Tag Archives: ghost

The new Peter Sellers film that is 90% made but needs a bit of crowdfunding

GhostOfPeterSellarsPosterI am a massive admirer of the Hungarian director Peter Medak’s movie The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole – rarely seen because it got mired in distribution problems. Peter Medak also directed the 1990 film The Krays. And he directed the 1973 pirate comedy movie Ghost in the Noonday Sun, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

No, I had not heard of it either until, back in February, I got an e-mail from Paul Iacovou, who was  producing a documentary called The Ghost of Peter Sellers about the making of the Noonday Sun movie.

The Chortle comedy website wrote a very good article about the project back in February.

“Our documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” Paul Iacovou told me yesterday on Skype from Cyprus, “is called that to mirror the original title but also because the ghost of Peter Sellers is the ghost that haunted Peter Medak for 43 years because he blames this film for altering the trajectory of his career. He was THE hot director of the time and then there was Ghost in the Noonday Sun with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and it was a pirate comedy and everybody was waiting for it and it never materialised. In the film world, you’re only as good as your last film. That’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers is Peter Medak re-tracing what happened 43 years ago, by talking to a huge variety of people who haven’t really given interviews before. The original film’s producer John Hayman. John Goldstone who was the Monty Python producer. Actor Robert Wagner who was a great friend of Peter Sellers. Executives and people in the movie business of the 1970s. It gives an incredible insight into how movies were made in those days.

“One of the great things is that everybody is in their 70s, some early 80s. So they speak with such candour. They’re not trying to gain anything. They’re reflective, they look back and are totally honest in what they say, which is so refreshing on camera.”

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellars

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Paul Iacovou is producing The Ghost of Peter Sellers; Peter Medak is directing; there is an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative. At the time of writing, there are nine days to go to reach their $40,000 target and the Indiegogo appeal has raised $22,485.

“We’ve managed to do quite well,” Paul told me. “It was quite a large amount we were going for. It’s been quite a bit of a struggle. The crowdfunding audience tends to be much younger. I contacted the strategist at Indiegogo and he told me he had had a meeting with his guys internally and not one of them knew who Peter Sellers was. Their average age is between 25 and early 30s. They are in New York, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”

“The fleeting nature of fame,” I said.

“Tragic, really,” said Paul.

“What’s your link with Peter Sellers?” I asked.

“Well, I’m half Cypriot,” Paul told me. “I moved here eight years ago and just by chance I was in a friend’s office and his father had a photograph of Spike Milligan on the wall. I asked why. He told me: Oh, it’s from the Peter Sellers movie that they shot here in 1973. I had never heard of it. So I started research it and it just got so interesting – a disaster of a production that was never released.

Made but unseen

Death Wish to movie nightmare

“I got in touch with the original director, Peter Medak, who lives in Hollywood now. We got on like a house on fire and it turned out he had been waiting 40-odd years to tell this story.

“Back then, United Artists had called him to New York and said: We want you to direct this film called Death Wish. He read the script. He loved it. He said he wanted Henry Fonda to play the lead role and they said: Henry Fonda’s too old. You can have anybody else on the planet except him. Then, because he had promised Henry Fonda the part, he walked off the project which went on to be made by Michael Winner with Charles Bronson.”

“It would have been an interestingly different film with Henry Fonda,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Paul. “Medak saw Henry Fonda as a sort-of shy, retiring accountant type who is pushed into becoming a vigilante. With Bronson, he looked like a tough guy from the start.

“Anyway, Medak came back from New York, was walking along the King’s Road in London and bumped into Peter Sellers who said: Don’t worry about it. Come with me to Cyprus. I have a film ready to go. I want you to direct it. Let’s go. So he did.

“Peter Sellers was his friend. And then Sellers turned on him because Sellers decided, when he got here, he didn’t want to do the movie. And it knocked Peter Medak off that trajectory of success and he’s been carrying this weight with him for 43 years.

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun in 1973

“They completed the whole film but, because Sellers became so difficult and he was unavailable for so much of the filming, they ended up falling behind schedule and cutting out a big fight scene between Sellers and Anthony Franciosa and other scenes and then, when they delivered it to Columbia, they said: But the fight scene is missing! and they rejected it. They said: We don’t want to release it now. It ended up costing John Hayman, the producer, $2½ million in 1973.”

“John Hayman?” I asked.

“He’s a financier,” explained Paul, “who has made something like 180 films. He says: Forty of them I should never have made. This was one of them. His son, David Hayman, produced the Harry Potter films. John was the 7th employee at the BBC when they re-started TV after the War and he’s still going strong at 84.”

“If you can’t get the Indiegogo money,” I asked, “does that mean you can’t complete your film?”

