Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Blood Harvest

Director: George Clarke
Writer: George Clarke
Producers: George Clarke, Kenny Martin
Cast: Robert Render, Jean-Paul Van der Velde, Rachael Stewart
Country: UK
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: screener disc (Left Films)

Two weeks ago I watched and reviewed Battle of the Bone, George Clarke’s debut feature from 2009. After Battle Clarke made The Knackery (more zombies), The Last Light: An Irish Ghost Story, Splash Area, Onus (which was a UK-Norwegian co-production, apparently) and most recently The Blood Harvest. Six features in eight years is a prodigious production rate. Clarke’s Yellow Fever Productions has built up its own fanbase, even if it remains largely outside of most horror fans’ awareness.

The Blood Harvest is a more confident and mature work, as one would expect from a more experienced film-maker. It’s set in Northern Ireland but, apart from a couple of lines of dialogue and a map on a wall, there’s nothing distinctively Northern Irish about the story or characters; with the most minor of tweaks this could have been set anywhere. In fact, the propensity for both working and suspended police to carry guns at all times suggests Clarke may have originally written this with a view to filming in in the USA.

A serial killer is stalking the province. Bodies are turning up all over the place, distinctively disfigured: one eye scooped out and the Achilles tendons sliced. Robert Render (a Clarke regular who has also had bit parts in Ripper Street and The Frankenstein Chronicles) stars as Jack Chaplin, an experienced cop with some unlikely theories about who or what is responsible. After arguing with his superior, Chaplin is sacked but he keeps working on the case from home. His former partner Hatcher (Dutch actor Jean-Paul Van der Velde giving an agonisingly wooden performance) stays in contact with Chaplin while pursuing more traditional lines of enquiry.

We see several attacks on various victims which are as well-filmed as they are gruesome. For most of the running time this is a slick, nasty, bloody horror film structured around a gripping police procedural framework. The killer, who wears a crazy steampunk welder’s mask and drives a battered old 1950s car, is revealed to us but we don’t know who he is or why he’s doing this until the end.

Ah yes, the end – that’s where the film comes apart. For the first two acts we’re dealing with a psycho and there are enough hints of vampirism to keep us wondering whether the explanation will be rational or supernatural. I always enjoy films with that sort of ambiguity. But the waveform has to collapse at some point in the third act. And collapse it well and truly does, in a talkie scene that tips the whole narrative over into something that is frankly rather silly.

[spoilers on] So it turns out that the two (yes, two) grunting, screaming psychos we’ve seen at work are the sons of Hatcher, who is actually an alien. They crash-landed on Earth 30 years ago, when the sons were babies. Over time they discovered that the nutrients they needed to survive could best be obtained by sticking a straw into the back of somebody’s eye-socket, and were particularly good if the victim was in a state of abject fear (it’s difficult to see what other state one could be in after a stranger gouges out one’s eye with a fork…). Unfortunately The Blood Harvest simply doesn’t make the leap successfully from gritty cop-horror to out-of-this-world scifi-horror. The transition is too jarring and the explanation too daft. Plus we’re left wondering what the aliens did in the 29 years before they suddenly started kidnapping people and forking out eyeballs. And how a man with no identity was able to become a senior police officer... [spoilers off]

Even without the explanation of What’s Really Going On, the plot has some major holes. Not least how someone could commit 40 gruesome murders in less than a year without sparking the biggest man-hunt in UK history. And how the killer could so effectively evade justice when we can see that (a) he has serious mental problems and (b) he drives a really distinctive car. And groovy though that mask is, it’s never explained.

Don’t get me wrong, The Blood Harvest is a fun ride for horror fans and George Clarke continues to be one of the most consistently interesting horror film-makers in the UK. But you need to go into this film prepared for a preposterous revelation near the end. If you’ve ever seen WAZ, well… as Northern Ireland-shot cop movies about serial killers with a bizarre MO go, this ain’t WAZ, let’s put it that way. On the other hand, there are some absolutely cracking individual scenes, mostly based around the killer’s isolated farm and the attempts of two victims to escape. (One of these is Matt McCreary, who wowed the Britain’s Got Talent judges in 2015 with a free-running routine.)

I guess I have to give props to George Clarke (and fellow producer Kenny Martin, who shares story credit) for ploughing a distinctive furrow. I’ve got no problem with the third act per se (talkie scene aside), rather it’s the first two which needed work as they don’t adequately prepare us for what is to come. If more inexplicable (but ultimately, narratively justifiable) things had happened in the first hour, we would better accept what is revealed in the final 30 minutes.

Filmed in October 2014, The Blood Harvest premiered at the Freak Show Horror Film Festival in Orlando one year later where it won Best SFX and Best Actor (for Render). Left Films picked up the movie and released it to UK DVD in January 2016, including a Making Of, bloopers and trailers. (There are also bloopers under the four minutes of end credits.) Clarke’s next project should be the utterly bonkers Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack!!, a teaser for which was shot back in March 2014.

MJS rating: B

Friday, 25 December 2015


Director: Ken Colley
Writer: Ken Colley
Producer: Ken Colley
Cast: Mel Stephenson, Matthew Reynolds, Kirsty Cox
Country: UK
Year of release: 2008
Reviewed from: Viewster

So I’ve just been to see The Force Awakens, which was very good (although, let’s face it, Star Trek was better). One thing I noticed was that the two lead actors have each starred in a recent British horror film. John Boyega was in the somewhat over-rated Attack the Block and Daisy Ridley is in the as-yet-unreleased Scrawl. Plus of course Mark Hamill himself was the token Yank in Airborne.

Which prompted me to dig out and watch Greetings, a curious and largely ignored British horror film which has its own Star Wars relevance because it was directed by no less than Admiral Piett himself, Ken Colley.

With its middle class domesticity and static, talkie nature, Greetings is oddly anachronistic, seeming to owe more to 1970s Play for Today dramas than 21st century horror, although this does certainly make it distinctively British. Cathy (Mel Stephenson, who was the mocap actor for Destiny Angel in the CGI Captain Scarlet remake) and her husband Matt (Matthew Reynolds, artistic director at the Labyrinth Theatre in Peckham, who once played Victor Frankenstein on stage) have invited a few friends round for drinks. It is both Cathy’s birthday and a year since they moved into their new house. Ken (Colley himself) and Maria (Maria Long, violinist with a band called Neroli whose music provides the party soundtrack here) both say goodnight before anything interesting happens.

