Category Archives: Movies

Why “TENET” was incomprehensible…

Christopher Nolan: a great movie director (Photograph by Photo Georges Biard)

I saw TENET last night.

Christopher Nolan is a great movie director.

The Dark Knight was a wonderful piece of movie-making: direction, script, acting.

Dunkirk was amazing on a big screen with a good sound system.

TENET looks all of its $200million budget.

But it is bollocks.

Like Inception – which was also unecessarily impenetrable – he should have gone back to an earlier, simpler version of the script – perhaps Draft 2 or Draft 3. It was probably a great idea back then.

Although I hope it didn’t include the thrown-in-quite-late bit in TENET‘s plot which echoes the six Infinity Stones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and JRR Tolkien’s twenty Rings of Power. Maybe that was detritus left over from some discarded earlier version of the plot.

It is all very well to make intelligent or even mindless pure entertainment films which, with modern home technology, can benefit from being watched and re-watched several times, seeing more in them each time.

However, if the movie’s plot details are not intriguingly intricate but actually just bloody incomprehensible for stretches, then there is something wrong with the script.

And the problem with TENET is not just the labyrinthine impenetrability of the final script – It is the soundtrack.

Here you have the labyrinthine impenetrability of a script plus occasional added mumbling.

Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie (The Dark Knight Rises) had the main villain mumbling through a mask. But this time it is not just one person but loads of people mumbling semi-incomprehensibly through masks and over radios and phones and, at points, having to compete with very distracting overly-complicated music which interferes with the clarity of what’s being said.

And I saw TENET in a bleedin’ IMAX!

There was a fair amount of occasional unclear muttering in TENET, but I think that was mostly because of the sound mix at those points, not the acting.

I swear Christopher Nolan probably heard everything clearly in his super duper sound mixing suite but he should maybe do what Stanley Kubrick allegedly did – go round suburban cinemas with a light meter (though there’s nothing wrong with Tenet’s visuals) and hear the soundtrack through less good speakers.

Even in IMAX, there was unclear mumbling going on.

This morning, someone who saw TENET last week in a different cinema told me: “I thought I needed a hearing aid after watching it. Couldn’t hear all the vocals. Really spoilt it – or was it done on purpose so you have to watch it more than once?”

“It was like doing The Times crossword puzzle every day”

On the good side, Kenneth Branagh was wonderful, possibly deserving of a Best Supporting Actor (or Person) Oscar nomination.

This was maybe because Branagh rarely – or relatively rarely – had to be heard through a mask, a phone or sheets of glass.

So he could be (usually but not always) clearly heard.

Clarity should be one of the main tenets – yes, tenets – of film-making – clarity of script, clarity of diction, clarity of… well, everything.

In an interview in Total Film Kenneth Branagh said he constantly had to re-read the script in order to work out the storyline: “It was like doing The Times crossword puzzle every day.”

Robert Pattinson told Esquire that, during filming: “There were months at a time where I’m like: I actually, honestly have no idea if I’m even vaguely understanding what’s happening“.

If even your cast have trouble understanding what the hell is going on, pity the poor audience, especially if they can’t hear some of the muffled dialogue.

If you wanna write a novel, write a novel. But a movie ain’t a novel.

Apparently, Christopher Nolan developed the ideas and plot of TENET over the course of twenty years and had been working on this version of the script for about six or seven years. Well, that is part of the problem.

I remember, years ago – last century – having a conversation with a fellow TV researcher about good interviewees. We agreed that the best interviewee to explain something clearly to a general audience was not an expert but a fan. If you know too much about a subject, you can’t communicate it simply and comprehensibly. You know too much. If you are a fan, you know what the key features are and why a stranger to the subject could get hooked.

In the first two or three drafts of a script, there is the raw enthusiasm for the concept.

After six or seven or twenty years into it, you are fiddling with the detail, not communicating the raw originality.

My advice. If you have been refining something for twenty years, maybe go back to the original script which had the passion and simplify your 200th draft, don’t make it even more complicated.

And, when you sound-mix, counter-intuitively, listen to it on worse speakers.

Clarity in all things.

Give the punters half a chance.

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There’s more to Richard O’Brien than the Rocky Horror Show’s Riff Raff…

Three weeks ago in this blog I mentioned the sad death of Douglas Gray of The Alberts, the extraordinary surreal brothers little remembered by ordinary punters now but whose influence on British comedy was so great that Douglas got a full-page obituary in The Times.

Richard O’Brien – creator of The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Picture Show – commented on the blog: “I had the great pleasure of working with Tony and Douglas, plus Tony’s son Sinbad, in Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid theatre in 1969. Each day was a delightful excursion into organised chaos…”

So obviously, I had to ask him about it. He now lives in New Zealand…


Richard O’Brien with a statue of him as Riff Raff erected in Hamilton, New Zealand, at the site of the barber shop where he cut hair in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

JOHN: New Zealand? Why on earth New Zealand?

RICHARD: Well, my parents emigrated to New Zealand in 1952 when I was ten and I was brought up there – went through puberty, adolescence, all that kind of stuff – the BIG bit of growing-up, basically.

JOHN: New Zealand seems a very sensible place. Not surreal or anarchic or OTT…

RICHARD: What was really nice about it was that it was a middle classless society. Nobody was your social superior. It was an egalitarian meritocracy, about as good as it could get. Not ideal but still wonderful.

JOHN: So when you came back to Britain in 1964, you found they couldn’t socially classify you because you had not been brought up here?

RICHARD: I had a great card to play. If I was with people who were a bit snobby, I was out of the equation. I had a go-anywhere card because England at that time was a deeply class-ridden society – still is to an extent – look at Boris and his chums.

BBC reported that Richard “delighted in shaking up the conservative sexual attitudes of the 1970s”

It was wonderful. I could go absolutely anywhere and I was not on any level of their thinking. So it was wonderful.

Being under-educated and unsophisticated, I kept my mouth shut and I wasn’t a bad-looking boy, so I was invited to places because, well, we ARE so fucking shallow, aren’t we? And, as long as I was well-mannered and a good listener, I was welcome anywhere. It was great.

JOHN: One of the first things you did over here was work as a stuntman on the movie Carry On Cowboy… Whaaat? 

RICHARD: It was simply because, in 1965, there was an opening to do that. I did three movies in 1965: Carry On Cowboy, The Fighting Prince of Donegal and that early version of Casino Royale which nobody understands. But I didn’t really want to be a stuntman. I wanted to be an actor.

JOHN: Which you became…

“Delightful excursion into organised chaos”

RICHARD: And, in 1968, Sean Kenny decided to direct and design Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid Theatre and he got together an incredible cast. A huge range of actors. It was quite wonderful. Some real ‘characters’. And, of course, The Alberts were part of that.

JOHN: You said that the Mermaid show experience with The Alberts was “a delightful excursion into organised chaos”

RICHARD: Douglas would turn up in a kilt and in all kinds of uniforms. They might come on stage with a wheelbarrow but there was bound to be an explosion somewhere. They would wear pinafores with naked bodies painted on the front. Quite childish; very childish. You couldn’t really call it professional. It was like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what would stick. But it was delightful.

