The short script form, whether it be for the stage or screen, is akin to the song. It’s a small canvas. I think of them as akin to the folk tale or parable, as opposed to the bigger myth. A little story which plays out in little time with big meaning. Zone in on an episode in somebody’s life which irrevocably changes things. In the late-2000s I wrote a cluster, some of which were produced, some of which were not.
Best Shot (2006)
This was unusual, in that it came to me as a commission to rewrite a short subject which the original author had abandoned. The script, then called The Director, told of a filmmaker who kills crew that are insufficiently professional. Cute idea, like a campy Vincent Price horror with him killing off his enemies. I set the story in the 1970s, gave the director a name and a career. He was able to refer to specific projects. I wrote personalities for the other characters. This is elementary redrafting work which you’d have to do if you’d done insufficient planning before your first draft. Andy Kelleher, the director, shot it on Super16. I helped rope in Michael Culkin, a familiar face from TV and stage, to star as the director. We were nominated for Best Picture at the 2006 Wood Green Short Film Festival.
A small crew of documentary film makers dare to interview the notorious film director Rex Clayton. They discover a dangerous secret...
Director/producer: Andy Kelleher; Co-Producer: Folake Balogun; Editor: Brian Sinclair; Screenwriters: Mike Thorn, James Martin Charlton; Director of Photography: Stephen Murphy; Sound: Haresh Patel
Cast: Micheal Culkin, Daniel Harcourt, Andrew Keatley, James Henry Parker
Format: 35mm. Running time: 9 mins
White Dolphin Films
Emotional Tribunal (2006)
Commissioned as one of a series of films made by Mountview as Masters students’ graduation projects. Science fiction satire. It’s concerned with the moment when the victim has the weight of law and state on their side. The transgressor becomes their target. Should the state legislate for hurt feelings? The finished project is a nice student film, albeit with primitive VFX.
Rob has been unfaithful to Cathy. As such behaviours are now crimes, he appears in court charged with causing her emotional distress. The court hands down a harsh punishment.
Director: Jeremy Elman; Producer: Jonathan Wolff & Jeremy Elman; Screenplay: James Martin Charlton; Director of Photography: Andy Kelleher Format: HD. Running time: 12 mins Mountview Films
Emotional Tribunal on Vimeo:
The park bench of duplicity and seduction; oh, and love (2005)
A script for a film edited-in-camera. 8mm silent film. Unapologetically a nod to The Good Samaritan. Filmed in an east end park over the space of a couple of hours. Many of the cast were veterans of my recently premiered play, I Really Must be Getting Off. The idea of a very short film with an absurdly long title appealed to me. You can pack a lot into three minutes, or less, as adverts show us.
Naïf sits on a park bench reading his paper. One by one, a selection of figures - an older man, two wide boys, a femme fatale, a sneak thief - strip him of everything. A priest and a queen pass by on the other side, but an ordinary woman gives him her coat. The Mysterious Man observes the proceedings...
Director/producer/writer: James Martin Charlton; Director of Photography: Andy Kelleher; Music: Ennis T, Mouse Studios.
Cast: Ian Bonar, James Martin Charlton, Andy Chisolm, Matt Compton, Michael Culkin, Caroline Burns Cooke, Renee Foulger, Melissa Knatchbull, Jack Lewis, John Paul Micaleff, Harry Smith
Format: 8mm. Running time: 3 mins
Friendly Fire Productions
Park Bench on YouTube:
Family Affairs (1999-2000)
I wrote four episodes of this Channel 5 soap. I had to earn a living. But I was genuinely interested in learning the ropes as a TV writer. They invited me onto the show because they liked the way I wrote the younger characters in my test script. The script editors didn’t like it when I wrote them that way in the commissioned episodes. It was pretty confusing. They were struggling to establish an identity for the show, and the ground kept shifting. I didn’t much enjoy my time there and pretty soon the script department and I knew it wasn’t a great fit. Later, I almost got taken onto the team of Doctors. Same story – they liked my test episode but not the ideas which followed. I prefer to write work which I am in tune with, which isn’t the most pragmatic approach but you have to live with yourself.
Episodes 1.717, 1.753, 1.791, 1.823
Based on the Stagger Lee story – I was adapting folk songs long before Been on the Job Too Long. I read a news report of a school boy who killed a fellow student. It was a mean, low-down crime, motivated by nothing as far as anyone could see but hurt pride. Just like old Stagger Lee, killing Billy Lyons over that Stetson hat. It’s not that the murder ballad folk songs explain the killer’s deed. They give you a look into their mind. It’s dark and chilling. We’re in there for the duration of the song with the killer and the victim. That’s what my writing tries to do.
Drug dealer hangs around with his deadbeat mate Sam. Lee’s got the blues. They go for a walk and see an old school friend, Billy. He’s got it together, doing tai chi on a hill. They invite Billy round to shoot the breeze. As Billy’s leaving, he accidentally takes Lee’s favourite baseball cap. That seals his fate. Lee’s as well, who haunts the cemetery gates, thinking he sees Billy’s ghost.
Fools Paradise (2004)
My first film script. Based on an episode from my unproduced play …where God begins. It has a parable form; arrogant folk think they can mock the afflicted but end up finding they’re just as afflicted themselves. A journey we all go on. I wanted to make it, and initially teamed up with producer Andy Kelleher as part of that process. It’s a big script, though, demanding complex locations and a large cast. I toyed with the idea of hawking it as an animation, it’s fairly Bosch, but sadly it’s never been made.
Three wealthy young socialites are bored. They decide to slum it, so go downtown to a notorious pub called The Fool’s Paradise. There they meet a little old man who seems the epitome of misfortune, which is very amusing. As the night comes on, the three young fashionistas are drawn into the whirlpools of the pub’s temptations. In the thick of the darkness, it’s not so easy to feel fortunate and superior any more.