Seven Questions is a section of Newsnibbles where we ask one of our Twitter followers seven questions (duh). Because we do it via email they are free to answer in more that 140 characters, which is nice.
Today we catch up with author and screenwriter Neil Jeffrey, or @SirBlimelyWindy as we know him.
1. What inspired you to write Mr. Robbins?
Well, that’s a toughie to start with. 26 years ago, when I was 20, I lost my dad to a horrible illness, pancreatic cancer, and when I finally decided to write my first novel, this seemed to be a natural motif to include in the novel, mainly because I wanted to raise awareness due tot he fact that survival figures for this form of cancer have scarcely moved in the intervening time.
As my story took shape, I envisaged it as a simple story about a man who takes one last ‘road trip’ before he loses his battle, but eventually this story seemed to write itself, with the introduction of a feisty Irish artist, a dog and much more romance than I thought I could handle without reaching for a bucket.
2. How did the idea for the film come about?
Well, five months after writing the novel I had a bout of ill health, and to pass the time I bought a copy of Screenwriting for Dummies, and had a go at turning ‘Mr Robbins’ into a screenplay. As I honed it and revised the screenplay to within an inch of its life I decided to submit it to production companies and eventually one said it would like to have a look at the whole project. To say I was gobsmacked was an understatement.
3. Tell us a bit about the process of having a film made.
Oooh, where do I start? We had numerous meetings about how we were going to do this, and we did some location scouting in Aberystwyth as the budget precluded spending lots of time in Sussex (the setting for the original novel). We then decided that, as the project would involve crowdfunding and an established company’s first foray into feature films, we should make a prequel, which was released online in May 2015, This would again be scripted by me, but would serve to introduce the two main characters, Peter and Fiona by delving into their backgrounds in a way that isn’t dealt with in the original novel.
We then had to get funding for a short movie and I was very lucky that the production company see it as a partnership – so I was involved in casting and attended one day’s shooting over in Wales.
4.Being a writer is very autonomous, whereas when making a film requires working with lots of people. How do they compare?
This is tricky sometimes. As a writer I knew how the story played out in my mind, and I was lucky to find a production company that loved the story and they wanted to consult with me about production and how I saw it panning out, but I was very conscious that I may be a writer, but that doesn’t mean to say I know how to put it on screen. In other words it was a good thing I wasn’t too precious about my story, as I was passing it to someone to put into a visual medium.
5. How was the film funded?
The short was made on a small budget (I am not sure how much it was) and I am delighted to see how it turned out. Now we need to get ready for a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the feature, to approach companies and individuals, and to apply for funding from funding bodies – it’s a lot of work and it needs careful planning. Of course social media is fab for publicising etc but it all needs to be done as a plan.
6. How would someone else go about turning their book into a film?
Well firstly I would never ever say I have all the answers, but I think it’s vital to find out how to write and format a screenplay, as a poorly formatted script will probably be thrown in the bin very quickly. In terms of the actual content, remember you only need to put down what happens on screen and let it flow. There’s no need for massive descriptions and you don’t need to give the actors tonnes of directions – they are actors, they are trained, and can work it out. Secondly, just don’t be precious and listen to all sources of advice, and thirdly, just because one person says no to it, it doesn’t mean everyone will!
7. If you could give one of your characters one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
The character I am closest to is, I think, Peter. His outlook shares a lot of mine, plus his character and temperament has similarities to my dad. Sometimes he spends his time fretting and overthinking, and I think he just needs to be told to go with the flow a bit. In fact, as the character of the psychiatrist Sidney in one of my all-time favourite programmes, M*A*S*H used to say ‘Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice!’
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You can watch A Day Like Today below.
A DAY LIKE TODAY – The Prequel to ‘Mr Robbins’ from Wild Edric Media on Vimeo.