Interview with 2019 Shore Scripts Short Film Fund Winner James Gould-Bourn

James Gould-Bourn, winner of the 2019 Shore Scripts Short Film Fund Competition, is originally from Manchester, England, but now lives with his wife in Malaysia after four years of living in Lithuania. His debut novel, Bear Necessity, will be published in U.S. on August 4, 2020. James Gould Bourn

MovieBytes: You're both a novelist and a screenwriter. What informs your decision to execute an idea in one format or the other?

James Gould-Bourn: Some stories are just more visual than others I think. I have an idea for a story all about an invisible friend for example. It just wouldn't work as a novel because a lot of the comedy comes from the visual aspect of seeing somebody talking to somebody who isn't there.

I actually wrote my debut novel, Bear Necessity as a screenplay first. I'd written two novels back to back and both had failed to land me an agent. I was exhausted with the novel-writing process and so I started to work on a screenplay, something I find a lot more enjoyable because I can dip in and out of it whereas writing a novel is just this grueling, relentless, life-consuming process, like climbing a mountain in a constant blizzard. Once I'd finished writing the screenplay I realized I still had a ton of ideas left over, ideas I couldn't incorporate into the movie without the runtime going into Das Boot territory, so I started to write a novel. I ended up with the best of both worlds because a UK production company (Lime Pictures) now intends to turn the novel into a television series, which is very exciting.

MovieBytes: Tell us about your screenplay, A Young Man's Game. Where did you get the idea? Why did you decide to write this idea as a short screenplay as opposed to short story, novel, or feature length screenplay?

I've always enjoyed dialogue-driven films with single or limited locations. I wanted to write my own but I didn't know where to set it. After watching Two Cars, One Night (Taika Waititi's Oscar-nominated short), it got me thinking about what kind of story I could tell with a similar set-up (kid, car, plenty of dialogue). That idea eventually became A Young Man's Game. It could absolutely be a short story or the beginning of a novel. I just wrote it as a film because, well, I'm an insufferable film nerd and I really wanted to see how it played out on the screen!

MovieBytes: Your script wound up winning the 2019 Shore Scripts Short Film Fund Competition. What drew you to this contest? Have you entered any other screenwriting competitions?

JGB: There are so many script competitions out there but very few of them give you the opportunity to actually make your short. Many writers/directors have brilliant ideas but they don't have the funding to really bring those ideas to life. I love how Shore doesn't just want to see your script. They want to see your script in action, and they're keen to help you to achieve that. That's what makes this competition special.

"There are so many script competitions out there but very few of them give you the opportunity to actually make your short."

I actually entered A Young Man's Game into the Shore Scripts Film Fund Competition twice, once in 2018, and again in 2019. The script was a Finalist in the 2018 competition, which was amazing because I'd never placed so highly in such a good competition and I knew I was up against a lot of other brilliant talent. Then Ben Tricklebank, who's a part of the Shore Director's Roster, approached me in early 2019 because Shore had shared the script with him and he loved it.

Directors on the Roster don't judge the contest but receive details of the Finalists' scripts once the contest is over. Ben and I got along like a house on fire (I'm from Manchester and Ben lived there for 10 years so we instantly had a lot in common!) and we decided to enter the script again. We'd developed the script over the year, but we never expected to win as there are so many great entries, so we were understandably over the moon when Shore told us the great news.

I've entered various screenwriting competitions over the years. The screenplay I wrote for Bear Necessity was a quarter-finalist in both the Page Awards and the Screencraft Screenplay Contest, and A Young Man's Game was a quarter-finalist in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

MovieBytes: The Short Film Fund competition offers the opportunity to have your script produced. How was that experience? Have you had other scripts produced?

JGB: I can't really answer this question, unfortunately, because we haven't actually produced A Young Man's Game yet. Filming was scheduled for mid-March and we were literally 48 hours from the start of the shoot when we had to pull the plug because of the pandemic. The director (Ben Tricklebank) had done so much hard work and gone to such incredible lengths to make sure that everything was good to go, but the COVID situation was deteriorating rapidly and we couldn't go ahead with the shoot without potentially putting people's health/lives at risk. It's obviously very frustrating – we were so close! – but it was absolutely the right decision, and I'm looking forward to getting the project back on track just as soon as it's safe to do so.

Aside from A Young Man's Game, I co-wrote a Lithuanian short titled Sniper (directed by Justas Ramanauskas) which was screened last year in Vilnius as well as in Barcelona (Filmets Badalona Film Festival) and Germany (Braunschweig International Film Festival). The project was funded by the Lithuanian Film center, who are also funding another short we wrote together, titled Daddy, which is currently in post-production.

MovieBytes: Did you participate in those productions? In what way did the finished film differ from the film you envisioned while writing the script?

JGB: The experience of filming Sniper was fascinating. The script was written in English but then had to be translated into Lithuanian (because it was a Lithuanian production) so you're watching the actors at work and you're trying to follow along but you're never quite sure if what they're saying and doing correlates to what you've written. Fortunately, the script was co-written with the director, who's Lithuanian and who assured me that everything was being done according to the script, but still, it was an interesting experience to work on a foreign-language film as your first project!

MovieBytes: Have you learned anything about screenwriting that couldn't have learned without seeing your script produced?

JGB: I've learned that no matter how great you think something is on paper, you need to be prepared to be flexible. Say you've written this really tight piece of dialogue between a couple of characters. They're your characters, they only exist in your head, so they've got the exact personalities you've given them. But then you cast those roles and those characters are suddenly real people with their own quirks and mannerisms and subtle idiosyncrasies, all of which could play into their performance in ways you never could have imagined. They might have a particular way of saying or doing things which then makes you want to rewrite certain parts in order to complement and make the most of these attributes. Long story short, I learned that film-making is very much a collaborative process and you really need to embrace that.

MovieBytes: What was it like to see your film with an audience?

JGB: I wasn't able to attend the screenings for Sniper in Berlin or Barcelona but I was able to attend the premiere in Lithuania and that was a fantastic experience. There's nothing quite like seeing something you've written on the big screen, although it's also a little nerve-wracking because you're waiting to see if people laugh in the right places! I can't wait to see how A Young Man's Game will look because Ben (the director) has a fantastic eye and I know he's got some great ideas for the shoot.

MovieBytes: Where to from here? Has the coronavirus crisis affected your outlook or process as a writer?

JGB: Where to from here? Good question! I think everybody is asking that at the moment, regardless of profession. I wouldn't say that the virus has affected my outlook but it has affected my process insomuch that it's been very difficult to focus. It wouldn't be so bad if I was writing a virus/pandemic thriller or something. I could definitely get in the mind-frame for that and there's certainly a wealth of inspiration to draw from! But the projects I'm currently working on – my second novel and a feature screenplay – both require a fair amount of uplifting comedy and it's sometimes difficult to be funny in the midst of a global health crisis! Still, it's given me – and probably every other writer in the world! – a lot of inspiration, not just in relation to virus-type stories (I'm already dreading the inevitable tsunami of pandemic/lockdown movies/books/series that we're going to get inundated with once all of this is over) but also ways in which I can approach old or existing projects from an angle I never considered before the outbreak. Before the outbreak! I can't believe I'm writing that. These are very strange times indeed.

(Posted: 06/02/2020)