On Saturday, the second stage run of The Engagement came to an end. Running for five nights, I am delighted to report that it has received very pleasant reviews. Here are some of the things people have said about yours truly:
“Allen is not afraid to lean into the darkness behind the story, but despite the bleak subject matter has succeeded in creating an engaging play.”
“Allen has tapped into a true story unseen like this before, but perhaps known by many. This is urgent, provocative work, and no doubt will be returning to the stage.”
I’ve got to be honest. I would not be getting this kind words if the cast hadn’t done such a marvellous job.
Lene Kqiku, Johnny Parr and Velenzia Spearpoint gave powerful performances and really did the script justice.
And of course, special thanks to our director, Laura Dorn, who managed to make a stage play with constant scene changes and time skips work!
You can read all the reviews below. And if you have a chance, do check out the wonderful track from Zwah, used in the soundtrack for the play.
Onwards and upwards!!
Hello everyone! I have exciting news!
You may remember that last year my first stage play The Engagement debuted at Brighton’s rialto theatre. Well now it’s coming back- to the Bread & Roses in Clapham!
Running from Tuesday November 26th until Saturday November 30th, this new version will be directed by Laura Dorn and produced by her company, Experimentorium . Tickets are on sale and going fast!
I shall be attending a Q&A on the opening Tuesday night and potentially the Friday as well. I can guarantee a story of love, thrills and heartbreak, dealing with issues of substance abuse and toxicity in relationships.
The first week of rehearsals has finished, and my understanding is it’s gone very well. I’m looking forward to revealing more of what’s in store in the coming weeks!
Tickets are on sale here:
First of all, do not read this if you haven’t seen Joker. I will spoil it and I’d prefer people to go in as fresh as I did to generate this reaction.
Generally my screenwriting lane is that of the dark comedy. While most of my scripts have plenty of humourous moments, they also usually death, illness, violence or heartbreak at some point. I reckon I get away with this because humour is based around tension. We laugh to break tension, when we see that something is not as awkward or problematic as we thought it was.
But we also laugh for the opposite reason; when a situation is so tense that we long for it to end and have to laugh to do it ourselves. That’s why the cringe humour of Ricky Gervais, the insult humour of Don Rickles and Stewart Lee’s hostility to his audience work so well.
And it’s also why the choices with Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Joker are so inspired.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) suffers from pathological laughter. As a result of his past traumas, he cannot face tense situations without bursting out laughing as a pure physical response. At some point in the first act of this film I found myself thinking, “damn! Of all the different incarnations of the Joker over the decades, how has nobody thought of this before?”
Of course Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant performance doesn’t hurt. In a way the script didn’t need his expositionary calling cards explaining his mood dissonance; it’s quite clear that there’s no mirth at all behind his strained cackles. While given less comical lines than other Jokers in the past, this one does make light of horrific situations with dances and expressions. And making light of the horrific is peak Joker to me.
I’ve seen that some people have taken offence at this movie. Good. If film about the Joker doesn’t offend those prone to attack statements on behalf of others, it’s probably missed the mark! The character is a nihilist, striking out at a system that can’t really claim the moral high ground and taking the piss out of many values we take for granted. You’re either willing to be taken along with that or you aren’t.
The violence in the film is actually rare. There’s no fight scenes, just the occasional murder. But when killing are done, they’re neither clean nor Tarantino-level excessive. It’s believable, it’s brutal, it shows violence to be a horrible thing that we should avoid. That people take offence at this more than the other extremes is quite weird when you think about it!
There was a moment in Joker where I was worried the writers were about to pull one of my most personally hated tropes: the secret long-lost relative! But ultimately, the film makes a mockery of that too, effectively setting up a twist and then undoing it as a lie. A critic might want to bang the “SUBVERTING EXPECTATIONS DOES NOT A GOOD STORY MAKE!” drum, but I respect their recognition that the Joker has very little grounding on reality. In Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel The Killing Joke, Joker remarks that he has many different versions of his past in his head. “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
If I was going to pick one hole in Joker, I’d say that the final scene could have been cut. The scene before leaves some ambiguity on Arthur’s fate, and sets up the story as a plausible strand to Joker’s multiple choice past perfectly in line with the comics. If the film had ended on this moment it would have been damn near perfect. While the final coda is very good, I think such an uncomfortable film as this could have stood to be as unresolved and troubling in its ending as possible.
