Percival: a world first in virtual production

Very proud to have been involved in this world first as screenwriter with Felicity Evans.

His House premieres at Sundance 2020

sundanceWell, it’s been a while. Plenty has been happening, much of which – inevitably, all the most exciting things – I have been unable to talk about. Until now.

One, at least I can shout about. And it’s a biggie. Way back I-don’t-know-when Felicity Evans and I pitched an idea, then called The Welcome, to Starchild Pictures – a story involving asylum seekers in the UK and a house with a bad reputation. It was commissioned, got a director on board (the hugely talented Remi Weekes), got written, and then attracted the attention of New Regency and BBC Films. They decided to join the party – and from that point on, things got a little crazy.

On the one hand, the project – now called His House – grew considerably in size. On the other, the buzz around it – and the desire of others to get involved – created some inexplicable friction with no less than the Weinstein’s, who slapped a $10m lawsuit on it. For a while things were stalled, but when the Weinstein’s started having bigger things to worry about than sole distribution of a modest budget horror with a social theme, the project was once again free to get underway. And by now, it had a cast that included Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith and Javier Botet.

And now here we are. His House was finished in November 2019. It was selected for Sundance 2020 in December and will premiere there on 27 January.

At the time of writing, that’s just one week away. To say we are excited is an understatement. What the response will be, we don’t know – but I will, of course, keep you posted.

You can read about the crop of UK films at Sundance, including His House, here.

Read a little more about His House and other films showing at Sundance at the official Sundance website.

“Like a book version of watching a Netflix series…”

Well, here’s a nice thing.

To mark the release of the new Robin Hood film this week – featuring Taron Egerton in the title role – are running a piece listing their “must read Robin Hood retellings and unique reimaginings”.

Happy to say that Gisburne features prominently (massive cover image featuring THAT pic of hooded, tooled-up Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley) and gets this pithy write-up:

Netflix series? Now, there’s an idea…

So, we’re making a movie…

It’s a long story.

I co-wrote a screenplay with Felicity Evans, based on her idea, which at the time was called The Welcome – a horror movie with a social slant, about immigrants coming to the UK. It was commissioned by Starchild Pictures, who got ace director Remi Weekes involved. There were a couple of drafts, with Remi doing his own take on the original screenplay and giving it a new title: His House.

Then the fun began. The buzz around it was huge. Numerous companies expressed interest. The Weinstein Company was one. They said they wanted exclusive distribution rights, didn’t get them, and then got annoyed about it. To express their irritation at the producers taking the project to New Regency – or just throw a spanner in the works – they slapped a $10m lawsuit on them.

So, the whole project was stalled just when it was hot to trot and precisely because everyone wanted it. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

That was how it was for a while. But then Harvey hit the headlines. As investors and partners fled to distance themselves from the allegations of rape and sexual misconduct, the Weinstein Co took a tumble. Eventually it collapsed and filed for bankruptcy.

And that, pretty much, is where we are now, with the project apparently free to progress – which it is doing. You can read the full story by clicking on the image above or by going here.

Right now, we have a director, casting director and set designer and casting is beginning, so things are looking good. Obviously, I’ll keep you posted – but keep your fingers crossed…

#AltWar – the movie

Finally, a major piece of news can be revealed…

This year, I’m working on a feature film screenplay based on J.J. Patrick’s (completely factual) book Alternative War, in close partnership with the author himself, former police officer, whistle-blower and now investigative journalist with Byline. And the development is being funded not by the industry, but by those who most believe in it – those who have supported it all the way. You.

Those who already know of J.J. Patrick’s shocking political exposé will need little explanation as to why it’s significant. Those who don’t… Well, hold on to your hats.

At the time of publication in August 2017, James’s book – detailing Russia’s cyber war and meddling in the US election and Brexit referendum – was frequently dismissed as tinfoil-hat, conspiracy-theory paranoia. Six months on, and the Mueller investigation and EU nation premiers (including, belatedly, Theresa May) are confirming daily everything it outlined – a grim reality made all the grimmer by the fact that we were blissfully unaware it was happening, wrapped up as we were in its baffling fallout: Trump and Brexit.

But now we’re waking up to it, what can be done?

