Monkfish Cowboy - The Story So Far...

Added on 26 November 2008

This is how the movies work, or don’t work, as the case may be.

Five years ago I was out to dinner with some friends in London. There was monkfish on the menu. One of the guys at the table - we’ll call him James - suggested that no one should order the monkfish, because they needed to be protected and restaurants shouldn’t be serving monkfish. No one had the monkfish. Thereafter I referred to James as the Monkfish Guy, and in one peculiar serendipitous moment, my pet name for him evolved into the Monkfish Cowboy. In a blinding flash, I thought, that sounds like a movie.

There are screenwriters out there who can jot down their idea on a piece of paper and go and sell the concept, but only if you’re high enough up the food chain. Like the monkfish, I’m a bottom dweller. No single page idea, no ten page treatment, no rough draft, I had to write the full script and make it reasonably polished.

So, three and a half years ago I wrote the script and sent it off to my agent. Two months later she surprised me by actually reading it and liking it. She sent it off to a few film companies. That summer I met a guy in London from Elton John’s film production company. He didn’t want to make the film, but had liked the script and wanted a chat. Nothing came of it. (He said that they were working on an animated movie called Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by Ewan MacGregor and Kate Winslet. I had always thought that nothing had come of that either, but have just looked on and it appars to be scheduled for 2010. Without Ewan MacGregor or Kate Winslet.)

My agent sent it out to a few more companies. One of them, Dan Films, was interested. We spoke on the phone a few times, I went back to London to meet them. When movie companies want to get exclusive rights to a project they take an option. A small fee, maybe between one and ten thousand pounds, which makes the project their property for a year or eighteen months. Dan Films wanted me to polish the script a little further before agreeing to the option. This, obviously, was going to be on a pro bono basis.

I did the work, they liked it, they optioned the script. Dan went out to try to get development funding. Development funding is basically paid to the writer while he/she develops the script to such a stage that it can be taken out into the movie business and the job of attracting funding/director/acting talent etc. can be done. Since the film was predominantly set in Scotland, Scottish Screen were the main port of call. The men from Scottish Screen they say no. I started developing the script with Dan without development funding. Had I been a hardened Hollywood screenwriter I wouldn’t have done this. I would have gone back to my swimming pool and waited for the phone to ring.

We talked about David Tennent and Ashley Jensen for the lead romantic roles in the movie. Then the producer found out the exact details of Tennent's Dr Who schedule and I don’t think they ever got around to speaking to Ashley Jensen.

The producer at Dan Films had recently made a film in Ireland called Puffball, and had a lot of Irish connections. We decided that we would switch the film to Ireland, using Dublin instead of Glasgow. I sat down with TPCKAM and my Irish friends and Irishified the script. The producer joined up with an Irish production company, and they signed up an Irish director. This was the classic point in the process when everything seemed to be going well.

In January this year they spoke to the Irish actor/comedian Chris O’Dowd. He was about to start filming the new Richard Curtis movie, and there seemed to be some suggestion that this might delay us as he wasn’t going to be available for a few months. This implied that it was all ready to happen quite quickly.

And at this point.... nothing happened. Movie Reality kicked in. Since the meeting with Chris O’Dowd, the whole process appears to have ground to a halt. Most movies just don’t get made. That’s how it is. Some get made - and given the low percentage of scripts that see it all the way through to filming and distribution, it’s surprising how many of them are completely shite - but for the most part, they don’t happen. However, when producers are trying to make them happen, they obviously can’t be fatalistic about it, they have to believe that it is actually going to get off the ground.

So, Monkfish Cowboy isn’t dead. It’s not definitely not happening, it’s just not happening at the moment either. It’s sitting there, waiting to happen, like thousands of other movies. The first time I ever met a film producer, to talk about The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, he told me he’d been trying to get a film about Frederick The Great with Ralph Feinnes off the ground for nine years.

At the time, I thought, Ah, this is how it is. Movies don’t happen.

And I was right. They don’t.

Although that doesn’t explain all the ones that do.