Tag Archives: screenwriting

Memories

There is a character in my screenplay who, halfway through having sex with someone, suddenly realises she has been in this position before…and with the same man…

When this scene was read out during my screenwriting course, apart from a few sharp intakes of breath, a couple of people questioned whether this was a believable scenario or even whether it was possible? One of the biggest tips I learnt on that course is that when writing a screenplay you must ensure that what you are writing is believable, even if it is not ‘realistic’ – it doesn’t matter as long as you can make the audience believe. Well, I am not (too) ashamed to admit that this scene was loosely based on my own experience, and therefore I can safely say it is both realistic, and therefore,to my mind, believable.

Many MANY years ago, in my wild and crazy youth, I had sex with a very attractive friend of a friend. It happened at the end of a night filled of drinking and flirting and we rolled into bed and had, if memory serves (which it clearly doesn’t – more of that later) a very enjoyable time. That would have been the end of the story. However, a few years later I was about to watch the football with the same friend when he told me that some of his friends were coming to join us. I was pleased about this as it meant I wouldn’t have to pretend to roar and howl over England’s shitness quite as aggressively as I had anticipated.  In fact, only 2 of his friends turned up, one of them had a beard, and he was very attractive. I smiled when the mutual friend introduced **** and shook his hand. After the football (which we lost) we stayed in the pub until closing and I engaged in some not very subtle flirting with said bearded gentleman. I was having a lovely time until he went to the loo and my friend leaned over and whispered, “Going back for seconds eh?” The confusion on my face must have given away the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued “Didn’t you shag **** a couple of years back?”

Holy mother-fuck. Here I was, in a busy pub, innocently flirting with a man whose cock I had already seen. When he came back from the loo I had made my decision. I’d have to shag him again and make sure I remembered it this time so I was never put in this embarrassing situation again. So I did.

And that would have been the end of the story. However, a few years later, the mutual friend got married. I was doing a reading and **** was an usher….only I didn’t recognise him until after he had handed me the programme and very pointedly looked me in the eyes and said, “Hello Janey!” I saved face in the nick of time and gave him a hug as he ushered me pointedly into the registry office.  On that occasion I didn’t try to assuage my embarrassment from not recognising him by trying to sleep with him. Oh no, instead I created much larger and longer lasting embarrassment by coping off with the bride’s quite (very) young brother. Welcome to my world.

Fast forward to a few months ago. A friend (a different one) very kindly got me tickets to see The Stone Roses, I band I have loved since forever. When they started playing I got chills and was transported back to the mid-nineties when I was brave and knew everything there was to know in the world, ever. It was magical. I blame this nostalgia trip for what happened next. Walking through the crowd to get a better vantage point my friend stopped, “Hey, *******, what are you doing here?” She’d randomly bumped into a friend of hers in the crowd who was at the gig with her boyfriend – I smiled and waved at both of them, then turned back to the stage. We stood together for the whole gig, doing a bit of dancing, drinking and generally hanging out when towards the end my friend said to me, “You do know who *******’s boyfriend is, don’t you?” I looked closer, really close, and lo and behold…It was ****. THREE times I had failed to recognise a man I had sex with, THREE times a man I had been intimate with was essentially a stranger to me. I had to rectify this somehow. I danced over to him. “Hey, ****! So good to see you!” He smiled, “It’s been ages, how are you doing Janey?” (I’m pretty sure he hadn’t had the same memory lapse, but who can tell?). “I’m good!” I replied. “ I don’t think I’ve seen you since the wedding!” He looked at me, confused. I faltered. At this point I should probably mention that at the wedding we had actually exchanged numbers and several weeks AFTER the wedding we had met up, drunk whiskey and had sex. Only, at that moment in Finsbury Park, I had forgotten that detail. Again. Thankfully before the ground could actually swallow me up, his girlfriend decided that it was time for them to leave, to beat the traffic. And so, once again, I waved goodbye and said ‘see you later!’

I know I should have felt ashamed, and maybe it was just the power of the music, but at that moment I was buoyed – either by my sexual prowess, by the hilarity of the situation or by the sheer absurdity of my life. My friend and I staggered back to the tube, giggling about what a moron I was, but secretly I was enjoying the tale I would now get to tell and planning my next blog. When we got to the tube, the queue was a mile long and the chances of getting on within the next hour (i.e. before it shut) were remote to say the least. Then I remembered that a man I had briefly dated (shagged) earlier in the year lived nearby. It hadn’t gone anywhere but I had liked him and enjoyed his company and at that moment, being positively BUOYED by my sexual prowess and my ability to ‘have sex like a man’, I thought ‘Why not? So I texted him. “Poor me, I can’t get home, can I pop round for a cup of tea?” An hour later I received a reply: “Hello, sorry I’ve deleted some numbers – is this Derek?”

