Tag Archives: Mary’s Sofa

Page and Screen: Black Shorts at the Edinburgh Fringe (Part 1)


This week’s Page and Screen doesn’t actually feature any screen as such. In fact it’s little more than a completely shameless bit of self promotion on my part. Nevertheless I’ll try to justify it by claiming that what I’m about to shamelessly advertise fits in with the “ethos” behind this feature.

Earlier this year I wrote a sketch called “Lessons in Salesmanship”. I submitted it to a York based Theatre Company, quirkily named Mary’s Sofa, with no real
expectations of it being selected. But I had to give it a go because the prize
was a writing credit for a show, entitled “Black Shorts”, which was heading to
the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Cue surprise and childlike excitement when they actually liked it.

The Fringe is well known as a Mecca of comedy. It’s where the next big things make their breakthroughs. It’s where the industry insiders pick who to back. It also sounds like a month of awesome fun. I am only going for four days but I am looking forward to a packed itinerary, coupled with hidden gems I’ll only find with a little exploration. Aside from the best established and undiscovered comedians around, there’s theatre, music, cabaret and streets full of colourful entertainment.

Then there’s the city itself. Apparently I’ve been there, as a four year old. My father paraded me on his shoulders up and down the Royal Mile. I say paraded but I mean lugged. Family legend has it that I was terrified by the sheer amount of legs jostling for supplies on the high street, hence the need for an elevated position. That didn’t help much either though. I imagine the barking Scottish faces dangled my infant nerves over the abyss of a tantrum. Into which I swiftly plummeted.

I digress. The city sounds wonderful. Of course there is the added excitement of my own work on show and the tales of entertainment ecstasy I have both read and heard about, from the likes of Michael McIntyre and Stephen Fry. But if I were simply visiting Edinburgh there would be plenty for historian me to salivate over and digest, plenty of simultaneously European and British culture and architecture to absorb. Think of the great enlightenment figures from the city, the economists and doctors, the writers and philosophers. Think of the great works of atmospheric literature conceived and set there.

Let’s get back to my vague and tenuous link to the usual Page and Screen offerings. In June I went to see a preview of “Black Shorts” in York. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea how many changes had been made from my original creation. I wasn’t sure how long it would last and how it would fit into the show as a whole. I’d never met any of the Mary’s Sofa team and I had no idea if they’d be good or bad, terrific or terrible.

Looking back with a little perspective, a few less jangly nerves and temporarily becalmed excitement, I realised this was my first taste of it. Of a creative process I hoped to see a lot more of. Of a collaboration I wanted to be a much bigger part of in future. I felt the surrender that screenwriters must feel, handing over a project helplessly to a Hollywood studio.

Yes there was enormous anticipation and a sense of satisfaction and achievement. But there was also something more akin to peril. Would it still be what I had intended? Even if it was, would it work in practice, and would other people like it? It wasn’t quite transforming a novel to film but it was making an idea work from the page as part of a whole. I hadn’t seen the rest of the show, didn’t know the other writers and they hadn’t met me to gauge my precise preferences face to face. Such is the magic and mystery of the web.

“Black Shorts” was split into two acts that night. The first act destroyed any doubts I had about Mary’s Sofa. Not only were the other shorts intelligently written but they were charismatically and skilfully realised. There were some really impressive themes about storytelling itself running through the show, along with some fine moments of black comedy and drama. These weren’t just talented, arty and interesting people, like many I hope to casually meet at the Fringe; they also explored themes that I found fascinating. I felt relieved.

But my moment was still to come. There were new worries to ponder during the interval. The show had a coherent structure and interconnected themes. The first act had a particular tone. I wasn’t sure how my sketch would fit with the flow and the feel.

Then all too quickly it was over. I couldn’t have been happier with how it was realised. If memory serves me correctly, uncorrupted by ego, people laughed just seconds into the fast paced dialogue. The characters I’d imagined had been fleshed out but they were still mine. The qualities of the performers conjured laughs from lines I hadn’t even envisaged to be that funny. There was no doubt my sketch was more conventionally comedic than other shorts in the show but it seemed to provide suitable light relief, deflating some audience tension, rather than feeling out of place.

I spent the rest of the evening glowing and trying not to mention how well it had went in every sentence I uttered. Stress did return as I worried about whether Mary’s Sofa had been happy with it and how it would do at the Fringe itself. But mostly I just enjoyed the moment and looked forward to Edinburgh. It will hopefully feel like a huge step in the right direction. Briefly I’ll indulge myself, thinking that I’ve “arrived” or something pompous. Really though I know it’s only the beginning, fingers crossed a promising one.

You can find details about “Black Shorts” and Mary’s Sofa here: http://www.maryssofa.co.uk/#!black-shorts

If you follow the link there’s a video from the preview. You can glimpse the contribution of this Flickering Myth writer (“Lessons in Salesmanship”
remember) at 19 seconds and 28 seconds.  If you’re attending the Fringe you can see “Black Shorts” at Finnegan’s Wake (Venue 101) at 16:45 on August 4-5 and 8-12.

