By Junsui Films | March 2012
Author and Screenwriter, Danny King, talks exclusively to Junsui Films about his acclaimed Diaries Series, his work on the BBC sitcom, Thieves Like Us and tells us all about his feature film debut, WILD BILL…
Junsui Films: Let’s begin with your writing background and your journey into screenwriting.
Danny King: I grew up on a diet of Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello and Saturday morning matinees, so movies were something I always wanted to get into. Unfortunately I didn’t know anyone in films and movies were something that happened a million miles away from where I was. I was too much of a daydreamer for school and dropped out at 16 with no qualifications, then cold hard reality set in and I spent seven years hod-carrying on building sites before getting my act together and doing an adult education course.
Afterwards I did a journalism course and ended up in the magazine industry, but I’d always written in my spare time – novels, stories, plays, anything I could think of really – and in 2001, I was lucky enough to have a novel published, The Burglar Diaries.
More novels followed and several of my books were optioned. I figured I’d have a go at adapting the screenplays myself and more or less learned as I was going along. Trial and error really. Very much the story of my life with many more errors than successes, but I’m getting there – slowly. By the time I’m 90 I might even have cracked it.
JF: Aside from novels, you have also written for TV and film. Tell us a little bit about your creative process and the main differences between the mediums.
I think novels give a writer greater freedom simply because there’s so much more you can do on the page than you can do on the screen. Whether your book is 250 pages or 2000 pages you can indulge yourself every now and then and go off on a flight of fancy to either shake up the story or show off the fact that you know big words and obscure poets.
But you can’t do this in screenplays because these pages generally come back from the producer with big red lines through them and ‘what the fuck’ comments. Screenplays generally have to be tighter, and in my experience, are scrutinized by more people because the writing is only one aspect of film, whereas it is everything in the novel.
JF: The Burglar Diaries served as the inspiration for the BBC sitcom Thieves Like Us. How did that come about and what were your experiences writing for TV?
The Head of BBC Comedy set her department a challenge, to go out and find a book that could be adapted into a sitcom. Two different people came back with The Burglar Diaries so they optioned the book and offered it to two seasoned television writers. Both declined on moral grounds stating they couldn’t, in good conscience, write a family show about a couple of reprehensible burglars. I, on the other hand, had no such objections and after begging the BBC for several weeks was commissioned to write the series.
However, when I came to write it I was asked to make it a pre-watershed show, which meant tonally it had to be very different from the book. I did the best job I could and learnt a lot from the process. And I went up every day and watched it being filmed too, which was interesting. The first few episodes did well when they were aired, but the ratings tailed off, so the BBC never commissioned a second series. It was a shame but a good experience. I just wish the BBC would make it available on iPlayer or DVD or something because it’s only gathering dust where it is. But if they can sit on The Goodies for 30 years without ever letting it see the light of day I don’t think my show’s got much chance of ever making it out of the archives.
JF: You make your feature film debut with Wild Bill, how did you come to be involved in the project?
Dexter Fletcher optioned my book, The Bank Robber Diaries, six or seven years ago. He had some crazy idea about directing his own movie and thought my book might make a good film. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get it off the ground but we stayed in touch when he optioned a vampire screenplay I’d written called Reign of Blood. We met a few times and worked on the screenplay a little and it was during one such meeting that he mentioned an idea about a guy getting out of prison to find his son left to fend for himself. The idea stuck with me and I traced out a few thoughts as to how that could translate into a story and Dexter liked it and we batted it backwards and forwards until we had an outline we were both keen on…
JF: How did you approach co-writing the script with [director] Dexter Fletcher?
In the early days we met up and discussed what elements we wanted in the story and what the feel of the piece should be. Then it was just a case of inventing the scenes and threading everything together. I wrote the first few drafts and Dexter wrote the latter drafts. Because the idea was for Dexter to direct, it worked that way because he could cut, tailor and add to what was already there to shape it into the film he’d envisioned, but there wasn’t a lot of sitting at the same desk tapping alternate keys because we could never agree on who got the nice chair.
JF: At its core, the film is essentially a story about a father who hasn’t grown up and a boy who has been forced to in his absence. What was it that attracted you to the idea and how challenging was it to execute on the page?
What attracted me to the idea was that it is also about expectations. Bill’s kids have certain expectations of him, the police do, his old pals do, Social Services do and even Bill does of himself, so he’s up against it as soon as he steps off the boat. I like stories where we’re told more about a man than we see. One of the biggest influences on me when it came to Wild Bill was the Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven. All through that film we hear what a bad-ass William Munny is, but we never actually see it, until finally his true character comes bubbling to the fore. Also, I wanted the film to be a reflection of fatherhood. There are a lot of surrogate fathers in the film if you look out for them, all vying to fulfil roles that Bill should be doing, and it’s Bill’s growing realisation of this that is at the heart of the story.
JF: The film also boasts a terrific cast, including Andy Serkis, Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng. How aware of the casting were you whilst writing the script and did this have any impact on the way you approached certain characters?
None whatsoever. I was long gone by the time the film was cast. I knew Jason would be in it because he’s a good friend of Dexter’s, and I wrote the part of Steph’s dad with him in mind, but this went to Marc Warren, so my instincts were well off the money there.
It can help some times if you know who you’re writing for, but in this instance my experiences were similar to those described by the great William Goldman in his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. I was first on the movie, first off and I jangled my change in the corner at the wrap party feeling like a bit of a sore thumb.
JF: How involved were you during production. Were you ever on set at all? Any last minute rewrites?
I live in Chichester and look after my kids throughout the week so I was only able to pop up on set on one occasion. I watched Will Poulter answer a phone four times and Sammy Williams throw a toy soldier through a serving hatch, then I got cold and asked if I could go home. Everyone agreed I could.
I did one last minute rewrite that never made the final film. Eddie Marsan did a day’s filming as a police officer in the final scene and I was asked to write a few additional lines for him. I did but when they came to film this scene, it was felt it didn’t quite fit what had come before so it was reshot with Jay Simpson stepping in for Eddie. I never saw the first scene but I can well believe I got a bit wordy and fanciful, as it’s not every day I’m asked to write lines for Eddie Marsan. Still, I would have got away with it if it had been a novel and not a film.
JF: What are your thoughts on the finished film?
I think it’s great. Dexter did a fantastic job and surpassed all my expectations. And if Wild Bill proves to be the only film I’m ever involved in, at least it was a good one.
JF: What next for Danny King?
I’m working on several screenplays with several producers but there’s nothing imminent I need to warn anyone about. In the mean time I’ve gone back to the novels and have released my back catalogue on Kindle. So, if you missed The Burglar Diaries first time around or want to check out my latest books, you can check out my website.