The Walls of Others

Sometimes I hate Facebook. I hate it because it reminds me that I am capable of neediness and insecurity. I wish I was more at ease with (more than) occasionally needing that validation from real friends and virtual friends, but I guess I’m not. I know the problem is really mine, not Facebook’s. I need to get over it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t all like my new hair/that I had two teas and one of them was composed entirely of fishfingers/that writing group is really drinking group/that I’m at a gig with Jane/that I have a new job/that I wrote a new story. Because in the real world I know that many of you like most of that stuff (for some of you, the fishfingers will be the highlight, and rightly so. They were delicious). So, really. It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter.

But I also love Facebook. I love that it allows me to be around some of the people I don’t get to see as much as I want because time and geography is in the way. I love that I can see children grow, achievements attained, lives flourish. I love that someone else’s photos will show me a different side to an event I attended. That a gap will be filled. I love that friends I miss dearly remind me of their presence and my place in their affections when they post on my wall. There are few greater modern indications that someone knows you – really knows you – than the posting of a song, a film trailer, an article they are sure you’ll love/be enraged by/laugh at. They are always right about this.

I also love that it has brought a whole raft of fascinating and lovely people into my life; people I haven’t even met, but have engaged with on the walls of others. Some months ago a film producer friend of one of my closest real-life friends befriended me. His posts are always interesting and insightful and a recent post of his gave me the title of my latest story, which I’ve written about before.

Having allowed me to steal his thoughts for my title, he asked me to send the story over when it was done. I did. He read it and loved it. My response was as follows:

*cough* buy the film rights then *cough*

That was in April. Cut to July, and we are in the BFI Southbank’s upstairs bar, falling further back into our armchairs, on our third carafe of rosé (because apparently that’s what we’d be drinking in Cannes) and casting Dirk, his lover, the cameos of Pinter, Losey and Clayton.

So, what brought me here?

The producer guy. He really does love the story, thinks it would make a great film. He read it with care and attention, and he pointed out the parts that he loved the most, the bits that he felt visually represented the characters. He articulated a theme so effectively, so passionately, that it brought this story that I know so well back to me in a new way. Just as his title had helped me to see what the story was really about, so this theme helped me to extend its meaning. It’s in my head now. And my job is to send it out into the world in images.

The plan for me to write the screenplay of the story was hatched in the first few minutes of our meeting. ‘I’m serious about this,’ he said as I took my first sip of wine. We were some way into the third carafe before I plucked up the courage to hack away at the excitement and voice the fear: ‘What if I can’t write the script?’

‘Then we’ll get someone else, but you can write it. You wrote the story.’

But I know they are two different things; different skills. My story is mostly told in the first person; it relies on the arch, sardonic, articulate, filthy voice I’ve given to its narrator, the actor Dirk Bogarde. Any depth it has comes from what my Bogarde says about Diana Dors, Harold Pinter, his driver, his lover, and what this reveals about himself. I’m all about the words. And now I have to be all about the images. But apparently this producer isn’t just the money-man; he’s part-cheerleader, part-shrink. He pointed out a line in the story that proved to him that I could write visually. One line. One image that gave him confidence in what I could do.

Five-and-a-half hours of non-stop talking later – the best kind of first date between a short story and a film producer, chaperoned by the story’s writer – and we had a plan. A day later, it was followed up in writing –  a clear, step-by-step account of what we both had to do next. A couple of weeks later and I have all this in a timetable, with dates. A timetable that begins, encouragingly, with: ‘Write the story: Done’ and ends with ‘Pitch the film, raise the money etc’. That casual ‘etc’ is one of the loveliest and most inspiring words I’ve ever seen. Like it’s going to be that easy.

I know it won’t be that easy – we’ll get money, we’ll lose it, someone will agree to be in it and we’ll get money because of that, then they’ll have to drop out and we’ll lose the money that came with them. But that’s the producer’s problem, not mine. My problem comes at Step 6 of 7 in the timetable: ‘Write screenplay.’

Like it’s going to be that easy.

But maybe it’ll be easier than I think. The producer has my back, and he believes in me. One of my best friends, a screenwriter, firmly told me I could do it; wouldn’t hear anything to the contrary. Another friend, who’s also written scipts, offered to help out. When I said to another couple of writer friends, my eyes still wide open, mouth still twisted in the biggest of grins, that this had ‘fallen into my lap’, one of them replied: ‘No it didn’t. You wrote the story. You worked for it.’ If I stumble, if I fall backwards, as I have no doubt I will, it seems as though there are plenty of arms outstretched, hands waiting to push me up.

So, if writing the story was Step 1 and writing the screenplay is Step 6, what’s in between? What comes next? Here’s what comes next: another of my beloved writing retreats. Five days in Ventnor, in a Victorian hotel overlooking the sea. Private balcony, armchair and writing desk. A playwright friend who’ll listen and advise, suggest and support, as I submit myself to the dream of the imagination – developing the central characters; fleshing out the smaller ones; extending elements of the existing plot and introducing new ones in order to work out how this short story can become a full-length feature film. Figuring out how to visualise the story of this man who loved outside the law; a man who built up the walls he needed to protect himself and continued to live inside them even when a change came.

I have walls of my own, of course. I still can’t believe I have to do this. I still can’t believe I have a dated to-do list. I still can’t believe that I can take the trip from short story to full-length screenplay. But  I do, I have and I will.

I can’t say I won’t occasionally get lost in daydreams of casting, five-star reviews, whether I really would wear jeans to the Oscars. But in between that I promise to daydream about the really important stuff: about this famous actor who really came to Crystal Palace, and what I pretend happened to him there. About film, art, friendship, betrayal, finding love, losing love, living with a lie that kills you bit by bit every day that you don’t or can’t speak about it. I promise exactly what my producer has promised:

‘We love you Dirk, and we will honour your story with our film.’Dirk


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2 Responses to The Walls of Others

  1. Pingback: The Lone Surfer | Jacqueline Downs is Reading and Writing

  2. Pingback: What we love | Jacqueline Downs is Reading and Writing

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