Tag Archives: movie

“A Ghost Waits”: How singer Tom Waits inspired a romcom (?) horror movie…

This is not my blog. It is a syndicated piece sent out by a PR company to plug the world premiere of new movie A Ghost Waits at the Arrow Video Frightfest event in Glasgow next month. I have not seen the movie, but the interview is interesting…

It is an interview (slightly edited by me) with first-time director Adam Stovall, who describes himself on Twitter: “I direct audio books. I write things. I really like hot wings and Kentucky basketball.”

The film’s blurb reads: “Jack’s job is to fix up the house. Spectral agent Muriel’s eternal task is to haunt it. They should be enemies, but they become fascinated by one another and eventually smitten, leading them to question everything about their work, lives and decisions. But as duty calls for both, something’s got to give for them to have the time together they so desperately want.”

The PR billing for this interview piece is: “Director Adam Stovall reflects on getting through depression,  creating paranormal romance and the influence of Tom Waits…”


You have an interesting CV – from comedy theatre and film journalism to writing for the Hollywood Reporter and 2nd Assistant Directing. Was all this a game plan to becoming a fully-fledged director?

Adam Stovall: “Movies meant more to me…”

I’ve known since I was a little kid sitting in the basement watching the network TV premiere of Back To The Future while holding my Back To The Future storybook and waiting for them to premiere the first footage from Back To The Future 2 during a commercial break that movies meant more to me than they did to those around me. And that’s not a low bar – my dad worked as a projectionist all through his college years, and my mom takes my aunt to see at least one movie a week. I remember seeing Pulp Fiction in the autumn of 1994 and suddenly realizing that a) cinema was far more elastic than I had previously thought, and b) it helped the world make sense in a way nothing else could. That was when I knew this was my path.

But I grew up in Northern Kentucky, which felt like the furthest you could possibly get from Hollywood. I spent my 20s trying to do anything else and be happy, to no avail. Towards the end of my 20s, I was mired in a severe depression, getting wine drunk and writing scripts on the weekends. Then, my dog died, and it put into stark relief just how alone I was. So I sold as much of my stuff as I could and moved the rest to L.A. so I could pursue film.

Quickly I had the thought that I’d feel pretty stupid if I moved 2,000 miles and just sat in my room, so I started volunteering in the Creative Screenwriting screening series. After eight months of that, I wrote for a magazine, which closed down, then a friend asked me to work on his movie. I was not supposed to be the 2nd Assistant Director, but they ended up with a budget far smaller than they thought they’d get so, as people left the production for higher-paying gigs, I kept getting promoted. It was an incredible experience and the best education I could have asked for in terms of no-budget filmmaking. It clarified for me where money needed to go, and where money went out of habit.

So yeah, that’s a game plan…

Did the story of A Ghost Waits come as a sudden flash; were you inspired by the likes of Ghost and Beetlejuice?

Playstation video game P.T. was one inspiration for the film

The idea for A Ghost Waits came from a video game and a web comic. I am not a gamer, but I was visiting some friends and they told me I needed to play a game called P.T. which was designed by Guillermo Del Toro and Hideo Kojima. It’s a first person puzzle game where you have to walk through an L-shaped hallway in a haunted house, doing specific things in time in order to open the door at the end of the hallway, which then puts you back at the beginning of the hallway.

At some point, it occurred to me that there might be a movie in someone like me having to deal with a haunted house. While I was working on that, I saw a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic where a man asks a woman what she thinks is the most American film. She answers, “Ghostbusters,” and he asks why. She explains that people get demonstrable proof of an afterlife, but the whole thing is about growing a small business and navigating government bureaucracy. I thought, “That’s hilarious and also I want to see that movie.” So I wrote it!

How long was the development process and where did you obtain financing?

