BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne has worked on TV’s Skins, Shameless and This Is England, and wrote the Film4 production The Scouting Book for Boys, directed by Tom Harper. Here, he shares his diary from the making of the film
5th September 2008
Went to a wedding tonight, which was notable for two reasons:
i) I got to have a proper chat with Andrea, who is co-producer on the film and, according to Ivana, amazingly amazing. Got to say she seems great. She was able to fill me in on the final week’s prep – they’re all in Norfolk now and seemingly having a great time. It is quite strange to talk about the film with someone so specifically involved in it and yet someone I haven’t really properly talked to before. Guess I’ll have to get used to that.
ii) The couple getting married – Steve and Katherine – performed the most amazing first dance I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Steve will mind me saying that he’s not the most coordinated person in the world. In fact, it’s a bit of an effort for him to stand up straight at times. But this dance – which they’d taken lessons for – was awesome. Awesome because Steve didn’t suddenly turn into Fred Astaire but instead looked fragile and worried and he didn’t exactly count every step, but he kept his eyes firmly fixed on Katherine throughout, with her giving him signals that it’s all okay and he’s doing fine.
It got me thinking about Scouting Book, which is a love story of sorts, and how we represent that love. Because the characters never actually say, “I love you.” I’m not sure I have ever had characters say that in anything I’ve written, partly because I’ve never said it myself – I’ve tried twice, for those that are interested, and fucked it up both times. But we do sort of know, almost instantly, they are in love and this love is slightly unconventional. I went home and looked over the scenes again and checked they sort of had that intense fragility I so admired in Steve and Katherine. I think they do.
14th September 2008
Filming has started and I get an excited call from Tom to say they’ve turned over. He’s warned me in advance that now I’m the ex-wife and shouldn’t expect much from him from here on in. In fact, he clarifies, I’m his ex-ex-wife; despite our mini-break not being that long ago, Paul, the production designer, was his wife during prep, but now filming has started he’s an ex-wife too. Now Robbie, the DP, is where it’s at. The analogy when Tom explained it to me got slightly confused at this point, because he started saying that maybe actually we’re all mistresses and Ivana is his wife, but I don’t think she is – I think she’s a sister or something. Anyway, it was lovely to hear from him. And lovely to hear that the world is not turning all sorts of wrong ways.
On another note, I am now an investor in the film. In order to shoot on 35mm me, Ivana, Christian and Tom have all had to put up a relatively small amount. It’s so worth it.
16th September 2008
I had lunch with Marc Forster today (the director of Quantum Of Solace and Monster’s Ball). I have nothing to say about this other than he’s an awesome man. But he did meet me because of this script and I am very grateful to it. I’m basically just showing off. I met Marc Forster today. This is a good thing.
Have heard nothing from set. Left a call from Ivana. She hasn’t returned it. I guess I’m officially now the forgotten man. Still, Marc Forster likes me, so I don’t care. Or I think he likes me. I hope he likes me.
22nd September 2008
I’ve still not talked to Tom at all since the first day’s filming and I’ve only had a chance to talk to Ivana twice. Though I have found her weakness: text messaging. Ivana loves texting. She’ll text anyone. She’s a text whore.
3pm 28th September 2008
Finally, the day has arrived – the next week is all about Scouting Book. I’m going to Tom’s house to watch some rushes and then I’m off to Norfolk with him and Adam Lock – the first AD, who also worked on Skins and who I thought I’d recommended for this job. When I mentioned this to Tom he said yes, I did recommend him, but he didn’t take my advice that seriously, my knowledge of filming not being great. However, when Paul Cripps, our production designer, said that Adam was great, Tom did take his advice very seriously indeed. I’ve never felt more like an ex-ex-wife. I’m quite seriously nervous. What if it’s really shit? It’s probably not going to be, but it could be.
12am 28th September 2008
The rushes are beautiful. One shot in particular I think is amazing. It’s a shot of Tommo Turgoose walking along the Hunstanton Beach. In the background are the wings of an off-shore wind farm. It’s gorgeous and is so the sort of portrait of contemporary Britain that I was hoping for. (Yeah, I know, ‘portrait of contemporary Britain’ – shoot me now and make me write for the Daily Telegraph.)
