Tag Archives: director

Edinburgh Fringe Day 2: Good advice on dodgy comedy stage show directors

In this blog yesterday, a comedy performer whom I did not name was complaining about the way they had been treated by their director who had just said their show being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe could be directed from London without the director coming up to Edinburgh at all. 

I know a few theatre directors and got this response from the highly-experienced and much admired Catherine Arden (who is NOT the director in question). In other words, this is good advice…


Advice from Catherine Arden, director

I was concerned to read about the performer whose director did not support him or her to bed in the show for the opening week in Edinburgh.

I served two 2-year terms on the Equity Theatre Directors’ Committee and recently attended a conference where this type of thing was discussed and strongly disapproved of. It gives professional directors a bad name and is not good for the industry!

Some suggestions for the performer:

–  If both the performer and director are Equity members, Equity can help resolve and give assistance to the performer to make contracts clearer in future.

–  There is a Fringe contract the performer might want to look at.

–  If the director is an Equity member, the performer can report this poor behaviour to Equity.

–  If the performer is an Equity member, then he or she can get further guidance on the matter and learn how to safeguard future dealings.

If neither the performer nor director are Equity members, I recommend the performer goes along to the Equity desk in Edinburgh.

Equity is running workshops at the Edinburgh Fringe which are great for professional development as well as for networking with proper professionals.

Also, Equity says…

If you are a member or student member taking part in any of the Edinburgh Festivals and need advice or support at any point please contact our local office on 0141-248-8472 or scotland@equity.org.uk

The Fringe has its Venues and Companies team for any show or venue taking part in the festival and they may also be able to help: participants@edfringe.com

Failing all that, your performer can get in touch with me as a director with Fringe experience if she wants a director who will give her the support he or she needs – and deserves! 🙂

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Available as a comedy show consultant or director or whatever you fancy, really

5Stars

The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

In the immortal words of Max Bialystock: “Flaunt it, flaunt it!”

I am available as a Director or Creative Consultant (or whatever words you want to use) on live comedy shows in 2016 – mostly, I guess, for people who intend to stage a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, although I am open to anything.

This can include structuring a show, giving feedback and show notes on performance and presentation, advice on publicity and marketing; whatever you want short of totally writing and performing the whole bleedin’ thing.

I won’t read scripts, because you are not reading out written scripts on stage. I will only advise people or see their live performances or run-throughs or try-outs – even if it’s in a living room! Me just reading words on paper or on a screen is a waste of your time and mine.

I have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe since around 1985 and been involved in the production of various live Fringe comedy shows including ones by Charlie Chuck, Janey Godley, Malcolm Hardee, Helen Keen and Lewis Schaffer. Since 2005, I have organised the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and, since 2006, staged annual variety shows in memory of Malcolm Hardee in London and Edinburgh, running anything from two to five hours. There will be a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe.

If I give advice on any show that is later considered for a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award, I will opt out of the decision-making process and will bend over backwards not to show bias. So, ironically, if I advise you on your show, you are much, much LESS likely to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

2008-2010 I was UK creative consultant to New York’s Bleecker Street Theater and Green Room venue.

2010-2015 I was UK creative consultant to New York based Inbrook Entertainment, including the Gene Frankel Theatre.

I worked in British TV for around 25 years – including peaktime entertainment shows and series with performers including Jeremy Beadle, Cilla Black, Jack Dee, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant et al – as well as directing/producing/writing promotion & marketing campaigns and press & sales tapes for TV stations in the UK, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

In print, I wrote comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, edited comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography and edited an anthology of stories by 19 stand-up comics. My blog So It Goes – mostly about comedy – was posted daily 2011-2015 and continues sporadically, with over 1 million hits.

I have also written for Chortle, the Huffington Post, the Independent, Screen International, Three WeeksWhat’s On Stage and others. And been a script consultant for TV’s This Morning, Tricia, Turner Movies and ITV News etc as well as a researcher for BBC TV News.

In 2014 and 2015, I chaired live Grouchy Club chat shows about comedy at the Fringe with Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick. This will continue at the 2016 Fringe. We also post weekly Grouchy Club podcasts and host monthly live Grouchy Club meetings in London.

