Archive for Scottish Screen

Trouble Speaking

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by dcairns

Eddie Dick is an Edinburgh-based film producer and former head of Scottish Screen, the organisation for the promotion of film in Scotland. Fiona and I have known him for a few years, but only just this last week actually started sort-of working with him, with a horror screenplay called CELL 6.

Eddie’s most recent film, TROUBLE SLEEPING, directed by Robert Rae and made in association with Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop, has its TV premier on BBC2 Scotland tonight at 10pm. I emailed him some questions about himself and his movie, and received the following fantastically frank answers:

Edinburgh!

Q: Who are you and where did you come from?

A: I TAKE IT THAT THIS IS NOT A CABBAGE-PATCH QUESTION.  EDDIE DICK, FROM A VARIED EDUCATIONAL/CULTURAL/FILM INDUSTRY BACKGROUND.
 
Q: How did you come to be a film producer?

A: A COLLISION OF ACCIDENT,OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION.   I CAME AT IT FROM A EDUCATIONAL AND THEN CULTURAL ROUTE WHICH LEAD ME GRADUALLY TO THE FILM INDUSTRY ITSELF.   
 
You’ve rubbed up against both the sacred Bills, Douglas and Forsyth, via your book about BD’s COMRADES (which is easier to get hold of than the film itself) and a much-publicised-locally “row” with Forsyth during your time at Scottish Screen.

(Forsyth, having briefly served on the Scottish Screen committee, accused the organisation of “cronyism” and a “lack of transparency”, words which the media, particularly The Scotsman newspaper, soon had attached to Scottish Screen the way the word “bogus” is always attached to the words “asylum seekers”. The “Dear Bill” correspondence quickly became notorious, although I’m disappointed to see it doesn’t appear to be on the Internet.)

Q: Any anecdotes, or anything you learned from those experiences? It must be pleasing to you to see the Bill Douglas Trilogy out on DVD at last. 

A: RE BILL FORSYTH, THE MAIN THING I LEARNED WAS TO TRY TO AVOID GOING INTO FIGHTS WITH ONE HAND TIED BEHIND YOUR BACK; FAMOUS FILMMAKER VERSUS LOCAL BUREAUCRAT – THERE’S ONLY GOING TO BE ONE “WINNER”.   WITH THE OTHER BILL, THE MAIN THING IS THAT TALENT (ESPECIALLY THAT WHICH IS TROUBLED) DOESN’T PROTECT YOU AGAINST DEFEAT AND ANGUISH.

Shooting TROUBLE SLEEPING.
 
Q: How did you come to be involved with TROUBLE SLEEPING?

A: I WAS ASKED TO GET INVOLVED IN ITS DEVELOPMENT BY ROBERT RAE.   MY FILM’S BLIND FLIGHT AND TRUE NORTH MADE ME THE OBVIOUS, ALTHOUGH NOT THE ONLY, CHOICE.
 
Q: How was the finance raised?

A: PARTLY THROUGH TW’S SOCIAL/DRAMA CONTACTS AND PARTLY VIA MINE (SCOTTISH SCREEN AND BBC).
 
Q: What were the greatest difficulties in making the film?

A: FINANCE AND CONSTANT FIGHTS BETWEEN ME AND THE DIRECTOR.

Wow.
 
I’m very glad that a film has tackled this subject — asylum seekers — from a humanitarian standpoint. Modern Britain often feels to me much like the dystopias of V FOR VENDETTA and CHILDREN OF MEN (which features TROUBLE SLEEPING’S disabled actor Nabil Shaban in not so much a walk-on as a carry-through performance), and it was good to see that tackled in a less fantastical, more down-to-earth way.


 Gary “GANGS OF NEW YORK” Lewis appears in TROUBLE SLEEPING.

Q: The film mixes experienced professional actors with lots of screen experience in short cameo roles, with lots of newcomers in the major roles. (In this way it somewhat resembles Douglas’s COMRADES.) What was casting like, and was their any difficulty unifying the acting styles.

A: THE FILM WAS CAST FROM THE WORKSHOP’S COMMUNITYAND OPPORTUNISTIC WALKBYS( FOUAD, THE WAITER-CUM-SHOPWORKER SAW A NOTICE IN TW’S WINDOW, FOR EXAMPLE).  ROBERT RAE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE CASTING; I ASKED GARY LEWIS AND ALISON PEEBLES, TO DO US A FAVOUR.

