Tag Archives: finance

A rather sad Space Precinct legacy for Thunderbirds producer Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson in his Pinewood office in 1979

Gerry Anderson in Pinewood office, 1979

In the film industry, there is a long tradition of chisellers, cheats, conmen and crooks. Put this together with lower TV budgets, a morally decent producer and a British TV production company trying to create an expensive-for-TV, glossy sci-fi series made for both the US and UK markets (which have differing expectations) and shot at a major British film studio and you have a recipe both for major production problems and an almost certainly tragic sitcom.

In 1979, I chatted to TV producer Gerry Anderson at Pinewood Studios during one of several low points in his life.

I reprinted parts of the interview in three blogs back in January last year

Seven years after I had that chat with him, in 1986, Gerry Anderson produced a 55-minute TV pilot film entitled Space Police.

Shane Rimmer (right) in Space Police pilot

Shane Rimmer (right) in original Space Police pilot

The pilot featured Anderson regular Shane Rimmer as a New York cop called Brogan. The series failed to sell and the pilot was never aired.

Fast forward another eight years and, in 1994, Gerry got together with Mentorn TV boss Tom Gutteridge. They re-styled the Space Police concept and made an ill-fated series called Space Precinct with Ted Shackelford as Brogan.

The new Space Precinct documentary

The Space Precinct Legacy documentary

Last night, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, I attended what was rather grandly called the ‘world premiere’ screening of Space Precinct Legacy, a 90-minute documentary on the troubled making of the Space Precinct series.

Space Precinct was conceived as a cop series set in space, where “instead of the usual run-of-the-mill baddies, you’ve got aliens as baddies”. It centred on the adventures of New York cop Brogan, transferred to take care of trouble on a distant planet filled with cops and baddies wearing prosthetic heads. Animatronics inside the heads made the eyes move.

Expectations were high but were slowly dashed as the production progressed.

Last night, the documentary’s director Paul Cotrulia explained: “We tried to keep it as honest a telling of the making of Space Precinct as we could without getting sued.”

During the production of the Space Precinct series, there were problems with the US distributor who had claimed to have pre-sold the series across the nation in peaktime slots (a necessity to actually finance the series). In fact, in the US, the series tended to be scheduled in early morning kids slots or very late night graveyard slots with far lower advertising returns.

At one point, Tom Gutteridge had to borrow £2 million to continue shooting the series himself when money from the US backers stopped and twelve US lawyers flew over to the UK to try to get out of the watertight contract signed by the backers.

The backers backed down and continued to finance the show, though presumably through gritted teeth.

US and UK dramatic needs varied

The US and UK markets required incompatible drama types

There was a fundamental problem because of the differing tastes and expectations of US and UK audiences. The  Americans wanted darker adult drama for peaktime screening. The British wanted twinkle-in-the-eye knowing humour.

Executive producer Tom Gutteridge says:

“If there had been a second series, we would have had to have decided precisely what the show was that we were making. If we were making an American show just for America – which is really what we should have done – it would have been a completely different animal and I’m not absolutely convinced that Gerry Anderson would have been the hands-on producer.

“I think it would have been creatively very different. We would have had a much clearer, stronger, probably darker vision. The humour would have been more consistent all the way through, there would have been fewer – better – writers. There would have been a single voice and that voice I don’t think would have been Gerry Anderson’s… if there had been a second series.”

The Space Precinct title logo

The Space Precinct on-screen title logo

In retrospect, he thinks there was not enough money, certainly not enough time and that more money should have been put into special effects and less into “lining some people’s pockets”.

Other people involved in the production agree that the series was, partly, scuppered by “jobs for the boys” and dodgy geezers.

One seemingly generally-held opinion was that: “Gerry was listening to all the wrong people – his friends or his trusted allies – and that was a mistake… There were just a handful of people there who were taking the money and running – lining their pockets as fast as possible.”

Jamie Anderson, Gerry’s son, said after the screening last night:

Christine Glanville (left) and Mary Turner on Gerry Anderson’s series Four Feather Falls

Christine Glanville (left) and Mary Turner working on an early Gerry Anderson puppet series Four Feather Falls

“I was ten years old. I just had an amazing time, but I remember being sat awkwardly trying to ignore a conversation in which Christine Glanville who had worked from the very beginning as a puppeteer – right from the start – and had been with dad all the way through his various shows… She said she felt really let down by some members of the crew.

