Christmas At Woolley’s is a passion project for me and is the first since World’s End that has given me the proverbial creative boner that let’s me know I’ve hit the spot with an idea.
I’ve always challenged the notion that an idea should be bore from character as opposed to location or concept. Despite the character being the central point that the story pivots around, the location is as equally as important. Even though it would demonstrate his unending commitment to the crown, watching James Bond chase an international criminal across a boggy beach at Weston Super Mare isn’t exactly going to be aesthetically pleasing. Though I don’t in any way condone the notion that everybody’s workplace should become a sitcom, invariably as a writer your experiences will influence and shape your work.
If you hadn’t already guessed it, Christmas At Woolley’s is set in a fictionalised version of Britain’s favourite former retail department store Woolworths, buried now for six years under a pile of Costa’s and Wetherspoon’s. Our affable hero, Dean, is a 20-something drifter who’s reluctance to make something of himself has left him feeling trapped at Woolley’s. Reluctantly rising through the ranks, Dean is forced to re-think his path as Beth, the girl who holds his affections, is leaving for pastures new and far. It’s Christmas Eve, the busiest retail day of the year – will he tell her or will he let her go?
I’m pitching Christmas At Woolley’s as a 60 minute stand-alone TV film. It doesn’t have the scope or appeal for cinema but I feel it’s a story that should be told twofold. For one, who doesn’t love a good underdog love story? But also, I feel it’s time that Woolworths is memorialised. Though I don’t envisage their being any issues of copyright if I chose to name Woolworths directly as it doesn’t even exist anymore, I feel as though an indirect reference to the iconic British chain is more fitting. After all, it’s not the name that ever had the biggest impact, it was what was inside.
Everybody has a memory of Woolworths. Whether it’s squeezing the pic’n’mix into the cup to get your money’s worth or wearing the entire Ladybird range from age 2-11 when you could finally start voicing your need for something a little more your age, Woolworths was the staple of the British high street. It was a one stop shop for your everyday needs, the only store where you could go in and walk out with a chart CD, kettle, a bag of maltesers, kids uniform, a photo frame and a new set of cutlery. My strongest memories before I started working at Woolworths are of Christmas. The catalogue, the adverts and the store itself epitomised the very feeling of Christmas. When people say, “I feel so Christmassy“, that for me isn’t a spiced latte or a Yankee candle (though the latter helps), it’s the Woolies Winter Wonderland adverts and the rows of confectionery and Christmas tunes blasting out inside the store. Working there for five years was amazing, and the classic songs like Wizzard and Wham! are synonymous with the store. It was the best job I ever had, but I never knew it until it was too late. I worked with some incredible people that in some way are felt in the script.
I had always had the idea of this 20-something drifter feeling lost in a job that didn’t speak for their talents, who always blamed others when really all they needed to do was take action for themselves, and it’s something so big and drastic that spurs them into action. Sounds familiar, I know… As I figured who this person was, where they’d come from, where they were headed and where they wanted to be headed, I knew the catalyst for the events straight away: The One™ was getting away. Christmas is integral to the story as it serves to motivate the main character as the season is renowned for being a time of change, reflection and appreciation for what we have. Setting it in an alternate Woolworth’s was the holly on top of the Christmas pud. There’s no greater place to pit a man against his goal than in the busiest store on the busiest day of the year…
I’m about a third of the way through writing the first draft and its been an immersive experience. As well as going back in time to my Woolworths retail days, I’m also writing a script that’s new to me. I’ve written a film script and a couple of TV pilot scripts, but never a self-contained TV movie. As well as ensuring I write believable characters in a believable world, I’ve also taken to ensuring that the pace continues to move and never stops for breath until the last few scenes. On top of this, I’ve stylised some scenes slightly differently. Instead of making references verbally, I’ve presented them visually, in a kind of JD from Scrubs vibe, though there won’t be too much of this. An example is below.
I’ve researched Woolworths as well as jotting down what I remember. It’s sad to see that most of the pictures when you Google “Woolworths” are not of the store as it used to be but rather the shell that it became. I’ve also prepped for future pitches by creating some ideas of visuals and layout, as seen below. It helps me to immerse into this world by creating it as it would be, it makes it easier to write the script in this world but also, with the design of the store layout, it helps me to block the action and where it will take place.
My plan is to finish the first draft by the end of September, with a view to shelving it for a month or two, then pulling it back out to finish by the end of December. It’s a passion project that I hope continues to keep me creatively erect, and ready to pitch in 2016. Who knows what we might be watching next Christmas?
The death of the high street and the rise of online stores really began when an institute like Woolworth’s was forced to close its doors. But hopefully, for 60 minutes, we’ll see it alive again once more.