A look inside scripting The Baby in the Basket, Flickering Myth’s first foray into Film Production…
The week so far has been up and down but perfectly encapsulating life as an indie screenwriter who in the midst of an insanely busy spring, has been co-handling a Kickstarter campaign that has thankfully seen us hit its target. Yes, The Baby in the Basket will now go from page to screen!
All the while I’ve had two commisions to complete, which are now in the final furlong. One has now been bubbling since September with stopgaps whilst waiting for notes on treatment revisions and then script revisions. It’s a normal part of the gig usually. A sudden window for an earlier shoot added a need for more immediacy in completing the project and I’m getting to the stage where I want it done and dusted. The other project came to me in March, had a certain languine pace initially but suddenly a window came for the producer to go pitching, and thus last week I suddenly had a target of less than a week to finish. Finish I did, with a solid (thankfully) first draft. It’s one that will eventually shoot in Singapore and be translated and shot in Chinese, but also one of the most interesting and potentially best projects I’ve done for hire and exactly the kind of Asian folk horror that I love.
Things just don’t stop and then there’s the unexpected surprise of getting an offer on an old spec script then accepting (signed sealed, paid and delivered within a day). It won’t buy me a house or a speedboat, but it’ll probably help fund the short films I also have in prep right now which have also eaten time. Then I turned down a three picture script deal to deliver before August. Before you question my sanity, the pick of the bunch was called Mountain Shark. Riches not included that’s for sure, and the fee for all three combined would have ended up far less than the spec sold. For a moment I pondered whether I could squeeze them in. Even with how prolific I’ve been, I couldn’t do it (and I’d love to write a film called Mountain Shark).
Point is, like my cohorts Nathan Shepka and Gary Collinson, juggling everything alongside this funder has been excruciating at times, all the while we’ve dealt with wannabe sabateurs (who despite preaching the link hands and dance around the maypole indiefilmmaking family, only really want their own success). However, we have also been helped greatly by the brethren with among many, particularly great support from the gents at Nerdly.
The result now means we will shoot a film later this year. Where did it begin:
Post release of When Darkness Falls, Nathan and I had been discussing a potential next project. We spitballed a little bit before settling on doing an idea that we’d noggin stormed as far as “a baby get’s left at a Covent and one of the nuns is convcined it’s the devil.” At this point whilst ironing out a more detailed outline, we also thought about our key sources of inspiration.
We were certainly drawn to demonic horror films of the 60s and 70s, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as gothic horrors (and melodramas) like Black Narcissus and Eyes Without a Face. We were also inspired by more contemporary influences like Saint Maud, The Lighthouse, and Bernadetta. Plus intense psychological horrors like Possession and Repulsion.
As I set about writing the script, I also thought about cinema with layers and subtext, deeper meanings. The difficult task is writing something with more than what’s on the surface. Almost all of my commision work has been for surface level films as they’re what is most marketable. I wanted to inject some allegory and some ambiguity into the film (without losing the throughline). I don’t want people to watch it. I want them to watch it twice (or more). That got me thinking of A24’s stable, albeit they’re beginning to drift into mainstream predictability or forced arthouse pretenses. I also started to think of the atmosphere of great J horror or the complexity beneath simple tales that often infuse Nordic and Korean cinema. I wanted the playful ambiguity and careful set up and payoff of a film like Lee Chang-dong’s Burning and the unnerving creepiness of Kiyhoshi Kurosawa’s Cure.
One thing Nate and I also agreed on from day one is we wanted the film to be patient, slow burning and to perpetually build. Think The Shining, even though we have some discord from the early stages and a general sense of discomfort throughout, we crank thinks up for the finale.
The How To Guide to Writing an Indie Gothic Horror
Having frequented a number of screenwriting and general indie filmmaking groups on Facebook I’ve learned some things. One, just ask Bob Saenz. If you know you know… he often knows and he wrote a book about screenwriting. Another, is one very common question which is relevant to so many aspiring writers who have day jobs and family life to contend with. “How can I write when I don’t have time?”
The truth of the answer is pretty blunt. In 99% of the times someone asks this, they actually do have the time. Got 30 minutes spare a week? That’s writing time. Better yet, 30 minutes a day. Surely you have that? I’ve juggled multiple feature scripts on tight deadlines whilst working full time and having a young daughter too. It’s hard and some days you wanna do nothing and not jab a word out onto final draft/celtx/word/paper/the walls (once you lose your marbles).
When is the time you can write? Kids, sugar consumption not withstanding, go to bed earlier than you. Plonk em down, write a little and don’t forget to give some attention to any partner/spouse and especially pet. Heading to work? Go early and work in the nearest coffee shop, work in your car, your tea room, a bus stop, a library or anywhere you can find a spot to sit and type. As many a famous writer has said, but who knows who said it first (possibly Bob), you can edit a bad page, you can’t edit a blank page. Something is better than nothing.
