This is a traumatic time of year for me. I admit my writing output tends to slow down during the football season (priorities, you know) but the relegation situation my beloved Blues faces has brought my scribbling to a complete stop.
And to add insult to injury I had to suffer a rare defeat by our lesser neighbours Aston Villa – although they did need considerable help from the referee and his assistants to get their victory. Oh, and as for that so-called ‘wonder’ goal they scored – when the ball is in the air you head it like a normal person, you don’t do some fancy acrobatic volley. Is it football or gymnastics? Eh? Eh? OK, I admit I might be coming across as a bit bitter. But wouldn’t you be?
Anyway, it’s occurred to me recently that I should combine my interests and write about football. Not just have football supporting characters but write some state of the nation thing about the beautiful game.
It is sometimes quite difficult to find a subject to write about as we can’t help thinking about the market and what will sell. Ideally we should write about subjects that interest us and we care about so our scripts are more passionate and interesting. Some writers pluck subjects from the zeitgeist because they are current or fashionable forgetting that by the time the development process ends, it would be years before it hits the screen. Trying to predict what will be fashionable in three years so you can write about it is an idea I suppose but that way madness lies. It’s maybe best to start trends rather than follow them or predict them.
There are personal themes and subjects I’ve noticed I keep going back to like child abuse, family and redemption. Rather than accept it as a failing of my limited imagination, I believe acknowledging it and working with those themes consciously rather than sub-consciously makes for a better script. What do you want do say? Love is good? People are people? Vengence is cool?
So what do I want to say about football? Well, I think the Premiership is over-rated and I would much rather my team played in the lower leagues where it is about real football and not just making money for fat cat directors and corporate sponsors. That is perhaps, I acknowledge, a fairly unusual position for a football fan to take but it would make an interesting story: a football fan sabotages his club so they get relegated from the premier league. OK, that obviously needs a lot of work with character and story to fully convince but it’s a start.
My footie film would be about footie, obviously, and will be a devastating critique on the modern game that will force the FA, UEFA and FIFA to hang their heads in shame and reform. However, it’s also about that one man who wants to turn back time and his reasons for doing so. They can’t just be the ‘bring back real football’ reasons but personal ones which everyone in the audience can identify with.
Rather than watch films and sub-consciously getting the theme, it’s an idea to try and work it out consciously. Seeing how other screenwriters develop theme and use the main plot and sub-plots to bolster and contrast that theme has been helpful to my own learning. The best writers ensure that there is nothing in the film at all that isn't connected to the theme.
Before I embark on this task, I think it’s a good idea to just see a few football films to get in the mood. However, the screenwriters of Pirates of the Caribbean, Elliott & Rossio disagree and claim they didn’t see a single pirate film while researching and writing their movie. It’s true there is a danger of being too overly influenced by other screenwriters but on the other hand if there is a cliché which occurs often in those genre films, then it’s useful to know so you can avoid it or subvert it rather than, unknowingly, replicate it.
One footie film I've loved since I was a kid was Escape to Victory and I've never understand the hostility towards it. Seriously, what is that about? Except maybe snobbery and anti-Americanism. While it isn’t perhaps part of the realist school of Ken Loach, I don’t think it intends to be and is just good old fashioned entertainment.
A recent favourite of mine is There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. An excellent British film which follows a bullied boy who finds some old football boots which imbue him with silky skills. Its strange combination of realism and Boy’s Own fantasy actually works very well and its football sequences are still the best I’ve ever seen on film.
My fellow brummie and bluenose Al Hunter Ashton did excellent work in The Firm, although football was just the background to that tale of scrapping hooligans.
In the past year we have seen Goal, the first part of a trilogy written by Clement & La Franais which, while following convention for sports movies, managed a variance to keep it interesting. The football stuff was predictable enough but the characters and relationships were fresh.
Still on general release is fun-filled She’s the Man which is a teen-beat gender-swap rom-com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. OK, it doesn't sound promising but it's very well done. Although I should warn there are some scenes which might cause nausea: the dorm room has posters of Chelsea players.