Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

Words will get written here and some videoblogs will appear. You don't have to look but it would be nice if you did.

Firehouse Films – The Result! July 6, 2013

Here’s the resulting film from the Firehouse Film Creative inaugural film challenge I was invited to do. Six writers, six directors, one room. We’re all paired off after being picked at random from a hat and we’re all played the same stimulus. It’s a recording of a woman talking about how she remembers her grandmother being the life and soul of the party, a real chatterbox. But as age takes over she slowly begins to talk less and less, a former shadow of herself.

 


 

So there was our stimulus which we could take anyway we wanted. I was paired with director/producer-duo Dave Thomas and Nell Garfath-Cox who were living in Worthing when we started the project together. I’ve mentioned before how I like to have imposed restrictions as it gets the ideas flowing thick and fast, so this was no different. Although I’d never had to do something so restrictive over a prolonged period of time. A month. One month to write, shoot, edit and finalise a short film with no budget. I was worried that the initial adrenaline rush would drop once we were out of that room and as the days ticked over. But I knuckled down to the script and vomited something down as soon as I could so the momentum would tide us over. And collaboratively myself and Dave worked great together – we’d email the drafts with notes and work out where we both wanted to go, and it worked. People seem to avoid particular areas of collaboration because they feel exposed, or that they feel they have to bend to somebody else’s whim. That’s definitely not the case. You discuss points and open them up. You never have to take on every note, but you’ve got to have a good reason for going against it. And if you can articulate that reason well, then there’s nothing to worry about.
 
Anyways. Script done.
 
Then we had an issue with a location. I’d written the script for one location, but it was proving difficult. So much so that the script that was written so soon after our initial meeting… Was actually shot on the last weekend of the month. It was so close to not happening at all. But then the lovely Beatrice Curnew stepped in and saved the day by letting us take over her house (and cook a whole roast meal) for the short. Thank you Bea!
 
Here are some shots of the filming in action.
 

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I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ingvild Deila, Ian Houghton, Dorothy Lawrence, Oliver Malam, Dave Thomas, Nell Garfath-Cox and Sarita Tam all work. I know that I’ve made some friends from this, and there’s more delights to come.

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Writer Collider with M.J. Starling February 16, 2013

Back sometime last year, the writer M.J. Starling approached and asked me to be involved with his podcast about inspiration and be the first creative to launch it. Of course I do love to gabble about writing to anyone who will listen, so I said yes. Writer Collider is all about the generation of concepts, where ideas come from. From a few randomly selected prompts thrown on the table by other people, narratives are formed on the spot and a discussion is opened about the process.
 
#writercollider
 
The particular writing prompt I plumped for was the following: “a boxer crying alone in his car on an overpass
 
#writercollider notes
 
What I found refreshing about this idea of talking about the process, was the freedom to be able to sprawl across all decisions. Play, film, novel, you name it. And I am always telling people that it’s great to vocalise ideas or narratives out loud because you can hear them. Our brains are very clever and will disregard things before the mental sentence is even finished.
 
So here is the podcast with me murmuring about boxers and film: Katie McCullough on Writer Collider.
 
Keep an eye on M.J. Starling and the #writercollider series on his Twitter, website and on iTunes too. 
 

 

Firehouse Films – Writing For Film (Again) January 31, 2013

I’ve been invited by Firehouse Creative Productions to be involved in their inaugural launch for the Firehouse Films project, with the first writer-director workshop happening on this Saturday. I’m quite excited about flexing my film muscles again, I’ve been aching to do it for a while… But I’m also excited because I’m going to be meeting new folks AND I like the challenge of crafting a short film in a short space of time – but not limited to a 48hr film challenge this time. The idea of there being a definite finished article at the end of it is always appealing.
 
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The plan will go like this…
 
Every month Firehouse Film will invite a group of filmmakers to collaborate with them. They’ll provide a creative spark and at least one London location. They’ll put potential cast and crew at your disposal and the filmmakers will then face the challenge of producing a short film to be screened one month later.
 
The “creative spark” will be provided by real life stories from people in London through Firehouse’s Story-Station installation (see photographs above). They already have an extensive back catalogue of real-life stories and will collect more as this project goes on.
 
