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Saturday, 29 December 2007

Independent Filmmaking

This readable, likeable handbook was my bible back in the 70s when its combination of practical sense and friendly encouragement meant that it served both as craft manual and comfort read.

Its user's-view of various Super 8 cameras, wind-up 16mm Bolexes and optical printing techniques may have little-to-no application in this digital age but the laid-back, know-your-tools-and-do-some-stuff aesthetic seems as relevant to me now as it ever was.

(UPDATE: There's been, so I'm told, something of a recent upsurge of interest in Super 8 as a production medium for its purely aesthetic qualities, and Lipton's book - along with its companion piece The Super 8 Book - continues to be recommended as a user's vade mecum.)

More so, if anything. I'm in the midst of a screener-viewing frenzy as this year's BAFTA voting deadline approaches, and there's a low-budget Irish musical shot on the streets of Dublin with a handheld DV camera that's outclassing all the Hollywood blockbusters for heart and originality. It's called Once. I heard somewhere that the budget was £150,000, or it might even have been Euros. Which, in mogul-speak, is "chump change".

Lenny Lipton, of course, was also the co-author of PUFF, THE MAGIC DRAGON.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Second-Marriage Wedding Present on the Other Side of the World

One of my closest friends lives in New Orleans. We've managed to get together no more than half a dozen times in the thirty years since we met, but that's how some friendships can be. First we kept in touch with long letters, the occasional phone call, and the the annual exchange of bizarre Christmas gifts between our families. Well, I say bizarre. But I imagine they'd think the voodoo kit they sent us to be unremarkable, while finding our Chorley Cakes quite exotic.

Later on we switched to email. The distance was no less and the messages tended to be shorter, but now our news flew back and forth in something like real time.

So we were able to cheer him through his midlife career change and share the joy of his daughter's Bat Mitzvah. We could sympathise during the bruising divorce in which he discovered all the disadvantages of having married a lawyer.

And when someone new came into his life and he hesitated because his faith in happy endings had been shaken, there was someone standing outside the situation who could urge him to stop hesitating and go for it.

Then came the problem. The Second-Marriage Wedding Present on the Other Side of the World.

It's not something you can really mark with a tin of Kendal Mint Cake but in all honesty, what can you do? Pedal bins and bedlinen are poor candidates for sending by air mail, and I don't think there's anywhere that you can use Debenhams vouchers in Louisiana. And, besides... they'd got that stuff already.

It took three weeks of racking my brains. I think the lowest point came when I wondered how much it would cost to name an asteroid after the happy couple.

Then I got it. A proper, practical, traditional wedding present. A useful object for a happy home.

A bread knife.

I know, you're thinking, That's it? A bread knife? Three weeks of sustained mental effort and that's what he came up with? But hear me out and remember, the chances are you'll face this problem yourself someday. And on that day, you may well thank me.

Firstly, not just a bread knife, but a bread knife. Balanced in the hand, fine tempered steel, shockingly expensive... not just some tat off the local market but something akin to a sword forged by a fallen samurai master tempted out of retirement to make the most exceptional weapon of his career.

A good one, in other words. It slid neatly into a poster tube for mailing purposes, and with it went the following note of explanation.
Dear friends,

OK, so you've looked at this and it seems like an odd choice for a wedding gift. But at least hear out my logic...

1. When kids marry they need absolutely everything useful, from eggcups up.
2. But when grownups marry and merge households they end up with TWO of everything useful.
3. So people buy them ornamental stuff, which they have to hide and then remember to get out and put on display when the donor comes to visit.
4. Unless the gift was money or booze, which both disappear in due course.
5. But only parents and elders can do the money thing.
6. And booze doesn't airmail well.
7. But everybody needs a bread knife. Even vegetarians and vegans.
8. A good bread knife is significantly better at its job than an ordinary bread knife.
9. Everybody buying for themselves buys an ordinary bread knife.
10. Even if you end up with more than one good bread knife, a busy kitchen can easily make use of two.
11. If you wind up with more than two, just keep it in the packaging and the next time a wedding amongst friends or family comes up...
12. Well, when kids marry they need everything useful.

But please bear in mind that if one of you uses it to kill the other, then that would be a VERY BAD END to this story.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Christmas of Bones


And Season's Greetings to all.

Friday, 21 December 2007

All Your Past Are Belong to eBay (2)

I undertook to say something about this, so I suppose I'd better...

It's the Adventures of Robin Hood annual, published by Adprint in 1961 and based on the Richard Greene TV series. It was a typical children's annual of its era; a yearly one-off publication for the Christmas market, in large format with shiny board covers, containing a mixture of text and picture stories.

The cover and interior art were by Ron Embleton, one of that great and often unrecognised generation of postwar illustrators whose distinctive, painted style gave a unique character to British children's fiction of the day. Embleton, who died in 1988, was one of the best of them; his work ranged from The Trigan Empire to Penthouse's Wicked Wanda, and it's his art that can be seen under the end credits of every episode of the original Captain Scarlet TV series.


The story's a short one. Last year I was searching online for a signed Ray Harryhausen print for a friend's birthday. A damn-near fatal move. Hours were lost as I kept forgetting my original purpose and losing myself in the catalogue listings of dealers like The Book Palace, sellers of all things concerning comics, graphic novels and the related arts.

And what did I find on sale there but the original Ron Embleton painting for the cover of my Adventures of Robin Hood Annual, number five.

Now, I don't believe in the business of people buying themselves some piece of goods and then informing a partner "That's my Christmas present from you." If ever there was an ultimate corruption of the Christmas spirit, there it is. So instead I did the proper, traditional thing, and begged and pestered for it.

I don't know where the piece has been hiding for the past forty-seven years, but here's where it lives now, above my study stairs, providing occasional inspiration and frequent escape:


And yes, I located the Harryhausen print as well, so that year everyone was happy.

God bless us, every one.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Tony Tenser

I'm late catching up with the news, but British film producer and distributor Tony Tenser died on December 5th.

I interviewed Tenser onstage twice at Manchester's Festival of Fantastic Films, and considered it a privilege to be given the opportunity.

Some obits that I've seen are characterising him as a producer of nudie exploitation pix with a couple of redeeming titles to his credit. But to my mind the producer of Repulsion, Cul de Sac, The Sorcerers, and Witchfinder General has nothing to apologise for.

Here's a thought for you; our contemporary art of the most lasting value is made when low culture reaches up. Never when high culture condescends to reach down.

My favourite story from those interviews came from the set of Repulsion. Polanski was shooting the scene in which Catherine Deneuve is menaced by disembodied arms that erupt from the walls of a narrow corridor. He'd stipulated a certain number of extras to provide the arms, and had been supplied with less. Tenser asked him to justify the number he'd asked for, and Polanski walked off the set.

A runner was sent after him with the message:

"If Mr Polanski does not return and shoot the scene with the available extras, Mr Tenser will be obliged to bring in his associate Mr Harrison Marks to complete the film."

and Polanski was back on the runner's heels.