Not that anything very interesting does happen for quite some time. The dialogue is realistic, the acting adequate, the direction competent but uninspiring and really all we’re doing for the first half hour is watching some strangers sit around drinking red wine and making small talk. On the one hand it’s great that they are all reasonably intelligent, well-spoken individuals. This isn’t just a bunch of horny teenagers smoking and swearing, as in so many low-budget horror films. But nothing happens. And curiously, no-one seems to get even slightly tipsy, despite the amount of vino being knocked back.

Cathy and Matt have recently bought an antique oak table, a small round thing with letters around the edge which one of the others identifies as being a Ouija board. You all know how I feel about Ouija board movies. Actually I don’t really have a problem with movies like this that are about Ouija boards (especially when there are no horny teenagers using it ‘for a laugh’). It’s films which just throw in a Ouija board scene because they feel they need to which annoy me.

Can I also pause here and make it absolutely clear that the phrase ‘Ouija board’ - pronounced ‘weejee board’ - takes the indefinite article ‘a’. Because it begins with a ‘w’ sound. You would be amazed (or perhaps not) by how many people think the correct phrase is 'an Ouija board', justifying their mistake with “because it begins with a vowel”. The use of ‘a’/’an’ is not determined by spelling but by pronunciation, ‘Ouija’ does not begin with a vowel sound. One would no more say “an Ouija board” than “an university”. You can, I am sure, imagine how annoyed I was when Urban Terrors was published and I discovered that the editor had changed every mention of “a Ouija board” to “an Ouija board”. Gaaaah!

Also, ‘Ouija’ is spelled with a capital O apparently. I only discovered this recently and I have no idea why.

The friends use the board and get the message ‘D-O-N-O-T-D-I-S’ but then fall to debating which among them is pushing the glass around. In a clever touch, the rest of the truncated message (‘T-U-R-B’) appears in condensation on the bathroom mirror. But still the debate continues: how can we determine which one of us is actually pushing this? Eventually something genuinely spooky does happen when, unseen by anyone, the table inverts itself and floats in mid-air (a clever and effective special effect).

After this, Alan (John Rackham: WarrioressLeft for Dead) and Henry (Henry Dunn) head off home, leaving Kirsty (Kirsty Cox: Radio 4 Dr Finlay series) and David (Ben Shockley: Ten Dead Men, Cold Earth, Dark Rage, Preternatural) to stay over at the hosts’ place. In the final half-hour or so, things ramp up further, including messages written in burns or blood (a readable ‘NO’ among the blood splatters on a white T-shirt’ is one of several clever touches). Trapped downstairs in the living room, the quartet make their way back up to the bedroom so that Cathy can retrieve her sanitary towels, a sequence that manages to be tense despite the oddity of the motivation. In fact Cathy’s period becomes a major part of the plot as further messages complain about wanting to be ‘clean’ (which Kirsty correctly identifies as being the Biblical sense of the term). Menstruation and the supernatural have been linked in the past (think Carrie, think Urban Ghost Story) but rarely has menstrual blood been such a major part of a horror story.

Eventually the demon, which remains unseen except as a glowing light round the edge of a door, is defeated by being electrocuted. Dave and Matt somehow run a wire from a socket direct to the door handle and then – for reasons which totally escaped me – need to pee on the door handle to complete the circuit.

I can see that Ken Colley has thought through the rationale of his film: why the demon appears, what it wants, how it can be beaten. But that doesn’t mean that this all makes sense. The confused and confusing denouement could be excused if the narrative had been stronger up to that point, but sadly it’s all been very slow and drawn out. For example at one point Cathy makes three cups of coffee and a good minute or two is wasted on taking orders and then wondering who wanted sugar. It’s remarkable that a film running only 72 minutes can be this languorous and slow. Greetings might have worked better at a taut 40-50 minutes but this was made in the days when the Blockbuster 70-minute minimum still held sway.

Shot in 2007 in Colley’s own house in Hythe, Kent, Greetings had an alleged £100,000 budget (you could probably knock a zero off that) and a 20-day schedule. Until now it has sat on my master list as a 2009 release because of the DVD that Brain Damage put out in September of that year. However, a little research has revealed that it played for a single week at the Canterbury Odeon (with a ‘15’ BBFC certificate) in January 2008. Which – damn and blast it all! – makes this yet another title that should have been included in Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008. There were two additional big screen outings for the film in 2009 in Kent: Folkestone in February and the Swale Film Festival in July. All of these screenings played with Colley’s 2007 ten-minute short Alligator, in which he plays a retired hitman. John Rackham is in that too and it marks the final acting role for another Death Star officer, Richard ‘General Motti’ LeParmentier.

Colley, whose other horror credits include The Blood Beast Terror and Scar Tissue, has been acting on screen since 1961. Aside from his turn as Admiral Piett in Empire and Jedi (and 2012 Lego Star Wars short The Empire Strikes Out), his most notable other role is probably playing Jesus in Life of Brian. His other directorial credit is a 2006 short called A Nearly Silent Film; Cox, Rackham, Shockley and the director were all in that too. In fact, it’s clear that there’s a bit of a Kent rep company as the cast have a number of other shared credits including Keith Eyles' The Avenging Spirit and The Shadow of Bigfoot and Rackham’s own The Liberator and Bloodmyth.

Editing by Andy Coughlan (also associate producer) and photography by Denis Cullum are both acceptable; truth be told, there’s not a lot can be done with a story set entirely inside a house. Steve Hayes (Warrioress, Left for Dead, Ten Dead Men) provided the limited CGI effects.

Though an undoubtedly sincere production and a laudable attempt to make a serious horror feature that’s not just another teen slasher or zombie apocalypse, it can’t in all honesty be said that Greetings succeeds. The cast give it their all but Colley’s screenplay was desperately in need of a good script editor: to tighten up the action, polish up the dialogue, clear up the ending and perhaps slightly reduce the amount of time spent discussing menstruation.

Greetings is available on various VOD sites, all using the Brain Damage sleeve image which bears no relation to the film. But then neither the title nor the fact that it’s Cathy’s birthday have any real relevance to the story anyway.