The answer, to James, seemed obvious: get it out there even more, get it in the mainstream, get everyone talking about it – so much so, it couldn’t be ignored or dismissed out of hand, and covert actions could no longer be covert. This alone helps to defeat them. As James himself has put it: “With crime, prosecution is necessary, but with espionage exposure is enough.”

To achieve all this, something else – something seemingly perverse – was required: to make it fun.

The one thing that could tick all these boxes seemed obvious: a feature film. So, without further ado, that’s what we’re going for – with your help. It will be grim. It will be suspenseful. It will be true to life. And it will also be entertaining – because to make this crazy story dull would be the worst crime imaginable…

Please read James’s piece on Byline here, in which we both talk about the project, and share and contribute if you can. In doing so, you are helping to expose attacks against this country and others. You are literally fighting this war.

Here is the direct link to the project:

Here, too, is something explaining what Byline is all about, and how it is supporting and facilitating independent journalism free from advertising pressures:

To follow J.J. Patrick on Twitter: @J_amesp

To follow me go to: @TobyVenables (all stuff, including political comment) or: @TobyVenablesWr (just the novels, screenplays and other fiction)

A hard exit

Kill her. Yes. Kill her. I’d thought it before. A thousand times. Every time that sickly smile greeted me, oblivious to my mood or circumstances. Every time that wittering, sing-song voice dragged its manicured nails across the blackboard of my brain, or the bland, middle class mediocrity of that childish, hollow laugh slid itself like the right-kind-of butterknife between my ribs.

Oh, I’d thought about it. Like a daydream about sex – one that took things several stages further than humdrum reality could ever really go. Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill her… Yes, I’d imagined every glorious, forbidden scenario. In public. On a train. Different methods. Different positions. With every possible implement. With machinery, animals, different people. I’d imagined it all. Then, one day, quite unexpectedly, came a point when it became more than just an idea. When I took back control.

I remember exactly where and when. Just out there, at the top of the stairs, at the point where they turned, one step down from the landing. A point just before I saw that idiotic better-than-you face tumbling away from my outstretched palm, disbelief alternating with the flapping of that godawful Laura Ashley print, her ridiculous rubber limbs clawing for the worn bannister, and flashes of white underwear – for once, curiously erotic. That’s the memory of her I most cherish now. That glorious response to a moment she never saw coming; a moment of decisive action that she would not – could not – have imagined. The Big Surprise.

And I laughed. I guffawed. I couldn’t help it. It was like that ridiculous urge to laugh at funerals, when you knew it was wrong but it just welled up in you, and all you really wanted to do was laugh and laugh and laugh with relief.

But there was something else too. Something that, at the time, I almost failed to recognise. It was happiness.

Yes, I felt happy. Beautifully, blissfully happy. And so I laughed aloud, her ridiculous, incredulous expression falling away from me like all the world’s cares, the moment seeming to expand as she receded in slow motion, as if I could have trotted down the steps past her and watched it unravel from different angles, as if somehow I could have pressed pause and then advanced the scene frame by frame, slowing, slowing, slowing…

And then a sudden stop. A sharp crack, like the breaking of a dry stick. And that was that. I made a cup of tea – stepping over the misshapen floral heap at the foot of the stairs – and took it back up to my study. I would phone for an ambulance soon. A tragic accident. No one would question it. But time for tea first.

Imagine. That moment of complete peace, free from the burden of aspiration. Of all the tasteful furnishings, charity volunteering, matching cutlery, “support the nurses” and oh-so-thoughtful TV documentaries on a thousand-and-one causes sucked up and compressed into a poisonous ball then shat out in a moment of sublime relief – the ecstasy of letting go, of all cares being blotted out by a beautiful, serene nothingness.

Imagine it, just for a moment.

Then imagine it shattered forever by that sound. That wretched, accusing sound.

It began with a kind of snuffling, like a dog or a pig. Against common sense I actually pictured a dog in the house, sniffing at the body. Momentarily I wondered how a dog might have got in, perhaps attracted by the sound or the scent of death; I even eyed the ash-grey poker in the study fireplace with which I might have to fight the animal. But no. It wasn’t a snuffling. It was the sound of something moving. Something being dragged. Dragged slowly up the stairs.

Fffffffshhhhhhh… Fffffffshhhhhhh… Fffffffshhhhhhh…

I still hear it. I can hear it now. I think, probably, I always will. I didn’t move from my seat then – not at first. Instead, I sat, awoken from my fleeting dream, waiting for that sound to resolve itself into something physical, all the time repelled to the level of nausea by the impossibility of it, the utter madness of that sound having any physical cause at all.