That's how Tenser told it. And if anyone was there and knows different, I don't want to hear.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

For All Your Academic Needs

The Alabama Pacific University Online. Accredited by the NAAUCU. "Members of the NAAUCU are institutions whose standards do not meet the overly drastic and unreasonable demands of the recognized accreditation boards."

Affiliated institutions include The Sports University of Central Kansas ("e-mail disconnected while we figure out how to teach over the internet") and The Boston Institute of Revisionist Mathematics.

The National Ninja and Bounty Hunting College of East St Louis has had its NAAUCU membership revoked pending the outcome of the trial.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Die Hard, in a Castle

When I was sixteen and 'doing' Shakespeare's Hamlet for A Level English Lit, our English teacher Roy Bateman took the class to a screening of Grigori Kosintsev's Russian-language film version of the play. It was only a scratchy 16mm print in a regional film theatre, but it blew me away.

For me it became the definitive reading of the material and I've never seen another version to touch it, before or since. If I had to say one negative thing it would be that Innokenti Smoktunovsky was maybe a tad old for the lead, but then I've never seen an actor playing Hamlet who wasn't. Everything else is perfect. And he's perfect, too. Just half a dozen years earlier and he'd have been even more perfect.

I think the film showed up once on TV, sometime in the 70s. Then they invented VHS and I watched for it in vain. Then they invented DVD and the internet and I watched and searched in vain a while longer, until I discovered the newly set-up website of RUSCICO, the Russian Film Council dedicated to the mastering and international DVD release of Russia's film heritage.

Hamlet was included in their release programme. I waited until it became available and then, with some trepidation, placed an order and gave my credit card details to Moscow.

And here's how it came:


Yes, in a brown paper package all tied up with string. So cute that I had to make a photographic record before I could bring myself to open it.

The film lived up to the memory and I still recommend it unreservedly. Amazing settings, atmosphere, black and white widescreen photography, and music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Since my little Moscow adventure it's been licensed for release in the US and can be had from Amazon.

The fact that it's in Russian with English subtitles matters not at all. The point is to render Shakespearean thought and imagery in cinematic terms, and Kosintzev & co nail it.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

All Your Past Are Belong to eBay

See this? It's Yoshiya's Action Planet Robot. A wind-up clockwork tintoy modelled (unofficially) on Forbidden Planet's Robby, it's one of the iconic tin robots.

There are plenty of them about, and recent reproductions can be had for just a handful of change. Back in 1999 someone discovered a horde of unsold warehouse stock and began leaking them into the market one at a time, so even mint-in-box originals can be found without too much difficulty.

But this one isn't just any old Yoshiya. This is the Action Planet Robot with the brown rubber hands.

Best Christmas present ever, circa 1960.

My parents bought it from Lewis's department store on Market Street, in Manchester. I'd asked for a robot for Christmas and I'd begun to imagine what it might be like. In my dreams it was about my size and I pictured it climbing onto the bus with me, a kind of 1960s Asimo.

The Action Planet Robot that I took out of the wrapping paper on Christmas Day stood nine inches tall, walked with a shuffling clockwork gait, and made sparks behind a tinted plastic panel in its chest.

Do you know what? This was better!

(I can date it because the rubber-hands version didn't stay in production for long. The earliest models had plain tin claws, which the reproductions, erm... reproduce. These were replaced sometime around 1960, but the rubber was fragile and perished quickly and so the hands were replaced again, this time by red plastic matching the boots. Later models had a black plastic head dome in place of the metal. There were other variants as well - versions in red, versions in olive green, non-clockwork versions powered by battery and a wire controller. I'll stop now before I burn off my credibility completely.)

By New Year's Day, I'd worn him out. About a week later a Lewis's van pulled up in front of our house and a uniformed deliveryman brought a replacement to the door.

I wore that one out, too, in time.

On the outside he was still pristine, but on the inside all the soft metal of the cogs had been worn down by constant playing. He no longer walked, he could no longer spark. My dad reckoned that the machine shop at Shell might be able to do something with the parts and so we carefully prised apart the tin tabs that held his body together (the robot's, not my dad's) and extracted the clockwork.

Alas, it was not to be. Not only could the machine shop do nothing with the innards, we couldn't even reassemble the shell properly.

I don't remember being too cut up about it at the time. I'd probably moved on to other delights, newer obsessions. But there's always that one toy of your childhood that sticks in your mind for life (Chad Valley Give-a-Show Projector fans, I'm talking to you), and this was mine.

I didn't imagine I'd ever see one again, and then along came eBay. Every lost toy of your childhood is out there. The rubber-hands robot is notoriously rare and very hard to find with the rubber in anything like decent condition, but I found one. Somewhere in Texas, as I recall. It wasn't cheap, but it was cheaper than jewellery or some crappy plate from the Franklin Mint.

So there it stands all day on my windowledge, watching me work. Not the exact same toy, but I suppose it's kind of like cloning a pet - you like to think the spirit's still there.

And if it ain't about magic, what is it about?

Next time, staying on the remembered-Christmas theme, maybe I'll have to tell you the story about this:

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Amazon Blog Interview

Jeff VanderMeer interviewed me about The Kingdom of Bones for the Amazon weblog. The Amazon daily blog is here - the post's dated December 6 and sits between a memoir about Elizabeth Hardwick and an item about watching TV shows on your tie. Alternatively, you can skip straight to it by clicking here.

Amazon.com: Besides making sure the historical detail didn't overwhelm the story, what was the biggest writing challenge for you with this novel?

Stephen Gallagher: There were so many strands that it allowed me to pull together. The biggest challenge was in making them all work to a single end. I wanted to capture some of the energy of the old dime novels and story papers but also to be able to say something meaningful about love, death and obsession along the way. However you think I did, give me some credit for aiming high. There's no reason why popular fiction should be devoid of theme, and no reason why serious art shouldn't entertain.

Follow the link for more of the same.

UPDATE:

When the headshot that accompanies the interview was taken this summer, I was in Kevin Costner's restaurant on Main Street in Deadwood. I could look out the window across to where Wild Bill was killed.

Different kind of headshot there, though.

FURTHER UPDATE:

The interview will be added to the novel's page on Amazon.com.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Who Needs Them Golden Geese Anyway?

The Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan has written this astute analysis of the changing face of entertainment distribution, and the failure of the networks' negotiators to grasp where their industry's going.

She writes, To put it bluntly, the corporations that control the entertainment industry need to wake up. In the digital age, content creators matter more than distributors.

Unless studio executives begin to view the people who create films and TV shows as their partners, not pesky contractors, it’s the executives who’ll be writing the “death warrant” for the industry, contrary to a blustery statement one anonymous executive made to the New York Times Dec. 1...

As Scott Collins of the LA Times wrote in a recent piece on the growing power of showrunners, “viewers don’t watch networks. They don’t even care about networks. They watch shows. And they don’t care how they get them. That takes a lot of power from the networks. And it hands it to showrunners.”


Ryan points out that the AMPTP is repeating the mistakes of the record industry, which would seem to echo something that yerblogger wrote in this post:

Downloading is going to be the dominant delivery system of the future, no question about it. But the AMPTP's entrepreneurial hardwiring is preventing it from coping with the change... when you let that happen in any field, something different arises and leaves you behind.

