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 can 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.

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…

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).

 

Making ‘Making A Killing’ – Part 1…

March 2018: we were neck-deep in pre-production for our dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing.’ A year on, Rich reminisces about the production, what we learned and Things-You-Never-Think-Of-Before-A-Film-Crew-Comes-To-Your-House-And-Demolishes-It — a 2-part blog.

(WARNING: includes snacks)

**********

Part 1: Pre-production
Together with director James Debenham and producer Rosie Wells, my co-writer/conspirator Andy and I met with our stars Tiff Stevenson and Adrian Scarborough for a table-read in London. Whilst this wasn’t a full ‘stand up’ rehearsal, it was great for getting a feel for how the cast would interpret our script. Even though it was a low-key meeting*, it showed us how important it is for actors to have an opportunity to improvise and build chemistry prior to filming, even for a short.

Both Tiff and Adrian had us in fits, simply reading their lines or playing with variations in intonation and facial expression (silly voices; oodles of gurning), so we knew right from the start it was going to work. Aside from being a relief, it was a delight for us as writers to see and hear quality actors channel all the moments of comic/tragic nuance we felt were in the script – from words on the page to flesh-and-blood interaction. There’s genuine magic in seeing that – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Table-read done, we were confident we had a strong cast that ‘got’ the script and had the right instincts for telling our story, as well as bringing real star quality to the project. A few tweaks to the script for clarity — there’s often a line or two that ‘reads well’ but isn’t quite right when spoken aloud — and the script was locked down to the production draft. (Note: this version, though ‘final’ is still referred to as a draft; once filming starts, sh*t happens, changes occur and the script remains fluid to a certain extent).

Next up, two days before filming: a location visit by director James Debenham, producer Rosie Wells and first AD Pedro Rilho. The location was… my house. The team hauled butt from the metropolis out to the untamed wilds of North Kent (only a 20-minute train ride, the wide-eyed Londonites seemed amazed to discover). On arrival, the team went room to room, discussing each scene in the script, assessing best angles for individual shots and generally getting a feel for how they’d use the layout of the house to achieve narrative ‘flow’. I left them to flow in peace, made tea** and only got involved when I heard shouts from somewhere in the house along the lines of: “Can we move this wardrobe?” or: “Would you mind if we took this ridiculous artwork off the wall?” or: “We’ve locked ourselves in the garage – it smells and we’re scared.”

Everything planned, I braced myself for the next day: the Set Dress. Again, the team descended on my abode, this time accompanied by Art Director Allegra Fitzherbert and her arsenal of crafty materials and pre-made props. As a courtesy, I cleaned the house. I needn’t have bothered. Furniture got shifted, my ‘nice things’ got stowed away and then Allegra unleashed her props…two bin liners full of empty beers cans, takeaway cartons and pizza boxes, which she artfully scattered around my house, all topped off by the pièce de résistance: an ashtray overflowing with already-smoked cigarette butts. All of which ensured that my house not only looked like it was inhabited by a character whose wife had deserted him, occasioning a severe bout of personal hygiene forgetfulness (Mr Loveless, played by Adrian Scarborough), but actually smelled like it too. The charming aroma of 3-day old congealed takeaway, stale beer and fag ash leant the production an authenticity few films can boast. (At this point, I feel I should say, once again, a heartfelt ‘thank-you,’ ‘sorry,’ and ‘yes, I’ll try one more time to get those stains out, dear,’ to my long-suffering wife. I love you).

The upheaval of my usually tidy(ish), usually clean(ish) house continued as each room we would be shooting scenes in got transformed to look like the home of, well, someone who didn’t give a toss what their home looked like. Mess was made. Fun was had. It looked amazing. Amazingly crappy. Antithetically crappy. You know what I mean…

One last point to add on this: there is nothing that quite prepares you for the cool assessment of your treasured possessions by an art director:

Art Director: “Sorry to bother you, but have you got any old, dated, kind of crappy-looking ornaments?”
Me: “Well, no, not really.” (Thinks: I’m far too discerning)
AD: “I’m after something old-fashioned, tacky, ugly-looking. (Spies beloved piece of décor of immense sentimental value). Ahh, this is perfect! It’s so horrid; I love that you’re into retro kitsch like this!”
Me: (smiles weakly) “Umm…yeah.”

