Hello! How lovely to see you. Have you lost a bit of weight?
We recently showed the pilot of our TV sketch show Splendid to a select audience. The evening represented a real milestone after the best part of a year's work.
It all happened in London's Soho, on July 10. Yep, Soho. Yep, July 10. Yep, the day of the fire. Here's how it all went. Cue potentially jarring switch into the present tense... hold on tight...
3pm: Reports start filtering in about a Dean Steet blaze. Twitter immediately proves its power by feeding me minute-by-minute, second-by-second accounts of what's going on - even if some of it's ill-informed or tasteless (given that we don't yet know whether anyone's been hurt). Splendid supremo Dan Turner seems admirably unconcerned, given that our Splendid screening at Wardour Street's Moving Picture Company is merely a stroll away from the apparent inferno. I spend the next hour forwarding him links to pictures like the one to the right, determined to frighten the Christ out of him. Eventually, he concedes, "Oh fuck, that's massive. But will hopefully clear in a couple of hours." It will indeed. But right now, stories circulate of businesses being evacuated, parts of Soho shut off, blackened people diving screaming into sewers to avoid the ravaging plumes of flame...
5pm: Dan, production manager Johnny 'Caution' Harrison and I meet in Soho, to prepare for the screening. By this point, the fire looks more like this:
As you can see, Soho's drinkers are terrified. They can barely hold their foaming ales steady, as the plucky fireman on a cherry-picker sprays high-powered water into a nearby building. Only one end of Dean Street's been shut off, and Soho is going about its business as usual. Between now and our 8pm door-opening time, however, we all receive understandably concerned messages from guests: 'Have you all been burnt to ash?', 'Has Soho been destroyed?' and so on.
5.30pm: Dan, Caution and I sensibly remember to eat, before dropping the Splendid pilot off at MPC, having a mini test screening, then heading along the road to buy a load of booze for our guests. MPC is a nice venue - you might remember from the picture above that Dan and I held the screening for our short film Look At Me here. For that screening, we went all-out and invited Everyone In The Known World, attracting about 140-odd guests and forcing us to screen the film twice in MPC's 74-capacity room. This time, though, the screening needed to fulfil two roles: to show our amazing cast 'n' crew the joys of what they'd achieved, and to introduce Splendid to a load of completely unconnected, oblivious folk, in order to get their feedback and spread ground-level buzz. Seventy-odd guests would cover all of this nicely, and we could have just the one cosy, unified screening.
6.45pm: Dan and I meet up with Richard Glover in a nearby pub. A wonderful man, Richard co-created the show with Dan. Weirdly, none of us are nervous, although we have the vague feeling that we should be. Regardless, a pint of organic lager will soon shave off any nascent nerves.
7.30pm: Another Splendid cast member turns up: the truly remarkable Stephen Evans. Having been unable to attend any of the filming, I'm meeting him for the first time. What an honour. He's a Doctor Who fan, too. Hooray. Then another of our fine actors, Eric Lampaert arrives with friends. Double hooray with fries. We spare many a thought, throughout the evening for our fellow writer Piers Beckley, who is foolishly in Spain running with bulls.
7.50pm: Realising that our screening opens its doors quite shortly, we hurriedly down drinking-tools and ramble back over to MPC. Nerves are beginning to kick in now, as I remember that a comedy screening differs from a drama screening in many key respects. Perhaps most importantly, an audience's appreciation of a comedy screening is far more instantly quantifiable - they laugh, or they don't. Sure, some people appreciate comedy without laughing out loud, but let's be honest: you want the laughs.
8pm: A fair number of guests are already here, including Splendid writer Sarah Morgan and our remaining cast, Hayley Jayne Standing and Andrea Donovan! There's also a fine representation of the blogosphere. Look at these three madmen for starters: William Gallagher, Stuart Perry (New Hair Exclusive: You Saw It Here First) and Phill Barron! Just out of shot: Michelle Lipton and the lovely Vicky!
The next hour is all about being delighted to see people (I am), trying not to spill wine over myself (I do) and trying not to act like a cock (I inevitably do, as this is my default setting).
Time for a few rapid-fire pics of this 8pm-9pm shindig. Here are three Splendid men: Glover, Lampaert and Evans...
