Abi Talabi discusses the highlights of this Film Society event
A few weeks ago, UCL Film Society was very fortunate to host writer and UCL Alumnus Matt Charman, who took part in a talk and Q&A. Matt started his career in theatre, penning the scripts for The Five Wives of Maurice and A Night of the Dogs, the latter of which won the 2004 Verity Bargate Award at the Soho Theatre. After writing several plays for the theatre, Matt moved to screenwriting, where he wrote the 2015 film Suite Française starring Michelle Williams and Kristen Scott-Thomas. More recently, he wrote the upcoming cold war flick Bridge of Spies (2015), directed by Steven Spielberg and Starring Tom Hanks.
Matt on his early experiences with theatre:
“You used to be able to sneak into the second acts of plays in the West End, because they never used to check tickets after the interval. So you could follow the people back inside who had snuck out to have a cigarette in the break. I’d wait for the lights to go down and then find a spare seat and watch the second act of a west end play – which is great, but after not seeing the first act nothing really made sense [laughs]… But in a brilliant way because then I would go home and lay in bed and try and work it out – and that was really my first experience of structure. Learning what needs to be set up in that first act to bring about what happens in the second act”
On his first play:
“I sent it to the Soho Theatre who do something called the Verity Bargate award – which they still do – and there was 700 hundred applicants and it got down to a short list and my play won and was staged which was an amazing moment for me because suddenly there was a professional production. And that was my real moment of realising that maybe I can do this for a career”.
Some advice he gives to future screenwriters:
“Watch movies, read scripts and try and understand why that’s a great movie. Because invariably it does start with a script. It might be that a movie is transformed by performance or by a director grabbing a piece of material and kind of unlocking it – but very often the reason it has been made at all is all there in the screenplay. Good screenplays are the blue print for great films”.
“What’s so interesting is that the more screenplay’s you read the more power you realise comes from the cut from one scene to another. One scene suddenly smashing into another, or an image – say a poster of a missing girl cutting to someone laying in the bath thinking – suddenly makes you think “Wow, what does that woman in the bath have to do with that missing girl?” When you look at very successful screenplays, they often work by adopting a one plus one equals three approach. Cutting from one image or scene to another should add a third dimension. It’s part of the power of film over any other art form”.
On his latest project:
“I’ve just written a screenplay that [Spielberg] directed, that Tom Hanks is the lead in, that we shot in New York and Berlin at the end of last year and that will come out in October this year”
When asked how to begin writing a screenplay:
“The truth is everyone walking the planet is a storyteller, we all do it and we all know the rules too. Whenever someone asks you ‘How was your day?’ you never start in the middle, or at the end. You always orientate your audience with – “Well, I sat in this lecture theatre and this guy came in” and then you get to the middle part of the story, the complication or the crisis – because you wouldn’t be telling the story unless there was a reason to tell the story, then you get to the resolution of the story, because we know our audience needs an ending. We crave endings. Then maybe they’ll be something at the end of it that will make your friend say to you a few days later ‘I was thinking about that thing story you told me” something that makes it live in their memory. I guess you could call that subtext or meaning. But without knowing it, I strongly believe, we are all born to tell stories”
Featured image credit: Film Still: Weinstein Company