Written by Stephen Goss
It’s May 2020. I’m roughly two-thirds of the way through a diploma at London Film Academy (LFA) and we’re firmly into lockdown. I either remember or trip across this festival that my tutors mentioned on and off, and discover that it’s gone online and will be starting in a few days. Three weeks of talks and networking for just £60. I sign up. In an alternate universe where COVID-19 never stopped the world in its tracks, I would have missed that festival – the London Screenwriters’ Festival (LSF) – by a couple of weeks.
I’m a newbie and I’m painfully shy, so I hide in the audience and watch other people comment. This goes on for a week at least. After a while, though, I pluck up the courage to join in a bit more, and go to the Zoom networking rooms. Several enduring professional friendships begin here, and in one of those rooms, I meet Anne.
The next bit is less clear. You’d think such a pivotal moment would be etched on my brain, but the reality is that I have several plot points and no clear inciting incident. I just know that somewhere along the way, Anne brings up the basic elevator pitch – reworked Robin Hood, alternate present day, female Robyn, possibly also the magic – and mentions that she wants to put a team together to develop it independently. Eager young whippersnapper that I am, and instantly drawn to the concept, I put myself forward, joining four other writers and festival delegates. And lo, a team was born.
All around the world in a bedroom
Quivalon and HOOD, in their current forms, are products of a particular moment in the first wave of the pandemic, when conventional film and TV production was all but on hiatus and the ‘rules’ of marketing your IP became more malleable. The talks at that LSF were inevitably coloured by what was happening in the world, and some speakers even advocated adapting screenplays into more immediately producible formats. I remember at least one instance of a screenplay being adapted into a novel. And there’s a seed I must plant here that will be very important later on. The bottom line is that Anne had come to the festival with a pilot script and series bible and now had the idea to make the story as a web series.
So that’s what we started with. A pilot script and a series bible. And we set about breaking the story for what was to be a ten-episode first season. We approached storylines from a character point of view, mapping them out in a well-organised spreadsheet over roughly two months until we had through-lines for each of our main seven. And it wouldn’t be the last spreadsheet. Oh no. I’ve had several close encounters over my nearly three years. Spreadsheets make the world go round.
And that’s how my professional world went online. Before, there was a clear system of home being where I did my own personal writing and London being where I commuted in order to discuss and workshop it. I’d taken three trains to Cambridge and back to attend a film festival just weeks before lockdown. It had already been a very international experience, certainly as far as studying at LFA was concerned, but when you’re 24 and expect it to be London, London, London for years before you might get to work on an international co-production, suddenly having the Netherlands, Malta, Greece and other countries beamed to your bedroom desk and plotting out a story in real time is quite a shift.
When one story just isn’t enough…
Time jump. It’s September 2020. We have a complete outline for season one of the HOOD web series. The name Quivalon has been coined and we’ve launched the website. Sarah has joined as producer, and some of the original team have moved on. We have our season outline and are drafting episode scripts. Having just completed my diploma, I’m about one act into the first draft of my episode. So far, so simple.
This is where I go back to that seed I planted earlier, harvest the fruit, and present it on a series of fetching wooden boards at a farmer’s market.
Houston Howard’s talk on transmedia at LSF 2020 was a lightbulb moment for many of us delegates. He is the kind of speaker who will light a spark inside of your creative mind, so much so that you leave his talks excited about the many and varied story angles you can take with your IP. After Anne had a one-on-one meeting with him, the decision was made to cancel the web series, keep the central HOOD story for the main TV show and instead develop a slate of transmedia projects which we could produce on our somewhat tight budget.
The main two ideas to come straight from that meeting were a novelisation and a point-of-divergence story presented as a fictional audio podcast, which took shape over the next year and a half as Clash of the Cousins. And we haven’t stopped sinceǃ HOOD’s dystopian alternate present, shaped by centuries of political and environmental upheaval, is perfect for this kind of expansive storytelling. You can find out more about our transmedia and why we love it here.
It was an exciting and busy time, one of my busiest, but we were soon down to a team of four doing everything from designing marketing copy to researching 12th century history. We needed extra hands on deck. So, towards the end of the year, we took the first step by advertising for writers to supplement the team. Scripts were sifted with a fine sieve, and we gave our favourite candidates the task of writing a pivotal scene between Robyn and Philippa, to a brief. Those happy few who were successful in their assignment were granted an interview. And those even happier few who impressed us were added to the team forthwith. (Check out our Team Page for all of our creatives)
And there you have it!
As it happens, the majority of our intake from those end-of-2020 interviews are still with us, and I know that Vicky and Judit are both waiting in the wings to tell you their side, so I’ll shut up in a second and hand it over to them.
I will detain you a little longer, if only to look back with a wistful sigh and recognise that I’ve been here a good old while. I’ve seen a couple of documents grow into a branching web of stories, and been privileged to be a part of it and bounce ideas off this ambitious, creative and bonkers team of people I might not know if the world had gone a different way.
How about you?
Did you ever have an amazing conference or other kind of gathering experience? Got any recommendations for events for creators to attend? Let us know in the comments.