Tag Archives: Hollywood

Did a Chinaman, an American and a Russian cause all this Brexit chaos?

Am I being totally paranoid about what is happening in UK and US politics?

The Walt Disney company famously used to give copies of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC military treatise The Art of War to its executives as a guide on how to survive and triumph in the corporate environment. As a result, the book became almost essential reading in Hollywood.

One of the central points made in The Art of War – which, admittedly, I have not read for a good few years – is that the object of war is not to destroy your enemy.

It is to either take control of your enemy’s assets or to undermine your enemy internally to such an extent that they are no longer able to threaten or compete with you.

I do wonder if Russia’s Vladimir Putin has read The Art of War.

In the US, we have a country divided by the election of Donald Trump, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public election, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

In the U.K, we have a country divided by the Brexit vote, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public vote, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

I feel a bout of paranoia drifting over me, tinged with some political admiration. Divide and conquer?

Perhaps I should not even mention the Scottish Referendum result and reactions to it within Scotland. Russia’s Sputnik News Agency, strangely based in Edinburgh, already has the slogan: Telling The Untold.

Am I being totally paranoid?

May you live in interesting times” is, of course, not an encouraging, aspirational quote but a Chinese curse.

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Why her grandma might have had to kill the actress/producer Cassandra Hodges

Cassandra Hodges is an actress who works with multi-Oscared movie producer Norma Heyman, is resident producer at the Hope Theatre in Islington and is involved in two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in August: the Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show at the Pleasance and the Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour at the Assembly

As if that were not enough, in a couple of weeks, she tells me:

Cruising for trouble on the high seas

Cruising for trouble on the high seas with Fred Olsen

“I’m also doing a murder mystery cruise for Fred Olsen. If that goes well, it will go round Europe next year. Different people die every night and there are seven of us players. It was the Duchess of Northumberland who set it up, because she’s obsessed with poison gardens and fascinated by poison as a concept. All the food and drink on the cruise will be poison related. It should be another mad experience of doing something new. I’m also developing a couple of films with friends.”

“So you have been at it a while?” I asked.

“I left drama school six years ago. I sort-of started doing producing when I came out of drama school because I wanted to be in something and the phone wasn’t ringing, so I started making my own work. I come from an acting family, but not my mum or dad – my cousin is the actress Julia Foster, so that’s were the thespian bit comes from; she’s now doing the new Dad’s Army film. My mum is a fashion designer; my dad’s a historian.”

“What was his speciality?” I asked.

The Bayeux Tapestry and that period. As a child, I was always being taken to castles, which was great, but maybe it made me a bit of a dreamer. Interested in history. Reading novels and my dad’s books rather than watching television. My dad was always playing classical music when I was younger and I did ballet as a kid with the Royal Academy of Dance. On the other hand, I grew up on the Carry Ons and Dad’s Army and all that.

“I wasn’t very academic at school but I went to Sussex University and did English with Drama and wrote my dissertation on Jane Austen, whom I’m obsessed with, and Shakespeare.”

“You write as well?” I asked.

Cassandra Hodges chatted at the Soho Theatre

Cassandra Hodges chatted at the Soho Theatre

“No, I’m not really a writer, but I did have a psychic reading the other day and he told me I should not rule out being a writer.”

“Oh,” I told her, “I had a psychic reading in Battersea Park when I was seventeen. I was wearing orange-coloured cord Levi jeans and the fortune teller said I would go to the US and work in banking. I was not impressed.”

“This guy was good,” said Cassandra. “Anthony Lewis Churchill.

He said a lot of things which he could not have known about my family – like how my dad was born in Wales, which is not anywhere on the internet because my dad is really private.

“And once I auditioned for something that I really shouldn’t have auditioned for, because I would never have got it, and Anthony Lewis Churchill said to me: Someone’s telling me to tell you not to bother auditioning for things you’re not going to get like The Lion King. And I had never told anyone about that.”

“He knew you were an actress, though?” I asked.

“Yes, but I’d never told anyone that fact and he knew it exactly, so that was a bit weird. He does aura and life coaching and he has a TV show he’s about to launch in America: him and a fashion designer. They go into someone’s house and take a dress out of their cupboard and he analyses the history of the dress. The UK wasn’t interested in it, but America was.

