Saturday, October 12, 2013

Alex in Wonderland



The Male Trailing Spouse is back in his milieu. The film biz to be precise. Hooray for Hollywood, "that screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood" and Hooray for me! 


This career redevelopment has come as a complete surprise to my loyal posse of female admirers.


"How'd you get that?"


Because I come highly recommended, you fucking airheads (clearly they underestimate me).


Saint: my learned patron, friend and brother.


It all started when I touched down last August in Atlanta after 9 years in sweaty Bangkok. My pal "Saint" (all principals are codenamed) was fresh from the commercial success of a feature film (it cost £2M and made £20M for Lionsgate) and on the spiel in LA for project 2 and beyond 


We had a play on the BBC in 2003. BBC Films were interested in commissioning another drama but Hanif Kureishi's old missus, the gaffer at Beeb flicks, thought the protagonist of our tale was "too unlikeable" and knocked us back. Shortly after, in October 2003,  I was sent overseas to the Kingdom of Thailand as a "DFID spouse" and completely forgot about the film and TV biz. 


Until I was posted to the USA in August 2012...


Colin Welland (left) wins an Oscar for best screenplay (Chariots of Fire) in 1981


Saint was ebullient.


"The British are coming! Mate, this is fantastic, America will be the making of you!"


(Or the breaking).


"In London, there are three doors for a director, here, I got 300, and no negative bullshit to deal with. You'd love it, you would be in your element. I was hanging out with Walter Hill the other night and we were talking about Colin Welland and Z Cars. It was surreal."


The Male Trailing Spouse is available for hire!

Hollywood is Hell for writers. F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner come to mind. Some make a success of it like Harold Pinter (who was forever writing adaptations of other peoples' books) but he played it safe from a distance and bashed 'em out down the road from me on Notting Hill Gate.  Fortunately, I have not had to go to LA (yet).  Saint is my cut-out and I remain in the office at HQ in Atlanta grinding out the words on an early 1950s Globe-Wernicke steel tanker desk.


Jude Law? Fuck Off!

I suggested an adaptation/reboot of Sapper's Bulldog Drummond. Then we found out that Jude Law had been trying to get his own version off the ground for 3 years so we binned it (for the time being). Back on home leave in the UK last Xmas I met up with Saint for a pow-wow.  He had been given a brief from a cigar chomping chap ("Ridley Scott's producer") to come up with a mismatched cop-buddy film (yawn). This is the reality of working in the film and TV biz -- writing to order for some actor with pull, or a producer looking to buck the market with more of the same old rope. They have an "idea" and want you, the talentless writer/writer-director to come up with something that was like the something that made a lot of money before, make sense?  


I'd done half of the Bulldog Drummond script and had a book to rewrite for a new literary agent in LondonI was pretty shagged but started to research the "cop-buddy film" genre by looking at its roots (the Western) and old UK TV shows like The Sweeney and The ProfessionalsI came up with a new spin on a well worn plot (must remain confidential) and bounced it off Saint (he loved it).

So how does it work? You bash up the outline on 1-3 pages, the concept, plot, characters, and then you see if any production houses will take it.  Some are fussy and want a complete script.


"When you have a complete script," said Saint, "it is ours, we own it."


(Oh dear, now I have to bash up the whole script on spec).  


The finished script must be under 100 pages. One page of script is meant to equal one minute of screen time and because I am writing action-adventure/ off-beat thrillers they must be brisk, breakneck and workmanlike.


Because I REFUSE to use Final Draft, the "industry standard pro screenwriters software," I write out each scene and send it to Saint in LA to give it the once over. In a way, we are working a bit like Powell and Pressburger, revising the idea, tossing it to and fro via Skype, phone and email before submitting it to industry eyes proper. 


Saint keeps me clued up on the comings and goings and all the juicy gossip. Careers on the slide, rip offs, punch ups, temper tantrums, drug abuse and outrageous pay demands -- but that kind of stuff is par for the course and not really that shocking if you are an avid fan of the tabloids and showbiz TV. 


The A-bomb is that no one in the film business knows anything about films.  They have a vague, cliched knowledge of what's good but are solely focused on the zeitgeist and do not know their Antonioni to Zinnemann.



Saint actually likes films and keeps going on-and-on about the old films that we watched round my house in Notting Hill (we have known each other 20 plus years) like The President's Analyst, The Groundstar Conspiracy, The Reckoning, Dead of Night, Night of the Demon (not to mention all the dire and half forgotten UK television shows I have been consuming since I ran out of films to watch).  


"When I mention an old film to some of these people," he said, "they scratch their heads like monkeys and say what?" 


And the business is run by young turks with MBAs.


"I go into a meeting in Hollywood and all the guys I am pitching to are 24-27 years old. I'm only 40 and I feel like an old man."


What does youth know? I consoled Saint with the absolute truth that youth thinks itself wise the same way drunks think themselves sober. But Saint is right to be wary -- only this week in the Telegraph I read a quote about the invisibility of anyone over the age of 27 in LA.


Everything was going rosy in Wonderland until Saint introduced me to "Jimmy Greaves" a major player in the film biz.


"In my day when Mr. Hitchcock gave you an order, and it was always Mr. Hitchcock, never Alfred, he'd have you thrown you off the set if you called him that, I know this because I was the Focus Puller on Family Plot in 1976, I was 3 years old at the time, you have to start early in this biz but I was lucky to have been born a child prodigy much like Mozart and that's why I was working with Hitchcock and not at Roedean with the likes of you and Aled Jones..."



I felt the blood curdle and let out a battle cry: Death to Hollywood! Long Live the New Flesh!


To be continued...