Normality – A Movie (that you’ll never see)

A few years ago we decided to try making a movie. We’d cut our teeth, as it were, on a couple of sketch show episodes and naturally made the assumption that a full length film wouldn’t be too difficult a task. Yeah, right. We planned on using the cast from The Village, with the relatively new editions of Rich Hatton and Chris Sheppard.

Initially the process went really well – the script took shape nicely, Dan and myself did a couple of joint drafts of the script, then took a turn each, before combining forces again to finalise the story. We focused on a plot about the lead character having a date in a few days – he has some friends over for the night and the following day realises his lucky underpants were missing. Cue silly plot. A silly plot that had too much in it, which I suppose is to be expected for a writer’s first script. Along with the missing underpants, we threw in stories about Chris Normal being hounded by the press, a 24-style search for the underpants that ran far longer than it should have, and a hefty storyline where Normal appears in court (for budget reasons proceedings took place in Normal’s front room), charged with copyright infringement – little did we realise that eGay was a real website…

Once the script was finished, at least to the point where we We went to the effort of having a batch of scripts printed up, one for each member of the cast, and it clocked in at 140+ pages plus the filming schedule, character breakdowns and everything else we thought would be useful to the cast. I’ve still got a pristine copy of that script tucked away, along with a cast signed copy and my own, of course. Once again with the beauty of hindsight, if making the film now I’d have trimmed the script down to 85-90 pages max, streamlined the plot and removed anything that didn’t push the story forward.

This spate of good fortune pressed over to the first couple of filming days, the first batch in July 2005 (covering all of the “on television” segments, of which there were many), and also the first official day of filming in September, on which we recorded the intro sequence and most of the scenes that required the use of Dan’s house. We then moved over to the bulk of the shoot which was taking place at my house. Apart from the fact we were rushing to get things done, most of this earlier material works well enough, although again with hindsight we should have spent more time getting coverage – shooting from a number of angles to ensure enough footage for the edit. Who shoots a dialogue scene with the camera half a room away from the main character, and then doesn’t shoot any close ups? That’d be me…

We also needed a woman. These were frequently in short supply and, much like Cliff Thorburn, were an unknown quantity. Luckily at that time there was one working on our department at Tesco at that time who was willing to show up for an hour and record the very, very brief scene where Chris Normal, our titular character, meets his date and a series of unfortunate things happen to him, all in a row. Rachel’s brief appearance worked well and it seemed as though we would actually meet our very tight schedule.

Then it all went to pot. At the time we were also involved in producing a little fanzine called Satan’s Fishtank (we even made it into HMV stores for 12 months, go us), and rightfully Dan and Rich took some time in the filming block of September 2005 to make sure the fanzine was ready for release on time. As we still had a huge chunk of the film left to shoot, the schedule went to pot and we never recovered. Over the next 6-12 months we tried filming the rest of the script but it never really came together again. In hindsight replacing Chris with Si Emms, whilst seeming a good idea at the time, did not help us finish the film – we ended up reshooting half of the film replacing Chris with Si, and going back and watching the original footage Chris did a really good job given that we gave him a lot to do and a very short time in which to learn it. As a result the “workprint” of the film I put together is a disjointed mess. Si and Chris share the same character, due to a furniture change Chris Normal’s sofa changes from a soft red to brown leather and back again, and the continuity was all over the place.

That said, there are some really good sequences that I’ll be using should we ever get round to making it again, in particular the part where Chris Normal sneaks into his friend’s house and confronts them, thinking they’ve stolen his lucky underpants. He then experiences the shock of his life as the two friends stand up and reveal they’re wearing bras. Hopefully that’s quite funny on its own, visually it’s even better.

We then tried re-working the script from scratch, but at that point I think we were heading in different directions and nothing came of it – it was certainly more grandiose than the original but with a simplified plot. I’ve since gone back and written a sequel to the original script, mostly as a practice exercise, and started plotting a new version of the story. This one reigns in a lot of the more, shall we say, expensive ideas, and forms a funny story that doesn’t rely too heavily on deus ex machina. I’m about 20 pages into a new script which I’m surprisingly happy with, trimmed the cast down a bit and, I think at least, crafted a story that suits the characters and the world they inhabit without dwelling too much on things that don’t work. There have been a lot of lessons learnt since the first attempt, so the version of Normality that you do, eventually, get to see will be worth your time. Hopefully. Just don’t expect to see eGay or lucky underpants.

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