I definitely think Joker will do well in awards season (especially in the acting and music department) and highly recommend it to any fans of the comics, or of dark psychological films in general. I haven’t seen many films that thrust you into a character’s mindset like this for a while. Because when Arthur’s tension-induced cackles gave way to the slaughter of unlikeable bullies, I couldn’t help myself.
Hello everyone! Last time I caught up with you I’d just finished the Talent Campus 5.0 Ignition phase. Well now the Crucible has come and gone, and I thought I’d recap that as best I could, along with some new announcements.
The conclusion of Talent Campus 5.0 was both an end and a new beginning. Because while we would all have loved it to go on forever, there is no way myself and my fellow campers will be disappearing from each other’s radars any time soon. There were many hugs, tears and promises in the end. I’m not normally the most emotional guy but even I had a moment near the end. And there exists a tangible possibility that, not content with walking on glass and fire and pitching with tarantulas, we might be jumping out of a plane in the summer!
Chris Jones and the Talent Campus crew have a habit of getting you to dive into extremes you normally wouldn’t. In the end this wasn’t like a regular course at all; they had us dancing, massaging, opening our hearts with closing speeches- and we went for it. Even if we’d never so that normally. The Talent Campus was about showing us the most extreme person we could be. The person we need to be to make deals with execs without freezing up.
And so, after the five day Ignition phase and three weeks of writing pitch documents, it all culminated in the Pitch Party. Around thirty execs/directors/agents were invited to enjoy complementary drinks and chat to some properly ignited screenwriters.
Apparently some of them approached Chris afterwards to express surprise at how different we were to most screenwriters. Over the last two months we’ve been trained to go against our instinct to pitch straight away, and instead just chat casually and present ourselves as cool people to work with. I honestly forgot to pitch to most of them as I was enjoying the conversations too much. I could have carried on all night!
I have left the Talent Campus 5.0 with a group of friends and memories I will cherish forever, and a new mindset that I am already seeing results from. Talent Campus 6.0 is already underway, and I encourage you all to stay tuned for a Talent Campus 7. I kind of wish I could go through it all again.
But it doesn’t end here. As a result of the experience, all of us are working on projects to keep the magic going in different ways. I myself will be starting a new initiative with seven of my fellow campers.
It will be called ‘Hear Screenplays Here’ (there were some Withnail and I fans in the room). Every month, we’ll assemble local screenwriters and actors and host table reads of shorts and feature segments. It’ll be a great fun way to play around with the craft and hopefully be of use to screenwriters who’d like to hear their dialogue free of industry pressure.
So a lot is happening in the world of James. I must get back to the several drafts I’ve promised numerous people. Until next time, everyone!
Hello everyone. I have just returned from a life changing experience that I’d love to share with you all in detail.
As you may know, I have regularly been to the London Screenwriter’s Festival for the past four years. Over that time I’ve repeatedly heard about something called the Talent Campus, and in September I heard a particularly high praise of it. So I decided to apply for it, and to my mild surprise, I got into the Talent Campus 5.0. If you are at all interested in screenwriting, you need to know about this.
I first knew things were going to be crazy when I arrived in London the day before. I saw on the facebook group that a couple of fellow ‘Campers’ were nearby so I went to say hello; they invited me to join them for dinner. We discussed our projects and I mentioned a TV pilot that’s been going nowhere for well over a year. Upon hearing the premise, one of them simply said, “it sounds like episode 6 should be episode 1.” And she’s absolutely right! A huge problem with my concept that I’d missed for so long- fixed just talking to a fellow writer before the Campus had even started.
