What do academic researchers and screenwriters have in common? Quite a lot it turns out!

Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab, June 18, EIFF 2015. Photographer: Sandra Franco, © EIFF, Edinburgh International Film Festival All Rights Reserved

Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab, June 18, EIFF 2015. Photographer: Sandra Franco, © EIFF, Edinburgh International Film Festival All Rights Reserved

As part of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Heather and I at the Beltane have been working with the Wellcome Trust on an exciting new initiative bringing together the worlds of filmmaking and academic research. Not the kind of project I work on every day, but the partnership made sense because the Beltane is about making academic research accessible to a wide variety of audiences and the Wellcome Trust are working strategically with the entertainment industries to engage the widest possible audience with science. The Ideas lab involved 10 Scottish-born or Scottish-based screenwriters and 10 biomedical researchers from the region just talking, and talking, for 2 whole days and 3 evenings.

Its (fairly loose) aims were to give the writers the opportunity to meet and make connections with biomedical researchers, learn about the cutting edge scientific and humanities research taking place in the region and be inspired for future story ideas for film. On the face of it, the incentives for the writers seemed more obvious and so when tasked with recruiting 10 researchers, great at communicating not just their work but the human stories attached to it, with 2 days to spare from their busy schedules, I was initially apprehensive. I am happy to say I couldn’t have been more wrong, both about peoples’ interest in participating and the value they got from the experience.

Day 1 was dedicated entirely to getting to know one another, skilfully facilitated by Kate Leys, a feature film script editor who works on projects at all stages of development. The relaxed atmosphere and genuine interest in each other’s projects and ways of working, helped along by the wonderful view of the castle from the Edinburgh College of Art Old Boardroom, meant the conversation didn’t stop. Parallels were made between the precarious nature of spending months, years even, working on an idea for a film or a piece of academic research not knowing if you’ll ever be able to convince someone to fund it. Insights into the creative process for both writers and researchers were shared and ownership of ideas and how it feels to let go of control at different stages was another theme that came out of the discussions. For me, someone who finds writing hard, it was refreshing to realise that even people who write for a living don’t find it easy all the time and I was spurred on to ‘just have a go’ and write this blog post.

Day 2 involved a lab tour at Heriot-Watt University, complete with pipettes (with tips for scientific accuracy ;-), 3-D printing and hearing from the writer/researcher pair over lunch who had already collaborated on a film. There was also plenty of social time to continue conversations and although I think the lack of pressure for concrete short-term outcomes made for an amazingly open and refreshing few days, I hope this is just the start for some people. Here at the Beltane we found the vibe of the event amazingly positive and are looking forward to hopefully building longer term relationships with the writers. Watch this space for a networking twilight along a similar theme in the autumn.

Liz Scanlon

Related links:

The Wellcome Trust – Broadcast, Games and Film team http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/film

Edinburgh International Film Festival http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/

Kate Leys http://www.kateleys.co.uk/

Kristina Harrison blogpost: https://thephdcountdown.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/and-now-for-something-completely-different/

Sue Fletcher-Watson blogpost: http://www.dart.ed.ac.uk/seven-classic-plots/