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The little film taking on Inbetweeners 2 and Mrs Brown without knowing it

Ben Cookson

Ben at 2014 Almost Married premiere

In a blog in March last year, I chatted to writer-director Ben Cookson about his first feature film Almost Married. Now it has been nominated as Best Comedy in the inaugural National Film AwardsPublic voting ends on 12th March and the actual Awards night is 31st March in London.

“It came completely out of the blue,” Ben told me. “I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who said: Congratulations on the nomination. I’ve just voted for you. I said: What nomination? What’s this all about? He sent me the link and I found out Almost Married was among the nominations.”

“How,” I asked, “had you got nominated without knowing about it?

“It’s all done by public voting,” he explained, “and some people – whoever – had seen Almost Married and thought it was worth a shout and nominated it, but it wasn’t my family or mates. if I’d known about the Awards, it would have been, but I didn’t.

“The chances of us winning are almost nil. The films we are up against are pretty much household names – The Inbetweeners 2, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie – I just found out today that The Inbetweeners 2 shifted over a million DVDs.”

“Still,” I said, “Almost Married is doing rather well.”

“Well,” said Ben, “it’s released in North America this summer – June or July – and I’m not sure when it’s released in Latin America – it’s being handled by one of the biggest distributors for that territory; they did The Hunger Games and The Wolf of Wall Street; so it’s got a good home there.

“It’s also being screened at the Byron Bay Film Festival in a couple of weeks. It’s only been in one other festival – the Marbella one.”

Ben (second left) with other winners at the Marbella Film Festival

Ben (second left) with other winners at Marbella Film Festival

Almost Married won the Best Feature Film award at the Marbella International Film Festival last autumn.

“That came out of the blue as well,” Ben told me. “We were asked to submit the film to the Marbella festival.”

“And now Byron Bay,” I said. “You targeted that?”

“Yes. It sounded like a nice place to go.”

“Do you surf?”

“I’ve done a bit, but it doesn’t look like I’m going. I have to stay here. It comes to a tipping point. You can either look back at the old film – Almost Married – or focus on getting the next one made and two weeks in Byron Bay – as amazing as it would be – is going, in reality, to put me back a month on the next project, Blurred. If I weigh it up, I’ve gotta say I’d rather get on with the next one.”

“And that’s very personal,” I said.

“I can relate to it, yeah. It’s a romantic thriller. It’s a hard write.”

“The emotional and psychological balance?” I asked.

“I could say that, but it’s just that any scriptwriting is hard.”

In this blog last year, Ben described Blurred as being “pretty dark… It’s Blow Up meets Black Swan or maybe more Blow Up meets Leaving Las Vegas.”

“I finished another draft the other day,” he told me last week. “It was 136 pages. So there’s a bit of cutting to go yet.”

“You’re assuming one page per minute?” I asked.

“Pretty much. I’d say we’d be looking eventually at around 110 minutes long, because there’s effectively two stories – a romantic thread and a B-story thread.

Almost Married poster

Blurred will be a much darker film than Almost Married

Almost Married was character-driven, dialogue-heavy, with everyday locations. With this next one Blurred – if Blurred IS the next one – then it’s a bit more stylistic due to the nature of the subject matter – It’s set in the fashion world in Paris – a fashion photographer who has severe double vision following a mugging and it’s about his relationship with a young woman he meets in hospital

“I was writing last night. I’ve got into that clichéd work pattern of writing until five in the morning. I try to have better hours but, for the last three or four weeks I’ve been working about 11.00pm to 5.00am, then try to give myself six hours sleep. My father works night shifts, so we’ve been almost on the same sort of pattern.”

“What does he do?” I asked.

“He’s a shift engineer in a pork pie factory.”

“He engineers pork pies?” I asked.

“He’s on the tools. So he maintains the machines.”

“Is that a phrase in the pork pie industry?” I asked. “He’s on the tools.”

“At his age,” said Ben, ignoring the question, “it’s not ideal, because he’s knocking on a bit. He’s 60 now and pork pies plus night shift at 60 years old is not ideal.”

