Hope you all had a nice week last week – I had a busy one writing a bunch of pitches for some radio programmes, which went in this week, so I’ll be keeping fingers crossed for them and shifting focus back to my other projects for a bit until I hear some news on them. I mentioned in my last newsletter that when I was back I’d give a bit of a debrief on Good Boy, my second new project of 2023 after Private Dancer, so here I am to expand on it a bit!
Good Boy is, I think, the first proper short film I’ve written and produced since Ed & Joz’s Heist Movie, the lo-fi crime caper I wrote with Ed Aczel and produced with the kind support of Tiger Aspect way back in 2019. I used to love making short films, and I think I was getting better and better at it. I’d made a handful over the years, from the modern-day Faustian piss-take Robert Johnson & The Devil Man with Matthew Highton, to the Gothic art-horror The Baby with Sam Nicoresti, Lucy Pearman and Lottie Bowater. I remember hoping back when we premiered Heist Movie that perhaps Tiger Aspect’s production support and sponsorship on that one might mean that the world of writing and making scripted narrative film stuff might open up a bit for me and it might become something I did a lot of over the next few years. Of course, we all know what happened next – Covid meant that any momentum I was building in that world stalled, and over the last few years, while I’ve made a bunch of “content,” mostly by myself in my flat, I’ve not been able to make a proper collaborative short in a very long time.
I made a new live show last year because that was the thing I felt most comfortable doing, and I wanted to remind myself how to do it, and prove that I still could. But as the dust settled on Blink, I started returning to the idea of writing and producing and shooting stuff again. Good Boy started as a result of a brainstorming session Miranda and I were doing about whether we could come up with an idea for a traditional family-based sitcom that still had something about it that fed our more alternative comedy sensibilities. Miranda threw out the idea of a sitcom about a man who has been adopted as a family dog, and has to behave like a dog, but is also trying to just get on with his own human life. We both really liked the idea, and brought it up at Dinner Time!, the creative residency that we ran with Ben Target for Vault Creative Arts last autumn.
The purpose of Dinner Time! was to share half-formed ideas with an audience and actively invite their participation in the creative process as those ideas developed. As we talked the dog idea out with the audience, it became clear that there was no way it could work as a long-running sitcom, because the inner logic of the concept would be worn way too thin. But it began to take shape as a self-contained idea for a film, and one the audience seemed genuinely excited by. With Miranda’s permission, I set about writing a script based on her original idea to see if it could be fleshed out into something worth making. Initially, it was a flimsy excuse to string together a bunch of silly sight gags about a man being forced to behave like a dog – a man in a shoddy home-made dog costume being forced to piss against a tree, or chew on a bone, and so on. But as I got through the script, bigger ideas started to find their way into what I was writing so that it became less and less purely comedic and ended up being an odd, surreal little exploration of things like friendship, self-worth, the rental crisis, homelessness and being invisible in society. I felt proud of the script, and excited by the fact that I’d written the first thing in 3 years that felt both funny and imaginative enough, but also interesting enough, to be worth getting a team of people together to turn it into a short film.
With Miranda directing, and the brilliant Matt Riley coming on board to act as our DoP, we assembled an amazing crew and a fantastic cast in Anna Leong Brophy, Nat Luurtsema, Tom Bell, Nick Elleray, Lulu Popplewell and Christian Brighty, and I set about putting together a two-day shoot. One of the things I love most about film is that it’s a truly collaborative art form, in that in the eventual coming together of the work you’re entirely reliant on the ideas and instincts and creativity of other people. This can and should be true of live comedy and theatre as well, of course, but particularly when you’re making shows that are essentially one-or-two-man shows, it’s easier for the work of other people to go unremarked on or to feel invisible in the end product – this was why I made such a lot of noise about collaboration while making Blink, because I didn’t want people’s work to go uncelebrated just because it was my face on the poster. With film, the decisions and choices of your collaborators are right there on the screen and impossible to hide or ignore. I love that group mentality, where even as the writer-performer, there’s no inclination that this project is somehow “yours” or that you are the “author” of it. When you’re making a film, the project sort of feels like it belongs to everyone, and you become one part of something bigger. It was the same lovely feeling I had coming away from recording The Dream Factory in September – that I had had a part to play in bringing a group of people together who then made something collectively brilliant, rather than feeling like I was somehow “in charge” of what we were making. This is a long-winded way of saying that everybody who had a part to play in the Good Boy shoot was incredible, and I’m really excited to share what we made with the world.
As always with collaborative work, there are unexpected discoveries that you make when you go from writing something by yourself in your flat to making it with other people who then bring their own ideas to it, and it was a fun realisation on the shoot to discover that what I had actually written was, essentially, a domestic horror. I hadn’t clocked quite how horrible some of the scenes I’d written were, and the combination of cosiness with discomfort ended up feeling really interesting and novel and strange. Of course, the third stage of discovery when telling stories through film is the edit, where you have to restructure and reshape your story for a third time based not on what it might be, but on what you have, which sometimes forces decisions you might not have anticipated in pre-production or on the shoot. Already, without even starting on the edit proper, Miranda has pointed out that one scene needs to be shifted earlier in the film in order for the pace to keep building to the climax, and I’m looking forward to discovering more ways we can shift the story around into its perfect shape as we continue to chunk through the edit. Can’t wait to share the finished film with you all!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – I’m sure 90% of the people who sign up to this newsletter are awre of it already, and have probably already seen it, but Jamie Demetriou’s new Netflix sketch special A Whole Lifetime is ridiculously good. I expected it to be as funny as it is, but was not expecting it to include sketches as profound and insightful as the one about old age and tech. Bravo to everyone involved.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Hands down, the bit in How To With John Wilson where he tries to make a risotto. Closely followed by the bit in the same episode where he tries to burst a packet of crisps by carrying it up a mountain. Basically, How To With John Wilson is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and I’m in awe of it and also deeply envious of it, and I think everyone should watch it.
Book Of The Week – Just finished reading The Uses Of Enchantment: The Meaning And Importance Of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. About 60% of it is a really interesting study of the psychological significance of fairy tales, and about 40% is a fairly tedious, very dated Freudian deep dive into how fairy tales are also all about Oedipal complexes and children’s fear of sex, which I’m not really convinced by. Sometimes a beanstalk is just a beanstalk.
Album Of The Week – I’ve been listening to Demon Days by Gorillaz. It’s good! I really like the song “Feel Good Inc.” Miranda keeps telling me it’s ridiculous that I’ve been listening to this album in 2023, but I don’t see why it’s any different to listening to an album by, say, Van Der Graaf Generator in 2023. Anyway, Gorillaz are pretty good, you should give them a listen if you’ve not heard of them.
Film Of The Week – Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is my film of the year so far. It’s beautiful. After working on it for 12 years, Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate continued making it despite divorcing during the filmmaking process, because they believed in what they were making so much. I’m so glad they did, it’s an incredible film about fear and love and hope.
That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know your thoughts, and if you wanted to share this newsletter with a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care until next time,
PS Here’s one more photo from the Good Boy shoot that I like because it shows how much fun we had: