Monday, 20 December 2010

Anatomy of a trailer

If I haven’t already bored you with this information, the official UK trailer for CHALET GIRL has just gone online.

I’m totally chuffed about it for loads of reasons, but principally because:

-          That Paramount logo at the start gives me goose-bumps

-          Momentum Pictures were very accommodating in letting the film’s creative team have input on its development – there were about a dozen cuts of this one trailer – and we’re all happy that it reflects the spirit and tone of the film faithfully (which I guess is important)

-          It’s got a creative idea of its own (the postcard) which makes it a bit more original than the usual ‘Meet Kim...’ version that we could have offered up

-          I’m also pretty excited about all the good stuff that they couldn’t fit in the trailer – so hopefully this won’t be one of those movies where all five gags are given away before the audience has actually started watching it

-          It’s beginning to become real – the Westwick fansites are already going loopy for the new footage – who cares if it’s any good, as long as Chuck Bass is looking ‘peng’ (my new word of the day), right?

All that aside, watching the trailer again (as I do, three or four times an hour), it got me thinking about how analysing a marketing tool like this can help with script development on future projects.  After all, this is how they’re going to sell your movie – this and the one-sheet – so it probably makes sense to try to be sensitive to that process while you’re writing the script in the first place. 

I’m not saying your should actually script your trailer in advance or design the one-sheet, although I know some people do.  The process is invariably so complex and Chinese Whispersy that you’re unlikely to predict exactly what is going to come out at the other end or, more pertinently, what the audience is going to respond to best (if you could then Spielberg would be fetching your cappuccinos).

But there is an important lesson here, I think, which is understanding the primary audience you are writing for and the primary genre in which you are functioning.  CHALET GIRL has something to offer an older audience, and has elements of the sports movie and the personal drama about it – the character story and the cross-genre approach were partly what kept us all enthused about it for so long.  But from very early on the producers also rammed home the importance of hitting our core audience, and our core genre: the teen romcom.  Look at the trailer.  That’s what it is.

So in script development, in casting (dreamy Ed), in shooting style, in the pacing of the edit, in the choice of music, and now of course in the marketing materials, we had to put our target audience first, and rightly so.  This was an expensive movie to shoot: if we don’t get the kids in, we’re screwed.

So what have we got?  It’s a two minute trailer and it breaks down like this:

-          10 seconds setting up the basic conflict of the story – Kim is not posh, but she’s going to end up in a posh world – how will she cope?

-          15 seconds of plot set-up – Kim has somehow ended up in the Alps, she’s a chalet girl, she’s way out of her depth and to top it off she can’t ski – that enough to be going on with?

-          10 seconds visually contrasting the luxury of her new world (helicopters, champagne, mountain picnics) with the (very) ordinary world from which she came;

-          20 seconds of ‘fun and games’ – champagne cork in the face, boiling water in the crotch, house party, before we hit the money beat: the love story;

-          25 seconds of Felicity / Kim and Ed / Jonny (bless ‘em) – things go well, things wobble, things go wrong – they’re from different worlds, they’re too far apart, how will it ever work?  I’m tearing up just writing this;

-          15 seconds of the mandatory ‘this February...’ (well, it beats ‘this holiday season...’) and an emphasis on the ensemble appeal of the cast;

-          15 seconds building to a frantic finale, in which the third act’s snowboarding competition emerges as our heroine’s best shot at personal fulfilment, with a bit of themey voice-over (‘conquer your fears’ etc);

-          5 seconds of a silly / flirty gag at the end to send ‘em out smiling;

-          5 seconds of credits wall – and you wouldn’t believe how long they spent deciding on that font...

