In 1997 the publishers of 2000 AD were approached by the creative trinity behind the hit Brit films Trainspotting and Shallow Grave - would Egmont Fleetway be interested in adpating the trio's next movie into a graphic novel? The project got shuttled on to 2000 AD editorial, where I thought a serialised adaptation running in 2000 AD might attract some new readers to the comic. The Trainspotting trio were white hot at the time and it seemed they could do no wrong. I read the screenplay and was happy to find fantastical elements within it that could help justify my decision. Even if the adaptation was a flop, it was only one strip among five in the anthology and would only run for eight weeks - 2000 AD had had worse series run for much longer in its time.
Paying a nominal fee to secure the adaptation rights still left us with no money to pay a writer to turn the screenplay into scripts for an artist, so I volunteered myself for the task. I figured there would probably be a lot of tweaks and changes, since everythng had to be approved by the filmmakers, so it made sense not to engage in a game of Chinese whispers. Besides, few freelance writers will volunteer to write a 48-page strip for free, while I was already being paid to edit the comic.
I sat down and figured out how to boil the screenplay down into eight episodes of six pages each, complete with cliffhangers and plot progression in each script. Steve Yeowell agreed to tackle the project, armed with dozens of colour photocopies of the production stills as his character reference. We both sat in a stifling office in Soho to watch a rough cut of the film. Afterwards, I'm not sure either of us knew what to make of the movie. It had changed considerably from the screenplay I'd been given and the roughness of the version we saw tended to distract the eye.
I wrote most of my scripts based on the supplied material, but considerable changes were required. The original screenplay featured God as a basketball playing character - he never made it on screen. Also, Ewan McGregor's character decided many of his actions by spinning a knife between two choices, such as Life and Death. Most of that was also lost along the way. Despite all of this, Steve Yeowell did a sterling job adapting my scripts in record time and A Life Less Ordinary did make it into 2000 AD in the autumn of 1997.
Alas, regular readers hated the strip and it failed to attract new readers, as had been hoped. The film was a flop too, a brave attempt at a modern screwball comedy that never quite comes together. Live and learn, I guess. For what it's worth, here's my original script for the first episode of the adaptation, complete with a sequence that I don't think made it into the movie. Looking at it ten years on, I'm shocked by how many balloons and caption boxes I wedged into each panel. I guess that's a consequence of trying fit everything in, no matter the consequences.
A LIFE LESS ORDINARY Part One
An eight-part comic strip series for 2000 AD based on the screen play by John Hodge
Some notes: The comic scripts adopt a regulation two by three grid system, simply to eliminate any fretting over page layouts etc. No detailed scene descriptions have been included in these scripts - hopefully there will be reference material supplied to cover the necessary visual background for characters, settings etc. Underlined dialogue will be lettered in bold.
1. Exterior of an American Gothic villa, a bright, hot day. The mansion sits on a hill, in front of it is a swimming pool and terrace, extensive gardens around them. A butler, Mayhew, leaves the villa carrying a silver tray.
2. Mayhew skirts the pool, approaching the terrace. On his tray are a glass of water, an apple and a polished wooden box. In the foreground sits a beautiful woman in her twenties - Celine.
3. Celine sips the water, while throwing the apple to Mayhew who holds the silver tray in background.
4. Celine opens the box, which is velvet-lined. Inside is a revolver. In background Mayhem nervously places the apple atop his head.
5. Celine holds the gun in both hands, firing at the apple.
6. Blackout panel.
"I SHALL SAVE HIS LIFE WITH AN ARROW: THE ARROW OF MY LOVE FOR HIM..."
1. Typical, true life NYPD Blue style cop squad rooms - except everything is white: walls, desks, clothes, floors, shoulder holsters, the lot. Walking through this is senior "cop" Gabriel carrying white files, followed by two other "cops" - Jackson, a heavy man in his fifties, and a wiry woman of similar age, O'Reilly.
2. Inside Gabriel's office, as seen from above. Jackson and O'Reilly sit while Gabriel stands behind his desk - everything still white. Gabriel points to a pile of files dumped on the floor. He still holds one file.
WELL? TALK TO ME!
WE HAD A BAD RUN.
THINGS HAVE CHANGED DOWN THERE. MEN AND WOMEN, THEY'RE NOT LIKE THEY USED TO BE.
3. Just Gabriel, a man under pressure.
WELL THINGS HAVE CHANGED UP HERE AS WELL. I'M GETTING PRESSURE FOR RESULTS, FROM ABOVE, YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING.
THE EXISTENCE OF THE WHOLE DEPARTMENT IS, FRANKLY, UNDER REVIEW. I'M INSTRUCTED TO INTRODUCE A NEW INCENTIVE SCHEME.
4. Gabriel throws the file in his hands to O'Reilly, who catches it.
IT'S A DIFFICULT CASE BUT YOU'LL CRACK IT. AND IF YOU DON'T WELL, YOU DON'T COME BACK. THAT'S THE NEW INCENTIVE SCHEME.
WHAT? YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS.
5. From behind Gabriel, so we can see Jackson and O'Reilly's faces.
YOU BETTER BELIEVE I AM. IF YOU FAIL, YOU STAY DOWN THERE FOREVER.
NO SPECIAL POWERS. YOU KNOW THE RULES.
6. A fresh angle, up to you.
THE RULES SUCK, GABRIEL.
THE WHOLE THING SUCKS.
IT'S OUT OF MY HANDS. IF I WAS YOU I'D START WITH THE GIRL.
1. Back to the mansion on the hill. Celine shoots another apple off Mayhew's head.
NICE TRICK, CELINE.
