Tag Archives: Chris Jones

The London Screenwriters’ Festival: 10 amazing seminars in one handy guide

10 Dec
London Screenwriters' Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

London Screenwriters’ Festival founder and director, the inspirational Chris Jones, takes to the stage

The London Screenwriters’ Festival is the largest of its kind in the world. That’s right, the biggest and best event for screenwriters happens not in LA, not in New York, but right here. London, Hollywood indeed. I’ve written up all the best talks, screenings and seminars I attended at this year’s: that’s ten blog posts. Read ’em, one by one. You’ll laugh! You’ll learn!

Behind The Scenes

The Silence of the Lambs, with screenwriter Ted Tally. Discover the secrets of the famous jail scene between Clarice and Hannibal, how Jodie Foster got the part, and whose head is really in the jar. Part one, click here; part two, click here.

Finding Nemo, with co-writer David Reynolds. Find out: Why is the vegetarian shark called “Bruce”? How did Sean Penn narrowly miss being in the film? And why did Pixar have to make their animation, in parts, deliberately bad?

The Lost Boys, with director Joel Schumacher. Find out: How was Rambo an influence on the movie? How you do you get maggots to act? Why must Surf Nazis die? Where did Kiefer Sutherland go in full vampire make-up?

Great talkers

Joel Schumacher. The veteran director explains how Woody Allen changed his life, how the studio took fright at Falling Down with Michael Douglas, and how “if I can do this, you can do this too”.

Lynda La Plante. The writer of Prime Suspect, who is currently working on the prequel, tells how she made it as a screenwriter. Find out why her key tip is to “write like a transvestite trucker”.

Tony Jordan. The creator of Life on Mars and the forthcoming Dickensian talks about his long, illustrious and surprisingly accidental career. He explains how he nearly gave up after just a few episodes of EastEnders (he went on to write 250), and how Life on Mars came about.

Charlie Brooker. The sweet, avuncular, cuddly uncle of screenwriting – just kidding! – trains his bile on blockbusters (“like staring into a washing machine full of cars and robots and things all smashing together”) and writing itself (“I love having written, but I hate the process of writing”), and talks about the Black Mirror Christmas special.

Writers’ guides

Beyond The Chick Flick: Writing The Female-Driven Screenplay, with Pilar Alessandra. Sigourney Weaver’s part in Alien was originally written for a man. But though it can be useful to ask yourself “what would a man typically do?” when writing for women, you’re missing out on a whole lot of depth if that’s all you do…

The Art & Craft of Dialogue, with Claudia Myers. She outlines the five pillars of what makes a good scene, and the four pillars of what makes good dialogue within that scene. Learn how even the way you address someone can matter: “In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft are sleeping together, but he’s still calling her ‘Mrs.Robinson’.”

Bonus section: last year’s highlights

A whole lotta Joe Eszterhas: The straight-talking author of The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, who used to be paid $4 million for a script, was so entertaining and larger-than-life he could not possibly fit into one blog. So I posted several, including a, ahem, blow-by-blow account of Basic Instinct, his troubles with Mel Gibson, and his tips on writing.

Creating Character, with Pilar Alessandra. How to brainstorm a film structure from scratch, based solely on character (fascinating!); plus the three dimensions to character, and how to introduce a character in a script.

The Epic Spec: How To Explode Onto The Hollywood Scene, with Stuart Hazeldine. “Sometimes, to get noticed, you have to take your clothes off and run in the traffic.”

Steve Pemberton. One of the League Of Gentlemen team gives a local talk for local people. Discover, too, how a director he didn’t previously know persuaded him to act, for free, in his short film, as a cannibalistic serial killer with agoraphobia.

Graham Linehan. Absolutely one of the top TV comedy writers working today: the man behind Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd reveals how Robert McKee screwed him up, and what the Three Moments rule is for TV comedy.

The London Screenwriters’ Festival 2015 is pre-registering now, and already 37% sold out. Find out more here.

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A world record for 50 Kisses — watch the best shorts online

5 Apr

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Some Guinness World Records are admirable: the fastest marathon on crutches (5 hrs 29 mins, by a one-legged man); or the most marathons run in a year (157 – by a 68-year-old). Some are just plain silly: the longest fingernail (10 feet 2 inches!) or the most bees covering a human body (331,000, which must have taken a while to count).

