Celluloid Frustration

I’ve had several dealings with the film world in my twenty-five years as a freelance writer. The first brush with this potentially wondrous but always frustrating industry came in 1992. My first book, the collection The Time Lapsed Man and other stories had been out for a couple of years, to a few kind reviews and a lot of indifference. Then I received a letter – this was before the days of widespread emails – from a director in LA saying he’d read the collection and loved the title story. When he was next in London, he wrote, could we meet to discuss the story and his ideas for the project?

Now this was my first contact with anything to do with films, and I was naïve. I thought the deal was done, the film would be made, and all I had to do was sign on the dotted line.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn out like that. In fact, it didn’t turn out like anything.

I met the director and discovered that he hadn’t actually directed anything, other than a student film and one commercial. “But,” he said as we dined in a plush London restaurant, and he slammed the table with his fist, “I’ve got big BALLS! I’ll get this film made.”

He wanted me to write an outline he could show around a few influential people he knew back in LA; he discussed a few ideas he had to transfer the short story (which to be honest I thought unfilmable) to the big screen, and we parted with handshakes.

I went home and did the three page outline, posted it off, and received an enthusiastic letter from him a few weeks later. I heard nothing from him for a few years, then received an email from him saying he hadn’t forgotten the project and let’s keep in touch.

That was fifteen years ago.

Around ten years ago, I had another close shave with celluloid frustration.

This time a director/producer approached me via a friend in the business (my friend wrote treatments and scripts for a living, but only ever saw two of his projects make it into production). They wanted a film about virtual reality, and they wanted to meet me and my friend with the idea of our co-writing a treatment with which they could raise the money to make the film. We met in a bar in London and listened to what they wanted.

A film set in a grim near-future London, they said, to contrast with a phantasmagorical VR world to which people would go in order to escape from their humdrum lives.

There was to be no money up front (and this is a paradox of the industry, which is awash with cash: very little of it is splashed in the direction of tyro script-writers, even though it takes time and effort to produce treatments). We duly produced the outline and they liked it – no, they loved it, but wanted a few changes. This went on for a few months. We invested days and weeks of effort, and the last we heard from them was that although they loved what we’d done so far, the fact was that the disparity between the grim near-future London and the graphic VR we’d envisaged was too great – they couldn’t raise cash sufficient to be able to produce the expensive VR effects required. Could we tone down the VR sections of the film, make them a little more like the grim, near-future London?

At which point we cut our losses and got out.

A few years ago, 20th Century Fox and a smaller production company based in New York both expressed interest in my novel Necropath, the first book in the Bengal Station trilogy. The latter crowd wanted to speak to me about possible ideas they had. But, once bitten…

It’s in the hands of my agent at the moment, and the only writing I’ll be doing on future film projects will be when I sign my name on a contract granting someone the rights to the novels.

Until then I live in hope, but expect nothing.

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