Hi Film Folk!
Screenwriter and lead actor, Brett Goldstein!
So Brett, you’re in (and co-wrote) the superb SuperBob as well as a whole host of TV shows (Undercover, Uncle, Hoff the Record, Derek) and a great stand up career. Tell us a little bit about how you began? What led you into TV/Film generally?
Well, I always wanted to act and I always wrote. I think I realised that being an actor you’re just waiting around and I liked working and I didn’t want to sit around waiting for the phone to ring.
A lot of actors complain about there not being any good scripts or whatever, so I thought ‘write your own then’. So I started writing plays and doing plays and I always secretly loved stand up and then one day I decided to just do stand up and not tell anyone. I got hooked on that and so stand up, acting and writing all fed in to each other.
It was probably 10 years of making stuff without anybody really seeing it. Eventually, eventually, eventually someone sees something and then you kind of get a break. My big break was Derek and that came about because of the SuperBob short, that Jon Drever made, and I think the casting director of Derek (I could be wrong about this) happened to see that short and Ricky Gervais was describing the sort of actor he wanted for Derek and the casting director said ‘Oh I’ve just seen this thing with this guy and I think he’d be good for it’ and then suddenly, completely out of nowhere, I get a phone call saying ‘would you like to come to Ricky Gervais‘ office tomorrow and I was like ‘bleuurgh’ and I was sick in my pants but then I was in Derek and then I guess you get taken a bit more seriously.
It’s the classic thing with anyone really, when you see someone do something you don’t see the 10 years of work that nobody saw that went before it.
Tell us what SuperBob is about..
So SuperBob is about a lonely man who lives in Peckham who is looking for love, who happens to be the world’s only super hero. The film is set on his day off and it’s his first date in 6 years (since he got his powers).
So this started as a short. Had you personally written feature specs before?
I had written features before. I still have the first one I wrote. I constantly had it developed and it’s been optioned several times. There are a lot of scripts in people’s drawers that remain unmade.
It being a superhero movie (albeit a very different one!) were there budget concerns embedded in the script development process?
Yes and no. I think you should write what you want and then worry about the budget stuff and if you can pull it off. I don’t think you should write saying ‘we can’t do anything’.
Obviously the idea of it being set on his day off means there are not going to be a huge amount of visual or special effects and that works out well for a low budget film but at the same time that genuinely wasn’t the order. The idea of it being his day off came before the chat about budget.
If we’d written a film that required more stuff then you’d just work harder to get more stuff. We keep saying as a joke that if you set it on his day off it’s easier to make, but it is a joke. It was a conscious choice story-wise, not budget-wise.
Having said all that, putting limits on yourself is always good, creatively speaking.
Always a stupid question with film (because often you don’t) but did you get any rehearsal time?
Yeah, we did! Not with everyone but we did some ‘Mike Leigh shit’ with Jon. We cast Natalia (Tena) very early on and me and Natalia and Jon would go away and do hot seating and Jon would tell me secretly what had happened to Bob that day and then tell Nat what had happened to Doris, and then we would just exist in the house together as Bob and Doris.
We did loads of it. They weren’t rehearsals in terms of scenes from the script but we did character work. And we did have a couple of days with Catherine (Tate) too. All that stuff was amazing to do.
Improv-wise, how did you do that? Did you have multiple cameras?
We had 2 cameras which was a very important thing and that was budgeted. It partly came from stuff I did before like Derek. If you have 2 cameras then it means that a whole take can survive. You can have the camera on both people and that moment can exist.
We filmed the script as is and filmed it as long as we could to get that right and once we’d done that we’d go again with a much looser ‘say-what-you-like’ take. Another thing that Jon did a lot of, which was good for performance, was improvising into the scene and improvising out of the scene.
I can’t speak for myself but I think that’s why everybody else’s performance is so amazing. That has a lot to do with Jon. Everybody seems very, very natural. There’s probably less improv in the finished film than you may think. If it looks like improv, it’s because everything felt so natural and free.
Are you an encyclopaedic-knowledge-of-comedy/film/TV type of guy or more instinctive?
I don’t know. I used to be. I’m pretty encyclopaedic and obsessive about film. It’s only in the last 2 years that I haven’t seen everything but I’ve still seen loads. I watch a lot less and that’s purely because I’m very lucky to be very busy.
What advice would you give to any writer or performer looking to make their start or to start getting work?
No one likes this advice but the advice is: you’ve just got to make your own stuff. You’ve got to make stuff and you’ve got to keep making stuff. There is no excuse not to. You know what you think you are good at. Don’t wait for someone to guess that about you. Just make it yourself. It’s not about money, it’s never about money.
At minimum you can get a room above a pub and read something out. You can do that for free. Or on the street!
Everybody has a phone which has filmmaking functions on it, so you can make stuff and put it on the internet. That probably won’t be your big break but one day it might be. You have to keep doing that until someone notices.
The people who work are the ones too stubborn to give up.
Do you have a list of favourite films or writing books you can recommend to filmmakers?
A film that I think is absolutely perfect on every single level is The Muppets Christmas Carol. Michael Caine should have won an Oscar. The script is amazing. The jokes are amazing. It makes you cry, it makes you laugh, it’s beautifully crafted. That’s a f***ing masterpiece.
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