The cream of Wexford’s writing talent gathered at the Georgia Southern University (GSU) last weekend as they moved a step closer to having their work brought to life on screen. The 12 students, handpicked from over 60 applicants, were attending the first masterclass of the inaugural Wexford Broadcast Writers Academy, a course designed by Bodecii Film in association with Screen Skills Ireland and Screen Wexford. This masterclass, which included seminars from leading figures in the film industry, provided the tips and insights which will eventually see six of the student’s scripts produced and filmed as part of special Wexford anthology.
The first course of its kind in the country the aim, according to Course Director Laura Way, was to tap into Wexford’s hidden talent. “I said to Liz Burns (Arts Officer, Wexford County Council), ‘there’s tonnes of writing talent but there’s no screen office in Wexford,’ and it started from there. We looked at places like Cork, Offaly, they had film offices and were encouraging indigenous productions in their counties." Having previously ran writer’s courses in Wexford, courses based around her own experiences as a director trying to get opportunities in the film industry, Laura wanted to create something with a tangible goal, a programme which would give participants the materials required to grab those opportunities.
“I remember having a meeting with Paul Walker (Course Tutor) and saying ‘you can do all these writing courses but what do they do afterwards?’,” Laura says. “You want something solid, a script at the end of it and then an opportunity for them to be able to see how their film is made. The ambition for this is to have an anthology series, made, produced and shot in Wexford." And so the Wexford Broadcast Writers Academy was born. It gives students the knowledge and skills required to make it in the film industry, asks that they create a script which can be forwarded to interested parties and, for six of the class, will offer a chance to see their script become a film at the course’s conclusion.
Having began the course during lockdown, the day-long masterclass at GSU provided students and lecturers with the first chance to meet together as a group. They were joined, remotely, by a selection of industry figures, each of whom offered their take on making it in the film industry. They heard from David Kavanagh, who is the Executive Officer of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe, writer Lauren Mackenzie (Pure Mule, Bachelor’s Walk), film agent Peter MacFarlane, and were then treated to a case study on Laura’s forthcoming series The Holiday which saw producers and screenwriters outline the process involved in bringing a script to the screen.
And with the course nearing completion the focus now turns to the student’s scripts and the selecting those best suited to an anthology of films which will reflect life and the people of Wexford. “At the start we asked them to come up with four ideas, we talked to them about each one and sussed out what their real passion is, what’s the real story they want to tell,” Paul says. “Then they wrote a one-pager and that turned into a treatment and now they’ve written their first draft, a 45 minute screenplay. The amount of work they’ve put in, and the standard is so, so high.”
“What’s really impressed me are the individual voices, there would be similar themes but the approach is so different. Something natural has come out, there are connections in the different viewpoints, they all have a similar thing of humans trying to connect. There is a general voice, it’s a bit zeitgeisty because of Covid and the isolation people have felt. They’re different genres but they all have that ‘where am I, who am I?’ To a man, to a woman, they’ve really dug down so deep.But we have to be able to sell this (the anthology) to a broadcaster, the package won’t be ‘these are the best six,’ it will be these are the best six we can put into a package.”
Regardless of whose work is chosen to be part of the anthology Paul says each of the students will finish the course with a ready-made script, a “calling-card” they can use to pursue an agent, a potential career as a screenwriter. But rather than simply leave them to fend for themselves, Laura says she wants to create a “support structure” for all her students when they finish the course, give them the contacts to thrive on their own two feet. “Thejobs can be quite isolating in this industry, so we want to create a support structure, whether we get them produced or not,” she said. “The point is they know who’s out there, know the writer’s guild is out there, they’re actively saying ‘come join us, we can be a support system for you’, it feels more approachable and demystifies the process.”
Liz Burns has supported Laura’s endeavours from the outset – they had their first conversation two weeks after Liz became Arts Officer – and believes courses like this benefit Wexford in a variety of ways. “In terms of the arts office it’s win-win to support the development of the film industry, it’s a growing industry and something that I’ve always been passionate about, my original background is in film and visual arts,” she says. “So when Laura approached me about this, it was ‘yes, of course, it makes complete sense’. It ties into tourism, arts, economics, job creation, all the key aims of the council, in terms of promoting Wexford, supporting jobs. It’s one the council are really embracing and are 100 per cent behind.”