwards – starting with a budget based on a two-page treatment, then casting, attaching a director, then scouting locations and based on those writing the script in 10 days (yep, that’s what he said!), and another 10 days for shooting… In his words, there are vast opportunities for low-budget, crazy, interesting films and a specific UK voice in this area that needs to be protected.
Finally, Simon Beaufoy stressed the importance of preparing for development meetings. Ask to be given the notes in advance (argue that this will help focus the meeting); ask for ONE set of notes (otherwise you may have to deal with conflicting notes); and if you are given notes face to face after all, smile and say “great, can I get back to you on this when I’ve had time to think about it?”
So should we be worried by the fact that even an Academy Award winning writer is turning to micro-budget because he wants to maintain creative control? My answer would be: if you are crazy enough to write for big budgets, be prepared to lose creative ownership. It’s your choice. And if you’re lucky, you can protect that core of your script Beaufoy talked about. If not, make sure you retain the novelisation rights and write YOUR story as a book.