“Up until that point, in every show they’d worked on, there had been a real close-knit family feel and all-of-a-sudden there were a few people there who did seem to be lining their pockets and were just happy to do sub-standard work. Even as a ten year old I could pick that up.”

Even now, there might seem to be a bit of a curse on anything to do with the Space Precinct series.

Director Paul Cotrulia at the premiere last night

Director Paul Cotrulia at premiere last night

Last night, the documentary’s director Paul Cotrulia told me: “My production company and my business partners were very keen to do a Space Precinct re-boot and we explored that idea for some time with Mentorn – developing script outlines – then, halfway through the documentary and developing the (new) show, Mentorn said Oh, actually, by the way, we only own the UK rights to Space Precinct. So you’re not going to be able to sell this project internationally. So it came to a halt.”

There are no clips from the Space Precinct series in the documentary.

Paul Cotrulia explained to me: “About halfway through production (of the documentary), Mentorn told us they didn’t get buy-out contracts from the actors, which meant that we would have had to pay those actors their original fee again just to use a clip. It would have cost too much. The same with the music. I love the music, but EMI wanted an enormous amount of money and we had to be realistic about our projections of how the documentary would perform with just releasing it in the UK.”

A sad legacy for the late Gerry Anderson.

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This man with movie dreams already has a free yacht and a free Jumbo Jet

Borehamwood yesterday: Jason Cook, a man with a dream

I woke up in the early hours of this morning wanting to go to the toilet and realised I had been dreaming about the plots of Alfred Hitchcock movies. There was the one where he broke the convention that all flashbacks by central characters should be true. And there was the famous one where, by killing off the central character (and the only star name in the movie) the whole plot of the first third or more of the film became irrelevant – the ultimate MacGuffin.

I guess I was dreaming of films because yesterday, in Borehamwood’s main street, near his offices at Elstree Film Studios, I met the indefatigable would-be feature film producer Jason Cook, who has a slate of nine films – all scripted and budgeted, including a £3 million animation film – and is trying to get finance for the first of them.

He has been talking to an Indonesian financier/film producer.

“We had one of the action films scripted in English,” he told me, “and now we’ve had it translated into Indonesian and have changed the locations. If we can get it shot in Indonesia, the budget would come way down to £500,000.”

Jason is also, he told me, starting a short film competition with the main event to be held, provisionally, next April.

“We’re looking for up-and-coming talent and short films under five minutes long,” he told me. “There will be a cash prize and an award. We’ve got sponsorship from Elstree Film Studios, Nando’s, The Way Forward Productions and the Ark Theatre. We’re hoping to hold events four times a year. The idea is to get up-and-coming talent and established film-makers together. And we would find enthusiastic new talent, which could be useful.”

If anyone can pull this off, Jason Cook can. His ability to blag and persuade people to do unlikely things – a pre-requisite for making movies – is astonishing. For one of the movies on his slate, he has got free access to an ocean-going yacht and to a Jumbo Jet 747.

“Does it fly?” I asked.

“No,” he told me, “It’s used for training purposes in the middle of a college.”

“Is it just the interior of the cabin?” I asked.

“It’s the exterior and interior of the full cabin and controls and everything.”

“But not the passenger section?” I said.

“The passenger area is there as well.”

“And the tail?”

“The wings are there and the back end of the plane, but not the tail itself.”

“And,” I said, “last time we met, you told me a hotel will put your entire crew up for one of the films for free – and you get free breakfasts. So you’re going to try to find all that film’s locations near that hotel.”

“The hotel have been really good,” said Jason.

“They certainly have,” i said.

“We can film inside the hotel,” he continued, “using it for interior locations. They’ve also said we can accommodate the full crew at very very very cheap rates and they’ll throw breakfast in. I thought it would be best to have all the crew in the same place, with the actors.”

“Yes it would,” I said. “Especially if they’re getting free breakfasts.”

If anyone can get these nine feature films off the ground it is Jason.

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Bring back the Fabulous Poodles and Hank Wangford + slugs & comedians

Last night, I went with my eternally-un-named friend to see Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino’s wonderful semi-regular music evening at the Wickham Arms in Brockley, South London.

I blogged in early July about violin virtuoso Bobby’s spat with PRS (the Performing Right Society) over royalties on The Bluebells’ worldwide hit Young at Heart. This seems to have been progressing and I somehow think that PRS have chosen the wrong person to have a fight with. I did not realise that venture capital companies regularly invest in prospective court cases which are likely to be won. Capitalism and gambling intermingled. Or is that tautology?

