Jean is a screenwriter whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading over the past few years. I’ve always noted how dedicated Jean is to her writing, and this has recently been proved even further by the fact that Jean has bravely embarked upon the production of her feature script “Shadows” herself! I’m delighted to catch up with her to find out more…
Welcome to the Writesofluid blog, Jean!
Tell us a bit about you – how/why did you become a writer, and had you always aspired to be a screenwriter?
I have been writing stories, lyrics and poetry since I was a child but it was only after I was forced to end my career as a social worker due to health issues that I decided to pursue a full time career in writing. I was already published at this stage with interactive workbooks for children relating to social care issues, selling internationally.
My love or ‘addiction’ to screenwriting came by chance when I attended an MA module on screenwriting tutored by Professor Steve Hawes. He was my inspiration into the world of screenwriting. Later, after being short-listed in the Euroscript Screen Story Treatment competition I was introduced to Charles Harris, Fenella Greenfield and other members of the Euroscript team. Their support and constant encouragement has also been significantly instrumental in my screenwriting and playwright development.
What is it about screenwriting that appeals to you, as the format for many of your stories?
Ha! It was the challenge that ‘I just didn’t get it.’ Learning and developing my screenwriting skills will be a continuous frustrating challenge though the rest of my life. I love it and hate it, I thrive on it and get baffled by it. I try to put it to one side to concentrate on other writings but always come back to it. Without any preparation or warning, from the moment Steve Hawes started talking about the elements and structure of screenwriting it was like it became an integral part of my everyday living. The pictures and visions of my stories just come to life as film in my head. They have become part of me.
What’s Shadows about?
It’s about a woman reclaiming her life.
What inspired you to write Shadows?
The story concept for Shadows originated when I rented a small cottage in Wiltshire a few years ago. Unknown to me at the time of moving into the cottage, it had a local history of being haunted.
In my professional capacity I have had over twenty years’ experience of working with both child and adult victims of child sexual abuse and this is how my story idea for Shadows was formed, combining both these two complex issues to form a different type of ghost story.
What is it about Shadows that makes you so passionate about producing it?
Believing in the story but not just me, others that have read it. The overall response I have received from people who have read the script. This aside, I want to write about believable female protagonist characters. I feel like women are under-represented in the film industry. This project has given me something tangible to work with and to try and make a difference. If even in a small way. Perhaps it’s not only about a female character reclaiming her own life but also a new female screenwriter, trying to make her voice heard?
Independently producing a film is a big task – what inspired you to take this route? Had you tried other routes first or was indie film-making always a goal for you?
Basically, none of this was planned so I can’t take any credit for any careful planning. It all started when I went to the Vue Cinema in Newbury with two girl friends of mine to see Quartet. As soon as the film started I announced that I had seen Mrs Kirby, one of the characters in Shadows. Both of my friends laughed but later that night I researched Patricia Loveland’s agent Jenny Hutchinson, Second Skin Agency and sent her the Shadows screenplay. What I expected was a response thanking me but with a ‘not interested’. Instead I received a very positive response together followed by a ‘Letter of Intent.’ I then pondered on this for a while before trying it out with a few others. The production just grew and whilst this did I started working my way through ‘The Guerilla Film Makers Hand Book’ and contacting people asking for any help or assistance. Everyone has been great.
What sort of knowledge have you had to gain in order to embark on an indie production?
Speed reading (Not easy when you’re Dyslexic!), and a fearless but an honest approach. Especially when knowledge is limited. By being honest about my lack of knowledge in the film industry has brought forth the most amazing people such as Producer, Kate Bullions who has acted as my mentor throughout. She is just one of many.
How did you go about getting the project off the ground? How have you funded it?
Basically, I’ve done exactly what I was advised not to when I attended the Funding for Film seminar – funded it myself. A brilliant seminar but sadly a side of the business I don’t understand. I just don’t have the brain power for it. The way I’ve looked at it is that I would have spent more than the Shadows budget attending film school so it’s been a self-funded, educational, fast learning and first hand experienced into the film making world but with the bonus of having a trailer consisting of known actors to show for it.
Judging by your wonderful Facebook page updates, you’ve had a lot of support from keen contributors and actors. This must be testament you your script and its story – what’s the response been like so far and how does it make you feel?
To be honest, because of the speed and the enormous amount of work this project created I’ve barely had time to update the Facebook page! Plus, I still struggle with the social network side of things, exacerbated by my dyslexia, but Kevin Leslie one of the fab actors has been my lifeline here. He’s been instrumental in helping me with the Shadows page and now Charlotte Stewart (Costume) and a Hashtag queen has promised to help me with Twitter. There is no escape!
How’s the production planning going so far? Are you still looking for more people to be involved?
The trailer finished this weekend so Tom and I finally have our house back to ourselves and the cats are especially overjoyed! We shot the trailer over two weekends giving both cast and crew the opportunity to maintain their employed work during the week. This worked well but it did impact a little I think on the stopping and starting of the project. If I did this again I would just take 3-4 consecutive days and run it through without the gap. The purpose of the trailer is to try and initiate and capture interest from financiers to make the feature.
In terms of cast and crew for the feature there are still openings but I do now have three Directors wanting this, including one who sent a ‘Letter of Intent’ via e-mail. Unfortunately, he was not available for the trailer which is why I sought another as a ‘fill in’. Having said that, our fabulous ‘fill in’ Director for the trailer (D. James Newton), would also like to see this through to the feature. He has been wonderful to work with and I know we’re destined to do more together in the future whether it be the feature for Shadows or another film or stage play.
I would like another experienced Producer to come on board, though I have been told by James and the other cast and crew that I’ve done a good job. I have not had any difficulty distinguishing between being the Screenwriter and Producer which I put down to my previous senior managerial positions in Social Services. I can’t see them as anything else but separate identities and would find it confusing combining them.
There are still some acting roles to be covered for the feature and more crew but until I make a decision on Director / Producer side of things this will have to wait but certainly people can register their interest with me.
An Executive Producer is the most pressing person we need, and funding.
I would also consider any other interested parties who could offer a way forward to the development and delivery of this project. At the moment I am fairly open minded in this respect, but I’ll hold true to the premise of the Shadows story and take as many people forward in the current casting as possible.
What’s the plan for distribution/release?
When can we hope to watch the film? Whilst I’d love to say late 2014 / early 2015 this all depends on getting an Executive Producer and funding in place. If we get this then we can be ready in a few weeks.
What advice would you give to screenwriters who may be thinking of embarking upon an indie production of their feature script?
Just go for it. I have no idea if Shadows will make it any further or what the future holds for the project but I’ve got absolute satisfaction that I’ve got off my backside and out of my writing chair to make something happen. I’ve met so many screenwriters who just get stuck in the circle-spinning system. It’s like having a cake mixer with the integral ingredients missing – the stories. Needing funding, a Director or Producer then can’t get one without the other. The whole industry needs a shake- up. Without new writers none of the above have the rawness of new creativity. Just by its inadequacies the current system, the culture, the people in these positions are preventing new and raw talent coming forward and getting seen just because of their own expectation that one should come before the other. Surely if a new screenwriter can take a risk in making their screen-story into a trailer then at least one of them could take a risk by taking on a project without one of the other two expected parties and be instrumental in helping another screenwriter take their project forward. After all, film-making is all supposed to be about collaborative working, or at least it should be.
Thanks so much, Jean, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us! Best of luck with everything!
FIND OUT MORE: https://www.facebook.com/Shadows