Quotes about me include:
“The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle)
“Fleming knows a bit about comedy’s extremities”(Fest magazine)
“One of the most influential figures in British comedy” (The Skinny)

My charges are:

£50 per hour + (if outside the London Travel Zone area) travel costs, including time taken.
or
£350 for up to 10 hours. For this, I have to be paid 50% up-front and 50% at the end of the consultation.

I know comedians!

CONTACT: john@thejohnfleming.com

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Advice on Edinburgh comedy shows?

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

What is the point of having a blog if you can’t use it for blatant self-publicity?

In this week’s Grouchy Club Podcastcomedy critic Kate Copstick and I talk about the end of the comedy section in Time Out. The end of my daily blog. The last live Grouchy Club meeting. Performer Nina Conti joining a porn film set. Will and/or Sarah Franken deciding to teach satire. My suggestion that Copstick should teach how to be aggressive in a Scottish accent. Free Fringe boss Peter Buckley Hill’s thoughts on an award. More chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe. The dead owners of Cowgatehead. Plus Lewis Schaffer, Juliette Burton, Bob Slayer, Mark Watson… and it all ends with an orgasm from Copstick. 

But there is also this brief section in the 32 minute podcast:


COPSTICK
Now I heard a rumour…

JOHN
Ooooo…

COPSTICK
…Mr Fleming… that you were thinking of offering your services as a director for people taking shows up to the Edinburgh Festival.

JOHN
Except, as we both know, a director doesn’t really do anything. So I thought the word ‘consultant’  might be vague enough.

COPSTICK
Oh. Consultant.

JOHN
For tax reasons, ‘Consultant’ is probably good as well.

COPSTICK
Consultant. Yes. With your how many years experience? Thousands of years of entertainment in London Weekend Television and elsewhere.

JOHN
Well, to be wholly truthful, it covers two centuries, doesn’t it?

COPSTICK
Yes. And, to be fair, it looks like it’s taken its toll.

JOHN
… on the industry.

COPSTICK
So somebody could actually…

JOHN
I did hear Time Out was closing its comedy section because it couldn’t actually compete with my increasingly prestigious blog.

COPSTICK
Maybe they will open it again, now your increasingly prestigious blog is closing. But you could take anyone’s…

JOHN
I can make them. I can break them.

COPSTICK
…embryonic Edinburgh show and turn it into something very close to Lewis Schaffer, could you? that successful? Is that what you’re offering? I can make you Lewis Schaffer!

JOHN
If I can make Lewis Schaffer successful, anything is possible.

COPSTICK
Exactly. think what you could do for a talented person!… No! I don’t mean that!

JOHN
Lewis Schaffer is still available at the Museum of Comedy until probably Monday. My influence is so great that I have actually made Lewis Schaffer a museum exhibit.

COPSTICK
Yes… But, seriously, you’d consult on people’s shows and…

JOHN
Well, the thing about me is that I’m not a performer, so you have to opt out of…

COPSTICK
Well, I think you’re doing pretty well here, I have to say.

JOHN
… but I am a keen observer of the scene…

COPSTICK
And a seasoned producer.

JOHN
A seasoned everything, yes – radio, TV, journalism, advertising. I’ve done them all. So I could give a… a… We haven’t thought this through as a marketing exercise, have we…

COPSTICK
No, we haven’t.

JOHN
I can give an objective view from years of experience of watching really awful acts. So, if anyone has a really awful act, I am very experienced in watching them.

COPSTICK
Yes, that’s fantastic. You’re not going to judge. I think that’s what you’re saying.

JOHN
I did, for a couple of years, do reviews for Chortle, the comedy website.

COPSTICK
Did you?

JOHN
I did. But I never liked it. You have to be honest if you’re reviewing and therefore you get hated by the comedians.

COPSTICK
I know the feeling.

JOHN
So my blog never actually criticised anyone, because I could pick and choose interesting people doing interesting things whom I admired and who were worthy of promotion and I could ignore any old trash. Although, admittedly, I have promoted Lewis Schaffer quite a lot.

