My First BA Conference (and jeweller’s robbery!) – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – May 1st & 2nd 2007

 

The Booksellers’ Association conference is an annual gathering of the great, the good, and (in my case) the liggers of bookselling and publishing. Orion was paying for one of our customers to attend the gala dinner and I went along to be their handler for the evening. This is when the BA hands out their awards, the Nibbies, and there’s sometimes a quiz, plenty of food and drink, and jewellery shop robbery… Maybe that last one isn’t as common? Maybe they laid that on just for me…?

Tuesday 1st May, 2007

 

Harrogate: The Booksellers’ Association conference. Only here for the gala dinner this year. Journey up was fine. Knaresborough looks like a great place to explore: steep and cliffy. Harrogate is a perfect little town and Betty’s Tea Room smells glorious. My agent got back to me on Dead Man’s Finger*. I don’t need to make a decision till next week… Hopefully I’ll get to meet with Jon (Wright) tomorrow to discuss God Of Scarecrows**. We’re planning to meet at King’s Cross tomorrow afternoon.

Off to the gala dinner. It’s too hot to be dressed as a penguin.

 

Wednesday 2nd May, 2007

 

9:50am. On the train to Leeds… Amazing! Just seen the end of a robbery in jewellery shop in Harrogate! I was happily strolling to the train station when, from around the corner, I heard a woman scream, followed by a series of bangs (three, I think), then a red car came screeching around the corner. Its windscreen was bashed, presumably as a result of the banging I heard. Not gunshots, but someone trying to smash the car’s windscreen. I couldn’t see through the cracked glass to identify the drivers. The car sped away at high speed, but before it had even reached the junction at the end of the road, there were three or four people already on the phone to the police yelling its registration number into the receiver. There were at least a dozen other witnesses to the crime, so I figured I wouldn’t be needed. In the two minutes it took me to reach the station the air was full of the noise of sirens and police cars and vans were in hot pursuit. I guess it won’t take them too long to find a red car with a smashed windscreen.

The incident proved what I’ve always feared: I would be a rubbish witness in court. The car was red, a C reg, and I can’t even remember the name of the jewellers’, although I’m pretty sure it was in Prince’s Street.

Anyway… last night was okay enough. Mark Billingham was MC and managed to inject life into some old gags and there was a fairly funny turn from Al Murray, the pub landlord.

Richard Littlejohn proved himself to be the twat I’ve always imagined him to be: he declared Alastair Campbell to be a mate and then proceeded not only to slag him off, but also suggested that Campbell was responsible for the death of weapons inspector Dr. Kelly. This prompted Mark Billingham to splutter, ‘Fuck, if he’s your friend, what do you say about your enemies?’

Littlejohn’s response was, ‘You should hear what he says about me!’

You should hear what we all say about you Littlejohn, you hate-mongering little fuck.

Home, 11pm. Had a good meeting with Jon this afternoon. He had some good ideas for The God Of Scarecrows. I will have to change the ending. We also discussed an idea. More of a framework for a short film that can exploit extremes of sound. Thinking cap on…

Tired now. I’ve spent too long today in trains and taxis.

 

The car was a Rover! And it was red, and a C reg, so maybe I’m not so bad an eyewitness after all? There’s more here… No idea if they ever caught them, but if you’re looking for an eyewitness with a ready-written statement, I’m your man!

 

 

 

*I have zero recollection of what this is.

**A short film idea that I still bloody love, and might fold into a book project I’m tinkering with…

 

Film London Microschool: Day Two. My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Tuesday 10th October, 2006

Ten years ago, my horror-comedy script Waiting For Eddie had a producera director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k. And day two saw the script get some serious interrogation from some industry professionals. Would it be knocked out in the first round, or would it pick itself up, battered and bruised, and ask for more…?

Tuesday 10th October, 2006

Day two of Microschool. Jon (Wright) and I had a meeting with script editor Toby Rushton that was so good it gave me goosebumps. He started by saying some very nice things about the script, we then all agreed on some of the problems. He liked the suggestion in the script that the house has something to do with its murderous history. Jon and I were initially wary: we didn’t want to go down the Amityville Horror route, but then I latched on to the slaughtered Victorian family in the Fleetwood sequence and we now have a new character called Cassandra and an ending that is ten times better.

