A Royal Writing Experience
by Ruth Lawrence
From an early interest in cinema, through a career in advertising, Trevor de Silva has finally achieved his childhood ambition to become a screenwriter, with the release of the romantic comedy A Royal Night Out. Read on to discover his journey.
As a teenager, Trevor de Silva had a healthy obsession for all things film. He’d visit his local cinema twice a week, unconsciously setting in motion a passion that would eventually fulfil his future ambitions.
He chose to work in advertising partly because, like director Ridley Scott, he saw it as a stepping-stone into the film industry. In his early thirties, Trevor began writing speculative film scripts during evenings and weekends. A few years later he had the ‘good fortune’ to be fired from his advertising job, giving him a financial cushion and a year’s grace to break into the film industry.
Two spec scripts helped find him an agent. He then pitched and sold an idea at the Cannes Film Festival, for an animated family comedy, Police Dog. During this time he also turned his hand to directing with the short film Would Like To Meet. By now he had come to the attention of Ecosse Films, the production company responsible for the feature of John Lennon’s early life, Nowhere Boy.
Back in 2006 Ecosse were contemplating a story about the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret escaping the palace to celebrate VE Day. Trevor was invited to submit a four-page treatment for a potential script. Shortly before Christmas he was given the go ahead and the next five years were dedicated to writing and rewriting A Royal Night Out, which was released a few weeks ago, starring Rupert Everett and Emily Watson.
The film took a further four years of planning after a series of setbacks which included losing the director and various cast members. Trevor described how working on such a project is a test of tenacity. “You keep thinking you’re there, that the film is going to be made then everything collapses like a house of cards and you have to start all over again.”
Trevor’s perseverance is central to his screenwriting ambitions. “Never give up,” he says. “When you start a script there are so many things that can stop you from finishing it and even once you’re happy with it, the film making process can be a long, slow slog. You have to be obsessively driven to get anywhere.”
He told me that his advertising career had toughened him up and taught him never to take criticism personally. He advises any budding screenwriter to read lots of scripts; “I used to read one a day; the early drafts, not the shooting scripts, to learn what works in terms of plotting, building character and writing good dialogue.” For his research on A Royal Night Out, Trevor watched numerous 1940s romantic comedies. He also read social histories to get an understanding of the criminal underworld of post war London, delved into accounts by ‘Crawfie’, the princesses’ nanny, for an insight into royal life and mined the BBC for anecdotal stories on those first heady days of peacetime.
Trevor revealed that his transition from advertising to script writing was inevitable; “You don’t do it for any reason other than you can’t help but do it. You develop a natural inclination for a sense of story, then turn them into scripts.” He cites focus, drive, perseverance and passion as essential qualities to break into the tough but rewarding world he has chosen, “Even knockbacks teach you something,” he says. “You are always learning and you have to keep pushing.” As a writer, there is much in the collaborative process of film-making that is beyond personal control, although this joining of talents is what helps bring magic to the finished film. “The actors bring your words to life, directors impart a visual style, while the editing and music also have a huge influence on the film’s complexion.”
With a possible TV project based on advertising in 80s London and a couple of adaptations in the frame, Trevor’s talent for script writing is forging the route of his own journey. The boy who loved watching films became the man who now writes them.