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…

‘Snug’ Screening At Peckhamplex Cinema, London, May 20th…

Nice to be picked for stuff, isn’t it?

I’ve always been one of life’s yinners-and-yangers, somehow always believing that the regular-dose bitter pills of ‘Yin’ would eventually be rounded out by the sugar sweetness of a family-sized Cadbury’s ‘Yang’ bar.

Well the Yang bars are on ME, Mr. Primary-School-PE-Teacher-whose-name-I’ve-forgotten, 40-odd years after being benched indefinitely for failing to understand the rules of the game and scoring a spectacular 20-yard own-goal against local rivals Russell Lower School, then doing it again virtually from the kick-off…!! How many award-winning short films will YOU be showing at Peckhamplex Cinema, London on May 20th, huh?

Yeah, thought so…

Our mucky, ruggy comic short ‘Snug As A Bug’ will be screening at Peckhamplex as part of an evening of short film dedicated to the theme of ‘crime’. Thank-you Yang for your chocolatey goodness and for ending 40 years of footballing hurt.

I really hope my primary school PE teacher doesn’t show up.

https://www.peckhamplex.london/film/short-film-night-crime-20-05-19

4 Screenings (And A Funeral, Sadly)

The whole point of making films is to make them well and get them in front of audiences…

…and we’ve been doing that, mostly around the Dick Whittington gold-paved conurbation of coolness that is London, our local-ish ‘manor’. Most recently, we were invited to screen our dark comedy ‘Snug As A Bug’ at the Wimbledon Film Club, located at Merton Arts Centre, as part of an evening of shorts touching on the theme of ‘crime’. Snug fits squarely, or rather snugly, into that category since it features a corpse being lugged around town by a pair of hapless, hopeless, low-level lowlifes. A small but engaged audience watched 5 films in total and Snug drew out the ‘lols’ all the right places. Lots of good questions in the Q&A too.

[NB. shout-out to another short screened that evening: ‘Good Morning Alice.’ Both of us thought it was very well scripted and performed—written and directed by Matthew Stacey].

Next up was the Emerging Filmmakers event, which asked to screen our supernatural thriller-chillerBetweenfor an evening of similar short shoots. Filmed last summer on a micro-budget (you can’t get more ‘micro’ than £0…), it came out well, with Director Louise Galizia of Cue Pictures and DOP Caroline Bridges translating the quiet tension and enigma of the predominantly dialogue-free script into an edgy, atmospheric and engaging short. The audience responded positively and Andy, together with Louise and lead actor Georgina Blackledge, went along to present the film and answer questions from the audience. Great to circulate and chinwag with folks after too—definitely a lively and enthusiastic network of filmmakers to be part of.

And at the end of March, we had the great privilege to be screened at the gala finale of the Crystal Palace International Film Festival—one of the largest annual new film events in London (actually in the country, we’ve since been informed). Either way, we were chuffed to chuffing bits to have Snug not only being shown at a gala awards event which closed the festival but NOMINATED FOR BLINKIN’ AWARD TO BOOT! Yes, we were up with 4 other films nominated in the Best Comedy category, (including feature film The Bromley Boys which went on to win the festival’s Best Feature award). Just breaking in to as strong a field as that was frankly reward enough, though the champagne and canapés added a sozzled-and-replete tummy bonus to the whole affair. The only thing that could’ve been more of a win for us would’ve been…an actual win. Despite making our blood sacrifice to the Elder Gods of Dark Comedy under a full moon just off the M6 toll road, we returned gong-less, though there was absolutely no shame in losing to the feature film Kill Ben Lyk.

Thoroughly ego-buffing to be nominated though, and the real takeaway from this and other screenings is that the film (and all the creative skills of our cast/crew) are getting positive attention.

Fast-forward to May and another screening of Snug is in the offing at the rather fabulous Peckhamplex cinema in South-East London. We’ll be there to front our pungent, pugnacious little pup on the 20th and look forward to meeting other writers and filmmakers on the bill. Come along if you fancy…

It seems strange to end on a sad note, but during this string of screenings and happy evenings thumping the tub for our various creations, we lost our good friend Anna to cancer at the dreadfully early age of 44. Despite her illness, Anna and her husband Nick expressed interest in, supported and helped finance our filmmaking efforts, something we’ll always be grateful for. There are no silver linings to losing a friend, but with a raft of screening invitations, an award nomination, some VERY nice feedback for our film ‘Making A Killing’ from several major TV channels and another script attracting the interest of a new director, we can’t help thinking she’s out there somewhere, putting in a good word with someone important.

Cheers, luv.

Making ‘Making A Killing’ – Part 2…

Second part of Rich’s reminiscences about the filming of our dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing.’

*****

Part II: Production

So, having cleaned my house from top to bottom—at least, the parts that hadn’t been artfully trashed to dress the set—and having just checked that the insurance was up-to-date and likely to cover bizarre unforeseeables, I opened my door at the frankly unreasonable time of 6.30am as the crew started to arrive…and kept arriving…and, good grief, are they all going to fit in my house? And the equipment! Black box after black box was loaded in, so much that I began to wonder I hadn’t also signed up for a Metallica gig after the wrap.

