Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Introduction
CAST AND CREW
AN EDUCATION: - The Screenplay
APPENDIX: ALTERNATIVE ENDING
Nick Hornby is the author of the bestselling novels Juliet, Naked, Slam, A Long Way Down, Howto Be Good,
High Fidelity, and About a Boy, and the memoir Fever Pitch . He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, Shakespeare Wrote for Money,
and The Polysyllabic Spree, and editor of the short storyHousekeeping vs. the Dirt,
collection Speaking with the Angel . A recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’E. M. Forster Award, and the Orange Word International Writers’ London Award, 2003, Hornby
lives in North London.
Also by Nick Hornby
HIGH FIDELITY ABOUT A BOY HOW TO BE GOOD
A LONG WAY DOWN SLAM
THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE HOUSEKEEPING VS. THE DIRT SHAKESPEARE WROTE FOR MONEY
SPEAKING WITH THE ANGEL
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AN EDUCATION: THE SCREENPLAY
Copyright ? 2009 Nick Hornby
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The First Draft
I knew the moment I’d finished Lynn Barber’s wonderful autobiographical essay in Granta ,
about her affair with a shady older man at the beginning of the 1960s, that it had all theingredients for a film. There were memorable characters, a vivid sense of time and place - anEngland right on the cusp of profound change - an unusual mix of high comedy and deep sadness,and interesting, fresh things to say about class, ambition and the relationship betweenchildren and parents. My wife, Amanda, is an independent film producer, so I made her read it,too, and she and her colleague Finola Dwyer went off to option it. It was only when they beganto talk about possible writers for the project that I began to want to do it myself - a desirewhich took me by surprise, and which wasn’t entirely welcome. Like just about every novelist Iknow, I have a complicated, usually unsatisfactory relationship with film writing: ever sincemy first book, Fever Pitch , was published, I have had some kind of script on the go. I
adapted Fever Pitch for the screen myself, and the film was eventually made. But since thenthere have been at least three other projects - a couple of originals, and an adaptation ofsomebody else’s work - which ended in failure, or at least in no end product, which is thesame thing.
The chief problem with scriptwriting is that, most of the time, it seems utterly pointless,especially when compared with the relatively straightforward business of book publishing: theodds against a film, any film, ever being made are simply too great. Once you have establishedyourself as a novelist, then people seem quite amenable to the idea of publishing your books:your editor will make suggestions as to how they can be improved, of course, but the generalidea is that, sooner or later, they will be in a bookshop, available for purchase. Film,however, doesn’t work that way, not least because even the lower-budget films often costmillions of pounds to make, and as a consequence there is no screenwriter alive, howeverestablished in the profession, who writes in the secure knowledge that his work will be filmed.Plenty of people make a decent living from writing screenplays, but that’s not quite the samething: as a rule of thumb, I’d estimate that there is a 10 per cent chance of any movieactually being put into production, especially if one is working outside the studio system, asevery writer in Britain does and must. I know, through my relationship with Amanda and Finolaand other friends who work in the business, that London is awash with optioned books, unmadescripts, treatments awaiting development money that will never arrive.
So why bother? Why spend three, four, five years rewriting and rewriting a script that isunlikely ever to become a film? For me, the first reason to walk back into this world of pain,rejection and disappointment was the desire to collaborate: I spend much of my working day onmy own, and I’m not naturally unsociable. Signing up for An Education initially gave me the
chance to sit in a room with Amanda and Finola and Lynn and talk about the project as if itmight actually happen one day, and later on I had similar conversations with directors andactors and the people from BBC Films. A novelist’s life is devoid of meetings, and yet peoplewith proper jobs get to go to them all the time. I suspect that part of the appeal of film forme is not only the opportunity for collaboration it provides, but the illusion it gives of realwork, with colleagues and appointments and coffee cups with saucers and biscuits that Ihaven’t bought myself. And there’s one more big attraction: if it does come off, then it’sproper fun, lively and glamorous and exciting in a way that poor old books can never be,however hard they try. Even before this film’s release, we have taken it to the SundanceFestival in Utah, and Berlin. And I have befriended several of the cast, who, by definition,are better-looking than the rest of us . . . What has literature got, by comparison?
I wrote the first draft of An Education on spec, sometime in 2004, and while doing so, I
began to see some of the problems that would have to be solved if the original essay were everto make it to the screen. There were no problems with the essay itself, of course, which did
everything a piece of memoir should do; but by its very nature, memoir presents a challenge,consisting as it does of an adult mustering all the wisdom he or she can manage to look back atan earlier time in life. Almost all of us become wiser as we get older, so we can see patternand meaning in an episode of autobiography - pattern and meaning that we would not have beenable to see at the time. Memoirists know it all, but the people they are writing about knownext to nothing.
