Leon Bell, Short Screenplay Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
- Can you please tell us about your daily life?
I currently work in a photo shop. The life of a writer is all about trying to carve out writing time until the day when you make enough from the writing to write full time. I am not there yet but I am working hard to achieve it.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I remember writing stories for my own enjoyment around the age of 9. I realised I loved screenwriting when I was about 13, when I would find screenplay books in the library and obsess over them. I remember reading Antonioni’s Blow Up. I hadn’t even seen the actual film at that point but I could see the film in my head as I read. I had a VCR that neighbours had given us because the buttons weren’t working and I fixed it using guitar plectrums. I would watch whatever films I could get my hands on. It was all a process of figuring out how the screenplays translated to the screen and the writing techniques utilised.
The biggest thing I have been involved with, up to this point, was the BBC Writer’s Room Northern Voices scheme, which is pretty prestigious. I learned a lot and was mentored by Michael Chaplin, who has created many TV shows. Northern Voices involved a paid commission for a pilot episode for a TV drama for the BBC. I got paid but it never got made. I made a short experimental film ages ago and it was screened at Tate Britain and I have also won the ‘best screenplay’ prize at a small film festival recently.
I write every day and I am always doing research and originating ideas when I am not writing. I have been very productive recently and have completed ‘The Old Man’ short screenplay, as well as a high concept horror script called ‘Amnesia Red’, a one-off TV drama called ‘Fake It To Make It’ and a play called ‘Pussy’. I’ve story-lined a four-part TV thriller and I am nearly finished writing a radio drama and a microbudget drama feature amongst various other things.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Validating. It feels great. Not just for me but for my partner and my family and friends. It kind of feels like a joint victory because of the moral support they give me. Lifting me up when I am down. They’re all excited.
There is a weird idea out there, that writing is easy. Everyone thinks they can be a writer. They say “Oh, how hard can it be?” but they aren’t doing it. When you are a writer, you hit brick wall after brick wall and it can be really demoralising. You start to feel that no one is interested in what you have to say so you think about giving up but I know I will never stop. When a person’s writing is recognised, it shows them that they are not just living in their own head and the writing, the things they want to say have the power to touch an audience. That is ultimately what it is all about.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Screenplay?
I’ll start with the negatives first. The hardest thing is finding an idea and a story that you want to spend that amount of time crafting into a workable screenplay. Then comes the actually putting yourself in a seat and writing it. Sometimes it flows and sometimes you have writer’s block. Sometimes you lose faith in the story. You must battle through because no one is going to do it for you. Once it is finished though, you realise that you have achieved what a lot of people haven’t or couldn’t. It was all worth it and it feels amazing. The best thing is creating something that is uniquely yours. You haven’t pandered or compromised. And possibly, some day it will be made and seen by people and it will impact them in the ways you intended it to.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected screenplay? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
‘The Old Man’ script came together quite quickly, to be honest. I had written another short called ‘Ghosts’ and my friend and I had trying to shoot it but life was getting in the way so I had to abandon it. I am using parts of that script for a feature I am writing, which suits the material much better. Anyway, I was eager to write another short. I was reading stories about addiction and I started creating a character, a chaotic Dad. What if his son approached him and he doesn’t even recognise him? Where can that lead? I liked the idea of the Dad always thinking he is in control, when he never is. Drugs and poor decisions have infected his entirety, so everything is in the extreme short term. Along comes his son who is about the long-term.
I used to hang around pubs in South London, drinking pints and writing. I would chat to people or listen in on conversations. Some ideas came out of conversations with people. As I was writing ‘The Old Man’, these characters would just slide into the story because they are in that world. There were always alcoholics and drug addicts hanging around the shopping parade near my house, so I could picture the Dad hanging around with them. The drug dealer in the story is based on someone real, even though I feel some people might think she is fictional because she is kind of monstrous. When you are living in that world, sometimes you have to be.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a short screenplay?
I keep a list of ideas for all sorts of different projects and genres. I jot them down and go back to them from time to time to see if they spark something within me. I often see people trying to make an idea that should be a feature into a short, or vice versa. If you’re sure that idea will make a great short film without having to cut too much out, go for it.
Once you have the idea, you will want to work out what theme and metaphor you’re going for. The way I work, the idea comes first, then I interrogate why I wanted to write this and I discover what the theme is and I work out the metaphor. Once I have the metaphor and the theme, I just kind of smash them together and scenes start forming. It is not a linear process. When I have enough scenes, I arrange them into a 5-act structure and work out the connective tissue. You don’t have to do this but I can’t do it any other way now I have learned these techniques.
One page roughly equals one minute of screen time so bear that in mind when writing. If you plan to produce the film yourself, you’re probably going to want to keep it on the shorter side.
And my final tip? End strong. A killer ending will give your short film real lasting impact.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
The worst thing is waiting [laughs]. The best thing is when you achieve a high placement in the competition. Any writers out there should be promoting themselves 24/7/365. Laurels are great for promoting yourself. The best thing about writing contests like London Independent Story Prize is that they give you a chance to show people that you really are a writer. Like I said before, so many people say they are writers but they don’t write, so you have to show the world what you can do.
-Lastly, do you recommend the short story and Flash Fiction writers to give it a go on screenplay writing and LISP?
I think everyone should try and write a short screenplay, enter LISP. Then go out and make the damn thing. Life is too short.