On very odd occasions there’s a email that will go around via one of the various script writing internet forums I’m on which will offer up an opportunity. Some of them are extremely specific such as the one recently that wanted a co-writer but only one who knew Arabic and had grown up in South London. Some however take a slightly wider scope and ask for ideas or help.
One came via Scottish Screenwriters the other day from a producer who was after short film scripts that he could make in a smaller budget. He also mentioned how he had access to a fight coordinator and was therefore interested in anything along those lines. As far as cheap scripts go I thought of ‘The Salesman’s Gamble’ which remains sat on my computer hard drive doing nothing since getting rejected previously. I sent him an email asking if it was okay to send the script but also mentioned I had an idea that might involve his fight guy. The only bother is I haven’t written it yet. I did explain this however.
So I get one back asking for the script and a pitch for the idea, I supply both. I know a whole lot of people wouldn’t dream of pitching to somebody they’ve just emailed over the internet. The thought being that some unscrupulous sort will take this no doubt blazing idea and make it anyway. In all honesty I haven’t got that much to lose by just trying so that is indeed what I did.
I have yet to hear anything back but I’m not pinning myself to it and waiting around doing little else. Maybe when I was younger I’d stop everything to just wait by the computer for an email to come in but now I’ve got another stuff to get through and to keep myself busy with.
I’m sat watching a film (Tim Burton’s version of Alice In Wonderland just in case you’re wondering) with my wife and son. She looks up from her laptop and utters the words ‘Peter O’Toole has died’. The last of the great British acting Hell Raisers has left us, knowing how much he liked a drink it’s a miracle he lasted until now.
Many years ago I sat up late one night channel surfing on TV and happened across a showing of the play ‘Jeffery Bernard Is Unwell’ from The Old Vic. It’s Peter O’Toole at his very best and probably my first exposure to the man’s work. I must have stayed up until 3am glued to Channel 4 watching it and it’s remained in my memory ever since. I’ve searched for it on Youtube a couple of times in the past and it always seems to come and go, taken down for copyright reasons no doubt. Having heard the news tonight I’ve looked again and the whole two hour performance is there. If you have the time, settle down and watch. You’ll probably be taken in just as I was, about 15 years ago.
We hope to see you at the Traverse at some point soon.’
It looks like the standard, generated rejection response but then a place like The Traverse could hardly be in a position to write personally to everybody who sends them material. Whilst receiving this kind of reply might be a cue for being a bit downhearted it’s far better than receiving no response at all (which has happened to me before).
I’m not under any illusion of thinking Seven Lucky Stars will be taken in it’s current form and performed professionally as this hardly ever happens and the script would probably need somebody with a better knowledge than I to read over before another rewrite.
It’s been a slow slog to get it done but finally, whilst scribbling in my notebook the other night, I finally laid down a short synopsis for ‘Seven Lucky Stars’. Synopsis writing isn’t something I greatly enjoy for the simple reason that the idea is to blow your own trumpet about the project, something I’m usually uncomfortable with. Seeing the story laid out in simplistic terms often forces me to think that it’s slightly ridiculous.
The question as far as this blog goes is ‘How much do I show?’ which has been troubling me for a few days now. Many writers will lock ideas up and refuse to tell anybody anything about them for fear of them being stolen. I’ve been to writer’s where I’ve asked others what they’re working on and received the reply “Oh well it’s very top secret right now” as if they’re working for the FBI. It might sound enigmatic, they might think it makes them look cool but it’s a bit of a conversation killer at such gatherings. How am I so aware of these people? Because for a long time a few years back, I was one. There is always the feeling, at least in the beginning, that your ideas are so brilliant and so ground breaking that anybody you show them to will instantly copy them before walking into Hollywood on your ticket. It’s a terrible way to be and usually means that you finish stories and scripts but never end up actually getting them out there. They end up created in a vacuum, nothing ever touching them.
I can understand not putting full scripts on the blog, firstly because it would take up so much room and secondly because I usually keep rewriting them. On the other hand though it’s very difficult to talk about an idea when anybody reading this will have no clue what it’s about. Therefore, for your reading delight, here’s the synopsis I’ll be using to push the script.
