Stephen G. Large – Interview | Soft Border Control
By Conor O’Neill
You gotta hand it to Dundonald lad come-good, Stephen G. Large. Not only was his play Three’s a Shroud both critically acclaimed by press and public last year at the Waterfront, but his Christmas play/book hit number 20 in the Kindle charts at Christmas, making all three of his books Kindle top 20s; since then he’s been working tirelessly with the Beeb and started his own production company Bada Bing Bada Boom LTD. Add to that his first foray into screenwriting for a feature-length movie, his radio sitcom Sharenting, talks on a kids’ book and foremost on all of our minds, his involvement with the new BBC three-part sitcom, Soft Border Patrol which airs on BBC 1 Northern Ireland on 02 March at 10.35pm.
As usual, Large is relaxed and bouncing with enthusiasm, as much of a paradox as that can be.
Now, down to business…
Stephen, how did you get involved with Soft Border Patrol?
“Round about last May I was contacted by a Scottish production company called the Comedy Unit. They were passed my details by Keith Martin from BBC NI who is now a producer for BBC’s Writers’ Room. We’d worked together before on Fright Shorts. The Comedy Unit approached me with this pitch and Keith basically suggested various writers, I really don’t know who’s involved but Leesa Harker (50 Shades of Red, White and Blue infamy) and Marc McIlroy are both involved. This production company had already worked on a similar sitcom called Scot Squad which is also a mockumentary about a police force. So the Comedy Unit had produced a series for the BBC about the things they got up to and pitched the idea to the BBC NI to do a similar thing about a bogus police force only this time set in the near future (after the UK’s departure from the EU) patrolling the NI/ROI border and the ridiculous things that could happen. I was asked for storylines; I’d send in a half page synopsis anmd they picked quite a few of them up and came back later looking for more.”
When you say you had to come up with the storylines, did that also involve creating character?
Large continues: “Whenever we were sent the brief they had already had some characters in mind but the information we were given on the characters was brief, like their job titles and so on, so there’d be a land border patrol, a rural border patrol and a sea border patrol and we were given the characters but part of the brief was that they invited us to come up with new characters which we all had a go at.”
And what’s it turned out like?
“That’s the funny thing, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I’m off to New York and when I’m away, everybody who was involved has been invited to a screening which I can’t attend, so I’ll be watching it for the first time along with everyone else on the 2nd of March.”
You mentioned in your email the difference between the US style of sitcom writing where they all sit round an oval table with coffee and donuts on demand and bouncing ideas off each other, while the UK method is more of solitary writing. Which do you prefer?
“Well, I’ve been fortunate to do both. Last year I was invited to London with six other writers to come up with a sitcom idea. We were given the task of coming up with scripts and we sat around a table and came up with this concept. We then went away and through email worked on these scripts and met up another couple of times and then we did get the pitch, sent the scripts to Hat Trick Productions who organised a read through in London. That was a completely different experience to anything I’ve done before… were as the writer in the UK sits alone and then sends their homework in to be marked, so to speak, they wanted to try the American model. Parts of it work and parts of it don’t. Writers, just as in everyday life, have different personalities and one or two who like their voices to be heard hi-jack things were as the more introverted people get less heard and maybe don’t contribute because they feel intimidated so it’s a completely different experience. I enjoy both but prefer writing alone.”
Tell me more about your BBC Radio Scotland sitcom Sharenting which is to air later this month?
“The BBC in Scotland approached me and asked if I would like to submit an idea for a sitcom and I sent it off, they liked it. It was recorded in January. Basically it’s about the trials and tribulations of modern parenting, a dad with three young daughters, the competitiveness, social media, soft play areas, gourmet burger bars and the kids misbehaving and the dad having a nervous breakdown. I have three daughters myself so it’s very autobiographical. I had to change some names in case the wife might leave me!”
I’m interested in your feature-length movie screenplay which focuses on the late 90s dance scene. Care to elaborate?
“Well, it looks at a group of young friends and the dance scene breaking down barriers. That did more than politicians and peace talks could ever achieve. It united people. It’s a story that runs parallel to the two central characters: one an 18-year-old who is just basically getting mashed every weekend with his mates. It’s a journey of self-discovery. The other main character is his uncle who has just been released under the Good Friday Agreement. He’s out of jail in his 30s, lost his youth and is estranged from his nephew and it’s all about these two worlds colliding.”
And I’m now speaking to the director of Bada Bing Bada Boom LMT, is forming this company a way to have control over future endeavours?
“Yes. I set the company up at the beginning of January and all future creative endeavours are going to go through that. The long-term aim, which I’m a million miles away from, is running my own productions but at the minute I’m very much learning the ropes and I wouldn’t be in the position to fund a 50 grand play. It’s really me starting at the bottom; from wee acorns and all that. The long-term aim is to have productions on small screen, radio, theatre etc. but at the minute I’m very much learning the trade.”
And there’s to be a re-run of Three’s a Shroud, same production company (GBL), director (Martin Lynch) cast etc.?
“Yes, it’s all agreed and again this year it’s at the Waterfront and also it’s going on the road for two week, though I can’t confirm the details.”
Much of a rewrite, same cast?
“I believe the same cast is in place but yet again I can’t confirm. There will be a bit of rewriting, there are bits I want to improve. It’ll be bigger and better even though it was critically praised and the audience reaction was great, everything can be improved. There are pieces I want to tinker with. I want to turn it from a good play to a great play.”
One last thing, are you still at the carpet game?
Where and how do you fit it all in: a fulltime job, three daughters, a wife, the non-stop writing?
In typical Dundonald style and with his usual upbeat manner, I can’t tell from this end of the phone but I’m sure I’m talking to a red-eyed-man who dreams of 24 hours’ duvet time, Large ends it with…
“I’ve worked it out if you cut it down to two hours of sleep and keep the piss breaks to a minimum, you can squeeze it in.”
Soft Border Patrol airs tonight on BBC 1 NI at 10.35pm.
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