COPSTICK
Indeed… Now, I want you to answer completely honestly here, John. Would the fact that you are consulting on a show give it a better chance of winning the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards?

JOHN
Ah. Now this is what’s worrying me. I haven’t actually thought this one through. One possibility is I say: If I consult for you, you can’t possibly win or be considered.

COPSTICK
But all the kind of shows, surely, that would benefit from your particular and extensive expertise are exactly Malcolm Hardee type shows.

JOHN
Exactly, yes.

COPSTICK
I think we’d have to say that the Malcolm Hardee Award is just going to be my decision next year. Lovely. Job done.

JOHN
The reality would be that, if I consulted on a show that was seriously considered for the Malcolm Hardee Award, I wouldn’t take part in the decision making.


The whole 32 minute podcast can he heard HERE.

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New movie “Almost Married” directed by a man who almost had only one eye

Philip McGinley and Emily Atack in Almost Married

Philip McGinley and Emily Atack star in Almost Married

Last night I went to the May Fair Hotel in London for the premiere of Almost Married, a movie starring Philip McGinley (Game of Thrones) and Emily Atack (The Inbetweeners and Dancing On Ice). It starts a limited cinema release – and has a simultaneous digital release – tomorrow.

Before last night’s premiere, I asked writer/director Ben Cookson: “What’s it about?”

“It’s about,” he said, “a guy who comes back from a stag weekend with a sexually transmitted disease.”

“So it’s a comedy?” I asked.

“It was… err…” said Ben, “It became a comedy. It had to be.”

“Autobiographical?’ I asked.

“Biographical. Not necessarily my own. The stories I’ve heard: it’s not an isolated case.”

“How much did it cost?” I asked.

“I think the official line is $1 million. We lost some regional funding so then it was a case either looking for another region to back us or just do it on a tighter schedule.”

Almost Married was originally scheduled for a four week shoot but, because of the last-minute partial loss of funding, it was shot in 18 days (three 6-day weeks).

(From left) Philip McGinley, Ben Cookson, Emily Atack, Mark Stobbart on stage before last night’s Almost Married premiere

(From left) Philip McGinley, Ben Cookson, Emily Atack, Mark Stobbart on stage before last night’s Almost Married premiere

“Within the first three or four days,” Ben told me, “we realised we needed to use a 2-camera set-up otherwise we weren’t going to get it done.”

Ben graduated from Bournemouth University with a First Class Honours in Scriptwriting after winning the Alan Plater Award for Best Screenplay.

Almost Married got off the ground when he met producer Lionel Hicks in a toilet at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Some stories are best left dangling – leaving the reader wanting to know more.

“I never really had any ambitions to direct,” Ben told me. “I just wanted to write stories.”

Like many another writer-director, he directs to get the script closer to his vision.

“We shot a 15-minute teaser in 2011 to help raise money,” he told me yesterday, “and then we shot the film independently in March 2012 with no distributor or sales agent in place. That’s about as independent as you can get. And then, when you get a sales agent or distributor, they’re going to want to make changes, which is why it took a lengthy time to get here.

“In the edit, the original cut was just under two hours which they liked but which for a comedy – which is how it’s being packaged and sold – is too long. They wanted it nearer 90 minutes, which I understand. Shortening it was a difficult process. We went from two hours to 90 minutes and then I fought to get it up to 97 minutes.”

The new film directed by Ben Cookson

The latest film directed by Ben Cookson

“I went to AFM (the American Film Market in Los Angeles) for the first time in November last year and managed to get a manager off the back of it. We got on and he really likes the idea of my next project.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“It’s a romantic thriller set in Paris about a fashion photographer who’s left with severe double vision after a mugging. It’s about his relationship with a young woman he meets in hospital.”

“And the relevance of the double vision is…?” I asked.

“Well,” said Ben, “it completely debilitates his career and… Well, I had double vision myself. I’ve still got it to an extent. If I play pool or snooker, I have to play with one eye closed, because it goes double vision at the top and the bottom.”

“How did that happen?” I asked.