These days I still have to juggle a bit but writing pays enough to get by (at least until the next surge of rocketing bills), and I can still work part time to switch off a bit and get my steps in (writing can sometimes become all consuming and working completely at home would probably send me round the twist).
So I find my time. I enjoy some of the perks of being a writer, little joys like spring days and setting up office in the garden, or those times whilst waiting between drop off and pick up of my daughters extra curricular activities, where I’m in my car working. Odd as it might look, car office has seen me have some very productive writing sessions, particularly as the lack of wifi connection helps avoid distraction.
For this film the journey from idea to script went from outline, to treatment, to first draft then revised drafts. We’d thrashed out what we wanted, specific ‘big’ moments, beats. The revisions on the script itself mostly focused on tidying up the deeper layers and ensuring the top layer (and ultimately still always the most important) didn’t get neglected. Then we start to make those inevitable tweaks to make the script more budget conscious. Nathan is a filmmaker approaching this with a mind still focused on the story we want to tell and staying true to that. Sometimes producers are prone to flights of fancy or lightbulb ideas that they can’t wait to share (this can be especially true of those funding vanity projects who aren’t always necessarily ‘film’ people).
So I knew he wouldn’t throw a curveball one day with “what if we add this?” Little changes that won’t completely alter the film are okay. I’ve worked on films which have changed almost into an entirely different thing between first and final draft. This too, is ultimately why I made a move into co-producing, to maintain more creative control and tell the story I want to tell. Once we decide on the story we’re telling we’ll focus on it, and we knew by the first draft it wasnt going to be a disaster and that it would work.
Here’s something very important to remember; your characters. They are what will breath the most life into a film. This was my major focus. Everyone needed some kind of arc and distinctions between them. Every character has a past which affects their personality and decisions. Ultimately it will make the film better and the cast will (and do) appreciate being able to show their range. I also wrote with particular cast in mind, notably Amber, Michaela and Elle. They were cast prior to the script being finished. Having loved working with Michaela and Elle on When Darkness Falls and being blown away by what they brought to the screen, we wanted to get them back for something and this seemed natural. Our main objective though was to completely step away from their respective characters from When Darkness Falls and give them something completely different to play. Amber was someone we’d both wanted to work with for a while (having first been in contact during the casting of WDF). Is it easier writing with cast in mind? Sometimes, although you can write yourself into a corner that way and I say this having written a script for Steven Seagal which will never be made (unless Putin puts it into production). Yeah, it’s so inherently ‘Seagal’ that it’d need a major rewrite to ever see the light of day.
The Basket timeline was something like this… spitballing the idea in passing around April 2022. We then got more serious about it and starting the writing process in the summer and the first draft was finished in October. The final draft was finished in February and our funding campaign launched in March, with a shoot pencilled in for late Autumn/early winter.
The next stages
During our campaign we added to an already exciting cast. TV and film legend Paul Barber joined to star as Amos, whilst Annabelle Lanyon of Legend and Dream Demon fame also joined. We still have one major role to finalise and can’t wait to get it over the line. Alongside Paul and Annabelle we’ve got exciting rising talent with Amber Doig-Thorne, Michaela Longden, Elle O’Hara and Alexandra Faye Sadeghian. The preparation begins soon as the cast ready themselves to perform.
The film has already won four awards too, having been submitted to a number of Film Festivals for screenplay competition. In part this was of my own volition to get a more objective idea of whether the script has turned out as well as I believe/hope. So far, so good and the response from cast and agents/prospective cast who’ve read the script, has been excellent. It’s far more reflective of what I want to write and the standards I’d rather put out.
Though the commercial feature commisions I’ve done have always been fun to write, they’re required in such linear and formulaic fashion. Then the respective budgets and final product often can’t live up to the concept sadly. We’ve been particularly careful not to go for a genre or level of film that is best aided by a beefy budget. I also wasn’t preoccupied with occasionally stifling needs for ‘action’ every 10 minutes, hitting particular formulaic beats which we’d inevitably have needed to hit had we linked with a distributor to obtain funding at the beginning. They’d have wanted Nunasaurus vs Megapig (ummm, I actually want to make that next now).
So begins the scheduling, finalising the cast, getting a shooting draft (which will include some non-intrusive crowfunding perk additions), and then delivering on our award winning script.
Finally one thing left to say is a HUGE thank you to everyone who has supported the project via likes, shares and pledges. This film wouldn’t be made without that support and every contributor has a place within our basket. Our biggest goal is to deliver a film that will hopefully be special and we’ll be back to let you know how our production and post production go…
SEE ALSO: Indie Horror Filmmaking: The birth of The Baby in the Basket
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out around the world, including When Darkness Falls and Renegades (Lee Majors and Danny Trejo) and more coming soon including War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan) and The Baby in the Basket. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.