Development on A Ghost Waits moved irresponsibly fast, haha. I had the idea in November 2015 and we shot in August 2016. Normally I have all the time in the world to write, since nobody cares about a spec script being written by a no-name, so the process of writing with so many eyes on me was equally exciting and daunting. Fun fact: I usually name characters and title the piece late in the process, but I wasn’t able to do that here since we needed to create documents for casting and whatnot. So I went home, opened up my Tom Waits discography and named every character after a Tom Waits song. And then named the movie after him, because he is one of my creative north stars…

(Actor) MacLeod Andrews and I had spent the previous year trying to get another movie made, but just weren’t able to raise enough money. One of the investors we met in that time remained very excited to make something so, when I had the idea for A Ghost Waits, he immediately said he’d invest half the production budget. My mom had told me to let her know when we had a firm budget number so, once we had half the budget, she invested the other half. That covered principal photography and then MacLeod and I put in our own money to cover pickups and post-production.

How do you describe the movie? A supernatural comedy? A paranormal romance? What?

I’ve been referring to it as a haunted house love story, but paranormal romance is good – maybe I’ll start using that!

Was the choice to shoot in black-and-white more an artistic or budgetary consideration?

A bit of both, to be honest. I love the B&W aesthetic, so it was always a possibility in my mind. I mentioned my idea to my Unit Production Manager during prep while we were on a location scout and she told me not to do that. We shot in colour with the intention of staying that way, but we also shot with two different cameras – the Blackmagic Ursa Mini and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema – which yielded slightly different looks. I drove myself crazy trying to match the images in colour-correction and, one day, MacLeod said, “Have you thought about just making it B&W?” Because MacLeod is the best person ever. Once we used a B&W LUT (a colour-grading file) on it, it felt right, tonally and aesthetically. Would we have gone with B&W even if we had more money? Who knows! Just another possibility for the pile…

When did you first meet MacLeod Andrews? Did you write the part of Jack with him in mind?

MacLeod and I met on the set of a film called Split, a bowling rom-com, which filmed in Louisville, Kentucky. I met the filmmaker on a panel, and he asked if I’d be down to come work on his movie. MacLeod is a native of Louisville, and had worked with one of the producers on the film before. We instantly hit it off and I was struck by his obvious talent and charisma, so I sent him a script I’d recently written. He dug it and we decided we wanted to work together.

I absolutely wrote the part of Jack for MacLeod. To the extent that, if he’d said no, the movie would not exist. Fortunately, our brains function on similarly weird frequencies, so we’re usually intrigued and excited by similar ideas.

What about Natalie Walker? How did you come to cast her as Muriel?

I’d been following Natalie on Twitter for a while and was impressed by her humour and brilliance. I had a feeling that casting her in a role that demanded she sublimate her energy would yield a similar result as when Robin Williams was asked to do the same for dramatic roles. I emailed and told her about the project and offered to send over the script so she could check it out and see if it interested her. She responded that she was very interested, so we talked and she did a self-tape, which was perfect. We hopped on FaceTime and I offered her the role.

The chemistry between MacLeod and Natalie is wonderful. Was that instant or did it need nurturing?

Instant! We never even had a table read, much less any rehearsals, so the first time they met was on set. Since we had such a small crew, I was always doing a multitude of jobs, which limited how much time I was able to spend with them. A lot of their dynamic is due to the work they did on their own.

Where did you film and for how long?

We filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lakeside Park, Kentucky. Principal photography was 12 days in August 2016 and then we did the first set of pickups over four days in April 2017 and the last set over a week in February 2018.

What does having the World Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow mean to you?

Cesar A. Cruz once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” At my lowest, movies have made me feel less alone, and I wanted to make something that could do that for someone else. We made a small, personal, weird film, and it means the absolute world to know it means something to others and is finding its place in the world.

Finally, what’s next for you?

We’re working with a couple producers on two films, which we’re obviously hoping to make soon. One is an existential horror drama, and the other is a coming-of-age comedy-drama. In the meantime, just writing a few things and hoping for the best.

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Filed under Horror, Movies

Douglas Adams talks. Part 3: Why he rejected Monty Python’s Terry Jones

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this 1980 interview, Douglas Adams told me about how the radio, stage and book versions of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came into being. In Part 3 (of 4), he talks about how the TV and movie versions did and did not happen.


Douglas Adams decided to turn down £50,000

JOHN: There was talk of a  Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feature film.

