Is Cheltenham SWF Worth A Return?

Chris Regan asked a very interesting question about whether I would try and go to Cheltenham SWF 2010 having been this year. I thought the answer was worth a post as its a good question and I have nothing interesting to say about anything else (and this might not be that interesting anyway, I’m working out my answer as I type this post. I am a rebel.)

The SWF is definitely something you should be going to with the intention of getting something out of it writing-wise. The socialising with other writers is great fun, but don’t get sucked in to going there for a jolly – unless you have money to burn, which not a lot of writers do.

The ticket cost me approx £300 as I managed to get in a ‘group of ten’ to make it cheaper. Then you need a hotel (£19 per night @ Travelodge as I got a special deal), food and drink money and you need to get to Cheltenham and back.

One of my aims was to meet other screenwriters and I certainly did that, but that alone wouldn’t justify the trip and certainly wouldn’t be the sole aim of returning next year. The seminars were a mixed bag. Some good ones clashed with each other or the speed dating, some contradicted others, some were just Q&A’s about certain films, but some gave interesting insights or at worst reiterated important messages that some of us writers ignore (know the industry better, write a script that will sell, don’t tell Armando Iannucci that he’s beginning to look like Alexis Sayle).

Was this worth the fee? Well, if you were being really picky you could argue that you could get most of this information by knowing the industry better (podcasts, trades, internet). There were some screenwriting masterclasses, I guess for the really new people, but I wouldn’t recommend going to the SWF as a writer if you haven’t got the theory. There simply isn’t enough time to go over it in the one hour seminars anyway.

Then there is the speed-dating. I can tell you right now that the thirty minutes (5 mins per date) were probably the most valuable part of the festival for me. The reasons being that I had projects near completion that I wanted to pitch and that I hadn’t pitched to anyone ‘in the industry’ before. At worst it was a great validation that the ideas were good enough to look into and I now have the contacts of people/companies that will do that. People that can make these projects happen.

So really I have to ask myself, ‘How could I get what I did if I didn’t go to the SWF?’ Networking – probably could go to a few writing groups, but wouldn’t meet as many. Seminars – possibly get similar info from the internet and reading the trades in a crowded WH Smith. Producers/Agents – well I certainly wouldn’t have got to speak to the ones I did as they don’t listen to unsolicited calls.

So I am certainly glad I went this year as overall it was worth it. But what about next year? Again, it depends what I need in a year’s time. If I have loads of writing work on then I probably wouldn’t go, the same if I had no new project ideas and no work on. If I had some new ideas/projects that I felt I didn’t have the right contacts for then I probably would go. It depends on the need to speak to Producers/Agents I guess. Also, if I have the money to spend on the whole thing.

It was noticeable that so many people were there for the first time, which suggests that not many people return and so that might mean that those people have adopted the same attitude as I have. In a way I hope I don’t HAVE to go back, but I would certainly like to if I can justify it.

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