Which camp does 50 Kisses fall into? The film, which I first wrote about here, has just been inducted into the Guinness Book of Records for the most screenwriters (51 of them) on a single movie – a record previously held by 1948’s Forever And A Day, with 21. Usually a superabundance of screenwriters on a Hollywood film signals desperation. But in this case, it’s integral to the project: get 50 short scripts by different writers, allow directors and producers to film the script of their choice, and stitch the best of the bunch into a feature-length whole.

The result is a triumph. I watched it for a second time yesterday, when overall director Chris Jones celebrated with a special screening at BAFTA for all the writers, and it actually improves with a second viewing. The quick succession of twists and terrific ideas, swinging from comedy to tragedy and back, is almost overwhelming first time round.

I recently spent three days at a Hollywood film festival watching back-to-back shorts, and 50 Kisses gives a similar experience. So, in the spirit of festivals, here are my own awards for the best shorts in 50 Kisses. Aspiring writers and directors can learn an enormous amount from comparing the screenplays to the finished films – click on the links below to read and watch them:

SmasherooBest film: Smasheroo, directed by Kerry and Evan Marlowe. A terrific script by James Howard, in which a husband stands by his brain-damaged wife, even when she calls him by their dog’s name, is made cinematic by scenes of broken windshield glass flying through blackness; the lines on a road are echoed by a Wartenberg pinwheel rolled along skin.  Performances are understated; the situation is never milked for pathos, and it’s all the more affecting for that. Script here, watch here.

50 Neil Story DigitalBest script: Neil, written by Nigel Karikari. How can you test whether your android is fully lifelike? With a kiss… The script was so good that it attracted eight different filmed versions, two of which, confusingly, are included in 50 Kisses. The version directed by Simon Reglar excels through pitch-perfect performances. Script here, watch here.

50 PracticeBest directing: Practice Makes Perfect, directed by Vance Malone. A young boy tests out kissing before his first big date – but will he have the courage to put his practising into practice? Vance wins my vote because, if you compare the finished film to Mark Pallis’s original script, you will see a number of directorial decisions that have enormously improved the finished result: putting the many flashbacks of the boy’s kissing experiments back in sequential order; removing the slapstick humour and having the confidence to be simply sweet and touching; cutting the only two lines of dialogue; and giving the girl the climactic initiative rather than the boy. Script here, watch here.

50 Neil RaoBest editing: Neil again, this time as directed and edited by Anil Rao. While this version doesn’t work as harmoniously for me as Simon Reglar’s version above, it’s the one that bears the clearest authorial stamp and vision. It’s beautifully art-directed and collage-edited. As Rao himself says, “[It was] the opportunity to relish my film theory of image montage as haiku. A non-linear experience exposes us to discover and seek truth as a memorial jigsaw.” Watch here.

50 The MomentBest actor: Stuart Martin. In The Moment, a hitman runs into a hitch – he may fancy the man he’s pointing the gun at. It’s a tall order, to play a guy so twinkly, so confident in his own charisma, that he can stop a bullet with a smile; Stuart Martin delivers. Script here, watch here.

50 FirstLastBest actress: Keziah Gardom in First/Last. In a future in which a deadly disease is transmitted through saliva, kissing is literally a matter of life and death. Shot on zero budget by Manchester students, this is elevated by Gardom’s touchingly vulnerable performance in an emotionally demanding role – all the more remarkable for it being her sole screen credit to date. Script here, watch here.

Chris Jones’s own 50 Kisses awards are here. To get news of his next crowd-created film, follow www.Create50.com

How 2,000 film-makers – and Chris Jones – made 50 Kisses

10 Feb

The London indie film scene has never been stronger. With digital cameras and Kickstarter funding, sharing resources via Facebook or networking in pubs, film-makers are doing it for themselves. I’m old enough to remember one other DIY period as exciting as this. It was in music, and it was called Punk.

