I’m going to take some time on this blog, in the run up to the debut of Waiting for Brando, to talk briefly about some aspects of the creation of the play, hopefully without giving away to much about the play itself. I have to admit that I’m new to the idea of blogging my own thoughts and experiences; it’s relatively easy to write copy for, for example, the Writing on the Wall website, as it is the same as writing the play – you are mostly anonymous, able to hide behind the characters. But this, even though I have no plans to spill any beans, etc. feels a little raw. I’ve been involved in various bits of writing in the past. I was one of the team that wrote Dockers (Channel 4, 2000), a fabulous experience of working within a larger team of people (inc. 8 Dockers, 4 Women of the Waterfront) and of course, working with Jimmy McGovern was like having a year-long master-class. Some of that fed into WoW projects, film-making with young people, etc. I did Masters in creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University, the result of which, some years later (ahem), was a novel (sadly not published, as yet). I was also co-director and co-producer of the documentary, Liverpool’s Cunard Yanks (Granada, 2008), for which I contributed to writing the narration, etc. I’d written a couple of short scripts some short stories, and even came runner up in a competition for The Guardian by writing the opening paragraph of a fictional novel (fictional in the sense that they simply gave a title for you to work from). So working on the play with Steve was a completely new experience, and an extremely positive one.
I’ve known Steve for some time, as a friend, and we worked together on Cunard Yanks – Steve inspired the film as his Uncle was a Merchant Seaman in the 1950’s, who Steve remembered as having always been sharply dressed, etc. Anyway, I bumped into Steve at The Picket towards the end of the 2009 WoW festival, and we began talking about ideas and projects. Steve was having a bit of a torrid time with another idea he was trying to get off the ground. In short, the guy he was working with had lost a certain sense of proportion, and this idea had become a full-on film, lights, camera, action, etc., of Hollywood proportions. It was never going to happen. John Graham-Davies had just held the premiere of his superb play, Beating Berlusconi, at the festival. I remembered a few years before John telling me the story the play is based on. He said, ‘I’m going to write that play’, or words to the effect, and there it was, written, produced and up there on stage (and still touring with Paul Duckworth and still highly recommended).
I felt Steve had one of two choices. If he wanted his project to become a film, then don’t write anything except the treatment (others will no doubt have a different view on this). Write the best treatment you can and then get on the stump and start talking to people all the time – people in film who can help develop it or, most importantly, fund it. But when you take this route, accept that you will not have full control; everyone who comes in will want a piece of it, their name on it in some way or other. Also, accept that, as someone with no real experience in the film world, and not being part of the middle-class crowd who tend to run these things, particularly funding bodies, that you have virtually no chance of getting funded, because they don’t know you and you ain’t getting the chance because they know plenty of others. We had that experience with Cunard Yanks. We had a two pronged approach, which unfortunately meant we fell between two stools and weren’t overly successful in either. We talked to so many people, with a very strong idea, one which even led to the makers of ‘Nowhere Boy’ to include a reference to Cunard Yanks in the final film. But could we get any real funding? Nope. No doubt we made mistakes, but like most organisations, film is a conservative industry – everyone is always looking for the latest fashion, etc. and there are very few risk-takers where money is concerned.
The second choice was simple: write it yourself. Write it in whichever format suits you best and write it exactly the way you want it. Get it down as you see it, and work and work, and work again, until you’re convinced it is the best you can possibly make it (there is far too much rubbish churned out and you don’t want to be adding to it). Do this to keep control of your vision. When you have your final draft you then have a world full of choices, the most important being, if no-one else supports you, you can then make it yourself in the way John-Graham Davies has done.
So Steve mentioned he had this idea, and this title, ‘Waiting for Brando’, and I got interested…but I’ll tell you about that in another post.