Review: ASFF Masterclass, 4th Nov – Bringing a Story to Life
The venue: York Theatre Royal. The audience: mostly young people. The topic: bringing a script and characters to life in film.
Actor, writer and director Alice Lowe, known for her roles in dark comedies including Electricity, Sightseers, Locke and Hot Fuzz, was the speaker, being asked questions by Dan Weldon from the Northern Film School. The conversation started by delving into Alice’s early career, and whilst I learnt some interesting things about Alice Lowe (she studied classics at Cambridge) I felt like the conversation never moved much past Alice’s career. The topic was bringing a script and characters to life, and I felt like the audience, seemingly comprised of a lot of young people looking for tips on storytelling, were being told a lot of irrelevant things.
There were a number of useful points made, however. The BBC’s ‘department mentality’ was mentioned, where there is not much crossover between drama and comedy, and it seems as though projects which don’t fit into one category neatly are too risky for the executives (with the exception of a few shows: Inside No. 9, Stag and Fleabag were all mentioned). The fact that a script is like your ‘sales document’, basically the only real proof of how your film will be that you can point to if you are at the entry level in the business, made sense. Yet they aren’t points about bringing scripts to life.
The most salient thing I heard from Alice during the 45-minute interview was the idea that you could tell a story from the inside or from the outside. Using her upcoming film Prevenge as an example, Alice plays a pregnant woman whose foetus talks to her and convinces her to kill people. Alice came up with the script idea – and played the character – whilst pregnant. The idea of telling the story of a pregnant woman from the inside, however, was more to do with the actual experiential and sensory aspects of the film. She drew a comparison with Rosemary’s Baby and Knocked Up, where the story is told from an onlooker’s perspective. Telling it from the inside meant using the film and audio in certain ways to create at least some of the feeling for the viewer of how it feels to be pregnant. This, I thought, was a useful distinction to make, and one which actually may help some of the budding writers in the audience.
Another very interesting, though possibly unconventional, suggestion was not really in the form of a tip but an anecdote. For the film Sightseers, where Alice and Steve Oram play a couple doing a cross-country road trip in a caravan, herself and Steve actually did a trip round the UK in a caravan with a cameraman prior to the script being fully written; they were just in character for ages in a caravan together. After that, the script was properly written. Obviously it is essentially just hardcore method acting, but it’s a cool example and one which a group of friends wanting to make a similar road-trip-type film could do.
A number of the useful points were in the Q&A with the audience; I would’ve preferred if this had been extended because it was the most useful part of the masterclass. A question about taking a show to Edinburgh Fringe Festival was met with the response that it costs quite a lot to take a show there these days; almost everyone who takes a show there ends up in thousands of pounds of debt. She recommended the Free Fringe, which costs less and is still a useful platform for aspiring comedians.
For a question about writer’s block, she spoke about having ‘periods of silence’ between projects, where she doesn’t pressure herself to come up with a new idea but just does things which can inspire her – reads books, goes to exhibitions, listens to music (‘the weirder the better’) – and tries to let an idea come to her. She referred to David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish, where he says ideas aren’t made and you have to catch them (Lynch is into meditation and lucid dreaming). Often the best ideas, she said, come from insomnia: lying in a darkened room in the silence with just a lot of time to think. I completely agreed with that; having not had a smartphone for most of my teenage and adult life there have been a lot of times where I would be lying in bed, not able to sleep, just thinking about all sorts of stuff. And sometimes that stuff would be cool, and I wish I’d written it down at the time…alas.
So, the masterclass was informative to a degree but I would have to say that for the price of £8.50 it would be a little steep. More tips about methods of fleshing out scripts and characters, the presumed purpose of the masterclass, would have been better in my view. Still, I enjoyed going. She’s quite funny (being a comedic actress you’d hope so) and thus her anecdotes about her life and career weren’t just run-of-the-mill stuff. I just wish the masterclass had been more topic-focused.