“The US has become my favourite country. I went over in April to do an Industry Hollywood course. They’re more direct out there. They’re very Yes-or-No, but at least you get an answer. Here I often get: Oh, we’ve already got a blonde in her twenties and I think You obviously haven’t bothered to watch my showreel because there’s comedy stuff on there; it’s not just boring leading lady. That’s not my casting.”

“So you went went out to the US on this course…?” I prompted.

“Yes. A couple of friends of mine went out for the week too. One of them wasn’t doing the course. He got himself an agent and got married within a week. Someone I introduced him to. They went off to Las Vegas. He had only known her for four days. They’re going out to live there now. Somebody from Comedy Central told me: Oh my god! You’re the new Emma Thompson! You need to come out here!”

“So you’ll have to get a visa,” I said.

“I’d like to get an O-1 visa,” Cassandra told me.

“That lasts three years?”

“Yup. then, after five years, you can apply for a Green Card.”

“What can you do on an O-1?”

“There’s one that’s just for acting. But there’s a performance one, where you can do singing-dancing-acting. I’ve done a bit of opera and I do musicals. I’ve done Sweeney Todd – I was the beggar woman – and I’d really like to do more Sondheim. I do flute, ukulele, piano. So that’s the one for me. I had heard horror stories about America for women but I actually found it to be not horrific.”

“You mean casting couches?”

“Yes. And also I’d heard you couldn’t succeed as a woman unless you were stick-thin or fat. You couldn’t be middle-sized like me.”

Following in the footsteps of Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascall?

Cassandra: following in the footsteps of Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascall?

Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascal made it,” I said. “But maybe you can only run a studio, not be an actress. Presumably it helps that you have what they will call the ‘cute little English accent’.”

“I do the posh thing, yes. That’s what I always get cast as: posh or comedy roles.”

“I suppose the accent is quite posh,” I said. “Stephen Merchant said, in this country, people hear his accent and think he’s a West Country yokel but, in the US, they think he’s speaking like a member of the Royal Family.”

“It was interesting going out there,” said Cassandra. “They put us in front of a lot of casting people and I also got a 3-hour accent coaching session. I met a couple of people who used to direct Star Trek and they were lovely.”

“What sort of parts do you want?”

“I’m looking at what Miranda Hart is doing. I think Big Bang Theory was a big turning point. I think you’re starting to see more real people on sitcoms. I feel comedy is changing and it’s a good time for Brits to be out in the US. They seem to like us, even if a lot of people thought I was Australian when I was in the US. British actors have usually changed to go to the US, but I think people are starting to go out there and be themselves – like you were saying about Stephen Merchant. I’m going out in September with the Borat hope of getting some work by meeting up with some of those fabulous contacts I made.”

“And, in the meantime,” I said, “the poison cruise and Edinburgh?”

“In Edinburgh,” said Cassandra, “I’m playing Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice.”

“And,” I asked, “you’re also involved off-stage in Bite-Size plays in Edinburgh?”

“One is called Quack, about a man who falls in love with a duck and takes her to work with him, then realises she is a duck and has to explain to her that she can’t wear trainers. It’s quite sad. It’s a real mixture. There are some touching plays in among the comedy.

Alan Turing and bear coming to the West End

Alan Turing & his bear coming to the West End in November

“And I have a play which is transferring to the West End in November. It’s a play by Snoo Wilson called Love Song of the Electric Bear about Alan Turing. I produced it at the Hope Theatre for three weeks in February. We got the play published by Methuen and, on the last show, Simon Callow and Alan Rickman came to see it, which was great. The play is basically Alan Turing’s life told through his teddy bear. I think my grandma might have worked at Bletchley Park.”

“But,” I suggested, “if she had told you she would have had to kill you.”

“Maybe,” said Cassandra.

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Film star Burt Lancaster’s sexual attack on comic Sara Mason when she was 11

Photo of Sara by Nathalie Kerrio

Sara Mason. (Photo by Nathalie Kerrio)

Sara Mason’s first full-length Edinburgh Fringe show is billed as comedy and is titled Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11).

