This is a post about something I don't normally like talking about. Recently I've started entering a few more writing schemes and competitions. I didn't used to bother because I was too busy working on projects that I thought were heading into imminent production. It turns out most of those projects were not heading into imminent production at all and I've been left with a folder full of spec scripts that I can't do much with because they have lots of other peoples' names on them.
(except for the one I wrote with Brother Pete - that one may yet actually go somewhere)
So I've started entering more competitions like what most aspiring writers do with the primary goal of building up a body of original work. But because they're competitions I also want to win and don't like talking about it when I don't. Except this time I am going to talk about it.
When I finished production on Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell I knew it was probably the last time I'd be able to make a film on that scale without any funding. The reality is that making a twenty-five minute film with 10-20 people on set every day is expensive. And trying to get people to do stuff when you can't pay them is really hard work. And a bunch of other reasons I won't go into here.
The point is, it became pretty clear by the end of the shoot that I wasn't going to be able to do this the same way again. And as it's really difficult to get money to make short films this left my future plans up in the air.
Well, to be honest I didn't have any future plans at that point because I was still working on the short I just filmed. But then a number of filmmakers I know mentioned that they were entering the BFI Shorts scheme. I was a bit reluctant at first, but on reading further it started to look like exactly the kind of thing I needed to fund a third Jenny Ringo film. Plus the guidelines hinted that they were looking for projects that would lend themselves to being developed into features, and I've been working on a new Jenny Ringo feature script for a while now. It was one of those opportunities I couldn't really afford to pass up.
The problem was I didn't have an idea for the third film, plus I was busy on the post production of the second film. With only 6 weeks until the submission deadline developing and writing a whole new short film didn't seem possible. So I sought help.
Back when I was looking for ideas for episodes in case I ever wanted to pitch Jenny Ringo as a TV series I asked a number of friends for help. Geraint D'Arcy provided the story that became Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell, and another friend, Rich Badley, came up with an episode called Jenny Ringo and the West Pier Thing. In this story Jenny's useless flatmate Gavin accidentally knocks over the remains of the West Pier in Brighton.
Little does he realise the real reason the West Pier has been left standing is that it was protecting the world from the malevolent Hell monster that was trapped beneath.
It was kind of like The Host, but set in Brighton.
Now you may already be thinking that this idea is too ridiculously over-ambitious to be made on the kind of money offered on the BFI scheme, but there wasn't a single thing in that story that I didn't know how to achieve using the same people who had helped me on the previous two films. I know someone who can do monsters and I know someone who can do animation. If I were to put those people together and give them a bit of money we would have a truly horrific monstrosity terrorising the streets of Brighton in no time. And as for knocking down the West Pier I know someone who could do that too.
Unconcerned that going with the most expensive idea would put us at a disadvantage we went ahead and wrote the script. Actually Rich wrote the script. We met to discuss ideas and swap notes a few times and I did a quick pass on it at the end but mostly it was his work. We spent two weeks outlining and four weeks on the script. Between us we wrote five drafts.
Now I can't say that I'm completely objective but as far as I'm concerned we turned in a really good script. I'm not saying that because I think we should have done better than we did, I just want to use the opportunity to point out that Rich is a really fantastic writer and we produced something super-awesome. It had the aforementioned monster, it had a team of supernatural troubleshooters with their own theme song, it had awesome set-pieces in iconic Brighton locations - it had everything you would expect from a Jenny Ringo film (if you had seen the second film as well as the first and realised that I like doing the same things only better). Most importantly it really developed the relationship between Jenny and Gavin and gave them some nice moments individually as well as together. It was the perfect third episode.
Well, as you might have guessed from my non-celebratory tone, we didn't make it onto the scheme. This made me sad for a bit, because I couldn't really work out what I was supposed to do next. I'd become so caught up in the daydream of making this next short and then developing the feature that suddenly thinking about anything else seemed absurd. Which is in itself absurd because a few months ago I was working on the short film I just finished shooting and my only plan was to finish making that and to get more people to see it than saw the first film.
That plan hasn't changed, but now I have a really awesome script for a third film. Plus I had a good time; I spent a month imagining monsters tearing Brighton apart whilst hanging out with a good friend and making some art. It may be art that only exists for two people right now, but I will do something with that script. I'm not sure entirely what that will be and it may not be a film but I guarantee it will definitely exist in some form or other one day.
For the time being there's a lot of work to be done on the post production of Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell so I have loads to be getting on with. And I think that has a lot to do with why I haven't gone with my usual response of 'fine, see if I care, I'm going to go off and make something super-awesome and show everyone' ...because I'm over halfway through the super-awesome thing and it's all going rather well.