What is interesting (to me) about this breakdown is that it almost perfectly summarises the component parts of the film, and in the right sort of balance, too.  We begin on Kim, which is fitting since this is very much a heroine’s journey story, we are with her from start to finish, when she jumps we jump etc.  In order to draw us into her story we have to spend a decent chunk of time setting up the fish-out-of-water situation: Kim in her own world, Kim in her new world, and the yawning chasm of comedy and drama that exists between the two.  (One thing the trailer doesn’t give us much of is Bill Bailey as the dad she leaves back home, but those are the more dramatic beats of the film that don’t ping as well in a trailer.  You’ll just have to watch it.)  Then we have a considerable section of fun and games – what is a ski season without hot tubs and sticky cakes, after all – but it was always going to be important that we didn’t let these dominate the rest of the story, as it could easily have done.  The heart of the piece, beyond Kim’s own journey, is obviously the love story, and so it is right that the trailer lets us enjoy this for a while (not to mention giving us ample opportunity to dwell on that jaw line).  And the third act, as in the trailer, is all about pulling these elements together in a finale that comprises sport, love, comedy, drama, and a load of different character stories coming together.  (Another important point for us was to have enough snowboarding so that we pulled in that crowd, but not so much that we alienated everybody else, a balance in the final film which again the trailer accurately reflects.)  And, right at the end, in case you missed it, we’ve got a little reminder that it should be sweet and quite funny (this guy is one funny fooker, by the way).

So that’s it.  Wildly schizophrenic is one way to look at it, but I prefer to see it as a faithful representation of a film which, even for a ‘teen romcom’, has a fair amount going on.  It might be formulaic, but then isn’t that what an audience comes to see?  A crowd-pleasing formula, well replicated but with a dash of individuality.  Sounds easy.  Isn’t.

You’ll probably have guessed by now that this blog post is just a none-too-subtle way for me to push the CHALET GIRL trailer again (did I mention that it’s online?), that it’s a bit of a ramble and that I don’t have anything too wonderfully wise to impart on this subject that hasn’t already been said on the Temple of Apollo or a hundred other screenwriting websites.

But I’m researching a new script at the moment and I do keep coming back to the trailer, and the poster.  At the moment I still don’t have a definite idea of what the trailer looks like or sounds like, what kind of actor is in it, what they are doing or what music is accompanying it.  And I couldn’t tell you whether the poster is a one-sheet of just the heroine or an ensembly thing with six different actors on it (although, amusingly, this is a debate that is still current about the CHALET GIRL poster, so go figure).  Maybe these are some small signs that I still don’t know my material well enough yet and that, to reference an earlier blog, I need to keep digging for a little longer.  After all, if I don’t know how I would sell it, how can I expect anybody else to?

Merry Christmas to you, my eleven blog readers.  Roll on February.

Monday, 6 December 2010

If it matters to them...

I’m at that intriguing development stage of my new script (of which more later).  I’ve got the characters, the basic story arc and the big moments and set pieces.  But to tie it all together I still have to identify the key ingredient: why does it matter?  Why does an audience care?  As with CHALET GIRL – and most of the romantic comedies I have written in the past – this is not a life or death scenario we are talking about.  The fate of the civilised world does not depend on our hero’s actions, nor are the lives of thirty orphans in jeopardy.  And yet, as every screenwriting manual will tell you, the story needs to be hugely significant in the life of our protagonist (or protagonists, as there is an ensemble element to this script) – otherwise, why does it need to be told? 


The key here is that it matters to them.  And if it matters to them, it will matter to the audience.


Look at sport.  I don’t much like football, but I will always watch the World Cup Final because you know that winning it means absolutely everything to each man on the pitch.  It is literally their lives, in ninety minutes: they will either be winners, or nearly men.  That’s awesome.  And it doesn’t need to be the World Cup Final.  Maybe Yeovil Town have got through to an FA cup fourth round match against Manchester United, and somehow they’re 1-0 up with ten minutes to go.  That’s exciting, isn’t it?  I remember watching some bizarre sports at the Winter OIympics earlier this year (online, when I should have been working).  What do I know about curling, or the luge, or the biathlon?  Nothing, other than the fact that these contestants have been training for years, have probably had to win a load of tournaments just to qualify, and this hour, or five minutes, or ninety seconds, is their one chance of glory.  It mattered to them and so, amazingly, it mattered to me.


Returning to writing, there are some wonderfully judged pieces that might seem (to me) to be the dramatic equivalents of curling, and yet they are totally absorbing because of the way the writers show us what is at stake for their characters.  Two old plays I remember studying at school (and both have been turned into films a couple of times each) demonstrate this point well.  The Winslow Boy is ostensibly about the theft of a five shilling postal order by a school boy.  But the amount wasn’t important, nor even the petty theft – it was the dishonour that the accusation did to the boy, and his family, and his family’s name, which gave the story huge power.  It meant the world to them, and so their fight to clear their name mattered to us.  Likewise in The Browning Version, young Taplow’s innocent inscription in the copy of Agamemnon that he gives to the crusty teacher Crocker-Harris (“God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master”) is enough to bring the fierce old man to tears.  It is a tiny moment of narrative, but one with vast emotional resonance: the boy’s opinion matters greatly to the school master.  Some of the works of Ian McEwan, particularly Atonement and On Chesil Beach, turn on similar beats – to an outsider, nothing much seems to be going on, but to the characters in question, and to the reader or viewer, the aftershocks are massive.  The irony is that these small moments, rooted in character, often generate more dramatic power than Bruce Willis saving the planet or (god forbid) Ben Affleck exacting revenge for Pearl Harbour.


