14 December 2011
Posted in Film
Robin Squire's cautionary tale for screenwriters
Back in 1996 a producer told me he knew a woman who wanted her unpublished story developing into a feature film. 'She’s not in the business and she’s not a writer,' he advised, 'but she needs a script to get things moving.'
Being moderately-to-suicidally under-employed at the time, I agreed to have a go. Her ‘story’ was no more than a rambly outline, but I could see the possibilities. Not till after some financial skirmishing did a modest sum change hands, for, well-shod as the lady was, it seemed not to have occurred to her that any payment might be involved.
So off I went. My agent showed my early draft to a bankable director, who said yes. A money-hunting young producer came aboard, then a sales agent, line producer and casting director. A deal was done, a contract signed, all was looking rosy and my bank manager’s eye was starting to lose its glazed expression.
However, it wasn’t long before I became aware of, like phantoms in a graveyard, the figurative corpses of other writers who had been similarly ‘hired’ by this in every other way charming and delightful woman. If I’d hoped for a smooth transition from page to screen I was in for a protracted time of tortuous and torturous disillusionment to the point where I felt like the bemused writer played by Alexei Sayle in the Comic Strip’s film The Strike, who ended up hurling his typewriter away. And then, as inevitably as a creeping virus, it became apparent that although the industry professionals involved were happy enough with my script, the lady was not. Furthermore, she had decided to be the screenwriter herself, despite the trifling disadvantage of never having written anything before.
Parallel with these disturbing developments I chanced to meet a glamorous young actress/singer, down on her luck, handing out leaflets in the street for a temp agency, and became drawn into her very different world of entertainment. Older than her as I was, we nonetheless struck up a companionship which in time developed into something more as life played its vindictive games with two freelancing souls instead of just the one, and so drew us together.
Her dynamic musical trio subsequently nearly made the big-time, attracting a hot showbiz manager, with their first gig at the London Palladium and Decca standing by with a recording contract. But, as with the ‘Britflick’, there was a fatal flaw attached. After high heady hopes on her part, the group split up and she found herself entertaining solo in lunch clubs and Care Homes for the Elderly throughout southern England to scrape a living income, during which experience – despite my terminal shyness which makes me more suited to joining a silent brotherhood who only meet at mealtimes and even then sit with their backs to each other, I became part of her act, introducing her on the microphone, telling gags and eventually singing duets with her on a journey of personal discovery that turned my increasingly beleaguered world on its head in a whole new way.
After ten years and more of unending confusion, the ‘Britflick’ script, by now hacked and withered by a multitude of others who couldn’t write either, finally managed to stagger before the cameras, but the parade of directors, sales agents, actors, casting directors, producers and potential finance sources that came and went in the process beggared belief; while, as this chaos continued to continue, my divine chanteuse and I were drawn ever-deeper into the Care Home circuit, meeting people the world has passed by, including an A-list actress’s father who won Gold for Britain at Hitler’s Munich Olympics in 1936, the pilot who flew George Formby to the front during World War II, the niece of 1930s singer/dancer Jessie Matthews, and – still in full-throated voice – the founder in 1943 of the Welsh National Opera; while in one residential establishment we bizarrely came on Rod Stewart as one of the guests at a 100th birthday party, who sang huskily along with my songstress.
Written as a diary, the narrative of my new book The Making Of A Britflick leads up to the present day, detailing the film’s ultimate destiny.
How did the ‘Britflick’ do? Did the writer’s relationship with his vivid vocalist survive the tests with which life attacked it from all directions with bludgeons and spears? That I won’t divulge here, except to say that the film itself, and some of those who contributed to its fate, have been fictionalised without in any other way affecting the veracity or validity of the overall experience.
The Making of a Britflick is really a ‘reality novel’, then, and all about being a writer – so anyone who writes, wants to write, is interested in writing or has ever written will I hope be curious to read and relate to, with shivers down the spine, this diarised memoir of incompetence, mismanagement, madness, unfairness, ill-judgement and scream-inducing frustration which provides insights into the less appealing underbelly of the film industry, and the misunderstood and not-always-pleasant ways in which the humble writer can be regarded by the non-creative element of those who get it into their heads to make a feature film.
This wryly-written yet heartfelt story of the vicissitudes of fortune and, ultimately, love, will make you laugh, it might even make you cry. While the biggest joke of all, which tickled the publisher’s fancy, was that it could actually make a feature film in its own right. Any screenwriters out there fancy having a pop? No money involved as yet, of course, but hey! – it’s the experience that counts, isn’t it?
The Making of a Br itflick by Robin Squire is published as an e-book by The Tagman Press, price £8.04. Available from Amazon. A printed edition will be published in Spring 2012.