And it only went up from there. I think every single day I came across a new little detail in one or two scripts that needed fixing. So many incredible people were there to offer insight into the film and TV industry. I was going to do a detailed section but I’d be here all week so these are some of the people who spoke:
Gub Neal (producer; Cracker, Prime Suspect, The Fall)
John Yorke (exec; Eastenders, Shameless, Life on Mars, author; Into The Woods: A five-act journey into story)
Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty, Bodyguard)
Gareth Unwin (producer; The King’s Speech)
Eleanor Greene (exec producer at Wall to Wall)
Jean Kitson (agent)
Samantha Horley (marketing exec)
Rachel Paterson (Casualty)
Oh, incidentally, Rachel was a previous Talent Camper. That’s how she started.
But the main focus of the Talent Campus is not to teach you how to write, but to get you ready for the business of writing. For instance, we were given a very entertaining variant of the prisoner’s dilemma in which we had to bid against/negotiate with a rival team to win a theoretical script before it sells to a big distributor; an insight into production companies. Organiser Chris Jones had us read the script and review successive cuts of his short film Seeing Him; an insight into the editing process. John Yorke set us an exercise to create a pitch for a drama series in groups; a taste of working in a TV writer’s room. And Stephen Follows brought some of his brilliant and fascinating data analyses into audience trends, which give you some surprisingly useful pointers for structure.
Coupled with that, it purges any fears or hang-ups you may have about talking to the great and the good of the industry. The first day was a super intense ‘getting to know everyone’ session. Anyone who’s been to the LSF knows what a force of nature Chris is, and he’s absolutely on fire at these things! If you’re the kind of person who’s not comfortable with hugging and dancing around and being generally Californian, don’t worry- you will be by the end of a day like this like I was. Everyone gets over their hangups together and the momentum just takes you away.
And that’s just as well, because this event is designed to make you face fears and overcome them. The grand finale on day one was walking over broken glass!! But once you get over the anticipation of negativity and just do it (nice and carefully), it’s no worse than walking on pebbles.
Then there’s day two, pitching a script which a live tarantula or cockroaches crawl over your hand and arm! Now I’m not too bad with spiders but I know I’m lucky in that regard, and the bravery I saw from some of the people in that room was astonishing.
But all that was just preparation for what followed on Saturday night: a fire walk.
We walked across 20 ft of 1600 degree hot coals. And the strangest thing was, I didn’t feel a thing. My feet were completely unscathed. And even those that got a little crispy had no burn marks at all the next morning. Watching these people transform into the ones that walked through that fire was truly amazing. And more importantly, this was all to raise money for a human rights campaign that you can still donate to, and I truly urge you to as it’s very personal to one of the Campers. The link is below:
I’m a different writer to when I started the Talent Campus, and a slightly different person too. Now I must go back to my assignments before the crucible (more on that at a later date!) But until then, I cannot recommend the Talent Campus enough. If you have any desire to write for film/TV professionally, I can only say sign the hell up for the next one!!
So it’s the end of 2018, my fourth (official) year since I decided to start screenwriting. 2018 has been a year of firsts for me, so I thought I’d put this together to note the important ones.
My first stage play- For a couple of years, my friend Wayne Liversidge had urged me to write a stage play based on a story he’d wanted to tell for some time. Well this year that finally happened. The Engagement first saw the light of day in a reading at the Sussex Playwright’s January meeting. I say reading- they essentially put on a full production. It was the first time I’d seen a full length piece of mine performed by actors in front of an audience and it was an experience I will never forget. The response to this reading landed us a director and gave us the energy to put the play on at the Rialto Theatre for Hove Grown.
I think I can call The Engagement my first true success as a writer. We ended up packing the theatre, getting a good audience for the Brighton Fringe, let alone a smaller more local event. While I still intend to focus mostly on screenwriting going forward, the contacts I have made doing this play have already made that path a little clearer.
First audio drama- If you haven’t been listening to The Other 1% on iTunes or Spotify, you really should check it out. Within the next 2 months, the episode I wrote, entitled A Night in Balcombe Tunnel, will be online. It’s really exciting to be involved with a project with such a global reach.
First time hosting a screening- My latest short film A Medium Chance was screened at the Caroline of Brunswick this August along with several other shorts made with the same cast or crew. Between each film were general discussions, some terrible jokes and the odd drink, which probably made it all work!
