LFF scriptwriters session: “It can be brutal. I was sacked with no warning”

Scriptwriters Alex Cary and Rebecca Lenkiewicz discussed the travails of their craft in an LFF panel session following the damning findings of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain report

By Chris Evans 13 Oct 2022

LFF scriptwriters session: “It can be brutal. I was sacked with no warning”
Alex Cary speaking at the LFF event. Credit: Millie Turner

“The findings of the WGGB report [including that screenwriters are being edited out of the film-making process] didn’t surprise me at all. I was sacked with no warning after working on a project for three years, which was pretty brutal,” reflected Rebecca Lenkiewicz, writer of the movie She Said, which is an international premiere at the London Film Festival (LFF) tomorrow (Friday 14 October).

Lenkiewicz was speaking at the LFF panel session, Writing across forms. A conversation with screenwriters, yesterday (12 October) alongside Alex Cary, writer of A Spy Among Friends, which was a UK premiere at the festival last week.

She added that as a writer you have to be open and sensitive, but also pretty robust. “You have to put yourself out there, but not be afraid of the conflicts. It can be a lonely game, but then when others interfere, you crave the solitude. It’s like a boxing match and a love affair,” she said. “And it’s a really interesting time post Covid with the explosion of streaming content too, which is expected to be more cinematic.”

Cary pointed to the fact that the streaming giants often give notes, despite the initial myth that they don’t. “A lot of the people who were working for the broadcast networks giving us notes have moved to the streamers and are doing the same there.

“Sometimes the writers rooms can be a little brutal with scriptwriters, playwrights and poets in the room obsessed about becoming better writers, and the production schedule can be tight, but I don’t mind that or working fast. They enforce a certain discipline on you and it’s important because there are a lot of other people who need time to bring their craft to the project too.”

Lenkiewicz agreed: “We get notes that sometimes ask for the opposite of what we were planning, but other times they can be detailed and beautiful and even excite you. It’s a bit like a slalom race, fast paced, but with hurdles to overcome. The best thing is finding the right team to work with, so the conditions are better.”

They also both pointed to the lack of original content. “People in the industry are averse to risk, which is why things become generic. It’s hard to get films made, especially in Britain, because the decision makers say ‘it’s not commercial enough’,” said Lenkiewicz. “But risk as a writer is important because if you’re taking risks with your storytelling, voice and characters you’re going to surprise people.”

White man’s world

Cary also pointed to the domination of men in the industry. “Television has been a white man’s game for a long time and that’s not going to change overnight. There are a lot of egos, and issues with credit, as well a lot of money involved, which is going to put the breaks on change, but it is happening slowly.”

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