The Grim Reaping of Harvey Grieves – from Brunel coursework to a short film

by Alice Lassey

The initial idea for what became The Grim Reaping of Harvey Grieves arrived in 2015. It was the start of my first screenwriting module at Brunel, and I had to come up with an original idea for a ten-page short screenplay. Our tutor, Max Kinnings, had been very fair, giving us a week to produce just a title and logline to share with the class. Being completely unable to think of a dramatic idea I could do justice to in only ten pages, I decided on a comedy about an old man running away from the Grim Reaper. Quirky, right? Original? Fun? I certainly hoped my peers would think so because the only thing rivalling my fear of sharing my work is the eternal need for validation.

Though the insistence on having us share severely unpolished ideas with the class took me some time to recover from, that second year screenwriting module was one of the most enjoyable and – perhaps more importantly – most useful of the course, and for one reason in particular. Far more than any other, this module stressed the importance of developing an idea and editing your story before even starting the first draft, ensuring that major issues are resolved before they become deeply embedded in a full-fledged script. It’s something that has helped me a lot in my writing post-graduation, and something I wish I had kept in mind while writing my major project in third year – but the less said about that, the better.

So, I wrote the script, I wrote an essay about the script (why, Brunel?), I handed it in and… I got a B+. Not bad. I guess it was actually kinda funny. After that, the script just sat in a drawer (well, on a USB, this is the 21st century) for a few years, I graduated, didn’t write a thing for a shamefully looooong time, until…

2018. I’m back home with my parents in the North, I have no job, no social life, and no local production company wants to exploit my unpaid labour in exchange for ‘experience’ (believe me, I tried hard to persuade them). In my attempts to find creative opportunities that may help me scrounge something resembling a career, I sign up to a script surgery being run as part of the Independent Directions (INDIs) festival in Leeds. The only problem is since I have barely written a thing since graduating, I have no new scripts to submit, only that old thing gathering virtual dust in the digital drawer. My assigned reader was writer and actor Gaynor Faye, and her feedback (along with the fresh eyes that come after not looking at something for years) gave me a new perspective on the script and a new desire to work on it.

So I did. And then… back in the drawer. It didn’t come out again until this year when I submitted it for feedback at the recently-formed Northern Screenwriters Table, an online writer’s group that meets bi-weekly to feedback on members’ scripts. The response was very positive, and even before the meeting went ahead, I received an enquiry from one member asking if I had spoken to a director or producer about having it made.

Up until this point, I had always considered production for this script to be a non-starter. All the advice on making short films says to keep it simple, with one location and a limited cast. They don’t say ‘how about a chase across town involving a hospital, a bus, and an ambulance?’ I had no experience in making short films, and this script seemed too complicated, too expensive to make. This changed when Simon came on board because now the project had a producer with experience compiling budgets and who knew how to go about sourcing the necessary funding. Of course, the process of making the film cannot go ahead until that funding is secured, and at this stage, nothing is certain. We have applied (and continue to apply) to a number of industry sources, and are asking individuals to invest in the project through Kickstarter, where we are offering a selection of perks (such as exclusive merchandise and behind-the-scenes access) to backers.

The journey from that class in 2015 to here has been a long one, and with any luck, it will end up longer still, seeing the project through production, post-production, and the festival circuit. Most of it until this point though, has been spent with the script sitting untouched on my computer, so I suppose the moral of the story is (and this is something I am still reluctant to learn myself) – your work goes nowhere if you never show it to anyone. And if you do… perhaps you’ll find someone as passionate about it as you are.

If you’d like to find out more about The Grim Reaping of Harvey Grieves, or perhaps even invest (and getting your hands on some exclusive perks), the Kickstarter page can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/simonbg/the-grim-reaping-of-harvey-grieves

Tomorrow’s launch of the Kickstarter campaign will be accompanied by a livestreamed launch event on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7klydtYaQI&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3zBWr8HX0t3Nki28KjYaAHD9JmvrltavwM3sdlOo1vYPlOY_Wg9AYB4xk) and Facebook Live.

You can follow the project on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) at @harveygrieves.

Alice Lassey graduated in 2017 with a first-class honours degree in Theatre and Creative Writing. An aspiring filmmaker, she currently writes on film at her blog Extended Cut (www.extendedcut.co.uk) alongside developing script and prose fiction projects. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @alicelassey.

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