“Well,” said Paul, “it makes it harder. It means we won’t complete it NOW. We would lose a bit of momentum. The most important thing is to finish the film ourselves without going to any distributor who then takes a big chunk of it and then could end up diluting the film we want to make.

“It’s kind of grown and grown, which is very good on the one hand but was very difficult for the budget. We’re 90% complete. We shot in London and Cyprus last summer and we just about finished shooting in LA the other day. When we started the crowdfunding campaign, it was to shoot in LA but we took a leap of faith and started shooting anyway.

“The crowdfunding is basically to cover the cost of what we’ve shot and some other stuff we need to shoot and then post production, which is going to be a huge cost because we want to lace the film with as much archive content as we can of Sellers and Milligan etc etc. But we’ve also got permission to use of about 15-18 minutes of the original film itself. The thing is for people to see these incredible scenes that they’ve never seen of Milligan and Sellers – that nobody’s ever seen. That’s where it all started for me.”

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Writing someone else’s autobiography: The World Trade Center comparison

Unknown numbers of unknown unknowns

I was talking to someone last night about writing their autobiography. It will probably never happen, because the publishing industry is in decline, is running scared and does not really know what is happening with eBooks, self-publishing, print-on-demand and all the other new imponderables.

Back in December 2011, I wrote a blog about How to write someone else’s biography or your own autobiography 

That did not go into the mechanics of the thing.

Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

– There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know.

– There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know.

– But there are also unknown unknowns – There are things we do not know we don’t know

He got a tremendous amount of unfair criticism claiming this was gibberish when, in fact, it is entirely clear and entirely correct. Especially when you are writing a book about someone else’s life.

You do not know how much – let alone what – you do not know about the other person’s life. And, if you do not know what you do not know, you may not know the right questions to ask to find out what you do not know and what the other person has forgotten or does not realise is illuminating.

By-and-large, I think the best thing is to chat to and record the person talking about their life. This might take 30 hours – or much more.

With my non-typing skills, I take three times as long to transcribe a chat as the chat takes itself. You cannot get someone else to transcribe it, because they may miss something vital in the intonation or the syntax or in the umming and ahhing and meandering which everyone does in ordinary everyday speech.

So that means, in this case, 30 hours of chats would take 90 hours to transcribe – so a total of 120 hours. If you work a solid seven-hour day, that means just over 17 days. If you take weekends off, that means three weeks and two days in total, working solidly every weekday from 9.30am to 5.30pm with a single one-hour lunch break.

After all that, you are at ground zero. You have the material with which to write the book, but you have not yet started to write the book.

If you have conducted the chats well, you will have got the basics and managed to stop the person diverging too much onto sidetrack dead ends – although you have to allow a lot of genuinely irrelevant, pointless sidetracking because you are faced with unknown numbers of unknown unknowns – and one apparent sidetrack may lead to you striking pure gold.

Even if the person has excellent recall of details (which is rare) and has been able to tell their story in some rough form of chronological order (which is even rarer), what you have now is a meandering, waffly mess, from which you have to create some sort of structure with threads running through which will intrigue and ‘hook’ the reader.

What you exclude is arguably more important than what you include.

Telling a life story is not a matter of telling the reader everything that happened. Facts are not necessarily interesting. You have to find specific incidents which will illuminate and explain certain periods in the person’s life. No point describing in detail what happened as 153 events slowly developed in one six month period of a whole life; you have to find one key event which illuminates the period, develops a thread and cut it back so it becomes vivid and insightful.

Part of that you have to sort-out when you are chatting to the person. But a lot is in the later writing, which is like putting together a jigsaw wading through syrup in concrete boots while carrying an octopus on your back.

The important choice is what you do NOT include.

It is like telling the story of how one person died in the World Trade Center. Going through the ruins of both collapsed buildings with a sieve and a toothbrush will not help. There is too much information. Too much rubble.

People know too much about their own lives. A ghost writer has to find the key vivid facts, incidents, thoughts and feelings which condense decades of incidents into 90,000-120,000 words.

And, trust me, 90,000 words is less than superficial.

So pity the poor person trying to write someone else’s autobiography.

You don’t know what my life is like.

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Write it as Art, sell it as baked beans… How to publicise stage shows, movies, books, TV and Shakespeare

Sit back, relax and have a cup of tea.

Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been asked what I do, I have never been able to give any understandable answer because the truth is I’ve really just bummed around doing overlapping this, that and sometimes the other.

One thing I used to do was review and write feature articles about movies, so I saw previews a week or a month before the films were released, having read little or nothing at all about them.

I saw them ‘cold’ as they were structured to be seen.

That blissful ignorance happened again last night with the movie The Adjustment Bureau. I had read nothing at all about it. I knew it starred Matt Damon, was based on a short story by Philip K Dick (who wrote the stories on which Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report were based) and, on the poster, Matt Damon and a girl in a red dress were running away from people chasing them in a city.