On the first Saturday of every month, they will hold a workshop during which 5 writers and 5 directors (or writer-directors) will collaborate to choose which stories they want to adapt into short films. Firehouse will help partner the writers and directors with actors and crew as necessary. 5 teams will then undertake to produce 5 short films.
 
On the first Friday of the following month, all 5 films will be screened at a high profile venue. With the filmmakers’ permission, these films will then be screened on http://www.firehousecreativeproductions.com and partners’ websites.

 
So I’ll let you know how it goes on Saturday and keep you in the loop. It’ll be great to meet the lovely people behind the project – through a combination of film festivals, Twitter and friends of friends we’ll finally get to meet face-to-face and more importantly, get creating. 

 

The Next Big Thing (of sorts) December 24, 2012

My illustrious and regular theatre-friend Julie Mayhew has tagged me in a meme thing going round which isn’t as horrific as it might sound (it isn’t the novotastic flu thing). The idea is that you can let folks know about what you’re up to and I’ve slightly altered the questions so I can respond to them as a playwright. I feel a little bit of a fraud calling it The Next Big Thing, so humour me for a gentle blog post. I for one know this particular script needs a lot of work. But here they are…
 
1) What is the working title of your next play?

Thursday’s Child – that’s been the working title for quite some time now that I think I’m going to stick with it.

 

2) Where did the idea come from for the play?

I work visually so the scene that I saw clear as day and ended up bring the springboard for this play was stark. It was a man pissing in the corner of a run down dated bedroom and a little girl rushing to stop him.

 

3) What genre does your play fall under?

Hmmm. I think putting plays into genres is a toughy in that I don’t think they’re so strict as in film. At a push I’d say a State Of The Nation play but not as polemic. Maybe a State Of The Nation/Slice Of Life mash-up. Basically it’s a story and it’s a play. A journey through a brother and sister’s life through a lower class situation dealing with the care system, job seeker’s allowance and relationships.

 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Right. I’ve got four parts in this play…

Sandy (12) Feisty yet naive – Ilana Kneafsey
Terry (29) Bit of a drinker and outspoken – Rupert Friend
Charlotte (29) Bold but bored with life – Olivia Poulet
Wayne (15) Frustrated and spiky – Jamie Borthwick
 

Ilana Kneafsey

Ilana Kneafsey

Rupert Friend

Rupert Friend

Olivia Poulet

Olivia Poulet

Jamie Borthwick

Jamie Borthwick

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your play?

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your play?
Two siblings discover what it means to grow up and get real in amongst the comic books and issues in their life.
 

6) Will your play be self-published or represented by an agency?

As a playwright I’m the first cog of the development. So as soon as it’s done and finished proper like, it’ll do the usual rounds of literary departments and then see what happens. If I had the money to hand, I’d put it on myself tomorrow. Well, maybe after I’ve finished it proper like.

 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the play?

I did a very condensed vomit draft of it back in 2008 which took me 48 hours. After cringing every time I tried to re-read it since, I took a day or two to do a massive redraft to it a month or so ago. I say massive as in it was set in the 80s and is now current day, was set in the midlands and now set in Luton.

 

8) What other plays would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmmm. There’s the danger of sounding a bit too pretentious here isn’t there? I’ll tread carefully and speak widely… In terms of story there are elements of Mike Bartlett’s, ‘Love, Love, Love‘ as in the social impact of desires and money through the years. Character wise my male lead is a bit like Jimmy from ‘Look Back In Anger‘ by John Osborne. But I like to think it echoes the childlike innocence yet naively informative tones of Charlotte Keatley’s, ‘My Mother Said I Never Should‘.

 

9) Who or what inspired you to write this play?

Elements of my childhood, but I’d like to stress that it isn’t drawn from my personal experiences. Aside from that I’d say Leo Butler. He’s been a mentor every time I’ve been at the Royal Court for the writing groups and this was the result of the first one. He told me to be bold, hit the audience on the temple, then see what happens.

 

10) What else about your play might pique the reader’s interest?

