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 diaries from the making of the film
My name is Jack Thorne. I wrote The Scouting Book For Boys. I want to call this diary Notes From A Hole In The Floor, after my first-ever screenwriting job. I was employed by a great man called Pawel Pawlikowski and a great woman called Tanya Seghatchian. Pawel liked me because, apparently, I was just like the lead character in a novel called Notes From The Underground (literal translation: Notes From A Hole In The Floor) and he wanted me to adapt the book for him to direct.
I hadn’t read the book when he told me this and was very excited both by the notion that anyone would want me to write anything – particularly Pawel, who is a hero of mine – and also by the notion I might be some literary romantic character. The first notion turned out okay; the second, less good, because it turns out the lead character in Underground is not such a literary romantic character. Instead he’s a nervous, angst-ridden, unlikeable guy who turns out to be a rapist.
28 July 2008
Last week, me and Tom went on a recce to the film’s locations. We visited about 15 caravan parks, some forests, lots of cliff tops and numerous beaches. We also stayed in the caravan park that will be one of our principal locations for the film, and enjoyed the night’s entertainments.
Norfolk was never the location I had in my head for the film. I wrote it sitting in a caravan park in Wales about a childhood going on caravan holidays on the Isle of Wight. But the longer we spent there, the more right it seemed. The landscape is stylish, long, flat. I want to call them salt plain vistas. (I’m probably wrong – if so, blame Lionel Ritchie). I told Tom he could shoot one scene like David Lean and it really is David Lean-type country. He nodded and smiled.
But it’s the parks themselves that really pleased me. There were a few details I saw and now desperately want to get in the script – the habit of flying club football flags from the top of caravan roofs, a girl on roller skates dancing at the caravan karaoke, and a granny being pushed up a steep slope from the beach, her dress blowing in the wind. But mostly I was pleased how well the world fitted with what I’d written.
The other sort of purpose of the trip was to spend a large amount of time with Tom. When he first got involved with the project we sort of knew each other, but not well. Tom pitched for a script I’d written, but another director was deemed a better match. He sent me an e-mail anyway and we met up for a coffee and sort of got on. We’ve become friends since – a few dinners, some drinks, I’ve flirted (badly) with his wife, we’ve been 10-pin bowling twice and we’ve become genuine collaborators. We’re also working together on a one-off for the BBC.
It’s always interesting spending an intense amount of time with someone, when you get past the point where you don’t feel you need to impress each other anymore, and I think that happened this week. To put it in Bridget Jones terms, we’ve been having a romance and this was our mini-break. That moment when the relationship becomes truly tested… and I think we sort of passed.
I was reassured yesterday when he phoned me up about some script notes and I was feeling shitty. I’m allergic to heat – it’s complicated – and so behaved a bit shitty and he got angry and sort of said ‘why you being shitty’ and I sort of pulled myself together. A few weeks ago, I don’t think he’d have got angry or said that, because he’d be too worried about offending me. So the fact he did was sort of testament to the fact that, you know, sharing the same bed in a foreign country and cuddling actually works.
Anyway, now we’ve achieved that, I’m thinking about what my job is from here on in. I wrote this film two-and-half years ago, it’s been an idea in my head for six years and I was the lead character when I was 13 – so now that we’re a week or two before prep, it feels very, very odd. Exciting, but scary. And I tend to have the same thought over and over again: what if it’s really, really shit? And the thing is, you can sort of get away with that thought when you’re writing the thing, because you’re important then and people have to support your princess complex, but at this stage it’s a really unhelpful thought to have. Because, aside from tweaks and nibbles, my job is done, so I should be concentrating on making Ivana and Tom feel good. And at the moment, I’m not. Or not enough. I’m being argumentative, difficult and shitty and I’ve got to stop being/doing that. So that’s my resolution: I must be good. I blame ET.
5 August 2008 9:30am
Final script tweaks before handing to the someone or other that Ivana says is very important. After today the script will be locked – which doesn’t mean there won’t be tweaks, but does mean that stuff like scene numbers have to be kept the same.
I need to plough a ‘middle way’ between Kertzer being odd and being more police officer-y. Anyway, I’ve only got one day because they’ve been ridiculously busy and have only just got me the notes (with a ‘these should only take one day, right?’ – be good, be good…) so it’s quite stressful, but I’m quite used to tight deadlines from telly – where they say ‘either you sort it or we’ll overwrite you’. If you don’t want to get overwritten, learn how to write quick.
5 August 2008 9pm
Hand in. Kertzer’s okay, not great. I’ve tried to pull back on the big mannerisms he uses, and the small practical notes were relatively easily fulfilled.
5 August 2008 11pm
Or so I thought…
Hey jack most of this excellent – here are my thoughts: If you do get a chance to do these it would be great to get this out by about midday tomorrow! If you want to discuss anything, I will be up from eight.
