#AltWar - Feature Film Script Development
This probably sounds mad but what the hell. Look at the world around you.
I realised three things towards the end of 2017.
Firstly, the truth of the world - this raging mess of hybrid warfare unpicking the very fabric of stability and peace - is rather bloody complicated. Almost impossible, in fact, for the majority to digest because it sounds so incredible.
Secondly, this presents a huge problem: the situation is so complex it can't be broken down into bitesize pieces as is, and this flies contrary to the need to combat something which is designed to operate on the simplicity of memes.
Thirdly, well...I came to understand that "accident prone ex-copper accidentally stumbles into journalism and a covert world war" was not quite the full solution to the two former realisations.
" Films are a medicine, in particular now - because they operate in the same way as hybrid warfare. They are viral and tweak human emotion."
Particularly useful when set together, these three puzzle pieces led to the kind of moment of clarity which is mostly accompanied by a soundtrack of swelling strings and, quite possibly, some classy but haunting, warbling vocals. You know what I mean: the scene when the tides turn and hope enters stage left.
So there I was, sat on a mountain of information - in a non-fiction book about an Alternative War which saw an espionage asset installed in the White House and the organisations which have kept peace for seventy years thrown into peril -and still it wouldn't hit the right notes. Shocking as it truly was, it hadn't reached enough people.
That's when it finally dawned on me: Mary Poppins was right all along. There was a way to make the medicine go down.
"I'm not saying the film industry is a force for good. Look around. But I'm saying it has the potential to be."
It was daft really. The answer had been staring me in the face my whole life.
Jake and Elwood Blues shaped my taste in music and my prolific swearing. Superheroes taught me that no adversity couldn't be overcome and most bad guys were, at some level, corporate stooges. Hell, The Lost Boys taught me it feels good to ride a bike fast at night, whooping at the moon and as near to dangerous drops as possible.
Movies serve a purpose. They actually teach us good and bad. They make us believe the unbelievable by asking us to accept we're out of control for two hours. They insert fear and joy and pain and humour and tell us when to react to it.
Films are a medicine, in particular now - because they operate in the same way as hybrid warfare. They are viral and tweak human emotion.
I'm not saying the film industry is a force for good. Look around. But I'm saying it has the potential to be.
However, to paraphrase Jason Statham's portrayal of Turkish in Snatch, Films? What the bloody hell do I know about films? I'm the creation of a very strange set of circumstances, yes. A writer since childhood, that too. But the big screen? Not a Scooby.
Thankfully, I'd come across someone who could definitely help, Toby Venables, and thus the idea for #AltWar was born on Twitter.
"I’m a novelist and screenwriter. I understand narrative – and if Russia’s cyber war had demonstrated anything, it was that narratives could be immensely powerful. I had followed James on Twitter and got chatting with him, and during one of these chats he mentioned an idea he’d had about using the real, political backdrop of Alternative War to create a thriller narrative."
Toby Venables is a journalist, novelist, screenwriter and lecturer in film, journalism and creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. He first became involved in journalism and publishing in 1997.
"JJ Patrick’s book Alternative War brought together so many of the threads that I and many others had merely been teasing at, with all the necessary evidence to really ground those suspicions. It was the book that showed it wasn’t tinfoil hat conspiracy theory. It was real. The question then was what to do about it."
"I’m a novelist and screenwriter. I understand narrative – and if Russia’s cyber war had demonstrated anything, it was that narratives could be immensely powerful. I had followed James on Twitter and got chatting with him, and during one of these chats he mentioned an idea he’d had about using the real, political backdrop of Alternative War to create a thriller narrative. That had an immediate appeal – my first screenplay was a thriller, the most recent I had worked on had a strong social message and my last three novels wove fictional characters into factual history. I told him I was a screenwriter. He said ‘Want to collaborate?’ Without hesitation I said ‘Yes’. He called. We talked animatedly for about an hour – about politics, films, everything. And that was that."
" I hope all those who we know already feel strongly about these issues can join us in making it happen. Narrative is a powerful force. Let’s put it to work for the good guys."
"James is a dogged investigator, and – I believe – a great writer, but he was the first to admit he wasn’t a screenwriter. I understood screenwriting, and narrative structure, and also how to work real history and fictional characters together. I think together we can create something that brings the issues of Alternative War to life in a completely new way, for a new audience. And yes, it will entertain – not least because James’s book already does. The worst thing we could do is make this boring..."
"It’s a big task getting this underway – and there will be active resistance in some quarters – but I hope all those who we know already feel strongly about these issues can join us in making it happen. Narrative is a powerful force. Let’s put it to work for the good guys."
"We've decided on doing this the hard way and developing the treatment into a polished and complete screenplay to take to studios. To make sure the film is done the justice required. This is where you come in."
So far, we've been working hard on an original and professional treatment - and we've even teed up represenatation. But we were faced with a moral dilemma early on and decided to do things right, for the right reasons.
The easy route, the quick buck to grab, would have come from selling the option and walking away with a cheque. Toby and I discussed this and it just didn't sit well, in particular because of what the source material represents and what we believe could be achieved by turning the pages of Alternative War into the frames of #AltWar.
So, we've decided on doing this the hard way and developing the treatment into a polished and complete screenplay to take to studios, to make sure the film is done the justice required.
This is where you come in.
"We are hoping that you feel as strongly as we do about creating a film that does some genuine good in the world."
Toby and I will be working independently on this project but we have to be realistic and balance our family lives and financial pressures against the demands a project like this will make.
So, we are hoping that you feel as strongly as we do about creating a film that does some genuine good in the world.
Cutting to the chase, we have budgeted the amount of hours we will need to spend working on this, and included all the other costs you would expect - such as printer sundries. This is our target, and we simply can't develop the script unless we hit this goal, and this baby shouldn't be put in the corner. Or on the back burner. Or in a drawer.
At the end of this process, well, the idea is the film is sold to a studio and brought to your local cinema. (Obviously we can't guarantee this, and we have to make that clear. There will always come a point where this is out of our control. Scary, right? But that's showbiz, as they say.)
"What we can say is: we are writing an action packed thriller set against a backdrop you will almost certainly recognise."
The one significant problem we have is rewards.
For obvious reasons we can't really give away the plot here, because some of the lingering, pestulent problems* inside the industry could simply nick the concept.
*disclaimer: they may check in to a recovery ranch if caught so it will all be fine.
That's a harsh reality we have face up front. And this leaves us with a further problem - in that we can't give away scripts as rewards, at least not until the deed is done.
What we can say is: we are writing an action packed thriller set against a backdrop you will almost certainly recognise.
What we can also do is leak pages and plot points by email to the people who support us - under the conditions of an NDA signed in blood - and we can almost certainly keep you otherwise entertained with exclusive insider gossip*, possibly some video content, blogs, updates, and teasers.
When we have our first big fight over dialogue, we'll almost certainly make sure the group therapy and counselling is live-streamed as we sulk.
*e.g. James banged his elbow wrestling with a Mk2 Laguna brake disc and sat swearing on a wet sheet of cardboard today.
"As they say in every good superhero movie ever made: time to pick a side."
All joking aside, for those of you who choose to support this project, we will make sure you are on this journey with us. Fair or foul.
Every pledge counts and if we miss the target that's it - the option and the final script is in the hands of people who visit ranches.
As they say in every decent superhero movie: time to pick a side.
Update: Toby has added a comprehensive blog post at his personal site, which gives some more insight into this project.