Tag Archives: horror

Director/sales agent Julian Richards on film finance, sales and making a profit.

Julian: “The tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog”

In yesterday’s blog, Julian Richards – part film director, part film sales businessman – talked about the two horror films he made this year – Daddy’s Girl and Reborn.

In today’s blog, he puts on his sales agent hat…


JOHN: You direct movies but you also work as a sales agent, through your company Jinga Films. Surely film-making and sales are two different mind-sets.

JULIAN: It’s full of contradictions: sales and production. But it does improve your skills in terms of film-making and the tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog. Making decisions from a sales point of view can be creative.

JOHN: Directing is a vocation and sales is a profession.

JULIAN: But I enjoy it as well, maybe because I have achieved a certain level of success with it, which was kind of unexpected. Also it provides me with a regular income and quite a degree of autonomy.

JOHN: You have said that horror films are better money-makers than thrillers.

JULIAN: Absolutely. Horror has a very loyal fan base. People don’t go and see a horror film because of the cast. They go to see the core ingredients of the genre. Whereas a thriller needs a central cast member that is going to draw the audience in.

There are basically three niches in the mainstream movie market – there’s horror, Faith and sports documentaries.

JOHN: And sex.

JULIAN: And sex. Porn.

JOHN: Why Faith?

JULIAN: Because there’s an awful lot of Christians out there who will watch a film that is Faith based. And not just Christians. Other religions as well. A film like The Shack.

Prophets and profits are good bedfellows

JOHN: The Shack?

JULIAN: It is from a best-selling, Faith-based novel. I think it made something like $60 million in the US on something like a $20 million production.

JOHN: The rule-of-thumb used to be that the break-even point for a movie was 2½ times your negative cost.

JULIAN: Probably the same now. But another statistic is that it costs around $20 million to release a film theatrically in the US on 1,000 screens for the first week. So you can make a film for $100,000 but it is still going to cost $20 million to get it in theatres.

From a business and investment point of view, a lot of people talk about Box Office Gross… “Oh! I made a film for $100.000 and it made $25 million at the box office!” … But when you subtract $20 million for P&A – Prints and Advertising – then the whole idea of profit comes right down.

When somebody says to me: “The film made such-and-such, I am not interested in Box Office; I am interested in how much the film sold for to distributors via the sales agent. What really matters is the money that comes back to the sales agent from the distributor. That is the only money that ever comes back. The rest is consumed by marketing costs. What comes back is surprisingly small.

Right now, I think the sweet spot is around $300,000. That is what most horror films will sell for, outside of the studio system, no matter what the budget. So, if you make the film for $100,000, you are in profit. If you make it for $1 million, someone is losing a lot of money.

JOHN: There can be tax incentives.

JULIAN: Yes.. If you make a film in the UK, you make 25% back. If you shoot in Georgia in Eastern Europe, you get 25% back. But you can’t really make a film for $100,000 and expect it to compete in the market. What are you going to do? An anthology? A single location? It’s gonna look cheap and you are entering a very competitive market. There is too much product and the shelf space has shrunk enormously.

A few years ago, you might have been able to get a ‘found footage’ film or an anthology into that space. Now you maybe even need ‘cast’ because it’s become so competitive.

You need to find money that doesn’t need to be returned to the investor – which is usually some kind of tax deal or it’s…

JOHN: …money laundering.”

JULIAN: (LAUGHS) Well, there’s that and there’s a lot of that goes on.

JOHN: Can I print that?”

Julian Richards (right) directing

JULIAN: Yeah. I’ve been involved in a number of productions where that has been an issue. The question of it being ‘laundering’ or being ‘avoidance’ is another issue. There are a lot of grey areas with finance through the EIS and the SEIS and Sale & Leaseback. I have worked with producers who are now in prison, serving 9-year sentences for raising finance through tax incentive schemes that they thought were kosher but, retrospectively, ten years down the line, they have been the subject on an HMRC witch hunt. So it is scary.

JOHN: Elsewhere, you have said there is no real theatrical market for horror films in the UK, Germany and America. The market is really places like Vietnam.

JULIAN: Yeah. Latin America and South East Asia. The reason being that, in the past, these films never went to those territories, because the cost of a 35mm print was too expensive. Now that it has all been digitised, releasing a film theatrically in Vietnam or in Peru is achievable. It’s pretty cheap, apart from the licensing fee, which is a nightmare: they will charge a distributor $500 to use a digital projector which is really crushing for any independent film scenario.

JOHN: I’m surprised there is any theatrical distribution left. Surely everything gets pirated out of profit by Indonesian and Serbian and Western criminals?

JULIAN: Erm… You can buy yourself what they call a ‘black window’. In China, the Chinese distributors have to pay the pirates a sum of money to hold back the piracy of the film so they have a ‘black window’ to release their film.

JOHN: How long is the black window?

JULIAN: I don’t know. Probably about three months.

JOHN: I’m surprised the Chinese government tolerates piracy in such a sensitive cultural area as movies.

JULIAN: If you do it legitimately in China, you run into all sorts of problems: to do with censorship and the quota. You CAN get independent films through, but you are up against all the Hollywood studio films. If you are just doing transactional VOD, though, then all of those rules and regulations don’t apply in the same way, so it is possible to get a small, independent horror movie released in China.

The anti-hero of Julian’s latest film as director – Reborn

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Amanda Fleming on concussion and stitches and the serial killer Countess

Amanda: Originally, we were going to talk about The Countess

So I arranged to chat via Skype with my namesake but non-relation actress Amanda Fleming in Manchester. She has not been heard of in this blog since May 2015.

We were going to talk about her play The Countess, which we last talked about in February 2015.