I’ll report back after my Fringe experience with Part 2. Thank you for indulging this sales pitch. But it was obviously so much more than that, looking at the passion and emotional rollercoaster behind the process of adaptation etc, etc, blah, blah, blah…

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Undiscovered Cinema: Missing Pieces


Most of the time the depressing aspects of the film industry escape our attention. We are happy to simply be entertained and not think about the hard work behind the scenes, the promising projects that wither and die before a general release. If you really love films or you write about them, the downsides are clearer. You will see and fall for films the general public (or perhaps the suits responsible for getting it to them) don’t appreciate.

My point is that once in a while you have to say something and make a stand, however small, against the prevailing culture. History is written by people who challenged the status quo, refusing to accept that “it’s just the way things are”. Missing Pieces is a fantastic film, with a startling story cutting close to the core of a whole range of emotional truths. It is modern and gripping, clever and well executed. And even if others aren’t as enthused by it as me, the quality is evident and it deserves a general release, which it doesn’t currently have.

In a world where the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film and The Hangover: Part II are breaking box office records despite their overwhelming lack of orginality, genuinely original creations that are works of art as well as good filmmaking, slip through the cracks. My Missing Pieces review is below and can also be found here at Flickering Myth: http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/2011/06/movie-review-missing-pieces-2011.html

Read on if you’ve got two minutes spare and support it however you can. This film deserves to be discussed.

Originality is what I always strive for in a review. Why read my specific review if it’s just a regurgitation of what a more learned critic said? I always feel unsatisfied if there’s not something, a line of description or paragraph of praise, which feels like my signature. Sometimes though all you can do is record your reaction. A film might be so atrociously bad that all you can do is spend an hour pouring hateful words over it. Or it might be so amazingly and astoundingly good that you just gush in delight about it inadequately.

Missing Pieces is just such a hidden gem that reduces me to strings of clichés. It nails originality on the head. I was literally “blown away” and completely surprised by the way this film personally resonated with me. It is the most enjoyable and emotionally satisfying movie I have seen this year. I cannot remember the last time I identified so deeply with characters or felt so absorbed in a drama. At over two hours long it is not short but I did not want it to end.

It’s the story of David, played by Mark Boone Junior (Batman Begins), who has been in a car accident. His injuries from the crash left his mind all mixed up, as if someone had taken a puzzle box and shaken it until all the pieces are jumbled. We never really see the fragmentation of their relationship, meaning that we see things almost entirely from David’s perspective, but the love of his life leaves him. Played by Melora Walters (Magnolia/Cold Mountain/The Butterfly Effect) Delia appears now and then to collect her stuff, angrily shouting that she wants the real David back. This leaves him confused and hurting, determined to try every trick in the book (and more) to win her back.

Clearly David’s mental state has been altered. In one striking but baffling scene he calmly smashes some cargo in an empty children’s play area. In others he watches the comings and goings of two of his young neighbours. But this he does because of loneliness, not brain damage.

I don’t really want to spoil the key element of Missing Pieces as I found it such a joy to watch completely uninformed. SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you wish to avoid it, although I suspect Missing Pieces will not lose much of its power from what I am going to say, as its plot is impossible to summarise. David becomes gripped by a self help tape and is inspired by the artwork of his departed girlfriend. He concocts a strange and deluded plan to win Delia back; kidnap the boy and girl he watches and make them fall in love. He believes if he observes true love he can learn the intricacies of successful romance.

There is a teasingly sinister undertone running throughout the distorted narrative, which heightens the suspense and pulls you to the edge of your seat. Missing Pieces plays out in the wrong order; you’re not sure if plot strands are taking place before or after the central ordeal. Newcomers Daniel Hassel and Taylor Engel, as Daylen and Maggie, are superb, together and apart, as a young boy and girl with troubled families, on an odd journey from suspicion through friendship to love. They form an instant connection, vividly realised through the chemistry of the actors, but they never would have met but for being thrown together by a normally harrowing experience.

Missing Pieces is influenced by a myriad of modern movies and directors but pulls together ideas from numerous genres to tell a completely fresh story. There are strong echoes of Memento, which Boone Junior also starred in, along with components of modern horror, Paul Thomas Anderson, romantic comedies and the indie scene. It addresses themes of love, loss, sadness and happiness. It touches on far too many issues to mention but it always has something true to say. It captures a little of the human condition and the universal desire for purpose, meaning and intimacy. Most of all I was struck by its message of reaching out and ignoring the limitations of social convention to say how you feel before it’s too late.

Perhaps such a message warms the hearts of young people more easily. And what makes Missing Pieces even more remarkable is the youthful team behind it. It is the brainchild of Kenton Bartlett who decided to make a movie when his carefree student life suddenly ended. A 30 minute Making Of feature is enlightening, entertaining and moving, as Kenton struggles through the unexpected scale of the challenge. It’s evident the film went through multiple edits to become a staggering, coherent final product.

Words don’t do Missing Pieces justice. Discovering new talented filmmakers and musicians (the film also has wonderful songs/score) like those behind Missing Pieces is the most fulfilling part of writing about movies. Its unknown actors and crew deserve to do this for a living. And we deserve to see their novel and ambitious ideas realised.

Missing Pieces is still seeking distribution. It is high quality stuff and there’s no reason why it should be kept from a wider audience. Get the word out and find the missing piece in your collection of favourite films: www.FindYourMissingPieces.com