The BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series: Paul Laverty

Last Thursday, Scottish screenwriter, Paul Laverty, spoke at the BFI as part of their Screenwriters Lecture series. TFR went along to see what he had to say about working his writing methods, as well as his frequent collaborations with legendary British director, Ken Loach.

Laverty is perhaps best known for writing the script for the 2006 film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which was set during the Irish War of Independence and was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, although the film wasn’t discussed during the event.

The talk kicked off with a clip from the Laverty’s second collaboration with Loach, My Name Is Joe, made in 1998. “Openings are interesting”, stated Laverty. He feels it’s vital to create tension from the very first scene and present characters who are ticking time bombs. It’s not only potential violence which is important, “vulnerability gives great dramatic possibilities” within characters he adds.

Like My Name Is Joe, many of Laverty’s screenplays – such as Carla’s Song, Sweet Sixteen and Ae Fond Kiss – are set in Scotland, and he admits that it is a dialect he is most comfortable in writing dialogue for. However, much of his work is set elsewhere in the world, and even writes in other languages. Laverty spent a significant amount of time living in Nicaragua during the 1980s, where he worked for a human rights organisation. His experiences during those years have also had a noticeable impact upon the themes of his work.

We were also shown a clip from the 2000 drama film, Bread and Roses, also directed by Loach. Despite being set within the United States, the film deals with the struggle of Latina immigrants who work as severely underpaid janitors in LA. Laverty stressed the importance of listening and talking to people from around the world when writing his screenplays, as well as understanding that characters are rarely straightforward, and tend to have numerous contradictions.

This was overwhelmingly evident in the clip for one of Laverty’s latest screenplays, Even the Rain. This Spanish-language film follows the story of a controversial filmmaker, while questioning the ethics of filmmaking itself. Laverty traces two strengths acquired from his globe-trotting. Firstly, his experience of other cultures has given him the confidence to write about them, and secondly he’s learned that  “curiosity can be your best ally” when it comes to finding a film-worthy story.

Although Laverty’s screenplays often have weighty topics, he’s no stranger to humour, as we saw in a clip from the 2009 comedy, Looking for Eric. The key to writing a good script, according to Laverty, is having “a great story, with meat to it, that’s worth fighting for” – and it’s clear that he’s passionate about all of his projects. He also believes that a script’s themes and issues should be secondary to character and story, as this is what keeps the audience interested.

Laverty’s upcoming project, The Angel’s Share, is another Loach collaboration. The film follows a young Glaswegian troublemaker and the community service officer who helps him to turn over a new leaf. It is expected to reach UK cinemas in 2012.

Book tickets for the 2011 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series.

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