“It was originally from a trauma,” explained Ben. “I got got hit in the eye with a pool cue… My eye and cheekbone were affected for about ten days… The socket of my eye was replaced by polythene and a few screws. When the doctors correct it, your brain has to learn to put the two images from your two eyes back together again and it’s pretty debilitating but it also drives you pretty insane. It’s 24/7. You can’t do anything. You can’t read; you can’t write. If you make a cup of tea, you’re pouring it all over the table because you see two cups.”

“Will there be humour in this movie?” I asked.

Ben Cookson

Ben at the Almost Married premiere

“It’s pretty dark,” replied Ben. “It’s more… How are we billing it?… It’s Blow Up meets Black Swan or maybe more Blow Up meets Leaving Las Vegas.

“I want to try and get the double vision across visually. Tinnitus of the eyes is the best way of describing it. I’m talking to DoPs (directors of photography) about ways of doing it in-camera. When you see double vision in films, it’s usually done in post production: it’s just two images and that’s not representative of what it is actually like to have double vision – because everything moves on a bit of an axis. Everything’s all out of kilter.”

“So it’s not,” I asked, “like me watching a 3D movie without wearing 3D glasses?”

“Not quite the same,” said Ben, “but it is as nauseating.”

“How long did your double vision last?” I asked.

“For six months at least. It’s really hard to measure, because it’s so gradual when it improves. You wake up every day thinking Oh, it’s just the same, but it’s actually incrementally getting slightly better. For six months, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work or do anything.”

“You must have had trouble just walking down steps,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Ben, “it’s like being paralytically drunk but without the enjoyment. And all the time. And you can’t drink either, because what’s the point?”

“You must have thought when it happened: I can never be a film director.”

“I dunno what I thought. Christ! You think Worst case scenario is, if it stays as bad as it is, I’ll have to get rid of one eye. It would be better to be blind in one eye and function. But I didn’t have to do that.”

There is a trailer for Almost Married on YouTube.

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Cutting edge camera technology reveals great open-sewered slums of the world

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

“You were thinking about making a 5-minute science fiction film called Avatar last time I saw you,” I reminded Danish director Nicolai Amter yesterday. “I never told you, but I thought it was a very uncommercial title.”

“Oh, that was ten years ago or more,” replied Nicolai. “Before the other Avatar or The Matrix or Minority Report came out.”

“So maybe we have not seen each other this century,“ I said.

“Maybe not,” agreed Nicolai.

He and I used to work together at Scandinavian TV channels TV3 and TV1000.

“My Avatar film was back when I still needed a DoP (Director of Photography),” mused Nicolai. “When I went out as a director, standing next to a DoP I often felt I knew as much as he did and I knew exactly the kind of lighting required, but I didn’t know all the camera gear required.

“I started out as a music photographer and then I got into music videos in Copenhagen and then I ended up in TV promotions and now I’m getting back into the whole photography thing because of the new Canon 5D camera – an amazing stills camera which also shoots amazing video.

“When it first came out and I saw a test, I sold all the video equipment I had and bought it and it changed the way I work. It liberated me from needing a DoP on a lot of projects: I can shoot everything myself.”

“So what are your plans now?” I asked.

“Getting some work in London for a change,” Nicolai told me. “It seems every time a job comes up, it’s always back in Africa – in Kenya or Nigeria or Ethiopia or Ghana or Tanzania. I’ve spent so much time in Africa over the last year….”

“Nigeria??!!??” I laughed. “Any views on Lagos?”

“It’s very intense,” replied Nicolai.

“Mmmm…,” I said.

“The people are very friendly,” said Nicolai. “There were a couple of experiences, but nothing that involved me. They were local misunderstandings between other people, I think. But it did mean I and the camera had to make a hasty retreat back to the car while it got sorted out.”

NicolaiAmter_

Nicolai yesterday, at the opening of his exhibition in London

Nicolai and I met again yesterday because I went to the opening day of an exhibition of his at Antenna Studios in London’s Crystal Palace: a series of photos he shot at the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It runs until the end of the month.

“People can buy prints of the photographs,” Nicolai told me. And I also have a book.

Any money that comes out of it will go into projects for the people living in the slum.

