#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.
Today is exactly 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film as writer/director, On Edge.
I don’t like looking back so much, I’d much rather keep my focus on what’s ahead. But 20 years does feel like a pretty significant anniversary, so…
To commemorate each day of the film shoot I will be posting about the making of the film, starting today (24th July) and concluding on the day we wrapped (28th July). I have trawled through the archives to find artefacts that have never been shared online before — until now.
And the first of these is a letter.
A single sheet of headed A4 paper, bearing the logo of Soho’s The Creative Partnership, and the signature of author Christopher Fowler.
It’s a letter that changed my life.
Twenty one years ago, I was studying for a Masters in screenwriting under the tutorship of guru Philip Parker. One of our assignments was to adapt an existing story into a short film script. Around that time, I had become aware of an emerging master of the short horror story, British author Christopher Fowler. I had already devoured a couple of his early novels, including the brilliant Roofworld, and was hungry for more, so I invested (very wisely) in a copy of his collection Sharper Knives, which included a blackly-comic, dental horror story called On Edge. I sat bolt upright in bed and told myself that this story had to be made into a film.
With my homework assignment as further impetus (I always work best to a strict deadline, to this day) I set about adapting the story. The assignment brief meant that the script had to be around 30 pages long. The story was at most going to come in at around fifteen minutes, so I created a subplot in which the impatient patient, Peter Thurlow, was set up for a painful fall by his estranged wife. I also opted to include a bit more detail about Doctor Matthews’ background. Visualising his ‘difficult’ schooldays via flashbacks, i intercut these with the main action culminating in some horrific business with a sharp pencil in an exam hall. (The gory escalation was intended to mirror the horror occurring in the dentist’s chair.)
The homework assignment was a success, but I knew that the film would be incredibly expensive to make at 30 minutes long. As a rule of thumb, at that time it would cost around £1,000 to produce each minute of finished film. To explain this further, I was determined that we were to shoot and deliver on 35mm Cinemascope, to present as cinematic experience as possible — an approach very much shared and supported by my producing partner Joseph Alberti at Robber Baron Productions. On Edge was to be our calling card, and we were confident if we got it right, we might get a feature film project off the ground. So, in order to make the film realisable on a budget, I immediately dropped the spousal revenge subplot, cutting the script back to around 18 pages. (Still too long, but further edits were to come, as they always do.)
In a fit of youthful exuberance / pure madness, i decided to send a copy of the script to the author of the short story, Mr Christopher Fowler himself, begging him for the rights to make the film. He replied, and you can see that reply below. I have never shown anyone outside of the production this letter (and I wrote to Christopher last week to ask his permission one more time — 20 years after first doing so — but this time via email, and this time requesting permission to publish his letter on my blog, which I’m happy to say he granted. Thanks again Mr Fowler!).
I remember tucking the letter inside my copy of the shooting script, as a memento of the journey to getting the film made, sure, but also as a reminder to my future self — the future self who is writing this blog entry today — that all it takes sometimes is one person to see some potential in what you are doing, to give you a break, and ultimately to change your life.
Making On Edge changed my life in so many ways. It taught me a lot about directing, screenwriting, and of course the process of adaptation. I have since worked on many screenplays and films as a writer/director and a story consultant, and have published short stories and novels of my own.
Proof that one letter can change your life.
Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20
Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards