Ballet and Modern Dance Information Resource
The inspiration to write the story for Billy Elliot came in a flash to screenwriter Lee Hall while living in America and writing about his own childhood. The story gestated for about a year, mostly because Hall was working on other projects, then in a flurry of inspiration, he completed the first draft in three weeks.
After further researching the art of ballet by visiting the Royal Ballet School to interview dancers hailing from small villages like Billy's, Hall showed the screenplay to Greg Brenman, head of Tiger Aspect's drama department, who was immediately taken by the story.
"The idea of a young boy growing up in a tough mining village who wants to become a ballet dancer was fantastically engaging," says Brenman.
The script was developed with executive producer Tessa Ross at BBC Films, and when Brenman felt it was ready he contacted producer Jon Finn who was heading up WT2, a division of Working Title Films, the company behind such hits as Notting Hill Elizabeth and four Weddings and a Funeral. Appointed in 1996 as production executive for Working Title Films, Finn set up WT2 with executive producer Natascha Wharton in 1999. WT2 aims to cultivate the talent of emerging writers, directors and producers in the UK. Billy Elliot is WT2's first project.
For Finn, there was a deep connection to the story "My grandfather was a miner and I know those communities well. In fact, all the family on my mother's side worked in the pits in the area where we filmed."
"I also knew the feeling of leaving a tight-knit community because I was the first person in my own family to leave home and go to college," reveals Finn.
"Lee's screenplay was wonderfully moving and powerful," continues Brenman. "It was also very funny."
Hall's screenplay also touched on the 1984 miners' strike, which for him was one of the defining moments in British history since the war.
"I wanted to write about it obliquely by looking at the various tensions within the community which were crucial in determining the strike's failure," Hall says. "The story sort of wrote itself once I had the image of the kid at odds with his family and the community and pitted against a larger, hostile world."
The strike had affected everyone living in the North East. "It was a class war where the state was mobilized against a small group of people," Hall continues. "It left me with a sense of indignation which has fueled much of my work." Thankfully, Finn was as taken by the script as Brenman has been, and together they approached Stephen Daldry to direct the film."
This was the second time Finn was to team up with Stephen Daldry. In 1998, Finn produced the short film Eight, the Jerwood Film Prize-winning script that was also nominated for a BAFTA. And Billy Elliot was to become Daldry's feature film debut.
Already recognized in London as the "face of contemporary theatre," the man behind the long running An Inspector Calls, the artistic director of the Royal Court (the most successful theatre in England), and the producer, director and creator of a string of critically-acclaimed theatrical productions gracing London's and Broadway's foremost stages, Daldry was well equipped to segue into feature films.
Daldry was in the middle of a three-year deal with Working Title and responded swiftly to Lee Hall's script. "I knew immediately that I wanted to direct this film by the simple fact that the script moved me," confirms Daldry. "It made me want to read it again."
Eric Fellner, cochairman of Working Title, supported Daldry's progression into features. "Stephen is intellectually and creatively stimulating, and he is incredible on a visual and aesthetic level," says Fellner, who serves as executive producer on the project.
Michael W. Phelan: email@example.com
Last modified: Wednesday, October 11, 2000 7:17 AM