Michael Bennett, Film Four London, 2005

FEATURE: 24 MARCH 2005


2003 British Council / New Zealand Writers Foundation UK Scholarship

Filmmaker and screenwriter Michael Bennett (Jubilee, Mataku, Kerosene Creek, Outrageous Fortune) was the 2005 winner of the FilmFour Award for screenwriters, set up by The New Zealand Writers Foundation (now Script to Screen) and The British Council New Zealand.

The groundbreaking UK film company, FilmFour, selected Michael to spend six weeks in its feature film development division. FilmFour is internationally recognised for its innovative and diverse projects that include Trainspotting, The Motorcycle Diaries and Me and You and Everyone We Know.

“The process of submerging in the projects on the FilmFour slate is a huge blast of revelation, a real eye-opening epiphany that film can be so many different things … there are just so many more ideas and voices and stories and ways of telling stories than we’ve dreamed of here. It’s a creatively liberating and inspiring experience.”
Michael Bennett

Inside FilmFour – Michael Bennett

Something weird has happened to London. Previously this city ranked somewhere between Jakarta and Manila in terms of places I’d like to live. But in the 18 years between my visits here, someone has trotted about and sprinkled fairy dust all over the place. It’s beautiful. It’s sunny – it’s ridiculously warm – the trees are green – despite the bombs everyone seems cheerful, relaxed. Optimistic even. It’s Wonderland. Descending into the underground does entail a certain degree of sphincter-clenching. But exercising the entire muscular system on a daily basis is never a bad thing.

A little update on what’s been happening with the FilmFour attachment. Before arriving here, I was in Los Angeles at the National Geographic All Roads festival. Amazing people and amazing films – Native American filmmakers, Aboriginal filmmakers, Kazakstanis, Tibetans, a woman making a film about Palestinian hip-hop artists, an Afghani who risked imprisonment and torture to document what’s happened in his country. While a lot of festivals seem to be about the Industry, this one was uniquely about people and about cultures. Something special. And being with filmmakers that literally put their lives on the line to pursue their art rather puts into perspective our own ‘horror stories’ about getting our work made.

Incidentally New Zealand really does have the best coffee known to man. The state of American coffee reflects the state of their nation. The coffee is horrid – truly horrid – they serve it in cups that hold about a litre. So they’re constantly wired and thinking with little calmness or clarity. Which explains why they talk so fast and kill each other so much. I believe if you could get a good soy flat white in Washington DC, we wouldn’t have this mess in Iraq right now.

FilmFour has perhaps eighty feature films in different stages of development at any given time, it invests in perhaps two or three times as many feature films each year as are made in New Zealand. With the breadth and range of films at various stages of development, the development team is correspondingly large. And things happen fast, projects fly about with the speed and relentlessness of the black cabs that race round Oxford Circus on a Friday night – new pitches are heard daily, new properties are constantly looked at for their filmic potential, projects are suddenly greenlit and need to be readied to go, the scripts and treatments and ideas and revisions don’t stop coming.

My introduction was on familiar ground, spending the first week working and advising on a slate of short films co-funded by FilmFour to help identify and promote talent they may subsequently develop features with – the scheme, co-incidentally, that funded Wasp, the short film that pipped Taika at the post at the Oscars in March. It was a buzz to work with a bunch of motivated talented upcoming filmmakers, and it was interesting to see the similarities between our short film industries in terms of the strengths- and the weaknesses – of the different projects. A major point of difference being that New Zealand short filmmakers tend to have far better teeth.

Subsequently I’ve worked on a variety of feature projects on the development slate, from a post-terrorist view of England, to a new take on the Boston Strangler tale, to an out-and-out horror – from possible adaptations of books and theatrical pieces, to pitches of entirely new material, to projects that are being urgently readied for imminent production.

Gotta say, I’ve been overwhelmed at the degree to which I’ve been trusted to become a part of, and to contribute in considerable depth to, the development process here. It’s all very much on the plus side already and everything augers very promisingly for my remaining time here. The black cabs keep coming – the sun keeps shining – it’s Wonderland. With some shortcomings in the area of dental hygiene.

My appreciation once more to the NZ Writers Foundation and the British Council for facilitating my attachment here – and to FilmFour and Katherine Butler for welcoming me into the fold.