“I think what I really wanted to do was take my guitar and go round the world singing songs” (Photograph c 1964)

JOHN: You are an actor/writer/musician/TV person. Which one did you want to be when you were 16?

RICHARD: I am ‘musical’. I wouldn’t call myself a musician. I play the guitar a little and I sing and I have a good ear.

I wrote songs when I was in my teenage years: mostly derivative rock n roll stuff. I think what I really wanted to do was take my guitar and go round the world singing songs.

I wouldn’t have minded singing folk songs – going round the world learning different countries’ folk songs.

I like writing songs, but mostly because I like storytelling. I love narrative poetry. I think probably my strength more than anything else is writing lyrics. Dressing-up and making-believe was always a kind of joy. Acting is not really a job for grown-ups. It’s a childish kind of thing to want to dress up and make-believe. But it’s a very enjoyable one.

…as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show…

JOHN: Your obituary in The Times is inevitably going to have “Rocky Horror” in the headline. 

RICHARD: Well, of course it will. It’s one of the longest-running movies ever in movie history. It’s a silly piece of adolescent fun and nonsense. You can’t take it seriously and yet it’s had an incredible effect on a lot of people. It’s given a lot of people hope in their world if they’re lonely and lost. Rocky Horror’s got a sense of Well, you’re not alone.

It would be perverse for me not to acknowledge Rocky Horror.

JOHN: Rocky Horror re-routed your career?

RICHARD: It probably took me away from acting. I maybe thought I should stay at home and be writing more. The nice thing was I was successful without anybody knowing who I was if I walked down the street.

Willie Rushton was a lovely man whom I got to know – he was in Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid. He was on television all the time and I would walk down the street with him and everybody would come up to him and I would stand beside him and, in monetary terms and in theatrical terms, I was doing as well as he was but nobody knew who I was. I had this wonderful anonymity… but that disappeared when I started doing The Crystal Maze on TV. The anonymity all went out the window.

Richard’s anonymity disappeared doing The Crystal Maze

JOHN: Everyone wants fame and fortune…

RICHARD: I didn’t want to be famous. Honestly. And I didn’t want to have a lot of money. Luckily, something went wrong and I achieved both those ends. But I wasn’t searching for it. Never was.

JOHN: What is the least known or least appreciated creative thing you have been involved in that you are most proud of?

RICHARD: Proud of? I don’t like pride. It comes before a fall. 

Even with Gay Pride… I think it’s really silly to be proud of something which you are by default… Be glad. Over the moon. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes. Deliriously happy. Fantastic. Yes. 

Proud to be black? Proud to be white? Proud to be straight? Proud to be what you are by default?… Proud to be blond? – How stupid would that be?

JOHN: But, if I pushed you on what is most underestimated…

RICHARD: I adapted The Dancing Years by Ivor Novello which we did with Gillian Lynne (the choreographer of Cats and Phantom of The Opera). I think we did a wonderful job on it and we had two stagings of it upstairs in a rehearsal room at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London – lots and lots of people there – and grown men were crying at the end. They were weeping. I think we did that very well but we weren’t allowed to go further with it, which was a great, great shame.

JOHN: You’re knocking on a bit. Old blokes cannot be creative…

RICHARD: Well, I’m 78, I’ve just had a stroke, but I’m still working… 

JOHN: On what?

RICHARD: A satirical fairy tale.

JOHN: And then?

RICHARD: I’m going to go and have a sit-down and maybe a cup of tea.

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The ‘lost’ Aardman Animations feature film and a new type of storytelling…

In yesterday’s blog animator and director Derek Hayes talked about his early career.

Here, he continues and updates… 


Derek Hayes talked to me from his West Country home via Skype during the coronavirus lockdown…

JOHN: You were trained in and got experience in drawn animation and then computer animation arrives. A totally different mindset required, surely?

DEREK: Yes and no. I got to be a director before the computers came in so, when they did, what I did was just stand there and tell someone technical: “Make it do that…” All I need to know is what it CAN do. I don’t need to know how to press the buttons to make it happen. I just need to know if the operator is bullshitting me about what it can and can’t do. 

I can use things like PhotoShop, but don’t ask me to get into the technicalities. It is just a tool. At the beginning, you had to have a big desk with big machines and you needed an operator with it and you had to sit there and point at the screen and say “Could you put it there” or “Lower it a little bit” or “Make it a little bit more red”. It was really frustrating. But, as things got smaller, you could start to use it yourself.

JOHN: In 2000, you helped develop The Tortoise and The Hare at Aardman Animations. But The Tortoise and The Hare never happened because…?

DEREK: It disappeared when Dreamworks and Aardman separated. That had, I think, a 5-picture deal. Chicken Run was the first one, which did pretty well at the box office.

They were just coming to the end of production on Chicken Run and Dreamworks was insistent they should get straight into the next feature – just keep ‘em turning over and keep all the crew on board. They were still six months or more before the end of production on Chicken Run and they asked me to come in and chat to Karey Kirkpatrick, who had been a writer on Chicken Run.

He was going to develop a new idea and they wanted me to come in, help develop it and maybe then direct it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, because I had just agreed to do Otherworld.

When we discussed the idea, there was nothing really except that it would be a cross between Creature Comforts and Brookside. 

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Run that Elevator Pitch past me again…

DEREK: A domestic story set in some normal city but with animals as the characters… and what came out of that was The Tortoise and The Hare.

The Tortoise and The Hare – Aardman’s ‘lost’ feature film

JOHN: The Greek fable?

DEREK: Yes. They developed a script for it and actually went into production. This was while I was doing Otherworld. They were making sets, doing all kinds of stuff. But, pretty soon, they realised the script wasn’t right. So they had to stop it, get rid of everybody; and they then pushed on with the first Wallace & Gromit feature.

The basic problem was that, with The Tortoise and The Hare, you only have two outcomes to that story. If you use the Aesop one, the hare loses. And the other is where the hare wins.

No-one is going to sit watching, waiting for either of those – because it’s just too obvious. That was the main problem and they didn’t solve it for quite a while.

But, when I had finished Otherworld, they came back to me and said: “We have sorted it out. Do you want to come on board again and carry on developing?”

JOHN: How had they solved the problem?

DEREK: They had basically put the race at the beginning. They had Harry the Hare, who was the fastest athlete in the world and really big-headed and stuck-up and was really getting on his manager’s nerves. And there was the Park Keeper, Maurice the Tortoise. They had known each other as kids.

So Harry the Hare is coming back to his home town for this race and the manager, who is sick of him, decides he is going to sabotage him, make the tortoise win and the tortoise will be a much better kind of client because the manager can manipulate him and what is bigger and more interesting than The tortoise that beat the fastest animal in the world?

It’s just a ‘changing places’ story after that.

