It will be the biggest Sheffield film since The Full Monty - a movie musical for our times, its creators say, taking a hit stage show about a teenager from Parson Cross who wants to wear a dress and high heels to his school prom all the way to Hollywood.
The screen adaptation of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be shot on location in the city where it is set, helmed by Park Hill-born director Jonathan Butterell and produced by Sheffield-based Warp Films with a cast of up to 30 local young people.
The search for suitable actors who will make up Jamie’s class at school is now on, with applications invited from hopefuls – unknowns and professionals – who live in South Yorkshire or its surrounds, are aged 16 or above and look young enough to play a year 11 pupil.
There is a considerable buzz around the film already, but eighteen months ago Jonathan, composer Dan Gillespie-Sells and writer Tom MacRae were preparing to take a leap of faith. Jamie was poised to begin its initial three-week run at the Crucible theatre and represented a risk. An untried show, launching in the tricky post-Christmas period, its success was by no means a foregone conclusion.
But tickets sold out based largely on word-of-mouth recommendations, and just a year-and-a-half later – with a hit West End transfer under their belts – Jonathan, Dan and casting director Shaheen Baig are sitting in Warp’s sleek offices with the company’s joint CEO Mark Herbert, discussing how the production will be turned into a big-screen spectacle.
“We wrote it as a piece of theatre,” says Jonathan. “But really, some part of us always had the film version running in our heads at the same time. For Warp to take this under their wing was kind of a minor miracle.”
The rapid switch from theatre to cinema is unusual; Mamma Mia, the blockbuster Abba musical, ran for years before becoming a movie. “Films being made into musicals is happening all over but this way, at this speed, is kind of unknown,” Jonathan says.
The award-winning show was inspired by a 2011 BBC Three documentary – Drag Queen at 16 – about Jamie Campbell, from County Durham. Jonathan, who caught the programme while channel-hopping, saw something of himself in the teenager’s search for identity, and began collaborating with Tom and Dan after he learned they were trying to write a musical.
News of the movie emerged this week, and no-one could have been more thrilled than Campbell himself, who described the development as ‘incredible’.
Together with Film4, Warp is producing what will be its first ever musical. Filming is to begin in spring 2019, and the core creative team are staying in their respective positions. It will mark Jonathan’s debut as a cinema director, while Campbell and his mother, Margaret, will act as consultants.
Mark and his fellow CEO Peter Carlton caught a performance at the Crucible last February, and immediately resolved to do a deal.
“Everybody fell in love with it,” says Mark. “We were not looking for a musical, and then after seeing it, it was like ‘We’ve got to do this’.”
The script, yet to be finalised, needs to keep the story’s energy while overcoming hurdles such as the stage show’s two-act structure. Once the screenplay is in place a budget can be finalised. A studio will probably have to be built for indoor scenes; this would be in Sheffield if the right space is available. The score is also being looked at again, to tailor it for a cinema experience.
“The rhythm of the scene will affect how the music works,” explains Dan. “I think the important numbers will probably be retained, but certainly at the moment we’re exploring whole new songs.”
Warp aims to meet as many potential actors as possible as part of its open casting call; representatives will be visiting youth, theatre and community groups in person and candidates are being asked to upload minute-long videos – telling audition co-ordinators about themselves – to a special website.
The stage cast, led by John McCrea as the central character Jamie New, has been screen-tested, but the team is not saying whether any will appear in the movie. The musical has extended its stint at London’s Apollo Theatre until April 2019, and the present stars could be called on if – as has been mooted – the show goes to Broadway.
Among the ‘class’ of 30 will be the main parts such as Jamie, his best friend Pritti and Dean, the school bully. A diverse group is sought, and the star will not necessarily be a double of McCrea or Campbell, raising the prospect of an Asian or black Jamie.
“We want to make sure the cast we arrive at reflects this city,” Jonathan says. “There’s 20-odd languages spoken here.”
Shaheen adds: “Sometimes young people see an open casting and think ‘I can’t do this’. Don’t over-analyse; contact us.”
The first round of applications will close on July 22. Candidates will then be whittled down through further auditions.
Locations have begun to be scouted out, Mark says. “We were driving round Parson Cross the other day. Jonathan was doing some filming and some teenage lads asked why – they thought we were the police. They thought Jonathan was the detective and I was the muscle.”
Jonathan says: “In my head the last image that you see in the film is the whole of Sheffield, gathering on Wordsworth Avenue, to celebrate Jamie.”
Visit www.jamiefilmcasting.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how to audition.
'It's got such an important message'
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be the perfect film for ‘the world we live in’ and needs to be made without delay, Mark Herbert thinks.
The joint CEO of Warp Films said: “It feels like this needs to be made now, in this current climate in the world we live in. It’s got such an important message at its heart. Everybody we’ve approached to help back the film, potentially, has shared that. There’s a momentum to it, and a spirit, that is now.”
The musical has already been turned into two albums – a concept LP and an original cast recording. A performance at the Apollo is also to be transmitted live to cinemas on July 5.
A release date for the film is difficult to determine, but Mark says: “If everything went to plan you’d be looking at some time in 2020, not before spring, to get it filmed and turned round.”
Warp has a track record of supporting debut directors like Jamie’s Jonathan Butterell, having previously worked on first features by Paul King, Chris Morris, Richard Ayoade and Paddy Considine. Its best known collaboration is with Shane Meadows, the company having produced his 2006 drama This Is England and the three spinoff TV series, which made use of many Sheffield locations. Warp is presently working with Meadows on The Virtues, a four-part story that will air on Channel 4 next year.