More Thoughts On Collaboration…

People have some funny old ideas on what it takes to work as a unit.

Few, for example, ever really get how more than one writer can develop a complex set of ideas and turn them into a single script. Does it only ever work with monozygotic twins…? Do writing partners engage in some kind of cross-continental telepathic mind meld that churns out content even if one’s jet-skiing in the Caribbean and the other’s stuck in a café toilet in Amsterdam…? If I push one collaborative writer into a canal, will the other one come home wet…?

To some, writing is a little bit like going to the toilet: something you do on your own without asking anybody else to critique or edit the result. We get that. Writing is a solitary pursuit, they say, and the solitary scribe is a lonely soul.

Yeah, whatever. We don’t really buy into that.

Writing as a partnership not only enables us to produce content quicker, it helps us to formulate ideas sooner and chop and change with greater clarity. Sitting with a creative partner you trust implicitly who tells you that your funnies aren’t landing or your scares are a joke also helps to minimise the ‘ownership grief’ of seeing your beautiful words carted off to the content knacker’s yard. But while we’ve never had much of a problem converting collective thinking into collaborative writing, we’ve seen plenty of evidence elsewhere to suggest it isn’t everybody’s favourite tipple. For example…

We went up to North London recently for a comedy workshop – a ‘comedy gym’ if you like for aspiring writers and stand-ups. We’ll do something like this every so often to see what’s on offer, meet kindred comic spirits and get out of whatever chores or transport details we’re being earmarked for at home on a Saturday.

The ‘gym’ was a blast and the aspirants proved to be an interesting and witty bunch punching at a pretty decent weight. However, things took a different turn when we were herded into random collectives to rustle up a few quick topical funnies.

Sure, it’s a hard ask to produce content on a tight time budget with a group of strangers, but being used to a lot of lateral thinking around the kitchen table, we fed into our groups, took our topic – the worst aspects of housework – and settled in for some quick-fire collaborative brainstorming. One of my group led with toilet cleaning – more specifically, her dread at having to clean up after an habitual ‘pan smudger’. A good start, I thought, and waited for a blizzard of plop-stained ‘what if?’ idea developments and lateral threads.

But it seemed nobody had realised this was a baton to grab onto and run with, not a stick to beat careless toilet users with. The ‘gym’ instructor (!) had been right to suggest that collaborating on ideas was a great way for writers to pan collectively for comedy gold but there weren’t many in the room who were actively prospecting.

“How about reverse engineering that idea to explore a character who’s forensic about personal hygiene but fine about leaving a dirty great smudge in the pan?”

“Yeah, I hate it when they leave the toilet paper in too…”

“Er, OK… how about turning it into an idea about people leaving small, manageable dirty protests to complain about minor things?”

“Yeah, toilets are horrid, aren’t they…?”

“Right… is anyone else thinking about anything other than toilets here?”

The point is that the idea was never explored. More importantly, it was the only idea that was actually raised. If you’re asked as a group to pan for comedy gold in the broad and expansive realm of ‘housework’, then do everything you can to explore its broad, expansive realm! As I sat and listened to tales of toilet use, toilet size and toilet cleanliness at home and abroad, I thought about:

  • the questions a lavatory cleaner might be asked in a ‘jobbie’ interview;
  • how hoovering my bedroom carpet devastated the great micro-city of Dustopia;
  • if you can clearly see out of your windows… why clean your windows?

Not exactly comedy gold per se, but definitely worth a few exploratory shakes and swirls before the pan’s washed clean, right? Alas, all we had to show for our collective ‘comedy housework’ brainstorm was a soiled toilet pan and a fairly obvious reason for finding it nauseating. Going around the room, it seemed that a) most groups had latched onto a single idea, b) more often than not, that idea revolved around toilets, and c) nobody had asked the question: “yeah, but how do we make that funny?”. Maybe we’re all a little too polite in the company of strangers, but it doesn’t make you the group’s Bobby Big-Trousers for raising the point. It makes you the one asking funny-minded people to think outside the toilet pan.

And that’s how you make your ideas shine brighter, folks.

A Little Light Housekeeping…

How self-indulgently virtuous we felt coming into the new year.

After the first bank holiday in January, we’d be better writers, better people. We’d finish projects, shed kilos and tighten all the loose rivets on our suspension bridge to screenwriting glory. But after the first bank holiday in January came alphabetical storms, the close-circle pandemic of occupational demotivation and the empty promise of the spinach and turmeric smoothie.

Now that everyone’s back on the booze and bacon, however, we’re all ready to talk, work and chivvy things along.

