Shaun Hughes on his experience with Stowe Story Labs

Shaun Hughes is an award-winning filmmaker with an MA in Film Directing (with distinction) and an MFA in Fine Art. His graduation film, No More Shall We Part, won a BAFTA New Talent award for Cinematography.

Alongside his long-time collaborator, Tim Courtney, Shaun is a founding member of Factotum Films, and his work has played in domestic and international film festivals, including Tampere Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Reykjavik International Film Festival, and Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

Shaun's short film, Bunny, which he wrote and directed, was produced by Alysia Maciejowska and David Brown, and recently won the Torc Award for Best Short Drama at Celtic Media Festival.

Shaun recently became one of the first to apply for funding from Screen Scotland’s new Professional Development Fund, receiving support to take part in Stowe Story Labs Writer’s Retreat.

Stowe Story Labs is a non-profit effort to bring screenwriters, filmmakers and creative producers together with seasoned industry professionals to get work made and seen.

Shaun smiling in the crowd

Chatting with Shaun

We caught up with Shaun to hear more about his work, the experience at the Writer’s Retreat, and how it has influenced his current project.

“I am currently working to develop my short film, Bunny into a feature film with support from SFTN, Screen Scotland and the BFI.

“Bunny tells the story of Buckley, a vulnerable young man with rabbit ears, who hunts down his estranged father in a desperate effort to understand the trauma of his mother’s suicide.”

Shaun told us about the highlights of the retreat.

“I had a great time. There were 11 participants and I had 6 hour-long, peer-to-peer sessions with my group members, during which we spent an hour feeding back on each project.

“There were also writing exercises and Q&A’s with the mentors, but by far the most useful part was the one-to-one’s with my 3 industry mentors; Austin Chick (Writer-Director, XX/XY, August), Ellen Parks (Casting Director, who has worked with Martin Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, and David O’Russell, among many others), and Jenny Halper (Director of Production and Development at Maven Pictures).

“Each mentor had read and watched my material before I arrived and spent time analysing and giving feedback on the work – at times opening my eyes to new opportunities I hadn’t considered - and at others, galvanising me to make some decisions I was on the fence about.

“David Rocchio and David Pope have devised an excellent retreat and it is exactly what I needed at this time.”

"This experience has made me a better writer"

“In the immediate sense, it has inspired me to redraft my treatment and unlock some of the bigger problems in my story. In the long term, it has given me tools to use when considering future scripts and stories. In addition, I have a network of peers I can reach out to for feedback and support at any stage.”

Shaun Hughes
Filmmaker, Stowe Story Labs participant

What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects?

“It’s always a challenge to take feedback on work that is so personal to you – you don’t want to come across as defensive and shoot down someone else’s opinion because it doesn’t align with your own.

“This is something I’m getting better at – sometimes you have to acknowledge that there’s a reason that an issue is raised, and even if you don’t agree with the note, it’s worth digging for the note beneath the note.

“Naturally it’s nerve-wracking to be thrown into a crowd of new people, but that quickly passes when you realise how welcoming everyone is. I feel I’ve met some new friends and collaborators who I’ll take forward with me in my work.

“Stowe Story Labs are great at connecting you with a host of alumni from previous years, so I feel like I’m part of a larger community of like-minded people all over the world.”

The retreats take place in Stowe, Vermont. We asked Shaun more about the environment and how it impacted his writing.

“The landscape and environment are incredible – rolling hills and beautiful countryside as far as you can see. I think it’s necessary to be taken out of your usual surroundings and usual habits to break the routine.

“Being able to focus on the story and writing for the duration was invaluable, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to do this.”

Shaun spoke about how the retreat has helped him develop his writing and broadened his network of industry peers.

“This experience has made me a better writer. In the immediate sense, it has inspired me to redraft my treatment and unlock some of the bigger problems in my story.

“In the long term, it has given me tools to use when considering future scripts and stories. In addition, I have a network of peers I can reach out to for feedback and support at any stage.”

As a filmmaker who has benefitted from professional development opportunities, we asked Shaun what he would recommend to his peers in a similar career stage to him.

“I would definitely recommend Stowe Story Labs' Narrative Lab, as well as their Writer’s Retreat, to other screenwriters.

“I have also had a great experience working with Scottish Film Talent Network and would encourage all emerging filmmakers to look into their New Talent, Emerging Talent, and First Feature Development schemes.

“In addition, I have taken part in Talent Labs with Edinburgh International Film Festival and Reykjavik International Film Festival, which are a great way to expand your network.”

What’s next for Shaun?

“I plan to redraft my feature treatment for Bunny, and continue to develop the script. I’m hoping it will be my debut feature film as Writer-Director in the not too distant future.

“I also plan to expand my feature portfolio as a Writer-Director and further develop my other projects, which are all at very early stages.”

A man with bunny ears looks somber

Keep up with Shaun’s work

You can find out more and see Shaun’s work on his website at: http://www.shaunhughesfilm.com/. You can also follow updates on Shaun’s film, Bunny, via the film’s website.