Every writer knows how daunting it is to hand a script to someone. Whether it’s a friend, family member, fellow writer, agent or anyone else, it’s a difficult task letting someone see that piece of work you’ve slaved over, put your heart into and means so much to you. So it’s no surprise writers are even more reluctant to hand work to a director or producer, for them to go away and turn it into their version of what you have in your mind. Ultimately, their vision is going to be different from yours. It’s like the whole ‘adaptation’ thing. I hear so many people that go to watch films that have been adapted from books they’ve read, saying things like ‘what happened to that bit that was in the book?’ or ‘that’s not how I pictured that character?’ or just ‘that was shit compared to the book!’. Well, that’s because they’ve already visualised the book in their own head – so whatever they see on screen will be different to what they imagined. I don’t know about other writers, but when I get an idea for a film, the whole thing builds in my mind visually – locations, characters…everything. So, although I appreciate writers do feel that they, or their scripts, get shit on and butchered a lot of the time, I do feel slightly sorry for those directors or producers who genuinely want to do a script justice, but just seem to have a completely different vision to the writer. Having said that, I have had scripts butchered and it’s certainly not a nice experience – it put me off and I’ve directed most of my own stuff (mainly short films and sketches) ever since. However, I don’t particularly want to be a director. I do a fair bit of low-budget, freelance directing, but writing is what I’m really passionate about, so I thought I better start being bold and giving scripts away.
At the London Screenwriter’s Festival 2011, a lot of speakers I heard were saying the same thing – ‘you’ve got to get stuff made’. It’s something I’ve always tried to do anyway, but I started thinking of ideas I could put together and film myself for no money, and in a fairly short period of time. I did that (with varying success), then decided I wanted to write something a little more substantial than just a sketch or short – I wanted to try a series. I thought it would be best to start small to begin with, so I came up with an idea for a mini ‘web’ series…that’s how ‘Ask Dennis’ was born. I spoke to my writing friend Simon Regan about joining me on the venture, and between us we wrote six short episodes. Then it was time to show it to someone – that someone was William Thorne. I met Will through my good friend Chris Russell (who I know from various production work when I was AD-ing in London after uni) and I started writing a few bits for a proposal he was putting together for Channel 4’s ‘comedy blaps’. Nothing came of the Channel 4 stuff, but we stayed in contact and I thought I’d send him the Ask Dennis scripts to get his opinion. He liked them! The next time I heard from him, he was getting actors together and booking a day to film one of the episodes! Really??? There was no budget and he was going to do this in his own time…as were the actors. It’s exactly how I work, and knowing how difficult it can be to pull-off I wasn’t really expecting much…but what the hell – it was going to get made! I thought to myself (apologies Will) we could always ‘can it’ if it was horrendous. Well, I can safely say it was definitely not that. In fact, I was more than pleasantly surprised. He did a great job and it was almost exactly how I envisaged it. OK, it’s a little rough around the edges (with the sound being one of the main issues) but I think it goes to show that handing over your script isn’t always going to be a disaster.
I’d love to think we could raise an actual budget and get the whole series shot, but it’s probably unlikely. I think the episodes definitely get funnier as the series goes on, with some comedy magic from Mr. Regan, so it would be a shame if it never saw the light of day…but I guess that’s the story with a lot of scripts that deserve to get made and never do.
Anyway, enough of my babbling – here it is (strong language included)…