Now in its fifth year, ENGAGE is a nine-month training and development programme for emerging writers, producers and directors that aims to foster creative collaborations and spark innovation across borders – pooling talent, ideas and innovative approaches to co-production.

In 2011, ENGAGE welcomed a new global element: ENGAGE Plus, with participants, staff and industry experts from China and Canada joining participants from across Europe.

We hear from three ENGAGE alumni, Katherine Fitzgerald (screenwiter, Canada) Paula Mononen (screenwriter, Finland) and Joseph Atkinson (producer, Scotland) about their experience of the programme and find out how it has influenced their projects and careers.

First, please introduce yourself briefly to our readers and tell us about the project you applied to ENGAGE with.

Katherine: I have 25 years experience as a sound editor. I started to make short films and returned to school as a mature student to study directing and screenwriting. I’m very interested in science and nature, and this is reflected in my filmmaking. My latest short, Bread & Kisses, has done well on the festival circuit. I’m actively working on the feature project Scalpel, and also writing a new short.

Scalpel is the story of a young Edwardian woman whose ambition to become a doctor is stymied by her conservative family. It is a story of loyalty, choice, moral obligation, and a woman’s  struggle for self-determination.

Before attending the ENGAGE Plus workshop in Edinburgh I met an ENGAGE mentor in Toronto, got some feedback on my treatment and reworked it in time for the Edinburgh workshop, where we met the rest of the ENGAGE participants, staff and mentors. I then attended the final ENGAGE workshop in Tallinn and Helsinki with a new draft of the treatment and am now processing the industry feedback I received. My plan is to write a first draft screenplay in 2012.

Paula: I am a Finnish screenwriter, working in both film and TV, recently graduated from Aalto University. I’ve been involved in writing a drama series that has been s old to a couple of European countries. I am currently working on the feature that I developed on ENGAGE 2010 and on a new concept for a drama series.

I applied to ENGAGE with an idea for a feature film about a young girl desperate to find love. Czech producer and fellow ENGAGE participant Jana Bebrová and I started working together on the story. ENGAGE tutors gave us some useful critical feedback, thanks to which the story now has a strong foundation.

Joseph: I’m a producer/script editor from Edinburgh who came to the film world from a radio production background. My latest short, No More Shall We Part, an alternative Western, premiered at Reykjavik International Film Festival. I’m currently producing two animated shorts.

I initially applied with a feature idea for a children’s novel adaptation. At the first workshop, I met Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair and got excited by one of her projects, Death Rattle. We share the same tastes when it comes to film projects, so working together felt natural and fluent from the get go. We took that project through to the final pitch, winning second prize, and will be writing our first draft in 2012.

Why did you choose the ENGAGE programme? Why was it so special to you?

Katherine: ENGAGE was very special: a unique opportunity to work with industry experts and other filmmakers in a concentrated forum that produces great results. It was really exciting to see how
our projects evolved and matured from one workshop to the next.

Paula: Classmates who’d attended ENGAGE 2009 recommended it, as did my screenwriting professor. It’s a lot of work, sometimes stressful, but the projects really progressed. Also, it was great to meet so many filmmakers from Ireland to Lebanon.

How did you benefit from taking part in ENGAGE? What was the best outcome?

Katherine: The feedback and advice of the mentors and industry experts was invaluable, particularly their European perspective. The best outcome was the positive response to Scalpel, which encourages me to keep working on it.

Paula: I am really glad how the story is alive and progressing at the moment. We shared 1st prize at the ENGAGE 2010 pitching competition. We received additional feedback at the Helsinki workshop, ENGAGE 2011. I would like to continue working with Jana (the Czech producer I met on ENGAGE) and her production company in the co-production of the film.

Joseph: Undoubtedly my working relationship with Rioghnach, the writer of the project I picked up in the course of ENGAGE 2011. I’m sure that we’ll be part of each other’s careers for a long time to come.