Harry the Hare gets fatter and Maurice the Tortoise goes on to fame and fortune, until they finally realise that they are being manipulated and they have to get together to sort it out.

So we were just developing that… 

Chicken Run had done well at the box office, but Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-RabbitIt did really well around the world EXCEPT in America,

JOHN: Too British…

DEREK: Yeah. That’s right. Basically, it was all a bit too British for the Americans. They were asking weird things like: “So there’s this guy and he lives alone with a dog?? What is he? Weird or something??” They couldn’t make him into an ordinary family man and all the rest of it.

JOHN: The Americans want ‘family’ all the time…

DEREK: Yes. I always felt it was really weird that Dreamworks would take on Aardman for what they did and then try to change what they did.

JOHN: That’s Hollywood. You buy something original and you try to change it into ‘normal’…

DEREK: Yeah.

JOHN: According to the Falmouth University website, you are currently “researching different models of storytelling”. Is this just waffle?

DEREK: Well, I am making a film, which may never see the light of day, that basically tells one story through lots of different films.

JOHN: Lots of different full-length films?

DEREK: No, I usually describe it like… Well… You could make a new Western out of all the old ones, because they all have the same structure. You have the bar room fight. How many times have you seen that? Someone smashes a chair over someone else’s head. Somebody falls on the table and it collapses. Somebody jumps off the balcony.

You could make a bar room fight out of all the Westerns you’ve ever seen. One actor could throw a punch and a completely different actor in another film would get punched.

So the idea was to marry that idea with another idea I had about scratches and dirt on film. Inside every scratch and on every piece of dirt, there would be a different movie… So you could go through a scratch and you would find yourself in a different movie or scratches would transform into other movies. 

They would all be different genres. Some would be animation; some live-action. But they would all star the same people. You could have a period drama that had a scene relevant to the story and you would have a science fiction film that carried the story on and you would be able to collapse it down and tell a story quite quickly.

You could use existing footage. A guy could put the McGuffin – a holdall – into the station locker. How many times have you seen that? So why re-shoot it? Just find an existing film with that scene in it.

JOHN: Copyright problems?

DEREK: (LAUGHS) Well, yes, of course, there IS that. But, if you think about something like Christian Marclay’s The Clock, the number of films in that – the copyright must have been hideous but he got over it.

JOHN: Maybe there’s some legal loophole. Like sampling songs…

DEREK: If it’s a work of art… maybe you can do what you like, pretty much…


Two of Derek’s early animation collaborations with the late Phil Austin are currently online…

Skywhales (1983) is on YouTube… 

…and The Victor (1985) is on the BFI website

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-victor-1985-online

 

 

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Derek Hayes – from the Sex Pistols to the life of Christ and Madonna’s video

Derek Hayes, now a Senior Lecturer at Falmouth University

Two blogs agoI reprinted a piece I wrote in 1979 about the animated movie Max Beeza and the City in the Sky. The directors were two young National Film School graduates – Phil Austin and Derek Hayes. 

Last week, stuck at home by coronavirus lockdown, I chatted again to Derek Hayes via Skype…


JOHN: We were almost going to talk well over three weeks ago before the coronavirus lockdown when you came to London for the British Animation Awards…

Phil Hayes’ sheep-influenced BAA ‘flock’ wallpaper award

DEREK: Yes, the Awards are every two years and the awards themselves are actually made by animators for other animators and, because the initials are BAA, it is sheep-themed.

JOHN: You have made awards?

DEREK: One year, I made one that was flock wallpaper.

JOHN: Why?

DEREK: ‘Flock’ wallpaper… and the flock pattern design was of sheep.

JOHN: Doh!… Since we last met – you’ve made 10 short films, 2 cinema features and much more – videos for Madonna, Rod Stewart, Elton John and lots of others; you’ve won a BAFTA for the opening titles of TV’s Jeeves and Wooster and all sorts of things…

 

JOHN: 41 years ago, you had just finished training as animators…

DEREK: When we were at the National Film School, we basically had no animation tutors – nor did we at Sheffield Art College when we first started. So it wasn’t until we got out into the world that we actually found out what real people did.

Because we were the first two Animation students at the National Film School – we said: “Well, you’re gonna have to spend some money and get people to come in and talk to us.” So we used to get anybody we wanted if they would come to Beaconsfield – to come and spend a day with us and show us films and talk.

One of the people who came was Terry Gilliam before he became really big in terms of film directing.

JOHN: So he was just known for Monty Python…

DEREK: Yes, I think he might have done Jabberwocky. But one of the things I always remember him saying was that the thing he was most proud of was a sequence where all he had done was a background and a picture of a dog lying on its back. There were voices off. One voice was saying: “That dog’s dead” and the other says “No he’s not! It’s alive. I saw it move!”… “No, he’s dead!”… “No! I saw it move!”

And that was it!

JOHN: So he just had to create one static picture…

DEREK: Yes. And he said people swore blind that they saw it move!

JOHN: So you learned simplicity from Terry Gilliam…

DEREK: Not really, because we just ignored everybody. We just did the most complex that we could. We did millions of drawings for everything, which is a crazy thing to do.

JOHN: You made Max Beeza and the City in The Sky at the National Film School in 1977; I last talked to you in 1979; then you and Phil Austin went on to run your own successful company Animation City…

DEREK: Yes, we did a lot of stuff and we were very successful for a few years – I think Animation City was probably the second most successful animation company in London after probably Hibbert Ralph.

JOHN: You and Phil animated Friggin’ in the Riggin’ for the Sex Pistols’ film The Great Rock n Roll Swindle. Surely a career highlight?

DEREK: (LAUGHS) We did all the animation and all the little bits of graphics – things like cash registers popping up and anything that needed a bit of effecty stuff – and inter-titles things – whatever.

JOHN: Animation City also did music videos for Madonna, Rod Stewart, Elton John et al.

DEREK: Yes, mostly before Phil died. We had rented a nice building at the height of the property market and then there was the crash – I think I’ve been through about three or four recessions now. So, although the work was still coming in – some really good work, like those music videos – it wasn’t enough to sustain the building and all the staff.

JOHN: Phil Austin died in 1990…

DEREK: He was gay and he got AIDs at a time when there was nothing to ameliorate the condition.

JOHN: But Animation City carried on until 1993.

DEREK: Yes. Because we had been doing a lot of music business work, we had a lot of contacts so we still had a lot of music videos. Usually, the artist would decide they were sick of making videos – “I’m sick of standing on a rock with a guitar… Can’t we do an animated one where I don’t actually have to do anything?”

JOHN: I read an article yesterday where, on Superman, Marlon Brando tried to persuade the director that Superman’s dad should be played by a bagel and he would only do the voice-over – because he would still get paid the same mega-fee. The director decided against the idea.

DEREK: Well, Superman’s dad was Jor-el. That would have been Bag-el.

JOHN: Anyway, when you closed Animation City in 1993, you then pretty much went straight into your first feature film.

DEREK: The Miracle Maker, which was the life of Christ in animation…

JOHN: It was a traditional-ish animation?

