Adventures in Cinema - Episode Three

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Three: Reading Between The Lines

The read-throughs were held in a pleasantly non-descript redbrick
building ten minutes walk from... well, just about everywhere that seemed to matter: our house, Matt and Erica's house, the pub - definitely a desirable location. Joe and I strolled up around ten - the early start was a little disconcerting but I was prepared to make sacrifices for the project. We found Matt, Erica and Dave already on site. I gave Matt the new scenes I'd written and we sat down to await the others.

It wasn't long before Ralph appeared, accompanied by our two lead actors. Graeme was tall, dark, handsome (I expect), and smug - the latter attribute only increasing after he discovered the script called for some a-huggin' and a-kissin' between him and the lovely Caitlin. Chris, on the other hand, was short, wiry, rat-faced in the nicest possible way, and had an impressive set of dirty blond dreadlocks. (Matt cast Chris rather than Graeme to have all the a-huggin' and a-kissin' with Matt's missus - coincidence? You decide.) The two of them radiated the kind of obvious, unforced, Butch 'n' Sundance rapport I've always been jealous of. While Matt was talking to them Leann and Caitlin showed up and we were all set for the day.

We went up to our room and Matt gave us a pep-talk he'd clearly spent a lot of time working on. Unfortunately I can't remember a word of it. Then we started the read-through. Matt had yet to tell Dave that his part was in danger and continued to dodge that particular bullet by announcing everyone would be reading a selection of parts just so he could 'get an impression of their range'. Thus Joe could read what was still officially Dave's part without Dave getting needlessly suspicious.

Matt was taping the proceedings, mainly so he could practice with the
camera. As the techies, Ralph and I got a go as well, and I'm afraid I spent a lot of my stint using the zoom function inappropriately while the ladies of the cast were doing their stuff. This was fun at the time but seemed less of a wheeze when we all sat down later to watch the tapes and I got a right paddling.

As the read-throughs got under way several things rapidly became
apparent. The first one was that Dave was an even worse actor than Matt had feared. He was less animated, and menacing, than the chair he was sitting in - although as the chair had corduroy seat-covers that may not be a fair comparison. Not that there weren't several dodgy performances on display, but Dave out-dodged us all.

His fate was truly sealed when Joe, rather staggeringly to Erica and I, turned out to be a startlingly good actor. Even reading from the script his delivery of Matt's rather iffy dialogue seemed absolutely natural. Matt would probably have offered him one of the leads had he not been so intimidating to everyone else (including Matt). I also doubt the ladies would have been keen on doing the a-huggin' and a-kissin' with an emaciated-looking scally Zen Master. Besides which, Graeme and Chris's off-screen friendship shone through in their performances, which was ideal for the two lead male roles.

All went fairly swimmingly until the climax where Chris was to be mugged while out buying fags. Quite why we were doing this wordless sequence at the read-through, I've no idea - that was Matt for you. Joe and I were designated muggers for the day and Chris commenced his walk across the room. I decided to base my student-bashing performance in reality but, having had no experience of it (and thank God for that!) I was forced to fall back on my knowledge of Steve Coogan's Paul Calf character. As we sprang on Chris I found myself mockingly screeching 'I'm a student! Look at me silly hat! Look at me scarf!' and realised I was quoting from the wrong script. I decided to redeem myself by doing the rest of it as realistically as possible and started pretending to clobber Chris. Unfortunately the dreadlocked one was so gobsmacked by my rather eccentric performance that he just stood there gaping at me and I clocked him one round the head without really meaning to.

A startled-looking Chris keeled over and Joe discreetly prevented me from putting the boot in on our star. There was a guilty swell of laughter from our audience which was music to my ears - always happy to entertain, that's me - but then copped a baleful look from Matt and wrapped it up at that point. Chris was very mellow about it afterwards but I do recall that I wasn't taken along when that sequence was actually taped - Matt taking no chances, no doubt. Anyway, the day was declared a success by our leader and we all went down the pub.

Over a few pints in the Haworth Matt disclosed that he was rather pleased with the little he'd read of my scenes and invited me round that evening to do some more work on the script. Delighted, I agreed. It was mid-evening by the time all the others had cleared off and Matt, Erica and I set off for their house. As you may recall the summer of 1995 was an absolute scorcher and it was still clammily hot even at that time of night.

By the time we reached Matt and Erica's house - a nice place, if slightly cramped - I was feeling slightly dehydrated and on top of that I'd only had a flapjack to eat all day. I asked if I might have a drink before we started work, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. Before I knew it we were sitting in front of Men Behaving Badly hosing ourselves down with a popular brand of soft beverage and waiting for a pizza to heat through. Matt eventually settled for 'burnt to a crisp round the edges while still frozen in the centre' and who was I to argue with my director? Unfortunately by this time a terrible Mel Brooks film had lurched onto the screen and he promptly became utterly engrossed in it.

It was after midnight when Matt and I sat down at the typewriter in the back bedroom (Erica being far too sensible to stay up all night like this). Matt let my new material involving Leann's character and the Graeme-Caitlin romance stand pretty much as submitted and we concentrated on fixing the ending.