Like all underground movements, the Britpic scene has no official leader. But if you were to choose the Svengali, the Malcolm McLaren of film, it would be Chris Jones. The charismatic founder of the Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass and the London Screenwriters’ Festival has, through his courses, blogs and breakfast seminars, motivated and connected more film-makers than anyone in Britain.

And now he has Frankensteined together a patchwork feature film that unites all this untapped talent. I was the sole journalist to sit through a special preview with Chris last week, and I was blown away.  The film is called 50 Kisses, it premieres at the Genesis Cinema in Mile End on Feb 13 only, and it’s being billed as the world’s first crowd-generated film.

Chris Jones, director of 50 Kisses

Chris Jones, director of 50 Kisses

In the beginning was the word: Chris Jones let it be known he was looking for two-page scripts.

It also started with a kiss: the scripts could be in any genre, period or location, but they must be set on Valentine’s Day, and they must include a kiss.

Chris got 1,870 scripts back. He and his script editors selected the 50 best, and threw them open to directors and producers.

Some scripts were filmed several times over by different teams in different ways; you can see some of the alternatives on http://www.50kissesfilm.com. Says Chris Jones, “One script about a gay hitman got 11 films made, one about a robot got nine. A few, to be honest, didn’t attract any producers. I think if we do a follow-up project, I’d say to writers: take more risks. Go to the crazy, go absolutely bat-shit bonkers and see what comes out.”

In the end, 127 completed short films were submitted, from which 25 made the final cut, and were stitched together into the feature-length 50 Kisses.

There are two films about zombie romance; two about a robot. There is a suicide, a deadly disease transmitted through saliva, and a girl held in chains by an overprotective mother. Then there are all the everyday day tales of loss and longing: young love, first love, unrequited love, geriatric love, love in sickness as well as health. I teared up at several points; laughed more than once.

Perhaps the simplest way of describing 50 Kisses is that it’s like Love Actually, only much more real and affecting. If just some of this DIY talent can break into features, the future of British film-making is in good hands.

After the screening, Chris had one last surprise in store: on Valentine’s Day, directly after the film is shown not just at the Genesis but in 17 countries where film-makers have organised their own premieres, 50 Kisses is going to be put online. In its entirety. For free.

“We only decided to do this four days ago,” says Chris. “We were toying with Blu-Ray, or DVD, and then we thought, the whole point of this exercise was to launch careers, not to make a couple of thousand quid. And the best way to get it in front of powerful people is just to put it out there.”

It’s a lovely thought: the collective hopes and dreams of 1,870 screenwriters and 127 directors, distilled into 25 three-minute love letters to British film, whispering sweet nothings into the world’s computers on Valentine’s Day. That should give Spike Jonze’s Her, which opens the same day, a run for its money.

The 50 Kisses world premiere is at the Genesis in Mile End, www.genesiscinema.co.uk, on Feb 13. It will then be available to view on Feb 14 on YouTube or at www.50kissesfilm.com

Journey into the art of darkness with David Lynch

24 Jan

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David Lynch’s exhibition of black and white photos at London’s Photographers’ Gallery is typically unsettling. Seen individually, each is a banal portrait of a post-industrial setting: a factory in Łódź, or a set of chimneys in Britain. But cumulatively, and particularly knowing Lynch’s films, they force you to start constructing a narrative in your head, to disturbing effect.

Smoke. Brick. Steel. Pylons. Peeling paint. Broken windows. Shadowy, inexplicable doorways, behind which you can’t help intuit a brooding presence. Snaking pipework – what gas or fluids do they carry? A wall of windows, some lit, some not, forming a geometric mosaic like a black-and-white Mondrian.

But the most striking picture of all, given all those that have gone before, is this one (below). We have had a succession of claustrophobic warehouse or factory interiors, all disused – abandoned after a radiation leak, perhaps; or one-time scenes of inexplicable workforce deaths; or currently used for the occasional kidnap, torture and murder. This is the only window on to the outside world in the whole exhibition, and it focuses directly on a single house.

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It’s hard not to feel like a deranged stalker looking out on a prospective victim. The perspective makes Father Dougals of us all — the house seems not so much far away, as very, very small. A dolls’ house whose inhabitants are of as little consequence, and there purely for the viewer’s sport.