Read the full Maureen Ryan article here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Furious Fred, the Butcher's Ted

Have you ever noticed how, whenever a drama features a small child's drawing that has to play some part in carrying the story forward, you can tell that a child didn't do it?

(This one's real. Jack the Ripper, drawn by my daughter, when she was aged about six. She's twenty-one now. We used to worry until we caught on that we were actually raising Wednesday Addams.)

It's almost always the case. Like those terrible overdubbing jobs where grown women provide children's voices and we're not supposed to notice.

A child's spontenaeity is hard to fake as it is to spell. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I was sorting through some of my old file boxes. I came across some notes that I'd jotted down waaaaay back in 1982. Back then I was a newbie with two years of freelancing under my belt, and occasionally I'd do a writer visit to some local school - read a story, talk to the children, answer their questions. Doesn't happen so much now, mainly because the children of my friends have all grown up and that's where most of the requests came from.

About a week after a visit I'd get an envelope filled with stories the children had written. It's a nice feeling, I can tell you. And children write like they paint. I've no memory of doing this, but on that occasion in '82 I copied out some of the passages before returning the stories. Probably to remind myself what genuinely fresh writing looked like.

Spelling and punctuation are shown exactly as-was. I think these are vivid and funny, in the best possible way.

My name is Anna I where glasses I have freccles and long black hair. I go to boarding school. Last night I wrote a letter to my boyfriend to say shove off.

Some stories touched on the supernatural:

One day the witch was making a spell and saying I will go and get the bottle. Now the witch had put lots of ingredients into the pot there were tadpoles slugs snails and wee wee.

And some were science fiction:

John Richards carefully placed the tray of chemicals on the commanders desk. "Thanks Richards" said Commander Dilson. "these chemicals may be futile if dropped."

Some of the spelling was downright creative:

The space cat has many advantagis Like his protectiv scine and his jetts witch he can go very fast with them and his big earess he can hear 2 miles away from him. Now you know his advatagis well get on with the adventure.

From The Adventures of the Man in Space:

David had a badly burnt face and a broken leg and broken ribs. The good news is that he is better but the bad news is that he will have to have his leg cut off.

And this, from the epic The Space Being:

Once upon a time in 1981 there lived a marshan strat from Marse. When he left Marse he was ten. So when he got to earth he would be oldenof to bring some girls home, if he falled he would be killed. All the marshans what has tride to do the tasked was killed because they falled. The marshan was called Peter. Peter liked to play little Wisel.

In ten years he reached earth. He crased in the at the beach. He came out and he looked around and said "Bagige blar blar blar blere plaseif" which ment good morning, aney more girls.


No, I've no idea what 'little Wisel' is.

And finally, can somebody please tell me what was going on in this kid's head?

Then one day another Space Dust monster came from the planet XTS. And changed places with the heir to the throne, King Two-bo-locks.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Avengers

Patrick Macnee tells the story of how, one day in Toronto, he bumped into Peter O'Toole who asked, as you do, what Macnee was up to these days. Oh, says Macnee, I'm doing The Avengers.

"But Patrick!" wailed O'Toole. "You're always doing The Avengers!"

I loved that show. There had never been anything quite like it on British TV before, and there's never been anything quite like it since. And do you want to know what I loved best? Season Four, 1965 to 66. I was eleven years old.

Season four was the first set of shows made on 35mm with the American market in mind. I'd been aware of the series before that, but I can't say it had been a favourite. Those earlier episodes had been studio-bound. Studio-bound TV drama (I now realise) always had stolid theatrical pacing while multiple cameras cut around the performances, pretending to be film.

The seeds of it were all there in the live shows, and it was working for plenty of viewers, but it wasn't yet working for me. My mother had taken against Patrick Macnee for no reason at all ("Look at him. The big girl") and that didn't exactly help.

I also have to say that I found Honor Blackman's Cathy Gale a little, er, scary (I don't think it was my young age. I still find her scary now!)

I never quite 'got' the stories, and the dialogue-heavy studio scenes moved at a finger-drumming pace. Those electronic cameras and vision-mixer cutting were particularly cruel to the staging of fight scenes – in Quatermass and the Pit they'd addressed the problem by shooting the sequences of physical action on film and dropping them in. The live-studio Avengers didn't, so the action could never be very extensive, or overly convincing.

But here's why I think it's important that Macnee was "always doing The Avengers". I've been involved in the setting-up of a number of shows – some you'll have seen, many that you won't because they never got any further than the drawing-board – and I know how tricky the creation of a format can be. I also know that never, in a million years, could you sit down and devise The Avengers as it appeared in that 1965 season.

That's because The Avengers, 1965, hadn't been devised; it had evolved. The elements had been cooking and changing for three seasons. Steed had mutated from mysterious authority-figure to unpredictable dandy, mainly thanks to a constant seepage of Macnee's own personality into the role. When Ian Hendry, the original series lead, left the show, his replacement by Honor Blackman meant that a conventional man-shaped place in the structure was unconventionally occupied by a woman. This shook up and redefined viewer expectations much as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley would later redefine the big-screen heroine. Sidney Newman might have been the show's originator, but it was the dominating narrative touch of Brian Clemens as both writer and producer that gave the series its increasingly light, tight and surreal flavour.

And then it went to film. Honor Blackman dropped out to play Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and Diana Rigg's Emma Peel took over in a piece of casting that had adolescent boys of all ages weeping in gratitude. The mix that had been brewed up in the creaky and low-res live-action studio now exploded with the application of top-drawer production values. The result was unique and confident. It didn't so much mirror the swinging sixties as play a major part in defining them.

And you know what else? It was uncompromisingly British, through and through. It didn't conquer the American market by pandering to American forms and expectations, as so much product since has attempted to do. Like Danger Man, like The Saint, like Monty Python, like any cultural product of ours that the US has taken to its heart, it had a zero prostitution factor in its casting and its subject matter.

Season four was the black-and-white season, with such classics as The House that Jack Built, Castle De'Ath, The Cybernauts, A Touch of (gulp) Brimstone. Season five went to colour and hit the same level of triumph with knobs on. But it's those episodes in 'sparkling black and white', as the American trailers described them, with their stark op-art world and King's Road sensibility, that made the first and deepest cut for me. There is a place forever in my heart where the door to Emma Peel's flat has a big eyeball on it.

The Thorson episodes were fun, and I tend to underrate them consistently. And The New Avengers had its moments, if you can manage to forget the sub-par Canadian-shot episodes, but by then it had become a show that, with its ITC-style triangle of The Father, The Lad, and the Desirable Tomboy, you absolutely could have sat down and devised.

You couldn't grow a show like The Avengers now. Our schedulers think they're being bold if they commission more than four of anything, and from the first broadcast they're watching the ratings and poised ready to kill.

The Avengers was great. The Avengers was ace.