I suggested to Bobby (as he links the two groups) that the Fabulous Poodles or the Hank Wangford Band should play the Edinburgh Fringe next year, perhaps only for one week, as a teaser to attract a promoter interested in touring them. Fabulous Poodles frontman Ronnie Golden is already a Fringe regular with comedy writer Barry Cryer

I suggested a show with either The Fabulous Poodles or the Hank Wangford Band or preferably both in an hour long show at the Fringe. Maybe only for one week, to sell the idea of a tour. Those are certainly shows I would (unusually) pay to see.

But accommodation cost is always one of the major problems at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I guess it won’t happen.

Accommodation is not the only ongoing financial problem in Edinburgh, though.

A ‘think piece’ by Bob Slayer which the Scotsman newspaper suddenly pulled and which I then posted in one of my blogs on 4th August – How the Edinburgh Fringe is financed – got a lot of hits at the start of the Fringe; and a flurry towards the end of the Fringe; and today it has had another burst of sudden hits with a few comments at the bottom of the post.

I have a feeling people don’t spot any subsequent Comments on my blogs, so it is maybe worth pointing out that, in response to my blog yesterday about slugs in my back garden (it’s a glamorous life), Anna Smith made this Comment from Canada:

In British Columbia, which is neither British nor Columbia, we are over-run with slugs. Slugs have been known to decimate entire marijuana plantations, a vital industry here, now that much of our forests have been logged or destroyed by the pine beetle. The only solution to the pine beetle problem is a winter cold snap, which kills the larvae, but we have no control over the weather. Slugs are easier to combat. We place a saucer in the garden, and pour beer into it. The slugs soon appear and drink themselves to death within hours. Many comedians take years to perform the same accomplishment.

My eternally-un-named friend, at the forefront of the UK’s battle against the slug menace, has dreamt of slugs the last two nights. Giant ones climbing in and out of drains. She may try the beer option but, as I do not drink alcohol and she seldom drinks – in case the slugs do not take the bait – I may invite comedian Bob Slayer round to clear up the left overs.

Although, if I do, this may prove to be a major mistake.

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Comedy scriptwriter unmasks capitalist economics as no better than voodoo

(This was also published on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state (and the dog)

With Greece and Spain still teetering on the brink of financial collapse, the NatWest Bank’s computers refusing to transfer money to anyone for two days this week and comedian Jimmy Carr getting attacked by the Prime Minister for tax-dodging, it seemed like a good time to talk money with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly, not a man known to dislike Marxist-Leninism.

“It’s perfectly reasonable for economists not to know what to do,” Mark said to me in a cheap cafe in Soho (I was paying), “because Economics is not a science in the first place.

“If you have a problem with an aeroplane, then aerodynamics IS a science. There’s a cause and effect as to why a plane isn’t working and you can fix it. You can’t do that with Economics because there’s no verifiable cause and effect. Economics is essentially no different from voodoo. It’s all based on belief. Things only exist because you believe they do.”

“Well,” I said, “I was always crap at Economics at school. They forced me to do Economics for ‘A’ Level because they said I had to ‘do a science’ and I was even more crap at Chemistry and Physics. I was useless at factual subjects because I could never remember abstract facts like Sodium Chloride = NaCl and Methyl Chloride = CH3Cl but I was good at conceptual subjects like British Constitution where you could discuss things. I was good at waffle.”

Mark quite rightly ignored this (and I added in those chemical system details when I was writing this blog). I was waffling.

“I think,” Mark said, “that the best essay on economics – but I would think this – is one by Lenin on fictitious capital. The idea of capitalist economies creating fictitious capital. Money breeds money. The history of capitalist economics is primarily the history of debt and debt itself can ultimately only be collected by force.

“So America has a phenomenal level of debt, but no-one has the nerve to call in America’s debt because, if you do, they’re suddenly going to find that you’ve got a very oppressive regime and it has to be overthrown. America can’t be ‘called’ on its debt, despite the fact it has an enormous debt… but other countries can.

“If you have a big enough debt, one of the ways of dealing with it is to get rid of the person you owe the debt to… in other words War. Bourgeois economists would never include War as an economic strategy; but it is.”

“So,” I said, “Greece should basically declare war on Germany and France?”

“It’s their best bet,” Mark replied. “No, seriously, what they should do is build an enormous horse, push it over the border and then, at night, the horse opens and all the Greek Communists come out and fiddle with the other bank’s computers.”

