Thursday, 25 November 2010

My interview with

In case anyone missed it first time around, and because I don't want to repeat myself, here is the interview I did with the Chalet Girl blogger that covers a lot of the usual script-to-screen territory.
The beginning…..
Q1. | What gave you the idea for the script Chalet Girl?
I was developing a load of ideas with a producer called Dan Shepherd back in 2004.  Dan used to be at Working Title, where I had also worked as a script reader, and we shared their commercial sensibility, and desire to make British romantic comedies that could travel internationally.  Working Title are great at taking ‘worlds’ and turning them into fun movies (like weddings, or Notting Hill, or Wimbledon, or even Christmas time in LOVE ACTUALLY) and Dan and I, who both loved skiing, realised that the world of the ski resort, and the ski season, hadn’t been done before.  It immediately felt like an attractive world to spend some time in, and one around which we could develop a fun story.  The ‘chalet girl’ concept is particularly British (something that we are going to have to address when we try and sell the film abroad) but we both loved this idea – a non-skiing girl from London who ends up in a posh chalet in the Alps – and this title straight away.  Brits abroad, with some snow and sport and schnapps.  What’s not to love?
I worked up a treatment (five drafts), which ended up actually remarkably similar to the final script structure, but Dan couldn’t raise the money to commission me to write a screenplay (neither of us had a track record to speak of).  So the project rather went to sleep for a few years and we went our separate ways.
Q2. | How did you attach your script to a producer?
I was at the first Cheltenham Screenwriters’ Festival in 2006, where I was one of the winners of a pitching competition they held (with a different project).  So I won tickets to the next two days of the festival.  At one of those seminars I found myself sitting next to a young producer called Harriet Rees, who had produced a few shorts for Screen South and was looking for features.  I pitched her about forty three ideas and Harriet, who had been a chalet girl herself back in the day, responded to this one.  So she optioned the old treatment and we developed it.
I’m looking through my notes now and can see that we worked on the treatment on its own for almost a year, throughout 2007 and through another five or six drafts, while Harriet was trying to raise money to commission a script.  She eventually got some interest from various places – she had been accepted onto a Screen South mentoring scheme with the project– and I started to write the script.
I delivered the first draft on Christmas Eve 2007.  Between then and May 2010 when the script finished shooting I wrote 123 different versions of the script.  That’s not to say each one is completely new, but we went back over it a lot.  A whole heap of lot.  And even after shooting had finished there was extra dialogue and fiddling around to do.  So it was about a three year intensive script development process for me and Harriet.
Pre – Production….
Q3. | What was it like when you first met the team?
The next big step was when Pippa Cross came on board, Harriet and Pippa had joined forces to get chalet girl made together.  She was Harriet’s mentor on the Screen South scheme and she beasted me and Harriet on the script for quite a while.  Pippa has an immense track record in all sorts of movies (from JACK AND SARAH to HEARTLESS and almost everything in between) so we both respected her opinions, and she kept on pushing us to make it both funnier and more dramatic and character-driven.  She wasn’t a huge fan of the project at the start but through 2008 we wore her down (overwhelmed her with drafts, probably) so in the end she found something she could respond to and joined Harriet as co-producer.  This was a great endorsement for us both and also meant that we could start seriously thinking about when, where and how we were going to make it.
Q4. | Did the script change at all when you met Phil (Director)?
I’ve known Phil for ages.  He was the year above me at Newcastle University and we bonded over ropey productions of The Tempest and pretentious student films.  We had kept in touch over the intervening years and I hooked up with Phil and his family in LA when I was out there in 2007 (we watched the rugby World Cup final together, I remember – a disappointing result for England).  Phil had just finished shooting ALL ABOUT STEVE and was doing loads of TV stuff, so when Harriet went out to LA herself in the spring of 2008 she met up with Phil and, when the script was ready, she sent it to him.  Phil loved it straight away and, with him and Pippa on board, the core team was in place.