This I wasn’t expecting and initially I am properly angry. I actually throw a DVD box-set across the room, which is quite aggressive behaviour for me. But then I read the notes and a) they’re not extensive, and b) they mostly correct stupid mistakes I’ve made. A lot of them are correcting things like scene headings, because the scenes have been written at different times so sometimes ‘night’ is followed by ‘day’ is followed by ‘dusk’ is followed by ‘night’. I am a loser for not checking this myself.
I guess now is a good moment to talk about how the script developed. I met Ivana on the back of my friend Dan Outram recommending us to each other. Me and Dan had just had a short film in Sundance (called A Supermarket Love Song) and Ivana liked it. Two years before, I’d developed this idea about a kid on a caravan park (the initial sort of jump-off point was actually a biography of Robbie Williams, which talked about his dad being a campsite entertainer, and I got thinking about what that must have felt like) who hides his friend in a cave and then it all starts to go wrong. Ivana commissions me via this new writers’ scheme that she’s set up at Celador. Anyway I wrote it, she liked it, she showed it to Tom, he liked it, she showed it to Film4, they liked it and paid us money to develop a new draft. Which is when it all started to go wrong..
I’m still relatively new and everyone was telling me what to change and I ended up with a huge script that polluted the idea of who David was. The trouble was not so much cutting stuff, it was keeping stuff. I think this is something that doesn’t get talked about enough – yes, you need to kill your own babies, but also you need to kill other peoples’ babies. Because people are nice, people kept telling me what they loved, and I felt obliged to keep everything they loved. Anyway, crisis point hit when we got a note from the lovely Diarmuid at Celador that I’d turned David into a psycho. At which point Tom, Ivana and I sat down and gently cried and discussed what the script really meant, and I went away and wrote a draft just for me.
As I wrote, another fortuitous thing happened, which is that the British film industry decided to set up its equivalent to the LA Blacklist. The Blacklist is an industry vote on the best unproduced screenplay in Hollywood. Anyway, because people had liked my first draft, Scouting got voted number two on the Brit List, and immediately people got more interested in the project again. (Number one was The Men Who Stare At Goats, which was then immediately sold to George Clooney for £1.5 million – not that I’m bitter.) Coupled with my slash and burn (I cut the script from 112 pages to 82 and really got to the heart of the story I wanted to tell, namely David’s), we were semi-green lit and Film4 promised us money. Hurrah!
August 9 2008
The naming of the caravan park. Tom wanted either Sunshine Park or Sunbeam Park, I thought both sounded slightly ironical in a sort of Sunnydale sort of way. So I said can we go for Sunpark Caravans and he said “fine”. So that seems like the name, though now I’m worrying about whether it sounds too much like Sunpat peanut butter – my brother was really into it when we were kids.
I love naming things. When I worked on Skins, I named some characters after old friends – and these surnames are now everywhere. Basically, naming things makes me feel important. Other people really fuck about with names – Gavin & Stacy have got the surnames Shipman and West because the writers decided it was funny to name them after serial killers. Rather more sweetly, Mark Ravenhill named the characters in his play Shopping And Fucking after members of Take That.
26 August 2008
I got that excited/scared feeling. Like 98% excited, 2% scared. Or it could be 98% scared, 2% excited, but that’s what makes it so intense.
Three bits of business; one, a meeting with a lovely man at Pathe, Michael Cowan, who’s just taken over the development wing. I have quite a lot of these meetings – going along, having a cup of tea, it’s sort of how the industry turns – but he’s particularly interesting because they’re distributing the film. Anyway, he was really nice about the script and it sounds like the company’s behind us, which is brilliant because distribution money is almost as important as production money, and as a low-budget film, we are not guaranteed it. They could still hate the final thing and put us out on one screen in Basingstoke, but they like us for now.
The second is that I went along to the production offices today because Tom said I should meet everyone and touch hands and stuff. I’m actually quite shy when out and about and generally can be relied upon to look awkward whatever the occasion. I haven’t gone to a party for about six years-– but that’s also because I can’t drink because of the weird allergy that makes me angry, which I talked about above. There’s also the thing of (and this happens quite a lot, or I think it does but this might be to do with inflated self-importance) people seem to look at me too much when they’re working on something I’m doing. Not the rest of the time - I’m very unnoticeable, in fact – but I guess when you’re working on something and the writer comes in, you’ve got to try to work out where the script stops and he begins. I just nodded and smiled and regretted not bringing presents.
I am always amazed at the amount of people needed to make a project work and how hard these people have to work. Particularly tricky was the news that Diarmuid (yes, the guy who gave the ‘David is psycho’ note all that time ago) had taken to sleeping under his desk because he didn’t have time to go home at night. Now I occasionally fall asleep in front of my computer but my computer is in my house. I felt both amazed and incredibly guilty that people were working that hard on the film.
The third is, Ivana said we were allowed to celebrate. The film is going to get made – all the contracts signed, sealed, delivered, we’re go. I’d been waiting two years for this news, so we high-fived. Twice. It was good.