 

Hmmm. Again, I’d say this is hard when talking about plays. I want to say my play would pique an audience member’s interest because my protagonist is a 12 year old girl who escapes her life through old comics. But then that could be seen as sensationalist because it’s a young girl. Tricky. But it does have a 12 year old girl who escapes her life through old comics and in the process strikes up a relationship with a fifteen year old boy. Yes, it does sound like one of those plays. But I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom, their friendship is beautiful and makes the adults present pale in comparison.
 
So they’re my answers about one of the plays that I’m redrafting. And in the spirit of things I’m going to tag the following folks: Gerry Hayes, a charming funny man who I’m currently collaborating on a project with and who writes, and Stephanie Ressort, another charming funny lady who I lovingly nicknamed Theatre Devil Incarnate who also writes. Both of these people don’t write enough so I’m being the metaphorical fire under their butt cheeks.

 

St. Albans Film Festival Is Coming… Are You? December 20, 2012

Looks like St. Albans is going to get its first film festival next year from 8th – 10th March, conveniently called the St Albans Film Festival. And if you’re a filmmaker, then you still have time to submit.
 
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The regular deadline is 28th December so if you’ve got withoutabox then pootle on over to there and click the buttons. The next deadlines (will obviously be a bit more expensive) are in January so GET A MOVE ON!

 

And the reason I’m excited about the festival? Because:
 
a) It’s on my doorstep
b) There are some amazing things in the pipeline for the festival
 
and
 
c) I’m a judge

 
St Albans has been a popular location with the film industry not only because of its close proximity to some of the leading film studios such as Pinewood (Superman, James Bond); Elstree (Star Wars, Indiana Jones); and also Leavesden (Harry Potter). But also because it’s relatively close to London, a 20min train trip (if you get the right train).
 
It’s been featured on TV (Life Begins, The Inbetweeners), film (The Birthday Girl, Johnny English) and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper – the pioneer of moving pictures – was born in the City. Stanley Kubrick came to settle in the area and remained, crafting his prolific works. The Shining was finished there, and Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut were started and completed there. He also used to only leave the place to buy his bottled ink from Ryman, y’know, the very shop I used to work in.
 
So checkout the website: www.stalbansfilmfestival.com
 
Look at the Facebook page: StAlbansFilmFestival on Facebook
 
Peek at the Twitters too: StAlbansFF

 

Interview With A Playwright (Part Two) December 7, 2012

Regular readers (if there are such a thing) of this blog will remember that I was interviewed by a lovely French lady called Vanessa Jaunet back in August. The first part can be read here: Interview With A Playwright (Part One)
 
Maybe because it’s the translation of the French to English, but I find Vanessa’s questions really pure and quite probing. Their simplistic nature catches me off guard, like when you think you know how to get to somewhere but then as you start off your map unravels…
 
Vanessa has kindly said I could post the second part of the interview up here.
 
Do you believe that the main character of a story is always connected with the writer’s personality?

Good question. My response is that I rarely put all of my personality into my characters as that can be extremely painful (or at least odd) to hear aloud or see. What I will say is that I thread in elements of my being more than I realise, but I don’t do it purposefully. At a post show Q&A for my play, “I Still Get Excited When I See A Ladybird” I was asked if there were any bits of me in it. And there were – fragments of my life or my thoughts or those close to me. But I’d never flag them up as to what they are because that’s not what a play should be about. It should be about what it reflects onto the audience and what they take away from it. I think the main purpose of writing is to excavate ourselves as humans – we’re unfurling an idea of how we’re trying to understand the world. So to a point you do write with a connection, but it could possibly be the disconnection of yourself to those around you and we’re seeing the exploration.
 
 
And do you think we write to speak about something hidden inside us as a therapy?

I think I personally write to understand myself a bit more, to understand myself as a human and the effect we can have on each other. Other playwrights will disagree, but I don’t think you can rely on writing as a therapy. Even if you were to write nonsense you’re still confining yourself to sentences, punctuation, grammar and the urge for a structure. I do, however, feel that you unlock different caveats of innermost thoughts when you write… But it could be that you never use them but the journey was there to inform your writing.
 
 
What do you find more fulfilling writing plays or seeing your plays on stage?