There was an outside chance that we were going to make the script in early 2009, but we couldn’t get the cast right and, to be honest, the script wasn’t ready then.  When this moment passed it gave us an extra six months to re-open the script and perform a bit of coronary repair work.  Phil led that process, which involved lots of small but very significant shifts to character and structure, and the script emerged leaner and meaner and funnier at the end of it.
Q5. | Was there a point when you felt that you now had to let go of your creation?
I’ve never been too precious or protective about the script, and great ideas have come from all over the place.  Phil has contributed as much to the script as anybody and he, like Pippa, kept on pushing me to make what I had better and better.  A lot of the later drafts were informed by Phil pushing me for absolute clarity of intent in every scene and sequence, and to that extent he really became the final creative voice behind the story, even before filming began.  When it became clear that we stood a really good chance of making it in spring 2010, and Phil came over from LA and started casting and scouting locations in Austria and Germany, I knew I had to step back and let him run with it.
But Phil has been incredibly generous in keeping me as ‘the writer’ throughout.  Some directors would get their pointy elbows out and take possession of the script, sometimes even sharing or claiming sole writing credit.  There was none of that here.  Particularly in the latter stages, when production and budget logistics meant we had to lose or compress scenes, or change locations, or combine characters, Phil would always brief me and then let me go away and pitch him some ideas about how this could work.  Having worked in US TV a lot, Phil creates a very healthy creative atmosphere, where everybody has a say and the best ideas go into the script.  I learned so much from him and from this process and the shooting script – and the final film – is a genuinely collaborative piece of work.
The Characters….
Q6. | Was the character of Kim Matthews based on anyone?
No, but she is the kind of character that we all love to see in movies.  She is talented and funny, but she has taken some knocks in her life and this story shows her getting back on her feet and fulfilling her potential.  We decided early on that snowboarding was way cooler than skiing (I could tell because I prefer skiing to snowboarding, and am in no way cool), but we also realised that we needed an explanation for why Kim could suddenly become this awesome boarder who might compete in a huge competition three months after stepping on a board.  So we came up with this notion that she had been a champion skateboarder when she was younger, but that this family tragedy had forced her to give it up – for practical and also for emotional reasons.  So when she steps on a snowboard, it’s like she is coming home.
Q7. | Which character was the most fun to create?
Honestly, the whole journey has been about trying to get Kim right, and so in that sense the way her character has evolved and deepened has been the most challenging and satisfying and (therefore) fun part of the process.  Literally in every one of the 123 drafts I found a new little piece of her, a new line that reflected some part of her personality, a new piece of her relationship with her dad and so on.  Lots of that never made it into the film, or was discarded along the way, but it all helped to make her someone who is, I hope, interesting and sympathetic and real.  One of the biggest problems was to make sure that her sarcasm (on which she relies a lot, partly as a defence mechanism) was endearing and funny rather than chippy or catty.  It’s something we got close to in the script, and obviously casting the endearing and funny Felicity Jones helped massively too.
Q8. | When you met the cast who were to play the characters what was your initial reaction?
I remember Phil calling me up after he had cast Felicity and I’ve never heard anyone so excited.  I had to look up Felicity’s credits on imdb and saw that she had been in the recent Brideshead Revisited, which I had just seen.  I remembered being struck by the small part that she had in that film at the time (those lips!) but I couldn’t match that character to Kim at all.  Then Phil sent me her audition tape and I thought ‘oh, right, I get it.’  I can’t say enough about how fabulous she is in the film, and how good she makes the script look, and I always end up getting a bit embarrassing and gushing, so I’ll just say that she is fantastic and we’re really lucky to have had her.
Tamsin was a name on everyone’s lips from Georgie right from the start and she totally nailed every single one of her comic beats, as well as providing an important bit of friction with Felicity’s character at the start (posh girl vs chav).  I met some of the other actors when I visited the set, like Georgia King and Ken Duken, and it was so exciting to see them all having such a great time and bringing so much to each role.
