It feels like an age has passed since I turned in the final draft of the screenplay for my short film Black Cab, but the other day I finally manged to get my first look at the final finished film, in all it’s sound mixed, colour graded festival circuit ready glory. Yes, after months of scripting, production delays, funding issues yadayada ya, Black Cab, the short film which I wrote and my good friend Leopold Hughes directed, has finally been completed.
Finally, seeing the whole completed movie for the first time was a strange, nerve wracking experience. You see, apart from writing the thing, I had missed out on everything else. As soon as I handed in the final draft to Leo, that was it, I packed up my things and buggered off to New York and to Tisch. It was the first of my short films to get a full on proper professional production with a proper sizable budget and craft services and everything; and I had just buggered off to New York. Kudos to Leo and the rest of the team for working their arses off to get this film off the ground while I was swanning around in New York. I know that it’s not proper practice for a writer to be on set during production and whatnot, but still… I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to be there.
I had written scripts before that had produced before but not on a professional level such as this. Those other scripts, including a few shorts and a feature I co-wrote, was butchered and produced in such an unprofessional and haphazard manner that they never really counted as anything but learning experiences. Black Cab was the first script of mine that was produced to a high professional standard. No student directors who hadn’t read the script properly this time around, no lackluster production methods, no no no… This one had funding and everything; including a level of professionalism that hadn’t existed on those previous productions.
And I had missed all of it…
I had only reread the script once since handing in the final draft. To say that I wasn’t cringing all the way through as I read would be a huge understatement. I couldn’t help but see glaring flaws in the narrative, cursing myself at every single line of dialogue, second guessing every single one of my decisions, coming up with better ideas in my head, belittling myself at every opportunity, condemning myself as a failure and that I would never achieve anything as a writer and blah blah blah whine whine whine oh woe is me and all that malarkey. But it was too late. Nothing I could do now. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I mean, Leo said he was happy with the script. He believed it was strong enough to go into production with it and numerous third parties who had read the script had said they liked it. I trusted Leo. I knew that if he wasn’t happy or if he thought the script wasn’t all it could be then he would have said so and asked me to make some changes in that ever so nice friendly and polite manner he has. But he didn’t. He was happy, therefore I was happy. I could forget about it, finally put Black Cab aside and focus on my other projects. Which is exactly what I did. But what if Leo was stupid? What if I had been fooling myself all along and he had no idea what he was talking about? Luckily he knew exactly what he was doing but that’s not the point. The point is, that I was very very nervous about everything. But I put it out of my mind and went off to New York and let Leo do whatever it was he needed to do to make this thing.
Leo went off and assembled the crew, acquired funding and in October 2012, went into production of Black Cab. Leo had been great it giving me updates as production progressed and I knew that the project was in very safe, secure, capable hands. Hell, it was Leo’s story. Of course it would be in safe hands. He had sent me details of the crew, audition tapes of the cast etc. Everything was moving along nicely. I felt safe in the knowledge that Leo had this thing nailed to the ground and I could sit back and worry about all the other projects that I had impending deadlines for.
But as production neared, a longing had invaded my heart. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there on the first night of shooting as the first AD called action, as the camera and the lighting team set up shots, as the cast went over their lines and prepared for their roles. Hell, I just wanted to meet the cast and the crew. To this day I’ve only met a couple of members of the crew. I haven’t even met the wonderful two actors who played these characters I had lived with in my head for several months over numerous painstaking drafts.
It was probably best that I wasn’t there in all honesty. As a screenwriter, it’s important to let go. As writers, it’s easy to get tied down and protective of the words you’ve slaved over for months on end, but like any other collaborative medium, especially film, you have to trust your director, trust your crew to do the damn best job they can. Luckily Leo is a very collaborative director and kept me in the loop throughout the process, trusting me to deliver and do my job to the best of my ability. I had to put trust in his ability, had to trust him to do his job to the best of his ability and I knew that he would. In all honesty, if I was there on set during production, I probably would’ve added unnecessary tension and pressure, acting as backseat director without meaning to. Maybe, but who knows for certain. I wouldn’t do that. Well… I might but I wouldn’t. Who knows. I know I wouldn’t.
I wouldn’t. Just so everyone is aware. Can I emphasize that point any more?
As the first set of production stills came in, a wave of sadness passed over me. My first professional production… And I missed it. I would’ve been happy with one day, hell even an hour on set. Just to be there. It’s only a short film but still, it was a short film that I was passionate about, a short film with a proper budget, a professional cast and crew, and I wasn’t there. Shame. But it was amazing to see this project finally go into production, to actually go in front of the cameras, to hear people say they liked it enough to actually put money towards it, something that at one point I thought would never happen.