“Computers are the soft underbelly,” I said, “The NatWest computers have been in chaos the last two days and transactions were not being processed. A friend of mine who has been involved in banking computers said it sounded to him as if someone had tried to hack into the main computer system or its twin – because they presumably have a back-up system somewhere in some un-marked building.”

“Well, as for computers…” said Mark, “with the very very sophisticated credit default swaps, the parcelling-up of debt and stuff… basically people like Goldman Sachs have been employing for 20 years or so – well, really since Reagan became US President – they’ve been employing enormously highly-rated mathematicians and some of the formulae they come up with in credit default swaps and so on are so sophisticated that there are literally only a handful of people who understand the formulae.

“So banks have been operating on the basis of formulae which they’re quite happy to admit they themselves don’t understand. It’s ultimately no different from voodoo. You’re just taking the word of other people and everyone has a vested interest in taking everyone else’s word and that, itself, is the essence of a bubble. So you have a housing bubble or you go back to the 18th century and you have the South Sea Bubble and the Tulip Bubble in the 17th century.”

“The Tulip Bubble?” I asked.

Mark quite rightly ignored me.

“People,” he continued, “talk about The Market now as if The Market were a human being. What would The Market say? How would The Market react? As if The Market were a rational person with an identity, whereas it’s not. It’s composed of an enormous number of irrational, deeply avaricious fuckwits all racing around saying Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell! 

“The choice is between a rational, planned economy – which is what Lenin was after – and… and… the irony is that capitalist economics is actually anarchy in the worst sense of the word: it’s utterly chaotic.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “Pure capitalism without any restraints is pure anarchy because the strongest person wins.”

“It’s not a science at all,” Mark said, “It’s no different to voodoo. The basic problem isn’t how to fix the system. The problem is the system itself.”

Then we carried on talking about comedy clubs.

It seemed the best thing to do.

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“My name is Jason and I am on the hunt for the Golden Fleece of film investment”

Jason Cook with camera this week

That title is a good opening line, especially from someone with dyslexia.

I first blogged about the indefatigable criminal-turned-author-turned-film-producer Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian Jason Cook) in December 2010.

We got chatting again this week at the Broadcast Video Expo at Earl’s Court in London.

Jason currently has eight film projects at various stages of pre-production: all different genres ranging from animation to sci-fi and a true-life story based on his three autobiographical novels… and he is still looking for finance in the current bleak economic climate.

The Devil’s Dandruff, based on the first of his three novels There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, has always sounded highly commercial to me, especially given that there is a potential film trilogy there.

He has managed to keep the budget down to £2 million, which seems remarkably thrifty, given the plot but, despite having an enthusiastic letter from an ‘A’ list actor (my jaw dropped when I saw this name) he is still having problems raising the finance.

“There’s been lots of talk about David Cameron bringing finance to British independent films,” Jason told me, “but yet we’re still waiting for that to trickle down to people on the creative side. There are people out there with great ideas and great dreams, but the thing that’s lacking is the investment.

“I’m a working class lad from Borehamwood; I think if I was an Oxbridge graduate I would be more acceptable and respectable for investors. It is difficult coming from where I’ve come from. I have not mixed in the ‘right’ circles.

“I was a genuine lad who got involved in drugs, gun crime and gangsters from the age of twelve and was put in prison for my crimes – the first time for nine months. The second time I got four years and one day and I served two years and seven months.

“At that time, if the judge gave you four years, you would only serve half. This particular judge thought my crime was bad enough that I should serve longer. So he sentenced me to four years and one day, which meant I would have to serve two thirds. That’s fair enough. I did the crime, so I gotta pay the time.

“After coming out of prison twelve years ago, I got myself clean of drugs – because I was also an addict at that time – and I got away from all the crime people surrounding me and I went clean.

“I started to write about my experiences, which turned into my first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, about where I grew up and how I got involved.

“I self-published the first book and self-publicised it because I was just a normal guy off the street who’d written a book. I had no backing. I wasn’t a sportsman. I wasn’t a glamour model who could get her boobs out. So I self-published that first one so I could start building recognition.

“I then wrote the second one The Gangster’s Runner because of the good reviews. It’s about the people I was involved with and how I was used in the underworld as a drug runner and a drug enforcer and money collector. Ecstasy, coke and hash.

“And the third novel A Nice Little Earner is how everything ties up and we all go our own ways and it elaborates on the range of characters, from politicians to judges, solicitors, barristers to every level of society. All the way from the street-seller to the user. The up-market characters are based around real people. The details have been changed to protect everyone – to protect them and to protect myself from reprisals. But the books are a big insight into the underworld in London and across the world.