Maybe I’m over-thinking this.  After all, romantic comedies are pretty simple, aren’t they?  Boy meets girl, and so on – isn’t that enough?  It’s true, love is probably the greatest of all dramatic stakes, and a good example of what we are talking about here.  The world might not shift on its axis if this couple don’t get together, but it’s the most important thing in their lives right now, which makes it interesting for us.  But a kiss on its own is not enough.  Most of the best romantic comedies have more going on than just a love story, and are building up to more than just a kiss.  Done well – and of course this goes for any genre – they are about a character going on a fundamental, transformative emotional journey.  Look at JERRY MAGUIRE or FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL or THE APARTMENT or MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING or WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.  They are all good for lots of reasons, but they are all great because of the character journeys that lie at their heart.


At the start of CHALET GIRL, our heroine has lost her mother, and her self-confidence.  She faces various challenges through the course of the story – professional, sporting, romantic – but they all boil down to a question of whether she can lay her mother’s memory to rest and regain the confidence she had before her mum died.  That means – at least we hope – that all the obstacles she faces have greater significance, because they are part of a bigger picture: her journey.  So it’s not just about pretty boys and girls playing around in a ski resort, which is one version of the movie that we could have made (the bad one).  It’s about Kim, our chalet girl, making some decisions that will literally change how the rest of her life will play out.  The last line of the movie confirms this “this girl’s got a great future ahead of her”.  She has now, but she might not have.  That is our story.  The drama is in her journey: the kiss is the reward.


(Sidebar gripe: in the development and financing stage, various people turned down CHALET GIRL for the reason suggested at above: “why should I care about a load of posh people dicking around in the snow?”  It’s a valid question, except it’s not what the film is about.  For one thing Kim isn’t posh, and for another thing we’re not just dicking around – this is important to her.  I bet FOUR WEDDINGS got a load of similar gripes, ditto DOWNTON ABBEY.  There is a particularly British feeling that rich people can’t have real problems, presumably based on a moral relativism which states that we can’t care too much because they will be alright in the end.  As Spike says in NOTTING HILL (there’s another one): “What he’s going to say next is there are people starving in the Sudan...” – so nothing really matters, right?  In my opinion, not right.  We can – or should be able to – care about anybody, anywhere, anywhen.  It’s the writer’s job to make us care and perhaps it’s harder to make us care about a privileged person than someone at the bottom who really does have nowhere else to turn to.  But just because it’s harder, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  And if this post has argued anything – has it? – it’s that what is happening inside a character is immeasurably more interesting than what is going on in the world around them.)


So in my new script I have to keep reminding myself: why does it matter to these characters?  If it doesn’t matter to them, if they fail and can shrug it off and go ‘ah well, maybe next time’ then it absolutely won’t matter to the audience.  But if it does, then it will.  And if I am addressing that question honestly and ruthlessly on every page, then I’m heading in the right direction.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Metaphors for writing

It’s a common writerly exercise.  Instead of thinking about the characters and the story we are working on, we choose to stare out of the window and think about what we are doing and how we are doing it.  Then we come up with some poetic analogies for the process, which makes our creative struggle seem more epic, fundamental, heroic.  It’s more navel gazing procrastination, but it’s quite fun, too.  Here are two creative-process-metaphors that I have heard from other people, and two that I’ve developed on my own.

