Premise for a Screenplay – Jeeves and Wooster updated

by Victoria Madden

Sometimes the hardest part for screen writers is finding the premise – here’s an idea for a Jeeves and Wooster update you might like to have.

 

As readers, dedicated and accidental, of this blog will know, most of my creative output takes the form of writing screenplays. I am never sure how worthwhile it really is to try and pursue this as a writing career as, lets face it, you can’t throw a stirrer in any Los Angeles coffee shop without hitting a screenwriter of some sort.

 

The competition is pretty stiff. And let’s hurriedly gloss over the fact that, even if you were to get your screenplay accepted and paid for, the chances are it will spend years in development before it actually gets made.  If it gets made at all.

The problem is I’m good at it: coming up with plot ideas, scenarios, dialogue and characters is pretty effortless. (I do struggle with getting all these into a coherent structure but this is the craft part that just needs to be worked at. Or I could find a writing partner and dump it all on them.) Out of all the creative writing genres I’ve tried over the years – and I’ve tried novel writing for many years – screen writing is the one I’ve found has the most comfortable fit with my abilities.

I mentioned my latest idea, a few weeks ago, in reply to a comment by Zanyzigzag – a sort of update for millennials of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. I spent some time, one evening, spinning it out into a more detailed premise and it does feel like it could be a lot of fun. The difficulty is that the amount of background research required would be huge. This isn’t just a matter of in depth time on the internet, because the people the Jeeves character is based on rarely get interviewed and end up on YouTube. (Though it’s worth a look.) It means going out and interviewing these people, on the ground, and probably even spending time shadowing them, if possible, which is something I don’t have the time or resources for at this stage.

It seems a pity to waste the idea, though, so I was wondering if someone out there might like it?

It all started when I was down the inevitable YouTube rabbit hole, one afternoon, idly watching a clip showing Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran at the 2016 Grammys. I was trying to convince myself that this did actually have something to do with the details I was meant to be checking for an article, when I noticed something interesting in the background of the event and, in what was of course not procrastination but research, began to cross-reference what I’d seen with clips of other award shows.

Most of the viewer’s attention is, fairly naturally, on the artists: they’re famous, recognisable and generally wear publicity worthy outfits. But tailing them quietly, sometimes surrounding them, as the musicians arrive, greet each other and take their seats; and seated, too, unobtrusively in the background, is their security/management. Once you’re aware of these people, you see how many of them there are and how they’re constantly scoping the room, waiting patiently in the background or guiding their wayward charges to their required places. Where you get a wideshot of the whole audience, you can also pick out the security for the award show too. The pop stars themselves seem almost incidental.

What I like about this idea is that it gives a voice to people who are on the sidelines but see everything.

It reminded me of that scene at the Junior Ganymede in the BBC Jeeves and Wooster where Jeeves has gone to consult the Club Book in order to extricate Bertie from another imbroglio. The valets, far more Establishment than their upper class gentlemen, swop stories in mild, affectionate despair at the difficulties of presenting their unruly employers to the world in a respectable condition. Looking at the award show clips, the VMAs in particular, it struck me that the musical star’s security/manager figure was the modern day equivalent of the ‘gentleman’s personal gentleman’.

Immediately the ‘you coulds’ I mentioned in a previous post began to come through – a Wodehouse plot that could be set in the modern music industry (a nice hat tip to Wodehouse’s musical theatre background) in which Bertie Wooster is a millionaire alt rock star with similar friends, and Jeeves and his fellow ‘personal gentlemen’ are the managers who make sure they’re functioning correctly. (Think elements of John Gielgud in Arthur.) There would be scope for plenty of scenes in which the Jeeves character could hove to with his personal hang over cure, help with everyone’s feasibly tangled love lives, tut over hideous outfit choices and make sarcastic comments: ‘no one likes a fat pop star, sir’ taking a large bag of chips (fries) away.

As I started to think about the opening scene where Jeeves first turns up, I suddenly got the line ‘the record label sent me’ and then this unfolded:

 

DAY: INT: WILL’S FLAT – SITTING ROOM

We open, over the noise of a DOOR BUZZER, on the sitting room of a large, expensive London flat in CONSIDERABLE DISORDER. The camera PANS ROUND to reveal what looks like the aftermath of a week long party or the attempts of someone who’s never looked after themselves to do so. There is a litter of EMPTY BOTTLES OF SPIRITS throughout the room but a wide variety of LETTERS and GIFTS have been ineffectually gathered into a vague PILE on the rug. A VINTAGE FENDER STRAT has been left propped up carelessly against the SOFA and TWO PLATINUM DISCS are stacked, one behind the other, against the wall. A DESIGNER SHIRT, heavily stained with alcohol and with ripped buttons, has been thrown into a corner. Through WIDE OPEN DOORS we get glimpses of a KITCHEN and BATHROOM in a similar state and finally a BEDROOM where we just see a corner of a BED and some male LEGS in black jeans with bare feet.

ZOOM IN through the open door of the BEDROOM, strewn with more designer clothes and boots, and find a half undressed YOUNG MAN in his mid to late twenties lying, arms flung out, on his back on an UNMADE BED. This is WILL WOOSTER, rock star, NME darling, and lead singer of Algy and the Drones, currently working on their ‘difficult’ second album.

 

CUT TO:

DAY: INT: HALLWAY OUTSIDE WILL’S FLAT

CLOSE UP of a LARGE FINGER pressing the DOOR BUZZER.