“I’m not glamorising crime; I’m not making it seem good; I’m showing the bare elements of drug addicts, a young lad being blinded by the lights and peer pressure, fast cars, fast money and I’m showing the real gritty parts of real life. All real.

“I’ve always been interested in films. From an early age, I was in Elstree Youth Theatre. I started working on film sets as an extra and became a runner. I want to create films people want to see. Partly for the money but a lot of it for the creative side. I think I can tell a good story.

“The irony is I’ve been clean from drugs and crime for twelve years now but, while everyone else is falling out of pubs, I can’t get into them because I’m still on PubWatch. I was arrested for drugs and put in prison. That’s OK. That’s fair. But, when I came out, I went into my local pubs and they told me I had been put on PubWatch so I was not allowed into any pubs any more for life. I never did drugs or did any crime in any pub and I had never had any trouble with any landlord, but I was put on PubWatch for life because I was involved in drugs in the local area and around London.

“I’m still being punished for my crimes twelve years later, after being rehabilitated…

“Perhaps I should jump on the bandwagon,” Jason laughs. “I should sue the Metropolitan Police and go to the European Court of Human Rights and claim my human rights have been infringed. Everyone else seems to be doing it.”

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Filed under Books, Crime, Drink, Drugs, Legal system, Movies

Elfin comedian Laura Lexx gets bigger ideas after meeting the real Santa Claus

At the University of Kent, you can study Stand-Up Comedy. My natural tendency would be to think this is a right load of old wank if it were not for the fact they seem to have produced some rather good rising comedy performers.

There is (in alphabetical order) Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, The Noise Next Door and Pappy’s.

And then, out of alphabetical order, there is elfin Laura Lexx. I call her ‘elfin’ because she actually did for a period literally work as an elf in Lapland as part of the Father Christmas industry. I have seen the photos. She is low on height but high on energy. Which is just as well – not just for elfing around in Lapland.

All the way through July, Laura is promoting a month of London previews for other people’s Edinburgh Fringe shows at the Glassblower in Soho, with a line-up which includes Bridget Christie, Phil Nichol and Paul Sinha.

Then she takes off her promoter hat and she’s off to Edinburgh for the Fringe where she’s in both the Comedy and the Theatre sections – performing, producing, writing and directing.

She’s performing daily as part of the improvised comedy game show Quiz in My Pants at the Opium venue

She’s performing and directing the cast in her own straight play Ink (about the 7/7 London terrorist bombings and the media) at the Kiwi Bar.

And she has also done the very neat trick of spotting a new way to finance Edinburgh Fringe shows via wedidthis.org where people who want to support the Arts in a positive way can donate money to the month’s chosen projects. If you reach your target within the month, you get the money donated. If you don’t reach your target, the promised donations made so far are not collected.

At the time of writing this blog, she has another fortnight to raise £175 to cover some of her Edinburgh costs. The donations page is here.

I wonder if anyone would fork out money to cover my modest and artistically-vital publicity costs for Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

Or maybe I should get work after the Fringe as a Father Christmas clone in Lapland. I would need a wig, I could grow the beard, but I would need no padding.

Oh, to be an elf…

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Advice on how to spot a conman in the movie industry (and elsewhere)

I popped along to Elstree Film Studios for a chat with the indefatigable Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name, though I am sure he is also dynamic).

The Jason Cook I know is a former gangster’s runner turned author and film producer with more energy than the National Grid.

His production company The Way Forward Productions, based at Elstree Studios, has a slate of seven feature films in various stages of preparation. His sales agent says the first picked up quite a bit of interest at the recent Cannes Film Festival. It is The Devil’s Dandruff, based on Jason’s autobiographical novel There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus (the first in his autobiographical trilogy of books).

My favourite Jason Cook project, though, is the animated Rats in Space.

It’s a great title and it’s currently looking for finance.

We found we were both equally bemused and amused by the fact that, with potential movie investors, a person’s sartorial impressiveness is often in inverse proportion to their financial ability. People who turn up to meetings unshaven in scruffy shirts and torn jeans often have shedloads of money to burn. People who arrive looking well-heeled in neat Armani suits and spotless shirts are often bullshitting.

Maybe it’s because people with a lot of money don’t need to impress anyone, so don’t care what people think of them.

Whereas conmen and shysters are meticulous in their clothing and manners because they need to impress people for the hustle to work.

Of course, some shabbily-dressed men are just shabbily-dressed men.

I have been told I am living proof of this.

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