The first comes from Stephen King’s wonderful book ‘On Writing’, which describes the screenwriter as palaeontologist.  “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world,” he says.  “The writer’s job is to… get as much of each one out of the ground as intact as possible.”  I love this image.  The writer, equipped with a backpack, some tools, a map and a hunch, sets out into the desert.  At a certain point they have a sense that they should stop walking and start digging.  Lo and behold, they hit upon a fragment of the skeleton of a long-deceased beast.  But is it the thigh bone of a stegosaurus or the nose bone of a pterodactyl?  The writer digs further, revealing more of the skeleton.  They might dig in the wrong direction and find no more bones.  They might think, at one point, that they have uncovered the whole skeleton, only to see that this is barely the big toe of a much larger monster.  All the time, their impression of the subject that they are working on is changing.  Only once the complete skeleton is revealed can they see what they have discovered.  Then (perhaps to extend the metaphor beyond King’s original description) their job is to buff, dust and whiten the bones until they look gleaming and new.  Or maybe (I don’t know how far this goes) they get all taxidermist on it and reanimate the creature?  The point is, like a crossword puzzle, the right story is there, waiting for you to find it and reveal it with care.  As both a writer and a script editor I find this philosophy challenging and inspiring.  At every decision point, you must ask yourself, as honestly as possible, is this the right move?  If it feels wrong, there is probably something better out there.  You just need to dig deeper.

The second comparison isn’t a million miles from this first one.  It was told to me on the first day of my professional career, as a trainee account manager at Saatchi and Saatchi.  The agency’s all-powerful creative director was booked to give a one-hour talk on creativity to us wide-eyed recruits.  His talk lasted less than a minute.  I think I can remember it verbatim.  “A tourist was walking along a street in Delhi, and he sees an old swami, carving a beautifully intricate wooden elephant.  The tourist watches for a few moments before going over and engaging the old man in conversation (the swami presumably spoke English, essential in the modern tourist industry).  The tourist asks ‘how do you carve such a beautiful elephant?’  The swami smiles wisely (as swamis do) and replies ‘I start with a block of wood, and then I take away everything that is not an elephant.’”  With that zinger, the creative director swept out of the room, leaving a dozen confused young executives to wonder what the hell that was about.  Fifteen years – and fifteen scripts – on, I think I sort of get it.  As with the earth that the palaeontologist removes from around the skeleton, so the act of creativity is as much about taking away as putting in.  How many times have you re-written a draft of your script, only to realise that this character, or scene, or plot line is actually superfluous to the story you are trying to tell?  Often it’s the character / scene / plot line that got you into the story in the first place, but that is no matter.  It has served its purpose, but now it must go.  Read the best scripts and you will see that they often have a wonderfully spare feel to them (THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a recent, brilliant example).  There is not a syllable in there that should not be there, which does not earn its place or add to the journey.  Have you taken away everything that is not your particular elephant?

The two further metaphors that I often fall back on, mainly for my own edification, both draw on the natural world for inspiration.  Both also have an element of man interacting with nature, which set them alongside the palaeontologist with his spade and brushes or the swami with his penknife.  And they both have a message of waiting until the time is right, of not fighting or trying to force the process. 

The first is writer as surfer, bobbing around in the outback on your gleaming board (slash Sony Vaio), waiting for your wave.  Some you might let pass, because either they are too undeveloped, or are already breaking.  Maybe some of the waves are just too daunting, while others are beneath your current skill level.  But at a certain point you will see a swell approaching, and you’ll think ‘this is the one for me’.  You get yourself into position, start to paddle and, as the wave begins to pick you up, you trust to your technique and leap on your board, and ride the wave all the way into the shore.  Hell, you might even have time to throw in a switch, or catch a tube (thank you Jonny Utah), depending on how confident you’re feeling.  The wave does its thing, you do yours.

The second image I like is that of writer as farmer.  You till the soil and plant your seed.  Then, up to a certain point, you sit back and let nature take its course.  You might need to fertilise or water or weed from time to time, but really you are doing an overseeing job as the green shoots naturally reach higher and higher.  Only when the crop is fully ripe and ready do you jump into your combine and gather in your harvest.  It has often been said that it takes six months to write a screenplay, but you only spend the last two weeks actually typing.  This analogy reflects that process.  That said, any farmer will tell you that there’s a lot more to their job than just sitting back, puffing on a pipe and watching the corn grow.  As with the farmer, the writer should be growing a number of different crops, in different fields, throughout the year.  Ideally you’ll finish harvesting one crop and be able to move on seamlessly to the next field.  It’s the only way to make the economics work!

So there, that’s my four.  What is your favourite metaphor for the creative process of writing?  And does it help you practically in your work?  Or is it all a load of bollocks?

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.

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!