After The Sea is a project that came about through a mixture of complete chance, and total inevitability.
In November 2015 I was in Brighton, waiting for an old friend to finish work. I had been trying to write all day, moving round coffee shops looking for somewhere where I wouldn’t feel guilty using the WiFi. I was writing a crime drama set in Scarborough about a botched drug deal. It was awful. Cliché laden, overly violent, convoluted and it had a character with the name ‘Tony’…
I walked through the drizzle, along the seafront, and up to a pub that I remembered because they had comfy sofas. I bought a pint and thought I’d try writing something else. I flicked through my notes and found one that I’d left for myself the previous summer when I was at my parent’s house in North Norfolk. It read ‘separated couple meet up on a beach’.
I remembered this idea; I was in Sheringham, which is a semi-busy tourist seaside town, and a favourite with Norfolk locals. Narrow, winding streets lead to a beach with beautiful, towering craggy rocks and a sea that comes right up to the edge of the houses. Candy floss, filter coffee, garishly coloured shop fronts, the lot. It’s a gorgeous part of the world, which to me represents Norfolk’s natural beauty, and the locals’ absolute undying love of chips, ice cream and shop names written in Comic Sans.
When I was on Sheringham beach, writing this note, it was about three months after a man I had grown up with and considered a brother— along with his brother and my actual brother— had taken his own life. All four of us grew up together, were in a typical teenage band together, and when those three went to University and I was still at college, I used to visit them, where Sam would 'show me the ropes'-- which was generally failing to chat up girls, eating large pots of Tesco humous and learning how to carry 5 VKs on each hand by jamming your finger into the top.
When he died our worlds were shattered, as was the case for everyone who loved him-- which was pretty much everyone he met. Sam was a brilliant, witty, kind, generous man who shone in everything he did. It was impossible to not be drawn to his hilarity and inherent goodness. He possessed an unrivalled skill for story telling, which he performed with brutal honesty— to the point where sometimes a fiction would be more believable, and probably less disgusting. He also lived to help other people, and was ferociously self-less, unaffected and genuine.
I had also recently broken up with my long-term partner, it was a really shit bit of life.
I was walking on the sand and I had this image of a couple sitting at a beachside café over a tacky metallic table. I didn’t know what they would speak about, I didn’t know who they were, and I didn’t know why they were there. All I had in my head was that they used to be together and they’ve met up for some reason. This idea— probably through lack of anything apart from two hollow characters— was shelved. Or rather written in the notes on my iPhone and forgotten about but that’s not quite so poetic sounding.
In Brighton, half year later, I read this note and realised I had, in that time, had that exact conversation. I had met up with my ex-partner, for my mum’s birthday at the start of September. We walked on the beach in Sheringham and had quite an extensive chat about the last few months, covering our relationship, our sadness, Sam, and our futures.
Another pint down, I began to write, and instead of my usual writing routine of penning two lines, procrastinating, going on Facebook, getting annoyed that I’m on Facebook, writing another line and feeling proud of myself— I wrote fluidly and without stopping until I had a 15-page screenplay. It was an unplanned outpouring of pretty much every emotion I had felt in the past few months, and every single word of it true. It was pure catharsis and probably a fair bit of self-indulgence.
After The Sea follows a separated couple, Alice & Joe, who meet up on a beach to talk about the suicide of their mutual best friend. The film I wrote on a drizzly afternoon in Brighton is a raw, unaltered piece of myself. It is comprised of conversations with my ex-partner, my brother, my friends, parents, my thoughts, anxieties, insecurities, sadness and misguided optimism.
I have since felt compelled to make sure this film becomes an actuality. It is a film that covers relationships, suicide, grief, love, feeling lost, feeling alone and being sick on a dog.
At the beginning of this self-satisfied ramble, I wrote that After The Sea came about through a combination of chance and inevitability. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t have sat down in Brighton that day, with a beer and a scribbled note from six months ago, that film would never have been written. It’s a completely non-manufactured time capsule, a writing experience I doubt I will ever encounter again. On the other hand, its inevitability comes through every experience that lead to its simultaneous conception and birth. That story, the seeds of which were planted on a miserable walk in North Norfolk, through to my mum’s birthday and ending in a pub in Brighton, was always going to come out, in whatever form… and it did.
After The Sea is due to be shot in Sheringham in May 2017. We are currently in pre-production, and are working towards making a beautiful, emotionally affecting short film which aims to raise awareness for the phenomena of male suicide. We will be campaigning for charities such as CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) through the production of the film, hoping to raise money for and draw attention to, male suicide and mental illness in general.
After The Sea is not about Sam, nor is it about me, nor is it directly about suicide. It focuses on the aftermath and affect of suicide on those left behind and the cycle of grief it perpetuates. It’s about relationships and break ups and if nothing else, it is a heartbroken romantic’s love letter to love, fate & a man I still consider a brother, even if he won’t be around to see it.
Tom Leatherbarrow is a film and theatre writer & director currently based in Brighton.