‘Until now Edward Banks has had the TV world at his feet. Being the presenter of the 1980’s best loved game show ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ has brought him from performing stand up comedy in dingy clubs to the bright lights of prime time. He has all the houses, cars and video cassette recorders money can buy. During the filming of one particular episode however, the dream ends.
Driven by pressure from the heads of the studio, producer John Woodward has been lumbered with the job of breaking the news of Edward’s imminent sacking to his long time friend. Recent surveys have revealed that Edward’s brand of humour, once seen as fun and outlandish, is now viewed as sexist and outdated. Making matters worse is the fact that his replacement is Edward’s old comedy club rival Ken Moon.
During one episode featuring Brian, a man attempting to break a world record for most game show wins and Lisa who wants to win all the prizes for her Mum, the news breaks and a tense situation occurs between Ken and Edward over who is best to take the show forward whilst trying to avoid the numerous power cuts.’
One of the hardest parts was to make it clear the play is set in the 80’s without screaming ‘This is the 80’s’ from the rooftops. I just thought it sounded really blunt and obvious hence the ‘video cassette recorder’ reference. Apart from that it’s fairly functional and we’ll have to wait and see if it gets me anywhere or not. It was mainly constructed to send an application to The Old Red Lion Theatre in London but I’ve saved it on file for others.
Eventually I’ll get this done and I can move on to something else.
Honestly, I’ll stop banging on about Henry Barstow very soon especially as the final night was nearly three weeks ago. Today however, I received a link to the Carlisle Green Room Newsletter and a small part of which reads thus…
‘An evening without Henry Barstow (Because He’s Dead) Tim Padley writes: Just space to say if you missed this, you missed a treat. The celebration of the life and works of the (fictional) author enacted by his fan club was hilarious. The earnest leader (Michael Spencer), trying to get the others (James Spark and Lexie Ward) to be serious against the pull of a perfect ‘Beef Wellington’ was great. The culminating sci-fi epic with the green monster and the camp space captain was a perfect (and funny) parody of Star Trek (among others).’
And so it begins, I have a list of all the theatres I could find that either had new writer programmes or read unsolicited scripts. The first two have now been been contacted and, as per the previous post on the matter, here they are named.
First up there’s The Live Theatre in Newcastle. They only accept e-mailed scripts with a brief synopsis and biog which was fairly simple to put together. They aim to get back to you within three months which is probsbly one of the better turn around times I’ve seen whilst going over the various sites. Also, Newcastle is really easy to get to from Gretna.
Secondly we have Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre who also have a dedicated team to read unsolicited scripts and do offer feedback if needed. Edinburgh is also pretty easy to get to from here.
So the clock starts to tick and the game begins. There are more on the list but I’m concentrating on the ones outside London for now. Give it a few nights though and then we march on the capital.
This Friday gone, I sat in the front row of the Green Room Bar and watched ‘An Evening Without Henry Barstow’ as it ended its three night run. I knew a few friends were going to be there that night and I was a little bit concerned that was going to be all. Not that I would mind sitting in a room with my friends but it would have felt strange that we were there watching more of my friends perform something I wrote. Attendance had been good on the opening night but then quieter the next night. When I got to the door I was greeted with a small crowd of theatregoers paying to get in. People I didn’t know were paying to get into the show, it sounds crazy but it pleased me no end. The bar downstairs was dimly lit ad playing the Neighbours theme song, all was well in the world. I did a quick headcount of the people in the room and counted thirteen, the maximum capacity was twenty eight. With the show due to start at 8pm the message was passed to upstairs that there were no seats left over and there were to be no more admissions. This news pleased me even more.
It went incredibly well, my worries about the story being a little bit repetitive (because it’s single scenes from Barstow productions of old one after the other) were dealt with by the cast very well. The story went along at a fair pace and the audience seemed to be well into it probably as a result of me starting the applause each and every time there was a natural break in the play. People always join in if somebody starts first I find.
The audience on the night seemed to enjoy it. I hadn’t told anybody who didn’t know already that I was the writer but it came up on introductions afterwards. A couple of people said that 45 minutes of light hearted comedy would be ideal for Edinburgh but before I dealt with any of that I’d have to rewrite it again to sharpen up the rougher bits and to include some of the jokes that were added by the cast during rehearsals (one of which was the ‘rogering Debbie McGee’ bit).
