Here are just a few of the scripts that have been written from my books. I found them in a drawer when I was clearing stuff out recently. All of them are by writers commissioned by film companies. None got made.
After thirty years of hammering out my own scripts that never got made, I made a promise this year – to never write another screenplay again. I have half a dozen of the buggers in boxes, and wasted years redrafting them over and over for different clueless producers who didn’t know what they wanted.
There are several other reasons for stopping. First, there are many different types of writer, and the sector in which you become successful becomes your straitjacket. I don’t personally know any novelists who became screenplay writers, or vice versa. Second, the chances of making a film in the UK are slim to none if you are not already established in TV or film as a writer. Third, for some mysterious reason the holy grail of scriptwriters is to make a blockbuster, and there’s now a way of making those that does not involve sending a script to a film company.
Let’s go through those in a bit more detail.
1. Where you start is where you stay.
The area that draws you initially is a good indicator of where your interests lie. I never watched much TV as a kid and still hardly ever turn it on. I always read. Novels do teach you to write in a certain way, and switching to TV is hard. Lately, TV scriptwriters have been writing crime novels, and their books usually read like episodes of cop shows. Lynda La Plant’s books all feel like TV shows, as if they’re in the wrong medium. The books I’ve had optioned get turned into rubbish scripts by hired writers – nobody hires the novelist.
A few years ago I wrote a script called ‘Breathe’, which I turned into a book. Pathe Pictures bought the book and commissioned their own script without ever looking at my original. The result was disastrous, and was never made. ‘Hell Train’ started life as a script, and when we couldn’t sell it I rewrote it as a book – no wonder people say it’s cinematic – that was the original intention!
2. The UK film industry barely exists as a single entity.
The French subsidise their filmmakers partly through venture capitalism to the tune of about €1.6 billion a year; we got rid of the film council just as it started to make money with mainstream films, and an ill-informed David Cameron made an astoundingly mistimed speech about the need to make blockbusters.
3. Don’t write a script, make a movie first.
A new trend has emerged among young filmmakers. Both Gareth Evans and Gareth Edwards showed what they could do by making test shorts of their debut features – and both features (‘The Raid’ and ‘Monsters’) are brilliant. Stephen St Leger and James Mather made the short film ‘Prey Alone’ to show what they could do, and have now made the SF biggie ‘Lockout’. The reason why this is possible is the rise of cheap CGI, although all three recognise the importance of story. In particular, Gareth Edwards’ interviews about how he made a blockbuster in his bedroom are hilarious and charmingly self-effacing. If I was a Hollywood director, I’d be very worried about this development and its rising success in Europe.
But it does mean that the days of submitting a script for a mainstream film are nearly over, although Hollywood, always behind, will take a while to catch up. Studios never liked reading them anyway and prefer ‘look books’ of visuals. Watch the low-budget gem below and you’ll ask yourself why scripts in their old form are needed at all.