This is not hyperbole. It is true – with all that the title implies.

Last night, I told Sara that her show may not get as many laughs as she may have hoped for, because it is very difficult to laugh when your mouth is almost continually wide open and your jaw is repeatedly hitting the floor.

“That,” I said to her, “was not your original title for the show, was it?”

“No,” she said. “It was originally going to be called From Hollywood To Homeless – but I will save that story for another year.”

Sara Mason - Burt Lancaster poster

Sara’s story will last from here to eternity

“And,” I asked, the title Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11) was suggested by Tinky Winky from Teletubbies?”

Sara’s show is directed by the multi-talented Dave Thompson who played the above mentioned part on children’s television but was replaced because his “interpretation of the role was not acceptable”.

“I was dubious about the Burt Lancaster title,” Sara told me. “I was dubious about even doing the story.”

“Even last year,” I said, “you were dubious about telling the story as part of a show.”

During last year’s Fringe, Sara and I shared a flat in Edinburgh.

“Well you,” Sara said to me, “must have been the second person I ever told that story to, the first person being my ex-husband.”

“How did he react?”

“He tried to sell the story to the newspapers.”

“With your knowledge.”

“Oh yes.”

“Why didn’t they pick it up?”

Sara performing the show last night

Sara previewing the show in London last night

“Because (she named another victim who was sexually attacked by Burt Lancaster) was alive at that time and he didn’t want it printed. He said: This is my life; I don’t want it discussed. He was so violent and vehement about it, so we dropped it.”

“One reason the show is so powerful,” I said, “is because the audience thinks it knows the worst from the title but, in fact you are very graphic about what actually happened – and then there is this extra unexpected thing they get hit with.”

“What inspired me and encouraged me to do it on stage,” explained Sara, “was seeing Chris Dangerfield’s show Sex With Children last year, because I thought Wow! I’ve got an anecdote quite similar to his and mine involves a famous film star.”

“So why were you so worried about telling the story in a show?”

Burt Lancaster (left) & Nick Cravat - billed as Lang and Cravat - in Federal Theatre Project Circus (1935–1938)

Burt Lancaster (left) & Nick Cravat – billed as Lang and Cravat – in Federal Theatre Project Circus (1935–1938)

“I was worried about my daughter, apart from anything else.”

“I always,” I said, “thought Burt Lancaster was gay, because there were rumours about him and his circus partner Nick Cravat.”

“Bisexual,” said Sara. “He had five children and three wives. But he was a paedophile. That’s clear.”

Sara was brought up in Hollywood.

“Some of the child actors,” she said, “have come out now about Hollywood being a hotbed of paedophiles.”

“So this year,” I said, “your show is entirely truthfully called Burt Lancaster pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11). What’s next year?”

The Beginner’s Guide To Bondage,” Sara told me. “I already have a set all worked out.”

“Why,” I asked, “is it called The Beginner’s Guide To Bondage?”

“Because I’m going to have a cross and I’m going to give a demonstration.”

“Why you?” I asked.

“Why me?” Sara laughed. “Ohhhh! that would be telling! But we all have to have a day job, don’t we?”

Sara Mason last night - much more to come

Sara Mason last night – much more to come

Having shared a flat with her last year, I know the Burt Lancaster and Bondage shows are only the tips of a flotilla of icebergs. As I left her last night, she said: “My father was a psychiatrist in Hollywood. He wasn’t allowed by his professional ethics to discuss the stars’ problems with outsiders. But I was his daughter. He told me the stories.”

Sara is by no means a one-shock storyteller. To adapt the most famous quote from All About Eve… Fasten your seatbelts, it’s likely to be a bumpy few years.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, paedophiles, Sex

The new female comedian who is my flatmate at the Edinburgh Fringe

For anyone who read my blog yesterday and may be wondering, my co-host Kate Copstick did not turn up at our increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon. She woke up in agony in the morning. With luck she should be at our show today. No doubt more brief news will follow tomorrow.

Someone who was at yesterday’s show, though, was my Fringe flatmate Sara Mason. She is a relatively new comedian who is picking up a few gigs in Edinburgh plus a few tips for a future Fringe show.