Or is that just me?

I saw an exhibition of Lynch’s paintings in at the Galerie Piltzer in Paris in 1997. Again, they were individually unremarkable, until you realised that, cumulatively, they created a record of a crime scene.

Or was that just me?

Humans are meaning-creating creatures, the film guru Chris Jones has said. In other words, you don’t have to spell everything out for the audience when you make a film; the viewer will work hard to supply meaning to a scene in which little is said.

It works for David Lynch’s films, just as it works for his photography and paintings. Starting tomorrow, I will serialise my 1997 interview with Lynch, conducted for Time Out on the release of one of his most obscure and unsettling films, Lost Highway. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

LSF #4: Basic Instinct, blow by “blow”, with Joe Eszterhas

31 Oct
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Moderator Chris Jones (left) and Joe Eszterhas giving live commentary on Basic Instinct

At the London Screenwriters’ Festival on Sunday, there was a full screening of Basic Instinct. Its writer, Joe Eszterhas, gave a live commentary from the stage, moderated by the festival’s creative director, Chris Jones. Thriller expert Lucy V Hay was also on the panel, but Joe blanked every single one of her questions – “Listen, I just type this stuff”, he said at one point, evidently no fan of critical analysis.

Eszterhas’s wife Naomi and their 15-year-old son were in the audience, which made watching the very graphic sex scenes even more surreal, particularly when you remember that Eszterhas claims to have had a fling with Sharon Stone, preserved here in her prime, at the time of Basic Instinct.

So come, Watch With Joe. I’ve recorded the best of the in-flight commentary for your benefit, so fasten your seatbelts: it’s going to be a bumpy night. 

George Dzundza comes up on the credits. Joe: “My suggestion for this part was Willie Nelson. That’s how much I know about casting.”

Jerry Goldsmith’s score plays. Joe: “I kept hearing Stones songs while I was writing Basic Instinct. We actually bought the rights to Sympathy for the Devil for $700,000 to use over the closing credits, but Paul (Verhoeven) elected not to use it.”

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The very first scene is full-throttle love-making with some white-scarf bondage thrown in. Chris: “We’re already straight into the action.” Joe: “The ‘business’, as we say in Hollywood.”

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Suddenly, the woman frenziedly stabs the man again and again with an icepick. Chris: “Holy shit, Joe!” Joe (shrugs, deadpan): “She was excited.”

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Roxie is introduced. “I’m her friend,” she tells detective Nick Curran. Chris: “That’s so charged, the way she says it.” Joe: “Camille Paglia [influential feminist commentator] praised the film for its modern take on sexual politics.”

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The first scene between Dr Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a psychiatrist, and Nick Curran. Chris: “Great sexual charisma between her and Michael Douglas.” Joe: “It doesn’t hurt that they were having a blazing affair while filming.”

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Nick watches Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) undressing. Chris: “That’s very inappropriate behaviour. It tells us something about his character.” Joe: “He likes to get too close to the flame.”

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Catherine Tramell offers Nick a cigarette even though he’s given up, lights one, smokes it suggestively. Joe: “There is no doubt that these scenes glamorise smoking. Especially with Sharon doing it. I regret that, especially in the light of what happened to me later [Eszterhas contracted throat cancer in 2001; his husky voice is due to the removal of most of his larynx].”

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The notorious interrogation scene. This was Verhoeven’s idea, inspired by a woman who uncrossed her legs, pantieless, at a party to embarrass him when he was younger. Joe: “Close your eyes, John! [This to his 15-year-old son in the audience.] This is a terrific scene but the downside is that this is, in my mind, a really intricate film noir, but it’s rather overshadowed by the world’s most famous pussy shot. It may have done Sharon a disservice, too. She does seem really fine, subtle performing here.”

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A passionate sex scene between Dr Garner and Nick Curran turns violent. Joe: “This attracted a lot of criticism, but I think it’s obvious that it isn’t date rape in the context of their relationship.”

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Um… really? “No!” says Dr Garner, as Curran bends her over an armchair. “Stop!” she says, as he rips off her black panties and thrusts himself into her from behind. Chris: “Blimey!” Joe (drily): “‘Blimey’ indeed.”

