Manchester Film Festival 2017: Screenwriting Panel

The Manchester Film Festival is finally underway at the ODEON Cinema in The Printworks and one of the more anticipated non-film events is the Screenwriting Panel with Elan Mastai. Mastai, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for ‘The F Word’ at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards, evidently brought his effortless charisma with him, entertaining the audience through several minor technical difficulties.

As he began talking it quickly became evident that this would be far more than a traditional lecture type panel. Mastai was committed to making sure those who came received the most out of it that they possibly could, whether that be the writing side or the business side of the job. There were many interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits that were said and i’ll share some of those with you now.

One of the more striking points he made was in regard to studio interest on a screenplay, that not all interest is necessarily good interest. In particular this related to a couple of his earlier films. When starting out there was great eagerness to collaborate with any studio that came knocking, so much so that some of the ‘obvious red flags’ were missed. This resulted in a film that didn’t meet his initial vision. He described the process of turning his screenplay into a movie as ‘like walking through your own dreams’ but this was more akin to a nightmare. Even though he wasn’t personally proud of the end product, it was a learning process into the inner workings of the studio system and allowed him to be a bit more assertive in subsequent projects.

It was this assertion which gave Mastai the opportunity to be more than just the screenwriter for his films. When signing later movie deals he added a clause stating that he also had to be given the role of producer. This meant that only the studios that were truly committed to making his film would make offers and also that it gave him more creative input during the production period.

The interesting topic of screenplay rights versus novel rights was brought up during the Q&A session. For a screenplay, the writers ownership ends at the moment he, or she, signs the movie deal. When the movie is released, although he wrote the screenplay, it is for all intents and purposes not his. This is contrasted heavily with a novel. For his debut novel, Mastai retains the full rights and the publishing company simply licences it. This allows the author to retain the rights to the film unless they choose to sell the rights giving more control over their intellectual property.

While here mostly to talk about screenwriting, he did also discuss his debut novel ‘All Our Wrong Todays’. An interesting take on science fiction, it is set in 2016. A different 2016. One that people in the 1950’s expected us to have, with flying cars, robot maids and teleportation. The protagonist, through the use of an experimental time machine, ends up in our 2016. What we think is totally normal seems dystopian for him. The book follows this mishap and his journey trying to get back to his universe.

Overall this was a wonderful event for the festival with Mastai charming the crowd with his stories and jokes.

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