Another benefit from going through this whole process was that I basically did a fresh pass over the script for almost every single character, as and when the actors were brought on board.  Each new actor would have notes for their character, which I would try to incorporate into the script (Bill Nighy’s was ‘could I have three more jokes please?’).  It’s really instructive to go through a script from every character’s point of view and check that their own journeys are functioning, independent of the hero or heroine’s.  Because, at the end of the day, an actor is going to have to play that role and find a real person within it.  So we tried to give even the smallest parts something to play with.
Q9. | If you were a girl would you fancy Jonny (Ed Westwick)?
Forget being a girl, I totally fancy him.  And I know my wife does.  She’s 35 and addicted to Gossip Girl, poor thing.  When I told her that Ed had agreed to play Jonny (which, incidentally, was a huge moment in the whole financing equation of the movie) she practically wet herself.  And then she told her five best mates, all of whom also wet themselves.  It got quite messy.
He’s the big name in the film for that important teenage movie-going audience and it is great to see him play someone different from Chuck Bass.  He’s got an English accent, a slightly more sober wardrobe and less product in his hair.  He’s also quite a nice guy in our story (most of the time).  Ed was really conscientious about interrogating the script, working through it to make sure that Jonny wasn’t just a bit of fluff, helping me to bring out his own journey of self-discovery.
Q10. | Do you think that Felicity (Kim) & Ed (Jonny) capture the chemistry that you wrote in the script?
Totally.  When they’re on screen together nothing else matters.  It’s well shot and lit of course, and some of the music Phil has laid over it is beautiful, but they are just a great looking couple and you totally get that they fancy each other.
One thing I noticed, watching the film again recently, is how much Felicity (brown hair, blue eyes, not unattractive) looks like Brooke Shields (brown hair, blue eyes, not unattractive) who plays Jonny’s mum, Caroline.  So maybe there’s a whole Oedipal thing going on there.  Which, clearly, I cannot take credit for.  And don’t worry, it’s not gross or anything.
(Incidentally, Brooke Shields, oh my God, I can’t believe she is in a film I wrote.  Don’t even get me started on the Blue Lagoon.  “Richard, what are you doing?” etc.  And, again, what a pro.  She always resisted the idea that Caroline is a characterless, stuck-up bitch and gave an extra level of complexity to her, both in the script and in the performance, that would have been so easy to overlook.  Gush, gush.)
The Story…..
Q11. | What was your inspiration for the films back drop of the Ski Season?
Like I said, it’s just a world that we haven’t really seen before on screen.  I grew up in Germany, where my dad was in the army, and have been skiing in the Alps all my life.  I adore the mountains and I adore the sport and just knew that it would work as the setting for a romantic comedy.
There is a lot of money out there, but also the sports (whether it’s skiing or snowboarding or all the other activities you can do in the mountains) are all pretty cheap and inclusive these days.  So it felt like a good place to set a clash of worlds, where we could do a bit of a British social examination thing but in a not-depressing way.  Kim goes out there because it’s a job and she needs the money, then she discovers snowboarding and she is tempted by that, then this thing with Jonny kicks off and she is tempted by that too.  So there is a lot going on, Kim is pulled in a few different directions and the decisions she makes help to define herself.
I should also say that the chalet girl life that we’re showing here isn’t the traditional chalet girl (sorry, chalet ‘host’) experience that most people will be familiar with.  Kim and Georgie are private staff in a big chalet owned by a wealthy family.  So in that respects they are lucky – Georgie tells Kim they’ve got ‘the best job in the Alps’.  There is loads of fun to be had with the more package-holiday side of chalet girling (hosting), but we’re planning on saving that for the sequel.
Being on Location…. Production
Q12. | Did you get to go on location?