That was it.

So last night I saw The Adjustment Bureau cold and thought it was a fascinating film – quite often totally doolally, but fascinating. It is severely weird for a commercial film and it is well worth seeing.

But the poster bears no relation at all to the basic content of the movie – to the extent that it even implies The Adjustment Bureau is in one particular type of movie genre when it is actually a totally different movie genre (I don’t want to give it away).

So that’s an example of a misleading movie poster successfully attempting to get bums on seats. It’s a potentially counter-productive strategy because word-of-mouth soon gets round.

I’m interested because another thing I did – for over twenty plus years – was make on-screen TV promotions – ‘trailers’.

I was a writer or producer or director or writer-producer or writer-director or whatever it took a company’s fancy to call the job.

So I am interested in how creative products are ‘sold’ to the audience.

A couple of days ago, someone asked me about their 40-word show entry for the Edinburgh Fringe Programme.

My advice was the same advice I give on anything creative.

Write it as Art.

Sell it as baked beans.

If the content is high quality in itself, it won’t be demeaned by a tabloid headline type of publicity.

There’s nothing wrong with being populist.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

The creative work itself is what you want people to read, hear or see. It can be as subtle and/or as sophisticated as you want. Publicity is another matter. Publicity is like someone standing outside, in a busy street, with lots of other audio distractions, yelling through a megaphone to try to get people to notice you and your creation exist.

If it fails, no-one will see what you have struggled to create. So don’t knock it.

If you are in Piccadilly Circus or the High Street in Edinburgh amid 150 other people yelling about what they’ve done, then you need to be loud to be heard and you need to wear bright colours to be seen.

I’ve also written books. In standard publishing contracts, the author gets total control over the text inside a book – the publisher cannot change it without the author’s permission. But the publisher has total contractual control over the design of and text on the cover. There is a reason for this.

What is inside the book is the artistic creation you want people to experience. What is on the cover is advertising and promotion aimed at intriguing potential readers into picking up and buying the book and its unknown content.

Publicity is persuading as many people as possible to buy an invisible pig inside a bag.

In its own way, it is equally creative. But it is different.

Content is a different form of creativity from publicity.

In television, the last thing you want is for a director to make the promotion for his own TV programme. The result is almost always shit. For one thing, he or she is too close to it to be objective. Also, he or she may be able  to make a great 30 or 60 or 90 minute TV programme, but, trust me, he or she knows bugger all about selling a programme to the viewer in 20 seconds in the middle of other promos amid forests of £500,000 adverts for soap powder, cars and insurance companies.

There is a difference between creating something which will give a pastel-wearing theorist at the Arts Council a creative hard-on and creating something which will get people en masse to pay out money and/or spend time to read-hear-watch it.

Repetition is also not always bad.

There is nothing wrong with populism.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

‘Populist’ is just a word meaning ‘popular’ made up by people who can’t create anything popular themselves and want to save their egos by trying to seem culturally superior.

Shakespeare was never less than populist.

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare because the new English King James I was actually King James VI of Scotland who was interested in witchcraft and the supernatural. So what better way to suck up to the new King and revived public interest in the supernatural than to write a Scottish play with witches and ghosts in it? And bung in death, destruction, gore and swearing.

The best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Baz Luhrmann‘s movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet – a movie so untraditional and in-yer-face that, the first time you see it, it takes about five minutes to adjust to the OTT style.

The second best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, financed by Playboy magazine, with Lady Macbeth nude in the sleepwalking scene and awash with more blood than the Colosseum on a bad day for Christians. It was the first film Polanski directed after his wife Sharon Tate was butchered.

I’m sure Shakespeare would have loved both movies because they are real audience pleasers. Once you get people in and watching, you can communicate any in-depth piece of philosophical seriousness you want.

Reverting to my chum who wrote 40 words on their Edinburgh Fringe show… The first version was ineffective because it described the plot rather than push the unique selling points of the show.

I asked: “Don’t tell me what’s IN it, tell me what it’s ABOUT.”

You want to say what it is ABOUT – what made you want to create the thing in the first place. And that, in fact, is how to promote bad productions too.

My rule of thumb in TV promotions was never to mislead or lie about a programme to the audience. If it was shit, I tried to figure out what the original concept was that got the producer, director and cast keen to make it.

No-one intends to create a shit book, play, comedy show, TV series, movie or whatever.

In promoting anything, part of what you want to communicate is whatever made the people involved keen to create it in the first place. If the audience can be interested in the concept as much as the failed creators originally were, then you may get an audience and they won’t feel too let down because what they have been told is there actually IS there. Even if it’s not very good.

If the creative product is good – as The Adjustment Bureau is – then that’s even better.

Pity their poster was so misleading.

Of course, some things are so shit, the only thing to do is to get in and get out fast before the word-of-mouth gets round.

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