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Jonathan Carr – Peter Symes Workshop

Funding schemes and project workshops often seem a little like X Factor for filmmakers. One fellow participant in this year’s Bridging the Gap talked of a friend who had won through to an initiative in which 10 projects were to be funded from 11 workshoppers. Even Simon Cowell might think that brutal. I was told BTG was different, and so it proved.

This was the first of three development weekends before final pitching in March. Chaired by the immensely warm and inspiring documentary guru Peter Symes, each of the 12 in our group introduced their films in a sentence, and then developed them by opening the ideas up to the room.

My project focuses on the Brutalist architect Owen Luder, who faces the prospect of seeing his three key buildings demolished in his own lifetime. One is already gone, one has been left to rot, and the third, the Dunston Rocket in Gateshead, is scheduled to come down in the next few months. Each building has, over the years, attracted huge amounts of criticism, one in particular having been voted the ugliest building in the UK.

I found the story irresistible, particularly as Luder is in his eighties, surely a time in one’s life when you look back over your achievements and failures. My writing partner and I researched every news item available, and tracked down the key players. We tore down to London on the overnight train, and met Luder in his plush apartment in the shadow of Big Ben. Rather than the bitter, broken man I had expected, however, Owen was open, charming and pragmatic. What was our story now? I was hoping the workshop would help me focus.

Remarkably, there were no pumped egos or shrinking violets in the group, and any comments that strayed close to criticism were always taken in the right spirit – with a bright smile masking a seething undercurrent of anger and resentment. Actually, the group was enthusiastic, open and encouraging, and every project was received and dissected with equal enthusiasm. Even though each was wildly different, there were some common themes: alternative living, intriguing mysteries, unusual spaces, eccentric characters and a lack of working electricity. We travelled from Arizona through Japan to Beirut, and ended up in a bowling green in Balham. Food was eaten, drinks were taken, relationships were cemented and our projects were turned upside down.

My idea seemed well received, but it became clear that I had three or four films in my head, and that I should concentrate on one. We were all in agreement that Luder himself was the film. By stripping away all the peripheral aspects of the story, I can now see a clear way to progress, and the group’s interventions were invaluable.

Once it was all over, we all agreed we couldn’t wait for the second round – particularly since we hadn’t lost anyone along the way.

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Filed under: Bridging the Gap

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