In my last blog I started off by mentioning the situation we find ourselves in is like ‘a bad sci-fi movie, with no hero and no third act.’ I got quite a few comments on this remark, many saying it wouldn’t be long before Hollywood turned the Coronavirus pandemic into a movie, and as I write this, I bet there’s more than one already underway. But I’ve a good guess how this will all play out. Some poor writer will have carefully crafted a script about a family that are in danger of not only losing their lives, but everything they’ve strived for in life; this will probably based on various accounts the writer has heard related to people’s sufferings. The studio will immediately pick it up, it’s relevant and real – perfect. Then the fun will start. The writer will be told that what is really needed is the personification of Covid–19 and this should take the form of a huge CGI green monster – really scary (not). This way the audience will know what the problem is. They will feel it’s real. (This is despite the fact that no one on earth is not aware how real and scary this virus is.) Then climatically ‘Virus’ will be fought and eventually defeated by the 20 something year-old son of the family, he will of course played by a 40 year-old star. This son will only be able to defeat ‘Virus’ because of the superpowers he acquired via drugs used in experimenting with an antidote for the virus in a secret NHS lab run by Josef Mengele’s great grandson.
Now I’ve never sat through a script meeting quite that ludicrous, but there’s been plenty very close. I was once asked if I could put a certain female character in riding gear and have her carry a riding crop. When I asked why – because there wasn’t a horse in sight, I was told a certain producer just liked the idea.
Of course, some changes are needed for practical reasons. A number of years ago I wrote on a series called Saracens about two top notch, killer-driller, ex-army, hard nut security guys. When I was commissioned, I was told that my story could be located anywhere in North Africa or Europe. Well at the time I’d never been to Egypt and I fancied seeing a few pyramids to try figure out how they built them. I’d decided the script was going to be about germ warfare, which is a bit ironic with what’s going on today (those conspiracy theories don’t go away for long.) Lots of research and lots of punting the idea and I was set to go on the first draft. I love writing action pieces, thinking up new ways to kill people, and this action piece had the added bonus that there was a story – at the time germ warfare was hanging in the air like the sword of Damocles, it felt like it was only a matter of time before someone started ‘splashing it all over’ like a cheap aftershave. I delivered the first draft on time, (I say that – I don’t think I’ve ever missed a deadline) and things were looking good. They liked the story, the characters and the action sequences, the main sequence being set on The Nile. There was only one problem – Egypt was suddenly impractical, in fact North Africa in its entirety was suddenly off the cards, so the whole shebang had now to be in Europe. Like it or not we had to change the location. And of course, when they said ‘we’ they meant ‘me.’ And changing location isn’t just about using ‘word replace’ to change Cairo to Prague or wherever, it means a complete re-write. Everything changes! The reason the story is there in the first place, the characters attitudes to their situation, the guest characters, the feel of the piece – it’s a page one rewrite. But hey – that’s the way it goes. So I thought … where do I fancy in Europe?
Warsaw … At the time I’d never been there and it would give it a cold war feel. So I did the research and transposed the script to Poland. Unfortunately Poland wasn’t practical either, so where else could this germ warfare gem be set? Berlin. Perfect. Did the research and transposed the script to Germany. They still liked the story and the action and the characters, the only problem they had was with Germany – it too had become impractical. Wait a minute, the piece was called The Geneva Protocol. Geneva was where in 1925, it was agreed to prohibit ‘the use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.’ It was originally signed by 38 states, the UK being one of them. This was meant to be, this was the obvious place to set a drama about germ warfare and The Rhone ran right through the middle of it, perfect for the action sequence. Geneva it was.
So I rewrote the script again – from page one.
And I thought that was it, no other location could not have been more right. I should never have thought of Cairo or Warsaw or Berlin, what an idiot, Geneva was the only location it could possibly be. Only it wasn’t.
Because then came Milan, then Paris, then Brussels and to a cut a long story short it was eventually filmed in West Ruislip. I always say I did Cairo to West Ruislip in 8 drafts.
At the moment I have no desire to write a film about a killer pandemic. Some subjects immediately grab you; Coronavirus isn’t one of them. But like a lot of British writers I would love to have a film made, either here or in Hollywood. I’ve been trying to get various movies off the ground for the last 35 years. I’ve had a couple of near bites, but nothing actually made.