But it fitted, it got set up and we got underway. Adrian and Tiff went upstairs for costume, hair and makeup (one of my children’s bedrooms being commandeered for this purpose) and we were ready for the first shot. Director James deemed the daylight ‘perfect,’ (personally I like to believe our producer Rosie had fixed it—she thinks of everything), and we were out of the drive for the opening sequence of the film. The fact that this coincided with the school run to the local primary school only added to the lively buzz of activity around the driveway, as mothers with buggies and inquisitive toddlers all stopped to gawp. Within minutes, my phone was fizzing with messages from friends on the Gossip Grapevine wanting to know why a film crew was outside my house. Favourite comments included:

“I hope you’re not going on Come Dine With Me. Your cooking sucks.”

“Little Daisy just started stage school – do you need any elves or angels…?”

“Is that Crimewatch? Are you the reason my cat went missing?”

Like the pros they are, cast and crew took it all in their stride and we got shots dunked in cans without having to tell anyone to piss off or terrorise any young scamps. Win! After that, back inside, with the rest of the production being indoor scenes.

Now, my gaff isn’t tiny, but when packed with cast, crew and kit at times it felt packed tighter than the leather trousers on the collective Village People. Standout moment was when 6 crew all squeezed into my bathroom (including soundman Simon who had to lie on the floor out of shot whilst holding his mic) whilst a smoke machine filled the room to give it a ‘steamy’ atmosphere. Ah, the magic of the movies…

Cooked food for 20 people. (chilli and rice—always keep it simple). I piled them with snacks* and drinks. I made sure I turned my noisy kettle off when 1st AD Pedro called ‘Action.’ I gazed in awe as the cast and crew turned our script into something real. I learned how important it is to retain your inner Zen whilst a film crew stomps around your house. I cleaned the loo after a day of use by 20 people filled to bursting with chilli and rice and cleaned/prepared the house for day 2 of filming. Never let it be said we’re not writers who are willing to get our hands dirty to get our scripts produced. Literally. (God bless you, makers of Cillit Bang and hand sanitiser).

Day 2: as above, but more tired, more cooking, (chicken and veg pasta this time), more snacks** and drinks and more laughs. Again, we had a brilliant time. Tiff and Adrian were on top form throughout, and James, Rosie and the team were on top of their game. Andy and I mostly just stood watching it all unfold, with huge grins on our faces. Except for one sequence of shots where we needed to pitch in. Both of us burly guys, James had us standing six feet apart—both out of shot—holding a metal lighting pole between us. Adrian gamely hung from the pole so we could get a shot of his legs kicking, as if suspended. (To say any more would be SPOILERIZING). Again, the magic of the movies…

Before we knew it, it was a wrap. We applauded our cast from the set and within an hour all those people and all those boxes of kit were gone. There ain’t much that moves faster than a film crew with a pub to grace.

Andy and I chinked a couple of bottles of beer and enjoyed the moment. Important to do that. Writing is a lonely business even with a co-writer and being involved on-set throughout a shoot of ones of our scripts was a real privilege. A year on we are both still chuffed, awed, humbled and EXTREMELY GRATEFUL to everyone for everything they put into the shoot. Can’t tell you what a delight it is to work with a professional crew that knew how to adapt, be creative and do what was needed to get each shot done.

They did so without grumbling (ok, a little grumbling but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by beers and pizza) and without trashing my house. Our heartfelt thanks once more for all their professionalism, dedication and effort — all of it shows through in the film. It was fun, guys, wasn’t it?

Guys…?

*****

April/May 2019, and all the challenges were worth it. (And my house remains intact). We had a great launch night in September last year with a screening at the BFI, attended by our cast and crew and industry folks including screenwriter Jonathan Ames, (the man behind HBO’s outstanding comedy ‘Bored To Death’ starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson). Great to chat with him (he loved the film!) as well as other contributors we had yet to meet (shout out to our editor Will Peverett and composer Dina Liberg of Universal Music, in particular). Fun times.

Fingers crossed it gets the attention we believe it deserves. Currently, the finished film’s doing the rounds of various broadcast channels and production platforms, to strong positive acclaim from the comedy commissioners at BBC, Channel 4 and Sky. Eventually, once all the industry folk have had the chance to cast their beadies over it, we’ll post it somewhere on the interwebs for all to see, which means YOU too will be able to behold its full glory. Exciting!

 

***************************************************************************

 

Snacks breakdown:

* Filming Day 1: crisps (demolished); doughnuts (gone within seconds); fruit (largely untouched). Note: film crews are NOT to be fed after midnight. Do not ignore this warning. They can wreak havoc on a small-town community in mere hours.

** Filming Day 2: crisps, doughnuts and cookies (all eviscerated as if swarmed by ravenous locusts); same fruit from day before (binned).