Modern definition of Hubris: Excessive pride – “pride goeth (goes) before a fall” (from the biblical Book of Proverbs 16:18)

AKA Janey Ballantyne. So there you have it. One door closes, another one slams…or whatever it is they say. I know they do say write what you know, and that is pretty much all I have done so far in my writing career, but the only thing I know for sure is that what I know, and what I think I know and what I remember and the way I remember things keeps evolving and may well be different from how it really is.

Despite all the jokes, this is not something which has happened more than once in my life, and I am genuinely sad that my attitude towards sex is such, that it has happened, even once. I have never really taken sex seriously, partly because it is actually funny, but mostly because I find it so difficult to be myself with someone, to be earnest, to be honest. Maybe after finding myself in this ‘unbelievable’ situation three, if not four times, I should start taking it seriously and at least try to find my own reality.

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I’m Going Home

On the day, I went away (good bye –aye-aye)
Goodbye was all, I had to say (now I-aye-aye)
I want to come again and stay…

There are times in life when there is nothing for it, but to channel your inner Frank ‘n’ Furter, and give in to your deepest desires. Which is a long-winded way of saying I am gong home, to New York. My spiritual home, my Transylvania, my rock. Ok, it may only be for 4 days but that’s enough time to re-fuel, to see how it’s doing, to fall in love again.

I read a statistic the other day that said the USA was the second most popular place for British Ex-pats to emigrate to after Australia, with 29,000 of us moving there every year…Am I missing something here? It’s hard enough to get in for a holiday, let alone move there…Brits are no longer allowed to enter the Green Card lottery because there’s too many of us there, I don’t want to be a student again (and that would only give me access for a limited time), I don’t have any special talents (well not any I can write about here) which would get me an O-1 visa…see I have done my research and I just can’t see a way in permanently…God I am boring myself now. So I accept I may never live there, but as long as I can visit twice a year I think that’ll do me (which means I can’t give up the day job any time soon then).

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to read a blog about me going on holiday so instead I’ll tell you the story of when New York changed my life. 18 months ago I made the radical decision to attend a screenwriting course there, and got on the plane 3 days after finishing a very long work contract. I hadn’t written a creative word in at least 12 years and we were asked to turn up for the course the next day with 3 ideas for screenplays. I usually love long plane journeys for catching up on movies but this one was spent in a state of panic staring at my closed laptop which had only ever been used for spreadsheets…not a single idea would form in my head, this fear, coupled with the fact I was convinced everyone on the course would be 21 year old trustafarians made my first day at the New York Film Academy terrifying. I believe I was actually trembling when I arrived for registration. We were herded into a room and the two tutors introduced themselves before going round the room, asking us our thoughts on the best and worst films. At first I couldn’t think of a single film, let alone my favourite so I ended up with obvious choices – Best: It’s a Wonderful Life. Worst: Titanic. I have a habit of accidentally arguing the opposite of what I believe so I may have actually stated that the wrong way round that day, but I don’t think anyone was too interested – they were all trying to think of cool films to quote themselves. Afterwards a British-sounding girl next to me said ‘Who wants to go to the pub?’ I put my hand up first and a joke was made about Brits and drinking and several of us (of many nationalities) trundled off to the nearest sports bar.

There is something strange about the first time you meet people who will become life long friends. It is almost as though time stands still and there are three people who were there that night whose faces I will remember forever as they were that evening, etched on my memory. On my first day at senior school one of my (still) best friends came over to me and said, ‘You look alright, do you want to be friends?’ and I can still see her grinning innocent 11 year old face every time I look at her…Clearly I am attracted to the people with good opening lines.

The next day we were split into groups. Our group consisted of ten of the most diverse, interesting people I have ever encountered – not a 21 year old trustafarian in sight, and a tutor who seemed to care passionately about his subject.

The next two months were very Dead Poets Society if you like (though nobody killed themselves at the end) whoops *spoiler alert with a bit of The Breakfast Club thrown in…  each of us played to our individual stereotypes while re-enforcing them and then breaking them down with every new discussion and twist of the story. There were a lot of stories told over that time, and we got to know each other through our thinly veiled descriptions of ourselves – sorry – our ‘characters’, from the roles we played in each other’s screenplays, from exploring New York City together and from the endless karaoke nights.