But we got sidetracked…


JOHN: So, your vampire Countess woman…

AMANDA: She wasn’t a vampire; she was a serial killer.

JOHN: Well, she was Countess Dracula, in the Hammer horror film.

AMANDA: Yes. Ingrid Pitt. She’s still alive, isn’t she?

JOHN: Of course; she is one of the undead.

AMANDA: No, Ingrid Pitt… Well, the… I… Oh… Someone here wants to say hello… (A WHITE CAT APPEARS ON SKYPE AND SNIFFS THE SCREEN)… I have two cats now. This is Misty.

JOHN: Hello Misty. Lovely pink ears. Not the cat, of course. You.

AMANDA: Pink ears. But no earlobes.

JOHN: You or the cat?

AMANDA: Me… Look.

JOHN: No earlobes.You must be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

AMANDA: What?

JOHN: From the James Bond films… You have no earlobes.

AMANDA: The Plantagenets didn’t have earlobes.

JOHN: You are a Plantagenet?

AMANDA: According to ancestry.com I am.

JOHN: Related to whom? Not Richard III, I hope.

AMANDA: Edward I… Longshanks.

JOHN: The Hammer of the Scots? I am Scottish. I am shocked and saddened.

AMANDA: Well, I have my Celtic side. My bloodline from about 1500 upwards is a bastardisation of the Tudors and the Plantagenets and then they married into Irish aristocracy from Wexford.

Forget the Planagenets and James Bond – clock the pink ears

JOHN: Accidents of birth.

AMANDA: I had an accident.

JOHN: You had an accident?

AMANDA: I had an accident. A window fell on me on 5th May this year. I finished work and went to the theatre pub where we were doing a show to do a bit of work on the synopsis. I was sitting in the beer garden, typing away on my laptop computer. I had had literally two sips out of a glass of Chardoney and I heard this crack and the edge of a pane of glass from an upstairs window hit me on the head.

JOHN: The pane or the frame?

AMANDA: The whole section of the middle part of the glass.

JOHN: It hit you flat or the edge hit you?

AMANDA: The edge. Luckily it was not two floors above me or I would have had time to look up and I would have been a goner. It was excruciating pain. I didn’t even know it had cut all down my face. The shock.

Apparently there was an improvisation performance going on upstairs and there was only a very thin wood panelling covering the window and blacking out the room and a guy bumped into the wood panelling. That loosened the centre part of the window which broke loose and fell down on me – about this size.

JOHN: Bloody hell! That’s about what? Two feet wide?

AMANDA: The circular centre with a jagged edge broke loose and fell and just thank God the jagged edge didn’t hit me or I would be dead. It hit the corner of my skull and slit down off the side of my face and that is why I have a big gash there.

JOHN: It was mostly impact damage?

AMANDA: Yes. It smashed on the floor. The police who came said: “Amanda, you’re very lucky. It would have been a lot worse if it had smashed on your head.”

You know when you bang your head sometimes? You come up too quickly and you hit your head on something? Imagine that, but five times more painful. I thought a piece of metal had hit me on the head. I didn’t realise it was glass. I got up and went: “Oh! What was… Aaaargghh!” and then it all went Boooofff! – There was blood everywhere.

The guys in the beer garden were going: “Shit!! Shit!!!” and all running round.

Amanda Fleming’s head cut – in May 2018

I had no idea of the extent of it. There was a 9 cm gash and I had to have two lots of stitches. I had them under, because it had cut an artery – That was why were was so much blood. Apparently I had lost half my body weight in blood by the time I got to the hospital.

It was a surreal experience, because I was talking and trying to crack jokes, but I could hear my voice slurring.

JOHN: Because of the impact; because of the concussion.

AMANDA: Yeah. I tried to do yoga breathing to keep myself calm, because I could feel myself… you know… the adrenaline. I was telling everyone else: “It’s OK! It’s OK, yes…” Crack a joke, crack a joke, crack a joke. But, inside, I was thinking: KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT! KEEP ALERT!

JOHN: You were trying to crack jokes?

AMANDA: I think it’s just a kind of survival instinct thing with me. To not think about what is actually happening.

By the time I got in, the surgeon realised the secondary artery – not the main carotid artery – the one next to it that goes down – had been sliced and that was why I had lost so much blood. So he had to do two lots of stitches: one lot to secure underneath and then on the top of the head as well.

There was a lot of work I had to cancel. I had about £2,500 of work booked in for the next six weeks and I had to cancel it all.

For the first couple of weeks afterwards, I was just numb everywhere. Now, near where the scar is, it’s like a weird kind of tingling. And, if I touch the right side of my head here, I feel it on the left side. It’s the weirdest thing ever.

JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and the back of my head hit the corner – the edge – of a low brick wall as I fell – My brain wasn’t even remotely right for about nine months with concussion coming and going. You must have had problems with the concussion.

AMANDA: It was weird. I had never had concussion before. I have noticed some of my words I have to think about a bit more now. And, when I’m typing fast, some of the letters go wrong… not all of them… just like, for example, if I mean to type WEAR it sometimes comes out as WAER.

As directed and produced by Amanda – The Countess in Salford, Manchester

JOHN: It hasn’t affected your acting?

AMANDA: Well, I think I’m going to go fully into directing now. It has changed my life – the way I look at my life now. Definitely.

JOHN: You look up a lot more?

AMANDA: Don’t even get me started on that… That’s still an anxiety I’m trying to get over… When I see scaffolding ahead of me, I have to cross the road.

JOHN: But it’s changed your life more fundamentally?