DEREK: Well, The Miracle Maker was a collaboration between S4C in Wales and Russian animators. The Russians did stop-motion puppet animation and the Welsh were doing two-dimensional stuff. So those two things had to be put together.

JOHN: Why Russia? 

DEREK: They were cheap and did good work. S4C had had this idea to do the Bible in animation – nine half-hour Old Testament stories and four half hours for the New Testament. I did one about Elijah from the Old Testament but, when they started thinking about the New Testament, they realised it was going to be four half hours all about the same guy, so they thought: Why don’t we make a full-length feature film?

Because we were doing 2D and the Russians were doing stop motion, I had to come up with a way of combining the two things. So a lot of the visual effecty stuff came in there.

After that, S4C wanted another film based on the Welsh epic Y Mabinogi. It has a whole series of stories in it, including some of the earliest King Arthur stories. It was re-titled Otherworld for English-speakers.

S4C’s Otherworld, based on the Welsh epic Y Mabinogi

JOHN: That’s the English meaning of Mabinogi?

DEREK: No, the literal translation is ‘Stories to Tell Youth’.

JOHN: Nothing to do with Noggin The Nog?

DEREK: (LAUGHS) No. But Otherworld was my second feature. That was all 2D plus some live action and some visual effects to stitch them together.

JOHN: Nowadays, even live-action movies like the Marvel ones are almost mostly animations with all the CGI work.

DEREK: There are two things now. There’s still Special Effects – physical effects like blowing things up – and Visual Effects is everything else.

It goes from simple stuff if you’re like doing a period drama where you can add a townscape or you didn’t notice there was a factory chimney or a pylon in the background which you can get rid of with effects… through to where you might have only one real live actor against green screen and you can create an entire alien horde and all kinds of stuff around him.

JOHN: You were trained in and got experience in drawn animation and then computer animation arrives. A totally different mindset required, surely?

DEREK: Yes and no… 

… CONTINUED HERE

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“Max Beeza and the City in the Sky” – an amazingly original British animation

A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I saw an amazingly original British animation and decided to chat to its two young directors. The animation was made in 1977. Below is the resultant article, exactly as it appeared in the March 1979 edition of Starburst magazine. Yup: 41 years ago…


For two years a film made by two National Film School students has been surfacing in some of the most unlikely places. Starburst has tracked down the creators of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky, two young film-makers called Philip Austin and Derek Hayes, and now presents an exclusive look at this rare animated movie.


The film’s hero is a spiv, a con-man/comedian/magician…

Starburst: How much did it cost to make the movie? 

Philip Austin: About £4,000. We put our budgets together and came up with that amount. 

Derek Hayes: The point is that at film school you’re not paying for a lot of things. 

Starburst: I liked the credit at the end. Head Grip: Albert de Salvo. 

Philip Austin: That’s good. Not many people get these things. Few people even notice.


Few people have had the chance to notice the Boston Strangler’s name at the end of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky. National Film School graduates Philip Austin and Derek Hayes have made one of the most original and inventive animated films since the heyday of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Technically, it looks flawless. But almost no-one has seen their movie. It has been shown only at the 1977 London Film Festival; during lunchtimes at London’s Essential Cinema in early 1978; and at the 1978 Edinburgh Film Festival and Ottawa Animation Festival. 

“The entire population of Britain now lives in a tower city”

It is a future world. Poison gas has spread across the planet and the entire population of Britain now lives in a tower city twelve miles high ringed by clouds. Mrs Ron Weetabix is making her way home along a narrow ledge — until she falls off. A clergyman is preaching a hellfire sermon on sin — until he gradually lapses into the title song of Champion The Wonder Horse. Max Beeza is entertaining a laughing audience — until The Airship attacks. 

The original idea for the 24-minute film came partly from a dream of Philip Austin’s and partly from the “strange tower cities” which fan Derek Hayes used to draw at school. Austin and Hayes met at Sheffield Art College, where they made Custard, a cartoon satire on the obsessions people have in a northern industrial town.

You can see Custard on the BFI website

This won them places in the National Film School at Beaconsfield. Because that was “such a dull place to be”, they decided they would have to resort to pure imagination for their next project. It took 18,000 drawings and 20 months to complete. 

The film’s hero, Max Beeza, is an Arthur English-type spiv, a con-man/ comedian/magician, whose stage act is a cross between Bruce Forsyth (constantly insulting his audience), a slightly demented Max Bygraves and (according to Austin) Elmer Gantry — the sort of person whose only talent is getting on well with an audience. Billed as Max, The Merry Missionary, Beeza’s latest show is in aid of ‘Bison for the Deaf’. 

“Are you thinking?” he asks his audience: “Don’t! You can’t see if you’re thinking.” In his hands, a brick becomes a chocolate biscuit. In fact, it is a chocolate biscuit. Just as a top hat could be, can be and is a flower-pot, a frog-catcher, a bucket, a catapult for custard pies, a frisbee and … a top hat. “Are you thinking?” he yells: “Don’t! You can’t see if you’re thinking. After all, you thought it was a brick — didn’t you!” Suddenly shells whistle through the air, blood spurts, people panic, grenades and bodies explode. 

The tower city is under attack by an airship. In the chaos, a game of cricket has an explosive ending, a suicidal man has problems killing himself and a drunk can’t drink until his head is blown off. The newspaper headlines scream: “War Declared. Win 365 pairs of naughty knickers.” 

Scream: “War Declared. Win 365 pairs of naughty knickers.”

But who is sending the Airship? No-one knows. They can’t see because they’re thinking. Members of the Soccer Hooligans’ Union meet city leader Victor Troutskillet for emergency talks, the war rages on, devastation is everywhere, the bright colours become dulled, Victor Troutskillet forms a Secret Police to stop subversion, Max is excused military service and starts a new show in aid of shell-shocked gulls. 

Part of the enjoyment of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky is the detail. Small bits of graffiti barely-glimpsed in the background; the baroque architecture; in-jokes and obscure references. Directors Austin and Hayes, in fact, think there are too many details in some places. “The script as we originally conceived it would have made a longer film,” says Hayes…

“We had to cut a lot of the story,” says Austin. 

Both are interested in the idea of an animated documentary. “You can make a documentary on a thing that doesn’t exist, like that city,” Hayes claims: “That’s what science fiction does best. It takes people and people’s emotions and it says Right, what IF this happened? How would people react? And some of the best science fiction comes out of that. What we wanted to do with all the characters was to try to make the city look like a real place. Shove everything in and repeat things. Repeat characters — have them pass by in the background — people you’ve seen before — so that it seems to expand outside the confines of the frame and you think there’s something more going on.”

Beware of the innocent-looking but actually armed chair…!

Some of the details can only be seen on a second or third viewing. “That’s where thinking it through quite well is helpful,” continues Hayes: “Even if you don’t get everything right up-front, it’s there in the background and it gives that rich feeling of depth to it.”