DOUGLAS: Well, I’ve been into that twice and each time I’ve backed out. I knew we were going to be doing it for BBC TV anyway and I knew we could do it all on telly. In the first film deal that was being set up, the American guy who was going to be directing it… I began to feel we were talking about different things and he wanted to make Star Wars with jokes. We seemed to be talking about different things and one thing after another seemed not quite right and I suddenly realised that the only reason I was going ahead with it was the money. And that, as the sole reason, was not a good enough reason. Although I have to get rather drunk in order to believe that. (LAUGHS)

It had got to the stage where I just had to sign a piece of paper and would instantly have £50,000 up-front, so I was quite pleased with myself for not doing that. I thought: There’s no point in doing a film at the moment. Then the whole thing re-opened when Terry Jones of Monty Python, who’s a great friend of mine, said he’d like to think about making a film of Hitch-Hiker. So I thought That sounds like a nice idea but the original idea was to do something based fairly solidly round that first radio series and I just didn’t want to do that again. I’d done it on radio, on stage, on record, in a book and was now doing it on television. It just seemed a pointless waste of time to do the same story again on film.

So we then thought it would be much more worthwhile to do a new story. But then we had the problem of having to do a story which was, on the one hand, totally consistent with what had gone before for those who knew what had happened and, on the other hand, totally self-contained for the sake of those who didn’t. And that began to be a terrible conundrum and I just couldn’t solve it. So, in the end, Terry and I just said: “It’d be nice to do a film together, but let’s just start from scratch again and not make a Hitch-Hiker.”

(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – no hyphen – movie was eventually released in 2005, four years after Douglas Adams’ death)

JOHN: I was surprised when I first heard about the TV series and the film because I  thought the radio series was un-visualisable.

DOUGLAS: Well, obviously, there are things you lose when you move onto television in that what you actually see restricts what you imagine whereas, on radio, what you hear provokes what you imagine. On the other hand, there are all sorts of things I think are worthwhile. One of the great strengths of the television series is those wonderful animated graphics. If you’d been sitting down to do something like Hitch-Hiker for television to begin with, there are all sorts of things it wouldn’t have occurred to you to do. Like having a narrator who talks all the time: you just don’t normally have that on television.

But we were committed to that because of its success on radio. Having to translate something from one medium to another, you have to find solutions to problems which normally wouldn’t have posed themselves. Finding those solutions is interesting and that’s how we got those graphics. If you were doing a BBC television programme normally, you would just not gratuitously attempt to have one character with two heads. It just poses far too many problems. But, being committed to that, we had to do it.

BBC TV Special Effects designer Jim Francis tests his radio controlled head for Zaphod.Beeblebrox. (Photograph by John Fleming)

So they built this head which is a quite remarkable construction. It’s moulded from Mark Wing-Davey’s own head and the neck movement side-to-side and up-and-down, the eye and the mouth and the eyebrow and the cheek are all radio-controlled. It’s an extraordinary feat. Something you would not have got except in the process of translating one medium to another. You’re committed to things you otherwise wouldn’t have tackled.

JOHN: Like those wonderful computer read-outs for the book.

DOUGLAS: The computer read-outs are all animated. I’d assumed one would do it as computer graphics and actually use a real computer to do it, but apparently that is incredibly expensive. So it was done by animation, which is more effective.

JOHN: I saw the completed version of the first episode at the Edinburgh Television Festival way back in August. Why was it finished so early? Because it was a pilot?

Concept sketch of Marvin  by Jim Francis for the TV series.

DOUGLAS: Well, a sort of pilot. ‘Pilot’ can mean several things. In some cases, a pilot episode is made and broadcast to see how the audience reacts to it. This was a different sort of pilot. The BBC had said: We’re committed to doing the series. But we want to do the first one separately so we can see we’re doing it right. And then we have the opportunity of changing things. In fact, that isn’t quite how it worked out. When the bills came in for the first programme, there was a certain amount of stunned shock and back-peddling on whether or not they were going to do the rest of the series. Then they said: Yes, we will go ahead, but try to be a little more careful. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: One of the most popular characters is Marvin the Paranoid Android. I believe he came from a specific…

DOUGLAS: Yes, Andrew Marshall. He’s one of the writers of The Burkiss Way and End of Part One. He co-wrote the radio series Hordes of the Things with John Lloyd, which was a sort of parody of Lord of the Rings. Very silly.