AMANDA: Yes. I used to over-think things all the time. Things I could not really do anything about. It would frustrate me and get me angry and make me bitter about things. But, since this happened – even though lots of negative stuff came with it – the sensations and shooting pains and things – on a personal level, it has made me realise that, right now I should be doing everything to enjoy myself and do what I love rather than worrying about what could have been or what people think or whatever.

JOHN: And why has that happened? Because you could have been killed?

AMANDA: That’s it, yes.

JOHN: Why have you decided not to act?

AMANDA: I haven’t decided I’m not going to act – if something comes up in films or commercials or voice-over or whatever, I will still do it, but I’m not going to act in theatre any more: I’m going to direct theatre and I’m getting a strong passion for film-making and directing.

JOHN: Why?

AMANDA: I think because I have more scope and creativity there. When you’re an actor, you only have a specific area where you can create. Having been in acting for like 30 years, I can bring my actor’s side to directing. You are in charge of your own creativity.

JOHN: Anyway, we are supposed to be talking about your Countess woman thing.

The Countess was a success in Todmorden’s Gothic church

AMANDA: I wanted to make it historical but with a supernatural twist. We put it on for three performances at Todmorden, because they have an amazing Gothic church there. Ideally, we would like to tour round the country in those types of venues. We did two performances in Manchester last month, because people who saw it in Todmorden told people in Manchester and there was a demand… It sold out in Manchester.

We cant afford to stage it in Edinburgh, but we are trying to get the funding together to take it to the festivals at what they call The Three Bs – Brighton, Buxton and Bath. But we would like to tour it round rural venues like barns and village halls.

JOHN: Or castles?

AMANDA: We’d like to! We are going to get a video – a 60 second ‘taster’ – and press pack together.

JOHN: Sounds like it has movie potential, too.

AMANDA: Yes. Or maybe an amazing Gothic opera.

JOHN: And it’s the Countess Dracula woman?

AMANDA: Well, she wasn’t a vampire, though some sources say she was somehow distantly related to Vlad the Impaler.

JOHN: Blood relatives.

AMANDA: Maybe. Might not be true. 

JOHN: But she was for real.

AMANDA: Yes. Countess Elizabeth Báthory. She was a Hungarian aristocrat in the 1500s who murdered at least 650 people – 90% women plus some men – probably more than 650, but those were only the bodies they found. 

JOHN: 650 is going it some… Was there a ‘trigger’?

AMANDA: She started by knocking off peasant girls and bathing in their blood. She didn’t want to grow old. Blood is kind of soft and moisturising – it’s the plasma in it. She must have thought: Ooooh! It makes yer skin go really soft! That was the trigger.

The Countess – by Amanda Fleming – “Historical but with a supernatural twist”

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Actress Jacqueline Pearce RIP: from convent to Hammer horror to Blake’s 7

Actress Jacqueline Pearce’s death was announced yesterday. So it goes. Aged 74, she died at her home in Lancashire, a couple of weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

She was possibly best known for playing the part of Servalan, the villainess in BBC TV sci-fi series Blake’s 7.

I chatted to her in December 1980 at her then home in London, before shooting started on what turned out to be the final, fourth, series of Blake’s 7. The interview was published in April 1981 in Starburst magazine. This is Part 1 of that interview…

Jacqueline Pearce at home in London in 1980, holding her Starburst Award for Best Actress


Jacqueline Pearce was born in Woking and grew up in Byfleet, Surrey. Her father was an interior decorator and her family background is East End. At the age of six or seven, she started having elocution lessons to get rid of a “slight Cockney accent” and she was educated at the Marist Convent in Byfleet.

It was there that a lay preacher (ie not a nun) encouraged her acting talent. But young Jacqueline’s time at convent school was not altogether happy. She says she hated the rules and couldn’t abide the discipline. She could never understand why the nuns said she should walk upstairs when to run would have been much quicker. Now, she says, “Every time I go on as Servalan and I’ve got one of those dresses that’s slit down to the waist and up to the hips, I look in the mirror and say: “Up yours, Reverend Mother!”

At the age of sixteen, she was almost expelled for performing outspoken dialogue from John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at a local drama festival. The nuns thought it was “wicked and shocking” but Jacqueline won first prize and a cup to put on the convent mantelpiece, so she was forgiven. When she eventually did leave the convent, in 1961, she won a scholarship to RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London) despite strong initial opposition from the nuns and her family.

Newly-married ‘Jacky’ Pearce and Drewe Henley appeared in Granada TV’s Watch Me, I’m a Bird

She spent two years at RADA with fellow students Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Simon Ward and David Warner. During that time, she also met young actor Drewe Henley at a local coffee bar and they married.

Her first acting role on screen was with Drewe Henley, Ian McShane and John Hurt in the 1964 Granada TV play Watch Me, I’m a Bird. In the same year, she also appeared in the feature film Genghis Khan“I was given as a present by Eli Wallach to Stephen Boyd. Not a word was said and I flew all the way to Yugoslavia for it.”

In 1965, she played Ian McShane’s girlfriend in the John Mills movie Sky West and Crooked. She also appeared in the Morecambe & Wise movie The Magnificent Two and the Jerry Lewis fiasco Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (both 1967). But her best-remembered movie roles were in Hammer horror pictures. 


The Plague of the Zombies: “It was very strange walking in to make-up the next day and seeing my head on a shelf.”

JOHN: You starred in The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies and, on both of them, you worked with make-up man Roy Ashton.

JACQUELINE: Yes, for The Plague of the Zombies, he made a plaster thing of my face and head for a sequence where my head was chopped off. It was dreadful.

