Re-Re-Write

I got great feedback from the BBC for Twenty Million Shirts that’s lead me to make plans to undertake a drastic re-write. Usually this isn’t my style – it takes me a while to hit that first draft and subsequent changes don’t tend to be dramatic – but in this case, it’s necessary. Basically, I need to do two things:

1) Take a 60 minute play and bring it down to 45 minutes.

2) Rework the central dramatic relationship to be more direct.

On the first point, I can see that I tried to cram the arcs and subplots of a ninety minute one off drama (I’d be reluctant to say film) into a sixty minute play. As such, whilst the outlines were there, not all of them came off satisfactorily. Cutting stuff in this context is a bit of a joy. It’s also helping with my problem of writing minor characters. I’m very bad at it, because I can’t help but want to give them a considered, beat by beat arc. If I was writing long form drama, I’m sure that’s a good instinct. Not with stuff like this.

On the second point, the play carried a lot of legacy aspects of the very first draft which I need to focus away from. Basically, I had started it off as being entirely a faux documentary. I love radio documentary as a form, the way the slow reveal of information keeps you hooked. Twenty Million Shirts as it is mixed that aspect with a dramatic throughline in which the main character learns about the subject of the doco (Keval) at the same pace as us. The ratio of drama to doco was about 50/50. I thought our journey mirroring the main character’s in this context would be a good way to navigate the world but in practice it kills the drama a little, giving not much room for subtext and irony (except in one particular twist). As such, I’m going to do an effective page one rewrite, altering the protagonist significantly in a way that allows for the core structure of the story to remain (I was mostly happy with that) but alters the way the interviews he conducts go and what effect they have on him and his goal.

Basically, with this rewrite I’m going to really push the drama side, keeping a touch of the documentary edge, whilst making the whole thing leaner and punchier. Will give specific details once I’ve done it.

NEXT POST: Why writing what you know is harder than you think.

V

I Can (Hear) My House From Here

A director got in touch with me on behalf of the Invisible Theatre radio company, to let me know that they’re to record a radio version of I Can See My House From Here at the beginning of July, casting it within the next couple of weeks. Pretty excited about that. It’s different from the film version, but I think it will inform the way I develop that version. Bloody love radio. Need to think of some exciting ideas for it…

Woods/Trees

There are many things a radio play should be. Over 14,000 words is not one of them.

I don’t care now. It’s in. It’s an absolute pig of a script, with loads of unfeasibly long passages, scenes with basically exactly the same progression and not enough wroughting. This thing spent way, way too long in my head, getting teased into too many directions before coming out. But it’s out now and somewhat stillborn. Can at least move onto more useful work now without feeling guilty…

 

Courting Drama – Bush Attic, 23rd March 2013

Yesterday morning I woke up my housemate by playing fifteen different types of old sounding telephone rings.

For you see, after a few intense weeks, the slimmed down version of Ayodhya was to go on stage as part of Theatre Renegade’s Courting Drama night in the attic of the Bush. We’d not seen the space before, it was probably going to throw up a few issues, so I wanted to get all our tech perfect before hand, hence the plethora of phone noises.

As sure as I was that this scene was solid, you’ll never know if it’s working like it’s supposed to unless you throw it up in front of an audience. I can give excuses about how I had to fillet the scene, and it’s just not the same without the intended set and such and such, but really last night was an opportunity to see if the basic drama of the piece worked out. The shaky dress run, in which the lights inexplicably went out for a few seconds, felt a little ominous. The energy of the rehearsals was gone, and the director had a long chat with the actors before the audience were let in. This one was looking like it could go either way.

On a scratch night, I always look for the least impressed person in the audience and gauge their reaction. In one of the earlier pieces, I saw a bored-looking old man, reading the back of his ticket. Bingo. I had my barometer. He didn’t shift much, except for when the play before mine came on, and he was drawn in by that. It was a witty, energetic number and definitely the stand out of the night. So at least I knew he wasn’t just going to the theatre as a masochistic experience.