“So,” I said, introducing her, “you are an American, Swiss, French, English errr God knows what you are…”

Sara in an Edinburgh selfie taken today

Sara in an Edinburgh flat selfie taken today

“I was born here in Britain,” she said, “and then my parents emigrated to America when I was ten, to Beverly Hills in California. We were originally supposed to go for five years – my father was at UCLA (lecturing on psychoanalysis) – but he never came back.”

“And you went to Beverly Hills High School,” I said.

“I was two years ahead,” explained Sara, “because I had been through the British school system, which was better, so I was 15 when I finished high school, not 18 like them.

“I have a brother who is sadly no longer with us. He was on heroin and was a drug dealer and had the honour of being the worst student ever to attend Beverly Hills High School. Eventually they chucked him out. He had long hair and people said we looked alike, although he was 6’5” and had dark long hair and he was cool and I wasn’t very cool. I was into theatre, which was deeply uncool in Beverly Hills.”

“Why was theatre uncool?” I asked.

“In the Theater Dept,’ said Sara, “we were into theatre and Shakespeare and opera and classical music and I was a bit nerdy. I was on the Principal’s Honor Roll. That was so uncool at Beverly Hills where I should have been shooting up… although I did my fair share of drugs,

Beverly Hills High School’s gym

Beverly Hills High School’s gym, never knowingly understated

“Your friend would take eight tablets… and so, next week, you would take ten to make sure you had outdone them.

“They would do one hit of acid so you would say: I’m gonna take two!

“It culminated for me one day when I took four and had a really bad trip. But that was after having taken LSD every day for a year. I did all my SATs on LSD and did very well.”

“What,” I asked, “is an SAT?”

‘Your exams to get into university,” explained Sara. “I wanted to go to Drama School and my father was having none of that. So, secretly, I forged my parents’ signatures and transferred myself out of all the courses I would have needed to take to get into UCLA – because there’s a minimum. I talked my counsellor into the fact I was going to be an actress, so I should do drama classes and French classes and English and History but not the Maths and Science requirements.

“I thought I was very, very smart and got a job between classes, but I didn’t calculate for the SATs, because I scored so highly on the SATs in spite of the LSD that I WAS offered a university place anyway. So I ran away from home.”

Photo of Sara by Nathalie Kerrio

Sara in a photo taken by Nathalie Kerrio

“You knew the film producer William Castle, didn’t you?” I asked. “I know of him because, as well as Rosemary’s Baby, he produced The Tingler, where he wired up the seats of cinemas to an electric current and, at the shocking bits of the film, the audience were literally given an electric shock.”

“He was a lovely man,” said Sara,”with a huge cigar and was almost like a caricature of a film producer. But it wasn’t just him I knew. Debbie Reynolds was the local scout mistress for the Brownies in Beverly Hills. Can you imagine that?

Jamie Lee Curtis was in my brother’s class; her sister was in my class. Dean Martin’s daughter used to come to school in a yellow Jensen sports car or a Corvette and she had a diamond bracelet with great big diamonds spelling out the letters of her name. I had a bracelet made out of string. I was completely piss-poor and I wasn’t cool.

Joan Fontaine’s son had a crush on me when I was ten. It was so embarrassing! He used to follow me round and I had never heard of Joan Fontaine. He used to follow me around and sing I Carry a Torch For You!… I was thinking: You’re ten years old! I want to kill you! You are embarrassing me! Beverly Hills High was really odd, a surreal experience.

“My brother was cool from Day One. He managed to get arrested in primary school for drug dealing, but they had to let him go, because it was kitchen herbs.”

“Kitchen herbs?” I asked.

Sara (right), with Claire Smith of The Scotsman & Bob Slayer

Sara (right), with Claire Smith of The Scotsman & Bob Slayer

“Oregano, catnip, parsley…”

“Does that work?” asked someone in the audience.

“With nine year old kids…” said Sara. “That was his first arrest.”

“That is very entrepreneurial,” I said, “to sell parsley to kids.”

“My brother was so sharp,” said Sara. “Such a business brain. My brother used to lock us in his room and weigh out the drugs and I would help him, thinking: One day, they might think I’m cool. Although his friends used to call me Luscious. That was even worse. It was so embarrassing.