Now this was the scene I'd made a mockery of in the read-through. My main problem with it from a dramatic point of view was that it seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film.

'Yeah, but this actually happened to me,' Matt said.

'Yes, and no offence, but so what?'

'Well...' he cogitated. 'Here's Chris, worried that Joe's going to leap out on him when in fact it's a total stranger who's really got it in for him. It's meant to be, wossname, dramatic irony.'

'Yeah, but it's not clear that he's worrying about Joe...' I proposed a reworking where Chris sees Joe stalking down the darkened street towards him, and fears the worst. But Joe doesn't touch him and they pass without speaking. Chris breathes a sigh of relief, turns the corner, and - pow! - gets flattened by someone he's never seen before in his life. Matt took some persuading, but eventually saw the merits of the idea.

I politely declined his offer of a mattress for the night and staggered off home. We were due to meet up again for the second day's read-through in just under six hours.

I was just about functional when we recovered later that day. It was
technically the final day of my university career but I was too preoccupied, not to mention whacked, for nostalgia or sentimentality. Matt looked alarmingly bright-eyed on arrival (Erica later told me he hadn't actually slept since Tuesday - I felt drained just thinking about that).

Before the read-through proper began, Matt announced that he'd be having one-on-one meetings with the members of the company. It turned out that this was his way of informing people of what roles they'd actually be performing. Dave emerged from his tete-a-tete looking distinctly p****d off at being passed over, and I can't say I blame him. Then, slightly surprisingly to me at least, I was called in.

Matt wasn't in the mood to beat about the bush. 'I typed up all your
stuff,' he said, 'and put it in the script and read it in the bath. And I didn't like it.'

'Oh,' I said.

'I'm not making Short Cuts, this isn't an ensemble piece,' Matt continued, 'it's about Erica and Chris. So we won't be using all that material you wrote. Okay?'

'Uh, okay,' I said numbly. Criticisms always sting more when they're
valid ones and a lot of what I'd written was simply there to beef up Leann and Joe's contribution rather than improve the film. The new ending, which actually was an improvement, was being retained, so I hadn't completely wasted my time.

But I still reckon Matt made a mistake. (Yes, this is the pointless
score-settling bit, so feel free to skip on to the next paragraph.) In
Matt's script there was nothing to motivate the Graeme/Caitlin romance,
which in any case didn't contribute anything to the story. It only seemed to be there to provide a cheap and intrusive gag (the shift from non-coupledom to a-kissin' and a-huggin' occurred off-screen). Rather than drop the gag I'd tried to give the relationship a bit more grounding and depth. Oh well - it was Matt's film, not mine.

I don't remember much of that day, due to a combination of exhaustion and sour grapes, and it was a relief to slope off home with Joe at its
conclusion. We watched the X Men cartoon and then Heathers
(which Matt had lent me), and then - still broodily twitching - I had an
early night.

We had a pleasant non-film related weekend in our usual style, and were looking forward to actually starting to shoot the damn thing the following Monday. I'd told Matt that Joe and I had to go and register with the DSS first thing Monday morning, but suspected that it hadn't sunk in. Oh well - there wasn't much I could do about that.

My main concern was the parlous state of my personal finances and that Sunday night I rang home, intent on requesting a financial lifeline. My mother answered the phone.

'Hi, it's me.'

'Oh. Hello,' she said, a bit distantly I thought. 'Do you know what today is?'

I frowned and racked my memory. Sunday? Last day of term (sort of)? July the first - oh no.

'It was my birthday yesterday,' the voice of doom confirmed, icily.

'....' I explained, wittily.

'The rest of my family remembered my birthday,' she continued

'....' I elaborated breezily.

Then she said nothing at all, which was even worse. A lesser intellect might have concluded that this might not be the best time to ask for a handout, but not I, oh no!

'I've been really busy,' I said, and explained about the film and Matt's nebulous job offer. 'But until that comes through, I could really use some help with the bills.'

'I thought you were going to get a job?'

'Yeah, well, I haven't -' (bothered to look for one) '- managed it yet.'

'We can't keep on bailing you out forever, we agreed that you'd support yourself after your course finished, remember?'

'Yeah, well, it's not that easy -' (not that I'd have any idea, not
having even tried) '- you know.'

'Well... I'll talk to your father about this. You'll have to start
fending for yourself sooner or later, you know.'

'Yes,' I said. 'Happy birthday, Mum.'

That just didn't seem fair. She'd managed to make the whole project sound like a feeble and desperate attempt to avoid engaging with the real world. Deep down I knew she was right and I was wrong, but that wasn't a pleasant thought and so I avoided it energetically. Feeling a bit raw and disgusted at myself for forgetting her birthday (again), I sat down to watch TV. In a matter of hours I would be unemployed.

Next episode: A ginger intruder makes an appearance and a tin of
Spaghetti Hoops casts a long shadow.

Adventures in Cinema Collection


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