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After a terrific chase scene down a winding road which Eszterhas intended as a visual echo of the twisting plot, Curran tracks Tramell to the house of Hazel Dobkins, a former killer. Joe: “Hazel Dobkins was an old landlady of mine when I went to College.” Chris: “Did she mind?” Joe: “She sent a note thanking me.”

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A great line: Tramell says to Curran, “Soon I’ll know you better than you know yourself.” Curran replies, “I doubt that. I’m very –” “Unpredictable?” she says, in unison with him. Chris: “So who is the killer, Joe?” [He asks that again and again. I hadn’t realised there was any doubt.] Joe: “The usual thing is for me to say buy the DVD and watch it several times, because I still get the residuals! But maybe I’ll tell you at the end.”

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A sex scene between Curran and Tramell ends with her tying him down with a white scarf, just as in the murder scene at the beginning. He lets her do it, even though he knows she may be the killer. Chris: “Why?” Joe: “He likes getting close to the flame. And Catherine likes to take him there.”

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Over the end of the movie, Joe Estzerhas talks about the bidding frenzy over his script, which was bought by Carolco for a record $3m. “Screenwriters never made that kind of money. I was on holiday with my family at the time, and news teams helicoptered in to talk to me. After it was released, Mario Kassar, the head of Carolco, called me in and said ‘Joey, I paid you peanuts. I’m going to make a hundred million dollars for this f***ing movie.’”

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Curran and Tramell make love, Tramell’s hands occasionally going under the bed as though about to pick something up. When Curran agrees they don’t have to “raise rugrats”, just “f*** like minks and live happily ever after”, she leaves whatever it is alone and kisses him. There’s a fade to black, then, unusually, a fade up again… on the icepick under the bed. Chris: “Why the fade to black?” Joe: “I didn’t want to pan to it at that point. When the fade happens a lot of people are going to think she didn’t do it. Then when it fades back…” Chris: “So who really is the killer?” Joe: “She is wonderful, and manipulative, and so smart, and omni-sexual…” [Effectively confirming Tramell as the killer. So there, conspiracy theorists.]

And that’s all for now, folks! Come back tomorrow for Joe Eszterhas on Showgirls and other films. For part 1 of his wit ‘n’ wisdom, click here. For part 2 on the origins of Basic Instinct, including fighting Michael Douglas’s alternative ending, click here. Thanks to screenmusings.org for the screengrabs.

 

 

 

LSF #2: Joe Eszterhas, the $4m man, on screenwriting

29 Oct
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Joe Eszterhas (left) with the winner of his icepick award, Eran Creevy (maker of Shifty and Welcome to the Punch), and London Screenwriters’ Festival founder Chris Jones

During the London Screenwriters’ Festival this weekend, I spent four and a half hours with Joe Eszterhas, the most successful scriptwriter of his day, in a Q&A panel, a one-on-one interview, and a live-commentary screening of Basic Instinct. The festival also announced a new award: the Joe Eszterhas British Screenwriting Award, won by Eran Creevy.

Eszterhas, irreverent as ever, whispered to me after in a voice still husky from his 2001 battle with throat cancer: “He seems like a nice guy; hope it doesn’t jinx him!” Perhaps Eszterhas was thinking of the late ’90s when, with his own star falling after Showgirls and Burn Hollywood Burn, the Golden Raspberries renamed their screenwriting category the Joe Eszterhas Dis-Honorarial Award.

Eszterhas may not be the critics’ darling, but for more than a decade his spec scripts attracted $2-4 million payoffs, even those that weren’t produced. In one year alone he made $10 million.

So you might figure we have something to learn from him.

And there is. It’s mostly about listening to your heart, writing from your gut, and the giant brass clanking balls you need to protect your work. I’m going to let Joe tell it in his own words. He’s as entertaining in speech as on the page, so why not?

On the goldfish bowl of Hollywood: “You need a short memory. They can screw you, and you can screw them, but you need a short memory if you’re going to carry on working.”

On why screenwriting is, as Swiss Tony might say, like making love to a beautiful woman: “What Warren Beatty said, talking about trying to bed every woman he met, applies to screenwriting too: ‘You get slapped a lot, but sometimes you get laid.’”