Kibera is reportedly Africa’s largest urban slum. A census in 2009 found it housed 170,070 people. A railway line runs through the slum, which has its own railway station. The slum is contaminated with human and animal shit, due to the open sewers and what has been called “frequent use of ‘flying toilets’ – people shit in bags and throw them away on the ground. Obviously, Kibera is heavily polluted by this shit, garbage, soot, dust etc.

Somewhat bizarrely, the slum has its own newspaper – the Kibera Journal and its own radio station – Pamoja FM. It even has a film school.

One of Nicolai’s photos of conditions in Kibera

One of Nicolai’s photos of the Kibera slum

One recent report said: “The ground in much of Kibera is literally composed of refuse and rubbish. Dwellings are often constructed atop this unstable ground, and therefore many structures collapse whenever the slum experiences flooding, which it does regularly. This means that even well-constructed buildings are often damaged by the collapse of nearby poorly constructed ones.”

“Why were you in Kibera?” I asked Nicolai.

“My brother is based out in Nairobi,” Nicolai said, “working mainly for the BBC as a freelance journalist. I went out to help him on a film for the BBC Media Trust.

“We were filming there for the BBC and, because my brother had done reports from there before, he knew a guy who lived there who worked as a fixer for the BBC. So I could hook up with him and go back later and walk around.

“At one point, I was walking around with him and all my film gear and we saw these three young girls from some NGO coming towards us with three armed guards. And I thought: Wait a minute! You need three armed guards and I have several thousand pounds worth of equipment here and only one unarmed guy!

“I did ask him: Am I safe here? and he said, No problem at all.”

As for me, I have never seen African poverty; in fact, I have never been to Africa.

Children living alone in their ‘homes’ outside Puno, Peru, 1983

Children living alone in their ‘homes’ outside Puno, Peru, 1983

But when I was in Lima, Peru, in the early 1980s, it was clearly one of the armpits of the world.

I could understand why some people supported the extremist-bordering-on-psycho rebels, the Sendero Luminoso Maoist guerrillas.

In Lima, the local tour guide took me to what she called a ‘beautiful Spanish street’. It looked like it had been hit by an earthquake: the buildings were falling apart. That turned out to be because it had been hit by an earthquake.

I wondered why people were apparently flowing into Lima from the countryside to live in the slums. When I went into the countryside and saw the poverty there, I realised why.

Nicolai said to me yesterday: “It seems to me, in Nairobi, there are rich areas with slum areas not very far from them. All the help and all the maids and so on are living in the slums. A lot of the people walking out of the slums in the morning are going to their jobs as cooks or maids or whatever.”

“I remember,” I told Nicolai, “being in a yurt slum on the outskirts of Ulan Bator in Mongolia in 1985. There was mud and shit and open sewers everywhere but, in the morning, everyone was coming out of their yurts dressed in smart, spotlessly-clean clothes, crossing gnarled planks across the open sewers and going off to be secretaries and office workers or whatever in the Russian-style concrete blocks in the middle of town. Very surreal.”

“The craziest thing I saw in Kibera,” said Nicolai, “were open sewers with plastic pipes in them, carrying clean water. Just by using that clean water, you could avoid cholera and all sorts of diseases but, because it’s in the open sewer, it gets polluted by all the dirty water.”

“I presume,” I said, “that the young children are relatively happy, because they have known nothing different?”

One of Nicolai’s exhibited photos of Nairobi’s Kibera slum

“We’re not living; we’re just surviving” (Photo by Nicolai)

“It seemed to me,” said Nicolai, “that all the young kids were quite happy running around but, as they started to grow up, they started to feel downtrodden by the whole situation.

“People kept telling me: We’re not living; we’re just surviving. They’re stuck in a horrible situation. They get paid so little from the work they do that they just can’t afford to live any better. They will continue to work as maids and security people for the middle classes and upwards.”

“When I was in Lima in the 1980s,” I told Nicolai, “there were people living in abject poverty in the slums and, a short distance away, there were people driving Mercedes Benzes and playing in private tennis clubs and it seemed to me the problem was that there was no significant middle class. There was nothing for the people in the slums  to aspire to. People had no hope of climbing out of the slums. Not them. Not their children. Not their grandchildren. No hope.”

