Saturday, March 15, 2008

Stepping Stones Part 3: Oh my God who’s your daddy?

Episode 3 written by Matt Handrahan, Tom Lane and Sam Guest, is my favourite episode. And the two scenes book ending the episode are may favourite of the whole show.

Laurence, in a running theme you may have noticed, did his best to ruin them. He also cast Anakin Skywalker, writes ITV Drama Premiers and has an uncredited directorial role in the Matrix sequels.

The role of the Landlord was written specifically for Terry Turbo, who had sent us a glorious showreel for an earlier project. The eloquent dialogue was crafted especially and Laurence attempted an 11th hour rewrite to tone it down. Thankfully the Landlord was handled with zeal.

I remember Darius being very nervous about the finale and what was to be shown, he need not have worried. If we weren’t going to film hot nurses in the shower we deff weren’t going to film his secret sauce cooking.

Also look out fro the great disappearing cameo by Stephanie Stevens.

The episode is also of note in that it was the first episode to properly leave the flat, and the only episode to actually have a scene set in an external location. This was due to a very tight shooting schedule and a tighter budget.

Now remember not to forget about the package, otherwise the end of Episode 5 will make even less sense.

To be continued

Be Seeing You

Friday, March 14, 2008

Stepping Stones Pt 2: There’s a hat party going on right here

So Episode 2, which was originally Episode 1, in which a party is had, and that’s pretty much it. This episode does a great job of furthering the characters established in Episode 1, previously Episode 2.

The character of Kara as played by Vicky Lloyd, is arguably the main character of the ensemble, playing the naïve girl out of her depth at University. Vicky came to us in the more random of manners. Stepping Stones managed to get a small mention in the local paper, with regards to casting. Vicky’s mum, if I remember correctly, saw the article and sent it to her in Wales, and she came all the way down to audition and we loved her.

Dylan the roguish ladies man, played with zeal by Mark Gibbs came through the more traditional means of PCR. In episode 2, there is a scene where Dylan is in the shower with two Nurses played by Natalie Giles and Sexy Lexy. Laurence it soon emerged when faced with the possibility of filming two sexy nurses in the shower elected to shoot with them behind a curtain. I know I speak for a lot of people, when I say I cried.

Myself, Natalie Giles and Laurence Topham, did casting. Generally speaking Laurence would explain the production, Natalie would go through a scene with them and then I’d be left with the paper work at the end. Now part of my questions were, this is a production for Student TV, how do you feel about swearing, violence, sex and nudity. Now as far as I remember all the actors came back with a standard, it’s acting, I don’t have a problem with that, except for Felicity Rhys who played Catherine. She said very fairly that for nudity should would expect to be paid. Now it never came up with her character, but to this day it did leave me wondering, how much is a fair starting rate? Wouldn’t want to be rude after all.

Darius Merrimen as Bob, gets me every time in episode 2. Episode 1, showed how his housemates treated him. Episode 2 showed how all treated him. And just the ending where he’s clearing up during the party just kills me. Plus the final shot of the episode was a pick up. Darius came back and because it was a night shot, had to wait till after the wrap party to film, even though the Director and camera team had enjoyed the wrap party. Which just goes to show how the crew treated Bob as well.

Matt Clarke steals the show as Bruce, the creation of Matt Handrahan, based heavily on somebody he knew. Bruce was a character of much amusement for Roger Laughton, then head of the media school, who believed all Bruce did was fall out of cupboards. He does it twice. Which makes me think Mr Laughton only watched the first 5 minutes… So good is Matt, I forget how few scenes he has in the beginning.

Mostly the crew and friends make up the extras, of which episode 2 is flooded. I think all the crew, maybe not the editors who were locked in a room, and the writers who are too ugly, cameo in the film. Check out Laurence’s cameo in Episode 4, funny as. I mentioned the episode one-guest stars earlier, in this episode we have Aidan Goatley as ‘The Frenchman’, to this day he doesn’t understand how he got talked into that. We didn’t even know each other that well at the time.
Yvie Mcgee in episode 4, originally auditioned for Catherine, and we really liked her, she just wasn’t quite what we were looking for and looked too similar to Vicky Lloyd. In the end I had the cameo role extended for her. We cannot of course forget Terry Turbo and Doug Anderson’s cameos in Episode 3 and 5 respectively. Ill talk about them more with their respective episodes but it goes without saying that Laurence did his best to ruin it.

I still regret how I handled the script for this episode, what was submitted didn’t fit with what I was looking for as part of a Soap Opera or in line with the scripts. And neither the writers nor myself could come to an agreement on how to move forward, and I wish I’d have had a script editor to assist. In the end we hacked away the element that didn’t fit, George Wielgus came up with some ideas during the shoot and in the end Luke Thompson did a great job, taking what was and is essentially a series of scenes and editing them to the music. Watching the episode again, I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed it.