JOHN: You’re really part of a third generation of Cambridge comedy writers. There was the Beyond The Fringe and TW3 lot. Then the I’m Sorry I’ll Read That AgainThe Goodies and Monty Python lot. And now there’s The Burkiss Way, End of Part One, Not The Nine O’Clock News, Hitch-Hiker and so on lot. The generation after Monty Python.

DOUGLAS: I suppose so. But in that previous generation one major programme sat on the top of the pile, which was Python. I think all my way through Cambridge I desperately wanted that to happen all over again. I wanted to function as part of a group of writer-performers. But, you see, a radical change had come over the way things were organised.

The Cambridge Footlights’ ADC Theatre in 2005 (Photograph by Andrew Dunn)

In those days – the time that produced Python – the writer-performer was the kingpin. That was true in the Cambridge Footlights and in the shows that those guys then went on to do. So it was the guys themselves who were doing it and they came together and a producer was given to them just to get it onto the screen and make it work. By my day. The Footlights had become a producer’s show. So a producer is there to say what the show is going to be – a student producer or, more likely, someone who was at Cambridge two years previously who’s come back to do it. He says I want so-and-so in it and I want so-and-so to write it and they’re appointed and the producer calls the tune. I think that’s wrong.

That’s what’s true in Not The Nine O’Clock News. I’ll get into trouble for saying this but I think that’s wrong: it just makes it slightly too artificial. My year in the Cambridge Footlights was full of immensely talented people who never actually got the chance to really work together properly, because they were all working for somebody else rather than getting together. So it was very fragmented and you get on the one hand Hitch-Hiker, which is written by one person with actors employed to do it, and on the other hand Not The Nine O’Clock News, which is a producer’s show being sort of driven from the back seat. And there’s nothing central that has come out of my Cambridge generation.

JOHN: How many years of your life have you spent on Hitch-Hiker now?

DOUGLAS: Four. The first time it actually crept into my life was the end of 1976.

JOHN: Are you actually interested in science fiction?

DOUGLAS: Yes and no.

… CONTINUED HERE

‘Dish of the Day’ concept sketch by Jim Francis for BBC TV’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Filed under Comedy, Science fiction, Television

The new Krays movie – at what point do facts in real events become Legend?

A piece of street graffiti in London’s Easy End last week, promoting the release of the Krays movie Legend

A piece of street graffiti in London’s East End last week, promoting the release of the Krays’ Legend

At what point can you make up facts in a movie about real events, the actual facts of which are well-known and within living memory?

I saw Legend last night: the new movie about the Kray Twins.

Legend - the movie poster for The Krays

The British movie poster promoting the Krays’ movie Legend

The film plays fast and loose with the widely-known facts, which totally threw my suspension of disbelief – especially for me as one of the central threads holding the plot together is the ‘love affair’ between Reggie Kray and his eventual wife Frances.

For a description of the actual relationship between Reggie and Frances, you could read my September 2014 blog chat with the Krays’ close associate Micky Fawcett.

For the actual background to the shooting of George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub by Ronnie Kray, you might want to read my blog of July 2013.

For a description of the actual killing of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie (I presume based on the court case evidence but which strangely omits the mis-firing gun) you could read the Daily Telegraph’s August 2000 piece.

And for details of police corruption and Ronnie Kray’s psychopathy, you might read my blog of October 2013.

The Krays were arrested in 1968 and imprisoned in 1969 – so they were active roughly 50 years ago.

Billy The Kid (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1881 and the first major film made about him was in 1930 – 50 years after his death. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Jesse James (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1882. In 1921, two movies were made with Jesse James Jnr playing his father; but the first major film about his life was in 1939 – almost 60 years after the events. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

The events depicted in Legend are within living memory – I am old enough to remember the shooting in the Blind Beggar being reported on BBC TV News. So it is very dodgy to change facts – even though filmgoers in the US are unlikely to have heard of The Krays. So I do not know the answer.

At what point does embroidering the facts of real events within living memory totally screw belief in a movie? And at what point in time does it not matter?

At what point does the legend take over and the facts become irrelevant?

There is that well-known 19th century newspaper saying:  “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Except, of course, it is not a real saying. It was something scripted in the 1962 movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and now people think it is some real saying from way way back.

There is a famous TV interview with the Kray Twins which is on YouTube.

.

 

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Filed under Crime, Fame, Uncategorized

Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! stage show and the more prestigious Aaaaaaah! movie

I dreamt of partying with these chaps

A midsummer day’s dream

I am old, bald and fat. It is very hot. Today I had a siesta.

As I have mentioned in this blog before, I seldom remember my dreams – only when I get woken up during one. That happened during my siesta. For some reason, I was dreaming that comic performer Martin Soan was trying to persuade me to go to a party organised by the band Radiohead.

I got woken up by a text from Martin Soan. When I told him what I had been dreaming, he said: “I have been to a Radiohead party. Years ago. A small one. Intimate. The drummer had a cottage next to a friend of mine.”

Martin had actually texted me to ask: “What date is the Malcolm Awards? I have a red carpet invitation in London on 28th August for Steve Oram’s new movie.”

Actually, the real, billed title of the Malcolm Awards show is Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – and It’s Free!

“Inevitably,” I texted back, “the Malcolm show is on 28th August in Edinburgh.”

This year is the tenth anniversary of the death by drowning of comedian Malcolm Hardee and the increasingly prestigious annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe on that very evening – Friday 28th August.

So something special, sophisticated and highly organised had to be arranged for this special anniversary show, didn’t it?

No! Of course not. That would smack of carefully-arranged professionalism and it would not be honouring Malcolm’s memory.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Malcolm Hardee: a shadow of his former self

But, for the show, I had booked The Greatest Show on Legs, the troupe of occasionally naked men Malcolm performed with. We had not talked about what they were going to do, of course. Professionalism can be taken too far.

Anyway… so… this morning, I got this text from Martin Soan – the head Leg.

“I don’t know what I should do,” he said when I phoned him.

“Well, obviously,” I said, “you have to go to the film thing. What is the film called?”

“It is called Aaaaaaah!

“Not Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh!?”

“No, Aaaaaaah!”

“Do you have a running role?”

“I have a cameo.”

“How did they fit the broach into the plot?” I asked.

“I play a fading rock star,” he told me. “There is a trailer for it on YouTube.”

“I got the part after I did something for one of Oram & Meeten’s Club Fantastico stage shows. I won the title Miss Club Fantastico 2014.”

This is what Martin did to get the part.

The world premiere of Aaaaaaah! is on Friday 28th August in the Vue, Leicester Square, in London.

The annual Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! is on Friday 28th August at The Counting House in Edinburgh.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Movies

A British film about a South American psycho killer made by a kung fu master

Chet Jethwa - kung fu master

Chet Jethwa – kung fu man

The enterprising Chet Jethwa is a chum of the equally enterprising Borehamwood-based Jason Cook, about whom I’ve blogged before.

Chet has a movie he directed currently being sold at the Cannes Film Festival. So we had a chat via Skype this morning.

“I’m originally a kung fu martial artist,” he told me. “I got into the film world when I was asked to do a fight scene in a low budget film a friend was making – The Estate. I went along for the day and played a Bruce Lee type character in a fight scene and had fun.”

“So how did you end up directing your own full-length feature film?” I asked.

“Well,” he told me, “I decided to do more movies, but no-one gave me the time of day, which basically pissed me off. So I told myself: I’m going to do it myself. So I decided to make a few short films and get some producing, acting and directing experience.

“My first 10-minute film – D.O.D. – won at the Angel Film Festival in London in 2009. This gave me the confidence to continue and I met Jason Cook on that. The second short I made – 55 Hill Rise – was the incentive I needed to move onto feature films. Jason helped me to produce that. I shot it, completed the final edit, put it on the shelf and then started writing my feature Carlos Gustavo – the one that’s now at Cannes.”

“Why this particular idea?” I asked.

