Student View: Learn From The Masters

Samuel Thornhill takes a look at how media undergraduates can expand their knowledge and improve their career prospects by taking advantage of the opportunities on offer from the likes of the BFI, BAFTA and The British Council.

‘It all starts here. Every line of dialogue and piece of action first appeared on the blank page of the screenwriter.’ Or did it? Was the ‘blank page’ actually covered in creative murmurings scratched onto post-it notes? As an undergraduate, there’s a limit on how much you can learn in a conventional university environment. It’s important to learn from the best and a great way to do this is by attending guest lectures and seminars from successful industry personalities to get the inside scoop on their working methods as unconventional as they may be sometimes.

In recent weeks, BAFTA has played host to a series of screenwriting lectures by some of the industry’s finest screenwriters which has somewhat lifted the lid on the method and the madness behind creating a successful screenplay. The five part series has featured guest lectures from comic book enthusiast and the man behind Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, David S. Goyer; Oscar nominee and writer of Erin Brokovich and The Soloist, Susannah Grant; the creative force behind the Bourne franchise and Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy; Hossein Amini, one of a select few that beautifully construct screenplays through stunning visual direction and Richard Curtis, one of the cornerstones of quintessential British romantic comedy.

I managed to attend the final lecture of the series with Richard Curtis discussing the working process behind the British romantic comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill that he has become synonymous with. Although rom-com isn’t necessarily my favourite genre, listening to a successful screenwriter explain the processes he went through to get to the position he is now was entertaining, alarming and reassuring all at once. The fact that Curtis answered the ‘how?’ question with ‘nobody knows how it’s done and I don’t remember’ you would have perhaps considered unhelpful but hearing Curtis explain the various ups and downs involved in creating a successful screenplay and of his emphasis on the importance of working with people who genuinely believe in your ability and the work that you produce takes the lecture away from simply the mechanistic components of a production and brings the focus onto how to draw the best out of your ability whilst finding the right people to translate your screenplay into a motion picture.

Having the opportunity to hear from those who have gone before you is a great way to avoid making the same mistakes whilst learning how the industry is changing and how to take the necessary steps to stay on track in your career.

Above: Richard Curtis’ lecture at BAFTA: ‘Don’t waste your life having others making the wrong film.’

Making the effort to get out and attend a lecture on issues that are prevalent in the film and television industries may seem all too extra curricular but it is getting to these talks that can benefit undergraduates as they begin undertaking their own productions. Surprisingly, the cost really isn’t as high as you would have thought. You can get hold of a ticket to a BFI, BAFTA or British Council lecture for as little as £5. To check out all of the events being held by BAFTA at various venues you can visit for up-to-date event listings.