First up for us was a little light housekeeping. Yes, it’s nice to plough on with new projects and buff developing ideas and narratives to a high comic shine, but sometimes we have to break out the dusting cloths and that oxidised can of Mr. Sheen to make sure our existing stock sparkles just as brightly. Have we updated the status of our ongoing film projects…? Do our loglines and project titles reflect recent changes in our edited drafts…? Are the links to our partner posts and film trailers still valid…? Most importantly, have we said anything at all about the cracking new comic shorts we’re looking to film later in the year…?!?

On that last point, we’re putting the finishing script touches on Bad Korma, a second darkly comic short based on incidents and characters featuring in our long-form gangster flick Happy Birthday Mrs. Shine. Like Snug As A Bug which came before it, Bad Korma has been bookended to showcase the funnies of the larger work while also working as a standalone comedy. We’re also working with the same production team behind Snug, so we know that they’ll have considerable knowledge of the comedy DNA running through all three associated projects.

BAD KORMA

Small-time gangsters Curly and Su are called out to the boss’s country manor unexpectedly. Nothing necessarily complicated in that… except their boss is the psychotically unhinged Reg Caesar, there’s a half-dead guy tied to a chair in the garden and there’s a curry for lunch that’ll burn through sheet steel. A comic tale of terror, flat cats and minty yoghurt.

Another project waiting for better weather is Mirror, Signal… MANOEUVRE!, a comic short about a dysfunctional driving test in an uncooperative car. Having had the idea, written the script and had it snapped up by a passing director (all in the space of a few weeks…), we completely forgot to register it as a project in progress on any of our public forums!

Can’t shout about it if you’re keeping mum…

Needless to say we’ve finally got round to getting our website house in better order – you’ll see the results if you navigate around. We promise not to leave it so long next time [note to self: buy more loo cleaner].

‘Making A Killing’ The Winningest Comic Short At Iron Mule, NY!

The Iron Mule was a 1925 silent film directed by Fatty Arbuckle and produced by Buster Keaton. In it, an early steam locomotive – the “Twenty-Cent Limited” – puffs and blunders its way through the American interior with a hotchpotch of weird and wonderful passengers and a highly capable and endlessly harassed engineer. Cattle get in the way. Horses won’t do as they’re told. Tunnels aren’t tall enough. The locomotive escapes. Everyone falls acrobatically off something at least once.

It’s actually quite a hoot.

As is The Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival, running out of New York since 2002. We were hoping to get 2020 off to a flyer, so imagine the degree of chuffed-to-bits-ness we were elevated to when we heard that Iron Mule would be screening Making A Killing at their event on 6 January.

MAK Iron Mule

It then transpired that one of our fabulous leads, Tiff Stevenson, would be in New York that week promoting her latest tour. Being a thoroughly good egg all round, she offered to attend the screening and take part in a Q&A. And if that wasn’t reason enough to see in the decade with a throaty ‘huzzah’, Making A Killing left the building with the Audience Favourite Award!

All while I was sat on the A25 in the early hours waiting for my engine to pack up…

 

The (Occasionally) Long, Long Game Of Script To Screen

There’s a long-standing tradition in rep theatres that new members of the stage crew are regularly sent on fools errands for the entertainment of the older hands. A particular favourite at the Oxford Playhouse was to take an eager-to-please, green behind the gills freshman to one side and tell him that, since they were short of gear for the forthcoming run, would he mind awfully popping across to the Apollo for a ‘long weight’? They’ll know what you’re talking about…

For most people who don’t immediately feel their leg being pulled, it usually dawns on them before they’ve walked out the stage door… I, on the other hand, once sat in the green room of the Apollo Oxford for nearly 2 hours.

At the very least, it prepped me for dealing with long periods of inactivity.

Last month, we received a message entirely out of the blue from a filmmaker in Glasgow informing us that he’d just finished shooting our dark comic short Time Of The Month. We were very pleased to hear this and not a little surprised, since the progress monitor on the project had entirely flatlined at the beginning of 2017. It’d been 32 months since anyone had breathed a word about Time Of The Month.

It didn’t seem to matter now. As the filmmakers themselves put it, they’d wrapped filming “after just three-and-a-half short years of pre-production.” They’re very excited. We saw some stills – we’re very excited too.

Having been fortunate enough to see a number of projects materialise in a short space of time (2 low-budget and 4 no-budget flicks during that 32-month lag, for the record…), we’re now looking back on how we’ve been learning to manage the more regular long, long game. The short answer is ‘pretty well’.

Tempering expectations has been key to ensuring we don’t spend our time wearing an impatient groove in the carpet waiting for Skype to burst into life. Having someone latch on to a thing you’ve written is like being on square one of a board filled with great long anaconda-like snakes and one or two rickety ladders. Intention is also by no means an indication of capacity: the first enthusiastic discussions about shooting Time Of The Month actually took place in the middle of 2015.