I did.  Inconveniently my wife was about to have our second baby (Bertie – look for the name-check in the film) and so I had to stay in the UK until the little lad was born.  But I managed to get out to Garmisch for a few days and also visited the London set for a day at the beginning of May.  Out in Bavaria, Harriet and I had a couple of strange ‘pinch me’ moments, where maybe a hundred people – amazing, talented cast and crew from all over Europe – had dragged themselves up a mountain at dawn and were now filming scenes that we had dreamed up in Harriet’s kitchen in Surrey three years before.  Strange, but very wonderful.
Q13. | I hear you got to be in the film… what was that like?
It was fun, but unfortunately I look like a total prick whenever I am on screen.  I feature three times in the final cut (my one appearance in Chicken Cottage was ruthlessly edited out) and on each occasion I’m being a bit of an arsehole.  I appear in one of the bar scenes, with the director Phil, trying to chat up Tara Dakides and two of her boarding mates.  I’m over-acting horrendously and it’s very difficult to watch.  Then I’m in a mountain bar (with Harriet and your very good self, Kitty) wearing a silly hat and, again, looking like a bit of a tool.  And finally I’m actually skiing in one shot, where I nearly collide with Westwick before wiping out off camera.  Not my finest hours.  Annoying, actually, because I’m not actually a terrible actor, or skier.  Just stage fright I suppose.  I’ll stick to hiding behind the laptop in future.
Q14. | What was the atmosphere like on set?
I’m gutted that I had to vicariously experience most of the on-set atmosphere through your blog, Kitty!  I missed the whole of St Anton and lots of Bavaria (all those nights down at Peaches) but what I saw when I went out there was great.  I think everyone got a buzz out of the fact that they were shooting a film with a positive message in incredible locations.  So many people were putting their heart and soul into this film as well – for lots of us it was a really big break and everyone wanted to make it the best it could possibly be.  There was no sense of it being ‘just another gig’.  Everyone went above and beyond to try to make the most of this fantastic opportunity.
As to the rest of the on-set atmosphere, I think I’ll leave the saucy revelations up to you.  A great way to blackmail some of the cast into doing extra promotion for the movie…?
Q15. | Did you get to work with the actors as they shot any of there scenes when you where there?
I was in touch with the actors via Phil through the whole shoot.  Almost every day there was some tweaking to be done, if somebody wasn’t happy with a scene or if something had to change because of logistics.  The script kept evolving, just as the film kept evolving, and I like to think we were able to answer most of the actors’ questions as we went along.
Post Production
Q16. | Are you still involved throughout the editing process?
I was, but it’s all over now.  Howl.  Yes, if anything the last five months, since we wrapped in May, has been as hard core as the shoot itself.  I’ve been working on other stuff but every couple of weeks I’ve been invited up to see a cut and then, in the collaborative way that we’ve had since the start, we’ve all sat down and given our feedback.  Phil has been, as ever, incredibly receptive and open-minded about all of this, and it can be quite a painful process at times.  A few beloved lines – even some scenes – have had to go, and we had to do some nimble footwork in re-positioning a couple of scenes because they work better in their new locations.  There was a fair amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording) to do, to fill in some incidental details or to provide a gag that we thought of too late.  And a new opening sequence was shot in the summer to tell us more information about Kim’s skateboarding past.  But now all that is complete, the picture has been made to look pretty and the sound and music has all been mixed.  So it’s done.  Onto the next one.
Final few….
Q17. | How long did it take from the idea to the film being made, and is that normal?
From the timeline above, it’s been over six years since I came up with the idea and almost four years since I met Harriet.  Put it this way – I’ve got married, moved house and had two children in the time I’ve been working on Chalet Girl.  But, yes, I think that is normal.  In fact, it’s abnormal because the film actually got made at the end.  Which in my experience is not normal.
Q18. | Do you have any plans for a sequel?
Oh yes.  Big plans.  But we will have to wait and see if people like this one first.
Q19. | And final if you could sum up the film in 3 words what would they be?
A Snowmantic Comedy!

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