MJS rating: B-

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Twisted Souls

Director: ‘Jason Meyers’
Writers: ‘Jason Meyers’, Matthew Palmer
Producer: ‘Jason Meyers’
Cast: Absolutely no-one you’ve ever heard of
Country: UK
Year of release: 1992/2013
Reviewed from: YouTube

Wow, here’s an undiscovered oddity. It’s an hour-long amateur horror made by some teenagers at Kidderminster College in 1992, and it has its fair share of cheesy effects, clichéd ideas and bad acting. But it’s genuinely enjoyable and, I would venture to add, historically significant.

Behind the slasher-inspired pseudonym ‘Jason Meyers’ (sic) is RN Millward, a West Midlands film-maker who has made a number of interesting shorts over the years although the only one I’ve actually seen is a fanfilm, The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith. Twisted Souls predates that by a good 13 years, although it only became available when it was posted to YouTube in February 2013.

Millward and his classmates had access to four useful things: a cemetery, a light industrial plant which could be reasonably passed off as a coffin factory, the college’s AV equipment, and a coffin. From these, a fun little black comedy horror was constructed.

James Sankey is the proprietor of Cooper’s Coffins, whose two remaining employees are Bub (Mark Jones) and David (Bradley Gammond), neither of them particularly swift on the uptake. These two are also employed as gravediggers, and the scam is that, having buried a body, they return at night and dig it up. Not to sell the corpse for medical experiments like a latter-day Burke and Hare, but so that the coffin can be cleaned out and sold again. (NB. I’m not sure Gammond’s character is ever actually addressed by name, and there’s no character name in the credits, so I’m going with David.)

The above of course raises all sorts of questions which the film brashly ignores, like how come no-one has noticed all these desecrated graves. And how come every body fits into the same size coffin and all the customers at Cooper’s Coffins apparently want the same style of box.

One night, the two are disturbed by a couple of lads taking a shortcut through the cemetery (Nathan Fawke and co-writer Matthew Palmer). Panicking, the hapless grave-robbers kill the two witnesses with a pick-axe and then take the dead bodies back to the coffin factory, hoping their boss will know what to do. A terrific dream sequence shows us what could happen if the dead return to life.

Further problems mount with the investigations of a justifiably suspicious vicar (Adrian Mills) who is kidnapped and brought back to the factory, where he is subsequently murdered by the increasingly psychotic Cooper. Meanwhile, a customer (executive producer Mike Flight, who was an art teacher at the college) has found graveyard earth – and a dismembered finger – in a supposedly new coffin. The black humour and gradual escalation of horrific problems put me in mind of 1980s classic Crimewave. Sam Raimi is thanked for his ‘influence’ in the end credits - along with Argento and Jackson - although I imagine that’s probably more of a nod to The Evil Dead.

Then, about 20 minutes from the end, Twisted Souls take a sharp turn in a new direction. While Bub and David are burying the vicar, a bolt of lightning hits a gravestone (in an effects shot clearly pinched from somewhere else) and the dead start to arise, including the vicar himself and the two guys who got pick-axed near the start.

To my amazement, I found myself watching a 1992 zombie film. This isn’t the very first British movie with post-Romero zombies – Alex Chandon’s Bad Karma was made the previous year – but at 61 minutes it’s arguably the first modern British zombie feature. Some of the zombies still wear their shrouds, which is a nice touch. One has a full-head ‘old man’ mask which looks pretty bad. What’s really interesting is their style of walking which is much more naturalistic than we are now used to. In today’s world, everyone knows how zombies walk. They stumble forward, arms outstretched in a stance that can be traced directly back to Bela Lugosi in Ghost of Frankenstein. But back in 1992 there weren’t the same conventions. And of course, there are no fast-running zombies here. They all walk slowly – that’s a convention which was well established and not yet busted.

David escapes from the cemetery, teams up with a passing young woman named Alex (Karina Melbourne, rocking a very definite early ’90s look) and they head back to the factory which is, for some reason, judged to be the only safe place. Except it’s not. Cooper is by now playing cat and mouse among the lathes and band-saws with a plain clothes copper (Michael Dexter). The former now has a pistol, the latter has armed himself with a handy garden fork.

Did we mention that the reanimated vicar, who is now commanding the zombies, can magically teleport? No? Neither did the film but this he can do, and does – thereby entering the locked factory where the police officer, shot dead by Cooper, is reanimated as an additional zombie. David and Alex escape using a previously unmentioned tunnel connecting the factory to the cemetery. In a display of extreme cinematic chutzpah, the tunnel entrance is represented using the old ‘crouching down as you walk behind a desk’ gag!

Alex turns out to be a horror movie fan and there is some pre-Scream cinematic referentiality before she and David eventually trap the priest within a hastily drawn pentangle in the woods. Satan himself then appears, represented by some glowing eyes which must be one of the first ever uses of computer animation in a British indie film (it was done on an Amiga!). The priest burns up and all the zombies collapse. Or something.

What an incredible mishmash of ideas, themes, imagery and tropes, all crammed into an hour-long student film from over 20 years ago. While it’s nowhere near as polished as Demonsoul, I can’t help feeling that Twisted Souls should also be considered as a direct precursor to the British Horror Revival. It’s shot on video (variously U-Matic, Hi8 and VHS-C), it’s set in contemporary Britain (there’s even a reference to money being tight because of ‘the recession’) and the references and in-jokes are to 1980s films, not creaky Hammer classics.

This is a forward-looking, modern film, not a faux gothic throwback. It’s grabbing the camera and making a movie for today (when today was the early 1990s) rather than trying to recapture some quasi-mythical ‘Golden Age’ of British horror. And if the acting is distinctly variable, and if the effects are straight off the cheese counter (not least a gloriously cut-price papier mâché severed head), then who cares? There’s a devil-may-care, post-punk attitude here that simply ignores limitations.

Millward, who mostly makes corporates, has five subsequent horror shorts on his IMDB page, dated from 1999 to 2007, plus the Hellraiser film, a couple of recent horror-related documentaries and three docus on narrowboating (one of which nevertheless features Adrian Mills as a ghost!). Aside from a few roles in Millward’s shorts, no-one in the cast of Twisted Souls ever did anything else on screen, so far as I can tell.

The special effects are credited to Simon Cox (with a few specific ones by ‘Meyers’). This may possibly be the Simon Cox who made Written in Blood and has been working on low-budget sci-fi epic Kaleidoscope Man for the past few years. Or maybe not. Music supervisor Jesse Webb gets a special credit for co-writing the dream sequence, for some reason.

