From Acting to Screenwriting with Jordan Waller

Jordan Waller, actor in The Darkest Hour, Love and Friendship and ITV’s Victoria, and writer and actor in Two Heads Creek and his upcoming film Off the Rails talks to The Filmmakers Podcast about his experience of writing an original script, re-writing and developing a script to be his own, and his experience of moving from acting to screenwriting.

From Acting to Writing

Jordan started writing as soon as he left university because he wasn’t able to get work. “I think, especially if you’re an actor you’ve got to find some other interests, otherwise all your eggs are in that one basket.” 

His writing was quickly noticed. “The way that both films ended up getting made was that I wrote a play and I had Rebecca Front read it in a cabaret bar, in London.” He’d invited all of the theatre people that he could, as well as film producers and TV people. “The film producers, weirdly, were the ones who all came.”

With over 400 people invited to attend the event, only 40 producers and his friends and family attended, but he got “both gigs just from doing one reading.” 

“As an actor, I had some sort of instinct for dialogue, and that was all it was because actually there was no structure to this play. But I think there was a sort of funny zest to the dialogue, that people picked up on and it meant that one producer wanted to work with me on something.”

Another producer who had been working on Off the Rails, which had been in development for about 10 years, thought that Jordan was able to write about women at a certain age, and that was how he got that job. 

Writing Alone

Giles has spoken before about working collaboratively when writing and being able to pass the script on when you face a bit of a block.

Jordan prefers writing alone. “I have lots of voices in my head and I’m just constantly talking to myself. I have tried working with other people, but I’m not very good at brainstorming with other people.”

He did however like the partnership of John Cleese and Graham Chapman, who used to write in the same room. “Being in the same room, invested in your little world and then passing it on, like you said, I think could work. I just think I have to explore, I haven’t found the right person.”

Contracts

If you do decide to write with someone else, it is always important to have your agreement in place. Giles recommended that “if you’re going to work with someone else, just put it in writing, even if it’s on a napkin. That way no one can get burned or ripped off.”

Jordan agreed that “it’s so important that you properly go through it with a fine-tooth comb. The ownership of an idea is really muddy territory and it has caused a lot of problems for me up to this point.”

If you have an idea, before you share it with the world, make sure that you have a contract in place. Giles mentioned that “if you haven’t got an agent, learn what that contract is, understand it from podcasts like this, from amazing books, find a lawyer friend” or ask us at The Filmmakers Podcast. “This is why we’re doing this, to help filmmakers, so that all the mistakes we’ve learned, hopefully, you won’t make them as well.”

Off the Rails

Was a straight commission. “I was a remedial writer and that’s why I had a script to work with.” Bill Kenwright allowed Jordan to make it his own. 

“I owe him an awful lot because he’s given me an awful lot of opportunity and the creative scope was huge.”

“I didn’t really feel like I was in chained too much by that previous script, but it was totally different to writing an original idea where as a writer, you’re basically just God.”

“The only way that I could make it work was to start with a blank document. And the bits that needed to be kept in, I would rewrite them in, but using my own dialogue.”

Two Heads Creek

Was written with Jordan as the lead, in mind, which he says was “quite a tall order, because film financing depends so much on the talent. I think Victoria kind of helped my image and helped my saleability, to the producer having a lot of faith in my work, which I was really grateful for. Talent is the most important thing.”

His advice when approaching talent: “I  personally think that a good handwritten letter to a star, if that’s what you need to get your film made, can go an awful long way.” Contact them on a personal level, explaining what work you’ve really enjoyed them in, and how you would really like to work with them. 

“You’re not basically asking a million-dollar star to add a million dollars to your budget, which is fundamentally what you’re doing. You’re actually saying I would really like to work with you, as a person, because I think you’re a really interesting person.”

Giles’s modus operandi on his latest feature was sending a personal video to the talent. 

“Me and my co-writer, literally present, and then we put images over the top, of their films or them and explain why. I suppose it’s much more personal.”

For more filmmaking advice, to hear about Jordan’s writing experience, Two Heads Creek and how it was developed from the original script to the film that is out now, as well as dealing with down days in filmmaking, have a listen to the full episode.

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