Poor Dean (Fisher) was stuck in the basement at the Institute Francais, poring over the budget with all the other producers. He’s still wary of making of making Eddie for £100k, but Jon is more optimistic.

This was the first time the script had been read by anyone not directly associated with the film, and it was something of a relief to be told that it wasn’t a steaming turd, and how dare I call myself a writer? I remember the goosebumps came when Toby took a tiny part of the script — a throwaway line about previous murders in this haunted house — and started talking about how we could extrapolate that into something bigger, and by the time our session was over we had a new character and a better ending (and I had a ton of revisions ahead of me… years of them, in fact).

Getting feedback and notes can be a traumatic experience, but this was such a thrill to be given permission almost to dig deeper and explore these characters and situations all the more. At the end of day two I was certain of one thing: our film would get the £100k and would be made within the year (spoiler alert: nah).

For more on Day Three of Microschool, tune in tomorrow!

Film London Microschool, My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Monday 9th October, 2006

My script Waiting For Eddie had a producer, a director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k. But we weren’t the only ones, of course, and first had to survive a week of Microschool: a kind of Bake Off for filmmakers. Jon and I were treated to masterclasses from producers, writers and sales agents, while our poor producer Dean was sent to a dark basement for a week of budget school (some people get all the luck). Reading this ten years on I feel like I come across as a cocky little know-it-all. Don’t worry, dear reader, the next ten years of trying to get scripts off the ground will knock that out of me…

Monday 9th October, 2006

Day one of Microschool. An up and down sort of day. It started with some sales agents telling us exactly what sort of things they were looking for in a film. A lot of what they said could be filed under “The Bleeding Obvious”, but it was surprising just how few of our fellow filmmakers have twigged to the basic tenets of writing for a market. Some just want to experiment at the artistic end of the spectrum and that’s great, but I think Film London are looking for a hit to come out of this scheme and, as far as the comedy films are concerned, we’re the only one of this scheme that comes close. That said, there’s a lot of work to do this week: budgets need a rethink and the script will need to be knocked into a practical shape. Dean is torn: he’s still totally convinced that he can get £400k for Eddie, but Jon and I feel that we should really get our teeth into this week and go for a win!

This was my first time surrounded by other filmmakers in a hotbed of talent and competition, and it was pretty intimidating at first, but you soon discover that they’re just as terrified (or as full of shit) as you are, and you start to realise that you might actually deserve a place at the table here.

You hear people talking about breaking into the film industry like you just need to kick down one door and suddenly you’re a filmmaker. It’s nothing like that at all. More a series of incremental inch-like shuffles in a never-ending post office queue, but while you’re in the queue you get talking to others who have just as far to go as you and before you know it you have a peer group and a sense of belonging. I’ll always be grateful to the Microwave scheme and Dean and Jon for getting me a place at the back of the line, and I’ll stop now before this metaphor completely exhausts itself.

More on day two of Microwave tomorrow!

 

 

Eager or hopelessly naive? – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Wednesday 6th September 2006

I was at the London Screenwriters’ Festival last weekend, and it was delightful to meet so many writers, young and old, starting out on their writing careers. Their optimism, energy and determination made me feel very old invigorated me… and they reminded me of myself ten years ago. My script, Waiting For Eddie, had a producer in Dean Fisher, a director in Jon Wright, and we were waiting for news on our submission to London Film’s inaugural Microwave film scheme…

 

Wednesday 6th September, 2006

A most excellent day. Dean called to confirm that we’re through to the final stage of the Microwave scheme! A week of intensive script development awaits me in October and, with any luck, we’ll start production.

Told my agent and she was very excited. She also let slip that Working Title have agreed to read The Last Time Machine – they’ll reject it, of course, but it’ll be interesting to hear what they say.

I also bought my Apple MacBook today. It’s gorgeous, though I’ve spent most of the evening trying to figure out how it works.

