London Screenwriters' Festival

LSF Success Stories, Pt 3. Penny Dreadful: Evolution of a Project by Elinor Perry-Smith

Posted on: October 17th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

If I’ve learnt anything about this scriptwriting lark, it’s through the evolution of Penny Dreadful, a script I started to develop under the auspices of a scheme at London Metropolitan University. It started life as a realisation, on my part, of how fed up I was with the passive portrayal of women who are murder victims in Ripper stories.

So I decided to write a story about a woman who assumes the cloak of Jack the Ripper in order to wreak revenge. It was through London Met Uni that I met Lucy. In fact I chanted for Lucy in Buddhist fashion so that my script was assigned to her, having seen from her old blog that she was into horror. Then, ‘Penny Dreadful’ was called ‘Sever’ and it was a right old mish-mash structurally and included the sacking of Benin, a crippled aristo and more voodoo altars than you could shake a virgin’s thighbone at.

Lucy helped me sort it out into a half-decent piece of work (I think her exact words were: ‘There’s a really good idea in here, I just wish I knew what it was’) and subsequently, myself and some of the other participants presented it and other scripts at the EIFF. I’ve picked it up and rewritten it at least twice a year ever since. If you go to my blog you can see a short trailer for the script by MyVisualPitch. I also honed my synopsis, treatment and pitch doc skills on this story, which are just as important as the script, I now realise.

Only now, after 4 years is it anything like I hoped it would be. I tried out different versions of the first ten pages at Off the Page at the LSWF 2010 (read a review, here). I must say it was a revelation to me to see my words come to life with the skilled direction of Michael Clarkson and the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. Matthieu Gras created some excellent storyboards that suited the story well and Nick Norton-Smith composed some suitably atmospheric music. I honestly couldn’t fault it.

I made some revisions to the first ten pages and entered them at Bafta 2011 with the Rocliffe New Writers’ Forum where ‘Penny Dreadful’ was trashed by the esteemed Julian Fellowes! He didn’t seem to like it at all, particularly the aristos being spanked by East End whores, though perhaps I touched a nerve there?

I’ve met a lot of good people over the years writing Penny Dreadful  and can’t recommend a live reading highly enough in terms of seeing how actors bring your words to life and how audiences react.

My latest plan is to turn Penny into a graphic novel. Another new skill for me! Bring it on…

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