Tag Archives: scriptwriter

New movie “Almost Married” directed by a man who almost had only one eye

Philip McGinley and Emily Atack in Almost Married

Philip McGinley and Emily Atack star in Almost Married

Last night I went to the May Fair Hotel in London for the premiere of Almost Married, a movie starring Philip McGinley (Game of Thrones) and Emily Atack (The Inbetweeners and Dancing On Ice). It starts a limited cinema release – and has a simultaneous digital release – tomorrow.

Before last night’s premiere, I asked writer/director Ben Cookson: “What’s it about?”

“It’s about,” he said, “a guy who comes back from a stag weekend with a sexually transmitted disease.”

“So it’s a comedy?” I asked.

“It was… err…” said Ben, “It became a comedy. It had to be.”

“Autobiographical?’ I asked.

“Biographical. Not necessarily my own. The stories I’ve heard: it’s not an isolated case.”

“How much did it cost?” I asked.

“I think the official line is $1 million. We lost some regional funding so then it was a case either looking for another region to back us or just do it on a tighter schedule.”

Almost Married was originally scheduled for a four week shoot but, because of the last-minute partial loss of funding, it was shot in 18 days (three 6-day weeks).

(From left) Philip McGinley, Ben Cookson, Emily Atack, Mark Stobbart on stage before last night’s Almost Married premiere

(From left) Philip McGinley, Ben Cookson, Emily Atack, Mark Stobbart on stage before last night’s Almost Married premiere

“Within the first three or four days,” Ben told me, “we realised we needed to use a 2-camera set-up otherwise we weren’t going to get it done.”

Ben graduated from Bournemouth University with a First Class Honours in Scriptwriting after winning the Alan Plater Award for Best Screenplay.

Almost Married got off the ground when he met producer Lionel Hicks in a toilet at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Some stories are best left dangling – leaving the reader wanting to know more.

“I never really had any ambitions to direct,” Ben told me. “I just wanted to write stories.”

Like many another writer-director, he directs to get the script closer to his vision.

“We shot a 15-minute teaser in 2011 to help raise money,” he told me yesterday, “and then we shot the film independently in March 2012 with no distributor or sales agent in place. That’s about as independent as you can get. And then, when you get a sales agent or distributor, they’re going to want to make changes, which is why it took a lengthy time to get here.

“In the edit, the original cut was just under two hours which they liked but which for a comedy – which is how it’s being packaged and sold – is too long. They wanted it nearer 90 minutes, which I understand. Shortening it was a difficult process. We went from two hours to 90 minutes and then I fought to get it up to 97 minutes.”

The new film directed by Ben Cookson

The latest film directed by Ben Cookson

“I went to AFM (the American Film Market in Los Angeles) for the first time in November last year and managed to get a manager off the back of it. We got on and he really likes the idea of my next project.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“It’s a romantic thriller set in Paris about a fashion photographer who’s left with severe double vision after a mugging. It’s about his relationship with a young woman he meets in hospital.”

“And the relevance of the double vision is…?” I asked.

“Well,” said Ben, “it completely debilitates his career and… Well, I had double vision myself. I’ve still got it to an extent. If I play pool or snooker, I have to play with one eye closed, because it goes double vision at the top and the bottom.”

“How did that happen?” I asked.

“It was originally from a trauma,” explained Ben. “I got got hit in the eye with a pool cue… My eye and cheekbone were affected for about ten days… The socket of my eye was replaced by polythene and a few screws. When the doctors correct it, your brain has to learn to put the two images from your two eyes back together again and it’s pretty debilitating but it also drives you pretty insane. It’s 24/7. You can’t do anything. You can’t read; you can’t write. If you make a cup of tea, you’re pouring it all over the table because you see two cups.”

“Will there be humour in this movie?” I asked.

Ben Cookson

Ben at the Almost Married premiere

“It’s pretty dark,” replied Ben. “It’s more… How are we billing it?… It’s Blow Up meets Black Swan or maybe more Blow Up meets Leaving Las Vegas.

“I want to try and get the double vision across visually. Tinnitus of the eyes is the best way of describing it. I’m talking to DoPs (directors of photography) about ways of doing it in-camera. When you see double vision in films, it’s usually done in post production: it’s just two images and that’s not representative of what it is actually like to have double vision – because everything moves on a bit of an axis. Everything’s all out of kilter.”

“So it’s not,” I asked, “like me watching a 3D movie without wearing 3D glasses?”