Set dressed, (house trashed), we were ready to roll…

**********

Snacks Run-down:

* Table Read: fruit, nuts, biscuits. Not chocolate biscuits though—got to keep actors motivated; lavish them with choc on the first meeting and they’ll be wanting their own dressing room, foot rubs and Baftas before you know it.

** Location Visit: broke out the posh biscuits, bought especially for our producer Rosie, who said they were her favourite, only to say on the day, no thanks, she was on a diet…it’s fine, really it is, I’m over it…it’sfine.

*** Set Dress: no snacks because there was too much to do, but later that night, whilst walking the ruins of my once-lovely home, I ate a whole tub of ice-cream.

Latest Short Film ‘Between’ Puts An Unsettling Spin On The Family Picnic…

Perhaps it’s an echo of the horrid little boy in us that we see and appreciate beautiful things… then do our level best to scuff them up.

Thus it was a healthy and happy woodland perambulation with the family was used as the basis for our M. R. James-esque spooky short ‘Between’ which we shot in the summer with a mindful eye on the shortening days to come.

The shoot itself deserves special mention for a truly collaborative, problem-solving team effort that saw us overcome equipment issues, site access, body doubling, dog playfulness and an August morning that threatened throughout to bat for the other side. We writers became carriers, crew and provisioners of grub and essential tech. Family members endured leaves, mud and mosquitos for scene takes and resets. The director, DOP and cast pulled together splendidly to circumvent all the inherent problems of working with kids, animals and unpredictable elements.

The finished article is a real testament to everyone’s ability to convert difficulties into quality end product – I think we’re as proud of the process as we are of the film it produced. Many thanks to Louise Galizia [@cuepictures], Caroline Bridges [@dancingdop], Georgina Blackledge [@GBlackledge], Lewis Cartwright [@LewisCartwright], Tristellar Music [@TristellarMusic], Alexey Moskvin [@_alexey_moskvin], Andy’s daughters Lily and Molly McCormick and their remarkably well-behaved pet pooch Cooper.

Watch ‘Between’ here and let us know what you think.

Collaboration Is NOT A Dirty Word…

Recently, Shooting People asked community members to comment on their experiences with the site’s Script Pitch service – a conduit through which screenwriters can connect with filmmakers to start building something beautiful… so long as they keep the dialogue going. Despite those times a promising something fizzled out to nothing, we haven’t done too badly from the conversations that carried on.

So we replied:

False starts are emblematic of any collaborative venture, so we tend to ignore them: connections that go nowhere, dialogues that end before they ever really begin – who hasn’t been there…? The real value of a network becomes clearer once those who feed in decide to trust their instincts and take a chance on a project they might not have initially considered.

We had some false starts. Some dead-end dialogues. Then we connected with a script seeker on SP who’d never directed or particularly considered comedy. The script she was curious about was a comedy, but it had an indirect appeal. We met for a beer at the BFI. We talked. We committed. Rewrites were made to develop a shared vision and accommodate production values. People were drafted in from the real-life production world to work on ‘something fun’, and within the year, we had ‘Snug As A Bug’ filmed, screened and earning laurels on the festival circuit.

Immediately after, we began working with Snug’s producer on ‘Making A Killing’ where all the necessary production ducks fell into their rows in less than five months. This screened for the first time in late September.

More dialogues. More connections. Four more shorts were made in the calendar year with the director of ‘Snug’. A feature’s being pushed. Some very interesting people are getting to know what we’re about… and it’s no word of a lie to say that it all fans out from that one connection on Script Pitch for a project that wasn’t necessarily ‘the one’ for a director we’ve now made five films with.

If I’d say anything to anyone coming into this diverse collaborative network, it’s open your mind a lot further than you’ve opened it up until now. All of our successes, major and minor, feature collaborators who’ve made major comfort zone or preference concessions to see these projects through… quite a lot of which has rubbed off on us.

And so on we go, ready for more new projects, more new conversations.

Who wants to talk…?