“My brother used to pretend he didn’t know me at school. On the other hand, Morgan Mason – James Mason’s son – used to tell everyone I was his sister.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Just to tease me. That was Beverly Hills High. It’s scary, because so many of them are dead now.

Sara in her favourite tree in Beverly Hills

Sara inside her favourite tree in Beverly Hills

“I went to the High School reunion and everyone I met was saying: I’ve been sober for 20 years. I go to AA every week. Every single person: Oh! I used to be on cocaine. Oh! I used to be alcoholic. If they’re not dead from a drug overdose or AIDs, they’re going to AA. All that money and all that corruption.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s the censored version of Sara’s life up to the age of fifteen.”

“That was a very censored version.” agreed Sara. “I remember at lunchtime when we were 13 or 15, we would all sit in the girls’ toilet, cross-legged on the floor, rolling joints, smoking them, smoking cigarettes and practising giving blow jobs on a banana. We didn’t un-peel the banana.”

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If you are in your 20s & from Glasgow, how do you get a sci-fi film script picked up by Hollywood?… Krysty knows…

So comedian Ellis of Ellis & Rose told me I should meet 26-year-old Krysty Wilson-Cairns

“Ellis hasn’t told me anything,” I told Krysty when I met her this week at Bar Italia in Soho, “beyond the fact you have just had your film script picked-up by Hollywood after how many years at film school?”

“Two years,” said Krysty. “I did my MA in Screenwriting at the National Film and Television School. I graduated last year.”

In her first year at the NFTS, she wrote a short film All Dead Men based on the true story of a delayed action bomb which landed in BBC Broadcasting House during the Second World War. “We built a whole floor of Broadcasting House from scratch,” she told me. There is a trailer on YouTube.

She later won a BBC Climate Competition award for The End of An Era which follows two cockroaches in a post-apocalyptic future going to the cinema to see Jurassic Park, but instead of dinosaurs, the monsters are humans.

The animation is on YouTube.

“So,” I asked, “if the NFTS thing was an MA, you must have done a degree before that?”

“I did my degree in screenwriting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland,” said Krysty, “which is part of St Andrews University… but based in Glasgow.”

“So how on earth did you sell a script to Hollywood?”

“In your last three weeks at the NFTS,” explained Krysty, “you get sent round in groups of ten to all the agencies. You have to pitch three ideas and then the agencies that like you meet you again. I had my heart set on United Agents and luckily Marnie Podos there said Yes.”

“And she sold your script to…”

“FilmNation,” said Krysty. “They made Memento and Looper. “I’ve been a massive fan of Christopher Nolan ever since Memento.”

“I didn’t like Inception,” I said. “Too complicated for me. He should have gone back about five script re-writes to when it was presumably simpler.”

Krysty Wilson-Cairns in Soho, London’s film-making

Krysty Wilson-Cairns in London’s Soho

“Oh no, I absolutely loved Inception,” said Krysty. “Stunning. I liked the way he took a heist movie and made it so cerebral and I think it’s what making films is about; a bunch of people sharing a dream. It spoke to me on a really deep level. At film school, I got absolutely hammered for saying I loved it, because we were meant to love kitchen sink dramas and French New Wave films, whereas I love Inception and Die Hard. I want to make commercial films. I want to make films that lots of people see.”

A few days before I met her, Krysty had Tweeted It’s kinda awesome being part of #HollywoodReporter trend alert after reading a piece about herself in the US film trade magazine.

“I think I was quite lucky with my script,” she told me. “It just captured something in the zeitgeist. It’s called Aether. It’s a dark psychological sci-fi thriller.”

“And what’s the elevator pitch for it?” I asked.

A machine that can turn up dead sounds and they use it to solve murders. Everything that was said in a room is still in the room… I wrote it over Christmas. I had to do something. It was really cold in Scotland and I wanted to stay by the fire. It took me six weeks – 112 pages.”

“112 pages?” I said. “So that’s 112 minutes and it’s sci-fi – so loads of special effects, – so very expensive.”

“No,” said Krysty, “Low on special effects because it’s mostly done through sound: a lot of audio effects.”

“For a movie, though,” I said, “it has to be very visual and very big screen.”

