Kicking a catalyst for improvement into gear | Malcolm Galea

Prolific comedian, actor and playwright Malcolm Galea is set to break into screenwriting with 20,000 Reasons – a romantic comedy about a pair of sisters locked into a struggle for the family inheritance. He speaks to us about the process of devising the film and getting it into production

The team behind 20,000 Reasons, left to right: Jameson Cucciardi (director), Malcolm Debono (Director of Photography), Angeli MacFarlane (script coach), Malcolm Galea (writer) and Anthony Bezzina (producer)
The team behind 20,000 Reasons, left to right: Jameson Cucciardi (director), Malcolm Debono (Director of Photography), Angeli MacFarlane (script coach), Malcolm Galea (writer) and Anthony Bezzina (producer)

Could you tell us a little bit about the early stages of the project?

For quite a few years now, I've been meaning to write a love story between the two main Maltese social classes. I just thought it would be great fun and I wanted to write a story that highlighted the rather significant social divide that can be found in such a small place, and the soft spot that I have for both. I got the opportunity to start developing the story in the first Storyworks Course held in August, 2013.

Up until then, I had written several plays for theatre but no screenplays and I was really keen to learn the process. It was a fantastic experience and thanks to the encouragement of my mentor Mary Kate O’Flanagan, I was able to come up with the first draft.

During the course, I was randomly paired up with Jameson Cucciardi and in the months that followed, we stayed in touch and kept discussing the project. We agreed that this project would be an ideal first outing for us as film-makers since it had a potential to make an impression with audiences while not being particularly ambitious in terms of budget.

Early this year, the Malta Film Commission announced a film training and professional mentorship programme aimed at the development and production of a feature film under the Film London Microwave International Malta scheme and (with Jameson's jumping on my back), I submitted the script. To do so we needed a team of four so we got Anthony Bezzina on board as producer, and Malcolm Debono as director of photography.

I was the writer and Jameson was the director. We were then put through our paces thanks to a rather intense one-week course – during which just about every decision we took was questioned and reassessed. I found it incredibly gratifying to have my writing challenged in this way and after the course, I had six weeks in which to rewrite and resubmit the project for the possibility of funding.

There were five local films in all competing to be accepted for this unique training and mentorship programme opportunity and each one was made of some of the most talented local film-makers. We feel we owe it to them to really make the most out of this opportunity. We are aware that a quality project will encourage more funding to be made available for local film making.

Apart from the funding 20,000 Reasons is also receiving an invaluable amount of guidance from the local and London teams. I have already written another draft of the script and will write at least two more before filming is scheduled to start on the July 13. The film is expected to be released in local cinemas at around February 2016.

What about the deadline-intensive London Microwave Film Fund process? How you managed to organise yourself around its constraints and finish the film in time?

An early draft of the script was already completed before I had even heard about the Fund. Apart from my commissioned works, I also like to work on at least one project a year that nobody asked for so in 2014 I decided to work on the screenplay. The challenge was that after we had the initial intensive course with Film London, we had six weeks to resubmit the project. In order to take on the recommendations we had received for the script, I had to make significant changes – right down to treatment level.

Combined with my other projects, rehearsals, and the general demands of having two young children, six weeks were just about enough. The rest of the team also had their work cut out for them creating budgets, schedules, mood boards and the like but everyone handled the situation calmly and efficiently. Hopefully this bodes well for the challenges ahead.

How will the ‘social class’ aspect of the story come into it exactly, and were you inspired by any real-life examples in particular, when it came to this aspect of the story?

By opting for a romantic comedy, we’re hoping to create a story that would have a universal appeal – at least in Malta. Ever since I was a child growing up in Birżebbuġa and hearing about this mysterious group of people known as ‘tal-pepé’, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of social class on a local level.

Over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for both sides of the social spectrum as well as a curiosity for couples that are formed from either side. I could talk about this subject for hours but I’ll spare your readers the monologue by simply saying that with ‘20,000 Reasons’ we want to portray both sides accurately and humorously but without resorting to parody or stereotype.

What do you make of the output of most Maltese films, and do you hope that 20,000 Reasons may be a game-changer in this regard?

As a writer I mostly look at the quality of the writing and it still feels like we’re underestimating the importance of an effective script. I’m hoping that 20,000 Reasons will up the ante in this regard. Our team is well aware of the responsibility that came with the funding – and understand that a well-received product would encourage further initiatives and give opportunities for more local filmmakers to hone their craft. It needs to be a catalyst for improvement.

What is the next stage for the project?

The project is going through several stages in rapid succession and since the timing is generally quite tight, I suspect that this breakneck pace won’t slow down until the film premieres in early 2016. Right now I’m working through another draft of the script for the people at Film London and my editor Angeli MacFarlane to scrutinise.

Then I expect I’ll receive their notes and write yet another draft. At the same time, the rest of the core team is picking out our crew while the casting and location scouting is also an on-going process.

Since this is essentially a training programme aimed at helping to jump-start a local film industry, the majority of our crew will comprise of fellow Maltese filmmakers. Some may be more experienced than others but all are equally enthusiastic. Filming will start in mid-July and will go on for a month.

Film London Microwave International: Malta is an international iteration of the successful Film London Microwave production scheme. Malta Film Commission commissioned Film London to deliver the scheme in Malta.

This project has been made possible through funds awarded to ESF2.186 “Re-skilling of Workers for the local Film Industry”as part of the European Social Fund Cohesion Policy Operational Programme II 2007-2013, which aims to improve employment opportunities in the European Union and aid to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce.

20,000 Reasons has also been selected and awarded a €200,000 production budget to be turned into a feature film as a result of a partnership between the Malta Film Commission and Film London which has led to Microwave International Malta.

This project sees a total investment of €427,000 which aims to invest in training, skills and expert mentoring for emerging Maltese filmmakers and showcase Maltese filmmaking talent.

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