 

Cos you can’t be a writer unless you have a MacBook, people!* And Final Draft. Can’t call yourself a screenwriter unless you have Final Draft!**

Before you go rushing off to IMDb, I should warn you that (spoiler alert) neither Waiting For Eddie or The Last Time Machine were made into films, so all that talk of ‘Going into production’ was fuelled by the same kind of optimism, energy and determination those new writers had at the London SWF. Okay, you might call it hopeless naivety, and some days that’s all you’ve got, but when someone else shows interest in your work I would encourage every writer to enjoy and revel in the moment… then put it aside and get on with writing the next thing. Because, even if it your script is picked up and made into a movie, they’ll want something new right away, and if they don’t, you’ll need something new for the next round of crashing disappointments submissions.

Keep writing!

 

*Not true.

**Even less true.

Meeting Your Mentor – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, September 1st, 2006

Summer 2006 suddenly went very quiet on the writing diary front. Producer Dean Fisher was pitching my script Waiting For Eddie around town, and then everyone goes on holiday in August. These are always worrying times for a writer. The phone stops ringing, emails don’t ping in your inbox, and you begin to wonder if all the enthusiasm for your project has just evaporated… Then summer ended and it all started kicking off again. September 2006 began with a fortuitous meeting with someone who was to change the course of my writing career, film director Jon Wright

 

Friday, 1st September, 2006

I jumped on a train to London for the really important meeting of the week. Dean, Jon Wright and I headed off to a meeting with Film London (to pitch Waiting For Eddie for the first ever Microwave Scheme).

Jon and I hit it off immediately. Quite literally: we bumped heads as we both sat down. Jon had some notes on the script, which were excellent. He definitely gets the script and it’s hugely gratifying to hear someone enthuse about it who will hopefully be in a position to make it a reality.

The Film London meeting went really well. Both Maggie Ellis and Sol Gatti-Pascual were friendly and encouraging and I have to say that Dean, Jon and I certainly held our own (I was a bag of nerves). I got the feeling that Sol really wants to work with Jon, so this could definitely work in our favour. We’ll hear if we get through to the next stage on Tuesday, but both Jon and Dean said they wouldn’t be despondent if we didn’t get through as they’re confident we can raise the budget elsewhere.

So, yes, in the kind of meet-cute you could only find on the corniest romcom, Jon and I met by head-butting each other. To put it in some kind of context, he was the first proper film director that I had ever had a meeting with, and I started by giving him a Glasgow Kiss. For a second I seriously thought I had completely ruined any chance I ever had of working in film ever, but fortunately he laughed it off and we got down to business.

The real boost was getting his very insightful and thoughtful notes. Like I said, he really understood the tone of my warped ghost story and it became clear that we shared many sensibilities, which would definitely pay off in the future, as he would eventually become Obi-Wan to my… Jar Jar…? Stay tuned for more…

Coping With A Non-Ringing Phone – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, 21st June 2006

It’s been about a month since my last 2006 diary entry. Why? Because when you’re a writer, and especially when you’re starting out, there are long periods where precisely sod-all happens. The phone doesn’t ring, your agent seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet, you’re beginning to think that pitch/script/treatment you sent out two weeks ago has ended up in a development exec’s junk folder, and because you’re cursed with an imagination you begin to imagine a future where you’re stopping strangers in the street offering to knock-up series bibles for food.

So, how do you cope with these lulls? First of all you have to stop thinking that your career is in the hands of other people, that some magical career fairy will appear in a puff of smoke dispensing commissions and making you a showrunner overnight. Yes, you might be lucky enough to have an agent, but you can’t sit back, twiddling your thumbs hoping that he or she will call to announce out of the blue that you’re writing Star Wars IX.

I try and do two things every day:

I write every day, seven days a week. Even if it’s only a few words, they’re words that weren’t there yesterday.

And I try and do a little business every day. Because this is a business. I try and create work by making contact with people in the industry, reminding them that I’m here, letting them know what I’m up to and what I want.