Let's not even talk about the feature film, eh?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

WGA Strike: International Day of Solidarity

The strike called by The Writers Guild of America to secure a structure for future revenues from digital media continues.

Today sees demonstrations of support in London, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Dublin, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth.

My favourite story so far is of the homeless person on Hollywood Boulevard holding a handmade sign that read, Bums Support Writers.

Despite attempts to engineer a myth that all those involved in the action are pampered and wealthy, most non-industry people seem to appreciate the principle that the writing generates the money.

And on the wealth thing... the writer's economy is a mosiac of paid work, past work, and speculative endeavour that tends to horrify most people used to the relative security of steady employment. I once saw an American TV scribe chill an entire room when he was asked what happened to those who didn't ascend the ever-narrowing ladder to showrunner heights.

"You fall off the face of the earth," he said simply.

UPDATE:

Read James Moran's first-hand account with pics, and the report from The Writers Guild of Great Britain.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Memories of Water

One of the bonuses of BAFTA membership is that you get sent copies of trade publications during the runup to the awards season. Oscar (R) follows BAFTA, which means that the studios can cover both sets of voters with the same ad campaigns.

Imagine the upward direction of my eyebrows when I opened The Hollywood Reporter and read this article, headed, "Boathouse in dry dock: Harried Peace Arch puts pic on hold."

But no; it isn't the adaptation of my novel The Boat House, currently under development with Dimension Films for director Iain Softley, but an Ontario-shot psychological thriller "set at an idyllic summer cottage where a young woman confronts the truth about her role in the disappearance of her mentor."

Peace Arch's Boathouse was set to begin production next week, but has been stalled by the arrest of company CEO Gary Howsam on "bank fraud charges involving some $7 million". The charges relate to Howsam's time with another company, so the arrest's likely impact on the production slate is uncertain (Peace Arch also backs Showtime's The Tudors, now filming its second season).

Title clash aside, I hope those people get to make their movie. I know exactly how it feels to take a project all the way up to the starting gate only to see it stalled or sabotaged by factors you can't control. Getting the money for a production is like getting a celebrity to show up for your party; all your timing needs to be just right, because if things ain't ready then neither will hang around.

As to my Boat House... I can't tell you a lot about it, as it's been a while since I was in the loop. Iain Softley first optioned the book in the late 90s - although to be more precise it was his wife, producer Sarah Curtis, who first took the option, and Iain wasn't part of the picture. Sarah and I went along to pitch the project to the Film Council (or whatever the main UK development fund was called before it was the Film Council), which is how we secured the finance for the screenplay.

After the first draft we started making a wish list of directors. Top of mine, as I recall, was Peter Weir, whose imperfect-but-superior The Last Wave had stayed in my mind as an example of the kind of charged reality I was reaching for; a fantasy film whose content you can't dismiss as fantasy. I also remember that Sarah was particularly enthusiastic about George Romero, and suggested Tilda Swinton to play the ethereal Russian emigre at the heart of the story. I'm pretty sure that Iain was added to the directors' list at my suggestion. Sarah was concerned not to see their careers merge for the wrong reasons.

After three drafts and a polish, I was no longer on the team. I mustn't complain; that screenplay made a showpiece that's landed me at least three jobs since. Ace production designer John Beard went scouting for Lake District locations and the brilliant Eduardo Serra was lined up as DP. Milla Jovovich was to play Alina, and I believe they were after Jude Law for boatyard hand/viewpoint character Peter McCarthy. Law wasn't a big star then; he was just breaking out, and this was the first time I'd really heard of him.

The movie was supposed to shoot in 1998 for a 1999 release, but it fell through for reasons that I'm not party to. Can't even speculate, aside from the inevitable fevered fantasy that none of their subsequent scripts was a patch on the one I'd left them with. As a lesson in why you should never entirely trust the internet for information, a number of sites feature The Boat House as a completed movie on Milla Jovovich's CV, complete with a dodgy plot synopsis.

The rights came back to me after that, albeit with a hefty turnaround charge attached to my script that would put it out of the range of most UK producers. I had a couple of interested approaches, but they were from people looking simply to rip out the central idea and Americanise it. So when Iain came back a couple of years ago with the backing of Bob Weinstein's Dimension Films, I was minded to let him take another crack at it.

And that's pretty much everything I can tell you... right now I know nothing more than what's contained in this Variety piece, in which it's apparently now "Loucka's Boathouse" in reference to David Loucka, the latest of the writers to be attached. Hollywood.com still lists me as first credited screenwriter, but I wouldn't go betting any money on that.

And listen, people. It's The Boat House. The Boat House. Three words. Not "The Boathouse".

"The Boathouse" is a completely different movie. It's the one that's having all those problems right now.

UPDATE: "Loucka's Boathouse" went the way of all the other scripts, and the underlying rights are back with me again. In the meantime I've picked up two more gigs on the strength of the original script as a writing sample.

The Boat House

Here's the publisher's original flap copy for the novel: a longer piece on the story is coming right up.

When Alina first appears in Three Oaks Bay it's clear that her frail, luminous beauty is going to cause some ripples on the quiet surface of the peaceful resort town.

For Pete McCarthy, the local boat-repairer who first takes her in, it is more than striking looks and a strange affinity with his beloved lake that draws him to her; more, even, than the enigma of the Russian past she has barely escaped and cannot talk about. There is an anguished power behind those doll-like eyes that his previous experiences with women have not prepared him for, and which seems curiously out of place amongst the everyday dramas of small-town life.

That familiar world is shattered when two teenage lovers are found drowned in the lake, and soon the close-knit community is being wrenched apart by a bizarre outbreak of lakeside deaths - more than accident or coincidence can explain. Struggling against his own disbelief, Pete begins to suspect that the answer lies in Alina's past, among the shadows of a Russian prison hospital and the echoes of an old folktale. But to confront that past is to embrace a nightmare.

A dark love story, a disturbing tale of a divided soul, The Boat House is a novel of astonishing and terrifying power.

So there.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Two Make a Pair

Ira Levin died on November 12th. His obituary in The Times refers to Polanski's film of Rosemary's Baby and suggests that "the atmosphere of evil that pervaded the screen had its origins in Levin's fictional skills."

Indeed - one of the most seamless book-to-film transitions around, and an adaptation that honours its source material to great effect. In my opinion it stands alongside Ted Tally's screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs as an example of best practice in adaptation.

But although Rosemary's Baby is the work that gets most of the attention, A Kiss Before Dying is the Levin novel that I'll cherish most. It's pretty well unfilmable, for reasons you can only understand by reading it - Levin's cool-headed manipulation of viewpoint and reader perception have no cinematic parallel. Gerd Oswald and Lawrence Roman tried adapting it in 1956, and James Dearden in 1991; both versions rendered the story as a routine psycho-stalker tale, which it's anything but.

And Levin, the bastard, was twenty-three when he wrote it.

This year also saw the passing of novelist and screenwriter Marc Behm, on July 12th. Behm's novel The Eye of the Beholder is right up there with the Levin for me - one of those books you finish and close with awe, and, if you're in the game yourself, not a little envy.

