Jumat, 24 Agustus 2012

In a BAFTA State of Mind

There are some places that, for one reason or another, are magical. The BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) is one of those. It's in Piccadilly, and to get there you pass by Waterstones and Fortnum and Mason on one side of the street, and the Royal Academy of Arts on the other. I go there to meet Alby, the creative producer of my script "Missing!" and also a good friend. We work on the screenplay, doing our best to turn it into an actual film. I've been to the BAFTA a dozen times but every time I hop into that lift and push "2" I feel as excited as a teenager on a first date. When the lift stops and its doors open, I get out and step on to a red carpet, yes, a real one! How can you help but daydream? Then I walk up to the reception desk where there are usually two well-dressed men (or a well-dressed man and a well-dressed woman), who, with typical and never sufficiently praised British politeness, welcome you with a "Good morning, sir" and a smile. I return both the good morning and the smile and tell them I have an appointment with Mr James.

Ten seconds later I'm entering the café of the Bafta and the magic begins. At every table there are people talking about plots and sub-plots, turning-points and character arcs. You can usually tell the scriptwriters from the producers by their body language. The producers are sitting comfortably with a confident posture, while the writers are bent forward towards their interlocutor in a desperate attempt to seem as convincing as possible.

The last time I went there, while I was crossing the room looking for Alby, a young woman stopped me and asked me if I was Barry. She looked like a young, very energetic and enthusiastic, up-and-coming TV producer. I said "no". But then I always wondered who that Barry was and what the meeting was about.

Most times we sit at a table rather than on the sofas, the reason being that it's easier to have some privacy. Even though, in reality, everyone is so immersed in his/her own project, which is, of course, the most original, controversial and never-before-seen one on the planet, that you could read aloud all the scenes of your script and no one would really listen to you.

I always order an Earl Grey tea while Alby has an Americano. We start catching up on our latest personal news and then we throw ourselves into the script. Within minutes, we start arguing about something, usually the main character: Sebastian. There's nothing we love more than quarrelling about him. We have discussed him so many times, that the poor devil has had to go through every sort of mutation and change.

I remember that, at some point, Sebastian was displaying the following characteristics all at the same time: loser but cheater, clumsy but cunning, pathetic but cynical, alone but very busy, shy but brazen, and so on. He was becoming a sort of kaleidoscope of every possible human characteristic. The only change we spared him was his sexual orientation, although I confess that, at least once, the idea of making him gay has crossed my mind.

On the ninth draft of the script we finally agreed on almost everything, and now Sebastian has finally come out of his nerve-racking personality crisis.

But the BAFTA café is not only a great place to talk about your script, it's also a fantastic venue to overhear other people discussing their projects. I have seen many enjoyable scenes there but my favourite is this one. I was sitting at my table waiting for Alby, while at the table nearby a typical screenwriter-producer meeting was going on. The writer, a guy in his late twenties, was shooting out a series of plot twists with a cool veteran-like self-confidence to a professional-looking woman in her early forties. He looked like he had been rehearsing his speech for days and then he had geared himself up in front of the mirror while drinking a six pack of Red Bull.

I was staring at this shining example of a screenwriter, overwhelmed by his confidence and a little envious when, suddenly, the producer cut in saying the following words: "I don't think this is what we need for this story". And the coolest screenwriter in town just replied: "Okay". I couldn't help but laugh and I thought "Yes, I love this place".

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"I've come to London to make a movie. This is my London Story.

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