“There’s some hope in Kibera,” said Nicolai, “because Africa is starting to boom and there’s much more investment. It feels like a lot of the young people who went abroad – to MIT and so on – are starting to move back. In Nairobi, they have people doing web design and iPhone apps.”

“Are you going back to Kibera again?” I asked.

“Possibly,” replied Nicolai. “Last year I was in Africa five times filming for NGOs and so on. I came back a month ago from Ethiopia, where I did a job for the British Council: an English course they run up in north Ethiopia, teaching the kids using wind-up MP3/radio players with solar panels on them. They teach the kids English on those.

“I really like Ethiopia. It’s the most friendly and easy-going place I’ve been in Africa. They’re very proud because they never had any colonisation. They’ve always been independent. They did have the Italians, but they kicked them out. They have their own language, their own calendar and even have their own time. If the sun goes down at six, they basically say, OK. Six is midnight and seven is one o’clock and so on. Everybody else in the world has decided on a single unified time, but not in Ethiopia – We do it our way! – I like that.”

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Are all actors barking mad? The case of Daniel Day-Lewis even before “Lincoln”

(This piece was also published on Indian news site WSN)

US poster for Spielberg’s movie Lincoln

Across the Atlantic, Daniel Day-Lewis is getting rave reviews for his performance in the title role of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – which does not open here in the UK until January.

Nicholas Hytner is Director of the National Theatre in London, but he also occasionally directs films. In 1996, he directed a movie of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Scofield.

Yesterday, Nicholas Hytner gave the annual Directors’ Guild Peter Brook Lecture in London and said this about the filming of The Crucible:

______________________________________________

Nicholas Hytner’s movie of The Crucible

Daniel was looking forward to working with Scofield more than I think any actor has ever looked forward to working with any other actor. I think he assumed that, because Paul was so mysterious and seemed to have access to such a kind of vast inexplicable world – he seems to channel something from deep beyond what’s easily expressible – Daniel, I think, assumed he would be a kindred spirit.

And Daniel really does – though he’s much more genial and self-mocking about it than you would ever know from the way he’s written about – he really does all the stuff he’s reputed to do.

So he came and he helped build the house that John Proctor lived in and farmed the land that John Proctor was farming and tried to live the life of a Puritan farmer… though he still came out for dinner with us at the end of the day.

He did all that.

And Daniel was, at that stage, in a place where he could barely admit he was going to learn the lines. It was an enormous challenge for him. Because, on the one hand, he was doing it because of this extraordinary text, the extraordinary texture of the way Arthur Miller had written for this Puritan farmer. That’s why he was doing it. On the other hand, by learning the lines, he was admitting the artificiality of the proceedings.

It’s been just one of the most thrilling parts of film-going in the last thirty years – to see Daniel struggling with that conundrum in movie after movie and coming up with this incredible series of great, great, great performances.

He expected Paul to be the same.

He reluctantly agreed to quite a lot of rehearsals, which Paul wanted because Paul said I’m in my seventies. I need these rehearsals or I’m not going to learn the lines. 

So, at the first rehearsal, Daniel is holding the script behind him and as far away from him as he can as if to kind of deny that it’s even there… and mumbling, because he doesn’t want to commit himself to anything until he does it spontaneously on the day.

And Paul starts by rehearsing the vowel sounds.

We live in a new TIIIME… a new TYYMMME… a new TIYEMM…

That is how Paul got into his character, how he got there… through the vowels. And also through the costume. He was twitching his cloak. All that stuff.

So, initially, Daniel was phenomenally disappointed.

But you put them in front of the camera on the day and they’re doing exactly the same job. They’re both completely in the present. They’re both completely spontaneous. They’re surprising each other. They’re firing off each other.

The point is, as a director, you’re often in the middle of approaches as different as that.

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Less than six degrees of separation for Malcolm Hardee, Ridley Scott, Stevie Wonder, EdFringe and Apple iPhones

Paul Wiffen knows how to use Stevie Wonder’s thumb print

I am interested in the concept of six degrees of separation, because it is usually an overestimate.