It was Maxim Jakubowsky, anthology editor and proprietor of the Murder One bookshop on Charing Cross Road, who put me onto this transcendent Private Eye novel. It's a mythic search tale with an unforgettably obsessive tone and, perhaps because it began in Behm's mind as a screenplay idea, it fared well when filmed by Claude Miller as Mortelle Randonnee in 1983. The movie starred Michel Serrault and Isabelle Adjani. A later English-language remake with Ewan McGregor fared less well.

I saw a TV screening of Mortelle Randonnee under the title of Deadly Run, and spent years trying to track it down on tape or DVD. Alas, when I finally located it, I found Fox Lorber's subtitled release to be a shortened and much less effective version which even lacks the crucial final shot.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The WGA Strike and the UK Writer

Thursday's Variety carries this article suggesting that American producers have been scouting the UK media scene with a view to using the services of British screenwriters to supply them with material during the WGA strike.

Some people have interpreted this as a unique opportunity for a British writer to 'break in'.

Others - like, people with half a brain and a sense of history - have noted what a CV-killer this could turn out to be.

You think it could be your entree to the US TV industry? Think again. The showrunners and staffers are all out there on the picket lines. Once the A-listers move back in you'd be the Gollum of the business, pelted with stones and driven off shrieking from any place where the work's being done.

One British agent is quoted as saying, "I don't know that any writer would want to be seen as a scab."

To be honest, I'm not sure how substantial these rumours are. On a sheer practical level, no British writer could step in cold on an American project and immediately start delivering to specification. The writing of American drama is a highly structured and goal-oriented team procedure. It's like A E Van Vogt's spaceship factory - a complex facility that can spit out a completed starship every ninety seconds.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Nature of the Beast

Given that I'm a zillion miles from the action and not even an American writer, this isn't the place to come for front-line news on the WGA strike.

But what's going on out there is an important and necessary step in evolution that's going to affect us all, and we'll be feeling its effects sooner rather than later. Evolution is usually a long and slow process. But occasionally you get a vital adaptation being jump-started by some one-off event.

I reckon this strike is one such event. What's on the table is a necessary reconstruction of our industry's business model. Not the usual selling and distribution issues but the behind-the-scenes, vital-essence, imaginative gruntwork sector on which the entire citadel of entertainment endeavour is raised.

We're in a business that absorbs, develops and exploits new technologies with astonishing speed. But when it comes to the rightful channeling of income from new technologies, caution, delay, and outright avoidance are suddenly the orders of the day.

I'm not going to add my voice to those who portray the AMPTP as an organisation of mendacious, avaricious, unprincipled limbs of Satan (although I'll make an exception for anyone driving through the picket lines with obscene gestures at those whose inner lives provide the entire foundation for their own livelihoods.)

I'm not rushing to criticise because there's no point in despising the entrepreneurial class for simply doing what they do. It's the function of an entrepreneur to pay as little for a creator's work as they can possibly get away with, and to sell it to a customer for as much as they can possibly charge. And then to hold on to as much of the difference as their long arms can carry. That's the nature of the beast, and most of the time it suits us for them to be active and out there.

They'll give writers a fair deal on emergent technologies when they have to. Otherwise, they won't. Any more than you or I would feed unnecessary coins into a parking meter or pay more than the cover price for our daily newspaper.

Many's the producer for whom I've written and rewritten a proposal with no payment, my only recompense being the shrug he gives when the broadcaster turns it down. The system works that way because it can. He knows that if he tries the same thing with his electricity supplier, the lights will go out. His landlord will evict him. His broadband supplier will cut him off. So them, he pays in full without a second thought.

With that mindset, why address the shift in the revenue stream from traditional media to newer technology-driven systems if you don't have to?

The writers' strike presents the entrepreneurial sector with the necessary You Have To.

For that reason alone, the AMPTP should be grateful to the WGA. Downloading is going to be the dominant delivery system of the future, no question about it. But the AMPTP's entrepreneurial hardwiring is preventing it from coping with the change. By requiring them to cope, the WGA are enabling them to move forward.

The alternative would be a slow, steady, spreading rot of disaffection and inefficiency. When you let that happen in any field, something different arises and leaves you behind.

I'm not in the WGA, but I'm a former Northern Chair of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and we're affiliated. Here in the UK we already have a basis for participation in download revenues, but it's in everyone's interests to see the principle made universal. No WGGB member will provide material for American production, and no non-member should be thinking of it either - try it, and when the dispute ends you'll be shut out of the US market for life.

I've been involved in three strikes in my time, and none was entered into lightly. One I can't really count; it was a building workers' strike and I was a student on a vacation job, so I wasn't putting my livelihood on the line the way that the real workers were. But I was also an ACTT member involved in the long ITV strike of 1979, and when I launched off as a freelance writer and joined the Guild in 1980 - partly as a result of the taste of the life that the ITV strike had given me - I was asked to withhold novelisation rights to my Doctor Who scripts as part of a campaign that led to UK publishing's first Minimum Terms Agreement.

OK, so it wasn't exactly the Gdansk shipyards. But it did bring a change for the better.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Good Things Happen While We Sleep

Woke up this morning to an email from Ellen Datlow telling me that, at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs last night, The Box won the IHG Award ("Outstanding Achievement in the field of Horror and Dark Fantasy") for Best Short Story.

How about that?

Ellen was kind enough to step up and accept it on my behalf, and to read out the miserable three lines of speech I'd provided her with. Lucky for everyone present that my sanity-preserving strategy always entails being convinced that I'm never going to win anything. Otherwise it would have been a hour-long monologue with a song and an encore, probably via satellite link.

The Box appeared in the Retro Pulp Tales anthology from Subterranean Press. The story's set in the 1950s. The 'box' of the title is a helicopter crash simulator, and the narrative centres on the experiences of WWII veterans retraining for civilian life.

It was a good night all round for Bill Schafer's indie imprint - Lords of the Razor and Subterranean magazine both scored awards, for anthology and periodical respectively. And I get to suck up a little more shared karma juice because I've a novella in one (The Butterfly Garden) and a story (The Plot) in issue 5 of the mag.

Gonna go back to sleep now and see if the gods will cough me up a speedboat.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Happy Halloween

And since I'm going to be tied up for the next day or so with my daughter's 21st birthday, let me jump in early with no shame and a reminder that Halloween is also publication day for my second short story collection.

Two books out in one year! Haven't had that happen in a while.

One of the novellas in the collection is Doctor Hood, originally written for Ellen Datlow's anthology The Dark. And perhaps worth noting because it was the story that introduced the emeritus physics professor Alan Hood, who went on to become the central character in the Eleventh Hour TV series.

Some nice reviews for The Kingdom of Bones out there, including this one from The New York Times. And check out this amazing endorsement from the great Ed Gorman.

Modesty prevents me from quoting from it.

Aww, f*** it...

"I read Stephen Gallagher for two reasons. First because he's one of the most entertaining writers I've ever read. And second because I can't read a short story of his let alone a novel without picking up a few pointers about writing. He's an elegant stylist, a shrewd psychologist and a powerful storyteller with enormous range and depth.