The two directors are also aware that, in the future, people are likely to buy films on videocassettes. An animated feature for that market will have to be able to stand up to repeated viewings:, “You just put it on in the evening and just see what you can see in it this time. If it’s very, very dense, it will actually stand up to repeated viewings.” Meanwhile, back in the sky . . . 

As Mr Ron Weetabix sits at home listening to a radio speech by Victor Troutskillet, he mutters: “Rubbish.” Arms rise out of his armchair. He is swallowed by the chair, which walks off-screen with him. His son yells out. The settee hits him on the head with a mallet. Gradually, as the film progresses, this surrealism increases. Max discovers who is sending The Airship, but our hero is under the surveillance of four neo-Nazi pieces of furniture, all members of the Secret Police … A chest-of-drawers, a cooker, an armchair and their leader The Deadly Lightshade (a standard lamp). They decide to kill Max. 

Lights burst out! – Sitting on its motor bike is… the cooker…

One dark, snowy night, as Max is trudging home, lights burst out of the blackness. Engines rev up. There, sitting on their motor bikes, are the chest-of-drawers, the cooker and the armchair. They drive their bikes at him, but he escapes by climbing  up a scratch on the film, which leads him to a caption: The next scene contains 20  startling revelations — count them all. 

“A lot of the film is to do with Tex Avery, I think,” says Philip Austin: “Going up the scratch is a Tex Avery gag. He never actually used that gag, but he must have come close to it. He did hairs in the gate and running up the side of the film — stuff like that. Those sort of free-wheeling gags. Disney knocked them out of cartoons. We saw a lot of Tex Avery films at college and we were really knocked out by how zany the gags were and amazed that nobody was doing that sort of stuff any more. So we’re very strongly influenced by Tex Avery. Loony non-sequitur gags . . . chuck them all in.” 

And so to the film’s climax — the confrontation between Max and Victor Troutskillet, the city’s ‘Big Brother’ — a Billy Bunter figure with traces of Frankie Howerd in his voice. The original design for Troutskillet was much thinner: both in name and in style he was originally conceived as a Mervyn Peake-type character. But when his voice was pre-recorded (as it had to be for synchronised mouth movements), the thin character did not work — “So we tubbied him up and turned him into a Bunter-like thing.” 

But Troutskillet is not the ultimate villain of the film, as we discover in the final 20 startling revelations. In the climactic confrontation. Max faces The Deadly Lightshade, The Wicked Stepladder (from Snow White), an array of gun-toting armchairs and The Airship itself, which turns out to be none other than . . . No, I won’t tell you. But look out for the hare — a rather mangy-looking relative of Bugs Bunny, who turns up without warning and without explanation throughout the film.

“Look out for…a rather mangy-looking relative of Bugs Bunny”

Max Beeza is well-worth seeing — if it’s shown. Part of its success is due to the fact that both Austin and Hayes have also worked on live-action films. They try to shoot and cut animated films as if they were live-action ones. “What we’re trying to do is incorporate two things,” says Hayes:

“One is the live-action way of doing things with its emphasis on cutting — because in a live-action film, as opposed to a cartoon, usually you have a lot more cuts and the action is shown through the cuts whereas, in a cartoon, you have things develop within the shot. Also, we wanted to be able to keep on the cartoon things: the kind of graphic shot that leads you into things and gives you fluidity.” 

For some time now, Philip Austin has been working at the Richard Williams animation studio in Soho. Early in 1978, Derek Hayes worked on BBC Bristol’s Animated Conversations: a series of six programmes which combined real conversations with animated visuals. And, in Autumn 1978, the two worked together for two months on an animated sequence featuring Sid Vicious in the Sex Pistols’ film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle (directed by Julian Temple, another National Film School graduate). Austin and Hayes’ next project together will (hopefully) be about a man who keeps an alien in his bedroom. Hayes is also threatening a story entirely, people with animated furniture. 

As for Max Beeza and the City in the Sky, they are still trying to get British distributors to accept it as a supporting feature, if the mechanics of the British distribution system will allow that — there are problems because it was made by students as a student film. It took four years for the brilliantly inventive US movie Dark Star to be publicly shown in this country. I hope Max Beeza doesn’t take that long. It’s British, highly inventive, highly entertaining and well worth seeing.


You can now (in 2020) can see Max Beeza and the City in the Sky for free (it runs 24 minutes) on the British Film Institute website:

… CONTINUED HERE
… after a gap of 41 years …
… in A NEW INTERVIEW with DEREK HAYES …

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“A Ghost Waits”: How singer Tom Waits inspired a romcom (?) horror movie…

This is not my blog. It is a syndicated piece sent out by a PR company to plug the world premiere of new movie A Ghost Waits at the Arrow Video Frightfest event in Glasgow next month. I have not seen the movie, but the interview is interesting…

It is an interview (slightly edited by me) with first-time director Adam Stovall, who describes himself on Twitter: “I direct audio books. I write things. I really like hot wings and Kentucky basketball.”

The film’s blurb reads: “Jack’s job is to fix up the house. Spectral agent Muriel’s eternal task is to haunt it. They should be enemies, but they become fascinated by one another and eventually smitten, leading them to question everything about their work, lives and decisions. But as duty calls for both, something’s got to give for them to have the time together they so desperately want.”

The PR billing for this interview piece is: “Director Adam Stovall reflects on getting through depression,  creating paranormal romance and the influence of Tom Waits…”


You have an interesting CV – from comedy theatre and film journalism to writing for the Hollywood Reporter and 2nd Assistant Directing. Was all this a game plan to becoming a fully-fledged director?

Adam Stovall: “Movies meant more to me…”

I’ve known since I was a little kid sitting in the basement watching the network TV premiere of Back To The Future while holding my Back To The Future storybook and waiting for them to premiere the first footage from Back To The Future 2 during a commercial break that movies meant more to me than they did to those around me. And that’s not a low bar – my dad worked as a projectionist all through his college years, and my mom takes my aunt to see at least one movie a week. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction in the autumn of 1994 and suddenly realizing that a) cinema was far more elastic than I had previously thought, and b) it helped the world make sense in a way nothing else could. That was when I knew this was my path.

But I grew up in Northern Kentucky, which felt like the furthest you could possibly get from Hollywood. I spent my 20s trying to do anything else and be happy, to no avail. Towards the end of my 20s, I was mired in a severe depression, getting wine drunk and writing scripts on the weekends. Then, my dog died, and it put into stark relief just how alone I was. So I sold as much of my stuff as I could and moved the rest to L.A. so I could pursue film.

Quickly I had the thought that I’d feel pretty stupid if I moved 2,000 miles and just sat in my room, so I started volunteering in the Creative Screenwriting screening series. After eight months of that, I wrote for a magazine, which closed down, then a friend asked me to work on his movie. I was not supposed to be the 2nd Assistant Director, but they ended up with a budget far smaller than they thought they’d get so, as people left the production for higher-paying gigs, I kept getting promoted. It was an incredible experience and the best education I could have asked for in terms of no-budget filmmaking. It clarified for me where money needed to go, and where money went out of habit.

