Martin Carr on Tess Morris’ BAFTA Breakthrough Brit nomination…
I’m not one for sabre rattling. Nor getting into a fight I couldn’t talk my way out of. Forever the pragmatist in search of a path with least resistance. But every now and then something forces me to raise my voice. Today is one such day.
Annie Hall has just been voted the funniest screenplay of all time. Members on a select panel sat around watching clips, reading pages and mulling over one hundred and one original screenplays. It was subsequently announced that Allen’s classic topped the WGA poll last night, or early this morning depending on time zones. I point this out because one; Tess Morris is a big fan and two; she recently got nominated for a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of spending some interview time with her during publicity for Man Up. In truth it was little more than twenty minutes, but whether by accident or otherwise I found things very easy. It was clearly something she had done countless times with numerous interviewers. However, even though I knew the stock questions and subsequent answers there were moments it felt fresh. She gave me insight into structure, narrative, character development and displayed a true passion for her craft. Besides that she was also helpful outside of the interview. Answering queries on a certain Syd Field book and being gracious enough to respond via Twitter.
Jim Carrey once said it took him twenty years to become an overnight success. This truth should be one universally acknowledged if I may paraphrase Jane Austen for a moment. No one bursts onto the scene and is instantly successful. Not without encountering a learning curve, overbearing parent or healthy trust fund. In my opinion Ms Morris has implemented the former by way of a rom com addendum. For the record let me say again that she made this interview very easy. Yes Simon Pegg was next door and there was a small part of me marked ‘geek’, who wanted to say hello. But ninety nine percent of me was in the room with the writer. As it should be. Because ultimately that is the person I was most interested in.
A fundamental point which many overlook is that screenwriters write the film. Without them you got nothing. Another misconception is anyone can do it well. Look just because you can write sentences, paragraphs, chapters or a synopsis means nothing. Screenwriting like any other skill requires effort. There are rules to follow, an affinity for dialogue which requires listening to people rather than talking over them. Plus you must enjoy hours alone living inside your own head, while people you have imagined make conversation. Anyway moving on.
There is often more to be learned from screenwriters than many of those up there on it. Which is where many people go wrong, as they are blinded by bright lights, fancy wardrobes or that illusion of status. But I will say it once more for the record. Underestimating the contribution of screenwriters is a pastime only indulged in by cretins.
Screenwriter Tess Morris has done her apprenticeship and found that all important niche. Years working in television allowed her to hone those skills which came to fruition with Man Up. Both a creative epiphany and measureable turning point. There is a freshness to her writing which has reinvigorated the rom com genre. For anyone who has yet to watch Man Up I highly recommend it. By turns funny, filthy and conclusive proof of wish fulfilment for the romantically inclined.
Come BAFTA night it would a perfect culmination of effort and collaboration if Ms Morris took home the statuette. Not only would it be good for the British film industry, which let’s be honest is no slouch right now. But will also demonstrate the power smaller projects still possess to surprise people and make an impact. With that I rest my case or laptop, once again depending upon your point of view. If people could just move along a touch please. There is another writer looking to join the Tess Morris bandwagon.
For those curious to know what a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and I sound like, my audio interview with Ms. Morris can be heard by clicking here