By Theo Watkins
I’m extremely proud that we were able to get my supermarket comedy-horror short, Service, over the finish line. Not without a mass of toil and determination, largely from a host of contributors to which I owe so much. I’m also proud that the film’s performance at festivals has far surpassed my exceptions, showing at festivals such as Frightfest, Encounters and Leeds International Film Festival.
When I wrote the script, quicker than I’ve ever written anything, I thought it was something that would appeal to me and me only. Perhaps this is the way I should write from now on.
It’s a dark and twisted mix of evil AI and British retail, inspired by my time working at a supermarket, post-graduation. It stars, as well as the brilliant Paul Clayton and Alison Lintott, my old supervisor Jon.
And now (as of 29th April 2020 at 4pm) the film gets its final resting place on the online horror film platform, watchalter.com
This is just shy of two whole years since the script won funding from the amazing IMDB Script to Screen Awards, so I I thought I’d gives some thoughts on the lessons I learnt from taking my script to the screen, with a little help (a lot of help) from IMDB and FilmBath.
When I won in 2018, I remember thinking that no revisions of my screenplay were necessary — and sure as hell not feedback, God forbid — as Service was now certified as an award winning screenplay. It had won first place, king of the scripts. Sacrosanct, dwelling in screenplay nirvana along with Chinatown and Some Like it Hot. Anything added or taken away would surely be classed as heresy.
But of course, that soon changed.
First of all, a scene that I had originally cut from my submitted script kept popping into my consciousness. I had deemed it too weird to include. That was a good call. Full-frontal nudity sure as hell wouldn’t read well in a live-reading environment. But now that the award was won and the budget secured, I had become drunk with power.
The scene was back in. What was originally a darkly comic short had become a fully fledged horror-comedy. I was Dr. Frankenstein and I’d just added a murderer’s brain to my ungodly creation.
Next came the shoot. What was described in my script as a giant, cavernous supermarket had to now become a university student union shop (don’t set a film in a supermarket unless you have millions of pounds, they ain’t letting you in).
Alongside that, I had envisaged us using a real self-service till as our main antagonist, but that was now out of the window. We decided to make our own till — art designer Josh Hooper did a beautiful job of creating a blocky, nightmarish scanner which gave the film more of a b-movie flavour which slotted in perfectly with the film’s style.
Then came the dialogue, the thing most people think of when the word ‘script’ is said out loud.
The brilliant live-reading by drama students from Bath Spa University at the Script to Screen final was, by design, a faithful adaptation. I got to hear the words I’d written vocalised and performed, fully verbatim. But get actors on set, block the scene, and things will change. Exactly what changed, I can’t really remember. The shoot was a big bright, stressful, fluorescent blur.
It didn’t stop in the editing process. For pacing reasons, we ended up lopping off a big chunk of dialogue in the middle of the scene. No one noticed and the film was better for it. Oh, the magic of filmmaking — what works on the page might not work when you shoot, and what works when the shoot might not work in the edit.
This isn’t a negative. This is the beauty of filmmaking, what can seem like something going wrong can ultimately benefit the finished film. You just need to be open and prepared for things to go wrong. Actually, scratch that, you can never really be prepared. Just don’t freak out when they do go wrong… because they will.
So work hard on your script, make it brilliant. Make it the best it can be. But you probably shouldn’t have too much reverence for it. It is, after all, just a blueprint for a work of art, not really a work of art itself. It’s a stack of words, and on their own, a stack of words don’t add up to a film.
What’s incredible about this competition is that you have to make the film out of your winning screenplay. You don’t just get a little trophy, a pat on the back and something to pop on your CV. The title, Script to Screen, doesn’t lie. But that does mean that if you intend to win, you need to be prepared to go on that journey. The script is obviously important, you all know that. The screen is the exciting bit for which we all aim. But it’s the to that’s the crucial part — without the to, nothing’s getting on that screen and the script you worked so hard on is condemned to curl up and turn yellowish at the bottom of a forgotten drawer.
What felt to me like the end of a long road in trying to win funding for a film (this was the third time I made the final and the firth time I’d submitted work overall) was in fact just the beginning. And that, my friends, is filmmaking. Be prepared to go on that crazy journey, as good ideas aren’t enough. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
From 29 April 2020 you can watch the film here.
You can see photos from the night here.
You can enter the IMDb Script to Screen Award here.