In one way or another, I’ve collaborated with writer David Quantick on six short films, with another two in post-production. I have to admit it now – he’s neither a megalomaniac nor a tyrant. He’s a lovely man who writes great scripts (and a lot more besides). I don’t have an industry background and he has supported and guided me through the myriad of problems I’ve faced. He’s acted as a script advisor/editor, producer, provided voiceovers and written four of the films.
How it works: the scripts he sends me are pared down and to-the-point. For example, the script for Lot 13 – consider David’s original opening to the film:
INT. AUCTION ROOM – DAY
An ASSISTANT is struggling to hold a LARGE PAINTING as the AUCTIONEER attempts to engage the SMALL AUDIENCE of BIDDERS.
In passing conversation however, David said one of his reference points for the film was the tale The Monkey’s Paw. So naturally, I became obsessed with a visual motif of a monkey and proceeded to ridiculously overload the script with visual tangents:
My shooting script version-
INT. AUCTION ROOM – DAY
The camera swoops down from above the AUCTIONEER and his ASSISTANT, who is struggling to manoeuvre a LARGE PAINTING closer to the centre of the room. The camera ends on a close-up of an atrociously painted monkey, looking confused and holding a small box – painted with the conviction of Dürer but devoid of any talent. The ASSISTANT continues struggling to move the painting as the AUCTIONEER attempts to engage the SMALL AUDIENCE of BIDDERS. The camera reverse tracks back through the centre aisle of chairs as the ASSISTANT excruciatingly scrapes the frame on the floor.
I sent the script back to David, who I pictured tutting and rolling his eyes as he read the bloated draft. But……he was fine with it.
Why? As he has said to me on a few occasions “John – it’s your film”. He doesn’t appear remotely precious and allows me the freedom to pursue whatever daft visual trajectory I see fitting, but I think I retain the core of the scripts, simply because I like them.
So there must be shared sensibility somewhere –I can’t help but wonder if it’s partly Goon Show related. Courtesy of my dad, I was raised on a strict diet of Spike Milligan’s programme, with its narrative leaps and logic-skewing scenarios. Perhaps this influence prompts me to gamely tackle David’s surreal scripts, that on the surface are ‘unfilmable’ (especially in light of my zero-budget status*). Case in point: currently in post-production is a micro short called Valentina’s Dream, starring Rebecca Front. It’s partly set on Mars. I knew I was never going to make a photorealistic Mars set or CG background, so I’ve aimed for an alternate visual style. I’m very fortunate to have Moose Allain supporting me, who’s been beavering away with his endlessly inventive artwork, rendering the scenes in a minimal and wholly stylised approach.
So there you go – there are many writer/director conflicts in the history of the moving image but this isn’t one of them. David was on set during the filming of Falcon of Fury (the first script of his I filmed) and I remember being terrified that the ACTUAL WRITER was there and he’d be muttering and picking holes. Much to my relief, he quietly supported me, giving me the opportunity to enquire about a plot point or action (plus the occasional last minute rewrite).
It’s been great fun and a massive learning curve for me. I dearly hope we can do more together.
PS. BUY HIS BOOK – IT’S ACE: I’m currently on post-production of a film called Line Signal which David kindly script edited – I was spurred on to finalise it after reading the book. Also (against my staid preconceptions) the chapter on writing poetry with Dan O’Brien is honest and inspiring.
*If anyone out there would like to give me a budget for a feature film, that would be great. Ta.