I had a drink again yesterday with the indefatigable criminal-turned-author-turned-film-producer Jason Cook, who is putting together a movie The Devil’s Dandruff, based on There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, the first of his three semi-autobiographical crime/drug trade novels.

He has now teamed up with Paul Wiffen who, like Jason, is what Hollywood calls a ‘hyphenate’.

He is a director-producer-composer-sound designer-performer and even, much to his own surprise, appearing in a cardigan in the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games.

It turned out that Paul’s father was born in Chadwell Heath in Essex and Paul lives there now.

“That’s a coincidence,” I said.

It is the outer suburb of London where my parents briefly lived when my family first came down from Scotland. My teenage years were spent in nearby Seven Kings, where the perhaps one-mile long high road was lined almost entirely with second hand car dealers.

“This was,” I told Paul yesterday, “before the name John went out of fashion because of – I think – Alexei Sayle’s song Ullo John, Got a New Motor? making it a naff name.”

“That’s a coincidence,” Paul said. I was at school with Rik Mayall. I was in a school production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I was Rosencrantz; he was Guildenstern and we also did Waiting For Godot, but I wasn’t one of the two leads: I was the guy who comes on as the horse.”

When Paul left school and went to Oxford University, he joined the Oxford University Drama Group but found others were better at acting, so he concentrated on doing the music.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe,” he told me yesterday, “I was in this terrible po-faced Oxford production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. But, that same year, my friend Lindsay was musical director of a Cambridge Footlights’ comedy production at the Fringe which had Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Tony Slattery. Lindsay got food poisoning one night and I filled-in for three or four days.”

“Oh,” I asked. “Was Emma Thompson also performing at a venue called The Hole in The Ground that year?”

“I think she was,” Paul replied.

“Well that’s another coincidence, then,” I said. “I think that might have been the year when The Hole in the Ground had three tents in it – for Emma Thompson, The Greatest Show on Legs and American performance artist Eric Bogosian. My comedian chum Malcolm Hardee got pissed-off by the noise Eric Bogosian made during The Greatest Show on Legs’ performances – and Bogosian had made Emma Thompson cry – so Malcolm got a tractor and drove it, naked, through the middle of Bogosian’s show.”

While at Oxford, Paul also got an early taste of movie-making when he was an extra in the Oxford-shot ‘Harvard’ scenes of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (the movie which destroyed United Artists).

“I was three behind Kirs Kristoffersen in the awards ceremony,” he told me, “but I was cut out of the ‘short’ version of Heaven’s Gate shown in Britain, so I have never actually seen myself in it!”

By 1982, after he graduated from Oxford University with a Master’s Degree in Languages, he shared a flat on the Goldhawk Road in West London.

“I went to some party that was a Who’s Who of early alternative comedy,” he told me, “and somebody introduced me to this rather chubby bloke saying: This is Alexei Sayle from Liverpool.

“I got on really well with him cos I grew up in Liverpool and he said: Oh, we’re doin’ a music video tomorrow morning in Goldhawk Road. Why don’t you come down. So I stood in the background on a car lot on the Goldhawk Road about three streets away from where I lived and watched them shoot Ullo John, Got a New Motor?

Later, Paul was involved in five Ridley Scott directed movies, the first as sound designer on the Blade Runner soundtrack composed by Vangelis. The gas explosions burning on the skyline are actually, Paul told me, slowed-down timpani “because explosions didn’t work.

“Most of the first three weeks on that project,” he said, “I had no idea what I was working on. There was super secrecy. I thought I was doing a Coca Cola advert. I wasn’t allowed in the main room to see what was being projected but, once, I looked through the door and saw this space ship floating across with Drink Coke on it. After three weeks, I realised Maybe even Coca Cola adverts don’t go on this long.

“Then I went on to another Vangelis soundtrack which was The Bounty starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, directed by Roger Spottiswood. I didn’t do any work with Roger Spottiswood at all. On the final third of his pictures, Ridley Scott has the composer in the room with him – editor, composer, composer’s team and Ridley. Spottiswood wasn’t there.

