Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams – Song for Marion – movieScope
‘Aaagggh, what the fuck am I supposed to do now? I don’t know where this is going. I have no ending. Not only that, I am shit, I can’t spell, my grammar is terrible. I wish I wasn’t doing this piece-of- shit career…’ And so on and so on. This is how I can feel about writing; not always, obviously, but there comes a time in most scripts where I want to burn the computer and the house down in frustration.
When I write, I do my damnedest to not go back and reread what I have written. I speak to a lot of young writers who do this, and they end up with 32 pages of extremely well- written script but don’t venture much further than that. I find that if I can reach the end of a screenplay, I can always go back and do fixes. It also depends on how broke I am, and how quickly I need to hand something in…
Writing Song for Marion was no different; there were moments of chaos but fortunately, as with all scripts, there were many moments of clarity. Getting the commission was one of the easiest pitches I have made, and I probably have London to Brighton to thank for that. It was during that film’s release that the words ‘hot shit’ were being bandied around, and it was easier to get my ideas commissioned. I never believed the ‘hot shit’ branding, by the way, but I was totally skint at the time, so the fact that someone would pay for my services was super-duper.
Song for Marion has many personal moments, and so there were always going to be parts of the script that came more easily to me. The main problem was trying to take the conventional— even predictable—elements of the script, and make them not so conventional and predictable that the audience would start throwing up in their laps.
I had to write the screenplay quickly, as I was due to start filming The Cottage and wanted to put it out of my mind. So I sat down with my usual outlook: a rough idea of the plot but no concept of the flesh. One scene would hopefully follow the next with some sort of clarity, each giving me an idea for future scenes and how to tie situations up. In the first draft there were many different characters, as well as characters that survived until filming that then changed age and sex. I remember there being scenes in an Indian karaoke restaurant and a bank where Arthur’s daughter worked. I initially wrote the part as a female because I was desperate to get Kathy Burke in the film; many things changed, not least the part becoming Arthur’s son James (played by Christopher Eccleston), but not the desperation to work with Kathy Burke.
That first draft of the script, commissioned by the BBC, got the attention of other companies, and people were desperate for me to get working on the next draft now that The Cottage had finished filming. That was five years ago and I have forgotten lots of the notes that were given to me at the time, but I do remember that, throughout the whole process, a lot of the notes were absolutely brilliant and a lot of them I hated. It’s always a case of working through the good and the bad. But even the notes I hated were always useful, in terms of making me think that when something is wrong—even if the note is also wrong—it can be used as a guide to make the script better. But if I was very passionate about something that people wanted to change, I would ask if it was a deal- breaker; if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t change it. If it was, then we would keep working.
I can say that the difference from the first draft of the Song for Marion screenplay to the version that was filmed was massive. That was because of me, notes, budget changes, changes in financiers, distributors and locations—this is the reality of the life of a film from script to screen. Now it is over, would there be much I would change? I am not sure, and I’m still wondering whether audiences will throw up. Once the film is out there, only the audience will tell you if what you have done is shit or not.•
Song for Marion was nominated for three British Independent Film Awards, and is released in UK cinemas on February 22