In 2013, Millward gave the original film a decent restoration and posted in onto YouTube, along with four minutes of out-takes/behind the scenes and a minute of split-screen clips showing how much restoration was needed. Since then the film has had a rather desultory 630 views.

Historically interesting for what it is and when it was made, and kind of fun in its own right anyway - if you can look past the pocket money budget - Twisted Souls is well worth a view by anyone interested in modern British horror. You won ‘t find it in English Gothic of course. In fact it doesn’t even seem to be on Pass the Marmalade (although it might be by the time you read this). Nevertheless this sort of grass roots production is the very essence of modern British horror cinema and it helped to point towards the 21st century explosion of domestic frightfare which I have been documenting lo these many years. I’m very pleased to be able to add this to the historical record.

MJS rating: B+

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Stay

Director: Frazer Lee
Writer: Frazer Lee
Producers: Frazer Lee, Alan Stewart
Cast: Daniela Finley
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

The Stay is a slickly crafted nine minutes of spookiness with a neat-o central performance and adroit direction which frustratingly stumbles in the narrative department. It’s good, it’s very good, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Nevertheless, as the first film directed by Frazer Lee since 2002, I can’t help but recommend it to you.

Either side of the millennium, Frazer directed a pair of critically acclaimed shorts, both starring Sir Douglas Bradley: On Edge (adapted from a Christopher Fowler story) and Red Lines. In the 13 years since then he wrote Jason Fragale’s 2010 short Simone and was one of the many hands who made heavy work of the Panic Button script. The IMDB throws up a few other curious credits I didn’t know about: production assistant on legendary, unfinished, Alex Chandon scripted oddity Siamese Cop, script editor on a 2009 Norwegian horror short called Palazzo Massacre and best boy on Urban Ghost Story(!). Mostly he has been writing novels: six to date including The Lamplighters (which was shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award) and a novelisation of Panic Button.

Now comes The Stay. Daniela Finley (who was in a Dizzee Rascal video) gives a bravura, solo, dialogue-free performance as a young woman who arrives at a holiday cottage for some me-time. A bit of supper, a glass or two of wine, snuggle under the blankets – lovely.

What sets the spookiness in motion is the discovery of a shattered, circular, black mirror. Initially spotted in the bin, this item recurs in both broken and unbroken forms throughout the film. Unlike some mirror films, there is actually something spooky to be seen in the mirror, and Frazer’s direction of these creepy moments ably demonstrates his mastery of the genre.

Individually, the various moments work brilliantly but there doesn’t seem to be anything tying them together. The ending, while effective, doesn’t relate in any noticeable way to what has gone before (except maybe the loose concept of a mirror image, I guess). The plot is basically ‘woman arrives at cottage, weird things happen, the end’. Even in a film running just eight and a half minutes, there should be more than that. The absolute minimum, smallest thing that can constitute a narrative is two connected events. A cause and an effect. Something has to happen because something else happened. But as with some other shorts I’ve reviewed here recently, there’s really just one thing here: a random sequence of weird events in a cottage. At least there is a thing, the brief story progressing smoothly and satisfyingly, unlike some of the disconnected, unsatisfying stories I’ve recently watched.

But within that story, each of the spooky, mirror-related events seems disconnected from the others, like variations on a theme rather than a progression towards a crescendo. This is less of a problem in under nine minutes than in a feature, but it’s still a little disappointing to reach the end credits without a revelation of How It All Fits Together and What It All Means.

Frazer has roped in his old buddy Alan Stewart, who DPed Red Lines and On Edge, as cinematographer and to also share producer duties. Stewart also lit Lab Rats and the Quatermass Experiment remake and has pulled second unit duty on a bunch of notable stuff including The Woman in Black, Spectre, Pan, Inkheart and both Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. Lee David, Tom Tatchell and Stuart Pitcher provided the smoothly integrated and subtle visual effects.

Shot over three days in February 2013 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, The Stay received its world premiere at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May 2015 after a lengthy period of post-production. In December of that year, Frazer released the film on DVD with a solid hour of extras (plus a bare-bones VOD release).

The Stay is one of those films I feel bad about for not being more effusive over. It’s extremely well-made and undeniably atmospheric. If there had just been a distinct narrative arc, it could have been even better. Still, it’s great to see Frazer Lee back in the director’s chair and I hope we won’t have to wait 13 years for his next movie.

MJS rating: B+

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

interview: Dave Prowse

Many years ago I interviewed Dave Prowse at his gym about his brief but memorable role in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That appeared in the Hitchhiker’s Guide fan club mag. This second interview was done by phone for SFX in Feburary 1996 on the occasion of the VHS release of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Of course, you can’t talk with Dave Prowse without discussing Darth Vader…

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was your third time as the monster, wasn't it?
“Third time, yeah. The first time I did the monster was in Casino Royale, which was the original bolt-and-neck job. The second time I did it was for Hammer, which was The Horror of Frankenstein, then I did another Hammer horror, which was Vampire Circus in 1972. Then we finished with Monster from Hell in 1973 with Terence Fisher directing and Peter Cushing playing the Baron.”

You had very different make-up in Horror of Frankenstein.
“It was a terrible job because it used to take two and a half hours every day to put that headpiece on. All the things had to be molded in with mortician's wax. It was horrendous. It meant I had to be at the studios at half past six in the morning so I was available for nine o'clock on set. Whereas when we came to do the second one, they made a complete plaster cast of my body and my head. Then what they did, as soon as I agreed to do the part, they then made the mask and built the body up on a wetsuit. Consequently I used to get to the studio about ten minutes before I was required, zip the wetsuit on, put the mask on and I was ready and available in about ten or 15 minutes, which was great.”

Was it difficult acting in it?
“Not at all. It was very comfortable actually. It was very easy to walk around in. I had no problems with it whatsoever.”

There's not much expression you can get into the face though, is there?
“Well, you see the film. There's a lot of expression comes out of the monster. It's like people say to me about Darth Vader. They turn round and say, 'You're playing behind a mask,' and all the rest of it. But it's amazing what you can convey through body movement and hand positioning, or just the movement of your head. Exactly the same applies to the monster. The eyes were very expressive. It was my own eyes, obviously. It was surprising how expressive you can get. At one stage the monster actually breaks down: a very touching little scene, when he smashes up the violin and breaks down.”

This was the last Frankenstein film that Hammer did.
“It was the last film that Terence Fisher did. It was one of the last of the Hammer horrors.”

