'Hollywoodn't combines theatre and film to tell the story of two hopeless friends struggling to make ends meet running a cinema in the middle of nowhere. Set entirely within the auditorium of the crumbling Hollywoodn't cinema, James and Daniel are running out of reasons to look each other in the eye, and the shiny new Cineplex opening nearby is breathing heavily down their necks. Can they put their differences aside to turn Hollywoodn't into the success that they may or may not deserve? Hollywoodn't is a fresh new comedy about failure, friendship, and a silverish screen.' - 2010.
Steve Jordan's account of Hollywoodn't, the ManMoth debut comedy that never was.
Hollywoodn’t began its life as mine and Patrick Baker’s second sitcom project. Having worked on an A Hero's Journey sitcom pilot for a year and been rejected by every television production company under the sun, we decided we would act on what little feedback those rejection letters gave us and write something a bit more ‘obviously funny’. Not in a safe, indifferent, meek, weekday evening BBC2 kind of way, but in an out there, in your face, arrestingly funny, Graham Linehan kind of way. The AHJ pilot was a bit subtle in its humour, conceptually awkward and full of rather complex characters (something we worked to solve in the 2011 version). Hollywoodn't was a response to the more constructive feedback comments, and an attempt to write something simpler, funnier, more commercial and inescapably laugh-out-loud. Did it work? No idea.
The sitcom script fell at many of the first hurdles when writing began in very early 2007. Despite having a very good idea of what Daniel and James were all about and an arc for a series mapped, we only got as far as a few scenes in. I can’t remember why this was, I think at the time our priorities were elsewhere post-university and it sort of stopped the project dead for a while. That was until the summer of 2009 when we decided it was time to breathe new life into it. We had a few meetings to discuss where we might actually take our writing next and give ourselves a real chance of getting noticed rather than ignored in the vortex of script rejection in the television world. We considered re-writing Hollywoodn't for radio, but the idea of staging a play version seemed to make a lot more sense at the time. It would give us both the gratification of knowing that the destiny of the product would be in our hands, and we could be involved in every aspect of bringing it into being. For two essentially first-time writers, these were big bonuses.
Later that year, we got to work. We went on a sort of writer’s retreat to the middle of nowhere (Dorset), a picturesque holiday setting full of trees and youths, bad comedians and arcades, and set about constructing the play from our meagre few sitcom scenes and a mass of ideas. "The entire play relies on the two leads characters, their likes and dislikes, personalities, and resulting film tastes," I blogged back in September 2009. "An
original odd couple, simply because the focus was shifted to contrasting film tastes … The lines came naturally and we worked together through the entire first 30 minutes of material, mainly because we knew a lot about the first act, (the arc of which) was originally going to be the entire play, until we realised it wouldn't stretch to the time period we needed to reach. So we'd both sit in front of the same laptop and churn out the lines one by one, often worrying ourselves over the slightest piece of phrasing."
The arc of an entire series was pushed down into one hour onstage, making for some pretty heavy-going logic sessions to try and have it all make sense in such a tight amount time. But I think we did admirably well. Apart from the ending. We don't do endings. However, we had enough confidence in the script to immediately create a website, and even a company. At the end of that writer’s retreat break, ManMoth Productions came into being and the first draft of the script was very nearly finished.
Then we cast the thing, ten months early. That’s right, ten months from when we planned to stage the production. Why did we do that? I think we were excited and impatient. The other contributing factor was that we were kind of going blind into this playwriting lark, so wanted a lot of time with a potential cast. We held auditions at our ongoing base of operations in Trent Park, had a great time, and even cast a couple of even greater performers - best buddies Jack Brackstone-Brown and Blake Harrison, of Inbetweeners fame (the tall one). They showed initiative by asking to do the audition together, and their friendship meant they had instant chemistry. The audition was fantastic. They improvised lines. They used the props provided. They went for it and it was a riot. It was another reasons to get even more excited.
Within weeks, we had all gone out together and bought costumes for the characters and had some promotional posters made. We had a few read-throughs and casual rehearsals. We shared ideas and the script improved. Blake’s involvement in the biggest British sitcom of the last five years was a reason for us all to be terribly optimistic about our chances of filling a theatre that year, perhaps even (gasp) making some cash. Our hopes were high. Unfortunately, our biggest boon became the production’s undoing.
Part 2 soon dross fans, featuring the trials of mixed-media and the fame game.