Back in March writer-director Annie Griffin came in for a session at Screen Academy Scotland. Her talk was nominally part of the research methods module, but it wandered over numerous subjects. Rediscovered these notes while tidying my office before a long weekend of writing, so here’s some thoughts from Annie Griffin…
She was an actor who did the Fringe, and taught to make ends meet. Griffin moved to Scotland ten years ago. She became a screenwriter through TV. Perhaps best known for her Channel 4 series The Book Group, she also wrote and directed the film Festival. When she came to Screen Academy Scotland, Griffin was developing two TV projects and a feature. ‘The UK’s not an easy place to get films made, very talented people spend years trying to set up a feature film.’
Griffin her start directing making live action shorts for MTV Europe. She already had a production company, having set up Pirate Productions while working in the theatre. That meant she made money from her early TV endeavours. She joined PACT and started getting documentary commissions. She thought of herself as a filmmaker but was working in TV.
‘There are far more opportunities in British TV than films. There’s a major shift afoot, commissioning editors will take a meeting with a writer. Writers are becoming more empowered. Thanks to DVD film and TV projects have a much longer lifespan.’
Griffin was fulsome in her praise for The Wire, an acclaimed US series screened on the HBO pay network. ‘It’s hard to do a compelling first episode because you have to introduce all the characters. But The Wire assumes intelligence in its viewers, lets them do the work for themselves. It doesn’t reintroduce characters and concepts.’
‘More and more talent is moving from films into TV. When I made a feature I had nothing but pressure on the script, none of it about making a better film. TV, it’s all about making scripts better. Good storytelling is always about what you can take away. You can cut so much and the audience will still get it. Holding back information is more powerful, more enticing. Just give them a whiff of what’s going on.’
‘You don’t have to be glib and ultra-professional. Passion is better. You can always play the weird creative card. Movies are an unstable marriage of art and commerce, there’s enormous financial risk involved. People deny the risk by saying there’s a formula to making a successful film. There’s a lot of scape-goating on film shoots. The collapse of the US studio system during the 1960s gave power to young filmmakers, leading to the rise of the auteur director.’
Griffin suggested this has led to a particular kind of Sundance indie film, usually about white, middle class people, taking place in high school or a family setting, populated by alienated youth. ‘It’s the second film that makes a career, not the first breakthrough. After success people have less to write about.’ She praised Napoleon Dynamite for its vignette approach, rather than a classically structured story. ‘I like surprise. I hate inevitability in life or art.’