Was it thought of as the last in the series?
“Oh no, not at all. Nobody had any idea that Hammer were going to fold up. Obviously Terence Fisher was right at the end of his career. He wasn't a well man when he did it. He was on walking sticks while we were actually filming. You could tell he wasn't a well man, but he was a lovely guy.”

Did he do either of your other Hammer films?
“No. The first one I did was with Jimmy Sangster, the second was with Robert Young.”

Are you pleased to see it finally out on video?
“Yeah, I am, I'm looking forward to it. I'm amazed at the amount of interest that's been shown. I just had a call from Inverness. They want me to go on Scottish radio, and I'm doing the Ann and Nick show. Loads of press, television and radio interest. I'm amazed by it, to be perfectly honest.”

How's your Hammer House of Horror marketing coming along?
“Not very well. We haven't done very much with it, to be perfectly honest. We've launched a range of model kits. I think we've got three out at the present moment. Our first one was Oliver Reed's Curse of the Werewolf. Then we followed that with The Reptile. We did one of Dracula at one stage and we weren't very happy with it. I've got a feeling that we're going to launch the Dracula kit again. Now we've got things like trading cards, telephone cards, computer games. There's quite a few things on the market now. And we've got posters coming out. They're specially designed. An artist in America - called George Bush, would you believe? - has done some fantastic artwork for some posters for us. These are all going to be available quite soon.”

Have you heard whether anybody's bought up the old Hammer Horror mag?
“No, I haven't actually. It was produced by Marvel, and we've been waiting to see whether anybody has actually taken the magazine over.”

The other interesting thing is this Star Wars video game.
“That's coming out in April. That was produced by Hasbro. What happened there was that the Hasbro people decided that they were going to come out with an interactive game. It was about 50 minutes, all Darth Vader, and they decided they wanted me to play Darth Vader. So they got in touch with Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm were under the impression that I wasn't walking very well. I had this problem with my ankle. Well, I had a hip problem for starters, then I developed arthritis in my ankle, and at one stage they wanted to take my leg off. I had all sorts of problems, but I was walking around reasonably well, albeit with a caliper and surgical boot.

"Lucasfilm decided they wanted me to do a screen test to play Darth Vader. I thought it was quite funny, actually, having a screen test to play the role that you created. Anyway they came to the gym and then they filmed me walking around in an empty room up on the top floor. And would you believe - Lucasfilm rejected it! They said I was limping too badly. Then the Communicator people, the company that filmed the game, they got back in touch with me and said, 'Look, Hasbro and us definitely want you to do Darth Vader. We don't want anybody else to do Darth Vader. We've already got the voice of James Earl Jones. He's already gone into the studios and done the voice. Would you do us a favour and do a second screen test? But please, please, please, try and walk without limping!'

"So they came to my gymnasium again and I walked around upstairs. They went back to Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm said, 'Fine, lovely, everything's okay.' So in July of last year we filmed this thing. We filmed it in two days and worked from eight o'clock in the morning to about half past ten at night both days. It was a real hard slog, and it finished up with 50 minutes of nothing else but Darth Vader giving instructions to the kids. it was interesting because it was me acting to James Earl Jones' voice, whereas before, James Earl Jones supplied the voice to my acting. It was super. They've got all clips from the films and it looks really good.”

Have you got any more projects lined up?
“I'm off to America in March to do a big science fiction convention in Washington DC. At the present moment we're waiting to hear from an organisation in America that's trying to organise what they call a 'Men Behind the Masks' tour. With a bit of luck, if it all comes off, I could be spending the next year, eighteen months touring the world, in connection with the 20th anniversary of Star Wars.”

You worked with Peter Cushing on Monster from  Hell and on Star Wars. Have you ever worked with Christopher Lee?
“No, I haven't. I know him. We've met a few times but I've never actually worked with him. Although years ago... Do you remember Celebrity Squares? I used to carry the money in. For the first 39 episodes of Celebrity Squares, I was the man who carried the money in. What happened was they asked me if I would do it and they said, 'We're going to make a big thing of this, of you bringing this thousand pounds in. One week we'll do it with you dressed up as a pirate with all the money in a chest. Another time, you can come in as a security guard with all the money in a briefcase. And so on and so forth.'

"So I went up to the studios to do the first one and Bob Monkhouse decided that he didn't want me to have any of his limelight. He told them that they had to zoom in on the case, and all you ever saw, from the first one onwards, was my hands on the briefcase with the thousand pounds in. That was it. But I did 39 episodes. And what used to happen was Christopher Lee used to come up and be on Celebrity Squares every so often. We used to sit down and chat and we've been pals ever since. But I've never actually worked with him.”

Monday, 14 December 2015

interview: Garrick Hagon

I interviewed husband and wife Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross in September 1998 at the recording of The Gemini Apes, an original sci-fi radio drama by Dirk Maggs. Of course, we mostly talked about Star Wars.

How did you get involved with this?
“I’ve been involved with Dirk right from the very beginning, right from the very first pilot of Superman, when I played the voice of… what was his name? Something like K-Tel or K-Mart! Anyway, I did that and then I did Clark Kent. We did Superman and then I did Batman’s twin in a very early radio show of Batman, and then later it was Spider-Man. So I’ve been with Dirk since the first one.”

Do you do a lot of radio?
“Oh yes. My whole, budding career started in radio, when I was about six. I do a lot of radio; I do a lot of readings of books and stories. I just did a drama recently, I did Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. An awful lot.”

I think to most people you’re Biggs.
“Yes, people are still harking back to Biggs.”

Does that role haunt you, or was it useful?
“It doesn’t haunt me. It’s become much more prevalent since the reissue and I’ve started going to a few conventions. I went to one a few weeks ago at the hotel in Russell Square. Then I was at one a while ago on the Isle of Wight. So yes, there are more requests for photographs and all of that. A doll has come out.”

Famously, your scene with Mark Hamill was cut. Was it actually filmed?
“Oh yes, the scene was filmed. It’s all there. In fact, they showed it at a convention not so long ago. Somebody actually mentioned that they’d seen it and actually had a copy. Not a very good copy, but there are contraband copies being sent around, I believe.”

Not that we endorse that sort of thing at all.
“Not at all, not at all!”

That must have radically reduced your screen time.
“My screen time was virtually non-existent. That scene, the whole segment on Tattooine was about six minutes, I understand. All my information comes from fans who write and tell me. I had no idea what the length was or why it was cut. I’ve never understood. I’ve never really had an official letter as to why.”