By creating and touting for work, you can vastly increase the odds of actually getting work, and when the odds are stacked against you the way they are in this business, that’s no bad thing at all. Of course, there’s a fine line between being pushy and assertive, cockiness and confidence, and being able to discern the difference between these is a skill in itself. And you can’t afford to sound too desperate either… I still don’t think I’ve mastered that one.

The following diary entry came after I nudged a producer called Dean Fisher, a splendid chap who had optioned my script Waiting For Eddie and took it to Cannes as part of slate he was developing. I had marked his return on my calendar, and dropped him an eager “How did it go?” email the day after…

Wednesday 14th June, 2006

Got an reply from Dean at Scanner Rhodes – Cannes went well, plenty of promises on funding, but he needs people to put their money where their mouths are. He mentioned a new Film London project called Microwave: you get £100k to make a movie in London (plus all sorts of facilities and services for free). He’s thinking of putting Waiting For Eddie up for this. Sounds good to me, and I’ve asked my agent for advice.

Wednesday 21st June, 2006

Received an email from Dean today; he’s definitely entering ‘Waiting For Eddie’ in the Film London Microwave scheme and, even better, he’s meeting a director next week with a view to getting him on board. His name is Jon Wright and if his website/showreel is anything to go by he is perfect for the job. His short films are nothing short of brilliant; they look great, are well written (he wrote them himself) and they have terrific sound design. Apparently he’s keen to work with Dean, so hopefully this could be very fruitful.

Friday 23rd June, 2006

Good news – Jon Wright loved Waiting For Eddie! Dean’s going to enter us in the Film London thing and we should hear if we’re in by the end of July.

Yes! The first appearance in the diaries from one Mr. Jon Wright, who would turn out to be somewhat significant in my own career. A Magical Career Fairy, if you will? Or not… More on him soon…

 

Great podcasts for screenwriters…

I love me a podcast. On my daily commute, any long(ish) drive or walk, or when I’m doing the ironing or washing up, I’ll plug in and absorb news and information like Neo in the Matrix. Well, I like to think that’s how my mind works, though the reality is I need the same ideas reinforced again and again and again, and podcasts are a great way of doing that.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are writing- or film-related, and I thought I would share them with you now (and yes, I did something similar a couple of years ago, but these are updated and I have a handful of new additions)…

You can get all of these on iTunes or whatever podcast software you use for free, but it’s well worth having a look at their related blogs and Twitter feeds too.

Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin:

 

@johnaugust

@clmazin

There’s never been a better time to get on board with this one, as the latest episode is a Spring Break clip show, essentially a greatest hits. Click here to listen.

What sets these guys apart from the Syd Fields and Robert McKees of this world, is they’re actually working as writers in the film industry, so they can talk with authority about how the industry works today. They cover everything from writing techniques, to agents, managers, lawyers, the WGA, writing software (don’t get Craig started on the vagaries of Final Draft!), and even typefaces and fonts (John August also develops apps). It’s been running for quite a few years now, and the most recent 20 episodes are free, and the backlist is only available via the premium feed, or you could buy a USB stick with all the episodes. It’s worth it: this is cheaper than any seminar or writers’ retreat and far more useful.

Scriptwriting in the UK with Danny Stack and Tim Clague:

@scriptwritingUK

Danny has one of the best UK scriptwriting blogs out there, and, in this monthly podcast, he and Tim Clague cover all aspects of writing for the screen: film, TV and games. And, most astonishingly, they actually went and made their own children’s film, WHO KILLED NELSON NUTMEG? which premiered at the London Film Festival. An incredible achievement, and an experience that has informed their podcast ever since.

This is invaluable for insights into the UK film and TV industry, and they’ve interviewed the likes of Tony Jordan, Chris ChibnallAndrew Ellard, and yours truly (if I sound like I’m at the bottom of a well, it’s because it was recorded via Skype in a glass room!)

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith:

@yogoldsmith

Jeff gets an amazing roster of writers talking at great length about how they started, their careers and their latest film. This is American too, but he gets loads of British writers on the show. These are often recorded after a screening, and the audience get to ask questions.