On writing: “Keep writing. Even if you’re throwing up. For the first couple of years I was so nervous about writing I used to throw up every morning before I started. Still, that’s better than throwing up afterward! I’ve done that a couple of times, too.

“Don’t make changes without agreeing to them. Always fight your corner. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t sell your children.

“Don’t figure out what will be a hit. Write what is in your heart, in your gut, because we just never know what is going to be a hit.

“I still write on a manual typewriter, I’m a technical ignoramus. If I get stuck on page 45, I start again from the beginning, rewriting every word, and usually I find somehow what was wrong and fix it by doing that.”

On script gurus: “Let’s be euphemistic here [we know he’s joking: Eszterhas always calls a spade a spade, not a soil-relocation facilitator]: I think they are con men and hookers, and they take advantage of people like you, because they haven’t done it themselves. What’s Robert McKee written, one TV movie? What they give to you guys is bullshit. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

“The danger of focusing too much on film is you get caught up in the technical aspects. Learn about people, how they talk, what makes them tick. I know a guy who worked for the phone company; he wanted to be a scriptwriter, he would listen in on people’s conversations for hours a day. Another friend, he used to put a little bug in the flowerpot in the café.”

On the real reason fewer films are being made: “When I began, producers and studio heads were showbiz people who trusted their own instincts. They weren’t surrounded by business graduates and focus groups and cost analysers, they went with their gut. One reason that fewer and fewer films get made is not just budget, but people are afraid to green-light things because if they do, and it doesn’t work, they could lose their jobs and usually do. That’s why we get so many comic-book tentpole movies that don’t take any chances.”

On priorities: “I’ve always preferred reading a book to seeing a movie, always preferred having sex to reading a book, and for a few years I preferred having a drink to anything.”

On the most important thing of all: “This is the most important thing I can tell you: ‘Don’t let them take your mojo. Keep the thing that makes you write hidden deep inside of you.’”

Part 2: Click here to read Joe Eszterhas on Basic Instinct — why he originally wanted to call it The Love Birds (?!), and why he had to fight Michael Douglas for three months over the ending

LSF #1: Starting a daily series of reports from the London Screenwriters’ Festival

28 Oct
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Dominic Wells (me) with Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct and usually no friend of critics. “They want to kill you, rape your wife and eat your children” is the typically understated chapter heading in his book.

What an exhilarating, exhausting, mind-altering three days the London Screenwriters’ Festival has been! There were 100 guest speakers to choose from, including a two-hour Q&A with Joe Eszterhas, the highest-paid, most successful and most belligerent screenwriter of his day, plus a surreal afternoon in which 300 people packed into the main hall to watch Basic Instinct with Eszterhas providing a live running commentary – and occasionally warning his 15-year-old son in the audience to shut his eyes…!

The 68-year-old living legend was good enough to give me a one-on-one interview, as well. Given that in his scabrous warts-and-all book The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, Eszterhas headlined his chapter on critics “They want to kill you, rape your wife, and eat your children”, it’s an interview I approached with more than the usual trepidation. But in the event he talked candidly of the death of his father, the battles with drinking and smoking that almost killed him, and his wild first meeting with Gonzo journo Hunter S. Thompson, who got him his breakthrough job with Rolling Stone.

During the London Screenwriters’ Festival I also interviewed Doon Mackichan of Smack The Pony and Steve Pemberton of League of Gentlemen and Psychoville; attended a terrific seminar with Graham Linehan of Father Ted and The IT Crowd fame and a very candid talk by David Hare, plus “how-to” lectures by a Brit who’s made it as a sci-fi blockbuster writer in Hollywood and great ones on character, structure, and thriller writing.

I’ve written about it today in The Times (click here), but a single piece doesn’t begin to do justice to the event.

So I’m going to write a series of daily blogs until I’ve shared with you all the great stuff in my notebook. Do keep coming back, and pass the link www.londonhollywood.net to any filmy friends.

As Chris Jones, the inspirational founder of the festival likes to say… onward and upward!

Read the first of my daily LSF blogs here, featuring the inimitable Joe Eszterhas