The following story has wound its way around the world, like an anecdotal ourobouros, from screenwriter Stephen Volk to me, so apologies to all concerned if it’s turned mythical en route.
Volk is the man who scared Britain to death with GhostWatch, a TV special that starts out as, seemingly, a cheesy light entertainment documentary for Halloween, before turning mockumentary and apocalyptic, with ghosts attacking the BBC via the airwaves. I didn’t find it very convincing, but it upset a lot of people, and one poor mentally unstable chap actually became obsessed with the show and hanged himself some time later.
For our purposes, Volk is also the writer of THE GUARDIAN (no relation to the newspaper of that name), a supremely fatuous killer tree movie from 1990 starring Jenny Seagrove as a tree-worshipping psycho nanny and oh God it’s just too awful to go into.
I’m not inclined to blame Volk for the mess, knowing the powerlessness of the writer in Hollywood (if it’s anything like the powerlessness I’ve experienced as a TV writer here, it’s a bit like being the guy in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, only nobody understands the code you’re winking at them) and especially knowing this anecdote.
Volk has handed in his latest draft. The producer calls him to his office and congratulates him. “It’s perfect! We won’t change a word! This is exactly what we were hoping for — and more!” etc.
BUT — it’s a glass office, and Volk, out of the corner of his eye, can see Friedkin in the next office, actually READING the script, his face a mask of revulsion and fury, his lips mouthing the foulest obscenities, until finally the pent-up anger takes possession of his limbs and he starts tearing pages from the screenplay and crumpling them, hurling the rest of it around the little glass room, and trampling it into the carpet with outraged loafers.
And all the while, the producer’s voice drones on: “…just delighted with your work on this…”