In the Spotlight… Angeli Macfarlane, Development Producer
WFTV member Angeli Macfarlane is an experienced Development Producer. Through her company Script Cube she has worked with a range of leading industry organisations including BBC, Film4, the BFI, Pathé, National Geographic Films, Creative England and many independent production companies. She has made four feature films in recent years with Altered Image, including the Emmy Award-winning Death Of A President and the BAFTA-nominated I Am Slave. Angeli is the Development Producer at Film London where she runs the development of the Microwave features and short film programmes London Calling and London Calling Plus.
This year, Angeli co-created (with filmmaker and educator Femi Kolade) a new five-month story and professional development course for emerging BAME, female and disabled filmmakers, called Modern Tales. WFTV caught up with Angeli to find out how she came to carve out a successful career in development producing, and her hopes for this new venture.
“You need to be able to listen. I found that hard at first as I love to talk but I realised that if I talk, I’m not listening and the thing writers need perhaps more than anything during the development phase is to be heard.”
Q. For anyone not familiar with the role, tell us what a Development Producer does.
I have somehow managed, against all industry odds (there’s no Oscar for best script developer!) to make my career in script development. My first love, to which I have remained loyal, is working with writers and writer/directors. Somewhere along the way it became necessary to also work in a more producer-like role, raising development finance, pitching completed scripts to sales and distribution companies and helping producers package film and TV projects for financiers. I decided the best thing to call myself in this capacity is a development producer. It’s not really a very film-recognised term, but I’m often much more than a script editor and sometimes less than the overall producer.
Q. How did you get started in the industry and what led you into development?
Straight out of university I started working for a charitable film organisation whose role was to nurture first-time feature talent. They needed someone who spoke European languages so my degree came in handy after all! I was lucky in that the job quickly became about working with writers and directors. I discovered I loved it and had a knack for spotting a script that worked, and from there I went to work with various companies including Carnival Films, Pathé and Film4.
Q. What do you feel are the key qualities needed to be good at the job you do?
I teach Script Development at the National Film and TV School and so I have to think about this a lot. You need to be able to listen. I found that hard at first as I love to talk but I realised that if I talk, I’m not listening and the thing writers need perhaps more than anything during the development phase is to be heard.
People often impose their view of the story on the writer before its real intentions have been properly communicated and this can be very undermining and disruptive to the writer’s process. I also think a good developer knows how to talk to producers and again listen to what they want. Good development is industry-facing. There is no point developing projects in isolation of audience engagement. Oh, and you have to love, love love reading. When it comes to working with new writers I think more than anything I need enthusiasm for their objectives and patience in helping them get there.
Q. What are the most common issues you see and try to help with in the projects that you work on?
Often writers get lost in the mechanics of structure (this is, I believe, the fault of many screenwriting manuals) and don’t think enough about what they are trying to say, why this material sets them on fire and how to communicate that to the audience. I often read projects that feel as though the writer is reaching for someone else’s idea of what a good script should look like. I also read a lot of scripts, which are plot focused and not interesting enough when it comes to character development and how humans actually think and feel. At the Berlin Film Festival this year I heard the great Agnieszka Holland talking to young filmmakers in a Talent event. Someone asked her for advice. She said: ‘be patient, be curious and only make films about something which is important.’ She’s right.
“I often read projects that feel as though the writer is reaching for someone else’s idea of what a good script should look like.”
Q. What is the most exciting part of your job?
Getting films greenlit and then actually made. People go on about development hell. Imagine what it’s like when development hell is actually your home? And on a separate note, seeing a writer make a breakthrough because of their sheer hard work and devotion to their craft. Though I am relatively new in the Talent Development and Production team at Film London where I am part-time, I have to name-check them; that team is a total blast and genuinely talented. Brilliant.
Q. What do you feel has been your biggest personal achievement to date?
Without question the biggest achievement – which is personal and not about awards on shelves – was becoming co-founder of the Portobello Film Festival. We had a crew of young, unemployed filmmakers who were on a downward slope towards messing up their lives prior to getting our acts together and organising a whole festival in a park in West London.
And making I Am Slave, directed by Gabriel Range, written by Jeremy Brock and produced by Andrea Calderwood. Andrea had given me a big break by taking me on at Pathé previously, and I remain grateful; Gabriel and I started making films together with Death Of A President, which was a success and opened a lot of industry doors for us both. We have had a brilliantly collaborative working relationship since; And Jeremy because he is the most gifted, clever and kind human being who raises your game every time. We have worked together several times since.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about why you have created Modern Tales, and why now?
When I look back over my career (thank you WFTV!) I realise I have spent a lot of time nurturing new film and TV talent and I have also gone out of my way perhaps to seek out people who didn’t necessarily readily get help. I met Femi when I started teaching screenwriting at Central Film School where he was the head of curriculum. It turned out to be true serendipity. Femi and I discovered a mutual love of a way of teaching that opens minds to the importance of great storytelling, respect for the audience, and a knowledge of how to disseminate material in innovative ways, and this led to a new training programme that would capture our differing but complementary teaching styles.
Modern Tales is about evolving filmmakers’ skills across storytelling and business entrepreneurship simultaneously. This is why we have built the 8-part course to be relevant at every stage to writer, director and producer. The second and crucial part of what Modern Tales is about is building an online community through the work platform that we will create from the course participants. We have been talking for some time about how creative content that is shared and evolved through a peer community, curated by us, can really make a huge difference to the filmmakers’ careers and to our ability to help them. We have both worked with filmmakers all over the world and the thirst for such a community, built along Modern Tales lines, is a story waiting to happen.
“For diverse filmmakers the barriers can be financial but they can also be deeply psychological and we are trying to address this in how we run the course.”
Q. What do you hope will be some the lasting impacts of the initiative?
We have been backed by Creative Skillset to run the course and they are fully aware that we are testing out the programme to then roll it out further in the future. Modern Tales is about reaching filmmakers who don’t necessarily believe training of this nature is for them, or who don’t have the skills – the industry-savvy skills – to make a name for themselves with financiers or broadcasters. For diverse filmmakers the barriers can be financial but they can also be deeply psychological and we are trying to address this in how we run the course, the content we provide and the way we interface our participants with our knowledge of the industry to make what our participants achieve count.
Q. For someone who meets the criteria and is considering applying for Modern Tales, what would be your key piece of advice to them?
Think about what you want out of the process and don’t be afraid to express that ambition, even if you worry you’re not ready. We have had people say how much they love the course outline but they’re afraid it’s not for them. This is exactly what we’re trying to counter – the course is for emerging filmmakers who want to be part of our film community and who are prepared to put in the work to be helped to better their chances through the quality of their work and their business approach to their project. Their work will be road tested throughout the process, both on the page and online and this will prepare them for the moment they meet the industry.
Project Development applications from teams of writer, director (or writer/director) and producer are being accepted until midday on Thursday 9 March.
Find out more and apply here.
Participation fees for the selected teams will be covered by a full bursary.
Individuals can apply to participate in the course days which are part of the programme. Filmmakers will be admitted on a first come first served basis and can attend as many of the eight sessions as they wish. There is no selection process. Discounts will be provided for multiple session booking.
Find out more and book here.