Friday, 26 March 2010

One script, two days

Wednesday: Very nice email from a prestigious agent who represents a couple of writers whose careers I'd very much like to emulate. Agent acknowledges that it deals with a difficult subject area, but "the script certainly stands above such doubts... we found [the characters] distinctive and memorable. There are interesting strands set up for a series, and we like the way you play with the potentially bleaker aspects... Above all, it’s an interesting and engaging story. We like your writing, and would like to read another script."

Thursday: Script returned by the BBC writersroom having not even passed their 10-page test and been chucked out with the green felt-tip crowd.

Now this isn't going to be a chuntering rant against the BBC; this is the third script I've sent to the writersroom down the years, and the other two came back with encouraging and useful feedback having received a full read. 

It just illustrates how subjective the whole process is; I thought that my current script was a lot more accomplished than the previous two, and particularly worked hard to give it a dynamic and engaging opening, but the BBC reader clearly didn't agree. 

The lesson - apart from William Goldman's over-quoted statement that "nobody knows anything"? Keep pinging out the stuff, and have faith that eventually it'll land in front of someone who'll connect with it.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Shifty: Script To Screen event (London, March 28th)

This looks like a very interesting event, taking place on Sunday (March 28th) at the Panton Street Odeon, just off Leicester Square. It looks like it's been organised by Chris Jones, co-creator of the Guerilla Film-Maker's Handbook.
On Sunday March 28th we are running a special Script To Screen event at the Odeon, Panton Street, with BAFTA nominated writer/director Eran Creevy and his film ‘Shifty’.
First we send you the shooting script which, if you read, will give you a real insight into how stories evolve on set (under the pressure of production, the interpretation of actors etc.) Then we present the movie on 35mm on March 28th which you can attend, after which we stay in the Odeon for an indepth film makers Q and A with Eran. Finally we retire to the pub across the road for a lovely and relaxing networking end to the day. All for £20!
I saw Shifty (plus a Q&A) at the BFI last year, just before it came out: you can read my review and notes here.

I really enjoyed the film, which was made as part of Film London's microbudget (£100K) Microwave scheme. I was thinking about it again recently as I worked on my application for the Academy Pictures initiative, which seems to have a lot in common with Microwave. 

Microbudget film-making seems to be an area that's getting a lot more attention: after the success of Paranormal Activity, Paramount have launched 'Insurge Pictures' - a new division that's looking to make 10 films for a budget of $100,000 each. 

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Scouting Book for Boys (again)

I posted a review of The Scouting Book for Boys last year after seeing it at the London Film Festival, so it's probably worth reposting as the film goes on general release today.

There's also a screening and Q&A with writer Jack Thorne, director Tom Harper and producer Ivana Mackinnon at the Curzon Soho on Tuesday 23rd March.

Here are a few more recent links to interviews an ting: 
Well, our London Film Festival experience didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts when our priority booking form got lost in the post. Fortunately, we sprang into action before everything had sold out, and got what must have been the last two seats for this screening.

The Scouting Book for Boys is the debut feature from director Tom Harper, from a script by Jack Thorne – a playwright who's also written for Shameless and – more extensively – Skins.

It's set around a caravan park on the Norfolk coast, where teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger) are inseparable best friends; they live permanently on the site, where their parents work. However, their carefree lifestyle comes to a halt when Emily disappears, shortly after being told that she'll have to go and live with her absentee dad.

It'd be criminal to give away too much of what happens next, but things get progressively darker, culminating in a devastating conclusion. However, the storytelling is sparse and subtle throughout, meaning that when a fairly nasty moment came along, it provoked a audible response from just about everyone in the cinema.

In screenwriting terms, the characterisation of the hesitant and slightly dim David and the much more precocious Emily is brilliantly laid out, helped by compelling performances from the two leads - especially Thomas Turgoose, whose expressive face and body language articulate what his tongue-tied character can't.

The film is also beautifully shot. The optimistic early part of the film is bathed in glorious golden sunlight, while the later scenes are marked by a much bleaker atmosphere - a great example of using mise-en-scene to reflect characters' psychological states.