Writing plays is a long stint of anything I do and seeing them on stage is the goal obviously. But that doesn’t always happen so you become mother to these piles of pages that you desperately want to morph into real movements on a stage… So I’d say, for me, it’s a strange concoction of the two. I realise the ultimate goal of any script is seeing it on its feet on a stage in front of an audience… But there’s also a perverse notion of whittling down your idea in your head on to the page and the motion you take as a writer to do so.
 
 
What do you feel when an actor acts your words?

My brain is always looking to work on the next project so as soon as I’ve finished one script, I’m on to another. What this means is that I more than often don’t remember what I’ve written. Actors could fluff whole paragraphs of text and I may get the notion that they’re saying it wrong, but I wouldn’t be able to tell them what is correct. It is an alien sensation to watch something that you have pinned to the page, as a two-dimensional act of printing words on paper, suddenly unfurl into real living human beings. I feel extremely grateful whenever I’m in that position because the theatre industry is a busy one, and when you get the opportunity to truly see your work come alive, you realise why you still do it. No matter how many times it happens, the first time I watch a piece of my work with an audience my heart sits at the back of my throat and beats loudly, my ears feel like they’re breathing. You’re an unidentified speck in among a crowd and no one knows you’re the one responsible. You try and not make any sudden movements, breathe too loudly to not draw attention to yourself. But at the same time you’re trying to read your audience – are they focused on the action? Are they laughing? Are they crying? You find yourself trying to decipher different types of silences. Your body becomes this sensor and overrides your ability to sit and receive it like the rest of an audience. That’s what it feels like to me and I crave all of that.
 

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Zimmy Ryan in ‘mph’ at Battersea Arts Centre


 
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Josh Darcy and Geraldine Alexander in ’18+’ at The Miniaturists


 
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Dan Abelson reading ‘The Thump You Feel When You Fall’ for Soup To Nuts Theatre Company


 

If you could choose any actor for your plays who would you choose?

I’ve always wanted to work with Eddie Marsan. I think he’s got such an intricate way of expressing his character, his face especially. He’s a really physical actor I think. I’ve seen him play fragile and also gut-wrenchingly disgusting and his range is superb. I’d be very happy if I got to work with him, I’d be ecstatic!
 
Peter Capaldi is another actor who I have huge respect for because of his range, his eyes are so expressive. Alfred Molina is someone who I would openly beg to be in one of my plays, his voice is brilliant. Philip Seymour Hoffman is another actor that I would do anything to get to work with. I’m being cheeky here and listing more than one!
 
Female wise I’d really like to collaborate with Laura Linney, I adored her in The Savages (a film I wish I had written, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays her brother) and she is phenomenal in You Can Count On Me (also a phenomenal film). I’d jump at the chance to write specifically for Julia Davis, she inspires me with her approach to writing when she merges the dark with the tragicomedy of life. Tilda Swinton, now there’s a lady I would sell what little I have to put on a stage with my words, she’s powerful. And who wouldn’t want to work with Olivia Colman? She is superb.
 
 
Would you been interested to write a movie? Or even to direct one of your plays on big screen or TV?

I initially trained in writing for film and television at Bournemouth University and would love the opportunity to write for the screen. I’ve dabbled with short films as they’re cheaper to do and more flexible, but I haven’t put my heart and soul into anything larger as my heart is truly in theatre. If someone where to give me the opportunity though I would definitely jump on it. As for directing, I have done some in my time but I would never take on that role right now. Not whilst I’m still trying to make a name for myself with my writing. There are plenty of other people who do that job well and sometimes having a fresh set of eyes on a piece can raise it higher than you realised.
 
 
Have you ever considered writing a book using photographs you have taken because I understand you are a keen photographer?

When I write I’m always thinking of the visual impact on an audience, what they will see and always aim for striking images. So I suppose I’m very visually led and I often get distracted by colours or naturally framed objects when I’m travelling around. I’m a very spontaneous photographer. If I tried to go back to using proper cameras and plan things I wouldn’t get what I’m after. I use my iPhone and nothing more. It’s handy because I always have it and I can take pictures of people without them realising too. And if I’m honest I take photographs for my own pleasure, things that catch my eye, and then share them online (Facebook/Twitter) if they’re interesting or representative of where I am. People seem to enjoy them, but they’re just moments that I’ve seen and tried to capture. A bit like holiday photographs really, for some people it’s interesting and for others it’s boring.
 
