Screenwriting on the edge. #OnEdge20


#OnEdge20 is a series of posts commemorating 20 years since I rolled cameras on my first short film.


The most important element in filmmaking is a screenplay.

Okay, so there are exceptions to this rule. Some film and TV productions are improvised, though these often use a rough story outline and rehearsals to find the beats and dialogue. Even though there may be no formal script, the template is there. Camera rehearsals help to refine and block the action before a take. It’s the same process as writing and rewriting a script before it arrives on set for interpretation by the actors and crew. Even those productions that have pre-vis animatics, or simply storyboards in place of scripted words on a page are using a script of arts — the screenplay is visual storytelling, so it’s all the same thing.

In yesterday’s blog post, I recounted how I came to adapt Christopher Fowler’s story into a short film in the first place. I alluded to flashback scenes that were scripted, but not included in the final film. The reasons for this change were twofold:

1. The flashbacks weren’t at all vital in revealing the story of Thurlow’s encounter with Matthews. A general rule of thumb is that if the scene plays, it stays. Another way to express that is — if you read through the script with those scenes omitted, and the story still works (or works even better) without them, then they can go.

2. By cutting them, we would save thousands of pounds that we would otherwise have needed to spend on casting a ‘young Doctor Matthews’, a host of schoolchildren, a teacher, and an exam hall — and then lighting and filming in that location for at least pone shooting day, if not two.

So, cut them I did.

I had already decided to keep my deviation from the original short story, in the form of the fetish nightclub sequence that bookended the film, as I felt this would be the most cinematic way to open the film (rather like shouting, “Hey everyone! You’re watching an actual proper movie with real production values here!”). And it did work. I remember when On Edge was selected to screen with Columbia TriStar’s I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in London cinemas. We snuck in one evening with our guests — actor Charley Boorman and his lovely wife, as they shouldn’t attend the cast & crew screwing at the Prince Charles cinema as Charley was off riding motorbikes with his pal Ewan MacGregor — and to our delight a couple of patrons genuinely thought they had sat down in the wrong screening room. Testament to the fact that On Edge looked and sounded like a bona fide MOVIE-FILM, not the low-budget indie short that it actually was.

I recall being very delighted about that.

Anyway, back to the script! Trawling through the archives for #OnEdge20, i chanced upon an earlier draft of the script (the version I sent to Christopher Fowler on a wing and a prayer) that included some of the scenes which I later dropped. You can read a scan of that 4th draft version — for the first time in, well, the history of ever — below. I must have annotated the script after doing my first location recce at the dental studio we used for filming (more about that location in tomorrow’s blog post) — as you can see on the first page I have corrected ‘reception window’ to ‘reception desk’ in keeping with what was available at the actual showing location. The script is never finished, even if only little details, there are always many changes right up to and including when you are shooting the film.

Talking of the shoot, I have also somehow managed (in the course of a gazillion house moves and life changing events) to have held onto the actual copy of the shooting script that I used on set during filming. You can see (in the scanned Shooting Script copy below) how each scene has been gleefully crossed out in lurid red pen. Each page we shot became a feather in my cap (as well as removing about a decade from my overall life expectancy in stress, worry and fingernail-down-to-the-quick tension — again, more about that in tomorrow’s blog post!). 

Be sure to check out the little diagram on page 5 of this shooting version of the script — this is basically Director of Photography Alan Stewart SAVING MY LIFE AND SAVING THE FILM. I have to post that ALL IN CAPS because it’s the TRUTH. Time is the enemy on a film shoot, and the universe always seem to conspire against you to ensure that you do not have enough of it. That little diagram shows how a brilliant DOP can simplify things for you, getting all the coverage (put simply – coverage is footage from angles that will cut together and give editing options later in the editing room so you don’t need to go back and reshoot costly pick-ups) so you can focus on directing and getting the performances you need. The doodles on that page show how the camera set-ups work for maximum coverage with minimum lighting moves — essential time-saving tactics that can mean the difference between getting everything in the can, or not. Alan is one of the best in the business, and it’s no surprise he has gone on to shoot big movies for the likes of Disney.

Also of note in the Shooting Draft are the scenes marked as ‘Deleted’. It’s pretty obvious to see which these are, and it is a revealing process to compare the Draft 4 script with the Shooting Script.

I hope this never-before-shared material is of some interest, and who knows, it might even be helpful / inspiring to anyone out there who is embarking on shooting their first short film.


click to read On Edge draft 4


Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 19.18.05

click to read the On Edge shooting script

Tune into the blog tomorrow for more #OnEdge20

Watch On Edge
on Amazon VOD
and DVD

Check out the On Edge
screening history & list of awards


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