He previously presented the Creative Screenwriting podcast, which no longer seems to be on iTunes, but I’m sure you can find it if you go digging online. They were terrific, essentially the same format, but presented in association with the magazine Creative Screenwriting.

Filmsack:

Not a podcast about writing, but these guys love popcorn movies. They watch them on Netflix (which can skew what kinds of movies are available) then get together over Skype to dissect them. They’re really good at pointing out tropes and plot holes, which is invaluable for a writer. The earlier episodes on films like Superman and Wrath of Khan are outstanding.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review:

@wittertainment

Probably the best film show on radio. It goes through phases of being overly self-referential, but Kermode is passionate and really knows his stuff, and Mayo keeps him in line, and it’s a weekly lesson in how intelligent, informed audiences will react to movies.  Hello to Jason Isaacs.

Empire:

I bloody love Empire, and this podcast is huge fun, but it’s the spoiler specials that are particularly good for writers as the gang will often dissect the story in minute detail. The epic Chris McQuarrie Mission Impossible spoiler special (nearly three hours long!) is an incredibly frank look at how a blockbuster gets made. Gold:

 

 

The BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture Series:

More of an annual event than a regular podcast, these are live lectures recorded for podcasts, and so there are references to clips that the listener doesn’t get to see, but there are some very experienced and wise minds dispensing advice here and you’d be a fool to miss out!

Film Nuts

Filmmaker Mustapha Kseibati shares his colossal passion for film in this series of interviews with UK writers and directors. And it’s the only place where you’ll here me get excited about the Dad’s Army film. Mus’ is a busy man, so there aren’t as many of these as I’d like, but each one has nuggets of wisdom.

The Allusionist

Okay, so not a podcast about writing, but if you’re a writer you’ll love words and Helen Zaltzman’s podcast is a delight. You’ll come away from each episode with another insight into what makes word work, and that can only make you a better writer.

 

And that’s it! Do please let me know if there are any I’ve missed. I’m not sure I can squeeze any more into my week, but I’m always up for something new.

At the foot of the mountain – starting a new writing project…

Jon Wright and I are just starting out on a new writing project, TOP SECRET PROJECT X. I know, catchy! This is immediately coming off the back of over a year’s solid work writing a script that we hope to get into production this year, and we wanted to have something ready to follow it up with (always helps to think ahead). So we’ve gone from hurtling at a hundred miles an hour, steering skilfully round familiar bends, to suddenly pushing a clapped-out old Vauxhall Viva uphill to the nearest garage.

Starting a new thing can be very daunting indeed.

It’s taken us about six months to get around to the actual writing bit. Time is great aid to fomenting ideas, and it’s a luxury a screenwriter doesn’t often get, but I would recommend using it whenever you can. Take any intriguing idea you have, jot it down, nurture it with seedling ideas and before you know it, new ideas will be presenting themselves to you at three in the morning, demanding that they be implemented immediately. Here’s one I made earlier…

Late night scribbles can produce surprising results...
Late night scribbles can produce surprising results…

This one started with lots of talking — initially with a conversation outside a pub — then continued with more chatting in places where tea is served, and then long phone conversations about situations and characters, and then we progressed to tentative emails. With each of these gently flirtatious stages we’ve been collating nuggets about characters and situations and themes, and now we’re at the stage where we’re putting together the actual building blocks of a story.

The nitty-gritty starts with character work. On our previous project we were adapting someone else’s script and didn’t feel that we had a good enough grip on the characters, so we wrote monologues for each of them, bouncing drafts back and forth between the two us, adding more interesting details and texture until we really knew who these people were. That was when we finally felt that we had taken ownership of them and the script, and our writing after that became a lot more instinctive: the sports car swerving round tight bends.

So, this is where we’ve decided to start with TOP SECRET PROJECT X: character monologues, like pieces to camera, confessional and candid and revealing, and it’s a great way to get a story that’s driven by characters and not set pieces. There are lots of blind alleys, things we’ll get wrong, but it’s worth it for the things that shine and excite and inspire. We’re off to a great start, but there’s still a very long way to go, that clapped-out Vauxhall Viva is still very heavy and the mountain is very steep. In the meantime, here’s a bit of Paul Weller to chivvy us along…

 

The painting above is The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, (Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer um) 1818 ~ by Caspar David Friedrich, and is how all writers should visualise themselves when embarking on a new project, and not hunched over a laptop wondering if they can have another chocolate Hobnob yet.

 

Getting a poster signed is harder than you think.

Please note: this competition is now closed!

As part of Gollancz’s wonderful advent calendar giveaway for Christmas 2015, I am delighted to be able to offer a very special prize of a Robot Overlords quad poster signed by myself, director Jon Wright, and some of our lovely cast including Craig Garner (Mediator 452), James Tarpey (Nathan), Ella Hunt (Alex) and Gillian bleedin’ blinkin’ flippin’ Anderson!

Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I  could grab a spare.

And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!

I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.

Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…

And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.

Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…

I haven't washed since...
I haven’t washed since…
… and then she was gone!

I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!

My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.

IMG_3813

So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.

Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)

Good luck!

 

11 things I learned making a movie…

A version of this first appeared over at the Gollancz Blog. I’ve made a few tweaks since…

On our week of release, I was over the moon to be told that ROBOT OVERLORDS, the film I co-wrote with director Jon Wright, leapt to #3 in the UK Blu Ray chart, and #7 in the DVD chart. This news came just over 5 years after getting an email from Jon asking me if I’d be interested in working on the project. So now seems as good a time as any reflect to reflect on the things I’ve learned from writing my first movie…

COLLABORATION IS EVERYTHING

I expected a good level of collaboration with Jon and the actors, which was fantastic, but some of the most surprising and rewarding stuff was getting emails from the production design team asking for names for castles, banks, names of towns on maps, the date of birth for our hero for a sheet of paper, all of which are barely seen on screen. This was great fun as you’re made to delve a little deeper into the world you’ve helped create, prompted by a team of people whose sole purpose is to make it look as believable as possible, and who think of all those details that add texture and depth to the environment.

GET ON SET

To be honest, most days on set a writer feels like a fifth wheel: that paper script of yours no longer exists and the cast and crew are too busy trying to make it into a movie to accommodate you. But you’re on a movie set! For a film nerd like me this was heaven, especially on the day we shot at Pinewood, where I strolled around like I owned the place.

I was on set about eight days out of an eight week shoot (they didn’t have the budget to have the writer hanging around, plus I had a novelisation to write!). Jon and I had discussed protocol for dealing with any script changes on set/location, and agreed that he would take care of the day-to-day minor tweaks, but that we would collaborate on anything major. In the end, there was only one occasion where we had to make a major change and I happened to be on set that day. I was despatched to a trailer (I had my own trailer! For a bit…) where I worked on the revisions. I felt very important for at least forty-five minutes.

And the catering. Don’t forget to make the most of craft services. I put on quite a bit of weight.

PEOPLE THINK YOU’LL BE FAMOUS

“You’re going to be famous,” friends and relatives would say. I’d then ask them to name three screenwriters (that weren’t also directors) and most of them were stumped.

Screenwriters just don’t have the same profile as authors. Film is a director’s medium. And authors can’t be fired from their own book, whereas screenwriters get fired all the time, even from projects they originated! This time I managed to stay the course.

DIRECTORS AND PRODUCERS ARE THE HARDEST WORKING PEOPLE IN SHOWBIZ

There’s an alternate universe where our producer Piers Tempest didn’t option the film and Jon and I are musing “That Robot Overlords idea could be a goer, y’know.” Without Piers’ tireless work this film would never have been made. And Jon spent pretty much every waking hour either writing, sketching, pitching, listening, re-writing, answering roughly twenty thousand questions a day before, during and after the shoot. Over a period of about four years. That’s hardcore stuff and I don’t think he put a foot wrong.

ACTORS ARE AWESOME

I had a week of rehearsal with Callan, Ella, James and Milo, working to tailor the dialogue to their strengths. It was an absolute joy to see them take ownership of their characters, and the backstory stuff we worked on formed the basis of the first part of the novelisation.