"I finished his latest novel The Kingdom of Bones and I was honestly stunned by what he'd done. The sweep, the majesty, the grit, the grue, the great grief (and the underpinning of gallows humor from time to time). This is not only the finest novel I've read this year but the finest novel I've read in the past two or three years."


Be honest. Would you be able to keep quiet about a lulu of a writeup like that?

Luan Gaines at Curled Up with a Good Book writes one of those reviews that involves a retelling of a lot of the story, but she manages to do it in such a way that you feel encouraged to go and read it for yourself.

It's weird, but these days people seem to like to know exactly what they're getting before they'll buy into it. Endings are sacrosanct but everything else is up for grabs!

OK, advert over and back to the birthday prep. The cake alone has been a production on a West End scale. We parents get to go along to the Sea Zoo and to host a Bistro meal, but we bow out gracefully for the day at the Pleasure Beach and the evening at the tranny bar.

And to think that kids used to be happy with an afternoon in the village hall and that slightly strange bloke who made balloon animals...

UPDATE:

Read Paula Guran's review of Ellen Datlow's new anthology, Inferno, here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

What's Entertainment?

I have to admit that, for entirely positive reasons, I was hoping that NBC's new zen cop show Life would tank and that its leading man, redheaded Brit Damian Lewis, would have to come home to the UK.

Well, I call them positive reasons. But only if you're prepared to view it in a selfish, world-revolves-around-me, dreams-and-schemes sense that takes no account of others' needs and pays scant attention to reality.

I was pitching a TV project that I thought he'd have been perfect for, and I was hoping he'd be available if it were to be picked up. That's all. In the event, the tiny handful of of UK people with greenlighting power all passed on the project and, in the meantime, I'm warming to Life. The pilot was a bit shaky and the zen stuff was off-putting, which is bad news for something that's supposed to be the show's Unique Selling Point; but that's receding now (the main character ain't half as zen as he wants others to think he is) and the show's beginning to find its balance.

(For those who haven't had access to the series in any form yet, Charlie Crews is a police officer convicted of murder and now exonerated by advances in DNA evidence analysis after more than a decade in prison. The whole zen thing was his way of getting through the daily beatings from other prisoners, for whom finding a cop in their midst was almost as big a treat as getting a pre-op transsexual for a cellmate. His settlement involved a whopping package of cash and reinstatement on the force which, frankly, would rather not have him but has little choice in the matter. Charlie applies his annoying philosophy to policework, and the prospect of another twenty-odd episodes of this threatens to sink the show right away; but thankfully there's more to it, and the More To It is what makes it work.)

Lewis shoulders the duties of a series leading man as if born to the job. It's no mean feat, but after his performance at the centre of Lodge Kerrigan's Keane I'm prepared to believe that he's capable of anything. See it, he's awesome. The film is essentially a tight three-hander (with Amy Ryan and Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) and has the feel of some of the best American cinema of the 70s; while William Keane is haunting the Port Authority bus terminal and obsessing about a missing daughter who may or may not exist, I can easily believe that Joe Buck is retrieving his suitcase from a Greyhound just out of frame.

Wherever you look in American TV at the moment you'll find British actors playing native and looking entirely at home doing it. Better than just fitting in, they bring something that's just different enough to add spice and interest without them seeming out of place. Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson both walked out of Rome and into series leads (with Ray pausing on the way for just long enough to shoot my two-parter Life Line, which was a great piece of luck for me). There's Lena Headey in the upcoming Sarah Connor Chronicles, Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman, Anna Friel in Pushing Daisies. Not to mention Louise Lombard in CSI, half the cast of The Wire, Jamie Bamber in Battlestar Galactica, and of course Hugh Laurie in House.

Keep on adding to the list, and it ceases to look like a handful of great opportunities for a few actors and begins to resemble a massive drain of talent from the UK.

But who's going to blame them? Laurie's last offer from British TV was to play Watson to Stephen Fry's Sherlock Holmes, casting that was instantly seen by press and public as a further addition to his gallery of comedy dimwits. His turn in House makes him the equivalent of a kid who has to change schools before he can shine.

Brits in America are picking up the kind of roles that don't exist at home. Flawed heroes. Complex villains. Mythic everyman figures in classically-structured story forms. American TV has its weaknesses but a failure to grasp the essentials of showbusiness isn't one of them. They make watching a lot of our homespun stuff feel like school homework.

Go to the circus, laugh at the clowns, and then go home and have nightmares about them.

That's entertainment.

UPDATE:

I re-watched the pilot last night (because I was in company that hadn't seen it, not because I was being obsessive or over-analytical), and it plays significantly better when you've a good idea of where it's all going.

The first time around I'd approached it with wariness because, from a distance, it looked like a mere cop-with-a-quirk procedural. Whereas with Crews walking openly amongst his enemies it's actually a Count of Monte Cristo variant of the kind I wrote about in this earlier post.

I think I'd have liked to have known that up-front on my first viewing; it would have taken me a lot less time to be won over.

Monday, 15 October 2007

PS Publishing Titles at Half Price

To mark the launch of its revamped website, multi award-winning indie publisher PS Publishing is offering a 50% discount on all online orders for pre-2007 titles.

So that'll include my short story collection Out of his Mind and the hardcover edition of White Bizango (the paperback sold out some time ago).

Both are signed and numbered, and both feature covers by Chris Moore. White Bizango carries an introduction by Joe R Lansdale, and the hardcover is also signed by him so you get a twofer. Out of his Mind picked up the British Fantasy Society Award for best collection and is introduced by the great Brian Clemens, Avengers mastermind and lifelong hero.

Now you know what to do with all the money you saved by getting The Kingdom of Bones so cheap.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Page 69 Test

Here's an intriguing blog in which writers are invited to make some comment about their own work based on a reading of all, or part, of its sixty-ninth page.

I don't know about anyone else, but for years now my browsing method has involved opening any book that catches my attention and reading a paragraph at random. Three or four lines will usually tell me if this is a writer I'll want to spend time with. It may seem like a cavalier way to judge an author's work, but we pretty much apply the same test when we hear someone sing. It only takes a few bars to tell you that you're in competent hands and sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll sense the hairs rising on the back of your neck.

Ford Madox Ford once wrote, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

(There is, in fact, another blog titled The Page 99 Test - but forgive me for giving a boost to the Page 69 option because that's where you can find my piece on The Kingdom of Bones)

Unfortunately a spot-check offers no protection against the phenomenon that I call 'literary novel fade', where I spend the first hundred pages of a novel thinking that this qualifies as one of the best books I've ever read, only to find that I'm dragging my way to the end as the writer's grip on the narrative dynamic proves unequal to the intelligence of their prose. Usually it's big-name, prizewinning stuff.

Speaking of which, I see that Jeanette Winterson's publicists are now describing her new novel The Stone Gods as 'literary science fiction', implying the existence of a whole dark-matter universe of illiterary science fiction populated by the Lems, the Vonneguts, the Simaks, the Silverbergs, the Butlers, the Bradburys, the Besters, the le Guins...