I THINK THAT THERE WAS DIFFICULTY IN UNIFYING STYLES.  THERE REMAINS AN UNEVENNESS IN PERFORMANCE, WITH SOME CLEAR WEAKNESSES.
 
I liked Nabil Shaban in the film. From what Eddie told me, I could see that they’d “hired a volcano then told it not to explode,” as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins complained to Jim Jarmusch re his role in MYSTERY TRAIN. But I like the sense of barely controlled ham, and he DOES keep it in check.
 
Q: What next? From out conversations, it seems like you’re moving towards more genre-based filmmaking? Is this a deliberate policy, or just the result of the projects you’ve found recently?
A: IT IS A DELIBERATE POLICY, BUT NOT AN EXCLUSIVE ONE.   I WANT TO MAKE A BROADER RANGE OF FILMS (HAVING MADE 3 SOCIO-POLITICAL ONES).  I’VE BEEN SEEKING GENRE MATERIAL SUCH AS CELL 6.
Many thanks to Eddie for helping out here.

Television Festival and Nail Bar

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2008 by dcairns

The Conference Centre in Edinburgh, a sort of METROPOLIS building only a bit smaller, pays host to the TV Festival every year. Unlike the Film Festival, it’s not a public event so I can’t go, but this year I got a day pass through the auspices, if auspices is the word I want, of T.V. sitcom messiah Graham Linehan(Father Ted, The I.T. Crowd), so was not only able to hear Graham dispensing invaluable wisdom on the craft of situation comedy, but I then took in a masterclass/chat with Stephen Moffat, incoming script editor of Dr. Who.

Apparently Whovians were clamouring to gain access to this event, but as they’re not big media people with production companies, they couldn’t, so there were empty seats instead. The people who COULD have attended were presumably off hearing some exec talking about the Future of Television in an Interactive Age or some bollocks. You know you’ve inadvertently crashed a seriously elitist event when you’re in a partially vacant auditorium listening to a fascinating and hugely successful writer with an incredibly important job who could probably sell out the Albert Hall. I felt vaguely indecent being there, although in fact I’m a longterm Whovian myself, so in a way I was striking a mute, useless and limp-knuckled blow for fandom.

Further evidence that I was in a part of Soho that had drifted off and landed in Scotland came when I crossed the road to get a sandwich, and was asked if I wanted a receipt. I should stress: this has never happened to me before in my life. You don’t get OFFERED a receipt with your sandwich. So obviously the poor deli had been serving people all weekend who were on expense accounts.

In the conference centre I felt like the only Scot in the world, but that wasn’t strictly true because Stephen Moffat is a Scot, and I saw Robin McPherson from Screen Academy Scotland and Carole Sheridan from Scottish Screen. I also saw a nail bar in there, which was fascinating and kind of surreal. “We’re hosting television execs — what do they want? Coffee, fruit, little sandwich things, and somewhere to do their nails. Right.”

If this sounds alienating and fish-out-of-watery, it was a bit, but everybody was actually pefectly nice so I resolved to dismiss my prejudice and just enjoy myself. Graham being such a fun person to talk to helped that enormously — there’s nothing elitist about most of the people actually doing T.V. What with Graham being a stranger more or less to Edinburgh, I could show him a very long and actually incorrect way to get to Starbucks after his talk.

His lecture is going online so I don’t want to write down my garbled memories of it here, but a few spectacularly useful tips for writers emerged which I could, perhaps, summarise and elaborate on:

Censorship is Good: working within parameters, including the kind laid down by TV censors, is actually great discipline and can make things better. When I (me, not Graham) wrote for kids’ TV I likened it to juggling in a straitjacket. There were so many things you couldn’t do, and sometimes you felt people were saying “No” just out of fear, rather than out of any genuine risk of upsetting anyone, but very often the funniest stuff came out of being unable to do things the most direct and obvious way. Looking at classic Hollywood comedies kind of confirms this. MY GOD the tight strictures they worked under, and MY GOD the quality of the end product!

