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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Checking out the movies

For the past few weeks I’ve been working against the clock to get a film script finished. The race was my own fault. I used to check the BBC Writers Room website religiously, to see what competitions were on, how to submit scripts and so on, the way you do. With the whole frenzy of publishing, editing, re-editeing, re-proofing, railing against my own stupidity and re-editing and proofing again, as Clint used to say, I kinda lost track of it in all the excitement here.

When I looked at it recently it was as if Christmas had come again and I was six. A film company, a real one, with offices with chairs and everything, was asking for film scripts with one proviso, which was interesting in itself. Not that they were being picky or anything, but they insisted the scripts had to actually exist before people sent the first ten pages in.

It reminded me of the old Californian joke: Dude 1: Like, I’m writing a screenplay? Dude 2: Awesome! Neither am I!

But I was. There was a strict 9am deadline on it for yesterday, 15th April, so I turned Not Your Heart Away into a screenplay. I hope I did, anyway. The first ten minutes has a shipwreck, Ben the narrator’s recurring nightmare;  a UFO as he lives near Salisbury Plain and a ghostly Spitfire, because of an old factory he drives past, because he’s English, because the film is about England and because. What more do you want while you’re still opening the Kia-Ora?

So we’ll see. I still have to finish the screenplay formatting, which is a time-consuming pain as I didn’t have time to learn any of the script-writing software packages and ended-up doing it in Word, the old-fashioned way. Still. It’s done. I was typing until half past one some nights and trapped a nerve in my leg from sitting still too long, but it’s done.

I also found a line that makes the final scene about a billion percent happier, sadder and just generally rounder, a real snappy ending. The storm that brings harm also makes fertile. I’ve got to get back to formatting. My eyes have gone a bit leaky now.

If you can’t wait for the film to come out, you can buy the book here.

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