Writing ‘My Song’ – Diary of a Scriptwriter

This article was first published in the June 2011 issue of the Hearing Times.

On Monday 23rd May, My Song –  a 24 minute drama I’ve written, directed by William Mager – was broadcast on digital TV and online. Just a few weeks before, I opened a drawer at home and found an outline for the film dated 1st March – except it was dated 1st March 2010, instead of this year! Fair to say then, that the film’s been in the making for some time.

The first seeds of the story that became My Song were sown back in 2008. Through stories people told me, things I saw at Deaf events and even some of my own formative experiences, I’d started to ask the question: what’s life like if you don’t feel like you fit into the hearing world, yet you don’t fit into the Deaf (note the big D) world either? After all, there are so many variables that make each deaf person unique – perhaps explained by a line from the final script: “every deaf person is different. Their family, their school, their language.”

As time went on, I met more and more people who felt like they were in the middle in some way. I could even relate to that feeling myself, having grown up in a deaf family but attended a mainstream school. As deaf schools have closed, more and more deaf children are being educated in mainstream settings – putting the onus on them to seek out the Deaf world later in life. So how would they find their way into the community, and what attitudes might they encounter?

I started to think about ways of dramatising a story that could bring out the stories and issues (and, without giving anything away, one issue in particular that I had witnessed and felt strongly about) that a person who finds themselves between the two worlds might face.

The story that became My Song grew over time; daydreaming on long train journeys across London; in conversations with friends and family; during long nights in the pub with William Mager, who directed the film (our third collaboration after the comedies Hands Solo and The Fingerspellers). William was enthusiastic about the film from the start and contributed many of the ideas that went into the proposal and then the final script.

Nearly a year ago, we were awarded funding by the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust, setting up our own production company, C&B Films to produce it. My Song would focus on a teenage girl called Ellen, who has grown up in a hearing family but decides to learn sign language so she can seek out the deaf world.

I started writing the film while in Canada last summer with my partner and young daughter, and after another seven drafts (!) finished it just weeks before our second child was born in November. (By the way, if you think writing seven drafts is hard work, I advise you to try fatherhood!)

We auditioned ten actresses for the leading role, and felt encouraged when each one of them said that they felt they could relate to the story – many of them felt as though they were ‘in the middle’ too. William, the producer Dee Hellier and I chose Lara Steward, a very promising young actress who made an impression on us with a small part in last year’s BBC1 drama The Silence.

Filming took place during the coldest week of winter (although perhaps luckily for me, I was at home changing nappies in relative warmth!) and on the final day I had to rewrite a key scene and email it to the set while still in my pyjamas – all because one of the actors got stuck in the snow and couldn’t make it!

After months of editing, sound design, graphics, marketing and a thousand emails, the film was finally finished in March and now it’s available for anyone to see, online. I’m proud of the film, and the hard work that everyone involved – William in particular – put into it. We hope the film makes people think, and challenges attitudes, while being entertaining at the same time. Above all, we hope you enjoy My Song.

For more information about the funders of My Song, the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust, click here.

For more information about the director of My Song, William Mager, click here.

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