So you filmed it but then it wasn’t there on the screen at the preview.
“I knew it had been binned, but only from another actor as well; Anthony Daniels. It wasn’t there. Subsequently George has talked about it in various interviews and indicated it didn’t fit, it was slowing us down, it made Luke look weak. In fact, it just changed the pace of the first part of the film. It’s a very talky scene, it’s a kind of grown-up scene. A very nice, warm, friendly, human scene that just takes a different tone from the early part of the picture.”

Do you think he was right to cut it?
“Well, I don’t know. Mark said at the party for the opening: ‘I’ve always wanted it to be put in, because it gave him a background, it gave him a bit more past life.’ I guess that would have added something and a lot of people still would like it put back in. Get a bit of life on the planet, you know. Because there were other people: Koo Stark and Anthony Forrest and so on. We had a nice little scene in the power station there that kind of gave a community to it.”

Did you film that in Tunisia?

I heard that was fairly rough.
“Oh, it wasn’t rough for me. I sat around the hotel for a week and then did it on my second last day there. It was hot, but I’d worked in the desert on Mohammed or The Message for a year. It was nice to get back and talk a little bit of Arabic. So it was fun; I really enjoyed it. We had nice horse rides on the beach.”

Most of your remaining footage is flying the X-Wings.
“There’s a little bit of me in the hanger, meeting Mark. Which is nice to see because it’s a very nice, warm, friendly scene as well. Kind of a happy scene. It was near the end of the picture, I think we were just pretty bubbly that day. But it was nice to see it back. And who knows - one day I may actually see the whole scene. Who knows? There might be a good copy in this country, I don’t know. It might come from the office eventually.”

The cockpit scenes: was that just a close-up camera on a tiny cockpit set?
“I don’t know how close it was. It was just outside the cockpit, a light going round on a track around it. I can’t remember whether we did the whole thing in sequence. I found that I knew the whole scene, so I may have just shot it and gone right the way through it. I believe I did. But anyway, that was all one day, one very short hour or two.”

When you were making Star Wars, how much idea did you have that it might be so huge?
“Some of them must have felt that, but I don’t think any of us on the floor did. I don’t think anybody had any idea at all. We knew it was fun, we knew it was ingenious, a lot of good people in it, and so on. Especially with Alec Guinness being in the midst, you knew there was something of quality here. And George kept his cards fairly close to the chest. Gil Taylor didn’t seem too bemused by it all, but he was doing a lot of good work on the cameras so the sets and everything looked pretty good. So you knew there was something, but you didn’t have any idea what.”

You mentioned Mohammed, Messenger of God. Now there is a controversial film.
“It was controversial but on the other hand it got a very big wide audience - and still does - among the Muslim nations. Of both versions: we did two versions, Arabic and English. So it’s still very much there. I get people coming up to me occasionally who have seen it. Mainly Muslims of course. That was a great experience for a whole year.”

As I understand it, you can’t show the Prophet or any of his wives or…
“No, it’s absolutely forbidden to show the Prophet or any image of the Prophet. We all played to the red light on the side of the camera. Anthony Quinn, when he finally got fed up with the red light, used to call for me if I was around to get in there beside the camera and do the lines behind the camera, but nobody knew that. But he just couldn’t work to a red light. There was actually a lot of wonderful horse stuff and nitty gritty in the desert, and I enjoyed that. It was a great time and I loved the Arabic cast, and I learned an awful lot about another culture on that film.”

People must have realised that there was going to be controversy.
“Yes, but they had advisors from the council of Islam - I’m not sure what they were called - in Cairo. They were always there and they vetted the script endlessly of course. So it was only the fundamentalists. Nowadays I think they’d find it even harder to make the film because the fundamentalists are much more in evidence. It was finally Saudia Arabia, King Faisal, that put the pressure on King Hussain of Morocco, and we had to leave Morocco with half of the film done. Then Gadaffi took us under his wing and we did the rest of the film in Libya with a lot of help from Gadaffi and Zalut, his second-in-command.”

When it opened, I understand a lot of people who hadn’t seen it, condemned it.
“That’s right. There were a lot of protests in New York. In fact, people were afraid to show it. I think it was eventually withdrawn from New York and Toronto. It played here and then it went. It played in the Muslim countries of course.”

You and Liza were both in Tim Burton’s Batman.
“Yes, we started Batman. We opened the picture. That was a wonderful set and an incredible night. We continued the scene on another night, but that whole Gotham City set was one of the most exciting sets I’ve ever been on. Wonderful. Tim Burton was a great director; he didn’t say very much but he was a very nice person to work for. It was a good experience.”

You were in a Doctor Who story.
“Yes, I was. Somebody came up to me at a conference with my picture from ‘The Mutants’. I played a character called Kai in ‘The Mutants’ who starts as this very rough and ready rebel character in a cave and ends up a butterfly. A very sweet transformation. I had a lot of fun and it’s a good episode, and it still seems to be about today. People come up to me at the conferences and mention Doctor Who.”

Which Doctor was that?
“It was Jon Pertwee, with Katy Manning. They were very good together and we had a lot of fun in that.”

You were in Moonbase 3.
“Yes, I was. That was more intellectual, more scientifically based. I was playing an Italian scientist in that who was quite an angry young man too. But it didn’t go very far. I don’t know how many we did: six, or something like that. But it was a pretty worthwhile little series.”

The Spy Who Loved Me.
“Oh well, I did everything I could not to be seen in that. I just ran around as a member of the crew and thought ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this, but it’s good money for Christmas.’ I just thought I should be doing something better. I’d played very good parts in films, and I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll do this for the money but I don’t want to be seen.’ And indeed, I don’t think you can see me. I think you have to really work hard to see me in that picture! Whenever there was a line-up of American troops, I was always at the end - I thought, ‘They’ll have cut by this time’! But I made nice money, except we practically got burned. A lot of the fellas got injured in one sequence; that was a bit scary. But aside from that, that was a good time. A lot of the American guys in town were in that.”

“I just saw that. That was a picture with Rutger Hauer and I played an American journalist. That was in Prague. It was a scary story about: what if the Nazis had won the war? Nice, good, solid TV film.”

Were you in Mission: Impossible?
“I was, but I did a reporter and it didn’t mean much. It was just a day.”

