2018 BellRock participants tell us about their experience

BellRock is an inspiring programme giving filmmakers and screenwriters the opportunity to work with a team of established, international mentors to develop original, feature-length screenplays.

Delivered by Hospitalfield, in partnership with Olivia StewartThree Rivers Film and Screen Scotland, the programme offers an intensive series of residential workshops and mentoring support for six writers and filmmakers per year, followed by the fantastic opportunity for participants to pitch their finished scripts to an industry audience.

Applications to take part in this year’s programme are currently open and the deadline is Friday 1 March.

Fresh out of pitching their finished screenplays at the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, we caught up with three participants from last year’s programme to hear about their experiences and the impact that BellRock has had on their projects.

Sean Lìonadh

Black and white image of poet, writer and filmmaker, Sean Lìonadh

Sean Lìonadh is a poet, writer and filmmaker from Glasgow, best known for his visual poem Time for Love, which reached millions online, won the John Byrne Award, earned a Prix Europa nomination and inspired a movement called the Time for Love Project.

We asked Sean how he heard about BellRock and what motivated him to get involved.

“Laura at Hospitalfield was doing a great job of reaching out to the writing community in Scotland and she really encouraged me to apply.

“I had a story I'd been working on for a year and the idea of having support (or a kick up the backside) that would help me reach a finished script seemed like a rare, mystical opportunity.”

Sean’s screenplay that he developed at BellRock is called Nostophobia, “a horror relationship drama about a gay relationship and the monster created, where love and intimacy meet trauma.”

“From the very start of BellRock, I had to go right to the heart of where the story came from, and I had to share this with the group of writers and mentors. That kind of immediate vulnerability felt like a risk, but it was a necessary one.

“I realised then that BellRock was a very rare and safe space to be vulnerable as a writer.”

Sean told us about working with his mentor, film producer, Alfredo Covelli and how that helped develop his story.

“My wonderful mentor, Alfredo, was the perfect match for me and the project. He supported me in offering his great ideas and perspective for me to consider - our sessions were usually long conversations in the portrait gallery where ideas would clash and come to rest on the page.

“I learned a strange dance of defending my ideas without being dangerously precious… All I tried to do was get as close to it as possible. This often involved killing my darlings. Alfredo also gave me deadlines - and sometimes that's something you really just have to be given by someone else.”

Hospitalfield is a stunning 13th century building surrounded by beautiful grounds and a rich, fascinating history. The venue is home to a wide collection of 19th and 20th century art. We asked how the environment influenced Sean.

Hospitalfield is a staggeringly beautiful place... There is every terrain; forest, sea, fields. The beauty undoubtedly weaves its way into your words somehow - and I don't mean that it's 'pretty' - I definitely felt a deeper unseen power to that place.”

Sean talked about the community of the BellRock group and the “family feel” of reflecting together after a day of writing and working.

“The place is also a temporary home to so many interesting artists and there's definitely a family feel at evening mealtimes that you know you're always going to have as a lovely reward for working through the day.”

We asked what Sean's relationship with the other participants was like.

“Sharing time at Hospitalfield together and sharing the unique experience of crafting an important and intimate project together is a recipe for great friendship. All of my fellow participants have a deep respect for each other.

“I love them all and I know we'll likely be relying on our WhatsApp group heavily in the coming days!”

Sean said that pitching his project to an industry audience at the EYE Film Institute was “unique and incredible."

“We worked with mentors who had an incredible grasp on what it is to present a story - their advice was invaluable. The pitch itself felt like a wonderful release at the end of a year of intensive work on my script.

“I was finally speaking the story in a language that others could understand - this transformed my own understanding of my story too. I received a lot of honest feedback and learned a great amount about the realities of feature film production, which can sometimes seem unsurmountable as a first-time feature filmmaker.

“The EYE Film Institute gave me and the other writers such a pride in our work that was so far from the shaky introductions we (or at least I) had made when we first met each other.”

"BellRock was a very rare and safe space to be vulnerable as a writer”

“There were certain moments of calm and clarity at Hospitalfield where my story really spoke to me deeper than it ever has before.

"To others applying, I would say - write as honest an application as you can. BellRock is a place for you and your story, so don't hide any of the rawness or the flaws in your project."