There was something so natural about this progression from ‘the fear’ on the airplane to the warm friendships (and actual screenplay) which developed that I hardly noticed the transition until it was gone. We all went back to our corners of the globes, with different lessons learned from the same experience. I’m sad to say it is unlikely that we will ever be in the same room together again, but that moment in time will remain with us forever.

I always loved Richard Dreyfuss’s’s last words at the end of Stand By Me.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

Well Rich, I have, I met people who have impacted on my life as much as any of my friends did when I was 12 and the fact we were learning together and discovering a new world in the same way we had done when we were when we were 12 made it a unique experience in my life and if I ever lose sight of why I am trying to be a writer I will remind myself of that time and the memory of those faces will propel me on to make it happen for them, for us.

This weekend at least three of us will be together again in New York and we will tear up the town like we did that first time, make new memories, recollect the old ones…and, most likely, drink too much and sing out of tune…so erm….see ya!

Lost In Music

I’ll be honest with you. I suck at commitment. Really suck. A mere five weeks into my blogging career and I really don’t feel like writing today. No offence, but I can’t be arsed. Is this the beginning of the end? The classic ‘Janey gets really enthusiastic about something for 0.5 Seconds before being distracted by other things’ syndrome?

Squirrel!

Sorry I’m back. No it’s not. Stop being so negatory Ballantyne, I may be tired but I am here and I am writing.

Ok, I’m tired because I just spent five hours salsa dancing, which was the last thing I got really into before I started writing again. But I haven’t done any dancing for 6 months. See? I suck at commitment. Anyway, it was great to do it again, and it was with a terrific group and a fantastic teacher but I have to say, over five hours we danced to about six tracks and the music for the most part was not good! I actually like salsa music a lot. And after a few years and several Spanish lessons I can now tell the difference between good Latin music and bad, and this didn’t hit the spot, or rather, the soul. Maybe it just wasn’t loud enough but instead of feeling every beat in every inch of my body and letting the music propel me through the tiredness, I found myself too aware of my surroundings, knackered and sweating in a basement club off Tottenham Court Road on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to dance like no-one was watching.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music this week, mainly because music helps me write and I am currently writing my second screenplay, exactly a year after I wrote the first one with a wonderful group of people in New York. Spring seems to be an inspiring time. Anyway, the first screenplay, entitled Come As You Are, relies heavily on a score by Nirvana. I knew before I sat down to write it that Nirvana were one of the hardest bands to license. But I carried on regardless as I never thought in my wildest dreams I would actually finish it, let alone want to send it out to competitions/agents to try and get it made. Idiot. Nirvana’s back catalogue is owned by several people, mainly nutty Courtney Love and poor old Frances Bean and they are very protective over it. At least they are in good company, like The Beatles and Dylan they are one of the most use-restricted artists. Fortunately the new screenplay has a large 1950’s influence so I hope the music will be slightly more usable. One of the best tracks I’ve found so far is called ‘London Is The Place For Me’. Check it out, it’s a classic… But I do hope it’s displaying 50’s irony at it’s best. If you compare this to what was going on musically and culturally in New York at the time, you might get a glimpse of why I am so drawn to that city, over London where ‘the English people are very much sociable’ apparently. As I say, check it out.

The first record I ever bought was Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper. It seems my 8 year old self knew what was important, even then. I clearly remember going into Our Price in Southgate Mall, Bath, with my pocket money in my sweaty palm and going home to play it over and over and over and over again. What’s brilliant about that record (and I know a lot of people will say nothing is brilliant about it) is that I still own it. And it gives me goose bumps every time I hear it because of that memory, and that knowledge. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, kids ain’t gonna remember the first song they ever bought any more, in future formative memories are going to be very different. This is why I was so excited yesterday, on National Record Store Day when I walked into Rough Trade West and went straight to the counter and asked the owner (now a celebrity in his own right) if I could buy the new Good Cop album, which is beautifully pressed in clear vinyl and comes with a clear CD as well. The staff there were all very excited, a man behind me saw me buying it and got very excited and there was such an amazing buzz about the place, that it made me yearn for the old days.  At least there is still a rebel alliance alive and well and trying to hold on to those memories. People with kids, take them to a record store to buy their first song, and if you no longer have a record player, buy one. They’ll love you for it.

Squirrel!