Once Upon a Time
Written by Simon W. Golding.
Most of what you read in my first blog is true. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.
I have often been asked how ‘For the Love of Ella’ was born into the world, although it was not a difficult birth, there was some screaming and white knuckle holding – mostly from my agent. This was going to be an 'independent' production and there was no fee for me and more importantly, no 10% for my agent.
There were a few projects swimming around my head and I had the very fortunate and timely meeting in the shape of director and editor, James Farina. I had been invited along by one of the starring actresses, Patricia Ryder, to watch a new and exciting dark comedy called, ‘Leu Doc’ at a packed Majestic Cinema in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. I was totally mesmerised by this little masterpiece and was introduced to the creator/writer/director and editor Mr Farina.
James was young, talented and energetic with more ideas than a dog has fleas. I knew we had to work on a production together, with us both producing and James directing and myself writing.
Various ideas began forming and taking shape and I fired them at James who was extremely patient and listened with little enthusiasm. An early idea was a man who put 'instant' coffee into the microwave and he went back in time. Another proposal was based on fact about a brilliant Hopscotch player who tried unsuccessfully to make it an Olympic sport.
When faced with crippling deadlines to come up with some winning story-line, we had already decided to tackle comedy – but a short film, I have a practiced tradition that never fails. I lock myself in my office and I will not imbibe alcohol, cigar smoke or rich food until I have had that epiphany moment. It usually comes within a few minutes and this was no exception. We both fell in love with a concept which at the time carried the awkward working title, ‘In the Pursuit of Lust and Eternal Happiness’. We already had an eye on merchandise and T-shirts carrying this title would only have fit people the size of Russell Grant. Mugs and key rings were also out of the question. So it was James who came up with the brilliant title, ‘For the Love of Ella’. Now we could cater for the Kate Moss’ of this world and egg cups if required. Although I give James full credit for this radiant title – it was also the name of Ella Fitzgerald’s best selling album – which has made Google searches interesting.
The concept was simple enough – a Polish scientist falls in love with a beautiful English rose called Ella. He realises he is never going to gain Ella’s heart via flowers, chocolates and crying along with her while watching the film ‘Sex and the City’. So he is determined to use his scientific powers to win her love.
Even before I had finished the comedy film short concept I knew who I wanted to play the part of the scientist. Both James and I were huge fans of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s ground-breaking comedy ‘The Office’. We knew Ewen Macintosh, who played the dead-pan Big Keith, was a tremendous, versatile and talented actor – so I wrote it specifically for the actor. I already knew actress and writer Lucy Drive and her beauty and superb acting was an obvious choice for Ella.
As the script developed over the many months we both agreed we had far more than a short film. This screamed out for a 30 minute 6 part series. ‘The Scientist’ being the comedy pilot episode – the other episodes being all stand-alone comedies. It was a passion of mine to write situation comedy and my influences were wide ranging from ‘The Comic Strip’ to ‘Terry and June’ and ‘Black Adder’ to ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’. We would have no laughter track and hoped the rest would be history.
There is a set of tried and tested rules for submitting scripts to mainstream TV and we were going to break all the rules – this would be an independent production made via our company Salopian Films! Our journey had begun and what a fantastic journey it would be as we built a gifted well-known cast and an experienced and professional crew.
Click on the right to read blog 2 about this remarkable story of bravery, great generosity, a touch of serendipity, a few surprises and a lot of hard work and laughter…
The Journey Begins...
Written by Simon W. Golding.
The journey really had begun. I had come across a fantastic, young and enthusiastic director, James Farina and we had signed up the two main leads; Ewen Macintosh and Lucy Drive. Ewen who was born onto our screens as the unforgettable Big Keith in Gervais and Merchant’s ground-breaking comedy ‘The Office’. I already knew actress and writer Lucy Drive and her beauty and superb acting was an obvious choice for Ella. But it was not quite at the Lights, Camera, Action! stage. We had no money, locations, cameo or support cast, crew or any equipment. Although we did have total belief in the production and blinding faith that can often be just enough to succeed.
Quite early on James and I decided to co-produce the comedy TV pilot episode, The Scientist, which would be part of a six-part series called For the Love of Ella. Fellow producers can be like a marriage and we needed both understanding and trust. I trusted James and he understood me.
We all have our own motivations and mine was to prove my old headmaster wrong. When I left school at age 16, Mr Ashman’s written comments about my 5 years at Edgecliff Comprehensive School read, ‘Simon sets himself very low standards, which he fails to achieve.’ Although these remarks were somewhat expected, I feel his words were still scarred from my untimely explosion in the science lab. After all there were no fatalities, the school was closed for just two weeks and skilled surgeons had worked hard, and although now hairless, the science teacher eventually returned to full time employment.
Both James and I started trawling for a solid and professional cast and crew. James organised the crew and I tackled the cast. On the back of James’ brilliant respected dark comedy short, Leu Doc, he very quickly established his objective, enticing some great names from the silver and big screen. Armed with my script and a unique ability to crawl, beg and even resort to blackmail I managed to establish a cameo cast that were all household names. Soon we had on board Alex Reid, Danny Peacock, Melanie Sykes, Bobby Ball, Francoise Pascal, Darren Day, Billy Pearce and many more, plus the one I blackmailed.
The locations were next on the list and we managed to secure the prestigious Prince Albert night club and cocktail bar for the opening scenes. Now we were paying expenses only, including accommodation and food. The Prince Albert is located in the heart of Wolverhampton so I booked us all into the accommodating Travelodge with a 24 hour open bar. I also picked the date for filming when the football team, Wolverhampton Wanderes, were playing at home. I must admit both supporters were quite rowdy and more plates were broken than in a Greek restaurant.
After a rather drunken away supporter ordered a pizza at 12:30am and the barman asked him if he wanted it cut into 6 or 12 pieces, he thought for a few seconds and said, ‘Six pieces, I couldn’t eat twelve!’ We decided to all retire to bed.
We were trying to save money, to obviously cut down on production costs and we had the cream of talent who had mostly driven up from London. There were 10 cars in total and it meant paying £8 a car to park at the train station during the day’s filming and a further £6 to park at the Travelodge during the night – which equated to £140 a day just for parking! And we were filming for three days which came to a staggering £420.
As I was in charge of the logistics I came up with what I thought a fantastic money saving plan. A good friend of mine had an Auto Transport Carrier that could get 5 cars below and 5 cars above - the ones you see delivering new cars at various garages. He happened to be available during the three days filming and said he would help out for free. Now a few hundred yards from the Prince Albert was an expensive car park but lorries could park there for £30 for a 24 hour period – I felt very proud of myself for this type of initiative.
So on the morning of the first day’s filming everyone drove their cars separately onto the transporter – all ten! Everyone sat in their cars and we pulled off the Prince Albert, with myself in the cab and we set off towards the car park round the corner, still very proud of myself. There the lorry would be parked up for three days at a cost of only £90. We could walk to the Tavelodge so that was not a problem morning or night.
Unfortunately as we travelled down the short duel carriageway to the main car park the lorry driver passed a police speed trap travelling at 55mph in a 50mph zone. The police further on pulled us over. I expected the lorry driver to receive the usually £100 fine in the form of a speeding ticket. What I thought was totally harsh was that he charged all the other 10 drivers sitting in their cars in the back of the truck – also a £100 fine. Obviously as the production company we had to pay every individual fine which came to £1,000. I am still fighting the case and have relinquished my role as logistics expert. You live but you don’t always learn.
Look out for BLOG #3 coming shortly to follow this remarkable story...