I read somewhere that it's going to be released in the UK next spring, but you can probably catch details of further preview screenings via the film's twitter feed - @SB4B.

There was a short Q&A after the screening. Jack Thorne said the idea came about when he read that Robbie Williams' dad used to be an entertainer at a caravan park. He used to go on family holidays to caravan parks and had often wondered about the people who lived there permanently.

The script spent about seven years in gestation, but he really started to develop it under a mentoring scheme by Celador Films. His first draft led to Tom Harper and Film4 becoming involved, but then a second draft went badly wrong and the project went backwards.

However, after Jack was told by the producer to go away and write whatever he wanted, the script popped up in second place on the inaugural Brit List (an industry survey of hot unproduced screenplays) - behind The Men Who Stare at Goats. That generated more interest and led to another draft.

Tom Harper added that he'd previously read a couple of Jack's scripts and was keen to work with him. It was a coincidence that the Scouting Book script ended up in his hands, but he loved it when he read it and the project moved on from there.

There was also a brief discussion of the portrayal of adults in the film. Tom Parker said that the script is mostly from David's point of view, so he wanted to represent that in a heightened reality on screen - something worth thinking about when you're considering the POV you want to present in your own scripts.

The adults seem on a slightly different plane to David and Emily; they're a bit crap and peripheral, so the teens have to occupy themselves and make their own fun. So, the world originally seems idyllic through David's eyes, until things start to go wrong (reflected in the change of tone noted above) .

The cast paid tribute to the precision and timing of Jack's script, but the writer himself admitted that the story changed quite a bit in the edit. His original ending came earlier than the conclusion seen in the film and was more ambiguous, but didn't feel right on screen.

LFF blurb, including pics and trailer
Video interview with Tom Harper (Cineuropa)
Tom Harper's filming diary (Film4)
Old-ish interview with Jack Thorne (BBC writersroom)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Missing, BBC One

I know this is a bit after the event, but here's a rough and ready review of the daytime drama Missing that I wrote for Orange a couple of days ago. It was enjoyable low-budget stuff, written by Matthew Leys - worth catching up with on iPlayer for study purposes, at least.

(This is a bit of a warm-up routine; I'm planning to start blogging again - sporadically - in the next few days.)

Missing, a daytime drama series starring Pauline Quirke as DS Mary Jane "MJ" Croft, the head of a missing persons unit in Dover, made a brief five-day appearance last year. And it obviously tickled someone's fancy, because now it's back for an extended 10-episode run. 

As you'd expect from this kind of show, the first episode gave us a mix of on-the-job investigations and personal complications, with the main case involving a missing six-year-old girl. There was a nice amount of plot squeezed into the episode, as various explanations for the apparent abduction came and went. Even when she was discovered and "rescued", there were still more secrets to be revealed.

The second story was much slighter, as a firefighter wanted help to find his grown-up son, who'd disappeared after a bit of a row at a family 'do. This thread panned out a bit more conveniently, but was still tied up nicely with a bitter-sweet conclusion.

On top of all this, the team also had to deal with their personal baggage. Under the cosh from a hardass new boss, MJ was torn between work and attending her niece's birthday party, while the pressure of impending sergeant's exams took a toll on the budding relationship between DC Jason Doyle (Felix Scott) and civilian assistant Amy Garnett (Pooja Shah).

Pauline Quirke also popped up earlier in Missing Live – a Crimewatch-y thing presented by Louise Minchin and Rav Wilding that'll be on every weekday morning over the next two weeks. The show will look at the wider issues surrounding missing persons, including appeals for help and stories of how missing people were found and reunited with their family. Apparently 11 of the missing people featured on last year's five-day version of the show were later found.

Anyway, Missing is definitely at the no-frills end of TV drama: it's more Sainsbury's Basics than the Waitrosey luxury of posh US stuff like Without a Trace. But Pauline Quirke's always a welcome sight and the stories and soapy bits were sufficiently intriguing to keep me watching. And Roy Hudd turned up at the end as MJ's estranged dad, so that's got to be worth a look. If the daytime scheduling's a bit of a problem, you can always catch up on the BBC iPlayer (if you're in the UK)