Hi Film Folk!
The Film Doctor Team caught up with the multi-talented presenter/ stand up comedian /novelist/ screenwriter David Baddiel, after his success with The Infidel (2010) and publishing The Death of Eli Gold (2011), to talk writing, film career and inspirations.
You started with Stand-Up and Sketch Shows (“The Mary Whitehouse Experience”, “Newman and Baddiel In Pieces”). What differences have you experienced between writing for Stand-Up, Sketch shows and film narrative? What did you find was transferable?
The difference is primarily – kind of obviously – length. But length is deceptive. The real reason I gave up regularly doing stand-up – apart from performing being mentally exhausting – is that I found the writing of it very staccato. It began to feel like it was lacking, for me, an overall structure, even though I think the best stand-ups do give their shows this. For me, I found that I could find that structure only in story: and for that I had to go to films/novels. Having said that, I think, at least in comedy, that stand-up is an incredible useful discipline for a screenwriter, because it forces you into an economy of writing: onstage you want to get maximum laughs in the time available, and in a comic sequence in a film, this is a good motto. As a stand-up, even if I’m writing a film, I still want actually to hear laughs.
What is your writing process? E.g. scribbles on napkins, wall charts, index cards, post-its; organized or messy genius?
Scribbles often as above: but mainly I try to write from one central idea. I, as it were, improvise around that idea to begin with – just try and write without stopping – and then once it’s gone whereever it’s gone, I start structuring.
When and where do you write?
At my computer in my study. Every day. I do also have ideas when I’m out and about, and try to commit these to iPhone, but often fail.
Does your writing process vary from feature to feature?
It differs between novels and everything else. Novels are a more internal process. I try and write a certain amount of words per day with them. Films, TV etc, tends to involve more consultation with others, and I often co-write them.
How important are other people in the development and process of your work? And at what stages?
With movies and TV, very important. With novels less so.
For example, working with Josh Appignanesi (“The Infidel”)?
Josh is a very very talented director. Because his background is arthouse, our process was that I was on set every day, acting as a kind of comedy policeman, making sure it was funny. Which meant that every so often – sometimes more than every so often – we clashed. This wasn’t always pleasant but overall the creative tension I think worked for the movie. I also learnt an awful lot from him about film-making.
Which one of your film industry colleagues’ work provides a source of inspiration?
Woody Allen, up to and including Deconstructing Harry. Diablo Cody. Monty Python. Larry David.
What do you think it is that makes you a writer?
I’m fairly musical – I play piano and guitar etc – but as anyone who’s heard 3 Lions knows, cannot sing. So I think I’ve tried to transform that musicality into language and story.
Romeo & Brittney – a teen fantasy comedy of New Jersey High School student is sent back in time to 13th Century Verona – is your next project. What drew you to this story?
“Romeo And Brittney” is presently with Tom Jacobson, the producer of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, in the US. I wait news of it’s future…I was drawn to it (the idea is Arvind David’s – the lead producer of The Infidel) because I just thought it sounded both commercial and full of comic potential. Plus I think Romeo and Juliet has a particular resonance amongst Shakespeare’s plays, especially for young people. I think you can do a movie comedy based on Romeo and Juliet, and it will appeal to young people in a way that couldn’t do with, um, King Lear.
If you weren’t writing, what would you do?
I’d still be doing stand-up. Or I’d be an academic. Writing.