I’ve worked with Danny Boyle twice now and one of the first and most useful things he does when he sets up a production office is set up a knd of Library Corner, full of pictures, books and films that have inspired him. He also invites people from the Art Department, the Camera Department etc. to do the same. The Library Corner for Millions was plastered with El Greco reproductions and the films of Satajit Ray, and the short stories of Frank O’Connor.
I’ve been thinking about what I would put in the Library Corner of Triple Word Score.
First of all would be Life is A Long Slow River and Tatie Danielle by Etienne Chatillez. These are two French films about working people in unglamorous locations (Roubaix, on the Belgium border, North of Lille) but which are bursting with fun, colour and odd moments of beauty and poetry. They’re a World away from the formulaic miserabilism of Mike Leigh and Co.
One of the things I’m hoping to nick from Chatillez is his gift for writing really extreme - appalling - characters who you somehow like to watch. Human monsters like Tatie Danielle are as compelling in their way as real monsters like Godzilla or Kong. But you don’t need a special effects budget to get them onto the screen.
Frank O’Connor - swaggering, hilarious, wise, and fearless - is still on my mental shelves and probably always will be.
Danny Boyle introduced me to this terrific poem by Paul Farley which also makes it to the Mental Shelves:
There’s also this terrific story written (worryingly) by my son Joe about the fallibility of fathers, which is sort of the theme of the film. So this story gets in there next to O’Connor:
Because we want to have fun with Scrabble tiles during the film, we’re also looking at brilliant title sequences, such as those from the Pink Panther films.
So we’re planning to make this film cheaply and quickly. The thing is, I don’t know how often I’ve said that.
The first film I made was set in and out of Happy Eaters and A-Road diners. We thought that because they were cheap to eat in they would be cheap to film in. In fact of course they take thousands of pounds every hour of the day and into the night and it would be cheaper to close the Ritz than to close an A-6 OK Diner.
In Grow Your Own we were convinced that an allotment would give us “free beauty on screen”. Of course a few days prep was enough to show both us and the allotment holders that no working garden could survive a lengthy visit from a film crew so we ended up having to build (and secure) allotments from scratch.
There’s also the whole problem of communication and understanding. I can remember watching a whole crew decamp and make a full day move to shoot one of my characters walking uphill. I thought afterwards - well he doesn’t really need to be walking uphill. Up stairs would do. I just want him to look quiet. If we’d had that conversation before scheduling, we could’ve saved a day. Especially as it ended up on the cutting room for.
So this time we have a producer - Sarada McDermott - in the team from Day One. She’s going to look at the treatment and tell us what looks difficult or pricey and I’m going to try and address things at the script stage rather than later.
What else are we doing to keep the price down? Well it’s going to be written for specific actors who we know want to do it. So that should save months of casting.
And I’m trying to come up with story that involves a lot of repetition and variation so that should mean we can use the same locations a lot but in an interesting way - a way that looks formal and a bit hypnotic, rather than just ... well a bit rubbish.
And we’re keeping away from Happy Eaters.
Like I said, I don't feel that confident talking about screenwriting but ...
There is one thing I can say with absolute certainty:
Never, never never start work on a film (or a book) without having a title. You will never get a good title once shooting has started. There’s a reason for this. Before you start work you’re full of hope, aspiration and excitement - as in the early days of a love affair. You’re full of poetry.
Thinking of a title after the film is made is like asking someone what they like about their their wife of thirty years. It’s so obvious to them that it’s incommunicable to anyone else. They end just saying, “Well she’s lovely, isn’t he? I remember the night we met ... etc.” or trying to rationalise “She’s got a lovely set of teeth.”
A good title makes a massive difference. The BBC apparently hated the title “Last of the Summer Wine” and wanted to call that show “The Library Gang”. As soon as you know this you can see that it’s the title that makes that show work - casting its beguiling, elegaic twilight glow over the antics of a group of annoying old men. It’s the longest running sitcom in history. Under their preferred title it would have been pulled ten minutes into episode one. Orson Welles said the title of “Paper Moon” was so good they should just release the title and not bother to make the film. The original title of The Great Gatsby was - I think - The Bouncing Lover. A title so bad it would’ve destroyed not just that novel but perhaps The Novel itself. I'm sure the reason the brilliant and swashbuckling Princess Bride is not as celebrated as it should be is that it has an misleadingly girly title.
A film I wrote about some allotments in Liverpool was finally finished this week - music and credits added and ready for test screening in Stevenage. The problem is it doesn’t really have a title. It did have a working title - Grow Your Own. But marketting decided this was “too druggy”.
So now we’re trying to think of a title afterwards.
The process has turned everyone - including me - into a gently dozing Guardian subeditor. The list includes some horrors so extreme I couldn’t bring myself to post them here. I’m not blaming anyone else - some of the worst examples come from me. It’s circumstances. If Victor Hugo had had to think of a title after he had finished writing Notre Dame de Paris, he probably would’ve called it “I’ve got a Hunch.”