Taboo Subjects Are Good, But: you have to find the right way to do it. The examples Graham gave, from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Seinfeld, and Malcolm in the Middle, beautifully illustrated how dark and sensitive material can be presented in a way that, as he puts it, “doesn’t force Dad to leave the room to make a cup of tea.” Abusing the disabled, child abduction, and sexual violence were all suggested by the scenes cited, but in such a way that it was safe to laugh. You get the slightly forbidden quality of laughing when you shouldn’t — remember how that felt at school? — but you don’t feel horrible afterwards because there’s a contradictory innocence to the presentation in all three cases. You’re actually NOT laughing at the horror, you’re laughing at something relatively O.K. that bizarrely RELATES to the horror.

It’s kind of dark, but not actually.

(I think a lot of writers and directors like the IDEA of pushing the audience into uncomfortable places and making them feel bad, or awkward, or whatever. But why? As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think the artist’s job is to give the audience a hard time.” That’s fine, IF THERE’S A REASON. But maybe some of us just like the idea of doing “dark” as a status thing? I think there should always be a little malaise with the pleasure, as a kind of seasoning, but some modern T.V. is JUST UNPLEASANT.)

Traps are Useful: sitcoms depend on traps, both physical and emotional, so that characters are forced to clash together consistently throughout the series. Farce depends on trapping characters in awkward situations. When it doesn’t work is when the audience can see a way out. (Personal taste means some people have problems with this where others don’t: my friend Simon would get frustrated by Laurel & Hardy because it’s so obvious what they’re doing wrong.)

There was more, much more, and in fact when I overheard Linehan and Moffat chatting together between shows, the insights were flying so thick and fast I wished I could decelerate time so I could jot down all the great stuff being flung out.

The Count.

In the evening Fiona and I swung by Count Arthur Strong’s show at the Assembly Rooms. Count Arthur is a comedy act based on the concept of a raddled old music hall comedian in the final stages of senility, still carrying on his hopeless career and remembering glory days that never were. There have been a few comics patterned on the old-style music hall comedian, from Tommy Cockles to Arthur Atkinson of T.V.’s The Fast Show, but Count Arthur takes things to a new level of grotesquerie, with his hunched back, flushed face and irascible disorientation (wandering aimlessly around the stage, he spots his own image: “Oh, so that’s who that is,” he remarks, senselessly). A favourite moment among many: Arthur strains furiously to recall the name of Cliff Richard’s most famous film, then finally yells in triumph, “SUMMER HOLOCAUST! That’s it!”

A good example, I think, of taboo material done in an acceptable way.

The Anderson Tapes

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on August 3, 2008 by dcairns

He looks like a young gnome.” ~ Screenwriter David Sherwin on first meeting Lindsay Anderson.

They said of director Lindsay Anderson (IF…) that he was a Scotsman when it suited him. That is, although born in colonial India, he was of Scottish descent and he sometimes liked to be proud of this, or use it in an argument. It’s quite handy to be able to stop someone who calls you an English filmmaker and before they’ve gotten to what they wanted to say about you, you can be correcting them. But I don’t think Anderson had a highly developed sense of Scottishness (whatever that might consist of) since he gave a speech in Edinburgh where he repeatedly referred to “English cinema” and called John Grierson an English documentarist. An irate Scot in the audience shouted corrections the first couple of times, but Anderson sailed on, oblivious.

But one time Anderson did remember his nationality was when discussing what he wanted done with his effects after he died — he was clear that they should “go to Scotland”. When Anderson did in fact meet his end (after a swim, on holiday in France — not too bad) somebody must have had to interpret what that actually meant.

Anderson’s writings, his annotated scripts, and his library (lots of cookery books, apparently) ended up going to Stirling University, where they can be consulted by film and theatre scholars (or cooks, presumably). The video collection went to the organisation for promoting the film industry in Scotland, Scottish Screen (also known as the S.S.).

This collection of mainly off-air recordings made by Anderson throughout the ’80s and early ’90s can be seen behind Anderson whenever you see him interviewed in his home. It’s kind of exciting to hold one of the tapes and read Anderson’s rather shaky, spidery handwriting on the label.

Anderson recorded almost anything — old Hollywood movies, all foreign movies, appearances by friends, documentaries and news footage of political events of the day, and a suspicious number of episodes of Spenser For Hire. I guess he just like Robert Urich. Because British television no longer shows the range of films it used to, Anderson’s tapes contain a lot of rare material.

