Navigating Random Acts of Romance

Writing for Film & Television grads Kevin McComiskie and Jillian Mannion will soon have what every hardworking screenwriter wants – a first feature film credit.

After years of collaborating from their native UK with Vancouver-based director Katrin Bowen, their screenplay for Random Acts of Romance is finally seeing the green lights of production. Shooting began yesterday not far from VFS.

It’s not the first time Bowen has worked with Writing grads on a feature; her 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) debut, Amazon Falls, was penned by VFS grad Curry Hitchborn. She and Kevin also collaborated on the award-winning Port Short called I, Stalker during his year at VFS.

With their first film featuring award-winning actors Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary), Zak Santiago (Shooter), and Sonja Bennett (Elegy), Kevin and Jillian are excited to see their work hit the big screen soon – especially considering the epic journey they underwent to get to this point.

It all began when their screenplay was picked up for development in 2007, which brought on a deluge of rewrite notes from various parties.

“Funders, broadcasters, producers, actors.” Everyone had an opinion, Kevin says. “It’s a hard thing to deal with and get your head around when you are thrown feet-first into the thick of things as we found ourselves at this point. Being so far away, we were getting constant emails with notes about the script from all angles. All of a sudden this ‘great script’ was now just a ‘good script’ and here we were presented with 101 people’s opinions on how to make it ‘great again’.”

The project began to grow, attracting financiers and a producer.

“Countless rewrites later, it’s late 2008 and our producer tells us we are good to go for production in the New Year,” Kevin explains. “It all starts to seem very real.”

Then the storm clouds gathered. The team lost a chunk of production financing and an internal contract dispute prevented the film from moving forward until June 2011. It was during this time that Katrin unveiled Amazon Falls at TIFF to much acclaim, and that clout helped bring back the interested parties once she reignited Random Acts of Romance last year.

Could you tell us what is the film is all about?

Jillian: Random Acts of Romance is a comedy/drama about the transience of relationships and how couples get together then fall apart. It takes quite a cynical view of love and infatuation, but also looks at the comic absurdity in some relationships. Each couple, and each character, has their own set of problems which damages their love lives.

Kevin: There’s also a lot of humour added to the mix as not to make the film come across all Blue Valentine. (Great film, just not the laugh-a-minute I wanted it to be!) The story itself deals with two couples and three singletons whose lives all intersect as they live up to the realization that love and happiness is not an easy road. The film is a cynical take on relationships but it is also very truthful about the realities of love. We tried hard to move away from the black and white conventions of the romantic comedy genre and instead spent time addressing the intriguing “grey area” where the lines are blurred on what is acceptable and what is normal when it comes to the pursuit of the opposite sex.

This project has been in the works for a few years now. How has it developed over that time?

Amanda Tapping will play "Diane"

Jillian: It’s come a long way! It started out with all the same characters that it has now, but the script has been pared down to the nitty-gritty bones of the story, which is exactly what it needed. In the beginning there were some scenes and attributes of the characters that just didn’t work. Notes from the director and producers helped us to hone in on what the themes of the script were and what the story was actually trying to say. As writers, sometimes it was hard to receive notes on things that we didn’t want to change because they were funny or a good character reveal, but for the sake of the film you have to let them go. The production of the film has been a waiting game, but the script is better for it.

Kevin: It’s easy to put all your hopes and dreams into one screenplay when someone expresses an interest. You have to be realistic and have to ensure you have many projects on the go because the fact is, not everything you write will get produced. But finding someone who believes in your work, that’s the most important part. Because if you find that person, as we did with Katrin, you soon learn that anything is possible.

Now that the film is actually in production I can honestly say, despite all the frustration of the development process, it was actually worth it. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. As screenwriters, if Jill and I hadn’t gone through what we did, I don’t think we would have evolved as writers. Our experience has made us better writers and more aware of the pitfalls of the industry. Believing in yourself as a writer is the most important thing you can carry through the development process. Learn to trust your instincts and fight for what you think is important.

What are some tips aspiring UK-based screenwriters should know about the industry as you’ve experienced it these past few years?

Kevin: Move to Canada. Seriously. The open-mindedness of the market is inspiring. Canada welcomes and rewards creativity. I spent a year in Vancouver and the amount of opportunities that are available for Canadian creatives is excellent. Back in the UK, it’s a very insular industry. From my experience there is a tendency in the UK to reward the established and the tried-and-tested. There is not so much love for the new and innovative. It’s frustrating because there are so many talented writers in the UK, it’s just they don’t have the platform to have their voices heard.

My advice: find someone who appreciates and gets your work, and surround yourself with like-minded people. Writing can be a lonely pursuit and it is difficult to go it alone. I would say to any writer, persistence is key. If you are jumping through the hoops and nothing is happening, just go out and do it yourself. Aim big, high, far and wide. You have nothing to lose.

Jillian: Never give up! When I first started writing an established screenwriter told me that it was virtually impossible to have a screenplay made when you’re an unknown writer, but we worked hard to create a solid script and heard that Katrin was looking for a low-budget feature so we took the plunge and sent it to her. She called us at 7am the next morning to say that she loved it. I think it’s key to know the right person to send the right script to. The other tip I would give to aspiring writers is to be flexible with your writing – fight for the things that you think are important to the story, but try to understand any notes that you receive and make them work if they have a point.

Congrats, Kevin and Jillian! We can’t wait to see the finished film.

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