I first had an idea for a film 29 years ago – in February 1988. I’d just moved to Madrid, but I had no idea how to write a screenplay. Nor did I have a computer, or a laptop, let alone ‘Final Draft’, the scriptwriters’ software. So I simply started to write ideas about the film in notebooks, as if I was writing sporadic scenes for a play. Then I bought an old typewriter from the Rastro, and I typed up the first sequences (I’ve still got them), but I never got much further as my magazine day job took over my life, at least for that next decade in Madrid. A sub-plot for the film revolved around a kidnapping, and it was also set in the art world. I envisaged the film as a comedy, or romantic comedy. As I was lucky to live opposite the Prado Museum in Madrid, I would often go there and make detailed notes about a specific painting by Goya, and how I would rob it (for my film script, obviously). And this is true, too (it’s in the book I wrote about Madrid), and I think it was in 1990: I caught sight of Pedro Almodóvar in a club called Villa Rosa one night, just off the Plaza Santa Ana. I’d had a few drinks. Actually, I was swaying. I started to approach him, to tell him about my film idea, but someone stopped me – which was probably just as well. The reason I mention all this is because that’s how obsessed I was with the film … 29 years ago.
Finally, in August 1998 (10 years later), with the help of a book by Viki King, called ‘How To Write a Screenplay in 21 Days’, I wrote my first draft of a full-length screenplay … in 21 days. I wrote it in pencil, longhand, on 120 pages of a WH Smith A4 lined ‘refill pad’ – and, yes, I’ve still got it. I wrote it fast, using Viki King’s ‘inner movie method’, completing 5 or 6 pages a day, and without re-reading anything written the day before. I wrote it whilst sitting beside a swimming pool at a holiday villa we’d rented in Mallorca, in snatched moments when not playing sharks in the pool with the kids. My original title for the script was, ‘Until The Cows Come Home.’
I felt great once I’d written it, but then I didn’t do anything with it for 2 years. The day job got in the way again. In April 2000, however, aged 40, I invested in Final Draft software and finally re-wrote the pencil draft onto a laptop in screenplay format. My original idea was to try and sell the screenplay to a producer or a film studio (I was pretty naïve) – and over the next 18 months, guided by a film/literary agent, I re-wrote the script about 8 or 9 times, and we sent it off to various producers in London and Los Angeles, rarely receiving anything more than a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ (and, yes, I’ve kept all the rejections). Then in 2001, a family friend of an LA producer read it and liked it, and then the LA producer also read it, and he liked it, too – which was all very exciting. He wanted me to change the title to ‘Madrid, Madrid’ – which I did, happily, and then I spent hours of long-distance phone calls discussing it with him and then re-writing it again and again and again. I must have gone through another 5 or 6 drafts – but then I don’t think he really ever did anything with it. I decided to temporarily shelve it all, as I was working on my Madrid book, and also the day job(s) got in the way again.
Then in 2004, between day jobs, and at a time when I was feeling disillusioned with corporate media life back in London, I decided to set off and have a go at selling or even producing the film myself. I re-wrote the script yet again, created a pitch document for it, and went off to Los Angeles – to attend a ‘Screenwriting Expo’, and from there to the American Film Market. Again, I was pretty naïve – and I have blogged about this before in Making a Movie. I learned a lot during the next few years about the film business, but my screenplay remained unsold.
In 2007 I moved back to Barcelona, to run a magazine group. A film producer friend in Barcelona showed interest in the script, but wanted to change the ‘Madrid, Madrid’ title and location to … Barcelona. No problem. I eventually rewrote it all yet again – several times. The day job took over my life again, but in 2009 I drove up from Barcelona to the Cannes Film Market during a long weekend, pitching to try and raise funds to develop the film, helped by a UK co-producer who’d also shown enthusiasm in the project. We had fun, period.
Some people write books that are then adapted to films. I did the reverse. At the end of 2010, thanks also to an upheaval in my personal life, I started writing the film as a novel … ‘The Barcelona Connection’. I had become so interested in the central character of my film plot, that I wanted to write him into a book, with the possibility of further books based on his ‘adventures’. I finally completed the first draft of the novel two years later, in 2012. It was 410 pages long and I knew it didn’t work, so I didn’t really show it to anyone. Instead I rewrote it as a crime book, with some black comedy thrown in. I sent it to a few friends, and then rewrote it yet again. By now, of course, the original comedy film script had little in common with the crime novel. In 2014, I went back to Cannes yet again – something I have also blogged about here. At Cannes, a renowned producer told me that I should look at adapting the whole idea and ‘adventures’ of my central character for TV. After Cannes, I therefore rewrote things again, and also started to write a sequel novel to ‘The Barcelona Connection’, currently with the working title of ‘The Madrid Fix’. I set out to find the very best TV producers in London and Spain.
Two weeks ago, we officially announced that ‘The Barcelona Connection’ is in development as a UK-Spain 6-part TV series … ‘season one’. Last weekend, we had a celebratory dinner with our award-winning director, Spanish and UK producers, and scriptwriter. We spent time in Figueres and Cadaques. I’m still enjoying the moment. I had an idea for a film script 29 years ago. My film script became a novel that is now being adapted for TV. Never, ever give up …