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BSS2015: collaboration doesn’t happen by magic

The opening session of this year’s Big Screen Symposium brought together (pictured, left to right) writer Briar Grace-Smith, writer and director Sebastian Silva, Script to Screen chair Brita McVeigh (moderator), writer and producer Anthony McCarten and producer Bridget Ikin to discuss collaborations – what makes’em and breaks’em.

Fear, trust, anger and a little bit of love all took turns as driving forces of good and bad collaborative experiences.

Quickly moving past the obvious examples of building relationships, the panelists warmed up to explore some of their less common approaches to productive collaborations.

Silva shared details of working with Christopher Doyle on Magic Magic. Doyle has a reputation of being difficult to work with. “He likes drinking and he’s a rock star,” Silva said. From initial excitement (“We had a Skype and he seemed a bit tipsy but very friendly”) Silva said the relationship became difficult and he found himself at odds with Doyle.

“I want a close-up of the lead up actor here.”

“We’re not doing that HBO bullshit,” Doyle responded.

Silva ended up going behind his DoP’s back to get other members of the crew to get the shots he wanted. What he took away from the experience was learning to articulate and defend his position on certain issues.

Ikin wasn’t a fan of working with people she didn’t get on with. “The best collaborations for me are ones where conflict isn’t inherent in the relationship.”

Be Afraid
Fear as a driving force cropped up a few times during the discussion. As a motivator, Silva and McCarten both rated it as something that pushed them to try new things and move beyond comfort zones.

McCarten spoke being offered in the last couple of years, “the sort of opportunities I’ve waited 30 years for” and his fear of failure driving him to bring his A game to the job. Silva spoke about the decision to play the lead in his recent feature because he felt he’d become too comfortable with the the process of making features.

Grace-Smith observed that, for her, the fear came later – after sending someone a script. “If I don’t hear from them in two hours I’m like ‘They hate it!'”

Ikin spoke about her feelings of fear on presently-shooting feature The Rehearsal and the importance of not allowing that to get in the way of progress. “You don’t know all the answers and sometimes you have to sit with uncertainty for quite sometime.”

Silva echoed the point, noting that fear was only a problem when it led to paralysis. He later added, “My session won’t be a masterclass. It’s a chat. A masterclass is terrifying.”

“All the greats were afraid,” offered McCarten, telling the story of how Frank Capra used to stop in the same spot on his way to work every morning and vomit.

Trust the process?
“I’ve learned to do that,” Ikin said. “It’s an attitude to the people you work with.”

“I love the brutality of the process,” McCarten said. “The best ideas win and there’s no ego.”

He explained that Eddie Redmayne came to a meeting for The Theory of Everything and told the team that at a point in Hawking’s disease his speech had become so slurred as to be incomprehensible. Redmayne decided to play Hawking in that way.

“That’s wonderful, Eddie,” said director James Marsh.

“There goes my BAFTA nomination,” thought McCarten. “But you have to think on your feet and it can be really uplifting.”

Grace-Smith explained, “Now I know what I want, what I’d like, I can now be vocal about that.”

“Does anyone agree that anger can be helpful?” asked McVeigh.

McCarten admitted, “I’ve lost it a few times – for good reasons. There are arseholes in this business.”

All you need is
Silva spoke about working with people with whom he had strong relationships, family, friends, boyfriends, and suggested one of the best traits an editor could have was not necessarily an understanding of editing but a deep sense of embarrassment about bad acting.

“I also don’t hire art directors,” he admitted. “I hire friends with good taste.”

On the subject of love, McCarten admitted to stalking Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, just after she’d published her somewhat angry autobiography of life with him. McCarten turned up on her doorstep to ask ‘Would you allow me to turn your life into a movie?’

“She invited me in for sherry. It’s a testmaent to my powers of persuasion that after eight years of eating club sandwiches and drinking sherry she signed the release.”

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