Back to ScreenWriter GOLDEN ROSE OF MONTREUX FOR MIKE BULLEN

LSW member Mike Bullen has just won the Golden Rose of Montreux for COLD FEET, a comedy drama. COLD FEET is only Mike's second produced script.

BETTINA STRENSKE spoke with Mike Bullen for SCREENWRITER.

Granada has also commissioned a romantic comedy feature film from Mike and he has just written a pilot for a comedy drama series for LWT. Not bad, for someone who has only been writing for four years!

Mike has been working in radio for over ten years. Currently he is a freelance presenter on BBC World Service for ON SCREEN, a film programme, and OUTLOOK, a magazine programme. Now Mike is thinking about giving up some of the radio presenting in order to concentrate more on writing. Still, he doesn't want to write 100 per cent of the time, as this would be too lonely.

Q: It was great news to hear that an LSW member has won the Golden Rose. Congratulations. Could you tell us a little bit about your comedy drama COLD FEET?

A: COLD FEET was a one-off for Granada. They do a series of one-offs called "Comedy Premieres" and the idea is that they are pilots for potential series. The idea of COLD FEET was that "cold feet" belonged to the central character, Adam (James Nesbitt). He is a serial monogamist who just cannot commit to a girlfriend long-term. He falls quite heavily for this woman (Helen Baxendale) when they have a car accident in a supermarket car park. But then, as he gets more and more in love with her, he suddenly starts getting "cold feet" at which point her ex-boyfriend (Stephen Mapes) turns up and wants to claim her back. She has to make the choice between the two. Because Adam has "cold feet", she chooses the ex-boyfriend which is the impetus for Adam to go out and fight for her. COLD FEET is for a one-hour slot.

Q: When was it broadcast?

A: It went out on Easter Sunday on ITV. It was due to go out at 10 pm. Because the Grand Prix overran that afternoon, all the programmes were delayed. So it went out at 10.25 which was rather annoying. The audience was around 5.5 million which at 10.30 pm may not be so bad, but it was certainly less than we were hoping for.

Q: Is there a nomination process for Montreux?

A: There are lots of different categories in Montreux. We were entered into the category of comedy drama, but there is also sitcom, light entertainment and music. The different broadcasters choose their own entries. An ITV committee chose COLD FEET as the comedy drama entry for ITV. It competes within its own category and if you win your category, you win a Silver Rose. Then all the Silver Roses compete for the Golden Rose. We won the Silver Rose and then happily won the Golden Rose.

Q: Obviously, you were the writer of COLD FEET, but did you have any other involvement in the film?

A: I acted in it. I had one line. This is my second film to be produced. My first one, THE PERFECT MATCH, went out on ITV in September 1995. When I went up to the set, I just felt like a spare part. They tried to make me welcome, but I had no purpose there. My job was done. So it was really rather boring. When COLD FEET was filmed I insisted that I have one line. This was great fun. I was playing being an actor. When Adam is dating his girlfriend, they go to a really lousy fringe play. Basically, the play is on where he lives and he is trying to get her back to his place. I was the actor in the lousy fringe play! I was head to toe in white body paint and a loin cloth. It was good fun.

Q: So nobody recognised you?

A: Quite a lot of people haven't, but my mother did!

Q: Did you write COLD FEET "on spec" or were you commissioned to write it?

A: THE PERFECT MATCH was my first script which I wrote "on spec" hoping to get an agent. I got an agent and he said "I think I can sell this". After that, Granada asked me what I wanted to do next. I gave them the idea for COLD FEET and they commissioned it. This was actually very scary, because then I had to write to their commission. But it was a necessary hurdle to get over.

Q: You went through the whole process of meetings, script editing, writing various drafts?

A: Absolutely. I think that there were probably six or seven drafts. It was an interesting process, because the script editor was also the producer, Christine Langan, and occasionally, we would argue about things. I was at times not sure whether I was arguing with the script editor or with the producer. We managed to get through it and she is producing the script I am currently working on.

Q: Earlier you mentioned that COLD FEET was a pilot for a potential series. Has a series been commissioned yet?

A: We don't know. We are waiting for ITV to say. But we are hopeful, having won this award. ITV has recently had a lot of criticism for the quality of their comedy and drama. We feel that they should commission a series. I am going to have a meeting this afternoon to show them what the series would look like. If the series comes off, then I can't take calls over the next year - if it doesn't, I am available for hire.

Q: How did you get into screenwriting?

A: I started about four years ago and it really was just a case of thinking "I'm sure I could do that". Initially, I wrote a script with a friend which was rubbish. At the time I didn't realise it was awful and I went on a couple of courses. Anji Loman Field's comedy course, Robert McKee, then one at the National Film and Television School. Having done those courses, I went back and looked at that first script and could see why it was pretty awful. But I felt that being able to recognise why it was bad, I could then improve it. The second script I wrote, the first one I wrote by myself, got made. I was very lucky! However, it was never like I had a sort of "burning ambition" to write. It's not like I have been writing since the age of six. I feel a bit of a fraud at times, when you read of writers who say this.

Q: How do you personally go about writing? Do you create character backgrounds, follow the three-act-structure. What does your "writing day" look like?

A: I have read all the books everyone has read. Basically, I just try to find my way through it. I think, if you could sit down and structure it on cards and then start writing on screen - wonderful. I can't do that. I start on cards and then I get to a point when I think I just want to start writing. Then I write on the screen and get to a point where I get stuck and then I go back to the cards. It is basically just mix and match, trying to find your way through. What I now try to do is to get the idea fairly sorted in my mind so I can sit down and write. Then I try to write 10 pages a day. I don't know if this is a lot or not. I don't really care whether it is any good or not, I just want to get it down at this point. Then look at it to see where the problems are, then rewrite it. You do that a couple of times before you hand it in. What you call your first draft is actually your third. This is the one you send out.

Q: Are there any tips you could give to new screenwriters?

A: I have always found it most useful to start a scene as late as I can and finish it as early as possible. I still read a lot of scripts. Even now it is interesting to read other people's "stuff". When you write comedy drama, I really believe that every line has to work for you in some way. It doesn't need to be funny, but it has to either advance the plot or add something about character.

Granada has also commissioned a romantic comedy feature film from Mike and he has just written a pilot for a comedy drama series for LWT. Not bad, for someone who has only been writing for four years!

Mike has been working in radio for over ten years. Currently he is a freelance presenter on BBC World Service for ON SCREEN, a film programme, and OUTLOOK, a magazine programme. Now Mike is thinking about giving up some of the radio presenting in order to concentrate more on writing. Still, he doesn't want to write 100 per cent of the time, as this would be too lonely.

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