So yeah, that’s a game plan…

Did the story of A Ghost Waits come as a sudden flash; were you inspired by the likes of Ghost and Beetlejuice?

Playstation video game P.T. was one inspiration for the film

The idea for A Ghost Waits came from a video game and a web comic. I am not a gamer, but I was visiting some friends and they told me I needed to play a game called P.T. which was designed by Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima. It’s a first person puzzle game where you have to walk through an L-shaped hallway in a haunted house, doing specific things in time in order to open the door at the end of the hallway, which then puts you back at the beginning of the hallway.

At some point, it occurred to me that there might be a movie in someone like me having to deal with a haunted house. While I was working on that, I saw a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic where a man asks a woman what she thinks is the most American film. She answers, “Ghostbusters,” and he asks why. She explains that people get demonstrable proof of an afterlife, but the whole thing is about growing a small business and navigating government bureaucracy. I thought, “That’s hilarious and also I want to see that movie.” So I wrote it!

How long was the development process and where did you obtain financing?

Development on A Ghost Waits moved irresponsibly fast, haha. I had the idea in November 2015 and we shot in August 2016. Normally I have all the time in the world to write, since nobody cares about a spec script being written by a no-name, so the process of writing with so many eyes on me was equally exciting and daunting. Fun fact: I usually name characters and title the piece late in the process, but I wasn’t able to do that here since we needed to create documents for casting and whatnot. So I went home, opened up my Tom Waits discography and named every character after a Tom Waits song. And then named the movie after him, because he is one of my creative north stars…

(Actor) MacLeod Andrews and I had spent the previous year trying to get another movie made, but just weren’t able to raise enough money. One of the investors we met in that time remained very excited to make something so, when I had the idea for A Ghost Waits, he immediately said he’d invest half the production budget. My mom had told me to let her know when we had a firm budget number so, once we had half the budget, she invested the other half. That covered principal photography and then MacLeod and I put in our own money to cover pickups and post-production.

How do you describe the movie? A supernatural comedy? A paranormal romance? What?

I’ve been referring to it as a haunted house love story, but paranormal romance is good – maybe I’ll start using that!

Was the choice to shoot in black-and-white more an artistic or budgetary consideration?

A bit of both, to be honest. I love the B&W aesthetic, so it was always a possibility in my mind. I mentioned my idea to my Unit Production Manager during prep while we were on a location scout and she told me not to do that. We shot in colour with the intention of staying that way, but we also shot with two different cameras – the Blackmagic Ursa Mini and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema – which yielded slightly different looks. I drove myself crazy trying to match the images in colour-correction and, one day, MacLeod said, “Have you thought about just making it B&W?” Because MacLeod is the best person ever. Once we used a B&W LUT (a colour-grading file) on it, it felt right, tonally and aesthetically. Would we have gone with B&W even if we had more money? Who knows! Just another possibility for the pile…

When did you first meet MacLeod Andrews? Did you write the part of Jack with him in mind?

MacLeod and I met on the set of a film called Split, a bowling rom-com, which filmed in Louisville, Kentucky. I met the filmmaker on a panel, and he asked if I’d be down to come work on his movie. MacLeod is a native of Louisville, and had worked with one of the producers on the film before. We instantly hit it off and I was struck by his obvious talent and charisma, so I sent him a script I’d recently written. He dug it and we decided we wanted to work together.

I absolutely wrote the part of Jack for MacLeod. To the extent that, if he’d said no, the movie would not exist. Fortunately, our brains function on similarly weird frequencies, so we’re usually intrigued and excited by similar ideas.

What about Natalie Walker? How did you come to cast her as Muriel?

I’d been following Natalie on Twitter for a while and was impressed by her humour and brilliance. I had a feeling that casting her in a role that demanded she sublimate her energy would yield a similar result as when Robin Williams was asked to do the same for dramatic roles. I emailed and told her about the project and offered to send over the script so she could check it out and see if it interested her. She responded that she was very interested, so we talked and she did a self-tape, which was perfect. We hopped on FaceTime and I offered her the role.

The chemistry between MacLeod and Natalie is wonderful. Was that instant or did it need nurturing?

Instant! We never even had a table read, much less any rehearsals, so the first time they met was on set. Since we had such a small crew, I was always doing a multitude of jobs, which limited how much time I was able to spend with them. A lot of their dynamic is due to the work they did on their own.

Where did you film and for how long?

We filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lakeside Park, Kentucky. Principal photography was 12 days in August 2016 and then we did the first set of pickups over four days in April 2017 and the last set over a week in February 2018.

What does having the World Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow mean to you?

Cesar A. Cruz once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” At my lowest, movies have made me feel less alone, and I wanted to make something that could do that for someone else. We made a small, personal, weird film, and it means the absolute world to know it means something to others and is finding its place in the world.

Finally, what’s next for you?

We’re working with a couple producers on two films, which we’re obviously hoping to make soon. One is an existential horror drama, and the other is a coming-of-age comedy-drama. In the meantime, just writing a few things and hoping for the best.

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Where “Terminator: Dark Fate” went wrong and could now lose $150 million

Last night I went and belatedly saw the sixth movie in the Terminator series, which is sort-of the third because the script wisely ignores what happened in the 3rd, 4th and 5th movies and the TV series.

It needs a gross of $450-$480 million just to break even.

It cost $185 or $196 million to make depending on whom you believe and it needs to gross $450-$480 million just to break even.

It is reportedly facing an estimated loss of $100 million to $150 million. Now I know why.

The action scenes were edited too tightly and the non-action scenes were edited too slackly.

Only my opinion, of course – and what do I know?

But parts of the action sequences were cut to the point of disjointed abstraction – a style which seems to me to have started with the overly-edited action scenes in Joel Schumacher’s un-involving Batman & Robin in 1997.

And, in non-action scenes in a modern movie, you really do not need to see what I sat through in Terminator: Dark Fate – people walking or driving to a new location to get into the next scene. It’s padding; just as some conversational scenes were thrown in to create atmosphere but without any plot point. They were padding which varied the pace (good) but did not develop the plot (bad).

There was one missed chance where a mini-revelation which might have been quite effective was ruined by a shot in the promotional trailer.

Arnie may have aged 27 years, but why did the machine?

And – a big thing because it troubled me all the way through – it was never explained how or why Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character – a terminator – had physically aged 27 years since the second film. He’s a robot! Arnold Schwarzenegger has aged 27 years, but why would a robot/cyborg/machine age like a human?

At least try to throw in an explanation.

For fuck’s sake, the movie cost $185 or $196 million to make: at least plug any holes which might detract from the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.

It’s all the more surprising because there were signs that the whole thing might have been influenced by some committee which included (God help us) marketing people.

I like movies with kick-ass female action heroes but this one had three central female action heroes (well, two-and-a-half) and no male action hero – Yes, Arnie was introduced after a bit, but he really filled the traditional ‘sidekick to the hero’ role with action added. The feminist role casting, good in itself, may have arguably backfired because it was over-calculated.