I had to stop halfway through because, at that time, I was very claustrophobic. Suddenly I was having this plaster of Paris all over me with just slight holes left for the nose and it’s very, very heavy and, at one point, I just said, “I can’t take it any more! You’ve got to take it off!” and then we had to start all over again. It was very unpleasant. I suppose it must have taken about half an hour for it to set. It’s – oohh – it’s dreadful.

I was married then and had my husband literally holding my hand and getting me through it. It’s clammy and then it gets hard and it gets so heavy and you know you can’t pull it off, so – oohh – not fun. I got more and more frightened. And it was very strange walking in to make-up the next day and seeing my head on a shelf. That was a little disturbing.

JOHN: You tested for Hammer, did you?

JACQUELINE: I went along for an interview and had a chat with the director (John Gilling) and he said: “I’d like you to play the parts because you have such a wonderful face for films.”… So he cast me (LAUGHS) as a zombie and a reptile.

Jacqueline Pearce starred as The Reptile: “I hissed a lot.”

JOHN: How did you act the part of a snake in The Reptile?

JACQUELINE: I hissed a lot. I think that was about it.

JOHN: Your movement was quite good too.

JACQUELINE: I know the bit you’re referring to. (LAUGHS) There was a bit where I was shifting under the blankets, which everyone seemed to enjoy a lot – I was shedding my skin.

JOHN: It’s a difficult part. You are cast as a snake. How are you going to act it?

JACQUELINE: Well, she was half-snake, half-woman.

JOHN: Like Servalan.

JACQUELINE: Do you think Servalan’s a snake?

JOHN: She’s a villainess.

JACQUELINE: But she’s got great style. I adore Servalan.

JOHN: How did you get the part in Blake’s 7?

JACQUELINE: I was working in Vienna at the English Speaking Theatre. I got a phone call from my agent saying that this series I’d never heard of was being made and would I be interested in playing a part. So I said: “Sure.”

It meant I started rehearsals the day I got back from Vienna. I got off the plane and went to the BBC. My hair was short at the time and they said: “Please, will you keep it like that?”

Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan in Blake’s 7 – “Short, dark and sinister”?

JOHN: I thought maybe you had cut and dyed your hair specially for the part – short, dark and sinister.

JACQUELINE: No. Most people love it. They find it compulsive and want to stroke it – Feel free – It’s simply because I’m no good at doing hair. I can’t put rollers in. I had lovely long thick hair that used to blow into my face all the time – When I put my head down, I couldn’t see.

JOHN: What did you know about the character when you started?

JACQUELINE: Nothing. Except that I knew she was the Supreme Commander. What we all did, really, was make our own personalities. When it came to costume-fitting, they said, “We’ll fit you up in trousers, a safari jacket and jackboots,” and I said, “No! If you’re going to do that with this haircut, you might as well have a man. I think you should go totally opposite.”

If she is a woman who has this kind of power, then make her so feminine, so pretty, you don’t know what she’s going to do next. So, when she is sitting there looking wonderful, saying Kill him! it’s such a shock. It’s the contrasts.

JOHN: How did you build up the character? A female Adolf Hitler?

JACQUELINE: No. I don’t think she is, actually. I think she is a very caring human being. No-one would believe that. (PAUSE) No, lots of people do – It’s surprising.

JOHN: Surely she’s nasty. She wants to get our heroes and do horrible things to them.

JACQUELINE: Yes, but if she were a man doing those things, everyone would accept it. I remember there was one episode (The Harvest of Kairos, in series 3) about a sort of precious jewel called kairopan and they said: “We can’t afford to get ALL the kairopan and all the men,” so Servalan said, “Well, get rid of the men – Kill the men.”

It was logical. One had to go. She wanted the kairopan, so the men had to go because they were less important. The scriptwriter put in that line and then wrote Laugh cruelly. Rubbish! She doesn’t get a kick out of killing people at all. She does what she feels she has to do. I’m not saying that makes her the girl next door.

JOHN: Has she changed?

JACQUELINE: She changed a lot in the third series. The miscarriage episode. It started there, where her personal feelings, her woman-ness, started to come through. I remember I did a personal appearance, opening (an event) Computers For The Home, and I was surrounded by some of the top brains in the country, who were all really avid Blake’s 7 fans. They rushed home from their computers on Monday nights to watch it. One of them said that he watched the scene where I had the miscarriage and found it shocking because it was so totally unexpected. 

Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow laugh, filming Blake’s 7

From then on, I tried to show the female side of her as much as possible. She does like men; she’s crazy about Avon (played by Paul Darrow) – that’s why she always lets him go. Otherwise it makes no sense to have this intelligent woman chasing these people around in a spaceship, catching them, then letting them go. I had to find a motivation – which was Avon.

JOHN: Is that the only change you’ve made? – She’s more feminine.

JACQUELINE: That’s a huge change to have made.

JOHN: Any resistance from the BBC?

JACQUELINE: For the first two series, I played her the way they wanted, which was as a substitute man. And she’s not; she’s 100% female. So I tried to get more of that over.

JOHN: Do you think the audience appreciates that?

JACQUELINE: I think they do, judging from the fan letters I get. Everyone responds to her in a very positive way. Some people, particularly women, love her – I think Women’s Lib love her. I think to men she’s a challenge.

JOHN: What sort of letters do you get?

JACQUELINE: I get lovely letters. There was one letter that made me laugh so much. A man wrote and asked if he could have a full-length photograph of me with no clothes on and hastened to add that this was not for any sexual purposes! (LAUGHS)

… CONTINUES AND CONCLUDED HERE …

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North Korea, Manchester’s Living Dead and the influence of House of Hammer

House of Hammer logo

Some things make you feel old.