I don't know if Winterson herself is behind any of this. I hope she's not one of those writers who decide they're going to 'use the form' of sf while vigorously distancing themselves from those whose form it is. It's meant to imply a kind of superiority but it reads more like cowardice, an unwillingness to be measured against the journeymen and women of a genre.

'Twas ever thus... in my yellowing copy of John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes, the author bio states rather disdainfully that in 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily known as 'science fiction'.

My 1964 paperback copy was published by Penguin. As is Jeanette Winterson. In fact, Penguin is probably second only to Victor Gollancz in its history of publishing quality science fiction in the UK.

So you'd think by now they'd know better.

A complete list of the books included in the Page 69 test can be found here.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Teddy Alexander

Most of what follows is from an afterword that I wrote to accompany a short story titled Modus Operandi; I got the story from a childhood memory, and writing it triggered a few more of them.

My childhood home was a terraced house in Monton, just outside Manchester. Each street was a row of brick houses, each with a garden behind it and a ten-foot cobbled alleyway behind that. According to my memory the gardens were huge, but I've been back for a recent look and they weren't. My dad built a garage on ours (the comedy subject of my first film, hand-drawn on polythene strips and projected on the wall by a torch in a shoebox. . . find that one if you can, Kevin Brownlow). The garage eliminated a good two-thirds of the garden.

Every back garden had a washing line. Someone began stealing women's underwear from them. The police were called, backyard security was stepped up, the thief grew bolder. . . one neighbour grew most affronted when her enormous bloomers gave rise to a return visit. My mother couldn't stop laughing when she repeated how said neighbour had told her, grim-faced and displeased, D'you know, he came again the next day and threw them back!

There was no shortage of theories. Some even suspected our next-door neighbour, an entertainer who worked the holiday camps in summer and kept the house as his winter base. The grounds for suspicion? They were show folk, no other reason. He and his wife lived on the lower floor and let the upstairs rooms to a xylophone player named Frank.

I don't suppose it helped that he was unable to take the whole situation too seriously. When the phone rang he'd snatch it up and, without even waiting to identify the caller, say loudly and brightly, "Is that the knicker-snatcher?"

I thought that was hilarious. But then again I was only a kid and so, I now realise, was he. He had a hamster that he named Abie. He built Abie a hamster paradise out of interlinked tubes and cages. The design was more ambitious than it was well-engineered; Abie got out and disappeared forever under the floorboards. His owner poked sunflower seeds down through the cracks so the hamster wouldn't starve. This was around the same time that he bought a complete Punch and Judy rig – booth, puppets, whistle, routines, everything but the dog – from another performer who was either retiring from the business or had gone broke. He'd invite me around to test-run the show. My job was to shout in all the right places.

Joni Mitchell was right. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

I don't believe that the case of the missing underwear was ever solved, but our washing line was one of the targets and we did get a visit from the CID. That was the first time I ever heard the term Modus Operandi. I'd drawn a crayon map of the gardens to explain my theory of how the thieves got access (climbing onto the dustbin and then over the garden fence... brilliant stuff, I tell you), and I showed it to the officer. But I didn't have all the underwear stowed in a case under my bed. That was a twist I added to turn life into narrative, when refashioning the memories for Maxim Jakubowski's New Crimes collection.

Our neighbour took his comedy routine onto Opportunity Knocks one week in October 1966 and won the show, and a season or so later he and his wife and their new baby moved on. I've been able to glean a few more details from the net: he continued to make his living as an entertainments director and later as a children's entertainer before retiring and devoting himself to charity work following the death of his son Karl at the age of forty. His name is Teddy Alexander and I believe that performers like him are the backbone of all showbusiness.

I promise to write some more on the CBS/Bruckheimer/Eleventh Hour deal as soon as I can. So much of it's in the air and my role in it, if any, is yet to be defined. But it's the biggest deal of its kind in American TV this decade, according to the people I'm working with. It's weird for me because I'd already let the show go, and this news came out of nowhere. More than anything, I'm curious to see how it'll develop in the hands of the very people whose methods I studied in order to create it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Plots and Misadventures

At the end of this month, Subterranean Press will be publishing my second collection of short stories. The cover's by Edward Miller, and here's the advance review we got from Publishers' Weekly:

"Veteran British horror writer Gallagher (The Kingdom of Bones) shows off his versatility in this collection of 11 stories and a review of Joseph Payne Brennan's Nine Horrors and a Dream. Among the best are The Back of His Hand, a shocking description of the unexpected dangers involved in tattoo removal; The Plot, a Victorian tale in which a mill girl enacts a bizarre revenge on the kindly priest who refuses to let her illegitimate baby be buried in sacred ground; Doctor Hood, a touching ghost story concerning a world-famous physicist, his daughter and the recently deceased loved one haunting their family home; and My Repeater, a grim science - fiction story about the fruitlessness of using time travel to correct one's past errors. Capable of being either subtle or blunt depending upon the needs of his plot, Gallagher has assembled a fine and varied collection of weird fiction that should find many admirers."

Which is great, but... veteran? What the f*** did I do to become a veteran???

Inferno

Inferno is Ellen Datlow's first non-theme horror anthology and will be out from Tor in early December. Here's an early peek and the finalised jacket art. I get a namecheck on the back cover!

"Inferno promised twenty original tales of terror, and it wasn't kidding. Killer stories by Gallagher, Cadigan, Ford and Jeter, make it worth the price alone. But the others are no slouch in the terror department either; they're jacked up and creeped down,and perfect for late night reading when you want to get your chill on. An excellent anthology." Joe R Lansdale

"Ellen Datlow is the queen of anthology editors in America. She has great taste, an amazing talent for finding good new writers, and many, many enduring friendships in the community of sf/fantasy/horror writers, which means that she can always call upon the cream of the crop. Inferno isn't just good, it is astonishingly good, the product of an editor who really knows what she is doing." Peter Straub

My story is titled Misadventure.

ADDITIONAL NEWS:

In the first review of the collection at The Green Man Review website, Denise Dutton writes:

"This is a smorgasbord for any horror reader, regardless of where his or her interests may lie; horror, terror or gross out. And a small word of warning, those who are not quite as (used) to graphic violence as I am may find themselves truly grossed out by a few. But mostly, and more importantly, this book serves up excellent, high-quality creep. That's something anyone can sink their teeth into. Bon appetit!"

And specifically, of Misadventure:

"Misadventure by Stephen Gallagher is the kind of story that sneaks up on you. I thought I was reading one type of tale, only to have it shift into another type entirely, and back again. A wonderful story about interactions with the dead and how those interactions can lead to gruesome, if necessary, things."

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Too Much Monkey Business

There's been a lot of online coverage about the Cadbury's drumming gorilla ad... viral activity that felt spontaneous and justified at first but which (or maybe it's just me) is beginning to feel more than a little manipulative now.

After some speculation as to whether it was actually Phil Collins in the gorilla costume (duh?) it's been revealed that the wearer of the Stan Winston-created prosthetic suit is "a little-known actor called Garon Michael."

