Joss Whedon’s Impossible Screenwriting Seminar

So it was very late on Saturday night, somewhere around 5am. I was reading Twitter, which was quiet as usual for that time of night, when I saw a couple of intriguing tweets.

and this:

At first I almost dismissed it, thinking it would be an LA-based event. But that was a London postcode. Was it possible? I wasn’t the only one unsure:

Now, I was just about to go to bed, having been up most of the day, and half the night. But if Twitter was telling the truth, Joss Whedon was giving a talk on screenwriting in Central London. In five and a half hours.

I have a habit of overanalysing things, and finding all the reasons why something might be a bad idea. But this time, maybe because I was tired, the only real downside I could see was that I’d spend a morning in London, and since I’ve not been out much recently, I figured that wasn’t much of a bad thing.

So, I had a couple of hours of attempted sleep, hopped in the shower, hastily stuffed the ‘Once More With Feeling’ scriptbook into my camera bag, just in case, and walked down to the station.

For a 9:15 train on Sunday morning, it was packed. As bad as any commuter train I’ve been on. I guess the pre-Christmas sales are starting or something.

I arrived at the Berwick Street address in plenty of time, expecting to find… what? A massive scrum or people being turned away? A deserted lot? What I found was three or four people waiting uncertainly outside a shuttered shopfront (which at least was showing the ‘impossible’ branding). As the time approached, we shared our doubts that this was even a real thing. Perhaps we’d all got the wrong end of the stick.

But we hadn’t. A little while after the promised start time, someone arrived to open the shutters, and the growing group of people walked into the fairly Spartan interior, still unsure if this was where it was happening.

And then I saw Mr Whedon walking across the street, accompanied by Lily Cole, who had arranged the event. (Is it sad to note that I only recognised Lily from her appearance as a mermaid in an episode of Doctor Who? Then I’m sad.)
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What followed was a very informal session. He started by going round the room getting us all to introduce ourselves and say what our experience was. I felt a little like an interloper, not being a professional writer, but I wasn’t alone, and at least I was able to truthfully say I’d written two screenplays in the last month (OK, they were both very short, but I’d finished them).
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Joss admitted that he hadn’t done anything like this before, but his talk was interesting, funny, and very inspiring. He talked about the importance of knowing who all your characters are, and what drives them, even the second henchman on the right. He described getting executive notes as being nibbled to death by ducks. He talked about the importance of structure, and how he would create charts showing the story timeline, with colours indicating the purpose or feeling of every scene, so he can see that the pacing and structure of the story is working as he wants it.

Also, astonishingly, he revealed that he’d been having root canal at midnight, having broken a tooth on an olive pit. So we were even luckier to have him there than we’d thought.

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After the talk, he was kind enough to sign some things, and of course, I got a photo with him.

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When it all wound up, a group of us decamped to the nearest Starbucks, and the conversation went on until 4pm.

I’d like to thank Joss for giving his time when I’m sure he would much rather have been finishing the screenplay for the next Avengers movie. No exclusives on that score, I’m afraid, although he did tweet this:

I should also thank Lily Cole and impossible.com for making this happen in the first place. The ultra-last-minute feel made it an incredibly intimate event. I’m sure that had it been arranged way in advance, it would have been massively oversubscribed, and I’d never have been able to go. So thank goodness for late nights and Twitter.

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18 thoughts on “Joss Whedon’s Impossible Screenwriting Seminar

  1. This… this is like a dickensian Christmas miracle!!!
    So envious I’m actually beyond envious and just thrilled for you.
    And you are awesome for recognising Lily Cole from Doctor Who.

  2. He described getting executive notes as being nibbled to death by ducks.

    HA. I’m sure it’s much worse than this, even.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. Typical Joss. I’ve admired writer/director Joss Whedon’s work, particularly his gift with ensemble characters and evoking emotions for over a decade. He’s also a very pleasant and warm and generous individual who attracts other gifted writers, actors, musicians, crew et al who are similarly personable and giving to their fans and to would-be artists desiring and struggling to improve their craft and achieve success. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of his actors and crew and have heard him speak. As much as I normally detest the word, I need say they are all the “nicest” of ffolke.

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  8. I can picture him doing a ninja tour, giving writer workshops on short notice. And when I say “picture” I mean “hope”.

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  11. OMG!!! Envious! I would have been freaking out. So awesome and amazing and the photo… seriously I’m still shaking my head in disbelief. You sir, are one lucky duck.

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