Here are the potential titles offered here as a warning:
Forcing the Rhubarb
Up the Shed
Plot of Bother
That’s Your Plot
Can You Dig It
Sprouting Tiger, Hidden Cabbage.
Just for the record we do have a title for the Scrabble movie. It's ..
So. For the record, here are some of Carl's geniusy notes:
When the game begins, the room is filled with the sound of rumbling scrabble tiles, this noise punctuates the game as players put their hands into bags to pick titles.
Players personalise their bags, embrioded names, tapestry, thomas the tan engine etc.
When a player wants to challenge an oponents word, it is written on piece of paper and waved. This is collected and handed to the adjudicator.
Some players want absolute silence, Daryl has played in a shopping mall in thai land "it's not that quiet then, you just have to get on with it"
Some players customise their boards, one man had dolphins and whales on his, "it was bloody awful, like playing on a jigsaw"
Helen(52) is the highest rating woman in the world, she began playing at 10, at 12 her naval father got angry when ashe played a 2 letter word which he was sure didn't exist, it was ZO. He later took her to the naval clubs where she played the officers for money. She rarely lost.
One woman flew in from spain just to see her friends and play, she won £20.
Joyce is 82, she compiles the times crossword, she was countdown's first champ. She has won many scrabble tournaments.
Daryl(55) is also a countdown series winner and has a very high rating. He claims the lower rated players don't like to talk to them, a kind of inverted snobbery. He has written books on scrabble and has advised tv companies about the game. When countdown began they mailed all the scrabble clubs for contestants. Hidden behind the celebrity wall would be a scrabble champ tipping the celeb on the longest word.
Robert just has a good memory, he's a london cab driver , give him a date and he'll tell you something about. "16th April" said Daryl, "charlie chaplins birthday" came the reply.
All these people are banned from playing scrabble with the family. "It's just pointless"
A youngish champ was once asked by an elderly lady if he was over 16, he was, she then played FELLATIO.
One player said "if i'm 250 points behind i'll try and find a rude word play".
The question that you get asked most frequently as a writer is "where do you get your ideas from?"
Douglas Adams used to answer, "From Ideas-R-Us near Swindon."
I think Stephen King says, "If I knew where they came from, I'd go there more often."
One thing I've noticed is that ideas are sometimes attracted to other ideas.
When Carl and I first started talking about doing a very low budget film, I remembered an idea I'd had ages ago about a boy who had gone missing and the effect it had on his family.
I blocked it out - it came out as three short stories and it seemed very strong.
I used a lot of repetition in the stories because I thought a/ it would make things cheaper (re-using locations) and b/ it would be quite eye-catching. We haven't got money for lots of great locations or special effects, but unusually formal storytelling can be just as exhilarating as these things - eg. Cache.
I used a recurring Scrabble game as one of the motifs. This led to a lot of conversations about Scrabble, which in turn led to Carl going off to a proper Scrabble tournament in Durham. He's come back with terrific notes and interviews. The material he's found is so strong that I'm now thinking of junking the original story (but not the characters) and writing a newer, simpler story that will give us space to enjoy the strange world of Scrabble.
So one idea led to another idea that swallowed up the first. A sprat to catch a mackerel. Hopefully.
People are always asking me for advice on screenwriting and I'm always hesitant to give it. After all, as everyone knows, "nobody knows anything". This is my attempt to blog one film from first idea to release. Of course I don't know if it ever will be released. I haven't even started writing it yet. This could be a catalogue of failure. Or it could be a step-by-step guide to box office success.
The movie in question will be very low budget, made in Liverpool and directed by my friend Carl Hunter - who was the bass player in the 80s supergroup, The Farm. Carl and I have just finished working on a film about some allotments in Liverpool. We're very proud of it, had a great time doing it and want to do it all over again. The reason for the low budget is that we want to do it quickly and also that this time Carl wants to direct. He's never directed a feature before so we think that if we keep it small that'll take some pressure of him. Also, both this film and the last one are coming out of a community arts scheme in Bootle, near Liverpool, which Carl helps to run. And we want to keep that relationship. The lower the budget, the more control we'll have and the more Art in Action will benefit.
Frank Cottrell Boyce: Millions One bag of stolen cash, two brothers and a cloud of saints. Winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Luchs das Jahr among others. Filmed by Danny Boyle.
Frank Cottrell Boyce: Framed As a result of flooding in London, the entire contents of the National Gallery are hidden away in a cave under a small Welsh village. The inhabitants discover what's going on and get itchy fingers.
Currently being filmed by the BBC. Shortlisted for the Carnegie, the Whitbread, the Tir na nOg and the Jugendliteraturpreis (2007) among others.
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