Carlos Gustavo

Carlos Gustavo – the psychopath with instructions not to kill

“Well, because it’s not your typical British film,” explained Chet. “Carlos Gustavo is a South American hit man who has been hired to come to Britain and find a biological weapon by hunting down a scientist. He is a psychopath – Carlos is – but, on this mission, he’s not allowed to kill the guy because he has to bring him in alive. In the process, you’ve got MI5 chasing him, but they are not as competent as they should be.”

“And,” I asked, “he manages to kill a few people using kung fu?”

“There isn’t a lot of martial arts in the film,” said Chet. “It’s more to do with the characters.”

“How did you get finance for a film about a South American hit man running around Britain not killing people with kung fu?” I asked.

“It was very difficult,” said Chet, “and I pulled-in a lot of favours from everyone. But we shot it in just under thirty days in HD. We had to change a couple of cast members halfway through filming, so we had to re-shoot all those scenes, which added another couple of days, then we went straight to post production.”

“Why did you have to change the actors?” I asked.

“They didn’t get the concept, basically.”

“Which bit of the concept didn’t they get?”

“Their roles.”

“Well, Apocalypse Now!,” I said, “was re-cast after a week’s shooting. Martin Sheen replaced Harvey Keitel. And that worked well.”

“It happens,” said Chet. “Whatever the budget.”

“When did you finish Carlos Gustavo?” I asked.

“About a month before Cannes started,” said Chet, “so there was a lot of rush going on to get it out there in time. We got an international sales agent involved – Eddie Leahy.”

“What interested him?” I asked.

Cannes poster for Chet’s new movie

Current Cannes poster for Chet’s new movie

“That Carlos Gustavo is a different type of action thriller,” said Chet. “It has a lot of interesting twists. What you see at the beginning and what you think all the way through the film… In the end, you find out something completely different. It’s a really big story twist. What attracted everyone to get involved was the storyline.

“We’re hoping to get the international territories first and then bring it over to the UK and USA. I did a lot of research before shooting and people want strong characters rather than it all being action. This film, hopefully, will create an emotional response, rather than just having lots of action thrown in. It focuses more on emotional response.”

“I did see research once,” I said, “which found that, when audiences watch violence, they don’t look at the punch or the bullet hitting the victim; they look at the face of the victim. So their eyes don’t watch the action, they watch the reaction.

“In martial arts,” I prompted, “you’re in total control of what’s going on, but making a film is anarchy and everything changing…”

“Yes,” said Chet, “ it’s very difficult. You just work hard and keep hopeful, really. It’s certainly very difficult to get finance up-front.”

“And the cliché,” I said, “is that you never make money out of movies because the distributors nick it all.”

“It happens,” said Chet. “Creative accounting. But I’ve done my maths and we’ll have to be hopeful, really. Just get the film out there.”

“What about piracy?” I asked. “If you have a film that makes $200 million, you can afford to lose $20 million but, with small-budget films, online piracy can wipe them out and the distributors don’t/can’t stop it.”

“You can never be sure what will happen,” said Chet. “It’s really difficult to get the support you need from the industry people, so you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s very hard to get an opportunity, so you’ve gotta make the opportunities yourself.”

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The film of comedian Lewis Schaffer which you cannot currently see online

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Ivor Dembina at the NFT last night

Lewis Schaffer (left) & Ivor Dembina at NFT

Yesterday night, with comedians Ivor Dembina  and Lewis Schaffer, I went to see writer Mark Kelly’s stage-work-in-progress What A Day at the unusual venue of London’s National Film Theatre. Teakshow duo Johnny Hansler and Jackie Stirling performed. The play will probably be re-titled on future outings and is unusual in probably having more gags-per-minute than Lewis Schaffer has self-doubts-per-minute.

Meanwhile, a film-maker named Jonathan Schwab has shot a 10-minute short – Lewis Schaffer Is Free Until Famous – which is on Vimeo, but which remains password-protected so no-one can see it, because Lewis Schaffer has his doubts.

No news there.

Lewis Schaffer has his doubts - several times per minute

Lewis Schaffer has his doubts – several times every minute

Writing “Lewis Schaffer has his doubts” is like writing “The Sahara has its sand”.

