An honourable mention for Departure Lounge!

Today I’m pretty chuffed because my half hour drama Departure Lounge has been awarded an honourable mention at Picture This International Film Festival in Calgary, Canada. Director Louis Neethling is flying out for their 2012 festival which is great news.

The film was written and shot in the summer of 2009, after being funded by the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust. It was shown on the Community Channel in the UK, and on RTE One in Ireland, going on to win best film at Deaffest 2010.

But the real birth of the film was a full three years before it was made, in the summer of 2006.

I’d joined Deafinitely Theatre’s new writers group and as well as writing a short play called Ladies Night, (which eventually became Lipstick and Lollipops) I also wrote a short play called Departure Lounge, which was mostly very different from the final film but similar in one main respect.

The image that sparked the story (and remains in the film) was of two deaf men on a rooftop, looking over a city, talking about their lives. Over time, the idea developed (in the initial play at least) so that they became hospital patients who had found a secret key for the roof.

The original play saw the two men talking to one another through different seasons, their conversations changing over four scenes, as the weather changed through spring, summer, autumn and winter. I had the idea that snowflakes could fall in the final scene, with what would have likely been a very sad ending (!)

In the end, I had to choose between Ladies Night and Departure Lounge for our showcase, and preferring something light and comedic, I went with the former, just.

Three years later, I was approached by director Louis Neethling and producer David Horbury, who were looking for half hour film ideas. I presented them with a few different concepts, one of which was a new synopsis for Departure Lounge, that fleshed it out into a longer story, with changes to the key characters. (For one thing, we’d see more than just that hospital rooftop.) Luckily it got funded, and the rest is history.

I was very pleased with the final film, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it was great to collaborate with Louis again, after working together on my first short film script, Coming Out. Before making Departure Lounge, Louis directed a fantastic deaf soap for the BBC, called Switch, and has since gone on to make several more excellent half hour dramas. There is another link between the two films in actress Debbie Norman, who plays the mother in Coming Out, and is the nurse in Departure Lounge.

Second, it was a real pleasure to see the deaf cast take on their roles. David Sands is a good friend of mine and I wrote the part with him in mind. He was joined by Hal Draper and Patsy Palmer, both experienced and well-respected actors, and Abigail Gorman, who makes her debut in this film – not that you’d guess from her performance.

Finally, my daughter Martha plays the baby in the film. She was six months old when I was writing the script, often through extreme temperatures during the heatwave in the summer of 2009. I’d break off from the latest draft of the film to pick her up, change her nappy or help feed her, which gave me a welcome (if sometimes smelly!) break from trying to get the script right!

She’s changed so much since the film was made that watching the film now (even though it’s only two years later!) is a bit like looking through a family album. We were on set on the day they filmed her short scenes, and she manages to put in a decent (if brief) performance, even if I would say that as a proud dad!

Anyway, one thing I’m learning about making films is they have a long life, and two years on from its first screening, it’s a real pleasure to know that the film’s still travelling around the world, still getting seen and being honoured, rewarding the hard work that Louis, David, Alison Neethling and the rest of the cast and crew put into it.

The film can still be seen online at this link: http://www.bslbt.co.uk/programmes/departure-lounge/ So if you haven’t seen it yet – I hope you enjoy it.

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