I like taking photographs when I’m out and about. I live in a rural village so there’s lots of natural beauty, but I would never call myself a photographer as such. When I was at school I studied it as an A Level topic and the frivolous nature of it all appealed to me. I could wander with a camera and just see what stories unfurled before me. Occasionally I’ll look at a situation that’s going on around me and I’ll reference photographers in my head, “oh that’s very Martin Parr” or “that reminds me of Bresson”. Aside from that I’ve forgotten all knowledge of the darkroom, the chemicals, the lenses. It’s sad really, I’ve forgotten a lot of the things that I used to do when I was younger. I miss painting but my attempts now would seem idiotic, painfully naive. I also miss dance, that too would be a horror to see me do.
 
 
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If you could be collaborated with another playwright who would you choose?

Good question! I have a feeling that it fluctuates every time I see or read something. But I’ve always wanted to melt my brain with Martin Crimp’s and see what came out. I’m pretty sure I could write a raucous collaboration with Simon Stephens too. 

 

48 Hour Film Challenge… London! September 23, 2012

I was kindly asked by new collaborator theatre director Ahmed El Alfy to be his designated scriptwriter for the 48 Hour Film Challenge in London. And of course I took him up on the offer. All the actors involved were Mountview graduates and from a theatre background, some had even graduated that same day. We met at Alfy’s flat.
 

 
FRIDAY 9:30pm – We’d been given the following elements to complete for our entry:
 
GENRE – Drama
PROP – Cream
LINE – “Let me tell you a secret”
CHARACTER – Charlie Cipriani (a minor celebrity)
 
Faced with 6 actors we then set about meandering our way to a story. I got everyone to take a few moments and think of something that had happened to them that day which they considered a drama, no matter how large or small they were. This opened up discussion from each story and then it was rapidly approaching midnight.
 
SATURDAY 12:00am – Straight into an improvised ensemble scene. I wrote down an intention for each actor to have in their pocket that only they would know and got them to interact in small groups. It was interesting to watch (I only knew one of the actors) and to grasp people’s abilities and strengths. I sat at the sidelines and scribbled anything that caught my eye and ear.
 
1:30am – We sent the actors home to return at 7am. Then it was up to me. The more I thought about it the more I realised I didn’t actually have that long. With such an early call time for the actors I needed to get a move on and fast. I definitely decided that it would be a collection of vignettes rather than a standard narrative. With 6 actors to juggle I wanted everyone to have a balanced story and I was never going to get that with everyone and keep it under 7 minutes.
 
2:30am – I sketched down ideas. I listened to Spiritualized (Let It Come Down). I listened to Nick Cave (Abattoir Blues). I listened to PJ Harvey (Is This Desire?). I didn’t know the password to the Internet connection at that point which was probably for the best. I had grasped a rough template of what I wanted to achieve and I nudged Alfy who was tweaking his first short film next to me. We discussed it and he asked me questions about the moments I had chosen to explore. Then I went back and fleshed out the story. The sky is an odd colour.
 
5:30am – Sitting at the computer I tapped, typed, took my time but ended up finishing a script. I woke Alfy from his slumber and we were both happy with the end product. I tentatively point out that I’ve written two exterior scenes, I ask what the weather’s going to be like later today.
 

 
7:00am – People start arriving and trickling into the living room. I’ve still not slept but don’t feel tired. I’d gone to bed late Thursday night and slept in till Friday lunchtime to conquer this.
 
7:40am – First read through of the script. It was a real treat seeing people notice some of the moments and dialogue they’d crafted from the improvisation seep into the script. Everyone seems happy with what we’re going to be working with.
 
8:30am – Actors are tasked with being off book asap. Most of them, if not all, do this within half an hour.
 
