Monday, 25 May 2009

The Suit: hubris and nemesis

It was nice to see Ruth Millar on Ashes to Ashes the other week, reprising her role from Life on Mars as hard-bitten Glaswegian journo Jackie Queen.

Back at the turn of the century, when you could smell the millennial optimism in the air and everything seemed possible, the very same Ruth Millar starred in a short film wot I wrote entitled The Suit.

At that time, I'd only been screenwriting for a couple of years, having drifted into it almost by accident. I'd previously wanted to write comics, but had drifted out of the medium as both a reader and a would-be creator.

Jane put me on an Introduction to Screenwriting course (via Croydon adult education) as a means of getting me writing again. I soon found that I connected with the medium, and it might offer a more accessible way in than comics, which were in a bit of a slump at the time.

Anyway, within a few months I had a couple of short scripts ready, and I started to respond to calls from directors on Shooting People, which was still lean, mean and useful at the time.

Most of my submissions went unacknowledged, but one day I got a call from a young director who said she'd enjoyed my script for The Suit and wanted to make it.

At the time, it seemed like the stars were suddenly about to fall into some improbably auspicious alignment. The director was very driven and enthusiastic - albeit in a head-girly kinda way - and she had hooked up with a City lawyer who fancied jumping into the biz they call show.

I happily trousered £200 for the script (plus an expensive meal with champagne) and set about the torturous development process. Which wasn't that torturous, actually. She only suggested a few changes, and was happy to drop any that I could make a good enough case against.

'Unfortunately', the shoot coincided with Jane and I packing our bags and 'flashpacking' around the world for six months. When I found myself scoffing breakfast in Sydney and reading how well the shoot of my film had gone, I thought - perhaps not unnaturally - that the even-better times were just around the corner.

As a dramatist, I should have all too aware of the dangers of hubris and the fact that Nemesis would be rollerblading round the bend at high speed any minute...

The rest of the trip went OK, but when we got back to bohemian Penge village in mid-2001, my showbiz dream was beginning to fray a bit at the edges.

The director wasn't totally happy with the rushes (it was her first time shooting on DV) and she'd managed to go significantly over-budget, incurring the wrath of her increasingly disenchanted producer.

With just a rough cut assembled and no soundtrack added, the producer decided to pull the plug on the project and try pop music instead. I tried to hook up the director with musicians who'd do the soundtrack for expenses, but gradually she stopped returning my emails and the icy shadow of abandonment fell across my inchoate masterpiece.

And that was that. I've since tried to get hold of her again, to maybe even pay myself for the film to be finished, but she seems to have disappeared. Leaving me with just a VHS of the rough cut and the desolation of dashed hopes.

Anyway, that's the story of how the film industry chewed me up and spat me out. I can't be arsed trying to get the rough cut into some newfangled digital format, so from my archives here's a copy of what I guess ended up as the shooting script. (Ruth Millar was suitably feisty as Poppy.)

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