First pitching competition- After submitting a video pitch to Enter The Pitch, I unexpectedly found myself making the longlist. In the words of Palpatine, “a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one!” While I didn’t make it to the shortlist, knowing how many people voted and expressed their support was incredibly moving, and definitely a confidence booster.
First time getting blind robbed in broad daylight and stranded in a foreign country after also being detained for possession of a possible offensive weapon-… yeah this year wasn’t all marvellous. Moving on.
First time co-writing- I’ve written the ending of a feature draft with Justin Hayward, who has written the beginning and previous drafts. This is proving a most enjoyable process because the story is already there: the hard work is done! Just focusing on the craft of writing a script while coming in with the story almost formed is a nice change of pace. Also, I’m definitely going to start writing the end and working back from now on!
So that’s my 2018 in firsts. The first immediate thing that awaits me in 2019 is the LSF Talent Campus, which I shall be attending in mid-January. Until then, don’t overdo it tonight, and Happy New Year to all of you!
James Alexander Allen
This is the teaser trailer for a new short film I’ve written the screenplay for, coming out next year. The trailer debuted at Moviebar in Brighton last night and has just gone live.
Edge of Insanity is the sequel to The Private Investigator, a 2016 short written and directed by Alexander Lines. Lead actor Wayne Liversidge returns as Trevor Murphy, a troubled PI who is recruited by a maverick police officer (Sarah Milton) to aid in a long running case he has a personal connection to…
The short is expected to arrive in Spring/Summer 2019.
Hello all you lovely people!
Well I’m currently experiencing a pretty hard climbdown from the London Screenwriter’s Festival 2018. So as a form of therapy, I thought I’d recap my experience and vital things you can gain and learn from this wonderful three-day event.
I decided to throw myself in at the deep end this year and start with the pitchfest. You have to book this a week in advance and it’s incredibly tense, but it’s your chance to practice pitching to industry execs and agents. I say practise because you mustn’t go in expecting success; follow ups are rare.
In fact, despite being my fourth festival I managed to bomb spectacularly this year. But if that happens you just have to put it aside and move onto the next one. If you learn to pitch well, you’ll be able to do it the day it really leads to great things.
As I said last year I find the Actor’s Table Read the most fun session, and this year I was able to return to it with my new TV pilot. The director was really on point, and seemed to know the material intimately, and with each run through the actors performance brought the script more and more to life. You don’t really realise what you’ve written until you hear the words spoken properly, which can be a huge relief or a welcome wake-up call in some cases; I found myself scribbling frantic revisions as the scene was playing out a couple of times, and had the biggest stupidest grin on my face each time.
Between all this of course, you had the incredible panels on offer. It was a pleasure to catch up with Scott Myers from GoIntoTheStory once again this year; his talks are always funny and insightful. I also met David Baboulene, whose panel may have fixed a script I have laying around from years ago (which I really must get back to now I think of it).
Being a huge fan of Yes Minister, I loved seeing Jonathan Lynn reminisce about writing the show with Lord Robin Butler, a civil service who helped them with research on it. While Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne are no longer with us, hearing these two discuss the show and the politics behind it was like seeing the spirit of the programme revived. When they realised the panel might run ten minutes late we all cheered; we could have listened to them spout lugubrious truisms about life in Whitehall for another day!
But perhaps one of the most momentous moments this year was the Doctor Who panel. At the end of this panel with Katy Manning, Pearl Mackie, Ingrid Oliver and Robert Shearman. Being a bit of a Doctor Who fan, I shared my attendance of this panel to social media. Afterwards, I took the opportunity to tell Robert how influential the episode ‘Dalek’ was to me as a teen all those years ago. And literally as I was finishing talking to him, my phone buzzed; it was Justin Hayward, a wonderful Brighton actor who performed in both my most recent short films.
These two went to school and performed together.
And before I knew it, I was chatting with the guy who made the Daleks awesome again about a friend we’d both worked with.
The morale of the story is connections. Everything you do in this world brings you closer to someone you wouldn’t believe. The more effort you put into making these connections, the better your chances will be. And for a hopeless optimist British screenwriter struggling to get it together in the Film and TV Industry, there are few better places to start than the London Screenwriter’s Festival.