9:00am – Some folks have the brilliant idea of cooking sausages and fried eggs with bread rolls en masse. We are beginning to not be so concerned about the mammoth task ahead. Eggs and sausages make everything alright. This fuels us to chat more about individual scenes and character motivations and collectively scout for locations. I’ve written one pub scene, one park scene and one street scene. People soon realise they will be multitasking throughout the shoot.
 
10:45am – We arrive at the pub where scene two (and a small scene three) are set. The landlady’s been nice enough to let us in before the pub opens for business and this is through one of the actors who works there (and is also in this scene).
 

 
12:15pm – The pub opens for the general public and there’s football on. The locals are inquisitive and accommodating and surprise us all. They creep around like mice and watch the actors work. This amuses me greatly and I smile knowing there are nice folks. Things are taking time because the pub is next to a main road which meant lots of excess noise. We sit outside in the sun. It is sunny, my interior monologue high fives Ra.
 
3:15pm – Second location for us to find – a park with a free bench. We stroll to one near the pub… Which is small and filled with children. We walk to the other one close by and find a football match happening and a free bench just past them. We walk. Someone asks about the props for this scene… No one’s bought them. Off someone goes to the shop. People are beginning to feel more tired. I’m surprisingly awake still. I wasn’t even going to stick around the filming but I’m glad I did. We start shooting scene four, the last scene of the film.
 

 
4:00pm – One elderly jogger runs around us several times making sure to avoid the camera. Another younger jogger runs straight through shot each time on every lap. He does stupid arm exercises each time he gets to our patch. I laugh as I say that Alfy and Jack look like French auteurs as they smoke whilst working – they clamp the cigarettes between their teeth.
 
4:45pm – The squirty cream used as a prop has no squirt left in it. The strawberries look mushed to fuck. I buy Red Bull for myself and Alfy.
 
5:30pm – We head off to the last location to film the opening scene for the film. A dodgy street to film a mugging where in real life it’s known as a mugging hotspot. Great, authenticity. At one point we have to wait for two policemen to walk past before rolling.
 

 
6:30pm – It’s cold and I wish I had a coat. Still not slept, but still not feeling the need to. Everyone is so lovely and there’s no tension at all. One actor has to ‘mug’ the other actor many times and be shot from different angles each time. The last take he stacks it and falls to the ground, rolls it out and pegs it down the street as planned. The scene carries on and he jogs back. We don’t shoot that segment anymore (we don’t need to.)
 

 
7:00pm – It’s a wrap. We head back to one of the actor’s for well earned cups of tea and congratulate ourselves for the hardwork. Alfy looks like death and it’s only then that I feel my body stiffening with something that can only be described as reluctance to move.
 
9:30pm – I’m still at Alfy’s because I can’t be bothered to make the trek home. My gait has slowed and my eyes look like I’ve been crying for days. Still not slept.
 
10:00pm – I leave Alfy and Jack to start the long process of logging everything and syncing sound to start the mammoth intense session of editing. I’m on a bus heading to St. Pancras and sleep and nonsense are beginning to invade my limbs.
 
10:20pm – I stand at the ticket machine for a good 5 minutes before realising I was trying to buy a ticket to St. Pancras and the reason that wasn’t happening was because I was standing in St. Pancras. I buy a single journey ticket for St. Albans.
 
11:00pm – Dad comes to collect me from the station. I warn him that if he keeps the car this hot that I will fall asleep.
 
SUNDAY 12:01am – I’m emailing Alfy and Jack (producer) some music to be considered for the film and clambering into bed. I’m finally tired.
 
We then get word Sunday afternoon that there’s been technical difficulties. We won’t be able to hand in a version of the film to be considered for the competition because there’s no time to amend and edit before the cut off time. No one is angry, we’re all respectful of the hardwork we’ve all put in and are still excited by what we created. We’re all happy to have been involved in something great in a short amount of time and even though it won’t be part of the competition, we made a film and had a brilliant time doing it. A film is still a film and once it’s done and ready for folks to see, you’ll see it. I loved every second, shot, film roll, sound roll, and sleepless hour I got. 36 hours with no sleep and a bunch of new friends and a film. That’s not bad going considering we were all doing it for the experience… I think we’ll have to credit the sausages and the eggs.