Right Title, Wrong Seminar

I attended a seminar on low-budget filmmaking earlier this week and, to my dismay, we spent more time critiquing British Indie films than we did discussing the numerous possibilities of developing and green-lighting low-budget films as amateur filmmakers. It all looked good on paper; the seminar was to be hosted by Paul Welsh, a movie producer from Scotland who has worked on such British films as Lore (2012) and Skeletons (2010). It was slated to be a two-day affair, beginning each day at 9:30am and ending at 5:30. That’s a considerable length for a seminar. Usually they’re done in a day. This got me thinking: Maybe something useful could come of this.

So I signed up and strode in half an hour early on the first day, Monday. The security guard at Perth’s Art Gallery Theatrette was less than welcoming. But never mind. There were a number of people there, all involved with film in some form or another. The seminar’s organiser, ScreenWest, even packed the lobby outside with tasty treats and coffee. Surely, this must be good.

The auditorium began to fill up. My close friend Sam had not yet arrived. She said she’d be late, which, to her later dismay, was a fallacy. What I noticed almost immediately about Paul Welsh was not the thick Scottish accent that drawled from his lips, but the way his accent softened his voice almost to a hush; when he walked and talked, sometimes it felt like he was talking to the wall, or his shoes. It didn’t help that he was monotonous. Of course, I am nitpicking. Such complaints have no way of finding a solution. He is Scottish, and he’s soft. It’s the way he is. But why not speak through a microphone? A lady amongst us broke the silence at one point to ask him a question; her voice was like thunder from the heavens compared to his. Even the dwarf Sleepy, curled up in the next room, would’ve been roused.

But I digress. The seminar began as it should, with recaps of what cinema is, was, and should be. We spent a good two hours throwing words around that we thought best contributed to the purpose and execution of a good narrative. For instance, a good narrative uses “character”, and characters have “conflict”. That sorta thing. It was all very straightforward. And then we started viewing the first twenty minutes of a few independent British films, including Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011), Paul Andrew Williams’ London To Brighton (2006) and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (2010). The reason behind this exercise was to pinpoint the central characters and discuss their dilemmas and predicaments without viewing the rest of the movie. The two men in Weekend, for example, arrive at each other from different places, carrying different luggage that’s unloaded in different ways. The scene they share together on the bed after a drunken night of fornication is laden with effortless dialogue and clever insights to their current sexual and social philosophies. I hadn’t seen the film, so it was a fun exercise trying to determine where the characters would go from there, and to what end.

But that, my friends, was it. The seminar didn’t go anywhere else. After a lunch break we came back and continued watching twenty minutes of footage before discussing the characters. By that time my friend Sam had given up and left. I was alone, torpid, and utterly bored. I say this not to sound arrogant, but boy, you would’ve felt the same if you were there. What about discussing characters is specific to low-budget filmmaking? Does it not also apply to blockbuster filmmaking? How does discussing character help me make a movie on $1,000? It helps me write a good screenplay, maybe, with good well-rounded characters. But good well-rounded characters do not help make a film. For that you need the means, equipment, crew, cast, and money.

I vowed not to go back for day two.

But I had to break it for another friend, who, having missed the first day due to some meeting, insisted I go and keep him company. We walked out before lunch, and saddled into a theatre in Rockingham for A Million Ways To Die In The West, an experience equally painful, if not a little more exciting.

No doubt Paul Welsh is a competent producer. He is knowledgable in the fields that matter the most to him. But his lazy speech, soft approach, and focus on character dulled the experience to a blunt tip. I heard from my friend that others in the seminar found it useful. What exactly did they find useful? Dissecting characters? I did that in university, and I loved it. I walked into a seminar called Developing Low-Budget Films to learn how to develop low-budget films. If I wanted to sit around and critique Shifty, I would have sat around and critiqued Shifty.

My review of A Million Ways To Die In The West can be found here.

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