For our family it was a huge shock when Carrie Fisher passed away at the end of last year. We are massive Star Wars fans in our house and it was a sad day for all. We will all look forward to seeing Star Wars VIII when it comes out in the cinema. As a tribute to Carrie Fisher we chimed the Star Wars theme tune at the end of our bell ringing practice the other week. Whoever said bell ringers are boring, clearly hasn’t met the band I ring with. Thank you so much to the other ringers who made this possible.
But this was the premise for a sketch that I filmed with some old friends a couple of years ago. Friends that I was writing comedy sketches with back when I was a teenager. The way I remember it is we would meet in the drama hall after school, writing, improvising and laughing for about two hours non-stop. And by laugh, I mean breathless, bent-over-in-agony, pounding the floor, thinking you’re going to die, convulsing in spasms laughter. I have not laughed so hard since.
As a teenage boy there was a kind of comedy arms race among my peers: we were always trying to be the fastest and the funniest, and a few of us tried to get it down on paper, then on its feet, thinking we were going to be the next Monty Python…
Well, of course, we were not…
But it was the first writing I did with an audience in mind, and we’ve since all gone on to do cool, creative things: Jeremy is now a documentary filmmaker, Dom is an incredible musician and award-winning filmmaker, Paul works in West End theatre, and I write words and sometimes get paid for them. There’s a moment in Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian where he recalls the same thing. His friends at school were as funny as he was, if not funnier. The difference is, he pursued it as a career and didn’t allow the formalities of life — getting a job, behaving like an adult in polite company etc. — slowly beat it out of him. It’s a sobering thought that I’ll never be as funny as I was when I was a kid, confirmed perhaps by the sketch we filmed when we all reunited again for Paul’s fortieth birthday…
Yes, that’s me on the right as Michael Caine (as Widow Twankey), with Paul on the left (Aladdin), in a sketch written by Dom and filmed by Jeremy. There’s an alternative universe where we’re begrudgingly reuniting for a stadium tour, we’re all millionaires and we all hate each other… I wouldn’t want to live there, but it might be worth a short visit.
My son is fourteen, my daughter seventeen, and they’re both quick wits and make me laugh every single day, and I regularly plead with them not to let life beat that humour out of them.
Cling on to the funny, folks.
Christ knows, over the next few years I suspect we will need a good laugh more than ever before.
Dean asked if I was interested in another project he’s developing. It’s called ‘The Office Christmas Party’, and comes from a party witnessed by his brother. So far it’s just a series of ‘It really happened’ events. There’s no story or even a rough outline, but in some ways that’s best if it gives me more of a free reign. Anyway, I’ll look at what he’s got and see if it’s do-able.
Tuesday 9th January, 2007
I read the notes for Dean’s ‘Office Christmas Party’ idea… Yikes. There’s really nothing to work with. It’s basically what happens when you give people a free bar and too much coke. The concept is a good one, but I’d have to start from scratch and I have a nagging doubt that Dean doesn’t have the money to pay me for that.
Wednesday 10th January, 2007
Agreed with Dean to put together a two-page treatment for his April deadline…
The more observant of you might be asking, ‘What the hell? You clearly didn’t like the idea, so why are you writing a treatment for it?’ Indeed, and you’d be right to be confused. But I was inexperienced, eager to please a producer who was developing another project of mine, and I had the writer’s hubris to think that I could mould this idea into a personal statement. How wrong was I? Well, let’s say this led to a further three and a half years of working on a film that would never happen. Three and half years! I know this because I looked it up in my diary…
Wednesday 8th September, 2010
Dean called yesterday and I think I’ve finally laid the ghost of The Christmas Office Party to rest. I simply told him I’d run cold on the idea. He was disappointed, but seemed resigned to it.
You’ll note the slight title change there (because we didn’t anyone thinking it was anything to do with Ricky Gervais’s The Office… how times have changed). It’s not a question of the time taken, or not being paid – I’ve worked longer and for less on other projects – but the difference here is I was completely wrong for the project. I didn’t believe in it, I didn’t like the tone they wanted, nor had I any experience in writing a raucous comedy, but I still said yes. It was an interesting concept, and I thought it could get made, and when you’re an un-produced screenwriter, all you really want in life is to get something made.
The lesson I had yet to learn is the most powerful thing a writer can do is say No.
Seriously, try it.
Saying no means you can move and find something new and follow your passions. Saying no means you still have all the power. Saying no means they might even consider paying you for the project.
Saying yes means you’re suddenly obliged to deliver writing, for little or no money, and with no end in sight.
This isn’t to disparage Dean as a producer. Like all indie producers, he’s building a slate and simply doesn’t have the money to pay writers for endless drafts. The mistake was all mine, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So, it was with very mixed feelings when I first saw the trailer for ‘The Office Christmas Party’. It was a good idea, and Dean had beaten Hollywood to it by ten years… he just needed the right writer. Trouble is, it wasn’t me.