“Ah,” said Krysty, “But there’s a lot of murder, violence and it’s very character-driven; one man coming apart.”

Krysty told me she is flying to Los Angeles next Friday “for the re-drafts”.

Krysty’s Musical Star movie at the NFTS

Musical Star – one of Krysty’s movie projects at the NFTS

“Do they want to change the concept?” I asked.

“I have no idea what they want to do,” said Krysty. “It’s set in London so they might want to move it to LA, which would be fine.”

“Do you have ambitions to direct?” I asked.

“No, nothing like that.”

“But film makers,” I said, “change everything which writers write.”

“That’s the beauty of writing,” said Krysty. “It’s like a kind of shared, amazing dream.”

“More like shared frustrations?” I suggested.

“Well, no,” she said.

“The only way to really control your script is to be a director,” I suggested.

“I don’t need to control it,” said Krysty. “If I wanted to control it, I’d write books. I find it terribly exciting when people take something you’ve written and imagine it and act it out and embody something that you made up in your pyjamas.”

“It’s not a collaboration, though,” I argued. “You write your own script, then they bring in other writers with ampersands and ‘and’s between their names and your central characters will get unrecognisably changed – and the location and the plot.”

“Maybe,” said Krysty, “but I’ll still get to sit in the cinema and say There’s a couple of things I made up in my pyjamas and they spent £20 million on it. I think that’s exciting.”

“More than getting close to what you originally wanted?”

“Yeah. Well, I’ve already what I wanted in the original script.”

“But the film industry,” I said, “is famously full of shysters, charlatans and thieves.”

“I’d be excited to be among them,” laughed Krysty. “I’m from Glasgow – come on!”

From Shawlands in Glasgow (above) to Hollywood (Photograph by S Allison)

Krysty is progressing from Shawlands (above) to Hollywood (Photograph by S Allison)

“Which bit of Glasgow?” I asked.

“Shawlands on the south side,” she replied. “I hail from Craigholme Girls School.”

“Very posh,” I said. “What did you want to be when you were 13?”

“An engineer,” she told me. “I’m very interested in Maths and Physics. I wanted to be an engineer right up to the point I applied to university and then I realised it would be horrific to have to sit and build bridges every day and not make stuff up.”

“Strange,” I said. “I would think the scientific gene is different from the creative writer gene.”

“I liked quantum physics, quantum suicide and stuff like that.”

“Quantum suicide?” I asked.

“It’s an experiment that proves the Many Worlds theory. You’re sitting in a chair and there’s a gun pointing at your head. You make the decision to press a button, so the world splits in two. In one world, the gun fires. In the other it doesn’t. But, because you can’t perceive the world in which the gun fires, it always does not fire.”

“Sounds like Schrödinger’s cat,” I said.

Wikipedia’s attempted explanation of Schrödinger's cat theory

Part of Wikipedia’s attempt to explain Schrödinger’s cat…

“All that kind of stuff fascinated me,” explained Krysty. “I wanted to sit and make stuff up but they were like NO! BUILD BRIDGES!”

“So it’s quantum physics you’re into,” I said. “Fantasy physics.”

“Yes,” Krysty agreed. “Crazy physics.”

“You come from a creative family?” I asked.

“My mum’s in Health and Safety. My dad’s a mechanic,” said Krysty. “He fixes diesel engines. I used to like to tinker with cars. My grandfather was a roofer. He was very creative. He used to fix roofs. I’m still quite a bit of a petrol head. But I was never a very good mechanic. I’m quite good at roofs, though. Good with heights. I could patch something up if I have to, if this film thing doesn’t work out.”

“Have you got other scripts to follow-up Aether?”

“Yes. Eight scripts. Black comedy and sci-fi and thrillers. They’re the three genres I like to work in.”

“I don’t think you will need to mend roofs,” I said.

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RT financial guru Max Keiser’s view of journalists, criminal banker wankers & financing new Edinburgh Fringe shows

On Tuesday, the American journalist Abby Martin seemed to commit premeditated professional suicide on Russia’s RT TV channel – her employer – by criticising the Russian invasion of Crimea, part of the Ukraine.