I’m unsure at this time if I should go back to it so soon, the run was a fantastic chance to see something I’d written being performed for public consumption. It takes you rapidly out of the small bubble you can sometimes find yourself in when writing, the belief that you are alone and will be the only person to read what’s in front of you. Many thanks to Lexie Ward, Michael Spencer and James Spark for reading, rehearsing and performing it and to anybody else who came down to watch it. I certainly learned a lot from the process which will be adapted for going forward.
The best part was that a few people were saying “We’re looking forward to the next one”. The good news is that the next one is already written and it’s part of Project Theatre which we’ll be kicking off over the next few nights.
An e-mail from the director of ‘Henry Barstow’ arrived late last night. The last rehearsal had been performed in front of a handful of people. Whilst they had a good laugh it was agreed that the ending fell flat and as a result the show petered out. Would it be possible to rewrite the ending?
Of course it’s possible, even at this late stage. Bear in mind that the show was originally due to be performed in May 2011 but got put back (far back) due to casting issues and the extra time gave me the golden opportunity to rewrite large chunks of the show and make it better. When I look back now I often think that it would have been a pretty lame show if it had been performed in its original form. Minor tweaking now is fine so the ending has been reworked in time for another rehearsal tomorrow. Essentially, I’ve taken out the lines in which the two sensible characters wanted to wrap it up whilst the obsessive in charge didn’t and replaced it with a few more gags.
The opening night, just in case you didn’t know, is a week tonight and whilst that’s brilliant I still can’t help but wonder what exactly comes after this. There is another project I currently have being worked on elsewhere, something that I’ve been trying to get off the ground since 2007 in fact, but there’s nothing really concrete just now to write home about that one. I spent most of the day yesterday sifting through various theatre companies to see if they took script submissions with the intention of putting ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ forward. It’s a very similar process to what I’ve done before with TV companies in the past.
To my surprise I’ve found that it’s much more receptive to new scripts than TV ever was. Most theatres have some kind of new writer programmes in place and aim to put on new shows, probably because it’s a cheap way of doing it and the risk is a lot lower. TV shows not only cost much more to make but also have to find somebody willing to broadcast it at the same time. I’ll be hawking around ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ in good time because the script is pretty much ready to be looked at to see what they’d want from any probably rewrite.
When I’ve blogged before about my writing efforts I always made an effort not to name any companies I was in contact with, I thought at the time this had to be surrounded in some kind of privacy lest the deal not come off and everybody ended up looking a little sheepish. This time around I’m thinking about throwing that idea out of the window and having a running list of people I’m in contact with . If they’re willing to have contact details on their website then they’re going to get a mention. A list shall be posted as soon as I’m done formatting the script.
I’ve spent the day redrafting the game show stage play into something that’s just about readable to the outside world. There’s a list of various pointers that read like a software update bug fix. The ending ten minutes are a stand up set in which the main character gives up every thing he’s written down and has a small scale nervous breakdown brought on by gin consumption. This sounds wonderfully straight forward until you factor in that the play takes place on 1986 therefore the humour has to be of the time. Whilst I wrote a good few jokes for that section most of them felt out of place as a result of the setting and had to be dumped.
I’ve also toned down the political aspects of the play. In the first draft there was a lot of references to striking workers, most of the darkness between scenes was caused by power cuts and the lack of electricity is a major reason for the delay in filming this episode of the game show which gives the story its drive in the first place. I had a rather clumsy opening in which the main character aligned himself with Thatcher and expressed his disgust with those ‘sat at home not contributing’. It was horribly ham fisted and needed to go so it’s been cut down to a line or two. I could have gone down the political route with it but I cannot get around the fact that I’d be too heavy handed with it. It does feel a little bit like shying away and pushing the comedic elements forward to cover for it but I’d much rather write a sharp, funny script than an overblown one. Time will tell as to if this is a mistake or not.
I’ll probably leave the script alone again for a few days just for the changes to settle. In the meantime I’m trying to get a short piece of writing done for ‘The Fankle’. I haven’t written anything short story related for about 12 years however so I can’t imagine how this one will go.