2. Enter Elliot, a suave but loathsome man in his thirties. Celine seems unimpressed to see him. She holds the still smoking revolver.
WANT TO TRY YOUR LUCK?
I HAVE NO TIME FOR GAMES. LAST NIGHT WE DISCUSSED A CERTAIN PROPOSAL.
AND I SAID NO. BECAUSE YOU CHEAT, ELLIOT.
3. Celine throws Elliot another apple from a bowl beside her.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DIFFICULT IT IS FOR A WOMAN TO FIND A GOOD HUSBAND IN THIS TOWN? OR A GOOD DENTIST, FOR THAT MATTER?
CELINE - I'M SERIOUS.
4. Elliot puts the apple on his head while Celine takes aim.
ARE YOU SURE THIS IS WISE?
DON'T TALK, IT PUTS ME OFF.
5. Just a Celine shoots, Elliot steps forward, raising his hands.
STOP - -
appropriate for gunshot
6. Celine and Mayhew stands over Elliot, who lies twitching on the terrace, a pool of blod expanding from his head.
MAYHEW, WOULD YOU CALL FOR A DOCTOR.
IT WILL BE MY PLEASURE.
1. Establishing frame of an office building. Daytime.
ROBOTS, YOU'RE TRYING TO TELL ME I'M GOING TO BE REPLACED BY ROBOTS.
2. Cut inside to a cleaner's storeroom where Robert, in his twenties, is being handed an envelope by his supervisor, the severe Ms Gesteten.
IT COMES RIGHT FROM THE TOP, FROM MR NAVILLE HIMSELF. INCREASED EFFICIENCY AND LESS CORPORATE FAT ALL THE WAY DOWN.
WELL MAYBE IT'S TIME I PAID A VISIT TO THIS MR NAVILLE GUY.
3. Ms Gesteten cuts him short.
IT'S TOO LATE. YOU'RE FIRED, ROBERT.
4. Establishing shot of Al's Bar & Diner, still daytime.
WHISKEY, PLEASE, AL.
ALCOHOL WILL NOT SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS.
5. Cut inside where Robert sits at the bar on a stool. Behind the bar is Al, a man in his fifties. Drawn on the bar in front of Robert is a circle, divided in half. One half is marked "whisky", the other "beer". In the centre is a knife, currently stopped pointing into the whiskey half.
ALL IT WILL DO IS CAUSE THEM TO TEMPORARILY RECEDE BEHIND A MISLEADING HAZE OF IMPAIRED CONSCIOUSNESS.
BETTER MAKE IT A DOUBLE, THEN.
6. Robert is approached by Lily, a waitress at the bar & diner. She seems concerned, puts a hand on his arm or shoulder.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE AT THIS TIME OF DAY?
I GOT BAD NEWS, LILY. I - I GOT FIRED.
1. Lily turns cold, withdrawing from Robert. He's incredulous.
I'VE BEEN MEANING TO TELL YOU FOR A WHILE, AND NOW SEEMS AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY. ROBERT, I'M LEAVING YOU.
LEAVING ME? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
2. Lily explains.
HIS NAME IS RYAN. HE TEACHES AEROBICS. WE'RE IN LOVE, AND WE'RE GOING TO MIAMI.
HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME? AT A TIME LIKE THIS?
3. Lily walks away, Robert visible in background, Al refilling his glass.
I WANT A MAN, NOT A DREAMER.
4. Robert arrives home to find a crew of men carrying his furniture down the stairs and away from his house. Jackson and O'Reilly greet Robert as he arrives. They are now in normal versions of their clothes.
MR ROBERT LEWIS?
YES, THAT'S ME.
5. Jackson hands Robert a card for the FIRM BUT FAIR COLLECTION AND EVICTION AGENCY, and a sheet of typed paper. O'Reilly in b/g.
WE'RE EMPOWERED TO COLLECT THESE ITEMS UNDER FEDERAL AND STATE LAW IN LIEU OF UNPAID DEBTS.
WE ARE ALSO CONTRACTED TO SERVE YOU NOTICE OF EVICTION FROM THESE PREMISES HERE FORTHWITH.
BUT I GAVE MY GIRLFRIEND THE MONEY TO PAY - - -
6. Robert gobsmacked again, Jackson and O'Reilly press on.
THESE THINGS HAPPEN. WOMEN ARE FICKLE.
NOW WE CAN DO THIS WITH VIOLENCE OR WITHOUT. IT'S UP TO YOU. THE CLIENT PAYS OUT MEDICAL BILL BUT NOT YOURS. WELL?
UH - WITHOUT, PLEASE.
1. Back inside Al's Bay & Diner, where a dozen people are eating or drinking. It's still daytime and Robert is back on his regular stool at the bar, a drink in front of him, Al opposite.
I HAD A JOB, A GIRL, AN APARTMENT. EVERYTHING. NOW: NOTHING. WHAT WENT WRONG?
YOU GOT FIRED. THAT'S WHAT WENT WRONG.
2. Robert makes his mind. Al reaches under the bar for the knife box.
YEAH, THAT'S WHERE IT STARTED. AL - THE KNIFE.
WHAT'S IT GOING TO BE?
REVENGE. OR SUICIDE.
3. Al opens the wooden box to reveal the hunting knife while Robert chalks a fresh circle of two halves - "revenge" and "suicide". The customers have gathered behind him to watch the decision ritual.
4. Robert spins the knife, watched by everyone.
5. The knife stops - on "suicide".
6. Focus on Robert's face, but indicate Al's presence as well.
MAYBE YOU OUGHT TO MAKE IT BEST OF THREE.
NEXT PROG: GUNPLAY