Sean Lìonadh, Poet, Writer, Filmmaker

We asked Sean about his personal highlight of the programme – and any advice he would give to future prospective applicants.

“There were certain moments of calm and clarity at Hospitalfield where my story really spoke to me deeper than it ever had before. I felt like I truly belonged to the project, and it belonged to me.

“To others applying, I would say - write as honest an application as you can. BellRock is a place for you and your story, so don't hide any of the rawness or the flaws in your project.

“You're bringing clay to BellRock - so tidy it up to a certain extent but if you're like me, you'll end up applying with big messy concepts and leave with clean form and a solid structure.

So what’s next for Sean?

“I'm working on attaching a producer to Nostophobia so I can start on pre-production and consider which festival labs to take the project to. It's going to be very important for me to consider VFX from the get-go.

“I'm also working on an upcoming BBC short film commission which is an adaptation of a poem I wrote, whilst preparing for the TedX Talk, I was invited to make following my last short, Time for Love.”

Find out more about Sean's work on his website: https://seanlionadh.com/.

Zoe Hunter

Black and white image of actor and writer, Zoe Hunter

Zoe is an actress and writer who studied law at Glasgow University before attending Central School of Speech and Drama. Upon graduating, Zoe started a theatre company, Unpacked, with four of her peers. The company created, produced and toured work together for the best part of ten years.

Outside of co-writing and devising multiple theatre productions with her company Unpacked, and more recently turning to writing for screen, Zoe has also worked independently as a performer and collaborator with organisations like National Theatre of Scotland, the Lyceum, Playwright Studio Scotland, Sony Games, Battersea Arts Centre, Brighton Dome, Liverpool Playhouse and many more.

Zoe heard about BellRock through an industry friend after facing some challenges in getting her ideas for short films off the ground.

“I was genuinely surprised, and obviously absolutely delighted, that BellRock saw potential in my writing for feature work.”

Zoe’s screenplay is a dark comedy – a “road/buddy movie about two women on the run who end up, unbeknownst to them, hiding out in a cottage in the Highlands that once belonged to a disgraced celebrity.”

“The story is about the unlikely bond that forms between these two very different individuals and their united strength to overcome the greatest of challenges.

Zoe told us about the positive impact her mentor, Ian Sellar, had upon her work.

“I was given a mentor for the project, Ian Sellar, who worked with me very closely on every aspect of the script - from structure to character and tone. He was wonderful to work with. I feel very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to be supported by him.”

Zoe has stayed in touch with the other BellRock participants since finishing the residencies.

“I think the pitching week in Amsterdam was a brilliant way to bond as a team of writers.”

Zoe says she “loved staying and working at Hospitalfield.” We asked her more about this.

“I was very, very heavily pregnant for the first stay and had a very young baby for the following two visits. The building itself and the fact that we were away from it all and catered for breakfast, lunch and dinner provided me with the headspace I needed to be focused and creative.

As a new mother who was breast feeding, Zoe was pleased that BellRock could make arrangements that meant she could still participate fully in the programme.

What was it like to pitch her project to an industry audience at the EYE Film Institute?

“Nerve wracking! But we had the steady hand of Marten Rabarts to coach us in the days leading up to the pitch session. His teaching of how to pitch to industry was incredibly valuable and I will take what I have learned with me into whichever pitching environment I end up in in the future.

“I received an incredibly positive response from the international producers present. All were interested in collaborating and I just have to get a British producer on board now.”

Zoe’s highlight of the BellRock programme was pitching her script in Amsterdam.

“Experiencing a bit of an industry feeding frenzy over my script was a big incentive to keep going with trying to get my script onto the screen."

Poster for Zoe Hunter's film, Jimmy's Fix

Poster Credit: Foz Foster

What advice would you give to future applicants?

“I would encourage people to not be dissuaded from applying if they have struggled with getting short scripts made in Scotland. If there is talent there, BellRock will spot it.”

What’s up next for Zoe?

“I have been working with Surge on developing a theatre piece so I will be applying to get funding to do practical research and development on that working with director Ben Harrison from Grid Iron.

“Next week I start filming series two of Last Commanders with the BBC here in Glasgow. Andrea Arnold moved from kids TV to working on her first film, Milk with a very young baby in tow. You never know, hopefully as bright a film future is in store for me too. Think big!”