“It’s a technically very well-made film,” I reassured him last night.

“I know,” Lewis Schaffer shot back. “He’s a serious German film-maker. Looks a bit like Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks and Showgirls. But I’m worried I’ll be like Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh. Have you seen it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’ll know what I mean.”

“Not remotely,” I replied.

“The pathos,” said Lewis Schaffer. “To me, I thought it was an incredible movie.”

The Last Laugh?” I asked.

“The film about me,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I thought it was an incredible movie, It’s a brilliant film. I just wish I wasn’t in it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s just me bitching about how I’m not any good,” said Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer performs in the unseen film

Lewis Schaffer shares his doubts with audiences in the movie

“But that’s your schtick,” I said. “That’s your act. All your shows are made up of you saying you’re no good or telling people your name is Lewis Schaffer. The film is great publicity. The only thing publicity can do is make you interesting enough for people to want to go see your live show and they will make up their own minds on your act after they see the show.”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They’ll see this guy on the film and think Oh my god, his shows are going to be irretrievably horrible.”

“I think it’s good publicity,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “It will intrigue people who don’t know you and it will increase your standing among other comics simply because someone has actually chosen to make a film about you instead of them. The main thing is it shows your face and it keeps saying the words Lewis Schaffer.”

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen.” said Lewis Schaffer. “Jonathan Schwab will be famous for making this film. His film is like the end of Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street.

“I’ve not seen Scarlet Street,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “What happens?”

“Edward G Robinson had killed his… had killed… I can’t remember, but he was going through a mid-life crisis and his comeuppance was… I can’t remember… He was sentenced to roaming round the city as a broken, un-famous man like me… No, he was a weekend dabbler as a painter and this young girl took his paintings and sold them as hers and the girl became famous for his paintings.”

“Well,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “I have to tell you I’m working on an act very similar to yours and thinking of performing it myself at the Edinburgh Fringe this year… But what’s your Scarlet Street comeuppance?”

“My comeuppance is being known as a depressed failure.”

“That’s not your comeuppance,” I said. “That’s your entire stage act.”

“I say in the film I’m tragic,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m not tragic. Well, I am tragic, of course, but other people don’t need to know that.”

“They can’t avoid it,” I said. “If they go to your show, you keep telling them that!”

Lewis Schaffer looking far from tragic in the movie

Lewis Schaffer looks far from tragic in the movie

“I’ve had a tragic life,” Lewis said, warming to his theme, “in that every person’s life who lives an unfulfilled life is tragic – who doesn’t accomplish what he could accomplish or should accomplish and every single day is doing less than he could be doing.”

“But you’ve appeared in my blog repeatedly,” I pointed out to him. “What greater fame could you want?”

“I could be happier,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t even know if I even want fame. It’s not a question of fame; it’s a question of accomplishing something. In a way, my life is tragic, but no more tragic than other people’s. Have you seen the comment on my Facebook page? It’d make a good ending for your blog.”

“What does it say?” I asked.

Lewis Schaffer read it out to me.

“I’m not sure that’s a good ending,” I told him. “It’s a bit negative.”

“It’s a good ending for your blog about Lewis Schaffer,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

This is what the comment on Lewis Schaffer’s Facebook page says:

For the millionth fucking time, take me off your goddamn mailing list. Sitting through your show was one of the most painful experiences of my life, stop reminding me of it. REMOVE THE EMAIL ADDRESS FROM YOUR FUCKING MAILING LIST!!!!!!!

“It’s a good ending for your blog about Lewis Schaffer,” Lewis Schaffer repeated.

At the time of writing this blog, Jonathan Schwab’s excellent 10-minute Vimeo film remains password-protected so that the public can’t see it, because Lewis Schaffer remains unsure if it is good for his image.

His twice-every-week show Free Until Famous – the longest-running solo comedy show in London – continues every Tuesday and Wednesday in the glittering West End (well, South West Soho, near Piccadilly Circus) and his weekly radio show Nunhead American Radio With Lewis Schaffer continues on the internet every Monday night on Resonance FM.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

A modest 2010 publicity shot of self-doubting Lewis Schaffer

“What are you going to do about your hair?” I asked him.