So I received this e-mail. It read:

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue

It’s not great, but you won’t sleep through it…

Wow, you’re still alive! I remember reading your stuff in the House of Hammer magazine when I was 11 or 12 years old. In fact, I was thinking about you when I watched The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue on YouTube a wee while ago. What did you write about it in your review? Something along the lines of: “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is no great horror film… But you certainly won’t sleep through it”?!

I used to write feature articles and occasionally reviews for film magazines, including House of Hammer, which was oddly published by Marvel Comics UK and had a wider horror scope than just movies by Hammer Films. It later transformed into House of Horror.

The e-mail I received was from an Ian Smith. He added: “Did you write a feature about David Cronenberg and his first four movies (Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers and Rabid) in House of Hammer — somewhere around issues 13 – 16?  If so, you also acquainted me with the World of Cronenberg for the first time — another feather in your cap! I seem to remember Mark Gatiss fondly waving a copy of House of Hammer on a BBC documentary he did about British horror movies.”

Ian Smith’s blood and Porridge website

The Blood and Porridge website

So I thought Ian Smith might be worth talking to because, born in Northern Ireland and brought up both there and in Scotland, he currently lives in Sri Lanka and spent time in England, Switzerland, Japan, Ethiopia, India, Libya, Tunisia and, he says, “a part of the Korean peninsula that isn’t visited very often”. His website is titled Blood and Porridge.

So I talked to him via Skype in Sri Lanka, shortly after he had come back from a month working in Burma. He works as a teacher-trainer for people wanting to teach English as a foreign language.

When he finds the time, he writes short stories – horror, science fiction, fantasy and, he says, “even ‘mainstream’ ones set in humdrum wee Scottish and Irish towns and villages”. He has also published non-fiction on topics ranging from travel to Scottish amateur league football teams, from linguistic relativity to vampire movies. He has written under the pseudonyms Steve Cashell, Rab Foster, Eoin Henderson, Paul MacAlister, Jim Mountfield and, he says, “occasionally, under my own boring name”.

“So,” I said to him, “a part of the Korean peninsula that isn’t visited very often?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I spent two years working in North Korea with the British Council.”

“Which years?” I asked.

North Korea: the people’s paradise

North Korea: People’s Paradise with a hint of a nuclear bomb

“2005-2007. That’s when they became a nuclear power. I remember I was with the British Ambassador that night and he was looking quite rattled and I told him: Well, you’ve joined that exclusive club. There can’t be many ambassadors who were in a country that suddenly went nuclear. It did not cheer him up.”

“Where were the bugs?” I asked. “The first time I was in North Korea we went, for some reason, to the Indian ambassador’s residence and he started off by just pointing silently to the radiogram, which was where the main bug was.”

“The only thing I noticed,” said Ian, “was that, when I picked up my telephone I would sometimes hear clicking noises. There was obviously someone listening in. I had freedom to go pretty much anywhere in Pyongyang, though occasionally I would spot someone behind me who was obviously keeping an eye on me.”

“Did you get out of Pyongyang much?” I asked.

“Just a little bit. I was generally restricted to the city but there are a couple of places you can go to which are on the official tourist trail. You can go about 30 miles down the road to the beach; and there’s a couple of mountains you can go to. Most of the time I was in Pyongyang and then they’d fly me over to Beijing every couple of months for a break.”

“Much-needed,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Ian, “I have to say I didn’t actually mind the job too much. I got on quite well with the North Korean people: they had a very nice, dark sense of humour.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised anyone risked showing any sense of humour in the People’s Paradise.

Ian Smith

Ian Smith: a very well-travelled man

“They were very British, actually,” said Ian. “Always slagging each other off. I guess you probably need it in that environment. I enjoyed working there. You just had to not think too much about the wider picture.”

“What were you doing there?” I asked.

“I was training-up some teachers of English – giving them some training on the job.”

“Who is getting taught English in North Korea?” I asked.

“It’s quite a big thing,” said Ian. “At the time, Kim Jong-il had said he wanted everyone to speak English because it was the international language for business. Even in the more secluded countries, they now realise there’s a need for it.”

“It sounds dangerous,” I said. “North Koreans would actually be able to talk to foreigners.”

“Well, it’s a two-edged sword,” agreed Ian.

“What did you think when you were told you were going to North Korea?”

“I saw it advertised and applied. I had been in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for three years.”

“So anywhere was better?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say that, but I felt it was definitely time for a bit of a change.”

“You read House of Hammer when you were about 11 or 12,” I said. “I always imagined I was writing for 16 or 17 year olds.”

House of Hammer No 9

Unusually cheerful-looking House of Hammer

“Well,” said Ian.”you couldn’t get into the cinema to see these films and your parents wouldn’t let you stay up late to see them on TV, so it was a kind of forbidden fruit thing. Someone said: The scariest horror films are the ones you are too young to get in to see. You just imagine them being much worse than they actually are.

“And now you write yourself,” I said.

“I do a bit of writing. I write a lot of horror stories. I usually get two or three published each year. Sometimes hard copies, sometimes internet magazines. I’m not going to make any money out of it. It’s all moved online, but the problem is you get paid less now, if at all.”

“Why did you want to be a writer?”

“It’s just something that seemed obvious to me. Even when I was a kid, I was writing stuff in exercise jotters.”

“And now it’s all gone electronic,” I said.

“I think with a lot of those horror and fantasy writers from the 1970s and 1980s – their actual book market dried up and a lot of them started doing stuff on the internet and self-published – Tanith Lee, who died a few weeks ago published dozens and dozens of books in the last decade or so, but all electronic. Her fanbase would download it.”

“Your next story?” I asked.

