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How Making a Movie Inspired The Chancer by Fiona Graham

Fiona Graham discusses the inspiration behind her new novel, The Chancer.

I am often asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ and it’s often a difficult question to answer because what starts as a seed of an idea will ultimately morph into something else entirely. The idea seems to land in my brain, and then other thoughts and tangents emerge until I’m ready to jot something down.

However, inspiration comes from what we see and hear around us, whether that’s our own experiences or something happening in the world. Our lives and perspectives on the world are unique.

When making the film Songs for Amy, I was inspired by the process, especially for the actors. Like the writer, the actor has to endure rejections, flops, cancelled films, and so on. It’s a tough gig and requires tremendous perseverance, in the same way that writing does. Indeed, being an actor or a writer are two of the most popular aspirations. Any screenwriter will tell you that they are constantly subjected to people telling them they have a great idea for a film, usually about their own life, which ‘would make a great film.’ In the movie Get Shorty, the quote from John Travolta embodies this:

  • ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie!’

  • ‘Who doesn’t?’

songs for Amy
Songs for Amy - Director: Konrad Begg, Screenplay: Fiona Graham

There have been numerous film and TV shows about the movie business because of the fertile ground for material and because the mirage of Hollywood is fascinating. Trumbo,Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Entourage and Episodes all pull the curtain back and give audiences a peek inside the surreal world of show business – the fiction is inspired by experiences. This inspired the idea of telling the story about someone with big dreams but who is the least expected to succeed. In my novel, The Chancer, it’s 1989 – when dreams were seen as more of a frivolous notion than they would be now. In today’s world, someone wanting to become an actor would not be met with ridicule. But the main character is a farmer’s son living in the west of Ireland in 1989 and managing to make it as a Hollywood actor would sound as feasible as visiting alien planets.

During the casting process of Songs for Amy, we had an open call for casting for a number of the parts, and I was overwhelmed by the huge response, which drums home how competitive the industry is. Actors must first find an audition where they are suited for the part and then compete with everyone else who thinks so too. Auditions are awash with the opportunity for comedy and for things to go wrong – perhaps the actor arrives in character, which can seal the audition or cause humour or confusion. For my novel, I created scenarios of botched auditions – what could go wrong, will go wrong.

Sticking to the mantra of ‘write what you know’, setting a story against the backdrop of the film business felt like a fun idea. The experiences I had meeting executives in Hollywood, navigating my way through new jargon, and understanding all the processes could all be used to help authenticity.

While life is full of unique and interesting people, the film business is a magnet for the eccentric, arty, ambitious, insecure, egotistical and colourful characters – some fascinating people and incredibly supportive, others driven only by their desire for fame and fortune. It’s a banquet of inspiration for comedy (and maybe a few horror stories). It’s the serious business of creating make-believe and a challenge to prosper and survive. An actor, writer or director may be on the crest of a wave today, only to be relegated to the bargain bin tomorrow. The love and accolades from the public can be given and taken away. This was the inspiration for the other lead character, Abe Nelson. Abe has had it all, and instead of life continuing in an upward trajectory, he unwittingly throws himself into a career death roll, losing everything in the process. Therefore, there is a contrast between the main character, Donnie, starting out in his career and trying his hand at auditions and Abe, a fallen Hollywood legend. They’re an unlikely duo navigating the pitfalls of Hollywood.

Making a movie results in a rollercoaster of emotions, and the same goes for following any dream – the highs, the lows, the fear, the excitement and most importantly, picking up the pieces when the dream seems to shatter. This is reflected in The Chancer – Donnie’s journey is filled with peaks and troughs, but what matters most is who he is on the journey with and how he handles the knocks. What is true in life is also true in the movie business. (c) Fiona Graham

About The Chancer: In 1989, in the west of Ireland, Donnie McNamara, tired of being a family disappointment buys a one-way ticket to Tinseltown to pursue his ridiculed dreams of acting. Abe Nelson, a fallen Hollywood legend, now wallows in LA dive bars. Their worlds collide. Abe becomes a mentor for Donnie and is catapulted into his fantastical endeavour. But will the journey to stardom end in red carpets or red faces?

‘Chance would be a fine thing. But The Chancer is the finest – and funniest thing of all’ – Olaf Tyaransen, Journalist & Author.

‘Hilarious and heart-warming, The Chancer sparkles and pulls you in from the first page. A dazzling debut from Fiona Graham. I devoured it’ – Emma Heatherington, Best-selling author

‘Fantastic book! Sharp, funny and extremely enjoyable’ – Sean Maguire, Actor

Order your copy online here.

About the author Fiona Graham is a novelist and screenwriter from Glasgow, now living in Co. Galway, Ireland. She wrote and produced the award-winning feature-film Songs for Amy, released in cinemas in 2014, which won the Jury Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking’ at Newport Beach Film Festival, California. She has also reached the semi-finals of Los Angeles International Screenwriting Awards and the semi-finals of The Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting awards. Fiona has an MA from Glasgow University in Business and Psychology and a Diploma in screenwriting from Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434.

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