Scottish Screen, having accepted delivery of about ten big boxes containing fifty VHS tapes each, then had to decide what to do with them. What they did with them was put them in a cupboard. And, because that didn’t seem quite enough, somehow, they told a few people that the tapes were there, and available. A catalogue listed the contents of the boxes.

I found out about the collection by chance and determined to have a rummage next time I was in Glasgow (and hour away by costly train). Scottish Screen has viewing rooms so I could watch the tapes if I booked in advance. What a treasure trove I discovered. James Whale’s “sophisticated” divorce drama ONE MORE RIVER, Julien Duvivier’s moving, emotionally epic LA FIN DU JOUR, Josef Von Sternberg’s THE SALVATION HUNTERS, Mitchell Leisen’s REMEMBER THE NIGHT – -things I have yet to find anywhere else.

Sadly, all Anderson’s own films were kept elsewhere (Stirling? I never knew) apart from a few odds and ends. A recording of the HBO mini-series Glory! Glory! which Anderson had directed, was partially taped over with a Beach Boys concert. But they did have this Anderson interview about pop promos –

The only problem was, it was going to be impossible for me to see all the films. If I lived in Glasgow it would be easy enough. Scottish Screen doesn’t charge for its screening rooms, so I could have gone along once a week and treated myself to a screening. But the distance and financial difficulty of getting to Glasgow regularly nixed that. Also, I wanted to share the films with friends and students. I particularly knew that my friend Lawrie Knight would enjoy many of them. Being about 80 years old and paralysed down one side, there was no way he could come to Glasgow with me. And since Lawrie once ran Films of Scotland, the organisation that preceeded Scottish Screen, I felt he had a right to some of this primo entertainment. Since Lawrie had a horrible time with that (“Worst job I ever had!”) and was in hiding from the Scottish film industry, I couldn’t use his name.

The S.S. maintained that they couldn’t allow tapes to leave the building. Even with strict book-keeping, the fear was that tapes would go missing. My argument was that this might not matter too much — after a year at Scottish Screen, the tapes had not been requested by anyone apart from myself. I asked if I could hook up two VCRs and make copies of films. The S.S. took the view that that would be copyright infringement. Which is true, but I can’t see how it’s worse that the infringement of recording the films off-air in the first place. As Anderson would say, “Your rules are too complicated for me.”

So I decided to use subterfuge. I would visit the “archive” and request several films to view. I would be carrying several blank tapes, glue, and a razor blade. Once alone in the little room with the TV, using the razor I would meticulously peal the original, tippex encrusted labels from Anderson’s tapes, then glue them to the blanks. At the end of the session I would leave with several Andersons, and the S.S. would hang onto the blanks. During my next trip I would replace the original tapes (this meant requesting the same films twice) and borrow some new ones.

After a while, my requests for five or ten tapes must have become wearisome, and my fondness for guddling through the boxes in search of uncatalogued treasures did not justify close supervision, so it was suggested that I should just carry a box through to the screening room and knock myself out. This I was more than happy to do.

Left alone with a whole box, or sometimes two or three boxes, I didn’t need to worry about removing labels. Nobody would notice if the box was slightly less full when I was done. And since I always returned all the tapes after pirating them, I felt I was unlikely to get into serious trouble if caught, so I grew ever bolder.

It was simply impossible to pass up a treat like Gregory LaCava’s STAGE DOOR or Anatole Litvak’s MAYERLING when I saw them before me, so the number of tapes borrowed kept increasing. My bag could hold about ten, and my coat and trousers had numerous deep pockets. Stuffed full of tapes, I came to resemble an articulated plastic manwith a Frankenstein monster walk, clunking internally with each step, but I somehow managed to make it out of the building undetected each time. I was usually the same bulk on departure as on arrival, because concealed about my person on entering the building would be the tapes from my previous depradations. I sometimes wondered if the staff had realised what I was up to, but also realised that it was fundamentally harmless, and partook of a recognisably Andersonian spirit.

After all, Anderson would have approved of a bit of film-buff anarchy.

(Also, Lawrie had a little bit of history with Anderson, having helped film MARCH TO ALDERMASTON, a documentary about the gigantic anti-nuclear protests of the ’50s: a high-angle shot taken from a moving car is Lawrie’s work. “I felt rather guilty about filming all these marchers from a car, with a big cigar in my mouth, but my partner, Morton Lewis, just said, ‘Shut up, we’re on the march, aren’t we?’”)

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