 

CUT TO

DAY: INT: WILL’S FLAT – BEDROOM

The sound of the DOOR BUZZER jerks WILL into some semblance of life. He ROLLS OVER onto his front and, without raising his face, PICKS UP AN INDUSTRY AWARD on the nightstand and makes an ineffectual attempt to SMASH what he thinks is the alarm on his SMARTPHONE. The mobile FALLS onto the floor. WILL drops his arm in defeat and lets the award ROLL OUT of his hand.

The BUZZING CONTINUES.

 

CUT TO

DAY: INT: HALLWAY OUTSIDE FLAT

CLOSE UP on the BACK OF A LARGE MAN’S HEAD and the DOOR BUZZER on the outside of the flat door

 

CUT TO

DAY: INT: WILL’S FLAT – BEDROOM

Noise from door buzzer over. WILL raises his head puzzled. He struggles to get up and FALLS OFF the bed. He stands up and it becomes clear that he is very, very hungover. WILL staggers to the door just as the SMARTPHONE BEGINS TO RING on the bedroom floor behind him. There is a moment of confusion as WILL swings between the two noises.

 

DAY: INT: WILL’S FLAT – SITTING ROOM

WILL staggers over to the door and OPENS it, CLINGING ONTO THE DOOR for support.

WILL’s POV

A large man in his late thirties/early forties with an air of competence and wearing a black suit and tie (think Reservoir Dogs not Men in Black) stands outside the door. He’s heavily built, has a South London accent and the deadpan sarcasm of Hathaway in Lewis.

 

DAY: INT: HALLWAY OUTSIDE FLAT

REG’s POV

WILL goggles round the door. (This is the money shot for the female demographic and the one to be used in the movie trailers.) A young man with large expressive eyes and shaggy hair just touching his shoulders. Bare to waist and tattoos natch but more of a lean, clothes horse body type. Not conventionally good looking but has a recognisable charm that he uses consciously when needed. Think Harry Styles circa 2013/14. (Actually, just see if you can get him and then sit back and count the cash. He’d probably make a good job of it too.)

 

CUT TO

WILL’S POV

REG puts his MOBILE away in an inside pocket.

REG:

The record label sent me; I understand you need a new manager?

WILL makes a series of inarticulate noises. REG sweeps an experienced eye around the room over WILL’S shoulder and raises an eyebrow.

REG:

Right you are, then

REG WALKS PAST WILL and INTO the flat. WILL takes a moment to realise what’s happened then CLOSES DOOR

 

DAY: INT: WILL’S FLAT – SITTING ROOM

WILL staggers into the room and LEANS AGAINST THE WALL for support. He BLINKS as he notices it has already been efficiently tidied up. REG goes past him with a LARGE BIN BAG full of clinking BOTTLES.

REG:

Had a bit of a rough night, have we?

REG goes OUT OF SHOT INTO KITCHEN. WILL STAGGERS around the sitting room then COLLAPSES on the SOFA (COUCH).  The Strat FALLS to the floor with a jarring THUD.  WILL CRINGES and then CURLS UP, clutching a LARGE STUFFED BEAR to him.

 

CUT BETWEEN

CLOSE UPS of REG MIXING a HANGOVER CURE and WILL WINCING. Noise level for viewer as from WILL’s POV.

REG comes back into the sitting room and STANDS OVER WILL, holding out a GLASS HALF FILLED with some cloudy liquid to him.

REG:

Come on then, drink this. Sit up.

Sit up!

WILL RAISES himself reluctantly and PEERS at the glass

REG:

(cont)

My own personal hangover cure; get it down you.

WILL takes the glass and DRINKS the liquid, grimacing. REG watches with an expression of sardonic tolerance.  It’s a situation he’s fully used to.

WILL:

Bloody hell!!

WILL GETS UP and PEERS at himself in a MIRROR on the wall. His hangover has completely gone.

WILL

(delighted):

Bloody hell! You’re hired!

REG:

That’s alright, then.  My name’s Reg.

(briskly)

I understand you’re in the studio at 11.00; shall we get you sorted out with some clothes then?

 

 

And so on …

You could do something similar with the Junior Ganymede scene; the half sentences and murmurs of agreement that go round the table could be along the lines of:

‘you should have seen what his stylist sent him out in’

‘I find a good fan mob comes in very handy for that sort of thing’

‘yes, just sort of knock it off his head as you try and get him through the crowd’

‘make sure his publicist doesn’t pick it up though’

‘had to stop her punching a pap the other day’

‘they wind them up on purpose, of course; quarter of a million, wasn’t it? for that photo of yours.’

‘bikini shots are big money”

‘All this drinking and drugs, they never think about us; end up doing a Hendrix and there’s 200 people out of a job the next day.’

‘Not to mention the cancelled tour dates.’

What I like about this idea is that it gives a voice to people who are on the sidelines but see everything.  Seeing things from the Jeeves viewpoint, as the BBC series often, and quite cleverly, did, would be a nice twist to the usual music industry based films that have been done in the past. Just don’t go all The Bodyguard.

Funding it shouldn’t be a problem as there’s scope here for international actors which could bring in money from Europe as well as America. There’s also a lot of scope for cameos by real musicians, which should ensure a large audience through their fan base as well as publicity once their fans start clipping the music stars’ appearances for YouTube.

So it’s just a matter of picking a suitable Wodehouse plot – the vast choice is yours! – and then doing the research. This is the main sticking point, though: as I said, it’s going to take a lot of time but it’s important to respect the people it’s based on by doing it properly.

So there you go. Premise for an updated Jeeves and Wooster screenplay. As long as you credit it ‘based on an idea by Victoria Madden’ you can have it.

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