Tag Archives: Brookside

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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Julian Richards: horror, Brookside and Carrie Reborn for the Z Generation?

Julian Richards is an interesting Welshman.

Part film director and part film sales businessman through his company Jinga Films. He has made two horror films this year.

I was invited (not by him) to see his movie Daddy’s Girl at the recent Raindance festival in London. When I saw it, I had reservations about it.

So I was interested to see his even newer movie Reborn, the pitch for which is: “A stillborn baby girl is abducted by a morgue attendant and brought back to life by electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes captivity and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her.”

The poster pitch is: CARRIE FOR THE Z GENERATION.

Yesterday, Reborn had its North American premiere at the Another Hole in the Head festival in San Francisco.

So I had a chat with Julian Richards.


JOHN: Daddy’s Girl… The first half or so was torture porn, which I disliked, then the female central character looks in a mirror and the whole film changes – it turns on a sixpence – and becomes totally different.

JULIAN: Well… Daddy’s Girl was an interesting journey… I first came across the script 12 years ago and to get to make it 12 years later was a bit of a challenge. There were several characters in a story and the big twist at the end is you discover they are all the same character. When we got to make it, after 12 years, the first thing the producer said to me was: We were not going to do that.

He was right, because, under the circumstances, we would have needed an enormous amount of control with the casting, which we didn’t have working in Tbilisi in Georgia and on the budget we had. We had a deadline to start shooting which was four weeks away and, even shifting the story in a different direction, the whole casting and crewing experience was a… a game of musical chairs. It really was.

Daddy’s Girl starts as ‘torture porn’, ends somewhere different

JOHN: It’s set in the US. Why shoot in Georgia – the Eastern European country not the US state?

JULIAN: Because there was a tax incentive to shoot there and, in terms of labour costs, it’s probably the cheapest place in Europe at the moment

JOHN: The producers were Indians based in Dubai.

JULIAN: Yes. They had been shooting Bollywood films in Georgia and now they wanted to make horror films.

JOHN: So, in the original, the central girl had multiple personalities who were on screen as different people?

JULIAN: When all the characters in the story were her, it was part of her fractured view of the world. And her mother as well. There was a lot more of her almost being haunted. Haunted by the suicide of her mother. It was supernatural but actually more psychological.

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the very end of the film. But it ends up in a totally different place from where you might assume it would from the beginning.

JULIAN: That was actually the producer’s idea. And it was what we needed because, if you take out all of those elements – about all the characters being the same character – she becomes two separate characters and so I think the end worked for what we needed to do with that kind of film.

Reborn poster: Carrie for the Z Generation

JOHN: We can’t really talk about the end of Reborn either because of the multiple twists. But I think you have some sort of writer’s gene in you, as well as director’s. The end of Reborn is a writer’s ending. And, earlier in your career, you wrote something for Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

JULIAN: When I graduated from film school, I went to LA for a year and my first job was writing a screenplay for Amblin, based on a novel Chris Westwood, a friend of mine, had written: Calling All Monsters. It was very much an In The Mouth of Madness kind of story, about an author haunted by his own creations. But, when Amblin turned into Dreamworks, new people came in, looked at all the old projects and it got caught in turnaround and never happened.

JOHN: So then you came back to the UK to…

JULIAN: …direct on the TV series Brookside and to get my first movie Darklands off the ground.

Darklands was screened at a film festival in Korea and (movie producer/director) Roger Corman was on the jury. He released The Wicker Man in the US and he came up to me after Darklands was screened and said: “I’d like to release Darklands in the US.” 

“I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god.”

So I was jumping for joy. Corman was a god to me. I introduced him to the producer of the film, but they couldn’t work out a deal so it never got released there. The producer’s company went bust and it took me 16 years to get the rights back. I eventually got it released in the US a couple of years ago.

JOHN: You seem to be attracted to horror. You directed the body-under-the-patio plot on Brookside. So you brought horror into TV soaps?

JULIAN: No. That was just the timing. I was there when they happened to be doing the body under the patio, the lesbian kiss and the plague that wiped out half the cast. I did episodes in each of those storylines. 

JOHN: What is the attraction of horror? Just that it sells? Why are you not making RomCom movies? They sell. 

JULIAN: I’m not driven to horror by money. It was a boyhood fascination and passion I had. I started making films on super 8 when I was 13.

JOHN: What was the 13-year-old you’s first film?

JULIAN: The Curse of Cormac, based on a graphic story strip in a House of Hammer magazine.

JOHN: You used to read House of Hammer?

JULIAN:
I did. And Monster Mag and Fangoria magazine.

JOHN: So an early fascination with horror.

JULIAN: Yes. Stephen King’s book Danse Macabre was very interesting: defining the key ingredients of horror as suspense, surprise and gross-out. If you are going to make a successful horror film, it is going to have all those three ingredients.

JOHN: Reborn is difficult to categorise. It is not in one little box.

“You are sympathetic with the monster. Tess appealed to me.”

JULIAN: What attracted me was it was a classic horror story. I love monster movies where you are sympathetic with the monster and Tess (the ‘reborn’ daughter) appealed to me. When I read the story, I was torn between whether it was Tess’ story or Lena’s (her mother) and I decided the story was actually Lena’s. Tess is an anti-hero. Lena’s objective is to get back into her career as an actress and that’s how I came up with the ending.

JOHN: Which we can’t talk about.

JULIAN: No… But, from a meta point of view, I wanted it to have a new, contemporary twist at the end. Let’s have fun with it.

JOHN: You are involved in an upcoming anthology film called Deathcember.

JULIAN: Yes. It’s based round the idea of an advent calendar and every time you open up a window, that opens up a new story. The German producers have chosen 24 directors and I am one of them.

JOHN: How long is your section?

JULIAN: Five minutes. We will probably be shooting it in February/March next year, ready for the Sitges festival in September.

JOHN: And you are possibly making Rabies.

JULIAN: I am in talks with the Israeli producers about possibly shooting that in Wales. Based on my experience of shooting Reborn in Tbilisi, Georgia, as America, I could probably shoot in Wales for the US too. A tree is a tree. As long as the cars and costumes look American, then it feels American.

JOHN: There must be a more personal film you really want to make.

JULIAN: I would love to make a film in Brazil.

JOHN: Your wife is Brazilian.

JULIAN: Yes. I have this idea which is basically Elite Squad meets Cannibal Holocaust – about a crack force of urban cops who fight the cartels. It’s political theatre… My idea is that they are sent into the jungle to fight the indigenous… It is illogical to take urban fighters to the jungle, but the politicians do it to make a statement. They take them out of the favelas of Rio and put them into the jungle of Manaus.

JOHN: Sounds like a thriller.

JULIAN: It’s action and it’s political. They will fight tribes that have had little contact with humanity and maybe they will be cannibals and all kinds of things as well. I am taking it down the horror route.

JOHN: You want to do something serious but mask it with genre elements?

JULIAN: A little bit of both. I always like to do that. I did that with Darklands with Welsh nationalism.

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW …

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