One of the online markets for Ian’s work

One of the online markets for Ian’s work

The Groove. It should be appearing soon in a Kindle magazine called Hellfire Crossroads.  It’s a traditional revenge-from-beyond-the-grave story like the ones that used to be in those horror comics all those years ago. In it, the guy who has died is a sort of John Peel music obsessive who has this horrible, bitchy wife. The guy has left these requests for music to be played at his funeral but she ignores them and plays Angels by Robbie Williams. I just thought that, if something was guaranteed to bring me back from the grave in a fit of revenge, it would be that.”

“A sort of Hammer Horrory idea,” I said.

“I was reading,” said Ian, “an interview with the director Julian Richards, who made a film called Darklands in the late 1990s, which kick-started the new movement in British horror movies and he said, when he was a kid, the first film he did was on super-8 and he basically found the story in House of Hammer because they used to do these horror stories at the back – Van Helsing’s Terror Tales – he spent three years turning that into a film. So, in a way, House of Hammer was quite influential.”

“I guess every little helps,” I said.

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Actress Amanda Fleming: Hollywood reality and dreams of Gothic nightmares

No prizes for guessing where Amanda and I met

No prizes for guessing where Amanda and I met last week…

The last time I blogged about my actress/film-producing namesake Amanda Fleming was in October last year when she had just produced and directed short film What a Drag.

What a Drag has now been accepted into 15 international film festivals this year, including Cannes.

Amanda was at Cannes last year too – as an actress and facilitator representing a 26-minute short she acted in: Titans of Newark.

After Cannes this year, she is probably returning to Los Angeles.

“I want to set up a Theatre In Education company over there,” she told me.

“What other projects are in the pipeline?”

Amanda directed and produced What a Drag!

Amanda Fleming directed What a Drag!

“When I go back to the States, I’m going to put on The Countess, the one-hour show about Countess Báthory. I was thinking about doing it as a movie, but then I thought: D’y’know, I might put that aside and stage it at the Los Angeles Fringe. Because I want to do something a little more gritty. I was going to do a 10 or 15 minute comedy horror film to begin with – The Fingernail That Never Grew – a sort-of Carry On spoofy Hammer.”

“You seem partial to a bit of Gothic horror,” I said. “You must have interesting dreams.”

“I’ve always had very vivid dreams since I was a very young child and, when I was 18, I started writing them down. Now I’ve got about 280 written down. Some are just a typical dream mishmash of what’s happened in your day and your brain is sorting it out. But there are others that, when you read through them, it sounds like a really, really good storyline. Some are supernatural; some are emotional.”

“Next week,” I told her, “I’m going to some Dream event, but I almost never remember my dreams. I wish I did. Can you string your dreams together to make a single narrative?”

“Yes,” said Amanda. “Or it could be a feature-length film of short Gothic horror stories.

The double cross dresser and the drag queen

What a Drag! – at Cannes and 14 other international festivals

“Not all the buyers at Cannes are looking for feature-length movies. Some are looking for short films to put on their TV channels between the main shows.

“Last year, Titans of Newark got picked up in Germany and I think China.”

“Would you prefer,” I asked her, “to make an anthology of your dreams rather than a single narrative?”

“If it was a single narrative,” laughed Amanda, “people might think: Is this person off her head? Some the stuff: you’d think I was on drugs.”

“Non-naturalism is perfect for a film, though,” I suggested. “If you’re in the area of bizarre, surreal horror anyway, then the more visually ridiculous the better.”

“I had a recurring dream,” said Amanda, “of a black panther in a tree. It was always round a corner. I had to try and go round – it was like a forest – a little cottage on the side. And I had to go round there and every single time – even though the panther would disappear – I would know it was there and then I could see its eyes and then the full body would appear and it wouldn’t let me pass until, one day, he did.

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale

Not bad progress for a girl from Rochdale

“And another dream was about a white house on a hill. That was one of the most terrifying dreams I’ve ever had. It was a recurring one and the fear I used to feel from dreaming that dream was unbearable at times. It would wake me up.”

“You couldn’t,” I asked, “get to the white house on the hill?”

“I got closer each time I had the dream,” explained Amanda. “Each time I used to see, when I got closer and looked up at the house, the silhouette of a woman in the house, looking out of the window.”

“Sounds a bit Psycho-ish,” I said.

“You know those old Victorian houses,” asked Amanda, “where they used to have a huge greenhouse? – like a big hothouse and the lady of the house would go in there and water her plants – it was beautiful, domed, but long – and the main bedroom, which was hers, there was a door which went onto a balcony overlooking this huge hothouse. But I didn’t get to that point until just before the dreams stopped.

“Eventually, when I finally managed to pluck up the courage to open the door, I walked out onto the balcony and it was almost like an invisible force was trying to push me over it.

“The next time I dreamt that same dream, I went back onto the balcony again and I felt a strangulation round my neck. Then, the next time, there was the strangulation AND I felt like I was being pushed over the balcony. But, as I was seeing this happen in my dream, I also saw there was a rope hanging above the balcony and I realised whoever I was dreaming about had been murdered and hung there.

“That dream was terrifying because it was recurring. I was so scared of going back to the house every single time. I still remember how it looked. There was a narrow road with a brook running beside and I remember a small pub and a grove with trees and then you could see the white house on the hill.

“And I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12. I’ve got all those – over 500 poems. I’d like to put them all together with dates at the top and collect them in a book. If it makes money, that’s OK; if not, that’s not an issue.

“There’s an old saying: You try and you fail and you try and you fail, but the only true failure is when you stop trying.”

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Nigel Kneale on Quatermass and BBC TV production techniques in the 1950s

Nigel Kneale, interviewed in 1990

The great Nigel Kneale, interviewed about his career in 1990

In 1979, I interviewed Nigel Kneale, creator of the iconic and highly influential Quatermass stories.