James Topham

A portrait image of writer, James Topham

James was born in Blackburn, an old mill town in the North West of England. He moved about in his twenties before landing in Scotland five or six years ago.

“I hope to think I was accepted as at least an honorary Scotsperson by the rest of the guys on the programme!”

James’ work takes the tropes and shape of genre fiction – science fiction, horror, thrillers – but then uses that set of expectations to go in some unusual directions. James says he tries to “say something interesting, ethically or philosophically, about how we live today.”

We asked James about what inspired him to apply for the BellRock programme.

“It seemed like a really fantastic opportunity and really different from any of the other talent development programmes out there at the moment.

“I really liked the idea of taking part in an intensive residency – three weeks over the period of six months – and being part of a small group of writers in a setting conducive to doing some good work.

James told us about his screenplay, PANACEA, which is set in a near-future in which the world has been ravaged by a fatal epidemic.

“A young drifter stumbles across a man hiding out in the woods whose daughter is the only person to have ever contracted the disease and survived. Slowly, the drifter becomes part of this slightly weird little family, but soon must choose whether to betray them or fight to protect them.

“The script changed immensely during the period of the residency – mainly because of the focus and attention that I got from my mentor on the programme, Alfredo Covelli, as well as the input from the other mentors and writers.

“There were pretty intense one-to-one mentoring sessions and group workshops in which parts of the script were read out loud and raked over. In one way, it was horrifying for me to have to put my work out there to that extent, but my panic was quickly overcome by how kind and sensitive everyone's feedback was.  

James spoke about how the group dynamic positively impacted his experience at BellRock.

“What was so exciting about the cohort that came together for the programme was how different we all were – the youngest of us wasn’t yet twenty and the oldest was nearly fifty. We were also drawn from different backgrounds and approaches as well – some of us were poets, charity workers, directors, actors and mixed-media artists.

“With such a mix, you might think we’d have difficulty finding the language to talk to each other about our work, but that wasn’t really the case. We had so many great conversations about our scripts and writing in general and I really hope we’ll continue those conversations in the future.”

James says Hospitalfield is “an incredible place to spend some time away from your lives.”

“About five minutes away from the freezing waters off the Arbroath coast, Hospitalfield House is like a massive country manor squashed into the smallest amount of space possible. The place is full of hidden staircases and secret rooms and despite having spent three weeks there, I still don’t think I saw it all. The most important thing for me about the place is how peaceful it was.

“As well as the group and mentoring sessions, the programme gave us plenty of time to just sit and write – and whether I was in the old library in the east wing, or in the old gallery, or in the summerhouse overlooking the sculpture garden, the atmosphere allowed me to take myself out of the everyday and get a new perspective on the work I was doing.”

James and his mentor sit and read his script at Hospitalfield

How did James find pitching the project to an industry audience at EYE Institute?

“Pretty nerve-wracking to be honest. Though I’ve done a little bit of public speaking, the idea of standing in front of a room of strangers and trying to articulate my project and how I write felt at first like it'd be a sort of slow torture.

“It was actually a really positive, non-scary experience – in no small part due to all the support the programme and the team at the EYE Institute gave us. Before the pitch session, we had a couple of days of training that really helped us on how to articulate the scripts we were writing and really put us at ease.”

James found it difficult to pick just one highlight of the programme.

“The feeling of the residencies was sort of this lovely, uninterrupted dreamlike state. When we were out in Arbroath it felt simultaneously like we’d been living there for years and that the whole thing rushed by in no time at all, though, if forced, I’d have to say the evening that we discovered the table tennis table in the old stables was a pretty big night.

“What I really loved about the whole process was discovering five other writers who were incredibly talented and smart, and having the opportunity to discuss their work with them.”

What’s next for James?

“I’m currently in the process of polishing my script before sending it out to some of the producers and sales agents I met during the pitch session at the EYE Film Institute.

“I’m also taking part in the Scottish Film Talent Network’s First Feature Programme with a really fun sci-fi horror project. I’m looking to attach a producer to it in the next couple of months.”

You can learn more about James' work here: https://www.unitedagents.co.uk/james-topham.

BellRock 2019

Further information about applying for this year’s BellRock programme is available here: http://hospitalfield.org.uk/residencies/bellrock/.

The deadline to apply is Friday 1 March.

For more exciting talent development opportunities, check out our Skills and Talent section.