Great stories take time, and it took plenty of it to create Refinery29's latest Shatterbox film Mr. Malcolm's List.
Writer Suzanne Allain first dreamt up the plot 18 years ago in the form of a short story about a man's list of qualifications for a romantic partner — and what happened when it got into the wrong hands. That seemingly simple premise became the starting point of Allain's Jane Austen-inspired novel, Mr. Malcolm's List.
Years later, Allain decided to turn her novel into a screenplay, in which Mr. Malcolm, his spurned date Julia, and the unassuming Selena would play out their ambitions and their revenge in 19th century London. How exactly this became one of the more coveted scripts in the industry is, however, a story only possible in the internet age.
"I was living in Florida, I had no access to Hollywood, I didn't know what to do to get it seen by people," Allain says. So she tried everything — blind emailing producers and Hollywood executives and submitting it to contests. After a promising placement in an Amazon Studios open call, followed by a frank discussion with a producer about the pitfalls of writing period pieces, Allain finally uploaded the screenplay to The Black List, a forum where screenwriters can solicit feedback and get their work seen by Hollywood professionals.
To her surprise, her script was rated a 9 out of 10, thanks to Allain's particular blend of Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and P.G. Wodehouse. Mr. Malcolm's List eventually went on to become one of the highest-rated scripts on the forum, catching the eye of Warner Brothers, which in turn offered Allain a blind script deal.
It's almost a fairytale come true — save for the fact that the film has yet to be made. So 18 years after the original short story, Refinery29 teamed up with filmmaker Emma Holly Jones to create a taste of Mr. Malcolm's world in the form of a prequel. "When Emma called me about the short film, we didn’t want it to be scenes taken from the feature script," Allain says, who ended up writing an entirely new scene for Jones.
The resulting film sets the stage for deception and drama by depicting the disastrous date that sparks Julia's desire for revenge. "This is how we get to see Mr. Malcolm really searching for that person, his partner," Allain says. "You see Julia as a woman of ambition, trying to meet the pinnacle of success as defined by her era."