The UK, 2011 and the financial crisis: cuts in just about every area of life were beginning to bite and more were on the horizon. In May that year I was asked to be part of a writing team to make a film about the effects of those cuts – the title – “Big Society” taken from a speech by David Cameron. But this wasn’t just any old drama – this was a Musical. How could I say No?
The film was a community project – everyone gave their time and skills for free. There were six writers on the outline script, not all of us there all the time – people had jobs, commitments, responsibilities as well as their own projects but from May to July, one day a week, the story grew on the wall, scenes shuffled about, the structure solidified and the characters became real until a detailed scene by scene had been hammered out.
We wanted to get this film made as quickly as possible, while it was of the moment, not history, so there was no time for drafting and redrafting. Instead the director took the scene by scene and went into production with the actors improvising the dialogue. A method that’s used by some famous directors.
Team writing has disadvantages – you never fully own the final product but whether it’s film or anything else that needs a writer, sooner or later you’ve got to hand it over for someone else to put their stamp on it, even if it’s only a magazine editor cutting your 2000 word story by 1000 words to accommodate a full page advert!
The advantages probably outweigh the disadvantages: when you run up against a brick wall, there will always be at least one person who can find a way round it even though sometimes your fellow writers will have you climbing it. Yes, there’ll be arguments about motivations and reactions but objectivity and a week’s distance will always show whether you’ve made the right choice; climb downs and humble pie eating can be good for the soul.
But how do you know that the end product is better than all the other possible products that were discarded along the way? If that quirky, vibrant, funny scene you wrote had been included instead of getting the thumbs down from your fellow writers, who knows what a difference it would have made. Well, so what? Accept the fact it didn’t and move on. If it was that good a scene, it will metamorphose in another story – you can’t keep a good scene down.
I’ve written with a partner on comedy drama, with five men and a woman on comedy sketches, with script editors on television series and a script consultant on a film. To know there’s someone dozing on a sofa at Elstree, waiting for your next scene at 3 am, when you’re working to a deadline, or just a friendly face in the pub at the end of the day to give you feedback can make the difference between failure and success.
At the beginning of your career when you’re writing for the love of it, team writing offers support but teams are like committees, there’s always someone who doesn’t pull their weight when there’s no financial incentive. Whatever the reason they don’t is neither here nor there. Whatever you’re doing, you’re either committed 100% or you won’t get anything out of it. You’ve got to give it everything. And your reward? At 3 am when no one’s there to help you, you’ll have learnt what to do.
Big Society – the Musical is now in post production. Film London has revealed it is to be one of the 12 projects participating in Audience on Demand, the training and mentorship programme addressing the changing face of feature film distribution. For full details visit Screen Daily http://www.screendaily.com/news/film-london-selects-audience-on-demand-projects/5057669.article
Visit the Big Society web page: http://www.firsttake.org/bigsocietythemusical
Watch the trailer on:www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiXHmR0F2Ws