And then the likes of Gillian Anderson, Geraldine James, Roy Hudd, Tamer Hassan and Sir Ben Kingsley start saying words that you wrote. That’s a series of pinch-yourself moments right there.

I have so many favourite lines in the film, but the one that makes me giggle every time is just one word. “Fecund.” And Kingsley delivers it with exactly the kind of filthy relish we were hoping for.

VFX IS ALL ABOUT TIME

You can do it well, cheap or fast, but not all three. Visual effects is a much-misunderstood industry, not least by me at the beginning of this project. The team at Nvizible pulled off nothing short of miracle bringing our metallic invaders to life on a budget that would barely pay for the Incredible Hulk’s pants on certain other movies. And they did it with meticulous attention to detail in a craft that’s a curious mix of hard science, pure art, teamwork, and all done with a rigorous pride in finessing stuff that might only register subconsciously with the viewer, but makes all the difference. They also have a terrific understanding of story and character. So much so, that I’ve even written a script with one of them.

PREVIEW SCREENINGS ARE BOTH TERRIFYING AND EUPHORIC AND ABSOLUTELY NO INDICATION OF THE FILM’S SUCCESS

We ran the gamut from children running screaming from the room (from one scene in particular, which became known as “the torture scene” by the producers) to others declaring it to be the best film they had ever witnessed.

We had the most amazing preview screening at the BFI Southbank: over 300 kids whooping and cheering and bursting into applause at the end, but we still didn’t manage to get the kind of nationwide distribution we wanted. Why? Myriad reasons, but it largely comes down to money. Marketing to 8-14 year olds is very, very expensive business (probably in the region of two million quid) and there wasn’t a major distributor in the UK willing to take the risk on an original idea. A shame, but that’s the reality of the British Film Industry at the moment.

REVIEWS ARE HILARIOUS (AND NEVER READ THE COMMENTS)

I read all the reviews and you’re soon able to discern if it’s going to be a good or a bad one in the first paragraph. There’s nothing more wonderful than when a reviewer latches on to what you were aiming for and sings your praises, there’s nothing more sobering than a critical review that nails a problem that should have ironed out before production, or might not even be the production’s fault at all, simply a compromise made due to limitations of time and money. And there’s nothing more hilarious than the cretinous remarks by the Simpsons Comic Book Guys who troll the comments pages of Youtube and IMDb and have yet to learn that not all films are made for males aged between 20-35.

The hardest bit has been keeping my mum away from the bad reviews, because she will hunt down and kill the reviewers.

FILM PIRACY IS RAMPANT AND MOST PEOPLE THINK THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING IT

Somewhere along the line, someone managed to pirate a rather poor quality publicity screener of the film, and it was suddenly all over the torrent sites. We should have been flattered that it topped the torrent charts for some time, but the crummy quality of the pirated copy simply does no justice to the film.

What was remarkable though, were the number of people who would talk online about downloading/streaming the film from torrent sites and then tag our Twitter and Facebook accounts in their conversation! When you politely pointed out that what they were doing was illegal they became very apologetic and promised never to do it again, but there’s clearly a vast swathe of the population who enjoy their movies highly compressed with tons of digital noise and diabolical sound quality. Each to their own.

PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE RICH

I’m not. I still have a day job to pay the bills. And based on what I was paid for this gig, I will need the day job for some time. Screenwriting is not a get rich quick scheme. It might not even be a get rich slow scheme. Ask me again in thirty years.

WRITE THE NOVELISATION IF YOU CAN!

When Piers first suggested a novelisation of the film I raised my hand like the swottiest kid in class, “I’ll do it, let me, let me! And I know just the people who can publish it!” It’s been a privilege working with the Gollancz team to write a book that I hope stands alongside the great movie tie-ins I read when I was a kid. And you never know, if enough people like it I might get to write another one.

 

Photo by www.mpsv.co.uk
Oh, and always wear headphones, and always, always lurk near the director… Photo by http://www.mpsv.co.uk