Perhaps the commendable feminist role-casting backfired?

One other, admittedly very minor, point is that the title Terminator: Dark Fate doesn’t really mean anything specific. It can be argued in vague terms that a ‘dark fate’ for the human race is averted but, really, there is nothing specific to the plot of this movie. 

It’s a generic piece of title waffle.

It smacks of some focus group or studio suit coming up with a seemingly ‘sexy’ but generic movie title.

Dark Fate is a phrase with a seeming ‘hook’ for an audience. But, really, you could sub-title any movie that – from Iron Man: Dark Fate to Beverly Hills Cop: Dark Fate to Snow White: Dark Fate – with as much relevance and effect.

It’s not big; it’s not clever. Not mean, not lean, not clean.

Just titular waffle, missus.

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Hairy moments for Harry H Corbett filming Terry Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky”

Hirsute, suited Harry H Corbett in the 1970s

In my last blog, I mentioned I had buggered my back.

Before that, I went to a one-off screening of Terry Gilliam’s 1977 movie Jabberwocky.

Before the screening, Terry Gilliam mentioned what it was like working with Harry H Corbett. 

Corbett achieved fame in the BBC TV sitcom Steptoe and Son and played a small but memorable part in Jabberwocky. Terry Gilliam said:


Harry H Corbett (right) & Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son

Harry H Corbett – Steptoe & Son – brilliant, absolutely brilliant. But there was a little problem on Jabberwocky.

My wife Maggie was head of the make-up department and she had to go see Harry and talk about his medieval haircut. 

He was there with a nice full head of hair.

She said: “We can do it by cutting it like this…”

And he said: “Neuwaaagh….” and said he thought maybe a wig would be better.

Well OK…

So Maggie goes into her kit and pulls out a wig and starts putting it on him and she’s fiddling with his head and his hair is… Wait!… He is wearing a wig already! 

And he was not going to have that trimmed in a medieval style. Clearly.

So, throughout the whole film, he is wearing a wig over a wig.

“When it came to lying under a bed and getting the bed squashed on him… He was happy with those things…”

Harry was brilliant. I wouldn’t say he was the easiest person to work with, but he was absolutely wonderful.

When it came to lying under a bed and getting the bed squashed on him… He was happy with those things. 

It was just bizarre knowing this man was wearing two wigs.

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What sort of creative creature is comic Dominic Holland, father of Spider-man?

What is Dominic Holland? 

A writer of books? A stand-up comedian? The father of Spider-man?

Yes to all three.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, an anthology of original writing by comedians which I compiled and edited with Malcolm Hardee. That’s the self-promotion over.

I thought I would talk to Dominic about his latest novel without ever mentioning his son Tom Holland – the current Marvel (soon to be Sony) movies’ Spider-man.

I failed.



“You encounter a homeless person and…”

JOHN: So, you have written five novels… and the latest, I, Gabriel, published a month ago, is about what?

DOMINIC: I have always been very exercised by homelessness. I have lived in London all my life. I used to do the Comedy Store and walk down Charing Cross Road and down The Strand and see homeless people and would give them money.

But I have a thing about hygiene. If I shake a homeless person’s hand, I start to panic. I would rather not touch them. I’m not ashamed of that. That’s just how I am. If you have no washing facilities, you’ve probably got excrement and all sorts of detritus all over your hands.

I thought: What happens if you encounter a homeless person, you shake their hand and they insist on sharing a meal with you. You don’t want to eat their sandwich, but you have to and you contract a food poisoning and it keeps you off a doomed air flight. Wouldn’t that be a great starting point for a drama? That idea has been in my head for 20 years and that’s the kernel of the story. Then I designed a character who had everything and I wanted him to have an epiphany.

The epiphany for Gabriel is that he is a man of vast success and vast wealth but actually has nothing.

It’s a 3-act book. The First Act is fleshing out his character. He is an unpleasant man. He is a very highly-paid, successful surgeon. A very rarified man, very bright. But he is lost to greed. Then he has this epiphany. He realises his life has been a sham, really. And then something rather extraordinary happens in the Third Act.

Where I am most happy abiout is that nobody – but nobody – has seen the ending coming.

JOHN: You are a Christian.

DOMINIC: Habitually. All my life I’ve been a Catholic. Big Catholic family. I have four aunts who are nuns, two uncles who are priests. My whole tradition growing up was going to mass. My boys were brought up Catholic and I like belonging to a Church. I like a feeling of belonging. I belong to the comedy circuit; I belong to the Catholic Church. But my faith, I’m afraid, is not terribly… erm… vivid. I like the punctuation of mass. I go to mass two Sundays in four. I use it as a chance to just sit there and reflect on my good fortune and what I hope to do for the rest of my little time on this mortal coil.

JOHN: Your boys were brought up Catholic…

DOMINIC: Yes. Four boys.

JOHN: What does your wife do?

DOMINIC: She’s a photographer, but she’s now giving that up to run a charity we started: The Brothers Trust. 

It has been going about 18 months/two years. We didn’t want to call it The Tom Holland Foundation. He has the platform to attract money, but we thought it might seem a little bit narcissistic and narrow because Tom’s brothers are involved.

The Brothers Trust family – The brothers Holland (left-right) Sam, Tom, Paddy and Harry with parents Dominic & Nikki

Using Tom’s cachet, we put events on and all the money we get in – less the transactional costs and the charitable costs in America – you have to employ American firms to administer them – all the money WE get, we then distribute to various charities. Our own remit is to give money to charities that struggle to be heard. Not to the big charities. To small charities and charities without the big administrative costs. We don’t personally want to support charities that have got vast numbers of people flying all over the world.

For example, we have built a hostel in India through The John Foundation, who basically take off the streets girls who have been trafficked and this very virtuous doctor and his wife house the girls and train them to become beauticians or overlockers. They get security and a skill and they’re also now making our Brothers Trust T-shirts which we are planning to sell and money from that will go to other causes we want to support.

We also support a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Lunchbowl – they feed kids every day; we have bought them two 40-seater buses to take kids from the slums to-and-from school.

We support a charity in Britain called Debra which looks after kids with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa), a pernicious disease where your skin is effectively like tissue paper – there’s 5,000 people in the UK with it. It’s the same number of people with cystic fibrosis, but no-one’s ever heard of it

JOHN: You have also written a book about Tom: EclipsedWhat’s the elevator pitch for that?

“For me, the story was perfectly-formed…”

DOMINIC: It’s the story of how a young boy is spotted inadvertently, finds himself dancing on the West End stage whilst his dad is doing comedy gigs in village halls… That kid goes on to become a movie star and his old man is still playing the same clubs he was 20 years ago.

JOHN: “Spotted inadvertently”? 

DOMINIC: Tom was spotted at a local YMCA disco dancing class and he ended up playing the lead in Billy Eliot in the West End… As I say in Eclipsed, it’s a fluke. The whole thing has been a fluke. A happy fluke.

