I did a thing. Because I wanted to. And I feel good that one of my goals for this year has been achieved. If short of time, move along….
Back in 1999 – 2000, I wrote something called UNDER A SPELL. It started as a weird way to kill time, while doing a stint behind the information desk of the library I worked in. I had an idea for a short horror scene and created a 10-page short around it. That short was called BLOOD RAGE. It was about a bungled robbery and a lab full of very angry rats. I then felt inspired, after talking with a friend about how the world I’d created behind that short might be fun to do as a feature – but something ‘low budget’ – so no killer rats… because with the technology we had access to then, how the hell was that going to be possible?
That friend and I were talking at Whitby Goth Fest, about the festival, the town itself, and how if we wrote a film and set it during the festival, we could show the world a unique glimpse into this world and have an interesting backdrop to the main narrative. So I went away and expanded it into a full-blown horror feature.
In case you don’t know about Whitby Goth Fest, here’s a few facts:
- Whitby was where Dracula’s ship landed in the novel. It was also where, within the novel, Dracula takes his first victim in the UK. There’s a Dracula museum there. More facts.
- It’s ace.
- It has a bi-annual Goth festival (founded in 1984). Around 10,000 Goths visit the town twice a year in April and again in October for the Goth fest, partying hard for 5 days and it got so big that they needed extra venues to host the larger crowds.
- The event results in business for the town in general, with attendees spending around 10,000 bed-nights in Whitby and the weekend contributing £1.1 million per annum to the local economy.
- The event has been covered in National news numerous times – https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-50201930.
- Did I mention it’s ace?
So my rationale at the time, was that potentially, you’d have an interesting backdrop, lots of willing extras, some great bands to be in the soundtrack and bring their audiences and some potential niche audiences for the film. if you filmed the gigs too, you’d have a great behind the scenes / ancillary market. You could combine the festival and filming and hopefully enjoy the best of both worlds. And Whitby was my favourite holiday location growing up – as I briefly lived just down the coast in Scarborough. In fact, I really wanted to move there until property prices in the UK went mental. So I didn’t need an excuse to spend more time there.
Get on with it
Anyway, so I wrote the original feature film and then my friend announced that he was no longer into making films and he didn’t even read it. So rather than show it to anybody else, I shelved it. Crushed. That’s just who I was back then. And besides, not longer after, I started drifting away from the Goth scene.
Years later, we reconnected on social media and we joked about that fake religion he was going to set up – The Church of Vodka. I was a confirmed Bishop and missionary, back then, dedicated to spreading the word one shot at a time. And we joked about how I had included it in the script and some characters inspired by real people. And talks resumed about how we should totally consider making the movie after all… and then he died – far too young. It was a shock and he was massively missed by so many people. The script got shoved back into the dark recesses of my mind and forgotten.
Recently, when getting one of those insensitive nudges from Facebook, as you do, telling you to think about the good times with that person, but instead reminding you of their death and giving you a link to the messages of mourning. Once I recovered from the shock of being thrust into an emotional space by a random social media post, I was reminded of this script once again. I was amazed that I had been going around thinking that I had only written 4 feature films, when there was in fact a 5th, sitting unloved and forgotten.
So over a month ago, I enjoyed access to the London Screenwriters’ Festival platform and saw Pat Higgins give an amusing talk on how to WRITE A MOVIE IN 30 DAYS – something I really do think you should check out, if you don’t mind paying for the subscription to the platform. The first one I saw was about writing a feel good movie, a romance / comedy. But I saw that he had previously given talks on the same subject and also how to tap into childhood fears. Sadly, I was deep in plotting and planning on two features – SVEN GUNNAR and BLÖT. But I wondered if I could have a crack at this technique – but do a horror movie instead? But I had doubts…
Why try to write a movie in 30 days?
The first feature I ever wrote, was completed in 7-10 days I believe – when staying home sick, full of some lurgy. But although it had moments, it really could have benefitted from structure. People loved the characters and the world, but it didn’t pay off in the right way. But that’s what you get from vomiting out a draft, with no planning / plotting. And I had no distractions, other than getting more tissue to blow my nose into, more drinks or going to the loo.
The last time I wrote UNDER A SPELL, it had taken a few months of evenings and weekends. Mainly because I made it up as I went, in any free moments. But could I do it quicker?
Could I write a feature script in 30 days, when working and already up against tough timelines (having to deliver 200 pages of scripts for work during the same period)? That was a good question. I wrestled with it enough until I said “eff it”. And then I said to myself: “You’ll only know the answer if you try.”
