Doctoring The Script

The worlds of medicine and filmmaking rarely go hand in hand, but JOHN HODGE, writer of Scottish thriller Shallow Grave and a doctor by profession, now finds himself with a foot in each camp.

He takes Alan Morrison from the first draft pages to the eve of a major international release.

ust over two years ago. before the audience at the closing gala of the 1992 Edinburgh Film Festival settled down to watch Al Pacino launch into the four-letter frenzy of Glengarry Glen Ross. a ten-minute video short showed life at the other end of cinema’s ladder to success. In it. twentysomething brothers Andrew and Kevin MacDonald captured the reactions of industry figures visiting the capital’s filmfest to their pitch for a draft script called Shallow Grave. The result, which ended with a weak-at-the-knees transatlantic phone call to Sean Connery. was a bit of ajokey affair.

August 1994. and a full house of around 900 people laugh and clap their way through a 90- minute dark and funny thriller at another Film Festival gala. The name. in big red letters displacing Arnie and True Lies outside the MGM on Lothian Road: Shallow Grave. And. for once. the praise wasn’tjust restricted to what ‘a great achievement’ it was to make a feature in Scotland or that it had been carried off by a relatively young cast and crew. Audiences and critics alike savoured the plot’s twists and turns as much as any intelligently made. commercial movie hitting the big screen on a Friday night. Here was proof that it was indeed possible to make a film that was recognisably Scottish without blatantly tying it down with tartan ribbons in time. place or theme.

Shallow Grave. which stars Kerry Fox (An Angel At My Table, Friends), Ewan McGregor (Lipstick On Your C ollar; Scarlet And Black) and Christopher Eccleston (Let Him Have It, Cracker) was brought into being by a trio making their debut in the world of the feature film. Director Danny Boyle’s initial background had been in theatre with the Royal Court and the RSC. although his television work. especially the BBC serial Mr Wroe’s Virgins. had recently made him a hot property. Producer Andrew MacDonald had taken a series of lowly jobs in productions ranging from Revolution to Venus Peter to Taggart. and had the inspirational figure

12 The List l6 December ‘994—I2 January 1995

of his grandfather. screenwriter and producer Emeric Pressburger. to look up to.

The third member of the team was the one with the least film experience. John Hodge was born in Glasgow and had come to Edinburgh to study medicine between 1982 and 1987. After a spell in various Scottish hospitals. he concentrated on working as a locum and moved to London in 1993. ‘When I was a student in Edinburgh. 1 shared a flat in Jeffrey Street with a couple of others.’ he remembers. ‘lt was a fairly typical flat-share situation: we were all friends. but there was the occasional fall-out. I’d always had in my mind that one day I’d like to write a film script and so. about 1991. I thought. why


Detectlve Inspector McCall (Ken Scott) and Detective Constable Mitchell (John Hodge)

don’t I write a story with this as the background? In any town. anywhere in the world, there are probably three people sharing a flat. but I realised this wasn’t particularly interesting to a cinema audience looking for weekend entertainment. I knew it had to have a harder story than just their tensions over how to share the phone bill.’

Here is proof that it’s possible to make a film that is recognisany Scottish without blatantly tying it down with tartan ribbons in time, place or theme.

The initial draft contained most of the elements that have made it to the screen in the finished version. Juliet. David and Alex are three young professionals a doctor. an accountant and a journalist sharing a fashionable flat in Edinburgh, who decide to rent out their spare room. after a rigorous series of interviews. to the enigmatic Hugo (Keith Allen). A few days later. they’ve got a corpse for a llatmate after what looks like a drug overdose; but there is the added complication that. under Hugo’s bed, is a suitcase stuffed full of money. Here is the chance to break away from the jobs they’ve begun to grow weary of. All it takes is a couple of shovels. a hammer. a saw. and Hugo’s body can be dumped in a shallow grave in a nearby forest. But as the police close in from one side. and two thugs after the cash appear on the other. psychological pressures begin to take their toll.

Hodge met up with his producer-to-be at the 1991 Edinburgh Film Festival after a screening of MacDonald’s short. Dr Reizer’s Fragment. on which Hodge’s sister Grace was sound editor. Over a series of months. the pair thrashed out the rest of the story. drafting and re-drafting until it was in a shape to win development money from Scottish Film Production Fund. In November 1992. they came to the eye of David Aukin. Channel 4’s Head of Drama. at the Scottish Film Council‘s ‘Movie Makars’ event in lnverness. Further meetings with Aukin