Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Graeme Benson
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?
Graeme Benson. Born in County Down (near Belfast), Northern Ireland. Now living in London, England. After many years in software development, I now split my time between writing and part-time technology advisory roles. I also torment myself by supporting Leeds United (football/soccer) and Ulster Rugby teams.
Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?
This one was unusually fast. A friend alerted me to a BBC request for short scripts (< 10 pages) based on 2-4 characters who could only communicate remotely – it was in 2020, during the pandemic. The problem was the submission deadline was only 5 days away. I lay down, let my mind drift, and 10 minutes later I had the plot and characters.
The script was short-listed but not produced, sadly. Since then, I’ve revised, expanded and improved it – at least, I hope I have!
From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?
I’m learning and adapting my process with each script. My previous career has embedded a logical, structured, systematic approach in me. So, I eagerly consumed the methods of the writing gurus – my main influence is John Truby. If anything, I’m trying to be a bit less constrained by process and let things flow more organically – but I’ll always use character bios, story outline and beat sheet. I’m hoping to find the balance some day.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?
I’ve always loved watching films and TV drama & comedy. But life and career choice meant that was as far as it went. Until, about 10 years ago, I enrolled in a method acting school and performed in a few low- and no-budget films.
In one of them, I became very friendly with the auteur, who organised a series of “rehearsals” to improve and complete the script. As I bent his ear with my thoughts on my character’s back story and ideas for plot, he turned to me and asked if I would just completely rewrite the section of scenes in which my character appears. I did. And I loved doing it. It made me realise writing was my real passion.
Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?
I want to keep challenging myself to create well-rounded intriguing characters, with concise loaded dialogue. So some of my writing heroes are Mike Leigh, Armando Iannucco, Jesse Armstrong, William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino.
Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?
As a young child, it was Noggin the Nog, Mr Benn and Tin Tin on UK children’s TV – all animated forms of adventure/thriller really.
More recently, I’ve been enthralled by Utopia (UK original version), The Bridge (Swedish/Danish original version) and Game of Thrones. Right now, it’s Succession.
What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?
This might sound weird but it’s the moment the girl with the red coat appears in Schindler’s List. Not so much because of the visual technique – black and white film with a single splash of colour. It’s because my own daughter was the same age as the girl at that time and she happened to love wearing an almost identical bright red duffle coat. I must have stopped breathing for a good 10 seconds as I sat in the cinema. It suddenly made the huge theme very personal. I’d love to achieve that in my writing.
Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?
Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. My favourite actor has always been Richard Burton and I fell in love with this script and the powerfulness of his performance the first time I saw it. It’s the part I would have wanted to act and I’d love to create a character as powerful and well-formed.
If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’m tempted to say Richard Burton but given his reputation the only question I’d get to ask is “another bottle?”
I’m intrigued by politics and how it and technology might affect society and human life in general. So, maybe I’d solve a conspiracy theory by asking Lee Harvey Oswald what really happened. Or I’d ask Margaret Thatcher & Ronald Reagan if they ever felt remorse for the devastasting effects of their neo-liberal takeover.