TOM MACRAE on Creating "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," Bringing the Show To America, and More
Where did you come up with the inspiration to write Everybody’s Talking about Jamie?
Jonathan Butterell, our director, first saw the documentary 'Jamie: Drag Queen At 16' on BBC TV in the UK, which told the true story of Jamie Campbell's dream of going to his school prom in a dress, and he thought it would make a great musical. When he shared it with me and Dan Gillespie Sells, we agreed!
You have written mainly for television and this was your debut in writing for the stage. What were some challenges and what were some positives about writing for the stage that you had to navigate?
A friend of mine who is a playwright gave me some really good advice about the difference in writing for a stage audience as opposed to a screen audience: On screen, if Jack is angry with Jill, you show him scowling in a close up, but on stage there are no close-ups to tell the audience where to look, so if Jack is angry with Jill, he scowls, and then Jill has to say "What are you looking at me like that for?"
There has been rumor of the show coming across the pond to land on Broadway. Is there an update you can share with the next steps?
We're opening in January at the Ahmanson in LA (tickets available now!) and if that goes well - who knows! It would be my dream to go to Broadway, and to tour the US and bring Jamie's story to every city that we can, so fingers crossed we can make that happen.
What is the process that you and Dan Gillespie Sells use when writing the songs and music for this show? Did one come before the other?
Generally the idea for the song comes first, and that provides the lyrical 'hook' for the chorus, like 'He's My Boy' or "Everybody's Talking About Jamie', then Dan would write a tune built around that, and then I'd fill in the words, then we'd got back and forth a bit, polishing it up until we found the final shape. Occasionally the lyrics would come first, like with 'If I Met Myself Again' and 'It Means Beautiful', but those were the exceptions rather than the rule.
What advice do you have for those who are looking to write their own show?
Find fantastic collaborators who have complimentary skills to your own and who you genuinely get on with - because you're going to be spending a lot of time in each other's company!
How did you go about writing the film and adapting it from the stage version? Did you find that challenging?
Adapting my stage play into a screenplay had its challenges, but it was so much fun that it never really felt like work. I got to open up Jamie's world and see more of his house, his school, his job - and meet characters who'd only been hinted at off-stage before, like his dad's new girlfriend Cheryl. On film, you have the intimacy of the close-up on one hand, and the scale of three thousand extras at a street party on the other hand - and neither of those extremes are really possible in theatre.
Did you expect the popularity of the show to be what has become when you were writing it for the stage?
I dreamed it could be possible - but expected? No! Definitely not! Who could ever expect something like this to happen to that little idea you dreamed up on your kitchen table with your best friends? I still can't believe it now!
What was the casting process like for the film? I understand it was a bit of challenge trying to find the movie’s leading character?
Nearly all of our young cast had never been on screen before, or acted professionally before, so we did a massive open casting call, helmed by our brilliant casting director Shaheen Baig. We saw over 3,000 potential Jamie's before we found Max Harwood.
What is next for you career wise?
I'm working on a couple of stage projects, a couple of movies, and more than a couple of new TV things. Quite a few are musicals - but not all of them. I can't wait to be able to announce what they all are!
What do you hope audiences will take away from the story?
A simple message of hope, of optimism, about the power of community and the power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and my favorite message of all: that kindness is a super-power.