The right thing to do was to keep our plates spinning, finish other projects, take on new briefs and do as much as we could to promote our scripts and films. NOT fixating on Time Of The Month and NOT reacting negatively to a long period of inactivity actually helped turn 2019 into something of a ‘bonus’ year as writing commitments and project developments made it unlikely that we’d have a film to show for it.

Now we do. And that’s lovely.

‘Making A Killing’ Selected For Austin Comedy Short Film Festival!

More great Stateside plaudits for ‘Making A Killing’ as our latest comedy short gets an airing at the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival in Austin, TX.

With Texas being 27,000 times the size of the UK, however, local cinemagoers really had to pull out the stops to make the screening on time: many of those who were unable to afford the high-speed Saturn V shuttle service, for example, clubbed together for coaches and car shares which set off in early April. Indeed, Texas is so big, you can see their pizzas from space.

Austin CSFF

Joking aside (although I did once have a Sloppy Giuseppe at a 24-hour pizza parlour in Galveston which was picked up by the Hubble Telescope…), it’s fantastic to make landfall at a festival like this and a pleasure to see our celluloid baby in such fine comedic company. We would’ve made the journey too, but there’s only so long we can be out of the country before our wives can legally declare us dead…

 

‘Making A Killing’ Makes Landfall At The Iceland Comedy Film Festival…!

It didn’t take long for our dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing’ to land a hit – a very palpable hit – on the festival circuit. Indeed it managed to on its first public outing – step forward the Iceland Comedy Film Festival 2019!

With star turns from comedian Tiff Stevenson and Adrian Stevenson (fresh from a sinister stint as Raymond in ‘Killing Eve’), we never doubted it would turn a satisfying number of selector heads once we started finding rings to throw its hat into.

Of course we’re over the moon to secure a festival pick so early in the run, but we’re especially blown away by the setting for this year’s festival in Flateyri – the ‘Hollywood of the North’ where around half the population are involved in filmmaking. Sure that’s half of around 200 people, but what a place for a film festival…!

Situated in the Northwest of Iceland, Flateyri reinvented itself after a catastrophic avalanche in 1995 that destroyed homes and left 20 people dead. The 2008 financial crisis did for much of the fishing industry there, but the 4th consecutive ICFF demonstrates that the hardships of recent years appear to have little effect on the community’s determination and collective humour. Indeed, it smacks very much of how Sundance revived the declining fortunes of Park City, Utah, all those years ago.

Flateyri boasts the oldest shop in Iceland! There’s kayaking and sea angling, the International Doll Museum and a café called Bryggjukaffi… which sounds just like ‘bring your coffee’!

Though it probably doesn’t mean that at all! Particularly as international linguists routinely peg Icelandic as the most difficult language in the world to learn!

We’re super-stoked to be invited. It’s also a timely reminder to us to continue to acknowledge the fantastic work of director James Debenham, producer Rosie Wells, the good people at Platform Post and Universal Music and everyone else who threw their lot in with this project.

We hope there’s more to come.

Breaking The Hiatus Status…

Time to break free of the ‘busy summer’ shackles and talk about some stuff.

Despite the relative lack of blog activity in the last couple of months, we haven’t been lazing on our laurels. No sir:

  • Our latest dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing’ began its festival run. It’s always a long-distance undertaking, but we’re confident it’ll be an eye-bulging, fist-pumping, Sebastian Coe-type affair rather than a poor-old-Peter-Elliott lace-tangling face-planter. Obviously this reference requires more than a cursory knowledge of British middle-distance runners over the last 35 years…
  • We finished a pilot for a period drama ‘The Beautiful Time’, a dark Belle Epoque-era epic with plot threads more intricately woven than Elton John’s hairpiece. Grand conspiracies, mesmeric murders and business giants shadier than Robert Maxwell… which requires more than a cursory knowledge of British businessmen who have fallen naked from yachts in the last 35 years…
  • We also finished a comedy pilot for ‘Papers, Sweets and Cigarettes’, a sitcom documenting the sedentary misadventures of two friends running a kiosk. Nothing much happens, save for the daily round of loons, weirdos and lofty pipe dreams – with nary a Granville or Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in sight… which requires more than a cursory knowledge of classic British sitcoms set in shops from the last 35-40 years…

So if you’re so busy writing, why don’t I ever see you holding a pen…?

***pulls face midway between constipation and renal colic***

We’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival. We’ve planted story seeds elsewhere for others to water and watch over. We’ve laid the foundations for a-million-and-one other potential writing projects whilst biffing on endlessly about the bloody cricket.

So don’t come at us with ‘that look’ – there’s some exciting news coming…