“I think I might go grey,” said Lewis Schaffer. “What do you think? I’m not sure. The trouble is all my publicity photos have black hair. I would have to have new photos taken.”

“You could get them taken for free by St Martin’s,” I suggested.

“I think I might maybe go grey,” said Lewis Schaffer.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Why do people keep criticising macho, talented, not really small Tom Cruise?

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Jim Grant aka Lee Child, father of Reacher

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to see the new Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher.

I wanted to see it because the original novel was written by Lee Child, the pen-name of Jim Grant, a quiet, self-contained man I used to work with at Granada TV in Manchester. We were not friends; we just worked in the same department; and we have not kept in touch. But I knew him in a general way.

So I have an interest, but no personal axe to grind.

Jack Reacher was wonderful.

I was not expecting too much of it. Perhaps because of that, I was amazed at how good it was.

Quite a few reviews rightly praised the acting of German film director Werner Herzog who was cast as the terrifyingly icy villain. And some appreciated the always wonderful actor Robert Duvall. But Tom Cruise got little credit. Why?

I may be totally wrong, but I thought he may have partly based his Jack Reacher character’s apparent inner stillness on Jim Grant/Lee Child (who appears very briefly in the background of one scene as a police desk sergeant.)

Some of the reviews I read before seeing the film were rather lukewarm, rather grudging. Most seemed to carp on about how Tom Cruise does not look like the 6’5″ Jack Reacher of the novels.

Well, tough shit.

Sean Connery looked nothing like the English James Bond in the original Ian Fleming novels. Indeed, the Bond movies’ plots have almost nothing to do with the novels from which they nick their titles.

I have not read any of Lee Child’s 17 Jack Reacher novels but, if the plot of this first Jack Reacher movie bears any relation to the original book (One Shot) then ‘Lee Child’ writes bloody good books.

My eternally-un-named friend – often a Rom Com movie lover – and I had sat through a DVD of the appalling near-laugh-free zone that is Bridesmaids the previous night. When we came out of the cinema last night after seeing Jack Reacher, she simply said to me: “That was wonderful”. And it was, apart from a single bizarrely miscalculated scene in which Reacher throws away his gun and his advantage to have a macho fistfight… What was that all about?

The rest? Absolutely wonderful.

So why the grudging reviews? And why the constant sniping at Tom Cruise for being small?

It seemed a lot of the carping reviews were obsessed with the fact that, in the books, Jack Reacher is 6’5” and Tom Cruise is famously tiny. It didn’t make any difference to me, a non-reader of the books. He played ‘tough’ very effectively, just as he does in his Mission Impossible movies.

But, in any case, he is not actually small. He is 5’7″. The same height as Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Robert Downey Jnr… Are they small?

Daniel Radcliffe is 5’5″ and Emilio Estevez is 5’4; Jack Black, who played the large Gulliver, is 5’6″. Ben Stiller is 5’8″. Are they candidates for a re-make of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs? I think not.

Perhaps people keep criticising Tom Cruise because he is so successful or perhaps because he is a Scientologist. Who knows? It makes no difference to his acting or movie producing ability.

All I know is that he is a good actor and a good producer.

You don’t get cast by directors Michael Mann or Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson just for being a Big Name. You get cast for acting ability. And, in the pre-credit sequence of Mission Impossible III, he gives a virtual masterclass in how to act the whole gamut of emotions.

He also produced the four Mission Impossible films.

The first was awful (employing visual stylist Brian De Palma as director, then filling the movie with scenes of people talking to each other, sometimes over tables in dull rooms)… but Mission Impossible II was very good… Mission Impossible III was an utterly superb piece of film-making… one of my favourite films… and the fourth Mission Impossible was a return to the quality of the second film. Not a bad average.

I just hope Tom Cruise makes at least another sixteen Jack Reacher movies, even if he will be a bit long in the tooth by the end.

Perhaps, like James Bond, they will re-cast occasionally.

But, for the foreseeable future, I am more than happy to watch Tom Cruise be tall and macho and talented.

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Filed under Books, Movies