Guiding Principles

Kate Leys, Director of The Story Works, gives her thoughts on the key guiding principles of the project.

The first is that in the UK, perhaps more than any other country in the world, people in the film industry tell screenwriters what to do. It seems to be accepted practice to tell screenwriters what to write, how to write it, and then to tell them how every other aspect of the film industry works so that they can in some way write accordingly. It’s an odd approach and what makes it particularly odd is that they are mainly given bad instructions anyway; an awful lot of the time screenwriters are told what to do by people who do not know how to write screenplays themselves or have much real idea of what is involved in writing them. All our participating writers recognise this scenario.


This project believes that the people screenwriters can most usefully spend time with are other screenwriters, the people who really can give them insight into what it is that they do. The project offers closed masterclasses so that only screenwriters will be present. Nobody else will be in the room so that screenwriters will be entirely free to discuss story in the way that makes sense to them.

The second guiding principle is that the only thing that really matters in screenwriting is story. It’s far and away the only thing that matters to filmmakers, to audiences and to screenwriters, but it is too often not prioritised during the development or filmmaking process. This project focuses on ‘story’ rather than ‘screenwriting’ – our writers know how to write screenplays, but they don’t often get the chance to do serious thinking and work around the idea of storytelling.

Everyone involved in making a film is engaged with telling its story. This project will be inviting other filmmakers to run some of our masterclasses in order to discuss story: an editor, a DoP, a composer and a director will be asked not to ‘tell us what they do’ but specifically to discuss screen storytelling.

The third guiding principle is the belief that the best way to move the world forwards is generally to put smart people together in a room and let them talk to each other. That’s the key principle behind the masterclasses, the writer lunches and meetings, and the advisory board.

The fourth guiding principle is about what a masterclasses really is. A masterclass is not a lecture: it’s an opportunity for really talented people to work close-up with a brilliant, experienced practitioner and to understand more about what it is they are all doing by focusing on something specific. Our masterclass speakers will be invited to run sessions according to their own preference: some will probably want to discuss their work by referencing it as a body of work; some might want to focus on one screenplay or even a part of one screenplay; some might want to talk about someone else’s film or screenplay, not something of their own but something that means a lot to them. I will suggest to all of them that they might also want to focus a part of their session around one of our writers’ screenplays: to work closely on a screenplay (or even a part of a screenplay) with the group as a way of looking at how a particular story works. In a three hour session it is possible to do more than one of these things.

The fifth guiding principle is food! You’ll never go hungry at The Story Works. If you bring people together and feed them most things are usually achievable. We don’t believe in drinks parties, or boardroom tables with sandwiches: we believe in proper lunches and suppers so that everyone has something else to focus on and the world is a less scary and complicated place.

And the last guiding principle is about being a residential event – a space specifically geared to close the doors and focus on story - and being based at the EIFF. A film festival is where audiences come to have new stories told for the first time; to meet the filmmakers who tell them; and to think about film storytelling both seriously and for fun. Placing The Story Works masterclasses in the middle of Edinburgh is deliberate: its long tradition of fiery discussion between audiences and filmmakers is the exact context for what we’re doing.

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