We become other things, too, as well as wise: more articulate, more cynical, less naïve, moreor less forgiving, depending on how things have turned out for us. The Lynn Barber who wrotethe memoir - a celebrated journalist, known for her perspicacious, funny, occasionallydevastating profiles of celebrities - shouldn’t be audible in the voice of the centralcharacter in our film, not least because, as Lynn says in her essay, it was the veryexperiences that she was describing that formed the woman we know. In other words, there was no‘Lynn Barber’ until she had received the eponymous education. Oh, this sounds obvious to thepoint of banality: a sixteen-year-old girl should sound different from her sixty-year-old self.What is less obvious, perhaps, is the way the sixty-year-old self seeps into every brush-strokeof the self-portrait in a memoir. Sometimes even the dialogue that Lynn provided for heryounger version - perfectly plausible on the page - sounded too hard-bitten, when I thoughtabout a living, breathing young actress saying the words. I had been here before, in a way,
. In a memoir, one tries to be as smart as one can aboutFever Pitchwith the adaptation of
one’s younger self - that’s sort of what the genre is, and that’s what Lynn had done. In ascreenplay, however, one has to deny the subject that insight, otherwise there’s no drama,just a character understanding herself and avoiding mistakes.
The other major problem was the ending. Lynn Barber nearly threw her life away, nearly missedout on the chance to go to university, nearly didn’t sit her exams. And though lots of movieendings derive their power from close shaves, they tend to be a little more enthralling: thebullet just misses the hero, the meteor just misses our planet. It was going to be hard to makepeople care about whether a young girl got a place at Oxford, no matter how clever she was.Lynn became Jenny after the first draft or two; there were practical reasons for the change,but it helped me to think about the character that I was in the process of creating, ratherthan the character who existed already, the person who had written the piece of memoir: I couldattempt to raise the stakes for Jenny, whereas I would have felt more obliged to stick to thefacts if she had remained Lynn.
Some stories mean something, some don’t. It was clear to me that this one did, but I wasn’tsure what, and the things it meant to me weren’t and couldn’t be the same as the things itmeant to Lynn: she had found, in this chapter of her life, all sorts of interesting clues toher future, for example, but I couldn’t worry about my character’s future. I had to worryabout her present, and how that present might feel compelling to an audience. It would take meseveral more drafts before I got even halfway there.
The first time I had a formal conversation with outsiders in the film industry about An
, it didn’t go well. Somebody who was in a position to fund the film - becauseEducation
Amanda and Finola, as independent producers, do not and cannot do that - had expressed aninterest, read my first draft, invited us in to a meeting. His colleague, however, clearlywasn’t convinced that there was any potential in the film at all, and that was that.Thisreflected a pattern repeated many times over the next few years: there was interest in thescript, followed by doubts about whether any investment could ever be recouped. Sometimes itfelt as though I was in the middle of writing a little literary novel, and going around townasking for a ?4 million advance for it. Our belief in the project, our conviction that it couldone day become a beautiful thing, was sweet, and the producers’ passion got us through a fewdoors, but it didn’t mean that we weren’t going to cost people money. Another problem withthe film’s commercial appeal was beginning to become apparent, too: the lead actress wouldhave to be an unknown - no part for Kate or Cate or Angelina here - and no conventional male
lead would want to play the part of the predatory, amoral, possibly lonely David, the older manwho seduces the young girl. (Peter Sarsgaard, who responded and committed to the script at anearly stage, is a proper actor: he didn’t seem to worry much about whether his character woulddamage his chances of getting the lead in a romantic comedy.)
The good people at BBC Films, however, saw something in the script - either that, or the
, which meant paying medesperation in our eyes - and funded the development of An Education
to write another draft, and giving Amanda and Finola some seed money. The meeting we had withDavid Thompson and Tracey Scoffield went the way no conversations of this kind go, in myexperience: as we talked, their professional scepticism was replaced by enthusiasm andunderstanding. This is supposed to be the point of meetings, from the supplicants’ point ofview, anyway; but in my experience (and probably in yours, too, whatever your profession),nobody who was previously doubtful is ever really open to persuasion or suggestion. The factthat the thirty minutes or so spent talking to David and Tracey wasn’t a waste of time is moreremarkable than it should be.
