Barbara Jane Mackie is a BBC trained script and screenwriter, author, composer and lyricist. That’s pretty impressive to say the least! Barbara’s work covers both TV (Dalziel & Pascoe, Dangerfield, Mimi, Cowboy Girls) and theatre (Rumpy Pumpy!) so I was very keen to speak to a writer who transitions through genres to impart some words of wisdom!
1) Was it always a burning ambition of yours to become a writer?
Not really. As a child, I always wrote stories and later (teen years) sketches and wrote stories at school and read masses and masses, but I was mad keen to become an actress from the age of five and acted a lot in school plays and plays we put on at home. This was my burning ambition ever since I watched ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘West Side Story’ and I would re-enact those musicals with my sisters at a very young age, generally running around in fields and barns where I grew up in the country outside Cirencester. My father was a TV Dramatist (Philip Mackie) and Head of Drama at Granada TV so I was surrounded with actors, writers, musicians at a very young age and this certainly fed my creative urges.
2) Did your father impart any words of wisdom for you on your journey as a writer?
I never talked to my father about writing as he was – a BAFTA award winning TV writer – very much ‘the Writer’ in our family. I was always keen to act and would talk to him a lot about going to RADA when I was older and I even wrote to Ian McKellan, when he was starting out, about tips on how to become a writer! So my father, who sadly died when I was 28, knew me first as ‘Barbara the Actress’ and then ‘Barbara the Director’, as I became a Channel4 and BBC documentary director and then a Pop Promo Director. My father was very proud of my directing ambitions. I think, on reflection, that I only properly started taking writing-as-a-career seriously when my father died in my late 20’s and when I was in my early thirties I joined BBC Birmingham Drama as a Script Editor, working with professional writers – Alan Plater and other great ones. I was lucky and learned a lot from them! On ‘Dangerfield’, I was working with seasoned pro Don Shaw and Don let me write quite a lot of the scenes with young people in them as he felt I would be better at that than him – so I got a taste of scriptwriting. It was only on my second maternity break with my second child that I decided I wouldn’t return to the BBC as a Drama Producer – which is what I had become – but that I would go freelance as a scriptwriter. I then worked with several Drama Producers whom I had already worked with at the BBC.
3) Your early breaks were in theatre, what attracted you to the stage?
As said, I had always been keen to act, but in my late teens, decided literature was my thing so I went to Hull University (where I was coincidentally tutored in the Drama department by Anthony Minghella) and studied Drama & American Studies. I was a big reader and a big fan of American literature and plays in particular and Tennessee Williams was my hero in particular and his plays. I loved films too. I was interested in comedy and stand up Alternative Comedy was starting so, through mutual friends, met and teamed up with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson and became their Administrator of their Comedy stage show. We all got jobs at The Tramshed Fringe Theatre in South London but even then I was keen to go off and work in films so after a year, moved into TV Commercials.
4) How did Anthony Minghella influence your work?
Anthony, as a person and as an artist, was a massive influence on my work as he had become a Script Editor on ‘Inspector Morse’ and then a writer on that show and I myself then became a BBC Script Editor so I felt we had a link there. I hadn’t seen much of him over the years but, as a former Drama Student of his, had followed his rising career from theatre to tv then film with a keen eye. I guess, subconsciously, I followed his trail from theatre to tv and then to film, where I am now, writing screenplays. (There have been two musicals on the way, of course! ‘Rumpy Pumpy!’ which was staged on the London Fringe and Windsor Theatre Royal (www.rumpypumpythemusical.co.uk) and then writing and composing my latest musical ‘Cowboy Girls’ (soon to be finished!) where songs and story can be found on www.cowboygirlsthemusical.com Anthony then returned to the island around eight years ago and we reconnected after many, many years. He was gracious and generous enough to read my screenplay ‘Cowboy Girls’ and invited me in to work with this Script Editors at his company Mirage Enterprises and they gave me incredibly helpful notes. Anthony was a great guy and enormously generous with his time to other creatives so I felt blessed to have known him. He is definitely an inspiration and I was hugely saddened when he died and died so young.
We were all in the same bag as recently-graduated Drama students. Myself from Hull University Drama and Rik and Ade from Manchester University where they also studied Drama. We were introduced by a mutual friend and they needed a PR Person and Administrator so my job was to get them interviews and post posters around London and advertise their very early shows – generally in run down Church Halls. We were just beginning remember and it was usually just our friends and parents who turned up! They were both great fun to work with and Rik hugely ambitious, I remember, always on the phone to his agent. But we had a lot of laughs and socialised too. All in our early twenties in London in the ’80’s so it was a fun time!
6) When does a story fit better to stage than to screen?
Film is a more visual medium and it needs a lot of action. Theatre needs way less action and a smaller set up and ‘world.’ You could say, the bigger the scope and story, the bigger the platform it needs but having said that a lot of plays become films and sometimes vice-versa. Film scripts and plays have this in common – structure. A beginning, a middle and an end. So the basic structure is the same. Films are about what people DO and plays more about what they Say. That’s my take on it anyway.
7) What are you most proud of when you look back at your work?
I’m most proud of my musical ‘Rumpy Pumpy!’ which is based on the true story of two lovely, elderly ladies from the Hampshire WI (true story!) Jean and Shirley who went on a worldwide search for the perfect brothel as they were so horrified by conditions for Working Girls on the streets of Southampton. That started life as a screenplay, but I then decided I wanted to make it into a musical and have some fun with it.
I’m also hugely proud of my screenplay ‘Cowboy Girls’, which is a big budget Western and still to be made (this is the film that Anthony Minghella was promoting before he died) even though it has been optioned a couple of times, so there has been interest from Hollywood Producers. It’s a timeless – period – piece so doesn’t date so I’m still trying to get that made.
8) What do you have in the pipeline?
I’m currently mid-way through writing my latest screenplay, ‘The Last Chance Mommas’ which is the story of a middle-aged all female Punk Rock Band who form on the Isle of Wight. It’s a mother and daughter story – where the daughter dies – and is perhaps inspired by the wonderful film ‘Terms of Endearment’ – so a comedy-drama which is hopeful and has real heart. West One Entertainment – who are also the Producers of ‘Rumpy Pumpy!’ the film – are on board and they are hugely enthusiastic about shooting it on The Isle of Wight next year and have backers on board. Exciting times!
Myself, my husband Tony Steyger, as Executive Producer and West One Entertainment are currently raising funds to make my musical ‘Rumpy Pumpy!’ into a film and filming it on the streets of Southampton – hopefully later next year! It’s a comedy drama and we feel with all the wonderful parts for women, it will transfer into a wonderful film. ‘Calendar Girls’ meets ‘Sweet Charity’ one could say! We have ‘EastEnders’ actress Cheryl Ferguson now formally attached which is great and Cheryl (currently packing out theatre houses with ‘Menopause the Musical’ ) can really sing – and act too, of course! She will be playing Holly the Madame of the Brothel.
9) Can you impart any wise words for me as I start on my journey?
Start, if you are writing films, with a short film. That’s a ten-fifteen minute script. Way too many new writers start with a long one – the screenplay – but they are experienced enough to make it work. Always use Final Draft or Celtx which is a professional layout writing package as no Producers, etc. will want to write a script that isn’t formulated properly. Proper form is professional and that means your work will be taken seriously. Write from the heart and write from what you know and be bold! It’s your chance to tell a great story and make sure that story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End.
10) Is there anything you wish I’d asked?
You’ve asked some great questions – thank you! I’ve enjoyed it.
Barbara, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and I would like to wish you all the best with your creations! Hopefully see you in the Cotswolds very soon.
Barbara’s social media links