An interview with William Smith

William Smith is the writer behind King of the Castle, the final film in this year’s BBC2 Made in Wales series. Made in Wales is supported by It’s My Shout, a film production company which works with the BBC to encourage talent in the film industry.

 William currently lives in Cardiff where he is looking for work and volunteering for Radio Cardiff. As part of this he produces and appears on the Monday morning breakfast show. He started writing scripts while studying for a degree in film and video at Newport University.

What happens in King of the Castle and where did the story come from?

The film is about two brothers who have recently lost their father. The younger brother is still at an age where he wants to play. But the older brother is trying to be cool and impress girls, he doesn’t want to be seen playing with his kid brother.

A lot of people asked if the story was autobiographical. I would say only to a small degree in that I am the younger of two brothers. I remember the shift from when me and my older brother would play together, to him growing out of it.

I don’t remember ever playing kings and knights as a child. But after filming had finished I was reminded of a family day out over ten years ago. I was visiting a castle in Scotland with two young cousins. One of them found a wooden sword and spent the day playing with it. Its original owner eventually spotted him and took it back, leaving my cousin in tears. I think some of the ideas for the original script must have come from that day without me fully realising it.

Can you tell me a bit about the setting and the actors?

I wrote the script with a castle close to where I grew up, Loughor Castle, in mind. The story is now set in Bridgend around Coity Castle. I’ve never visited it but it does look good on screen. The other main location is a disused nuclear bunker which is close to Coity Castle. The producer had  hoped to be able to shoot interiors at the bunker as well, but I think this proved too difficult. In the end the filming took place in a bank vault in Cardiff Bay.

In the submission process we were told scripts should heavily feature children, allowing young Welsh talent to be demonstrated. Casting was done by the director, Jon Rennie, but I was pleased with the choices. I was also glad to see the younger brother, Thomas Herbert, win best junior actor at the It’s My Shout awards.

What’s your favourite part of the film?

The middle of the film takes place in the family home and it’s probably my favourite sequence. I think it features the best performances from the actors and I think it’s where I see the most of myself in the dialogue and behaviour.

What sort of response have you had from people watching the film?

So far the only people who have seen the film are the people who attended the It’s My Shout 2011 screening in Porthcawl a month ago. I have a copy of the film but haven’t shown it to anyone yet. I’d consider it more special if people see it for the first time when it’s broadcast on TV. I’m looking forward to everyone being able to see the film and letting me know what they think of it.

What made you apply for the process?

I originally intended to apply last year after friends of mine had been members of crew on the 2009 batch of films. I wrote a story about plumbers but missed the deadline. A friend of mine wrote a script that was selected, which inspired me to enter again for this year’s scheme.

What was it like working with It’s My Shout and the BBC?

I had a few meetings with a BBC script editor who provided very helpful notes, both their own and from other people at the BBC who I never met. Writers were only allowed on set for a maximum of half a day during the 2-3 day shoots. I was only present for the scenes shot at the bank vault in Cardiff Bay, but it was great to see everyone working so hard on something I had written.

I enjoyed seeing my work on screen for the first time alongside the rest of the audience. With all of the student films I wrote I was also  involved in the filming and editing. I tend to find this leaves me unable to see the films just for what they are. I see where the cuts have been made: what’s been left out, what compromises were made during filming and events that happened during the filming. It was a pleasure to be able to hand over a script and then jump forward to seeing the finished version.

What have you learnt from the process?

The script changed substantially after two months of editing. The script which was accepted onto the scheme and the script which was filmed are completely different, apart from the names of the brothers and possibly three lines of dialogue. The story changed half way through the process at the request of others. The editing process for It’s My Shout allows the writer to receive notes and requests for changes. I think a revised version of the original script would still make a good short film, but I understand it was not the type of film which key people in the process wanted to make.

How important are programmes like Made in Wales to writers like you?

Programs like Made In Wales are very important. They give people an experience they might not otherwise get in their area. Each film is made in a different Welsh county. It gives people all over Wales a chance to get involved, on either side of the camera. It also gives writers a television broadcast credit, which is an excellent thing to be able to say.

I would advise all young and aspiring writers to submit their work next year. It’s a great chance to work with the BBC and meet some very helpful people. It’s My Shout have already announced the dates for next year’s script submissions. I’m glad to see it continue and hope it does so for years to come.

What have you got planned for the future?

The writers of this years scripts (myself included) have been invited to work with script editors at the BBC on longer scripts. I’ve just finished the first draft of a thirty page script for a drama pilot. It’s set in Swansea at the end of the last millennium. When the scripts are good enough we will be pointed in the right direction of people who might be able to help our careers. It’s all very exciting

King of the Castle will be showing on BBC2 on Dec 13. It can also be seen on  BBC iPlayer after this.

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