Friday, 26 November 2010

Barking up the right tree?

In my second blog entry I want to call out to the ‘sphere for some advice.  I know the point of the whole blog thing is that the advice is meant to go in other direction, but I’m in a genuine pickle at the moment and looking for some professional guidance.

We’ve all been in this situation.  You have a great idea.  You noodle around with it, maybe write a treatment.  Maybe even write a script.  Then you go to the Odeon on Friday night and you realise the movie you’re watching is exactly the same as the one you’ve been working on.  Shit.  Right idea, wrong time.  Or it was the right idea at the right time, and you just didn’t do anything about it.

I have a document with about a dozen ideas that I’ve had, completely on my own, that have later come to light in other forms.  I clearly remember driving up to London and hearing the story of Darwin and his relationship with his devoutly religious wife on an ‘In Our Time’ and thinking – absolutely, that’s a movie.  I rushed home, did some research and... ten minutes later saw that CREATION was coming out in two weeks.  Hey ho.  Still, barking up the right tree, I figured.  (And, incidentally, my version would have been way better, and without the silly prosthetic bald head.)

So here’s this story.  This time last year I hit upon quite a fruity idea for a romantic comedy, a revisionist take on Romeo and Juliet that allows us to see these familiar characters and scenes in a new light.  I developed it with my friend and occasional writing partner Donald Rice and this is the pitch we came up with:

Romeo and Juliet is the defining love story of Western literature.  The most performed of Shakespeare’s plays, it tells of the doomed romance between two young lovers who struggle to find happiness in the face of opposition from their feuding families, and a malign fate which seems determined to keep them apart.

But there is a strange detail about the play that can be overlooked.  When the play opens, Romeo is in love with another woman, Rosaline.  He is completely smitten, spending hours wandering alone in a sycamore grove, his ‘tears augmenting the fresh morning dew’ and so on.  Romeo goes to the Capulet party in order to see Rosaline, not Juliet.  But when he claps eyes on the winsome daughter of Capulet, Romeo’s eyes light up – ‘I never saw true beauty till this night’ – and off they go, to love, death and romance immortality.

The character of Rosaline is mentioned ten times in Shakespeare’s play.  She is Capulet’s niece (therefore a cousin of Juliet) and Mercutio describes her as having ‘bright eyes, a ‘high forehead’ and a ‘scarlet lip’.  But she has no lines and is never seen on stage.  She is last referred to half way through act two.

ROMEO AND ROSALINE asks what might happen if Rosaline, instead of withdrawing meekly into the wings, were to set out to win back her man.

As Rosaline’s efforts to derail the World’s Greatest Love Story escalate from the mischievous to the downright Machiavellian, events begin to escape her control.  Soon people are dying, and Romeo and Juliet are rushing headlong towards their meeting with destiny’s dark night.  Can Rosaline come to her senses in time, undo what she has done and save the lives of these two young lovers?

Find out what really happens in Romeo and Juliet, in this ‘noises off’, behind-the-scenes comedy complete with poisons and potions, mishaps and misunderstandings, codpieces and cock-ups.  Find out how the story really ends, and also maybe a thing or two you never knew about true love. 

This is MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING meets SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, a new twist on and old story and an original way to bring this classic material to a whole new audience.

Quite good fun, don’t you think?  Well, we thought so.  We pitched it around London and got lots of positive feedback (‘but would need to see a script’).  We did get an offer from one producer, who was going to commission us to write a screenplay based on this idea, but we couldn’t agree terms so decided to write it on spec.

About two weeks ago, a healthily developed second draft was ready to be sent out to friends and confidants for their feedback.  And the first person I sent it to pointed me to this link - - which had appeared on deadline that very day.

Fox 2000 has completed its second book purchase in the last two days, acquiring Rebecca Serle's debut novel Rosaline for Shawn Levy to produce under his 21 Laps banner. (500) Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber will adapt the novel, which provides a new way into the classic story ofRomeo and Juliet.  This is a contemporary version set in a high school, and the famed love story is told from the vantage point of Rosaline, the jilted ex-girlfriend of Romeo.

Exactly the same idea, only based on a book, and set in contemporary times (ours is in classic Elizabethan period).  Not only that, two days later came this -

Karen Gillan, co-star of BBC TV’s sci-fi show, is to play a spiky New Jersey high school teenager who finds herself trapped Alice In Wonderland-style in Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet. Gillan wakes up in mythical 13th century Verona with all the people she knows from her high school life playing characters in the play. And she wants to get out because she knows how the play ends. 

Jesus Christ.  So now there are two similar projects that have hit the ‘deadline’ radar, within three days of us finishing our draft.  What is going on here?  There’s zeitgeist and then there’s uncanny.  For one thing, it takes the wind out of your sails when you hear that your brilliantly original idea isn’t quite so original after all.  Is there really no such thing as a new idea?

We have a great script that is getting a strong response from people who are reading it.  But what do we do?  Shelve it?  Send it out now and try to muscle our way to the top of the pile?  Not worry about it and just continue doing our thing?

Your thoughts, please.

1 comment:

  1. Love the blogging Tom. Keep it up.

    Just wanted to quickly come back on the zeitgeist question. When I started out as a documentary film maker I specialised in rare stories. Mostly rare because they were I places people didn’t want to go like the tiny island of Bougainville which was blockaded by Papa New Guinea gun ships at the time. Competition didn’t exist until I found out tat a C4 commissioning editor I had pitched it to had (apparently) forgotten that I told him about the story and (somehow) thought he had heard it somewhere else (although couldn’t say where) and asked his best friend (who owned one of the biggest doc production companies in the UK) to look into it.

    After some stern letter writing and legal advice I came to believe that I had to hold my ideas extremely close to my chest and make a detailed record of everywhere an idea went with evidence to support that log. Inevitably perhaps I had quite a few rows over the years with broadcasters who I thought had pinched my ideas and were less than honourable.

    After a few years I became a commissioning editor at C4 myself. And I was astonished to see that almost invariably in the same week (if not he exact same post bag) the same idea would come in from company after company. And every time I told them that they were not the only one with the idea I was met with the same disbelief I had myself felt. As you said in the blog, listening to radio 4 (was it?), an idea is born. But how many of us heard that show, read that Sunday feature, then mentioned it to someone else who was reminded about another story they heard recently and the two are connected and Bob’s your uncle. Come Monday there’s anywhere between two and one hundred people writing down the idea and emailing it to C4.

    That’s just a note about the Zeitgeist and the inevitability of multiple projects along similar ideas. I had it recently when I got an A-list writer to agree to write a film based on a real person who lived a long time ago and I thought no-one had spotted. I had researched the guy over the last year and never found any mention of a film about him. He was in the background of a contemporary play but nothing else and I had been on Amazon and read every book that even mentioned him in passing.

    But as soon as I started sharing my great news about getting such an esteemed and talented writer on board to other producers, I discovered a script about this guy had been around for several years and had a former A-list director attached.

    But their film will not be the same as mine, if they make it. We have a great and unique take on the story. And I am not about to give up and wait to see if someone else’s project materialises, or doesn’t. So my penny’s worth is one of encouragement. I’d love to see Rosaline’s story on the screen and you and Donald are the right team to do it. Other projects being on the market might make it harder for you to get development funding, or the opposite may be the case, but I hope it doesn’t put you off. Most films that get announced never get made anyway. You might beat them all to it. Get writing.