I followed along with the twitter and facebook updates and email updates from Leo right up until the final announcement of “THAT’S A WRAP ON BLACK CAB”. It was a surreal feeling considering I had not met most of these people who were bringing my script to life and more surreal in the fact that I had not been there and only seen a few production stills of the shoot itself. I think I was just happy that the movie actually got made.
Then… Trepidation began to set it.
The updates became sparse as the film went into post production. At first I didn’t notice as I was so inundated with my own shit, and plus I had such trust in Leo that I didn’t much worry at first.
But then I had a Skype conversation…
Leo was giving me an update and telling me about how great everybody had, how chilled out the shoot was and how professional and terrific the whole experience had been. From what I was hearing everything had gone swimmingly, everything had been great… But then Leo mentioned that he had cut out two pages of the script. My stomach lurched a little. He said he had cut out two pages of script as they were just… “waffle”. Waffle? WAFFLE? Not very tactful, Leo. Well, he knows better now, as I had a word, but at the time I found myself rather annoyed. If you’re a director don’t tell the writer that the words you had slaved over for several months and every single line had a reason for being there, were nothing but “waffle”, after you yourself had signed off on it and shot the film already. Tell the writer during writing or delete those scenes later after you’ve shot them. This was my thinking at the time. I was annoyed by this revelation and Leo then showed me a few of the rushes and I would be lying if I said viewing these rushes managed to settle my nerves. They didn’t. It definitely didn’t look like the film that I had had written and had already directed in my head.
But this wasn’t my film. This was Leo’s. He was the director. It was his vision. We were all part of a greater whole. That whole was Black Cab.
I was nervous, but I trusted Leo. From the start Leo knew what film he had wanted to make and I had to trust in his vision as he had trusted me with his story, as he had trusted me to turn in the best damn script I could. So I kept quiet, trusted Leo and let him get on with things.
And so he did. Then came the screening. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the screening as I was stuck in New York, which meant I would miss the big cast and crew party and therefore not meet anyone who had worked on this film once again. So I missed my own premiere. Cheers.
Then the other day, I finally got a chance to see the film. I had just gotten back from New York and was visiting Leo who was putting on a very lovely Sunday roast for a few friends and now I finally had the chance to sit down and see the finished product. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. A part of me was terrified. So much so in fact that I asked to be left alone to watch the film before anyone else.
I tried to relax, calm myself, threw back a couple of beers, had a nice chat and waited for the moment to arrive. When I finally sat down to watch the movie, I was a lot more relaxed than I had been. This was probably due to the beers in my system but still, I was in a far better place to see this film then I had been when I first arrived.
And so it started… and fourteen minutes later, it ended.
It was a weird feeling. Strange at first. A weird mixture of… I don’t know. Pride? Closure?
When the end credits began to roll on Black Cab, I felt… proud. I was actually happy. This son of a bitch had turned out fricking great. Better than that little shitty voice inside my head was telling me it would.
Leo has done a tremendous job with the film. Truly fantastic. It was his vision, through and through. He had made the film his own and created a truly tense and gripping experience. I actually didn’t miss the two pages he cut. In fact it probably improved upon things. It made things tighter, added tension to the situation. Leo imparted his own vision on the project. The photography was fantastic and the performances more than matched what I had in my head. In fact, towards the end I had forgotten I had actually written the script myself and found myself just watching the actual movie.
Obviously there were moments where I was cringing as I heard my dialogue spoken out loud but that’s natural for any writer. The point is, Leo, along with his fantastic cast and crew had crafted something that worked. I had been part of something that I could be proud of for once. Gone were the memories of that shambles of a feature that will never see the light of day, all those shorts that I had written that had fallen flat on their faces. Leo has done a grandstanding job with the film, more than I could have asked for.
It didn’t matter that he had altered some things, cut some things, rearranged things. In film or anything collaborative, a writer should not be a slave to their own material. Everything in film and even in theatre is a process. Art is something that is always in flux. It’s a process. As writers, we have to let go and learn to trust the people we are working with. We can moan about how our words are changed blah blah blah, but in the end that doesn’t help anybody. We’re creating something together. I wrote my version of Black Cab and then Leo took it a stage further and imparted his vision upon the project making the best damn film he could with the best damn script I could deliver at the time.
I didn’t expect to be as happy with the final product of Black Cab as I am. There’s a thrill you get when you watch something that you contributed creatively to which you feel genuinely proud of. It’s a good feeling. It’s the first time this has happened. A feeling I hope to repeat long into my career as a writer.
Overall, this Black Cab experience has been a truly remarkable one. We’ve had ups, we’ve had downs, I was even worried that I would be replaced as the main writer on the project but luckily that was my own paranoid delusions setting it, but overall this has a tremendous experience. My best so far in working in film in any capacity that wasn’t just me writing my spec scripts and plays alone in my room.
Now, we are about to do the rounds on the festival circuit. Here’s hoping.
Onwards… into that night sky, towards those glorious stars…