A couple of days ago, I posted my original 1979 introduction.

This is the first half of the interview.


Rudolph Cartier was your producer on all three Quatermass serials in the 1950s and on the 1954 BBC TV production of 1984. How did you meet him?

Well he moved into the BBC at the same time I did. I realised he was a man who never took No for an answer – which is a great thing. All he needed to know was that it was practically impossible and he would immediately go off and do it. There was certainly no other director-producer who would ever have got those Quatermass things on the road.

The Quatermass Experiment monster inside Westminster Cathedral (it’s a glove puppet)

The Quatermass Experiment monster in Westminster Cathedral (a glove puppet)

In those days, television was live…

Yes. You had to have film inserts, of course, if you had an exterior scene, like someone walking through a park. The studio we shot that first Quatermass (The Quatermass Experiment) in was that old one at Alexandra Palace, where the cameras were literally the oldest electronic cameras in the world. They were the ones that were put into commission in 1936.

How did Quatermass start?

It was really an accident. They had a gap in the schedule and somebody said Oh! You must write something! So I wrote it (a six-part serial) as far as I could and it was being transmitted before I’d actually written the end of it. It was not a rave success. I dug up old notices recently and they’re quite funny because they say: This dreary programme started last night – it’s scientifically incorrect… and so on. Now, of course, it’s been transmuted into having been a great success.

Outrage was expressed in the House of Commons about the BBC’s version of 1984 with Peter Cushing & Donald Pleasance

Outrage was expressed in the House of Commons about the BBC’s version of 1984 with Peter Cushing & Donald Pleasance

You did 1984 after that.

I suppose they felt that, if we’d done one, we could do another. Technically, that was a very difficult one indeed – to get it into a studio live. (The rats scene was on film.) In a two-hour show like 1984, you would pre-film perhaps a quarter of an hour and the rest would be live, which was very heavy going.

The play caused a furore (in particular because of the horrific scene with the rats). Questions in the House of Commons.

Yes! It was a question of lying low after that one. Nothing like it had ever hit television before. They tended to use three-act stage plays and you got little intervals between the acts. Very well done and beautifully acted, but a little bit sedate. What you didn’t get was a purely television-type narrative, where you intercut in the middle of scenes: the thing that you do in any film script. That was new. And, I suppose, if one started writing in those terms, immediately the thing had far more impact.

You were interested in that technique.

I suppose I’d have liked to write films but, at that time, it was all locked up firmly in a closed shop. I could no more have got a (union) card to write film scripts than to fly. So I stuck to television.

You didn’t script the feature film version of the Quatermass Experiment?

No. There was the usual hurried deal by Hammer Pictures with some American people and they insisted on having an American actor and an American adaptor. So this chap came over who worked out some nonsense which turned my poor old Quatermass into a screaming, shouting person – probably like the last film producer he had worked for. It had no control over it at all. I still see that thing turn up and I hate it.

The feature film version of Quatermass II

The cut feature film version of Quatermass II

But you did co-script the movie of Quatermass II.

Well, there were some changes to the script – cuts – so it came out like it did.

Why the cuts?

The TV version was six half-hour episodes and they all over-ran by anything up to ten minutes. There was no way the BBC could stop us – except by taking us off the air – because we were live. We knew this and took a chance.

When you tried to compress those six episodes into a 90-minute film version, a lot had to go and too much went and the substitutions were not very clever. The characters are so cardboard you literally have to strain yourself to tell one from the other. It seems to me to be a lesson in how not to do it.

A special effects man applies titanium tetrachloride to make an actor smoke in the movie of Quatermass II

Special effects man applies titanium tetrachloride to make an actor smoke in the Quatermass II film

Quatermass II was about the evils of science…

No – not science. I’m not a bit anti-science, only occasionally some scientists. After all, old Quatermass himself is one: perhaps a bit more sensitive to his responsibilities than some. In the new serial (transmitted by Thames TV in 1979 simply as Quatermass), his main ally (Dr Joseph Kapp)  is also a research scientist. Even Kapp’s wife is a qualified archaeologist. The whole of the fourth Quatermass is about a last-ditch use of logic and dwindling technological resources, pitted against suicidal mysticism.

Quatermass II was about the evil of secrecy. It was a time when mysterious establishments were popping up: great radar establishments and nuclear establishments like Harwell and Porton Down for germ warfare. All the Quatermass things have been very much tied to their time.

Quatermass and The Pit was written at a time (1958) when there was a lot of building going on. So I thought, well, you dig down to an enormous depth and find a spaceship. Immediate recognition.

Quatermass and The Pit terrified me as a child

The BBC TV’s Quatermass and The Pit terrified me as a child

It absolutely terrified me when I saw it as a kid on television.

Well, we always really aimed at an adult audience for these things. And we hoped that the kiddies would be in bed. It was made very clear that this was not for children. I don’t mind frightening adults. They can take it. But not small children, simply because they haven’t the resources of fact in them to sort out what’s real and what’s unreal.

If a little six-year-old is confronted with some nightmare situation, that little creature is at the mercy of all your special effects, because he hasn’t really been in the world long enough to know what is real. And if he sees some dreadful thing – an apparition appearing out of the floor – he’s not to know that it’s been made by Jack Kine and Bernard Wilkie (of BBC Visual Effects). He thinks it may really happen to him and it may happen in his bedroom tonight. That’s not a thing to play with.

Do you find that Quatermass is an albatross around your neck?

Well, a little bit. It’s like an actor being in a series: you get stuck with the image. But I think the worst thing is what people expect things to be – the word ‘horror’. The Quatermasses were never meant to be ‘horror’ stories. There’s more humour than horror in them, I hope – certainly that applies to this new one.