“Where is this?” I asked.

“In Leicester.”

“Not Melton Mowbray?”

“They do make Melton Mowbray pork pies there,” said Ben.

“Do they not,” I asked, “make Melton Mowbray pork pies in Melton Mowbray?”

“Well, Leicester is close enough to qualify.”

“Do they,” I asked, “make Leicester pork pies in Melton Mowbray?”

“I’ll get you a sample, if you like,” said Ben. “We are never short of pork pies at home.”

“I’m a Scotch egg man myself,” I said. “Have you got a date to film the new movie?”

“In all honesty,” Ben replied, “I doubt if we will film it this year. The likelihood is we will have to do a French co-production as it’s set in Paris. We had meetings last year at Cannes. I would hope the creative doc and script would be put together by the end of March.

Ben is working on another film

Ben’s second film might be his third one…

“But I’ve also been working on another project. A couple of producers approached me with a project they’ve been trying to get off the ground. They saw Almost Married and thought I might be the right sort of director, so they asked me to develop a treatment and, at the moment, we have a creative doc with a fairly solid treatment. There is a chance that might be my second film and I would save Blurred for the third.”

“What genre is this other film?” I asked.

“A present-day romantic drama inspired by true events.”

“Does it have a title?”

“The working title is The Drummer and His Wives.”

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British comedy audiences do not now and have never wanted true originality

Lewis Schaffer viewed in a way he might not like

Lewis Schaffer viewed in an unflatterling light

In his blog today, British-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer does a U-turn.

He had previously criticised London’s Comedy Store for putting on “boring shows that set a poor standard for British live comedy”.

Now he says he has changed his mind and been persuaded that, currently, audiences “don’t want interesting” because of the global economic situation and other problems. He says they now don’t want chaos or anarchy, they want something less original.

But, I have to say, this is nothing new. ‘Twas ever thus.

What was the big comedy success on British TV thirty years ago?

Obviously, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.


It was Terry and June, the comfortable sofa-based sitcom much-derided by comedy cognoscenti then and now for being dull and unoriginal.

OK, there was also Fawlty Towers but – in pure format terms – Fawlty Towers is unoriginal. It is basically three OTT comedy stereotypes in a single location doing often slapstick comedy.

Monty Python was truly original and played around with the television medium. And Middle England did not watch it on its original transmissions.

I remember Monty Python’s original transmissions. They were shoved all over the place in the schedule. People did not watch in vast droves and it did not appeal to the core mainstream audience.

However, in the 1990s, Reeves & Mortimer did manage to combine originality with vast audience success… didn’t they?

No they did not.

They were a Channel 4 and BBC2 act. When the BBC foolishly attempted to put them in their own show on BBC1 at peaktime on a Saturday night, it was an unmitigated ratings disaster.

What have the big TV comedy successes of the past few years been?

My Family. Very cosy. Vastly popular. Much derided by comedy critics and the comedy industry.

Now we have Mrs Brown’s Boys. Again, disliked by circuit comedians, possibly through jealousy.

And then there is Miranda… indeed, anything with Miranda Hart in it.

We are not talking cutting edge (or even necessarily funny) here.

Who are the biggest stand-ups in the UK?

Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay.

Personally, I admire Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay’s technique, but I would not pay to see them.

Comedy Store audiences would.

Because – a vast generalisation – the larger the audience appeal the less original and less ground-breaking the performance.

Originality does not equate with success in the same way that success does not necessarily equate with talent.

I have heard it said that Lewis Schaffer is a “comedian’s comedian” – other comedians will stand at the back of his audience with mouths open just to see what happens.

He could be a major mainstream TV presenter of factual documentaries. Lewis Schaffer. He is basically Bill Bryson with attitude.

He could even, perhaps, be successful performing at the Comedy Store in London.

But we will probably never know.

To quote the great American comedian Donald Rumsfeld:

There are known knowns.

There are known unknowns.

And there are unknown unknowns.

Lewis Schaffer, oddly, fits into all of those categories.

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