Finally, I was lucky enough to get an early copy of the series to Tony Garnett, who I am a huge fan of. I remember it clearly. I was working as a script reader, and Tony Garnett stormed into my office and demanded to know what he had just watched. And essentially tore me a new one for having a party episode for episode 1. He couldn’t tell what was going on or whom anybody was and it’s only due to the persistence of his PA, that he watched the rest. He later sent me a letter saying well done, comparing it as a student ‘This Life’.

To be cont…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stepping Stones pt 1

Stepping Stones was a Student Soap Opera Produced by OnMeJack Productions and Bournemouth Media School for Nerve TV

It ran for five episodes each approx 10 minutes long and won the NASTA for best title sequence, but lost out on best student drama, in a controversial decision by Paul Cornell.

This is Episode 1, although it was originally written and produced as Episode 2, for reasons I will explain later.

I originally pitched the concept of a Student Soap Opera to Iain Smith, in 2002 after I had successfully failed in a previous student TV endeavour. Iain however took the idea in his stride and gave his support pretty much as soon as I finished pitching it.

The Bournemouth Media School was understandably initially resistant to the idea, I had devised a scheme to produce the series over the summer break between the second and third years and that it would count towards the work placement requirement of the degree. The project never would have succeed however without the support of Roger Laughton, Paul Inman and John Foster.

And I must make sure to thank again, the above the duty work of Vicky Edmonds and Naomi Gayler, without whom the project never would have been completed. It got very tense on more then one occasion.

Not lets be honest, Stepping Stones isn’t great, though it has great moments and the fact that it exists at all is great, even if at one stage I fell into depression that I had successfully reset Hollyoaks in Bournemouth.

Laurence Topham came to direct Stepping Stones because, well at the time I’m not entirely sure, for a start I thought his name was Lance, and whilst we didn’t know each other that well in the beginning, we soon fell out by the end. A situation, which wasn’t truly resolved till we worked together on a couple of years later on Young But Not Carefree and Chop Chop Liz. I can clearly remember the moment when I approached Laurence to direct the series, but can’t remember before that. I was fairly determined that course members would work in roles suitable to their courses. However Laurence was a Interactive Media degree student, and maybe that was a strong factor, the lack of politics that could be involved on the BA TV production course was huge, I myself was a scriptwriting student, which was part of the initial resistance to me leading the project. I don’t mean to imply that Lance shouldn’t have been directing, though I certainly felt that way during the shoot, especially thinking that maybe having more then one director as much for himself as for the project. He certainly had enthusiasm and talent and a capacity to ruin some moments in the scripts that I know I certainly was looking forward to. I love him and wouldn’t be without him.

The script writing team were all students and eventual graduates of the Scriptwriting course, and consisted of Matt Handrahan, Anna Karlsdottir, Noah Payne-Frank, Amy Harrison, Richard Kearney, Sam Guest, Tom Lane, Amy Flannigan, Nina Bailey, George Wielgus and Dom Lawson.

What was exciting for me was we were able to have a writers room weekend, something not covered on the course, to create the show. On the first day we established the characters and the second the individual plot lines of each episode, incorporating specific elements I wanted covered. Matt Handrahan’s contribution was especially clear to the extend that he gained a story credit throughout the series.

The writers then teamed up to take on a specific episode. Something that with hindsight I wish I had done at the time, was give Matt a role as Script Editor for the series, to ensure that the series had a consistent feel and also to maintain a barrier between me and my peers, as I was for all intents their boss on the production, which could create some weirdness.

Episode 1 was written by Amy Harrison and Richard Kearney. Richard was in the year below us, I don’t remember having read any of his work, and I think we just got along, which just goes to show. Story elements that had to be covered specific to this episode, was the arrival of Kara, arguably the main character’s family. It’s a relatively straightforward episode in relation to the rest of the series. But did have a final image for Laurence to muck up.

The guest stars of the episode were David Hepple, a main stay of Bournemouth Productions and Sonia Doubell, and both veterans of the never properly finished earlier project a Family Story. The family’s contrast of accents was due to our inability to decide were the family came from, lets just say they moved around a lot. And lets not forget a special message for Sian Fever, gamely taking one for the team in the opening scenes.

The series was filled with scenes of a sexual or forceful nature. Laurence it turned out had quite a delicate nature, much to my constant annoyance. Episode 2 was meant to finish with Hepple’s father character catching his elder daughter, played Doubell performing a sexual act on one of the housemates. Not that you can tell.

To be continued…

Be Seeing You.