And three splendid people of assorted genders: storyboard-art guru Rachel Garlick, writer/blogger Helen Smith and writer/blogger David Lemon.
Me, clearly discussing Very Serious Things with Eric, then Stephen (to my right in that picture is Mr Rich Swingle, our genius DOP, who helped make Splendid look so bloody lovely, along with remarkable production designer Jamie Bishop).
9pm: Screening time! People start filtering into the plushly-seated room, and nerves give way to (a) red wine; and (b) excitement. We've been working on Splendid for quite some a while, and now people are going to see it for the very first time! Dan and Richard Glover admirably stride onstage to give the audience a little back-story on the project, while making them laugh and warming them up a tad. In a nutshell, they tell people how we wanted to create something different. And silly.
9.10pm: The screening begins. Inevitably, you wait for that first laugh. And oh, how you want it. If, at this point, a demon popped up and asked if you'd like to trade one of your little fingers for that first laugh, you might give the offer a few seconds of thought. Thankfully - especially as my sketch, Explorers, is the opener - the first laugh doesn't take long to arrive. After that, the sketches steam by in a glorious flurry (few of them are both two minutes in length) eliciting much laughter and smiley faces. You can tell that people are enjoying Splendid, and this feels key. Sure, people inevitably don't always laugh when you expect them to, and laugh at somewhat unexpected things, but there's definitely a very good feeling in the room. Despite often being dark and twisted-as-all-hell, Splendid exudes an upbeat warmth which hopefully can't fail to bleed from the screen.
It's only when watching Splendid with others, that it strikes you how very mental it is. In a good way, naturellement. Perhaps the most surreal moment comes while watching another sketch of mine, Pilots. It's truly bizarre to sit in a screening room full of people, watching what these two pilots (superbly acted by Glover and Evans) end up doing. I'm loving the experience, and feeling so very proud of Dan, cast and crew. Really wish Piers was here, though, to see how well his marvellously preposterous Weapon Shop sketch goes down.
9.30pm: Twenty-five minutes later, the pilot ends, to rapturous applause. We all file back out into what you might well call The Drinking Area. Dan has wisely created a pile of feedback forms, which every attendee dutifully, and anonymously, fills out. It asks for things like people's favourite sketch, their least favourite... what kind of comedy they normally enjoy... Stuff like that. While it's brilliant when so many people congratulate us on a funny and great-looking show, you know for sure that they're going to be 100% honest on an anonymous feedback form. Joyously, these forms turn out to be just as enthusiastic as people's reactions were in person. They will definitely help inform us how to hone our pilot and make it even stronger. Obviously, you have be just a little bullish with comedy, and sticking to your guns, but there's harm in being aware of consensus.
From here on, events become understandably blurry. I remember people smiling a lot, being congratulatory, and generally relieved that Splendid didn't turn out to be a bunch of bell-ends in someone's living room with a camcorder. There is talk of quality and professionalism and channels which Splendid would suit.
Midnight (maybe): Post-MPC, a group of Splendid types and friends wander the streets of Soho for a while, before settling on Brewer Street's lovely Enclave bar. Stephen Evans is delighted to learn that they have cocktails with Doctor Who themed names, although Paradise Towers and Green Death are the only ones I can remember right now. Clearly hyper-conscious that this is a gay-oriented establishment, Richard and Stephen butch it the hell up:
As do Richard and I.
Mmmm, I tell you, you haven't lived until you've experienced the Glover Love. No Glove, no love, that's my new and hastily-assembled motto. Yes.
3am: Things get blurrier still. I'm sitting on a pavement outside the Cro-Bar with Helen Smith, foolishly smoking Cafe Creme cigars and mixing drinks with the kind of fury which I will so regret tomorrow.
The pain will be worth it, though. Tonight was completely and utterly Splendid.
Phill Barron's account of the Splendid screening, including the words "It’s very, very funny and should be picked up for broadcast immediately".
Helen Smith's account of the Splendid screening, including the words "made to broadcast standard".
Dan Turner's account of the Splendid screening, including the words "Those two boys really do see the benefit of mind-stretching word games".
John 'Caution' Harrison's account of the Splendid screening, including the words "as I walked out at the end I know I had a silly beam on my face".
My March 2009 post about the cast, and Splendid in general.
My December 2008 post about the writing process.
Splendid's Facebook group. Join us!