Network is a feature film development programme, one of several talent development initiatives run by EIFF throughout the year. Network seeks to support and mentor filmmakers and/or filmmaking teams in progressing their film projects forward and provides opportunities for its participants to meet and learn from a variety of film professionals, build connections with the right people and organisations, and ultimately progress their film projects in the best direction. The project is built around a dedicated website that allows participation by filmmakers from across the UK regardless of circumstance.
With a visit to the Edinburgh International Film Festival accomplished and a meet-up at the London Film Festival imminent, screenwriter Neil Hepburn provides an insight to his experience of the programme so far:
“Hello, my name’s Sisyphus and I’m a screenwriter. No, you haven’t seen anything I’ve written. I’ve got this big bastard screenplay and every time I push it up the mountain it rolls right back down again, right before I reach the top. I think they call this ‘development’. Sometimes, I feel damned to repeat it for eternity. So why bother?
Well, this time it’s different. I’ve got ace writer-director Ben Soper sharing the weight. We’ve got producers (Blue Iris Films) lashing us from behind with whips. And behind them, we have the Network cavalry: a team of industry pros providing support, sage advice and the odd heckle. The odd heckle is good. The number one thing about development is that you’re only as good as your work. Your success depends on your ability to defend yourself against the odd heckle. So heckle away. Because the cold hard road ahead requires a thick skin…
We have a project that we believe in: an intense, sweaty, provocative psychological thriller, set in a hotel, and entitled Night Falls. When Blue Iris took it onto their development slate, to be produced as Ben’s feature debut, we were looking for the right people to help us take things to the next level. Not with a little step up, but with a mammoth leap forwards. We want to leave the programme with a blisteringly good script that demands to be made. We want a greater depth of industry experience so that we can better weather the shit-storm of production and distribution that is coming our way. And we want funding from people who will believe in the project as much as we do.
Our initial meeting with project director Kate Leys quickly put to rest any doubts we had about choosing Network. Kate is terrific with story. She’s a bulldog when it comes to theme. I mean that with the utmost respect. If your theme is in the right place, it can survive the mauling. If it gets covered in bite marks and starts haemorrhaging blood, time for a re-think.
Kate set us up with our group mentor, Peter Ettedgui. Peter’s credits include assistant directing for the great Ken Russell, producing the film Kinky Boots and working as development consultant on the scripts for some hokey spy thing under the working title ‘BOND 24’. Safe to say; the man knows a thing or two about the film industry. He didn’t disappoint.
Peter flew up from London to meet us at the Blue Iris offices. We talked intensely for three solid hours. Story, theme, influences. Great hotel films, great three-handers. Kubrick, Polanski. The cinema of anxiety. Production, casting, finance. How we were going to get our first feature made. I think I ate a cheese sandwich at some point but I can’t be sure. If Network had ended there and then, we would have left with an education.
But that was just the beginning. The next stage took us to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where we were placed in a room full of important industry folk with intimidating job titles and great haircuts. It was time to endear ourselves to the powers that be whilst, half-cut, attempting to gracefully consume unidentifiable meat sticks in the vain hope it would soak up the booze that had just hit our empty stomachs. Nobody wants to be the drunk guy waving the meat sticks
around at a networking event. That could ruin any promising career and perhaps even lead to incarceration.
Luckily, it was a relaxed affair, no one was arrested and we were surrounded by people who were as passionate about cinema as we are. People like Celine Haddad, who once watched Hitchcock’s Notorious every day for a year. Major kudos to that! We made connections, learned lots, and it turned out the meat sticks had a pleasant texture and a subtle spiciness.
So as we madly work on Night Falls in preparation for our next Network date at the London Film Festival, I’m confident that it’s not just our story that’s in a better place. I think we’re a stronger proposition as a filmmaking team – ready to produce a white-hot thriller from our script. And maybe that script is going to roll down the mountain once more. But next time we push it back up we’re going to be stronger than ever before. Go Sisyphus!
So, if you’ll excuse me (and my tenuously linked, somewhat pretentious, Greek myth analogy) I have a mountain to climb.”
Network is a collaboration between Edinburgh International Film Festival and story editor Kate Leys supported by Creative Scotland’s Creative Futures Fund and by the Creative Skillset Film Skills Fund, a part of a Bigger Future 2.