Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Jenny Ringo 2 - Pre-production Diary 1...

At some point during the endless post-production of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw I started to think about possibly developing it into a TV series, or at least having some idea of how that would work should I ever get that far. The issue with this was that I was all out of story ideas - I pretty much just had the one. So I asked a few friends who also worked on the film to come up with a couple of potential episode storylines. I took the best of these and collated them into a pitch document. I then submitted this to a couple of BBC schemes and never heard anything back. That would have been the end of it but the story ideas were really good and it seemed like a bit of a waste not to do anything with them at all...

A few months ago, just after the film had been properly finished, I was chatting with Darren who shot the film and we drank too much and started talking about making another one. I mentioned one of the storylines Geraint D'Arcy (who also built the tongue creature) had come up with and we decided it should be pretty straight forward. And then we made bold claims about all the things we would do different this time and how it would all work out so much easier because we are obviously brilliant at this now.

The next day I woke up with a hangover and a sense of creeping dread as I realised I had accidentally committed myself to making another short film.

Over the next few weeks I asked around to see if others from the old team were interested in working on another film. My wife Andrea agreed to produce again, Brother Pete and his girlfriend Charlotte were up for being our art department, and crucially Rosie and Lukas, our two leads from the previous film, were onboard. I think if they hadn't wanted to do it I may have abandoned the idea as the storyline for the second film had really been shaped by their performances in the first film. That, and the fact that they are brilliant and I really want to work with them again.

Then we had a really unproductive production meeting in which the answer to all questions was 'We'll have to wait for the script.' And for once this was out of my control.

I'd spoken to Geraint a few weeks prior to this meeting, told him we were thinking of using his idea for the next film, and then I asked if he wanted to write it. This may seem like an odd decision considering that I made the first film primarily to see how my writing worked without outside interference. But I'd done that now, and decided it worked very well (even if I do say so myself). If I had written this one I think it would probably have been more of the same. I also would have felt like a bit of a fraud taking what was a rather genius little idea for a story then passing it off as my own.

However, this put me in a strange and unfamiliar position. I found myself sending nonsensical e-mails with bits of ideas that could never be tied together, as well as music recommendations and links to scenes from films. In other words, lots of random and probably unhelpful stuff of the type I have often received from directors and producers over the years. Once I got the first draft I sent pages and pages of rambling notes, and then on the subsequent draft I sent pages of contradictory notes when I started to figure out what the film was about. Basically, I did everything that I hate people doing to me.

At the same time, I made sure I did three things that people quite often don't do. If you happen to be giving notes to a writer at any point in the future I seriously recommend following these 3 steps. There is a reason I've only really managed to successfully work with one director, and that's really down to him doing the following. And it mostly just comes down to courtesy.

So when someone sends you the latest draft of a script you've asked them to work on, you must:

1) Say thank you immediately!

Writing a script is a lot of work. There have been many occasions when I have been up writing well into the early hours of the morning writing a script. It is then really annoying when the person I send that script to doesn't even acknowledge that they've received it.

2) Read it as soon as possible.

As above. If someone has put the hours into working on something for you, then you can put an hour or so into reading it. The angriest I ever got with someone I was writing for was when they told me they'd read the first 30 pages of a feature script and decided it wasn't working. I'd written 90 pages based on their idea, and they couldn't be bothered to read it all. But that's a rare case. Usually people just don't respond at all for weeks. On one project I sent off a draft, heard nothing back, then a few weeks later received a heavily rewritten draft back. Which is fine, but it would've been nice to have been told.

There's nothing worse than putting days/weeks/months of work into something and then having to wait almost as long to find out whether the person you're doing it for has even read it.

3) Compliment the good stuff.

Part of this is personal preference. I'm not someone who prefers to hear only the criticism because that's the useful stuff. It's rather soul-destroying when the first response to a piece work opens with 'I don't like...' or 'What isn't working...'

Plus, it's just as helpful to know what is working. I've worked on so many projects where I've overhauled a whole script only for someone to say, 'What happened to that scene with the monkey and the clown? That was my favourite scene!' If no one tells you what is working as well as what isn't then there's a good chance you'll take out some of the good stuff by mistake.

So I made sure I stuck to those, and anyone reading this who may be in the same position should do so too.

Aside from that I learnt a bit more about collaboration. I made sure that when I asked for things to be changed it wasn't just because I would've done it differently, and kept reminding myself that it wasn't my script this time. I learnt that it's not an exact science, and that it's not just the writer who is figuring this stuff out as they go along. I learnt a lot of things I'd read in books, but you never really learn any of this stuff properly until you do it.

Most of all, I learnt that I could be genuinely excited about the thought of making someone else's script.

So we're now on draft 4 and it's very nearly finished. Now I have to work out how we're actually going to film it...

If you want to follow our progress or find out how you can see the first film, sign up to our mailing list at www.jennyringo.com for regular updates.

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