Checking out the movies

If you’ve ever read this before you’ll know I’ve been trying to write a screenplay. Accepting I can do it has been one of the major hurdles, like probably anything in life. And as often in mine, I’ve been ignoring the evidence that I can.

Back in March the BBC Writers Room had a competition for screenplays. I’d never written one. I spent four weeks hacking the text of Not Your Heart Away into some sort of shape and utterly amazingly, I was one of the winners. We got to pitch to Cascade, the statutory nobody-gets-more-than-10-minutes on your feet chance to not stick a cigar in your mouth and say ‘See, it’s like Four Weddings meets The Others, I can smell the popcorn!’

The language of the dead

The first draft was ludicrous. 320 pages when it should have been 150. I didn’t have enough time to do much about it but I thought if it got through someone else would edit it down anyway, so I just concentrated on getting the book into a screenplay format. It wasn’t a format I was familiar with in terms of layout and the look of the pages aside, I just didn’t know how to transition from one scene to another and put far too much in.

Cascade didn’t bite. I know. How rubbish is that? My very first pitch of my very first screenplay and they didn’t go for it, even after they asked for a copy of the book I signed for them.

They asked for more scripts, which I’ll do but first I have to get this right. I found the wonderful Celtx software that magically not just provides a template for formatting but converts one format to another in about thirty seconds, instead of having to type the whole darned thing out again, and I watched and read No Country For Old Men over and over again. And no, I don’t see any irony there at all but thank-you for asking.

A friend of a friend in the business has really amazingly kindly offered to lend a hand with this so I sent her the heavily redacted version. I’d hacked it down so much that it didn’t work, coming in at 137 pages instead of the target 150 ish, leaving out four key scenes I don’t think it can do without.

But more than that, it left out the story. Yesterday it came to me how to make the story whole. The film is a little different to the book. First reader’s comment was encouraging.

“This is good. It would have been better if you’d written it ten years ago. You might have missed the time for this.’

That can be fixed. NYHA is set in 1980, but it could be any time once the music and the cars are changed. It could even be a horse and cart.  The story in the book is much the same, but how it is told, by whom and when is slightly different. It’s still Ben and Claire’s story. But now it leaves you asking if they can only tell each other in the language of the dead.


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