The extraordinary thing in the rushes is that Tommo walks and talks like me. I don’t know quite how he’s done this: we’ve never met and Tom tells me that he doesn’t talk or walk like that in real life, but, like me particularly at that age, he’s got this thing where his legs don’t quite connect to his head but seem to move independently. It took me six attempts to pass my driving test because I have no coordination whatsoever and could never move the pedals in time with the gear-stick and definitely didn’t have any time to look at road signs. In fact, I’m not sure I didn’t eventually pass because my test examiner, Mrs Joy, who handled me for five out of six of the tests, was just being nice to me. At the start of the sixth test she told me to call her Valerie. Thankfully for the world, because of my illness, I’m not allowed to drive. Anyway, Tommo has channeled that from somewhere and maybe it’ll please no one except me, but it pleases me very much.
The only thing about the rushes that I’m still getting my head around is that Tom has made the decision to sort of heighten everything. All the characters, apart from the two leads, David and Emily, have a touch of unreality to them. In particular, Steve the security guard has a huge Elvis quiff and an odd way of talking. I think this will work. And think I’m dead excited about it and certainly tell Tom I am (be good). But it isn’t what I’m expecting, and to claim that I’m not sitting here in a slight state of flux, turning over exactly what it will mean, would be lying.
We arrived at the park at about 9 o’clock, with petrol station sandwiches and smiles and I meet Tommo for the first time. I’m slightly shy around him, to be honest. He isn’t shy and I overhear him arguing with the barman as to whether he’s allowed to buy beer or not. (He isn’t).
P.S. I’ve never been in a caravan this cold before. It’s freezing. I suppose it’s almost October but even with that considered, it’s freezing.
10pm 29th September 2008
My first day on set. And I’ve never felt more like a spare part in my entire life. We’re filming at a real-life location, a police station, which means there’s no place for me to watch the action. So mostly I sit in the back room with Marnie, the awesome script supervisor, whose job it is to basically be another set of eyes for Tom, and to protect the script and check the actors are following it. She’s very good. We watch on a monitor, and when earphones are free, I use them, but otherwise I watch a silent film of my film filming.
Acting today are Steven Mackintosh, Tommo, Rafe Spall and Susan Lynch – brilliant actors all. I only catch the briefest words with Rafe, where I admire his haircut very much. Someone told me that he’s going to be the biggest star in Britain soon – I wouldn’t be surprised. Susan I’ve worked with before (she came and did a day’s workshop on the Honky Tonk project me and Tom are doing), where she made the lovely Jo Eastwood, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, cry by being fucking scary. She is, I think, the most underrated actress in the British acting thing. I think she’s awesome.
Steven Mackintosh was the only one that left me slightly star-struck, not only because of Care, which I think is one of the best dramas on TV in the last 20 years, but also because when he was Tommo’s age he was Nigel in Adrian Mole, the TV show of the book that defined my childhood. I know I’m sounding like a luvvie now, and I’m not, but I am dead chuffed we’ve got the actors we’ve got.
In the afternoon, we move to another location and take a look at the caves Paul, our production designer, has built. He’s done it using bits borrowed from The Descent 2 and Merlin. And the cave looks, well, like a cave. I’m not going to say awesome any more because I’ve been overusing it as a word. But it is.
I sit with Tom as he rehearses the actors for the afternoon. I say nothing. I rarely do in rehearsals for anything (radio, theatre, TV) for two reasons: i) I know how I want every line to be said and I don’t think it’s helpful to let them know this, plus I know that generally they land somewhere pretty close by the time a scene is finished, and ii) the sad fact about writers is that we’re seen like the oracle, somehow always understanding what a character thinks or feels. I don’t, and I don’t think I’m alone. Tom is great with the actors anyway – patient, inquisitive, careful. He is ex-theatre, albeit from a long time ago, and it really shows sometimes.
Anyway, now back in the caravan on my own. In bad news, Tony Maudsley, who’s playing Jim, is staying in my caravan tonight but has gone AWOL. Because everyone is on 5am starts I don’t think I should phone anyone to ask whether I should be worried. In good news, someone has told me two ways to warm up my caravan. The first is to turn the heating on. Yup, I should have probably done that last night. The other is to put the spare duvet in my room under my sheet. It works a treat – I’m a lot warmer now anyway.