“Not quite the same,” said Ben, “but it is as nauseating.”

“How long did your double vision last?” I asked.

“For six months at least. It’s really hard to measure, because it’s so gradual when it improves. You wake up every day thinking Oh, it’s just the same, but it’s actually incrementally getting slightly better. For six months, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work or do anything.”

“You must have had trouble just walking down steps,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Ben, “it’s like being paralytically drunk but without the enjoyment. And all the time. And you can’t drink either, because what’s the point?”

“You must have thought when it happened: I can never be a film director.”

“I dunno what I thought. Christ! You think Worst case scenario is, if it stays as bad as it is, I’ll have to get rid of one eye. It would be better to be blind in one eye and function. But I didn’t have to do that.”

There is a trailer for Almost Married on YouTube.

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When people ask that British breaking-the-ice question: “What do you do?”

On Wednesday night, BBC2 will screen the first in a new series of that extraordinary TV comedy Rab C Nesbitt, written and created by Ian Pattison.

Last week, I asked Ian if there was something he would rather do instead of another series of Rab C Nesbitt.

“Instead of?” he replied. “Why not ‘in addition to?’ I’ve now finished writing my fourth novel and have written a screenplay based on my third. My novels, of course, don’t sell. I advised the publisher of my last book to put Ian Rankin’s name on the jacket on the basis that IR would never notice my sidled addition to his oeuvre as his stuff takes up all the shelves in Waterstone’s and most of the cafeteria.”

I suspect most fans who watch Rab C Nesbitt do not think of Ian primarily as a novelist. And most people who admire his novels do not think of him primarily as a TV comedy scriptwriter.

Pretty much throughout my life, Whenever people ask that first perennial British breaking-the-ice question, “What do you do?” I have immediately got into trouble, because I have never really known the correct answer.

Sometimes I say, “I have bummed around a lot,” which is probably closer to the truth than anything.

I suspect as a percentage, more than anything, I have probably sat in darkened rooms editing trailers and marketing/sales tapes. But, when I have said that, people have thought I was/am a videotape editor, which I never have been – too technical for me – I was called writer or producer or director or whatever the union or company felt like at the time – or whatever I wanted to make up for a nameless job – and, once you get into mentioning “I do on-air promotions”, you open a whole can of befuddled misunderstanding.

“Do people do that?” is a common response.

So, over the years, different people have thought I do different things, real or imagined, depending on what I happened to have been doing – or what they thought I was doing – at the exact moment I first met them.

TV research is one. Editor of books is another. Manager of comedians is one that always amuses me.

This sprang to mind on Friday, when I saw comedian Owen O’Neill ‘storm the room’ as the saying goes at the always excellent monthly Pull The Other One in Peckham.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy, I suspect, see him as “just” a stand-up comic which, of course, is far from the truth. If they know a bit about comedy, they may know he has performed at over 20 Edinburgh Fringes and been nominated for the Perrier Award.

They may know he acted in the high-profile stage productions of Twelve Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Odd Couple.

But I first met Owen off-stage in 2003 when Malcolm Hardee and I were commissioning Sit-Down Comedy for publishers Random House. It was an anthology of writing by comedians – not to be confused with the phrase “comic anthology” because a lot of the short stories are very, very dark (a glimpse, I suspect, of what lurks in many comedians’ minds). The book should have been called Sit-Down Comedians, but publishers’ mis-marketing of their own product knows no bounds.

Owen wrote a story The Basketcase for Sit-Down Comedy: a particularly dark and moving tale. His short film of The Basket Case (which he also directed) won him the award for Best Short Fiction movie at the 2008 Boston Film Festival in the US and Best International Short at the 2010 Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy probably do not know this. Most probably do not know his first feature film as writer Arise and Go Now was directed by Oscar-winning Danny Boyle or that his play Absolution got rave reviews during its off-Broadway run or that he co-wrote the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption currently running in the West End of London.

I suspect if a literate alien arrived from Alpha Centauri and looked at the facts objectively, Owen would be described not as a stand-up comic but as a playwright who also performs comedy (his plays are many and varied).

You get typecast as being one thing in life no matter how much you do.

In the last couple of months, comedian Ricky Grover appeared in BBC TV soap EastEnders; and the movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, which he wrote and directed, was released.

What do you call people like this?

Well, in Ricky’s case, you obviously call him “Mr Grover” and treat him with respect.

He also wrote for Sit-Down Comedy and I know his background too well!

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The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Sex, Television