But could I also do it with a better structure / plot?
I knew I couldn’t do it with SVEN GUNNAR and BLÖT, not without solving the act two to act three plot holes. And I didn’t want to pants it. But seeing that reminder of Tom, made me think about UNDER A SPELL and how with some tweaks, with some proper work to pin down theme, character and basically do the things I never did back then, but following Pat’s techniques, I could have a fair crack at a rewrite. And maybe by the end it might just be readable.
How did it go?
I did not get the script written in 30 days.
It took me 35 days.
I had set my heart on the 15th March. And I completed it on the 20th March.
But yayyyyyyyy! I wrote the damn script. I got it done, despite having to write during the day and often only having 1.5 hrs max to write with before downing tools and resting my eyes and brain. I did it, when fighting the urge to nap, after having eaten my evening meal, and basically doing it at completely the wrong times, with me having to battle oodles of distractions. But I used some of my tricks to help gee me on.
- Tweet about it – although I didn’t expressly tell people what I was trying to achieve, I did put it out there that I was writing something and publicly shared the number of pages I got through each day. I mostly mentioned when I was starting and how much I got done each day when I finished. And I tried to note down in my journal how it felt, because there are days when you want to give up. But there are days when it feels amazing and you hit a flow.
- Best use of available time – Mornings and days were for ideas. Noting down random ideas that might work to enhance the plot / better pay-offs etc. Evenings and weekends were for writing.
- Weekends are for sprints – Weekends are your friend, as long as your family / partner etc don’t hate you, and know what you’re trying to achieve, you can use the time to do sprints. Of an evening I would get 2.5 4.5 pages done. Of a weekend, I’d get as many as 12 pages done (depending on how much housework needed doing).
- Immerse yourself in that world – I had fun reconnecting with lots of music that I don’t usually listen too much anymore, sadly. Watching old Punk and Goth music videos, and old videos and photos of the festival that I could find. And looking up pictures of local attractions and sights, especially pictures of the Abbey.
- Headphones on – Frequently, text messages would ping, TV programmes would be blaring out and people were trying to start conversations. Those times, you just have to be rigid and get headphones on, and clearly communicate that you’re trying to block out the world and get on with it. Binaural music and meditation helps (like Brain.fm) I use it all the time in Pomodoro sessions during the day, to help me focus and power through work. And then once I’m in the zone and need a little pick-me-up, it’s time to put on a pumping playlist and get swept away with the music.
- If all else fails, Vodka – there were times when even meditation wouldn’t help, when my energy was low and I was writing about these party people and needed to kind of feel that energy and even the music wasn’t getting me there. For this script – I wouldn’t recommend it as a general practice – it helped me connect with the subject better, for three sessions where I was close to giving up and where I was writing about the Church of Vodka.
- Rest! – There were days when I had to listen to my brain / body and just not write. They were hard. But when migraines struck – I think it happened twice through this script – you have to rest. I wasn’t fit for anything, other than listening to music and maybe reading the odd book (vision allowing) to get my head working again.
- Editing – The last ten days of the writing process, in Pat’s methodology, are for rewriting / editing. I didn’t do that. I think it’s why it took me longer. I edited as I went. Because I can’t find enough time to stay in that world, and have to fill my brain with the other subjects I’m writing about during work days, I found that I could only get into the groove, and find where I am mentally, is by re-reading the previous days pages and then giving them a polish – because rewriting is writing – and then I could tackle the new pages for the day. So probably not recommended to do it that way at all. But it worked for me.
So after that’s done, what happens? does it go back into a deep dark drawer to be forgotten?
I hope not. Actually, I have already let a few people read it. It’s strange, because it is after all a sort of ‘vomit draft’. And normally you should only send out the most polished work, but I think I’d like some feedback on it, to help me see how to approach any rewrites in the near future. So thank you to those awesome people who wanted to read it.
But no, right now I’m resting. But I’m gearing up to get back into finishing the plotting of SVEN GUNNAR and BLÖT. They’re next on my hit list. I am SO ready to write these. If only the plot matched those expectations! And they are essential to future goals.
But with regards to BLOOD RAGE, I would very much like it to find a home, some investment and a team that gets where this odd script is coming from and wants to help get it done. I think it’d be a lovely tribute to the past, to an old friend’s crazy idea to shoot a film in Whitby and a reasonably unique addition to the Vampire / Horror genres.