It turns out that Garon Michael is actually an ape movement specialist with a string of feature credits to his name. To my eye the 'little known' tag is an unnecessary putdown - far from being plucked from a deserved obscurity he's actually one of the go-to guys for this kind of job.

Sometimes you wonder if people realise that there's a whole other world behind what they're seeing on the screen. Back around 1990 I adapted my man-animal hybrid novel Chimera for ITV, and the crew included a primate movement and behaviour specialist named Peter Elliot. He worked closely with Dougie Mann, who wore the mask and played the role.

Peter was then, and continues to be, one of the top-ranked choreographer/performers in the field. His credits can be traced back to Greystoke and Quest for Fire, and he teaches animal study at London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

He can be seen on the right of the picture, talking to Paul O'Grady on one of the Chimera sets (I think it's the village hall in Kettlewell, Yorkshire, which we'd turned into an emergency morgue for the victims of a mass slaying. O'Grady played a sign language interpreter, some time before he became more widely-known for his Lily Savage persona).

Dougie Mann had also worked on Greystoke. I think I've got a shot of him without the mask somewhere and if I can dig it out, I'll post it. Whenever there's a Congo or a Gorillas in the Mist in production you'll find a whole community of these specialists being pulled together.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is, there's a lot more to it than just showing up and putting on the monkey suit.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Things that Make You Go 'Whu?'

Made by the Fleischer studios in 1931 and featuring an early appearance by Betty Boop. In this incarnation she has a deep voice and dogs' ears.

The Bum Bandit? If you can get your head around any of this, you're doing far better than I am.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Publication Day

Well, today's the day. I know that a few copies have already snuck out there, but as of now The Kingdom of Bones is official goods.

I don't think I've ever had a novel that's attracted as much advance reaction as this one... and let me tell you, that's never been for want of trying.

I think it's a great-looking piece of production. With its old-fashioned typesetting and deckled page edges it looks and feels like some rare object that's been put together out of yellow fog and old parchment.

I've tried something new this time around. Taken together, the original research plan and detailed research diary contain over 20,000 words of background material. There was never any question of including them in the book, but the acknowledgements page offers a link to thekingdomofbones.com where both documents are available as downloadable PDFs.

Trust me, they're for obsessives only. Them, and anyone interested in the level of detail involved in writing a historical.

I must be a glutton for punishment. I've another under way and a third one planned. They're not sequels, but their worlds overlap in a way that should make for one unified, three-headed opus.

There you go. Advertisement over.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Second Variety (2)

Right now I can't do much more than pass along what's appearing in the trades - here's an extract from the fullest piece I've seen so far, in The Hollywood Reporter.

There's also an expanded version of the Variety coverage now online. Reuters, Hollywood News and Movieweb all carry versions of the story, none of which mention the creator credit. But it's not like I'm sensitive, or anything. Not complaining. Just, y'know. Pointing it out.


From The Hollywood Reporter:

The "CSI" trio of CBS, Jerry Bruckheimer TV and director Danny Cannon are reuniting for a new drama project based on the British limited sci-fi series "Eleventh Hour."

CBS has ordered a pilot with a hefty penalty for the untitled project, which Jerry Bruckheimer TV is producing with Granada International Media and Warner Bros. TV. The penalty is rumored to amount to a 13-episode production commitment, and WBTV is said to be proceeding with making the series, which is expected to net strong international sales given the Bruckheimer brand's popularity worldwide. CBS would neither confirm nor deny the deal Tuesday.

The drama centers on a special science adviser to the government who, with his feisty female bodyguard in tow, saves people from the worst abuses of science.

The four-hour original series, which aired last year on ITV, starred Patrick Stewart.

Feature writer-director Mick Davis will pen the script for the U.S. version. "CSI" executive producer Cannon, who directed the pilot for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and is credited with creating the hit franchise's distinct look, is set to helm the pilot.

Davis and Cannon are executive producing with Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and an executive from Granada to be named later.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Second Variety

Well, it's out now. Here's the stop-press email from Variety.com:

Following a fierce bidding war, CBS has beat out ABC for the rights to a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced adaptation of Brit thriller Eleventh Hour.

Eye has committed to at least a pilot, with a hefty seven-figure penalty attached if the Warner Bros/Granada project - which remains untitled in the States - doesn't move forward. Reports from people familiar with the situation suggest that CBS may have agreed to as much as a 13-episode on-air commitment, but the Eye is denying it's stepped up to that level.

Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman are set to exec produce the untitled adaptation of Eleventh Hour.

Eleventh Hour aired as a four-part miniseries in Blighty last year, with Patrick Stewart starring. Thesp played Professor Alan Hood, who's called in by the government to investigate mysterious cases that involve matters of science - from cloning to global warming. U.S. adaptation is said to have a tone similar to The X-Files.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Frodo and the Camel

So my cousin Josh is working behind the bar of The Elusive Camel, when in walks Frodo.

(I have family in Australia, on my dad's side. To avoid complication we all refer to ourselves as cousins, regardless of generation or degree of actual relationship).

Josh was over here for a few years, working and touring and doing the Young Australian thing. The Elusive Camel, Waterloo is a large and lively pub on London's South Bank, just a short stroll from Tower Bridge (they did some of their best business when David Blaine performed his glass box stunt just a - ahem - stone's throw away). One of Josh's oldest friends was managing the place, and most of the staff were people from back home. Josh was living in a room over the pub, and the bar work was paying for his keep.

And, as I say, one quiet afternoon he turned to the next customer, and there stood Elijah Wood.

By all accounts it was quite a session; all the staff clustered around and Wood stayed for several hours, chatting, buying drinks, cooperating with requests for pictures. By Josh's report he was a really nice guy, unassuming, interested in everyone.

By morning everyone's snaps had been uploaded and sent around to the other side of the globe; later in the day, a bunch of them made the return trip and showed up in my mailbox.

It was Elijah Wood, all right, no doubt about that, beaming happily from the midst of a bunch of roaring Aussies. But I didn't get it.

I couldn't parse it as star behaviour. By then he'd done all three Lord of the Rings movies and would be recognised anywhere. For someone in such a position to walk alone into a strange pub and then to spend most of the day there... well, I could believe it of Oliver Reed, but this was hardly the same thing. Up to a certain point, actors love to be recognised. Beyond that point, it can become a problem.

Some time later, Wood had a new movie out. It was called Green Street (retitled Green Street Hooligans and then just Hooligans for the US) and he played a young American, kicked out of Harvard, who travels to London and becomes involved with organised football violence.

Here's my guess; someone must have told Wood that if he wanted to understand the mindset of the London football hooligan, he should go South of the river and spend some time in one of the boozers there. So he set out alone, crossed Tower Bridge, and went into the first pub he saw.

And that was his research for the role; a happy afternoon spent amongst the young expatriates of Oz.

Well, it's a theory.

Josh went on to work as a PE teacher, ran the London Marathon, got engaged to a distant relative of Grace Kelly, and earlier this year took her back to Safety Bay.

Australians, eh?