Then came the moment, Team Ayodhya, up last. I couldn’t really see much of the action from my seat right at the back of the space, so most of my focus was fixed on the old man. Now, my scene is nowhere near as dynamic as the one before it so I wasn’t expecting him to be out of his seat, clapping and enraptured, but there are signals you pick up when someone’s interested. And…five minutes into the scene…he leaned forward. That doesn’t sound momentous, but that’s when I knew it was all going to be alright and it was. The actors (mostly!) nailed it, the smashed records didn’t land in the audience, while the jokes did. Some parts I didn’t expect to be that funny tickled the audience – never sure if I should be worried by that, but rather have it that way around. Certainly there are weaknesses in the writing, not helped by the repetitive nature of the argument the characters are having. One is very stubborn and is used to having the power in the relationship, and so more inclined to use brute force (figuratively) rather than switching his tactics to accommodate his subordinate’s attempt to wiggle free. Come May I will revisit it, but for now I will put Ayodhya to bed knowing that at least one scene is in a watchable state.

I feel pretty terrible at the moment, lots going on in my personal life, so I am both relieved that it was done with, whilst also being happy the work everyone put into it paid off. To collaborate closely with a director on my wavelength was an absolute dream, and I can only hope that my experiences with HighTide and the Brockley Jack turn out similarly.

Moving on, today I aim to do a large chunk of my rewrite of Twenty Million Shirts, dripping in the slight mystery elements, without trying to push it too far, and strengthening Anna (Jordi’s ex, turned producer) as a character by clarifying her motivations.

This week I also wrote a very silly short film called The Very Short Ballad of Katherine and Katy Kilworth – an empty nester running for local council discovers that she shares a name with a self-employed businesswoman with a sex-toy start-up and attempts to get her to change her name. Yes. It’s very silly. But a refreshing tonic to Serious Ethnic Drama TM.

Next week – well, after Tuesday when I’ve submitted by script to the BBC Writersroom – things should calm down a little bit. I’ve slacked off my running a lot, primarily out of schedule pile up, but I can’t ignore it anymore unless I want my feet to fall off during the marathon. I also need to rediscover my empathy, and treat the people around me better when I’m in stressful situations. Socks up, Patel.

Courting Drama
Left to right: Eben (playing Ravi), Hari (playing Jayanthi), Georgia (Director) and Chumpy McGee.

The Little Script That Could

Got an email a couple of hours back saying the radio script I did of I Can See My House From Here has won a little competition and will get professionally recorded. Developing it as a short film at the moment, so it’ll be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t with the radio version. Either way, I’m pleased – it’s a small piece and back from my “getting rid of old people” phase, but it got me into CSSD, a BBC Writersroom workshop, quarter finalled in a competition and now this. Fond memories of writing it upside down on a sofa in a Putney ex-council tower block circa 2010!

To Do List

Today I:

– Re-registered as self employed after a hiatus of a couple of years.

– Identified a laser printer to buy, which will become my first business expense. No more CSSD printing for me, alas!

– Caught up with the BBC 2 doco series Tankies, which Alex had worked on. Fascinating and taught me a lot about an aspect of WWII I hadn’t a scooby about.

– Got up at 6am and ran for an hour and a half in the 0 degree Celsius air whilst snow fell softly all around. Worth it though, if not just for seeing the frost clinging to the outside of the Oval.

– Wrote up the notes for rewriting Ayodhya that came to me late last night.

– Added more to one scene in True Brits. 

– Finished reading Town by DC Moore (It worked well, but I felt like I’ve seen that play a hundred times before – was expecting more of the John Clare “walking home” angle that the blurb made out)

– Planned out my work schedule until the end of April. This involves getting every main bit of work I have up to scratch (Ayodhya, True Brits, A Grateful Nation and Bump) and figuring out where and when to submit them to places, writing up a couple of shorts (The Clapham Disco Riots and a little radio play version of I Can See My House From Here), putting in a week of solid research at the British Library on the long neglected The Oath and, finally, properly starting projects that I’ve had bouncing around for a while: A first draft of a the play Kaleidoscope and scribbling together a pilot + 5 other episode synopses for the TV series Starting Up. 

Now all of this is great – but I didn’t really do what I was meant to, which was a tonne of work on True Brits alone so as to absolutely get it finished for Wednesday. I still think it’s possible, I’ll just have to pull my socks up a little tomorrow! Got to get cracking on that new draft of Ayodhya next week.

 

[Oh! I did also get a nice e-mail from Bush Green letting me know that Bump (Draft 4) had gone through to a second round of reading with a senior reader. I submitted it back in August so whilst I’d forgotten all about it, it was a heartening surprise, especially as I wasn’t too sure what to do with that script and assumed it was a write off.]