On Wednesday, her colleague Liz Wahl did resign live on air.

I asked RT’s American financial guru Max Keiser about this when I chatted to him in London’s Soho yesterday.

“Journalists report on the news,” said Max, “and, at RT, they’re free to report anything they want to report. There’s no editorial restrictions. The young woman who resigned didn’t have to resign. After giving her thoughts, she could have easily stayed on just like Abby Martin stayed. Abby had comments regarding Russian policy on Ukraine and these comments were – eh – widely talked about and that’s what a journalist does. They either report the news or they give their opinion. But to then resign on air… That’s not journalism. That’s being a drama queen.”

Max, of course, is not shy of expressing his own opinions. Nor of unexpected actions.

A couple of weeks ago, he launched a crowdfunding site called StartJOIN, just one week after he launched his own alternative currency – Maxcoin.

Maxcoin was the biggest launch in the history of altcoins and achieved a $5 million market capitalisation within a week. Maxcoin is similar to BitcoinLitecoin and other crypto currencies.

Max himself, as I mentioned in a previous blog, is a former Wall Street stockbroker and still occasional stand-up comedian. But launching your own crypto currency is no joke.

“The Mt Gox bitcoin exchange has now collapsed,” I said. “Doesn’t that mean all these crypto currencies are vulnerable?”

“That one exchange collapsed,” said Max, “but it has nothing to do with Bitcoin. It’s like saying the London Bullion Market Association might collapse one day – but that wouldn’t really affect gold.

“We launched Maxcoin and it very quickly got up to $7 million in value and now it’s trading at around $2 million and it’s still one of the most actively-traded currencies out there. The miners who are mining it are profiting from their mining activities. Maxcoin launched successfully. And, based on the success of Maxcoin, we may soon see Stacycoin.”

“Based on Stacy Herbert?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Max.

Stacey Herbert with Max Keiser on RT series The Keiser Report

Stacey Herbert with Max Keiser on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Your TV co-presenter on The Keiser Report?”

“And my wife,” added Max. “She used to be a comedy script doctor. She worked on lots of TV shows here in the UK, including an animated sitcom called Popetown, commissioned by the BBC. But it was never aired here because the Catholic Church found it highly offensive. It had the voices of McKenzie Crook, Kevin Eldon, Matt Lucas, Bob Mortimer and Ruby Wax. Before that, Stacy was in Los Angeles doing TV and mostly film.”

Roseanne Barr is trying to finance a new film via your StartJOIN crowdfunding site,” I prompted.

“Yes,” said Max. “It’s called Bailout 2. It’s a sequel to a film called Bailout.”

“Now there’s a thing,” I said.

Bailout 2 is described on the StartJOIN site as “a hard-hitting, mud-slinging, social and political documentary exploring the Eurozone Crisis”.

“So what is your new StartJOIN site?” I tried.

“It’s crowdfunding – proper crowdfunding,” replied Max.

“For anyone?”

“Anyone. Any thing. I’m particularly interested in the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“But there’s no money in the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“Well,” said Max. “I went to the Fringe for the first time last year and fell in love with it. But you hear over-and-over again about performers going up there and losing money. Crowdfunding seems perfect as a way to solve that problem: to get money up-front so you don’t have that economic risk. All the shows: comedy, theatre, music, lectures, whatever.

“The economics of the Fringe are terrible because the performers lose money for the most part. They have to come up with money ahead-of-time, then they have to go there and try to make it back and, for the most part, they don’t. So crowdfunding is perfect for this; it allows performers to raise money before they go and, when they get to the Fringe, they can concentrate on just doing their show.

“I’m going to make it a personal goal with StartJOIN to try to get as many acts as possible financed and up there. It’s an example of where alternative economics can step in and solve what I perceive to be a problem.”

“You see yourself as a modern-day Medici helping artists?” I asked.

“My hope with the Fringe is that, if it works this year, next year we can get even more active by actually putting as much additional financial resources as we can behind acts. We wanna make it the crowdfunding home for Fringe in the UK. We’re going to promote it as aggressively as we can. My intention is to throw as much money as I can at good acts.”

“Isn’t launching a crowdfunding site and your own crypto currency dodgy?” I asked.