It drew closer to the room by painful degrees, sometimes accompanied by a whimper, such as an old woman makes in her sleep. It seemed so close, as if whispered in my ear. I surely must see something – see it. But it just kept on. Time stretched. Space closed in. I began to doubt everything – my entire reality. Was it in here already? In the room? Slithering beneath the desk, in the dark space about my curled toes? Surely it couldn’t…

Then it stopped.

There was a scratch. A slow, uncertain tap tap-tap tap. Broken fingernails rattling feebly against the paintwork at the very bottom of the door. A rasping, like breath. And a grunt. Then, as if pushed from that point close to the hinge where effort is magnified a thousandfold, the door squeaked slowly, painfully open.

And there she was. Real, now. A trickle of blood leaking from her left ear, moistening and matting her hair, her lifeless legs splayed out behind her at a stupid angle. But her face carried a lopsided, idiotic smile. “Oh darling,” she slurred. “Still hard at work? Let me get you something to eat.” Her lungs wheezed like broken bellows. She made a strange snorting sound which might have been a laugh, and a bubble of snot glistened briefly, wobbled, then burst and dripped on the carpet.

I was angry. She shouldn’t be alive. It was sick. Others hung onto life with grim determination, but she didn’t have a determined cell in her body. What right had she to still be around when decent people were dead as earth? It was an insult. “I’ll be down in a minute,” I snapped irritably, turning back to my desk as if there were something important demanding my attention.

I listened as she pulled her twisted body with sickening back towards the top of the stairs. The moment she was fully clear of the study I took the poker from the fireplace and smashed it three times into her skull.

She slumped. Blood frothed from her mouth. Then it turned into another laugh, right out of that wrecked head. “I’m just not myself today,” she tittered. “I don’t know what it can be…” I retched and kicked her down stairs, the sack of a body flicking flecks of blood onto the wallpaper. I followed with limbs like lead, the metal rod in my hand like a lightning conductor for all the world’s anger. I beat her body with the poker until both had lost their shape.

The rest of the night I sat in my study, the place where I sat and pretended to work, listening to the sound of her dragging herself around in the dark below. Once or twice she called out in a slurry, gurgly approximation of her voice. “Come and have a break, love,” it sang. “I’ll put the kettle on.” I knew she could no longer get up the stairs. But I couldn’t bear to look at her again. So I just sat, trapped, listening.

Fffffffshhhhhhh… Fffffffshhhhhhh… Fffffffshhhhhhh…

Then, some time in the darkest hours of the night, I knew what it was I had to do. I took the shotgun from the locked cupboard in the study, loaded it, put the cold barrel in my mouth and pushed my thumb against the trigger.

And that, I suppose, should have been the end. Yet here I am. In life, things do not end so neatly. They do not give up the ghost.

I am blind. I have no voice. I still sit where I sat at that moment, now unable to stand, my head, as far as I can tell, at a strange angle to the rest, bone jarring against bone. My nostrils are filled with the stench of my own decay. Every now and then I extend my tongue and it meets the rough, unfamiliar edge of a tooth, broken by the kick of the gun barrel. My hands rest on the familiar territory of my desk, too afraid to investigate further. Just in front of me, my fingertips have identified a pen and a pile of paper. I no longer know whether my words are legible, or whether I’m just smearing them with my own blood. But I write. I don’t know why. Perhaps because it’s all I can do. Write and listen.

I can hear her now. She’s found a way of getting upstairs. She has even started bringing me food. I can’t eat – not that it matters. She brings it anyway – a sick, empty ritual. There’s only her sound, her voice, chiding me gently for not consuming what she’s prepared. How long I have sat here like this, and whether it is day or night, it is impossible to tell. I feel her next to me, perhaps looking up at me from her now unimaginable shape, hear her wheezing as she pulls herself up on my desk. “What’s this?” she says, close to me. I shudder. It’s grown cold. “Oh, it’s so good that you’re writing again. Here, let me help you…” A clammy claw moves my straying hand back over the pages that I am now incapable of reading, that I pointlessly fill with text. “You’re so clever,” rasps the voice. And then: “We’re so lucky.”