screenwriter to watch
Simon’s debut feature Jellyfish had its World Premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, going on to win Best Performance at Edinburgh, then Best Screenplay, Best Performance, the Critics’ Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Dinard. Star Liv Hill was BIFA and London Critics’ Circle nominated for the film. Jellyfish was released theatrically in the UK and is available on Amazon Prime in the US.
Simon’s joint-debut feature, road comedy Above The Clouds, played at the Austin Film Festival, where it won the audience award. It has also screened at Raindance in London.
Simon was selected for Edinburgh Film Festival’s Talent Lab 2015 and Network mentoring scheme 2016 with his screenplay Bartek and the Duke, and is currently on the EIFF/Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab. He was recently a tutor with United In Film in Kabale, Uganda.
Simon was raised in Paris, studied English at Oxford, once worked at a philosophy festival and currently lives in London with two brewers, a Viking and a small, angry black dog.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
Breaking in feels like a gradual process, and a lot of the time I’m like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled, typing away obliviously on the next project as things heat up around me!
After graduating, I wrote the obligatory bad novel, got lots of rejection letters, then did an internship for a film producer, which is where I saw my first screenplay. I got hooked on the form and a mere ten years later, here I am.
- JELLYFISH (2019) – Screenwriter
- ABOVE THE CLOUDS (2019) – Screenwriter
- THE CAR WASHER (short) (2015) – Screenwriter
- BARRY GLITTER (short) (2015) – Screenwriter
- LONELY HEARTS (short) (2014) – Screenwriter
- TWO DANCERS (short) (2012) – Screenwriter
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Mostly to do with how to get up in the morning and write rather than waiting until I ‘feel like it’ or ‘have ideas’. Evelyn Waugh once said that inspiration ‘just happens to strike at 9:00 every morning when I sit down at my desk’ and I think the sitting down is the important part, not the inspiration part. Also learning to work with others. I love screenwriting for the collaboration, and the chance to work with others who will help me make the script less terrible. I dread the idea of having to do it on my own!
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
Some of the scenes on Jellyfish were very challenging in terms of their content, and the film as a whole was made for very little money so it was all hands on deck. There was a scene where the protagonist performs stand-up comedy, which we were up rewriting until midnight the night before. It was difficult because it couldn’t be good stand up, it had to feel like a first gig, and it had to be in the character’s voice and drawn from her life, so it was a real balancing act, and we were exhausted, unpaid and up against it. But it seems to have worked!
What was a major turning point in your career?
The last 3-4 years have been one long turning point. Having two features go into production in 2016 was kind of crazy. There was one moment while I was driving back from the shoot for the first one, and was in a rest-stop when I got a call saying the second one had been greenlit. That was a bit of a moment.
What are you working on right now?
Several feature projects and an early stage TV proposal. The features are:
- RABBIT – a fairytale-tinged female-driven coming of age story about a girl who’s grown up in the woods with her Mum and doesn’t know there’s anyone else out there.
- BARTEK AND THE DUKE – an odd couple comedy about a Ukrainian refugee boy who befriends a cantankerous, reclusive old Duke.
- CINEMA OF DREAMS – a steampunk fantasy about a factory that steals people’s dreams. This one is directed by a BAFTA winner and with the producer of TYRANNOSAUR which is one of my favourite British films of the last decade.
- GRANS GONE WILD – a meta black comedy about the making of a film about two elderly sisters who go on an accidental drugs binge.
What are some of your favorite movies?
- SLOW WEST
- LA HAINE
- THE GUARD
- 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
- MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
- DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
- GOODBYE LENIN!
- WITHNAIL & I
- YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
Peter Straughan, who moves effortlessly between tones and genres and seems to be able to disappear into any world and voice he touches.
Charlie Kaufman, who always keeps sight of the emotional vulnerability which is so hard for introverted screenwriters but so essential to making movies that connect with people (which is what we go to the movies for).
More so a playwright, but Jez Butterworth – his dialogue is just absurdly good, able to turn on a dime from sweary to erudite, primal to banterous, profound to sinister.
I also ought to be contractually required to call out John August and Craig Mazin for their podcast, which has been a friend through the long, cold nights over the last ten years and taught me a solid proportion of what I know about screenwriting.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
One that doesn’t involve booze or barbecue. After our first screening, in a church of all places, where a near capacity crowd rose to their feet when we introduced the two leads in the film, whose chemistry really did more than any writing ever could to bring their relationship to life on the screen. It took us seven years to get there but it was worth it!