“I’ve already launched successful businesses before,” said Max. “The Hollywood Stock Exchange in Los Angeles which is now a $200 million business that was sold eventually to (the bank) Cantor Fitzgerald. And KarmaBanque (a hedge fund) was a big project. I did that with Zac Goldsmith here in the UK. Plus my TV show is very successful. RT has a huge global presence. It’s in 150 countries. We do three Keiser Report shows each week, each show broadcast three or four times. We figure my show gets about 20 million viewers a week.”

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs – possibly in Edinburgh

“And, as for the Edinburgh Fringe…?” I said.

“I want to go up there this year myself with my own stand-up show Rage.”

“What are you going to rage about?” I asked.

“The bankers.”

“Isn’t that yesterday’s news?”

“I don’t think so, because the scandals are continuing and they will continue because there’s no reform. The regulations are getting weaker not stronger, so the criminality will get more intense.”

Criminality is rather a harsh word.”

“It’s an apt word because they break laws. They break laws and they pay civil fines to avoid criminal trials. They should not be allowed to simply pay civil fines for an amount of money that is less than the money they made breaking the law. These banks in the UK have a profit centre called Law Breaking.”

“Surely that’s a world-wide thing, not just in the UK,” I suggested.

“The UK is uniquely positioned,” argued Max, “because it has the weakest regulations in the world. That’s why so many other banks in other countries outsource their banking fraud to the UK.”

“The UK is possibly going to recognise Bitcoins, isn’t it?” I said.

“This is what could be the saving grace for the UK. They could become the Bitcoin capital of the world, which could save them from destruction. I’m all for that.”

“And the Bitcoin Foundation is moving to London isn’t it?”

Mark Carney: Is this man a brain-damaged ex-hockey player?

Mark Carney: Is this fine Canadian man a brain-damaged ex-hockey player or is he only Chairman of the Bank of England?

“Yes. This is potentially going to save Britain from economic destruction. It will replace Mark Carney, the Chairman of the Bank of England.”

“You’re just averse to him because he’s a Canadian and you’re a Yank,” I said.

“He’s a Canadian and he’s a shifty fellah,” replied Max. “When he played hockey in college, he played as a goalie. If you’ve ever played hockey, you know that goalies almost universally suffer brain damage because they get hit in the head so many times with the puck. Mark Carney’s a perfect example of that… and that’s an example of what I’m going to rage about.”

“That’s it then,” I said. “Thanks for the chat.”

“What about Charlie Brooker? asked Max.

“What about him?” I asked

“He does a show called Newswipe,” said Max.

“Yes,” I had to agree.

“And,” said Max, “he takes the piss out of TV shows and commercials. He hasn’t had a clip from my show on his show yet.”

“Am I to be blamed for this?” I asked.

“I want the people to know I’m not happy,” said Max.

“Why are you not happy?”

“Because, by all rights, he should have a clip of my show on his Newswipe show. He’s the only guy I like in UK media. Charlie Brooker’s got the best show in the UK right now. It’s the funniest and it’s very biting satire. He’s a very talented guy.

Max Keiser with friend Alec Baldwin in New York’s Upper East Side

Max Keiser with Alec Baldwin in New York’s Upper East Side

“We were going to do a show together – It was going to be Charlie Brooker and myself and Alec Baldwin. We were going to do a show here in London. A writer friend of ours put it together. It was going to be shot over at the Gherkin building and we were going to try to sell it to an American distributor. We were talking to Charlie Brooker’s ‘people’. Alec Baldwin was going to be the executive producer, because he’s been a friend of mine for 30 years. He’s thinking about moving to London and doing theatre.”

“Well, now Kevin Spacey is leaving The Old Vic…” I mused. “What sort of TV show was it going to be?”

“It was based on that BBC World News series I did called The Oracle. We’re trying to bring it back for another season, but I keep Tweeting about how the BBC is full of drunks, so it’s gonna be a tough sell.”

“If you can’t sell it, no-one can,” I said.

Max Keiser is such a good salesman he could even, in my dreams, sell laissez-faire rather than blindfolded pragmatism to the Russians.

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Filed under Bankers, Comedy, Crowdfunding, Finance, Politics

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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