I didn’t need money to write another draft of the script, of course; I am well paid in myother profession, and there’s very little to be earned in British film, especially at thisearly stage. But money has a symbolic value, too. We all needed some indication that others inthe industry felt as enthusiastic about An Education as we did, otherwise we could be pretty
sure that any future energy poured into the project would run right through it and down thedrain. BBC Films gave us a sense of purpose. They were not in a position to fund the film, butthey could help us get the project into shape so that others might want to.
In the original piece, and in the film itself, our herione’s seducer produces a banana on thenight he wants to take her virginity, apparently because he thinks it will result in ease ofaccess. It was a strange and revealing detail that I wanted to keep, because it indicatedsomething of David’s gaucheness.
At a BBC script meeting, David Thompson, then head of BBC Films, started to muse aloud aboutthis particular scene.
‘The banana,’ he said hesitantly. ‘Could it . . .Would it work?’
He directed the question at Amanda and Finola. They shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Therewas a silence.
Jamie Laurenson, one of the executive producers, cleared his throat.
‘I don’t think . . . I don’t think it would be a peeled banana,’ he said.
‘Ah!’ said David. ‘Unpeeled! I see.’
We moved on, gratefully.
It helps to attach a director to the project, too, for exactly the same reasons. Beeban Kidronread whatever was the most recent draft, liked it, met to talk about it, and then worked withme on the script for the best part of a year. (These years slip by, so it’s a relief toremember that other things were happening while An Education wasn’t being made. I wrote my
young adult novel Slam , and my third son was born; Finola was off making the HBO drama Tsunami . We have something to show for that time.) I loved working with Beeban, who livesround the corner from my office and could therefore meet within five minutes of receiving anemail, if she was around; it was through talking to her, thinking about what she needed fromthe script as a film-maker, that I made several important improvements to the script. CertainlyJenny’s complicity in many of David’s deceptions, her willingness to manipulate her parents,came out of my work with Beeban; we took as our cue Lynn Barber’s admission, in the originalpiece, that when she witnessed ‘David’ stealing the map, she didn’t do anything about it.The
decision we made during that time made the script more morally complicated, and the film is thericher for it.
Beeban and I had a cloud hanging over us, however. She was attached to another movie which,like ours, had spent a long time in development. Eventually it became apparent that shecouldn’t do both, that they were going to clash, and reluctantly (I think and hope) shedecided to go with the project which had predated ours. We were back to square one.
We talked to several more directors after Beeban’s departure. Most wanted to develop thescript further, which was fair enough; the trouble is that no two directors could agree on theroute we should be taking. One young director even wondered whether the whole 1962 thing was ared herring - had we thought of setting it in the present day? No, we hadn’t. I wasparticularly keen to work with a woman director - yes, I had female producers to keep a watchon Jenny as she developed in the script, but the value of a woman director who could work withour young actress on set would, I felt, be incalculable - and when Lone Scherfig, the Danish
Italian for Beginners , expressed an interest in making the film, we all wanteddirector of
to listen to what she had to say. Lone turned out to be smart about the script, endlesslyenthusiastic, and with an outsider’s eye for detail; after she’d taken the job, she set aboutimmersing herself in the look of 1962 England, its clothes and its cars and its cakes. We werelucky to find her.
So then we were four: Amanda, Finola, Lone and I. And, for some time, we’d been talking tocasting director Lucy Bevan. I’m quite often asked how much input I have in the variousprocesses of film-making - ‘Do you have a say in the casting, for example?’ And though I’dlike to claim credit for just about everything, the truth is that I simply don’t know enoughabout actors (or directors, or editors, or designers, or composers) to contribute to thesedecisions in any meaningful way. How many young actresses did I know capable of playing thepart of Jenny, for example? None at all. What about male actors for the part of David? Well,there was Colin Firth, of course, who I knew from Fever Pitch . And John Cusack ( High
), and Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult from About a Boy , and the guy with the haircutFidelity
from No Country for Old Men ; which I’d just seen, probably, right before I was asked for myopinion . . . OK, not one of these was right, but they were all I could think of. Lucy Bevan’sjob is to read a script and come up with scores of imaginative suggestions for each part, andshe’s brilliant at it. On the whole, it’s best that the casting director, rather than thewriter, has a say in casting.
Every now and again I’d say, ‘Oh God, you can’t ask him .’ Not because the actor in
question was bad, or wrong for the part, but because it seemed to me insulting and embarrassingto offer it to him. Lucy, Amanda and Finola were ambitious for An Education in ways that I
could never have been, which is why we ended up with Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and RosamundPike, rather than, say, me, my friend Harry and my next-door neighbour.
