I woke up to some very pleasing news this morning – that my WWI short script, GAS! has been officially selected to the IndieX Film Fest in LA. Nice. I’m very grateful!

GAS! is an old script. It’s inspired by the haunting poem Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, and the paintings by John Sargeant, and one in particular, namely: Gassed.

Gas! - WWI short film poster
Gas! – poster created by Karen Keslen

It was originally written back in 2003, for a dear friend; it was commissioned to help him bring an idea to life where he had difficulty, due to his own dyslexia, in realising the script himself. It was designed for stop-motion, and the idea was – if I remember rightly – that we would pick 7 war poems, each from a different poet / conflict and adapt them, and put them together in an anthology film, and stylistically try to homage the art of the time too. Sadly we didn’t get the project off the ground / produced. Pity. I love stop motion.

So then, my thoughts turned to playing with the narrative, and trying to see where I could take it….

A while after that, I reworked it some more and submitted it to film fests back in 2008 I think. Now, please appreciate that it deals with the horror of a mustard gas attack – something that no human should ever experience. So when it was submitted to a major horror festival, it was a semi-finalist, but ultimately didn’t win. It was “too depressing” – which was the deliberate intention, as War is no picnic. And the horrors that our valiant combatants faced, irrespective of the nationality, was unlike anything else and the World hoped that it would never be repeated. So that year, when the competition picked a comedy horror piece as the winner, stupidly, rather than submit it anywhere else – as I ran into massive debt, with the recession, so funds were extremely limited, and also, I was furious about such a decision, that horror should be upbeat and couldn’t be a downer – it sat in a virtual folder on my computer. Forgotten.

And I think, after that, I just forgot that script competitions were a thing, and assumed there was no point me submitting anything at all. I didn’t stop writing though. Not at all. But it’s a shame that I didn’t handle rejection in a better way and keep battling onwards.

However, over the last couple of years, my thoughts would often turn to Gas! Especially when the centenary tribute to the great war, in 2017 happened and all you saw throughout the media, were great touching tributes and a reappraising of the history behind the conflict and a more human touch to showing the thoughts and fears and sharing the memories of those who served – including the excellent film by Peter Jackson, THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, and then more recently, with its Oscars and BAFTA success, 1917. All so very moving.

Then, when Darwin and I began submitting films to festivals, I started to see others celebrating their success in screenwriting, having not only submitted the films they’d produced to festivals, but also their scripts. And I’m such a dumbass, that I was generally stunned at the idea that yes, you could submit both. Duh! People were still submitting scripts for potential future, festival glory and maybe, I could chance my arm too? Right? – How could I have deprogrammed myself so much, to convince myself that people shouldn’t hear about your writing? Why were produced films more valid? – they weren’t.

So recently, purely to help get over a bit of writer’s block, being burnt out from the day job, when writing too many scripts in such a short time period, I decided to ‘give it a little polish’ and that turned into a full rewrite. When I reread the end result, I thought, maybe this one could go out to a few festivals too… test the waters like…. because, I thought it was worth the risk….

Anyway, sorry for the long story. But I thought it might be worth explaining the context behind the script, both the original idea, why it was forgotten for so long, and then why it has been resurrected. And if it wins somewhere, maybe I’ll share it….

And why the focus on winning?

– I’d kind of like the validation from people who don’t know me, who don’t have to be nice to me, to honestly judge it and hopefully confirm that the years of toil and sweat over it, and the message at the heart of the story were worth it.

Wish me luck!