“For The Bounty, we did the whole score on the 9th floor of the Hotel Pierre on Central Park in New York. Vengelis had the whole of the 9th floor because, he told me, he knew he would be making so much noise the hotel could not put anyone else on the 9th floor. It turned out the movie budget had also paid for every room on the 8th and the 10th floors as well, so Vengelis could compose the soundtrack on the 9th.

“The next time Vangelis called me was for a terrible Italian film called Francesco – the story of St Francis of Assisi with Mickey Rourke strangely cast as the saint. Vengelis always works evenings and nights, so we were there at 4 o’clock in the morning scoring this scene in which Mickey Rourke rolls bollock-naked in a snow drift – apparently St Francis used to assuage his natural urges by doing this. So we are sitting there watching Mickey Rourke rolling bollock-naked in slow motion in a snow drift and Vangelis turns to me and says: Sometimes, this is the best job in the world… but tonight it’s the fucking worst.”

That is a key scene in the planned movie which Paul hopes to make about Vangelis. He would direct the film and also play Vangelis.

“And he’s happy with that?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Paul, “I first suggested the idea to him about two years ago. The main thing is he wants anyone who plays him to be actually able to play the piano.

“The only other film I did with Vangelis was 1492: Conquest of Paradise. I was supposed to do some stuff on Alexander, but I ended up getting 30 seconds of my music in the film and nothing with Vangelis. I’ve done two other movies with Ridley, both with Hans Zimmer – Black Rain and Gladiator. I think I’ve done 17 films with Hans Zimmer.

“On Gladiator, I did a lot of the synthesizers behind Lisa Gerrard, who plays the zither and sings on that score. That was probably the longest project I’ve ever worked on: it was over a year.”

For the last four years, Paul has been developing a movie script with Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran: a feature film version of their New Statesman TV series with Rik Mayall.

“The plot,” says Paul, “is about how Alan B’stard is responsible for the credit crunch and all that money that’s disappeared – Alan’s got it all.”

Gran & Marks are also, says Paul, “developing their half-hour TV comedy drama Goodnight Sweetheart as a 90-minute stage musical”

Between 2001-2004, Paul told me, he “realised the music industry was dying on its feet and I wanted to get into the film industry. I reckoned the only job that could get me from one to the other was working for Apple computers.

“I did the first ever demonstration of an iPod in Europe. The original pre-release version of the iPod recorded sound, but Steve Jobs got so worried about the idea it might be used to bootleg concerts that they actually took the capabilities off the first iPod they released.

“As part of what I did for the next two years, I had to work on the beta versions of new products and they sent me through – in great secrecy – what they called ‘an audio and video recording iPod’. Do you know what that was?”

“What?” I asked.

“It was the iPhone. We just thought it recorded audio and shot video. It looked very similar to what it looks like now, but telephones weren’t that shape in those days. Another team was working on the telephone part of it.

“I pointed out to them that, when you scrolled, it took a long time to go through long lists because it stopped every time you took your finger off. I said, Why don’t you make it so, once you swipe your finger and lift it off, the menu keeps spinning like a globe of the world does if you spin it. So you can spin it and then put your finger on again to stop it where you want…. 2004 that was.”

“Great idea!” I said. “You should be working for Apple at Cupertino!”

“I lived in California from 1986 to 1992,” Paul replied, “and I told myself I’m only going back when I’m a famous film director.”

“Maybe The Devil’s Dandruff will be the one,” I told him.

Jason Cook smiled.

“If you want to get an American work visa,” Paul said to me, “do you know how to get one?”.

“Marriage?” I suggested.

“No,” said Paul. “You get Stevie Wonder to put his thumb print on the application and then they have to grant your work permit, otherwise they’re not allowed to keep the piece of paper with his thumb print. There are always people in the Immigration & Naturalization Service that are big Stevie Wonder fans.”

Paul worked for nine months doing ‘sound design’ on Stevie Wonder’s album Characters which had one hit single –  Skeletons – which was used in the limousine sequence of the movie Die Hard.

Movies, music, Malcolm Hardee, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Willis.

Six degrees of separation is usually an overestimate.

Or maybe Paul Wiffen just has his fingers in lots of pies.

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