1am 29th September 2008
Tony has arrived. A very, very nice guy. Turned out – thanks to his SatNav – he went to the other Broadland caravan park in Lowestoft and, as everyone he tried to call was asleep, he then drove around for two hours hoping to remember where he came for his make-up and costume tests. I love the fact that there are two Broadlands, but I hope I’m appropriately sympathetic. He’s annoyed because he wanted to get pissed and do the scenes hungover, the way that Jim would be – he’s clearly going to be a perfect Jim.
9.39pm 30th September 2008
I can balance an egg-cup on my nose for four hours at a time and I know all the words to Never Ever by All Saints. Those apart, I have very few skills in life other than writing – if that can be described as a skill, although you can get doctorates in creative writing now. This I’m discovering on set as I just seem to clutter things up and get in the way.
And yet everyone is being really nice to me. Tom warned me that I might feel a bit left out on set. (Do you get the sense that this guy is quite protective? I think he might think I’m a small child.) In actual fact people are being lovely – particularly Julian and Shaida in the costume department, and Jody and Karen who do make-up. Working the length of days they are, and having to spend much of that waiting for the drinks break to do their work, you’d expect them to be savage and difficult, but they’re not. Julian in particular seems to have worked on everything (including Last Resort and My Summer Of Love), so it’s great to pick his brain about stuff. He’s a real horror film geek, in fact – so much so I feel slightly out-geeked and intimidated. (One of the many things that can turn me ugly is the fear that someone knows more about TV than I do.) But no, everyone’s been a good laugh, which is a relief, as I hate being hated.
I’m then in the office for a few hours because a note has come down from Peter Carlton, our exec, to keep an eye on David’s slyness. Tommo is brilliant but, unlike I was at his age, he’s a nice guy who trusts people and sometimes that comes across too heavily in his performance. Ivana and I go through the script looking at the remaining scenes and working out where David can really show his darkness and guile. It’s fun doing this and fun working with Ivana together on script.
In the afternoon I witness DP Robbie Ryan’s genius at work as he makes wet and overcast Norfolk look like a warm summer’s day. He understands filters, that man. Or someone does on set, because how the scene looks in reality and how it looks through the monitor are literally miles apart.
Paul Cripps then cooks me and Tom dinner and finally I get ‘face time’ with the great director. And once again I’m amazed at how relaxed Tom seems about everything. If I were him I’d be having several small kittens right now. This film is important for all of us but arguably his career is the most on the line – in fact, he turned some stuff down before this because he wanted his first film to be the right one. Yet stress seems to wash over him. I would write down some cogent greatness he expressed as we ate our burgers, but truth is, he was pretty knackered and talked bollocks for an hour.
Watch the trailer for The Scouting Book For Boys
4pm 1st October 2008
I’m now on the train home having finally seen Emily and David together. Holliday Grainger, who is playing Emily, had the first few days of my stay off so I didn’t meet her at all until last night. What I knew was her auditions were amazing – she has a brilliant understanding of rhythm and comprehension, she makes lines work. But Emily is not an easy part and aside from the fact she’s beautiful (and that’s quite important), she’s got her spirit nailed. Watching her and Tommo on top of the toilets together, I’m so chuffed: the film will live and die on the basis of the relationship between those two, and they work brilliantly together. There’s genuine chemistry, wit and love.
I’m going home earlier than I should do because I’ve stupidly run out of tablets (stupid disease thing again), but I do actually think this is the right time to be heading back. I have very little to add to set, and in some ways I think I can take stuff away. And besides, I’ve a shitload of work to do on other projects.
I know some writers hang around shooting all the time, but this is the eighth or ninth thing I’ve had made (including shorts and TV) and this is only the second time I’ve ever attended set. The first shoot which I did attend was a disaster, so I hope I’m not a bad luck charm. I’m pleased I’ve seen it all at work, and how hard everyone is working. I’ve got to say sometimes the lengths people go to I find slightly embarrassing – this is just some shit I’ve knocked out on pieces of A4 after all. And then I have to convince myself that the pain I’m causing them is only the equivalent of the pain I caused myself all those months ago when slogging at this script. But mostly I feel happy to be part of something far bigger than myself. I like being part of a team: it’s why I write scripts rather than novels.