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The Yorker at ASFF ’17: Death to the Script (Panel)

This year’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival proved to be a success with a wide and interesting selection of shorts, as well as special events and talks. These included panel screenings of different institutions which teach film to aspiring young artists. On Saturday November 11, a packed audience was given the unique opportunity to see 7 short films made by students at The Northern Film School (part of Leeds Beckett University), as well as engaging in an interesting discussion afterwards, provocatively named Death to the Script.

As a student studying Film and TV Production, I was very curious about the differences between the practices of my university and The Northern Film School. Firstly, some of the films were quite distinct in their form and approach, whereas at York there is usually a very clear set of structures/guidelines that films should follow. The genres ranged from documentary (The Heart of the House) to an experimental short (Some Body) and from a visual poem (The House) to a chilling thriller (To the Bone). There was even an animated film – Goodbye. Animation sadly isn’t done a lot (if at all) at York.

During the discussion it became clear to me that this was due to the creative freedom the lecturers provide their students with. What’s more, most of them seemed to deem the script something which is just a rough plan of what is to be made, the final film being the true artistic product. In this sense the panel looked at the script as an asset that one could do without or follow very loosely. Dan Weldon, senior lecturer, even went as far as saying that a “good film can come out of a bad script”.

Julian Alexander, director of the first film which was screened, Lèo, suggested that writing a script can be useful, however he does personally tend to improvise on set. Other members of the panel expressed a certain disregard for following the script strictly as well, giving such successful examples as Ken Loach, Quentin Tarantino and Mike Leigh, who all share unique and non-standard approaches to storytelling. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the names mentioned are more of an exception rather than the standard. Furthermore, I personally believe that writing is a serious talent, especially in regards to film, so at times the panel’s position did seem quite disregarding to the craft of screenwriting. They keenly discussed the artistic freedom of breaking away from what is on paper, however the fact that the mainstream industry (never mind Tarantino) to this day deeply respects and relies on the art and skills of a good writer to produce content is something which shouldn’t be ignored.

Nevertheless, the discussion, as well as the films screened, showed how short film content lends itself more to a variety of genres and structures. In this sense, young filmmakers should be allowed to experiment and find their own artistic voice, as this can further inspire them to continue producing content in the challenging world of professional film.

Death to the Script was part of Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2017. Image Source: ThingsToDoInYork.com