Ten Ways To Prepare For Cheltenham's SWF

This time next week, I'll be arriving in Cheltenham, the night before the Screenwriters' Festival 2008. Which is tremendously exciting. As good an excuse as any, furthermore, to state the bleedin' obvious, teach grandmothers the fine art of egg-suckage and present this pre-event checklist:

1) Prepare For Hangovers.
Now, technically, the SWF should be the last place you drink alcohol (apart from, say, a creche, a church or the London Underground). It's safe to assume, after all, that People Of Power are unimpressed by delegates who can barely string a sentence together, then hook an arm around them and pronounce them to be their best mate. In reality, of course, events like this are where everyone drinks the most - either through nerves, the fact that it's such a great social event or both. So prepare for the Worst Morning Scenario with Alka Seltzer and rehydration drinks - nothing will put a dent in your experience like effectively losing a day, courtesy of a hangover.

2) Smell Nice.
Yes, that's right. Make sure you're deoderised, if indeed that's a word. You might be the finest new screenwriter of your generation, but if you reek like a carthorse by 2pm, then you'll find conversations are curtailed rather quickly.

3) Employ Business Cards.
Pretty much essential, to my way of thinking. People Of Power will not thank you for attempting to present them with a hard-copy screenplay, no matter how fascinated they are by your concise 60-second pitch. So here's the goal: ask if they have a business card and give them yours. I've just had a new batch of cards made up for SWF (ordered online through GoodPrint - £26 for 200 cards, matt laminated), and am pleased with the results. Even if I did put 'Camden Town' after 'London' in my home address. Still, I guess even this sheds light on my character - to me, Camden Town might as well be London, given the amount of time I very happily spend here.

4) Absorb The Delegates List.
The festival's website features a Delegates List. This is an alphabetised rundown of people who are attending, accessible to people who have bought tickets. Not only should you be on it, with a photograph and potted biog, but you should browse through every single attendee. Certain facts and faces will commit themselves to memory, and then when you're networking you'll be able to say, "Ah! You're the lady who's written a screenplay about goat buggery". Or "Ah! Your online photograph made your nose look far smaller than it is, sir". Or something diplomatic.

5) Smack Your Pitch Up.
Maybe you've entered this year's Pitch In Time competition (a terrifying affair, which sees a number of entrants pitching to judges before a live festival audience), or maybe you haven't. Either way, there's another pitching competition at the event - a more subtle affair, which runs from start to finish. You get a chance to enter, whenever a Person Of Power utters four code words: "So what's it about?". If you have spec scripts which you're ready to show - or will be ready to show after a frenzied week-or-so of work, post-SWF - then know them off by heart. Work out a sentence-pitch for each of them - and preferably a sentence-pitch which doesn't sound like a mechanical and/or polished pitch. Be ready.

6) Know Your Speakers
There are a wide variety of speakers at the festival. Know what they all do and have done. Make note of anything they've done which you've liked, or are prepared to convincingly lie about having liked. Tell them so, when you muster up the courage to have that two-minute chat with them. But for God's sake, wait until they've finished speaking in front of the festival crowd.

7) The Just-In-Case Memory Stick
As I've said, you don't want to be ferrying weighty screenplays around, and no-one will want to take them off you, unless they're important enough to employ a PA to follow them around with a wheelbarrow. So just in case you happen to get chatting to a Person Of Power, they're bowled over by your pitch and demand to read it tomorrow when they get back to their office, take your specs along on a memory stick. Chances are, it won't be needed. But for three days, you'll feel like James Bond. Just think - all those pages of action and dialogue, in your pocket. But nobody knows.

8) Be Note-Perfect

Take a notepad and a couple of pens. Two uses for these. Firstly, to take note of amazingly inspirational phrases uttered by the likes of guests Julian Fellowes or Mike Leigh. Secondly, to write down e-mail addresses when new contacts have run out of business cards.

9) Wear Clothes
Fairly obvious, this one: while nudity might earn you plenty of attention at the SWF, you might also be sectioned. But it's true to say that screenwriters shouldn't feel the need to legitimise themselves by dressing up too formally. Sure, I might wear the odd suit jacket (a very odd suit jacket) at SWF, but there'll be tie or indeed business trousers. People Of Power don't expect us to dress well - they expect us to write brilliantly for them. Their mental image of us is pretty much "room full of scruffy gits in caps, throwing a baseball around."

10) Manage Your Expectations

If any event is going to change your screenwriting life, it's the SWF. But don't expect it to happen in any kind of wham-bam way. Don't expect an eccentric millionaire to barge through the crowds to get to you, before handing over £500K to develop your career. Most importantly, don't be disappointed if you end the event without feeling like you've 'broken in'. Truth be told, SWF is more likely to enrich your life, through broadening your circle of contacts - whether they're script-peers or People Of Power (and sometimes, script-peers can be both, if they have contacts which you don't) - making you feel better about yourself and the preposterous craft you've chosen to adopt. You'll almost certainly have a blast, but the more relaxed you are, the better it will be. See you there. And if you haven't bought a ticket yet, do it now. Only 98 left...


Jon Peacey said...

Learn delegate list, remember speaker info-splurges, be diplomatic, learn your pitch (have a pitch!!!), wear clothes...

Something's got to give- I only have 1 gig of brainspace left!

"And if you haven't bought a ticket yet..."

...and that would be me! Actually, found some spare squids down the back of the fridge and just writing a fresh bio...

I will not panic; I will not panic!

Jon Peacey said...

"Now, technically, the SWF should be the last place you drink alcohol (apart from, say, a creche, a church or the London Underground)."

You can drink in church... just not much! :)

Jaded and Cynical said...

There's something wrong with that link, Jason. It says tickets cost £330.

Jason Arnopp said...

Mr Peacey: Ahhh yes, the fridge. Back of. First port of call when gathering festival money together.

Mr Jaded: Not quite with you, sir. Is this your way of saying that you think it's expensive?

Elinor said...

Excellent post Jason. Not jealous at all.

Dom Carver said...

Ruddy good post, old chap. See you there...mines a pint of Guinness if you get there before me ;-)

Tim Clague said...

just used this very list to help me jason. see you there dude!

And as a director (as well as writer) I also have some DVDs to hand out