The stars of Beasts - with a non-beast in the middle

Beasts – with (in middle) a non-beast

I liked your Beasts stories for ATV.

I liked them very much indeed.

There weren’t actually any beasts in them.

No! That was the trick! That you would never SEE a beast.

The series had very ordinary settings: a supermarket, a living room.

I always feel that the most interesting ‘strange’ thing has to have an ordinary setting. Once you have Dracula’s castle, it’s totally dead: you’ve just brought in a huge, tatty, cobweb-hung cliché. Whereas, if it just happens in somebody’s house, in a room like this, in my living room, then it can be very upsetting indeed.

The Thames TV production of the fourth Quatermass serial

Thames TV production of 1979 Quatermass serial aka The Quatermass Conclusion

There was a psychological strangeness in your play The Road.

Oh, it’s a favourite of mine. It’s only a little play, but it’s interesting. It’s set in the 18th century, but with a group of people doing what they imagine to be a scientific investigation – trying to bring rational minds to bear in The Age of Reason on what appears to be a haunting in a wood. Terrible noises are heard, which are extremely upsetting.

What they’re actually hearing is a motorway in our time on which a huge traffic jam has occurred, caused by people trying to escape from thermonuclear war. It ends with a nuclear blast which has actually blown itself back in time to the 18th century and produced a kind of back-reflection, a ripple. So these people have no conception of what they are hearing… The terrified voices on the motorway, people trying to escape… It’s all completely recognisable to us: it’s all in our terms. But they don’t know what it means.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Nigel Kneale: Manx writer of intelligent British Isles horror and science fiction

Nigel Kneale (1922-2006). So it goes.

Nigel Kneale, writer (1922-2006). So it goes. (Photograph by Mark Gudgeon)

When I recently chatted to writer Chris Lincé about science fiction and horror, inevitably the writer Nigel Kneale came up in conversation.

Chris is a fan of the movie Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) which I have never seen, largely because Nigel Kneale felt the producers had butchered his script. Chris thinks it remains a fascinating script (which has nothing whatever to do with the two previous Halloween films) because Nigel Kneale is such a fascinatingly original writer.

Yesterday I saw that, in London, the National Film Theatre’s October programme says they are screening both Nigel Kneale’s 1954 BBC TV version of George Orwell’s 1984 and the recently rediscovered (with 10 minutes missing) 1965 BBC TV version.

In 1979, I interviewed Nigel Kneale for Starburst magazine. I talked to him at his home. He was 57 at that time, slightly deaf and spinning off fantastically original plot ideas just in general conversation. He died in 2006, aged 84. So it goes.

This is the introduction to that 1979 interview.


Thomas Nigel Kneale was born in England by accident, but he’s really a Manxman. His father owned a newspaper on the Isle of Man and young Nigel was brought up on the inward-looking island which is part of, and yet apart from, the rest of the British Isles.

He tried being a lawyer on the island, then went to London’s RADA for a couple of years, followed by twelve months in Stratford as an actor. But he decided he was really a writer.

He had started writing in his early teens and, in 1950, his book Tomato Cain and Other Stories won the Somerset Maugham Award. However, it was as a screenwriter that he became famous.

He joined BBC TV in the early 1950s and worked initially on children’s programmes at a time when very little material was specially written for TV. He stayed on at the Corporation for about five years, working in a wide variety of departments – music, documentary, comedy and drama.

The Quatermass Xperiment was a Hammer horror

The Quatermass Xperiment was a Hammer horror in 1954

His big television breakthrough came in 1953 with a six-part story The Quatermass Experiment, which was filmed by Hammer Films the following year as The Quatermass Xperiment (US title: The Creeping Unknown).

More furore was caused, though, by his BBC TV adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, which resulted in an outcry over the horror of the ‘rat’ scene. That was in 1954.

He followed it in 1955 by Quatermass II, another six-part BBC TV serial filmed by Hammer in 1956 as Quatermass 2 (US title: Enemy From Space). Hammer also brought his 1956 television drama The Creature to the big screen in 1957 as The Abominable Snowman (US title: The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas), but it took them until 1967 to film his 1958 TV success Quatermass and The Pit.

By the late 1950s, Kneale was identified as a science fiction writer and so it was with relief that he broke this typecasting by writing the film version of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960). He continued to write extensively for both TV and films.

His film work as an adaptor included First Men in the Moon (1964) and, in 1966, The Witches (US title: The Devil’s Own) although in neither case did he have any control over the end result. His TV work included The Road (1963), The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), Wine of India (1970) and The Stone Tape (1972), all for the BBC.

In 1973, the BBC planned to make his new story Quatermass IV, but the project collapsed. His excellent six-part series Beasts was made by ATV in 1976 but the next year the company dropped his 90-minute play about a Manx slave trader one week before the rehearsals began – because of rapidly escalating scenery costs, of all things.

Time Out’s representation of John Mills in Quatermass (1979)

John Mills starred in Quatermass IV (1979)

In 1978, Thames TV resurrected Quatermass IV and their film-making subsidiary Euston Films  turned it into a £1 million TV series/feature film The Quatermass Conclusion (transmitted as simply Quatermass aka Quatermass IV in 1979 and directed by Piers Haggard, a great-grand-nephew of writer Rider Haggard).

Kneale found the name Quatermass  by glancing through a telephone directory, but that is about the only random factor in the work of a writer whose highly-visual plots and ideas are tightly-controlled, constantly fascinating and always intelligent. Piers Haggard says: “Kneale is the best science fiction writer in Britain.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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