JOHN: You say ‘village halls’, but you did play places like the Comedy Store in London.

DOMINIC: Yes but, John, you know and I know that, back in the day, I was mooted as one of the ‘Next Big Things’ – and it didn’t happen. And there’s no rancour on my part. I performed at the Comedy Store last weekend and I’m proud to be on that stage because a lot of my mates from my generation aren’t doing it any more. The fact that I’m still being booked to go on last at The Comedy Store means you’ve got chops. I would love to have made it. I didn’t. But, for the book, it’s a perfect juxtaposition. For me, the story was perfectly-formed.

My first novel Only in America was spawned from selling a screenplay. I did a gig in 1995 in Cleethorpes. Didn’t get paid. Long way. I was on the train coming home to London, cold. I had already won the Perrier Award as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993, I had been on television, I was becoming well-known. So I thought: This is rubbish! I can’t keep going to Cleethorpes for no money. I’m going to write a film.

So I wrote a film and sold it to Norma Heyman, who is the mother of David Heyman – He produced all the Harry Potter films. Norma Heyman’s husband John was a big-shot producer. 

Norma Hayman said to me: “You are the new Frank Capra.”

JOHN: Wow!

DOMINIC: I didn’t even know who Frank Capra was. I had to look him up. But I had these very exciting meetings in Soho and, over the next two or two-and-a-half years, I sold that script two or three times and then it fell over. But that story inspired my first novel Only in America.

Dominic Holland in Soho, London, last week

I then sold Only in America to the BBC and to Hollywood film producers. I went to Los Angeles and had meetings with Big Time agents who said: “This is great! We’re gonna make your movie! Frank Oz was going to direct; Bette Midler was going to be in it… And then it fell over.

So, when Tom started on his journey in the West End, it was a funny story in my head… When he was cast in his first movie (The Impossible, 2012) and was long-listed for an Oscar… THAT for me was a perfect story, because I had tried and failed and Tom was succeeding.

So I end the story on a Los Angeles red carpet with Tom being long-listed for an Oscar and I thought: Well, that’s a hilarious story. I had been spending all this energy trying to make it as a writer and become a new Richard Curtis and, with no problem at all, my boy was going: Dad! Watch! Over here! and making it…!

I finished the book when he was 16 and, since then, he has become a proper movie star.

I didn’t get films made. It’s a small nut to crack and most people don’t crack it and I am one of that ‘most’. But, being one of the ‘most’ and having failed, I was then presented with a beautiful piece of storytelling. Here’s my failed efforts to make it in Hollywood and then here’s my bloody son, with no efforts, BOOM!… and I’m thrilled.

People say to me: “Are you jealous?” and I think: Well, if you think that, you don’t know who I am.”

JOHN: Fuck me, well I’m jealous but, then, he’s not my son…

(BELOW, TOM HOLLAND, PROMOTING SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME IN BALI, AS VIDEOED BY HIS BROTHER HARRY HOLLAND)

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Hobbs & Shaw and the John Wick films: nonsense plots – Why does Wick work?

Hobbs & Shaw – Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham – full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

I saw Hobbs & Shaw tonight. The spin-off movie from the Fast & Furious franchise.

Now, everyone’s tastes are different and this is only my own personal view and, anyway, what on earth do I know about making multi-million dollar mega-movies? But…

What a load of old rubbish.

It’s technically very proficient, there’s a staggering amount of work put into it and it looks like all the money (an alleged $200 million) is up there on screen and I can see why it is making a lot of money at the US box office… but what a load of old cobblers.

I don’t necessarily object to scripts that are utter nonsense.

Keanu Reeves starred as John Wick – cobblers but compulsive

The storylines for all three of the John Wick movies are similarly a right load of old cobblers. But all three (especially the third, which allegedly cost only $75 million) are tremendously enjoyable. Whereas Hobbs & Shaw was not; it was like The Blues Brothers, where you just watched lots happening and the budget spiral on screen. (It cost around $30 million in 1980.)

But I don’t think the plot of Hobbs & Shaw (though nonsense) was the main problem.

It is what I like to think of as the Batman & Robin problem.

The first Batman movie franchise was brought down by Batman & Robin, directed by the usually fairly dependable Joel Schumacher.

The trouble with Batman & Robin was that there was a lot happening. 

Which is fine.

But a lot of the action scenes involved special visual effects, which meant that there was no way to effectively have an establishing shot or wide shot of the action… because the action was actually NOT happening – it was a series of abstract action shots.

There was not really any easy way round that because of the use of post-production effects.

With Hobbs & Shaw there was a similar problem, though it looked like a lot of the effects were physical not visual effects.

Lots of quick-cutting to make it all feel frantic and exciting for the video-game-playing, post-MTV generation. But they were abstract, fast-moving action shots so, deep-down, the viewer (I, at least) was distanced rather than drawn into the action sequences.

To confuse matters, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (both former stuntmen) co-directed the first John Wick movie. Stahelski, solo, directed the second and third John Wick movies and Leitch went on to direct Hobbs & Shaw.

But back to audiences being psychologically involved in action sequences…

My favourite film is probably still The Wild Bunch (1969), Sam Peckinpah’s western set in 1913 about “nine men who came too late and stayed too long” – a movie which you can maybe only fully appreciate once you are over a certain age.

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch – “If they move, kill ‘em!”

A UK director once pointed out to me something I had never noticed about Sam Peckinpah films and which certainly holds true for The Wild Bunch.

The director pointed out to me that Peckinpah almost always uses a wide shot at the very beginning of (not just) action sequences.

Having established that – having put into the audience’s brain the exact location of the characters in relation to each other and in relation to the location of the scene – he could do whatever he wanted including the Big Subliminally-Audience-Alienating No-No of continually ‘crossing the line’.

Because your brain knew the layout of the location and the characters, it didn’t matter if he crossed the line. He could do anything, because you ‘believed’ in the reality of the scene.

The trouble with the action in Batman and Robin and in Hobbs & Shaw, to my mind, is that – certainly in the fight and battle scenes I saw tonight – you are just watching movement within the individual shots. It’s movie-movie action aplenty and your eyes may be stimulated by the movements, but your brain is not anchored in what it feels to be a real scene.

In the John Wick films, the geography of the action scenes is much clearer and therefore the brain believes it is within the action not just objectively watching the action.

My point is that the plots of the John Wick movies and Hobbs & Shaw are all bollocks. But, because my willing suspension of disbelief was deployed in the John Wick movies but only my eyes were deployed in Hobbs & Shaw, I came out of the latter saying to someone: “What a load of old rubbish”.

I came out of John Wick 3 saying: “That was a load of old rubbish, but it was SO enjoyable.”

On the other hand, it could just be me writing a load of old rubbish in this blog.  

Everyone’s tastes are different and this is only my personal view and what on earth do I know about making multi-million dollar mega-movies?

Bugger all.

That’s it.

 

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