Sunday, 9 September 2007

Abort! Abort!

Following up on a post by English Dave here, I thought it would be fun to list the uncompleted spec screenplays I have embarked on only to realise some months (and in one case, years) later that I just didn’t have the heart to finish.

Sex, Money, Freaks – the story of a washed-up American movie star promoting a B-movie action flick in London, who wanders off during a press junket in order to get wasted. Next morning, he wakes up next to a dead body, and has to enlist the help of a freeloading motorbike-riding dominatrix.

Problems? ‘Write about what you know,’ said the ‘friendly’ script editor, which always seems to be advice given to writers by non-writers (and shonky script editors). Besides, you tend to lose enthusiasm for a project once it’s been walked over by someone in spike heels!

The Censor – I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of censorship – this quote from David Cronenberg just about sums it up:

“No one is more qualified to be a classifier than anyone else, which is the problem with censorship. How can someone who is my age, my contemporary, see a film and say that I cannot see the film?”

There’s an Anthony Neilson (writer and director of The Debt Collector) play entitled The Censor, but as far as I know, there aren’t a huge amount of films that tackle this particular issue. So, I set my screenplay in the offices of a fictitious classification board, threw in a lot of gratuitous sex and violence, the odd bit of madness and wrote about the fall out that resulted.

Problems? Too many to mention. To start with, it’s a very narrow interest area – unless you’re interested in the subject of censorship, it probably wouldn’t appeal unless the human story behind it was compelling – which leads me to the next problem. I had three protagonists, one of which was crazy, which presented huge logistical problems by way of structure. Some things are just too difficult to resolve.

I’ve been trying to write this now for nearly six years – every now and again, I’ll come back to it and have a look, but perhaps it’s time now to junk it and move on.

Head On – as a rule I hate fictional films set in the music industry (Spinal Tap being the exception of course, and maybe Almost Famous). They never seem to tap into the more interesting aspects of the music business, such as – why do bands and musicians always seem to get ripped off? Managers, promoters and record labels clean up, whilst keeping their artistes on a dole money retainer. A suitable subject for a script I think!

Problems? The major problem I had with Head On was the fact that I was writing from a very structured outline, something that I don’t ordinarily do. Very often, I’ll start writing from a series of loose notes, which means that I am able to surprise myself (and supposes that anyone else reading might be surprised as well). In writing a structured outline, I removed the element of surprise from the screenplay altogether. Seventy pages in, I ran out of steam. Meh.

Clowns – set in the vanity publishing industry (admittedly an idea I nicked from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum – why hasn’t this book been adapted for film?!). Can anyone else think of a movie set in this milieu? I can’t – hence the reason for the wholesale nickery. I had an idea about a vanity publisher who is harassed by a variety of crazy and deluded writers, all willing to part with money to see their magnum opus in print, but who all end up rather peeved when their dreams of fame and fortune turn out to be just that.

Problems? Let’s face it – unless you happen to be William S Burroughs, writers are just not that interesting. The tone of the screenplay also veered around like crazy – from comedy one moment, to drama the next, and even crossing the unspoken of void into melodrama. Shifts of tone I can live with, but this one had the lot. I also had a pop at the disabled as well, which was a bit uncalled for. Shelved indefinitely.

As English Dave says, it would certainly be handy if there was such a thing as a junk filter for writers. But in the absence of such a thing, I guess I’ll have to keep on churning out those half written specs in the hope that one day shit turns to shinola!

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