I’m currently rewriting and reformatting another play I wrote just after I’d finished Henry Barstow at the start of the year. Having done a short bar play I decided to launch full force into a full length one, using something that wouldn’t require that many stage changes. If the play was easy to put on then it’s more likely to find an easier time getting a venue to do it. There are no guarantees that Carlisle Green Room will want another play after Barstow finishes its run in September so I thought I’d have to look further afield with whatever I came up with next.
As detailed before, I usually write the first five minutes of a play or script without planning what’s coming next. If I like it then I’ll do all the work towards the story line. I was reading the sports pages in my Sunday newspaper one day last year and, at the end of an article about football’s transfer window closing for the season, there was a quote from an agent saying ‘The final hours of the transfer window are the stage play waiting to be written’. Taking him up on that I attempted to put together the story of a young player facing the choice of staying with the smaller team for which his late father was a legendary player or moving on to riches in the Premier League. The whole thing was going to take place in a hotel as the clocks ticked towards midnight and he found himself embroiled in conversations with his agent/manager. There would be this massive decision to make at the end that would effect his entire career.
Once I’d written the first few pages though I came to a sudden realisation, it wasn’t going anywhere. What I had written only really amounted to three characters having an argument in a hotel. Whilst it may have appealed to football fans who knew the ‘lingo’ and were aware of what a transfer window means it was difficult to make it palatable to anybody else. It’s something I’ve always liked about Nick Hornby’s book ‘Fever Pitch’. Whilst the book was about Arsenal and supporting the club it jumped the boundaries of one football team and gained readers from other clubs and those that followed different sports entirely. Deep down it was a story about masculine obsession and modern day tribalism. It’s a book so well written it forces its way out of any pigeonhole it might have been pushed into. My story meanwhile, was heading towards being something more about human greed at near farcical levels. It was utter crap and I ditched it one night after realising it just wasn’t going to flow in its current form.
A flash of inspiration came afterwards when I caught a BBC4 documentary on the life of the late comedian and gameshow host Bob Monkhouse. When the programme detailed the man’s career in TV they examined an period of time when he was sacked from his job fronting The Golden Shot because of allegations of taking bribes from the show’s sponsors, an accusation he always denied. Not only did Bob return to stand up after losing his job but he was also forced to do his last episodes knowing that he was being shown the exit door and the identity of his replacement. It’s fantastically uncomfortable viewing, he goes from being a wonderful host to the contestants to snapping and being offhand with everybody else around him. There’s a wonderful tension during the show.
Via the magic of Youtube I’ve managed to find the programme in question.
Whilst not wanting to do a play based on the life of Bob Monkhouse (because I don’t think I’d be able to do the man justice) I became very interested in the idea of a sudden turn in a man’s career, where he’d came from and what he was going to do afterwards. I also became a little bit obsessed with gameshows from the 1980’s and the attitudes on display. In one fantastic piece of footage from Bullseye, presenter Jim Bowen asks a black contestant where he’s from. Upon hearing the response of ‘Birmingham’ he then questions the guy as to where his parents are from. Not one person in the audience bats an eyelid at a line of questioning that would be deemed deeply racist and offensive if used today. I found it something of an eye opener that this kind of thing was broadcast on TV within my lifetime. It seems strange to think but back in the 80’s we used to get Russ Abbot prancing around on national TV on a Saturday night dressed like this…
So I have a play set on a game show set in the 1980’s and I’m attempting to come up with jokes that a 2012 audience might find a little uncomfortable. I’m also trying to include some of the politics of the time but this is proving one of the main problems with it so far. The political aspect seems wedged in by force and only there as a short hand way of getting across different character’s attitudes. My main character, the soon to be ex-host of the game in question, is a man who has risen from the dark club circuit and is now determined to keep as much of his money as he can. He comes across as a little bit intolerant of minorities and a failed womaniser but this isn’t to suggest he does this with any great intent, it’s just that he doesn’t know any different. It’s a difficult balancing act to keep him likeable whilst doing all that.
I’ve left Draft One alone for a couple of months now. Without any deadline hanging over it that’s a luxury I can afford. Now begins the process of pulling everything together from a few fragments and finally formatting the thing afterwards so it actually looks like a play rather than a film in one location. Once that’s over we release it into the wild.