A Bridge Too Far.
“That was an early picture I did in the midst of Star Wars. I played a military policeman who wants to arrest James Caan. In fact he does, he says, ‘Arrest him’. So I arrest him for a count of ten. He’s arrested for ten seconds then he can operate on the guy. He’s rescuing this young, wounded soldier and Arthur Hill operates on him then and saves his life, or something. Anyway, I memorably count to ten. But that was awful because I had to cut my hair for that and I thought George Lucas wouldn’t let me back on Star Wars. Because I did it inbetween Tunisia and the London locations. But George, when I got back, said, ‘Ah, don’t worry about it. You got your hair cut at the academy!’ Because I wasn’t wearing a helmet in Tunisia. I had nice, long hair and a beautiful, long cape and a great costume. So if they’d kept Tunisia, it would have been a complete transformation from me in Tunisia to me back in the London sequences. As it was, they never showed Tunisia, so there was no problem!”

Have a lot of your film roles been odd days?
“Well, except for the one I spent a year on. And I starred in a film way back called Some Kind of Hero. That was my first and only leading role, but it was a lovely story about an American deserter who escapes from Vietnam and comes to London. It’s actually a bit of a love story. My leading lady was Mary Larkin. That’s a long time ago. But that was a film in which I go all the way through, which has subsequently been lost to history. That was my first one; I did that along with Anthony and Cleopatra with Charlton Heston. I was Charlton Heston’s faithful servant Eros. I have a lovely picture of me helping Chuck down the stairs.

"It was a great, nice experience because Eros is a very moving part. Chuck was always very supportive and it was a good way to start filming. He always felt badly about it because it wasn’t the big success he wanted as a director and as an actor. But it was a very fine English cast - some were Spaniards too - and it should have done well. I think the photography was not great, it was done not as well as it could have been shot. It was well acted but not as well shot as it could have been. For one reason or another, it was not a success.”

Do you do a lot of film work?
“Over the years yes, I have. I’ve done a lot of telly and a lot of film. I’ve done other series in Europe, like The Nightmare Years, and a lot of films and television in Canada, and American things over here too. I did a series called Openheimer, again with my wife. A lot of stage work too. I did Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Colin Blakely and Rosemary Harrison; After the Fall at the National Theatre; and I’ve just done Macbeth with Pete Postlethwaite; and a play at the Royal Court called I am Yours. I do a lot of voice work as well, so I’ve managed to do quite a wide variety of stuff.”

Do you do many cartoons?
“Liza does. I do some. I heard her talking about Star Fleet, and I did that. Somebody came up the other day and said, ‘Oh, you did Captain Carter in Star Fleet.’ Somebody remembers it. It’s amazing. Somebody came up with a full treatment that he wanted to direct, a live-action series. I thought: ‘Well, good on you.’ Of course, I’ve had another chap write a whole book really, then a treatment, then a radio script of Biggs Darklighter’s life. I’ve had a number of those actually, but one very, very well constructed one from somebody in England, but of course you can’t get the rights to do anything like that.”

Have you thought of getting a role in the new film?
“That hasn’t even come up. Kenny Baker was saying he’s in it, but they weren’t throwing them about to a lot of the old members. And there was no reason to because we’re dead or not born or whatever. I don’t know who else is in it from the old ones. Tony, I know, is in it.”

Ian McDiarmid is in it.
“Oh, that’s great. The guy’s wonderful. Tony I think only has the droid’s voice off-screen or something like that. Everyone would like to be in it, I suppose, but they’re not handing them out like candy, these roles.”

What else are you working on?
“Mostly books, I suppose. For the next month, I seem to be doing two or three books, and I’m doing another radio show. But I have no films lined up at all.”


Sunday, 13 December 2015

interview: Harley Cokeliss

When did I interview Harley Cokeliss? I don't have a record but it must have been towards the end of my time on SFX in early 1998. At the time, Harley was developing a slate of films adapted from 2000AD strips. Although none of these projects came to fruition, this is still a fascinating look into what might have been. Of course, I also wanted to talk about Glitterball, The Empire Strikes Back and other cool stuff too.

What can you tell me about Fleetway Film and Television?
"Amongst other things. I’ll give you some information, but it has to be cleared for press release. It’s just the clearance from upstairs, because once we did a press release in Variety and the people in Copenhagen got terribly upset. So we have to go through internal announcement before it goes to worldwide announcement."

Who are the people in Copenhagen?
"Egmont Foundation owns Fleetway. It’s now called Egmont Fleetway. One of the largest magazine and comics publishers in the world - hugely successful in Germany - with a focus on children’s books, magazines and comics. The Foundation has a very educationally solid orientation, which is why Fleetway and the magazines are a little bit the black sheep of the family. They don’t really know how to pigeonhole us, but what they see now is that the magazine line is quite an interesting line. If you talk to Steve Macmahon or David Bishop, they’ll tell you that these magazines are not about superheroes. They’re really about ordinary people in extraordinary situations."

You’re in charge of licensing properties that Fleetway own?
I wouldn’t say I was in charge. Ileen Maisel and myself and Duncan [xxxxx?] are engaged as consultants, and togther we created Fleetway Film and Television with a view that FFTV would be there to protect the integrity of what they refer to as the intellectual copyright. I can’t remember if it’s intellectual property or copyright. I think it’s intellectual property. I think they’re concerned that the integrity of the characters are preserved. Because I think they felt that maybe the character wasn’t kept as much as he could have been."

In other words, making sure that Rogue Trooper stays blue?
"That’s an interesting question about the colour. You know I developed this about five or six years ago with Joel Silver and Rita Henson at Warner Brothers."

How far did that get?
"Three drafts of a script. They were a little bit concerned about the scale of the script, even though they told the writer: ‘Don’t feel inhibited by budgets. Just write your vision.’ That involved long discussion with Rob Bottin who is the wonderful special effects make-up supervisor. Rob and I had long discussions about why blue is a difficult colour, and how grey is  much better colour."

Difficult for blue-screen work.
"Well, there’s that. That is true. But what he was refering to was what he called ‘the mantle of the eye’ and the inside of the mouth. Because the inside of your eye is red, so that makes a very strong contrast between the blue and the red. The inside of your mouth is pink, and the inside of your nose and the inside of your ear. And all these point up the fact that it’s make-up. So he was saying steer away from blue, go more in the direction of grey. We were going to give him a kind of skin texture, because we felt that one of the things that the genetic engineers would do would be to give him a skin that was more resistant to scratches and cuts and abrasions and bullets.

