Nope! This is not an advice column about your romantic status. It’s the story of how I decided I needed a new career and came up with the idea of becoming a screenwriter.
I’ve known film producer Carolyn, her twin (but not identical) sister Margot and Margot’s partner Doug since about the time of the Calgary Winter Olympics, when the latter worked with me on an Olympic Torch related video. If my math is correct, that’s a span of over 30 years. We have been good friends and colleagues the entire time.
Then, I was a young corporate video producer. I’d left behind a good career at CBC TV after executive producing, producing, directing and-or writing something over three thousand hours of network television. However, I’d made the mistake of thinking I could tell the inmates who were running the asylum how to make good television shows. After exec-ing the Gemini Awards in the middle of a technicians’ strike, I was given the bum’s rush. I think I told the lady boss, a snake if there ever was one, that I had worked for six Heads of TV Variety and I was sure I’d be happy working for her successor. As it turned out, I also had a run in with the network chief, another snake who later went on to destroy CTV. Marked as a trouble maker, I never set foot on CBC premises again.
Toiling in the world of corporate television was very good for me. At the time I left CBC without much of a career prospect in front of me, this was a very new business. People were still making what were called ‘industrials’ shot on film. Portable cameras were in their infancy and a few established video producers had studios where they made multi-camera shows. Reluctant to get into the hardware business, I developed a network of expert freelance shooters across the country, who came with their own gear. All kit and caboodle came as a package.
In Doug’s case it also came with Margot, who was outstanding at sound and editing and Carolyn, who was starting to make a name for herself as a producer. On assignments in Calgary, I would try to stay over for the weekend, when the family kindly invited me to their sprawling ranch in the foothills. Carolyn would drive us out in her sporty Mercedes, through beautiful countryside with the Rockies looming in the background. In several converted barns, they based their business and kept horses. We would mix work with fun and not just edit our videos but take time out to go for long rides in the spectacular countryside. We saw lots of free range cattle, a few moose and once a bear. Margot always arranged for us to stop at a spectacular lookout for a refreshment break.
Back at the ranch I would earn my keep by cooking brunch or dinner. I remember very successful Sunday brunches of eggs Benny and one dinner in particular of delicious Cornish rock hens stuffed with wild rice. Following our shoot at the Olympics, Doug, Margot and I made dozens of videos for various clients. Both Margot and Carolyn made a name for themselves with coverage of the burning oil wells in Kuwait after Desert Storm.
Fast forward to the last decade and Carolyn was now well established as a producer of TV series and had several feature films under her belt. She was looking for programming to pitch to Bell Media’s new TV 1 channel, being used to promote the use of fibre optics. They bought our idea for a series in which I would travel around digging out unusual day trips. It was called Escapes with Nigel and ran for two seasons. I wrote and hosted the shows. Doug was behind the camera making me look good and Margot was behind him making me talk sense.
That was followed by a cooking show called Market to Table which also ran for two seasons. Then Bell decided to close the channel and I got the bum’s rush again. At least I got a cookbook out of it.
Over a long lunch, Carolyn, who was in town to show her latest movie at the Toronto Film Festival, suggested I try my hand at writing a feature film script. She needed product in the romance genre. I reminded her I hadn’t written feature-length scripts (none ever never produced) since some time in the 80s. She was generous in her expectation that I could quickly find my feet in a new medium since I had been writing continuously my entire career. I pitched her a few ideas and she liked one about a boy and his single mom who eventually finds romance. With infinite patience she gave me advice and suggestions and after about 40 (possibly more) rewrites, I came up with a script which she was kind enough to option. A tough learning experience, to say the least, but with an excellent guide. It was a Christmas romance, a popular sub-genre in streaming video, and might have been shot by now, but for the wretched pandemic.
However, my next effort proved easier to sell and after a mere 39 rewrites she optioned Key to Love. A few weeks ago, I received the exciting news that the film was about to go into production. Carolyn, of course, would be the producer and Margot would back her up as production manager. Doug, who had been director of photography on several of Carolyn’s films, was handed the director’s role. I couldn’t have been happier. My creative baby would be in good hands. Regretfully, because the crew were working in a Covid ‘bubble,’ it was not practical for me to visit the locations in and around Calgary, Alberta. However, I’ve been getting regular updates from the sharp end and all seemed to be going very well. They wrapped last Friday.
The other day I asked Carolyn how she was going to shoot a summer romance in Calgary in April. It was snowing at the time and minus four degrees. “Smoke and mirrors,” she replied. So far, they have been very clever and have been shooting mostly interiors and dodging the weather. But looking at stills from the final days on location, they seem to have finally found some green.
It’s hard to describe the joy and thrill of having actors speak words I have written and make characters I have invented come to life. I only wish I could be there to see the action, but reading the daily call sheet and colourful script pages (called sides), allows me to imagine each day’s activities.
I won’t spoil the fun and reveal the plot, but suffice to say Key to Love involves a mysterious key, romance and a Viking. Because of the genre, there’s no sex, no nudity and no profanity. Only the Viking is topless. The single smooch is in the closing scene.
The prop book featured in the bookstore scenes (illustrated) is allegedly written by one Nigel Napier-Andrews. The liner blurb claims his “latest best selling steamy romance offers what every woman will be fantasizing over this summer – true love.” Wow!
My next story is already written, polished and just waiting for the right producer. It’s a big budget wartime film and, yes, it too is a romance. Still no sex or nudity, but there may be some profanity and violence. Hard to make a WW II flick without. It’s along the lines of Their Finest, a lovely movie which stars Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton. One day, my script will be shot in England, where most of the action takes place.
And I’m already working on the project after that, with the first act of a historical miniseries completed. I was able to get in a lot of research on my visit to the UK last fall, as I revealed in Britain’s Uncivil War. That one will have plenty of action, sex, profanity and violence. I might even throw in a little romance. I’ll leave the nudity, or lack thereof, to the eventual producers and director. Given that it is set in mediaeval England, I imagine it will be filmed in Ireland, like Game of Thrones, or on the medieval town set at the Czech Barrandov Studio, like many other period pieces. Stay tuned!
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