Probably the nearest was a film which was originally entitled Judas Kiss, I say originally because suddenly out of the blue along comes another Judas Kiss, already made and staring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. What’s the odds – you don’t see sight nor sound of a Judas Kiss and then two come along together? I never saw the other Judas Kiss, but I did read the synopsis and the two plots were totally different, but I have to admit theirs read really good. Whatever, there was no way I could hope to make a film with the same title as another, released around the same time. So I changed the title to Mark of Cain – note how I continued with the biblical reference theme.
We’d been introduced to an American producer who loved the script and wanted to make it. Mark of Cain was a thriller set around a priest and his family in Ireland. For a film it was reasonably contained and there were no huge set pieces, this wasn’t Ben Hur, so the budget wasn’t huge. Titanic had already had its phenomenal success both Oscar and box office wise, despite it being, as far as I was concerned, a pretty shitty story. This fuck off boat sinking and killing 1500 people, went for nothing compared to some posh bird dancing the Irish gig below deck with the ‘poor folk.’ How fucking patronising was that? Ask James Cameron if he’s like to swap his massive bank account for a hoe down in trailer park with a number of yokel teabaggers drinking moonshine made out of sheep shit guaranteed to rot the lining of your stomach. I’m pretty certain I know which he’d go for.
Mark of Cain wasn’t in the same money league, but it was a better story.
The pre-pre-production phase all seemed to come together. The producer and his team came to London and plans were made about how we would progress. A director was on board, originally I wanted to direct, but the producer wanted to use his own man and I wasn’t going to lose making the movie out of my desire to do the hard work. We were invited to the producer’s lavish wedding in LA, which we attended. Then there was a recce on the Isle of Mann, they were doing great tax breaks for movie makers and it could easily double as Ireland. A British casting director was on board, for me one of the best, if not the best, for this type of movie and various actors were being attached. Then just before anyone was signed with a pay or play contract, a couple of the actors had second thoughts and went to do more financially lucrative roles on bigger movies, one of the major locations fell through and suddenly it was like being back to square one. Without anybody really saying anything, the whole project just faded away. It was like a thaw that happens overnight – you didn’t see it coming. And that was the end of that. The script languishes on the never done but nearly pile.
Now I have another movie. The odd few who are old enough may remember Adam Adamant Lives!, a 60s cult TV series about a man who is put into some sort of coma in the Edwardian era and revived in the mid 1960s. In my teens I loved the show. Watching it now it really creaks, both plot and production, but the central idea still remains good. I licenced the rights for the show a few years ago and having been side-tracked a couple of times into producing scripts for TV, I have now done what I always intended which was to write it as a movie. The tag line is A Super Hero without Super Powers.
What always attracted me about the idea was someone returning for another era and seeing how the world had changed. They couldn’t do super human things, they just had to adapt to survive. In my version Adam Adamant is from the Victorian era and he returns to now. The script has been seen and read by various companies, all giving positive comments, but no one actually biting.
So if there’s anyone out there that fancies becoming a film producer, we’re only looking for around 15 million – these day cheap for a movie. And who knows in the sequel, our hero might even take on and defeat a deadly virus.
What’s fascinating to me about the whole TV, film, theatre world is the next step you take always seems to be more difficult than the last. Whether it’s getting a first foot on the ladder or getting a foot on the extension of that ladder, it’s never easy, in fact it’s always fucking hard!
In previous blogs I explained how I originally became a writer – it was simply because I always wanted to write and when those rejections came, I just didn’t give up, I wrote again and again and again. And that’s exactly the same now – I’ll keep trying to make that movie until I no longer can. The really stupid thing is that I know it didn’t have to be like this. I could have just settled down into one of the many TV shows I’ve worked on and kept my head down and earned the money. My problem is I always want to do something I haven’t done. Hence I wrote a book … well now two books, the second should be out shortly, and I’ve started writing a third. I want a best seller, so I’ll keep on writing. And making a movie is up there on the must-do-list. I suppose in the end if it is about some killer virus, then so be it. And what if it wasn’t just a virus, it was a man-made virus, in fact a form of germ warfare. I’m getting to like the sound of this.