We were helped immeasurably by Emma Thompson agreeing to play the headmistress at an earlystage: she gives any project an aura of authority and potential excellence. It was Lucy whoknew about Carey Mulligan, of course - she’s been in Bleak House and Pride and Prejudice ,
and those who had worked with her all talked of her phenomenal talent. But when I was told thatthey were thinking of casting a twenty-two-year-old as sixteen-year-old Jenny, I was a littledisappointed (my exact words, Amanda tells me gleefully, were ‘Well, that’s ruined itall’); it would, I thought, be a different kind of film, with an older and as a consequencemore knowing girl in the lead role. But when I saw the first shots of Carey in her schooluniform, I worried that she looked too young, that we were involved in a dubious remake of Lolita . When Carey’s mother visited the set, she told us that Carey had always cursed heryouthful looks, but here they worked for her: I cannot imagine any other actress who could havebeen so convincing as a schoolgirl and yet so dazzling after her transformation. And, ofcourse, she can act. This was a huge part for any young actress - Jenny is in every single
scene - but I don’t think one ever tires of watching her. There’s so much detail, so muchintelligence in the performance that it’s impossible to get bored.
My only contribution was a small panic when I’d watched her audition on DVD - she was soclearly, uncannily right that I was concerned when I heard she hadn’t yet been offered therole. And yet this small panic, expressed after producers and director and casting agent hadseen the audition, and long after she’d been cast in other high-profile productions, is easilyenough for me to claim that I discovered her; so I will, for years to come.
‘Oh God, you can’t ask him,’ I said. Well, they’d already asked him, and he’d already saidhe wanted to play the part of Danny. Arrangements were made for the care of his dog.
A couple of weeks before shooting, I was asked to talk to him about a couple of lines in thescript. He called me at my office and told me that, much as he admired the writing, hewouldn’t be able to play the part. He hoped we’d be able to work together on something else.Confused, I called my wife and told her that, as far as I could tell, Orlando Bloom had justtold me he wouldn’t, after all, be playing the part of Danny. Amanda spoke to his agent.
‘No,’ she said. ‘There has been a misunderstanding. ’ (It was clear, I felt, from the toneof her voice, who had misunderstood whom.) ‘He just wanted to talk to you about the script.’
I replayed the conversation in my head. We already had a wonderful cast lined up, but OrlandoBloom’s fan club would, it was felt, help the box office of a small British film no end. Howhad I managed to drive him away, in under three minutes? What had I said?
‘He’s going to call you at home later,’ she said.
Don’t mess it up, she didn’t say. But that’s what I heard anyway.
He called that night, and we had exactly the same conversation. I strode around our kitchen,listening to Orlando Bloom talk about his regret and sadness, while I made throat-choppinggestures at my wife. As I wasn’t doing any of the talking, she could see and hear that Iwasn’t doing any of the damage, either. I have no idea what any of it was about - why he’dturned us down, why he’d said yes in the first place, whether he’d ever intended to do it,whether it really was Orlando Bloom I’d been speaking to.
Incredibly, the brilliant Dominic Cooper stepped in almost immediately.
In the strange world of independent cinema, everyone - director, writer, cast, producers -proceeds on the basis that the film will be made, even though there is still no money withwhich to make it. If it’s not make-believe (after all, we were all being paid to pretend,which children aren’t), then it’s a particularly committed form of method acting: we wereinhabiting the bodies of independent film-makers, thinking their thoughts at all times in thehope of convincing someone that this was who we were. And eventually somebody believed us. TheAmerican financiers Endgame Entertainment liked the script and the cast and the director; this,together with the not insubstantial contribution of the BBC, was enough to enable the film tohappen. So suddenly we were all sitting around a table, reading the script out loud to see howit sounded. (I say ‘we’ because I read, too - Alfred Molina couldn’t make it, so I playedthe part of Jenny’s father, Jack. This I did by shouting a lot.) I have been to a few read-throughs, and if they go well, as this one did, they are completely thrilling, not leastbecause this is the only time that the script is read from beginning to end in its entirety, soit’s the only chance the writer ever gets to listen to his words in the right order, in realtime. The film isn’t shot that way, and scenes get chopped, or never shot in the first place .. . For the writer, the read-through is the purest, most fully realised version of the script,before the actual film-making part of film-making gets in the way.