The first screenplay I wrote upon moving to London was Frames, about an elderly filmmaker called Alfred who wants nothing more than to have his life’s work – an animated feature - seen and appreciated. With the onset of ill health, he is struggling to finish his magnum opus but a chance encounter with a strange young man with a penchant for guns, offers Alfred his salvation.
In the summer of 2007 I began pre-production. I had my strange young man (Sean Biggerstaff) but was struggling with casting the veteran auteur. In an ideal world I wanted someone who was well known for playing warm and fuzzy characters. I wanted to play with the audience’s expectations. You see, Alfred turns out to be a thoroughly despicable bloke.
For six months, I tussled with names and battled with agents and I couldn’t find my Alfred. Upon a rare visit to The Smoke, I shared my frustrations with Sean, an ardent supporter of the project who was staying in town to shoot an episode of Marple.
With this particular episode – an adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? - Sean was working with a veritable cavalcade of illustrious British talent. As chance would have it, Sean was sharing scenes with Richard Briers.
“The Good Life!” I exclaimed with faintly sexual air.
Yes -- The Good Life, and Monarch of the Glen, All In Good Faith, Roobarb & Custard and… Hamlet.
“He was Polonius! The best of the Polonii!”
My mind was racing.
“He’d be perfect!”
Sean Biggerstaff knew he had made a tactical error. Sean Biggerstaff knew he had made a terrible mistake in offering this information. Sean Biggerstaff knew that Mark Buchanan was going to make his life unbearable until Frames was in the hands of Richard Briers. And so, between takes on Evans, Sean did me a shift and handed Briers my script.
A few weeks pass and I receive a phone call. A familiar voice was on the other end of the line. Briers was warm and complimentary, I was a gibbering wreck. He turned the project down but wished me the best of luck. My vocal response echoed my depleted mental state.
A year passes and Frames remains unfilmed. I try Briers again, this time going through the official channels – The Agent. I figured he would convince him of the script’s brilliance (it wasn’t brilliant) and Briers would be putty in my hands.
A few weeks pass and I receive a letter. Briers turned me down for the second time.
Another year passes and I put Frames into turnaround - binned. It was a horrible, mean-spirited script and it had no business being made. I made The Search instead and that was a good decision.
After The Search screened at the London Film Festival, I sent DVD copies of the film to folk who had supported me down the years. I thought I’d send a copy to Briers. At the very least I hoped he’d approve of my decision to shift gears and make something else. He had placed his address on his letter to me so I took the opportunity and popped a DVD in the post.
A few weeks later, my phone rings.
He loved The Search and told me that it reminded him of that film with ‘the keyboard and the lights’ - Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He particularly liked my lead actor’s performance and thought the whole shebang was very moving. Class.
I managed not to babble and said that I was touched he took the time to call. He asked me to send him the next one.
Conversation over, I texted my lead actor Matt Berry:
<Richard Briers just phoned. He thought your performance was terrific. Thought you should know>
Berry tosses me his response:
<Are you serious?>
<Yeah, there’s a bit of a story behind it>
My phone rings. It’s Berry. I tell him the story.
“’The Good Life’!” he exclaims with faintly sexual air.
Yes -- The Good Life, and Monarch of the Glen, All In Good Faith, Roobarb & Custard, Hamlet, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001972.
I wanted to relate this tale because the reason I’ve kept plugging away at the dream of becoming a director is because of the support of others, many of whom I have never met in the flesh but whose encouraging words have come as a great comfort.
I’m never happier than when I’m behind a camera. Richard Briers had a hand in keeping me there. Small gestures, yes, fleeting moments, indeed but I’m forever grateful for those nuggets, and wanted to share them with you on this sad day.