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Kieran Houston’s A Canny Lad makes the 2024 BIFF Gold List

By Elise Czyzowska

28 May 2024

‘Your voice is something that’s unique to you,’ shared Marco Crivellari (Screenwriting Tutor), when we asked about his time tutoring former student, Kieran Houston.

‘When a writer finds it, they’ve found the ability to truly speak to their audience’, he added. ‘And I think Kieran already has it, which is incredibly exciting!’

With Marco’s mentorship, Kieran developed A Canny Lad as his MA Screenwriting Final Project, and the film was shortlisted for the British Independent Film Festival’s Gold List.

Since graduating from MetFilm School, Kieran has joined Plimsoll Productions – and in today’s blog, we caught up with him – and Marco – on all things A Canny Lad

Can you tell us about the idea behind A Canny Lad?

After sitting through Kes for the 50th time – and bawling like a child, as always, I began to mock up some ideas for my Final Project. All I could think about was the relationship between Billy Casper and his pet, Kestrel. how a boy and his bird reflected almost every frustrated youth escapist dream I had as a kid.

So, I started with the same idea – the Protagonist, and the Secret Passion.

Eventually, it slowly moulded into being based in Sunderland, set during contemporary times, and eventually, to being a story about grief and overcoming loss.

How does it feel to have been shortlisted by the British Independent Film Festival?

It was a huge shock at first! Due to being behind on rent, I’d only entered three festivals on FilmFreeway – and I ended up being selected for two of them, and on the Gold List at BIFF.

The script itself became more and more the audience’s story than my own. I wanted to tell a story that people would see themselves in, and to fly the flag for the North East and the working class.

For it to get the recognition in such a great festival means a lot.

Kieran Houston at the British Independent Film Festival!

The Mentor/Mentee Relationship…

Kieran, what was it like working with Screenwriting Tutor Marco Crivellari?

I’m pretty sure Marco is a wizard. He consistently provided this ‘Gandalf-like wisdom’ to supply the perfect amount of knowledge, and the ideal nudge in the right direction, always letting me figure things out in my own time.

Each time we came together, I would leave with a ravenous desperation to write, as he would unlock whatever it was that I just couldn’t figure out myself. And all of this while being honest and kind throughout.

And Marco, how did Kieran stand out as a screenwriter during your time working together?

Kieran writes three-dimensional characters with contradictions and complexities. They’re funny, but he also treats them seriously – you feel like he cares about them, and that makes you, the reader, care about them too.

They come from a place that feels genuine and authentic – and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for ‘working-class’, even though it happens that, in this script, Kieran was writing about working-class people from his hometown.

To me, ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’ mean that a writer is giving their view of the world, of human beings, and of what’s important to them. They know what they want to say, and how they’re going to say it.

A Canny Lad has been selected for the 2024 BIFF Gold List…

Where there any challenges with developing A Canny Lad?

One of the first challenges was being based in London, when the heart of my script was in Sunderland. I solved this – and my financial problems, by moving back home with my parents – and that’s where the second challenge, living back with my parents, came in!

The third, and by far the most difficult challenge, was writing the setting. Social realism films are always set in contemporary times. They try to provoke a feeling, and perhaps bring about a change all while showing real life scenarios.

The script I had originally intended to write was going to be set in the 1980s, around the Sunderland shipyards. It was a hard decision, but after a long chat with Marco, he helped the new version to have the relevance I hope it has in the modern world today.

And now, you’re working for Plimsoll Productions! How has this unscripted experience influenced your approach to storytelling?

When I moved to Bristol at the start of 2024, I ran around throwing handwritten letters to every talent manager at every production company. Fortunately, the wonderful team at Plimsoll Productions brought me in for a chat, and offered me a job not long after.

I’m working as a ‘Trainee’, and as well as running the office and patrolling the kitchen, I’ve been training under the Head of Adventure, looking at the research and development of adventure television.

It’s certainly a different skillset. Especially when it comes to brainstorms – now, I take money into account first, then talent, and then the actual story itself.

But I’m surrounded by an incredibly kind and helpful team who want me to succeed maybe even more than I do.

Get to know MA Screenwriting in our brand new course video!

And finally, what are you working on next?

Right now, I’m thinking shorts. I just want to get something made now. I have a great group of friends in Bristol, all working in the film industry, and with my few credits as a Script Supervisor, I’d love to tackle writing and script supervising a short.

I’m excited to get back into A Canny Lad, too. I may give it a refresh before sticking it in a few festivals. Once I save some more pennies, redraft a section or two, and fix that one spelling mistake (thanks to Phoebe for pointing that one out!), then I’ll have A Canny Lad roaring and ready to go!

  • Kieran Houston studied MA Screenwriting at MetFilm School London. This course is also available in Berlin and Leeds.
  • Find out more about MA Screenwriting at our upcoming London Summer Open Day, Saturday 13 July, 2024.