"I’ve just seen Saving Private Ryan, which was a very salutary experience I must say because when we considered how to do Rogue, we always envisioned it as a kind of World War One movie. Certainly like the newsreels that we saw: handheld. That kind of modus operandi was very much in our mind, and Steven got there and did it and did an astonishing job. It’s truly remarkable. I think it’s a remarkable piece of work. But Rogue is going to be a very interesting project. When you look at how long it’s been running, which is nearly 20 years now, we have a great number of stories. There’s always the discussion: ‘Are you going to go for the origin story?’ Which is quite logical. But we have so many extraordinary characters, that it’s really going to be a question of: ‘How do we do the best story and which are the strongest characters?’ Like Venus Bluegenes has an enormous number of fans and I think it would be foolish to ignore her presence."

Venus Greygenes as she’d become.
"I think Levi’s would have a thing to say about that. But I’m a big fan of the chips. A lot of the time when I was developing this in California with Lee Drysdale as the writer, Dave Gibbons was writing his version. Because Dave of course as the creator visually was taking a shot at doing another version that Will Simpson drew but Dave wrote. And we would meet and we’d exchange ideas and talk about the way that I saw the character and the way that Dave saw the character. And Dave decided to go without the chips in war machine, whereas we love the chips. And I’m very sure that in the next development of Rogue, we’re going to be very true to the character - and the chips are back."

It would be a good way to get some big name stars in the film.
"Exactly. that’s what we intend on doing. Of course, in the intervening years since the original development at Warner Brothers, special effects technology has proceded at a pace. There’s some young men and women coming out of the computer animation schools in LA - some even self-taught - and they’re doing remarkable work on home-based machines. You don’t have to spend 35-40 million dollars on a Silicon Graphics machine anymore. So it’s becoming more affordable. My whole orientation with CGI is about making CGI invisible. In other words, if you use CGI, say in the way that they used it in Braveheart, where you have the pikes and the horses nowhere near each other, but when the horses charge and get tangled up in the pikes, you know.

"But before we plunge specifically into Rogue Trooper, perhaps I can wet your appetite and wet the fans’ appetite by telling you what’s happening, what we’re on the verge of announcing. I think a lot of this will be announced in October at MIPCOM, which is the television marketplace. By the time you get ready to go to press with this, we shall have finalised a very protracted negotiation, I must admit, with Showtime Television to make two two-hour movie/television pilots for two of the Fleetway pilots: Strontium Dog and Outlaw."

Remind me of Outlaw.
"In the future, on another planet, the fastest, most skilful user of a particular weapons system has retired but the Powers That Be won’t leave him alone. They bring him out of retirement and when he refuses, they kidnap his daughter to force him to work for them. Because he’s the best. And they want to win because the winner of the conflict obviously makes more sales."

Who created that?
"I don’t know. I was talking to Steve McManus yesterday about this because the character basically had one story. It just ran for one series. I’d say Dan Abnett because Dan writes everything. We’re huge fans of Dan’s. We think that the new storyline that Dan has come up with for Sinister Dexter is absolutely terrific, and we think it has definite movie potential."

And Strontium Dog?
"Strontium Dog? Well, guess what, guys? Johnny Alpha returns."

And Wulf Sternhammer?
"Well… I think anywhere Johnny goes, Wulf’s going to be around. But I can’t really say for sure which way the studio’s going to jump."

So as TV movies, these could spin off into series?
"I think they like to call them cable movies. Because they aren’t on broadcast television, they’re on cable television. And I think they’ll be getting some theatrical release in certain territories, depending on how they turn out. They’ve hired John Shirley, who I’m a big fan of: one of the cyberpunk writers who I think has worked with Bill Gibson.  And for the writer on Outlaw - I think they’re negotiating with Lloyd Fonvielle, a very interesting LA-based writer who just finished writing Have Gun, Will Travel, the movie version of that, so we thought ‘Brilliant idea: let’s have him do Outlaw. Which is a western a bit like Winchester 73.’ Remember Winchester 73? It’s about a shooting contest. And there’s also The Quick and the Dead which is also about a shooting contest. It’s also a bit reminiscent of a picture that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a hunter in, Commando, where he’s a retired guy and the government want to press him back into service, and find ways of getting him to capitulate."

What sort of budgets are we looking at?
"Well, no-one’s set any budgets, but I think the budgets are going to be modest by movie standards. But I can’t really tell you because the scripts haven’t been written so the budgets can’t be made. But I don’t think they’ll be 78p or a hundred million dollar movies. They’ll be several million pounds, but where on that scale, nobody knows until the script’s written. But the thing is, I think they’re looking to spin off and once you establish basic sets - like the sets on Star Trek: Voyager - you’ve built your sets. You don’t have to keep building them for every show. So those costs, which might be considerable, are averaged over the life of a series. I think those final cost equations will enter into the budget process when they know what they have. And as you know, Spice Factory has been in negotiation with Egmont over Rogue and also Bad Company. I think the intention with Bad Company is that the writer and creator of the series, Pete Milligan, would write the script."

Does he have any experience of scriptwriting?
"Pete is a very much in demand young British screenwriter, who’s written for about half a dozen companies: Paramount, British Screen, Handmade, Pathe. He’s a friend of mine; we collaborated on a couple of scripts. One is kind of a hallucinatory crime story, Pilgrim. We’re hoping to put it into production very soon. In fact there might be an announcement within a month or so. We’re out of Development Hell and in the zone of Casting Hell. Because they don’t greenlight movies until there’s someone to play the parts."

Who has final say-so on things like what colour to paint Rogue?
"Well, I speak as someone who was at the table in California a long time ago, when at the time I jointly held the rights to Judge Dredd with Charlies Lippincott. He and I did not pursue business very long, and he went off with the rights. But I remember that discussion - ‘Will he take his helmet off?’ - going on and on and on. The thing is that Egmont has been very fair to the creators and given the creators first shot at creating a treatment or series bible. Then at the point when a major studio or network or production company gets involved and starts spending serious amounts of money, no-one is going to do that without having a certain degree of creative freedom.

"You see, that’s where FFTV comes in, in terms of our brief of protecting the integrity of the character without, I think, becoming obsessive. There is a logic you have to apply. One of the problems is that you get fabulous artists drawing extraordinary images of characters and situations and even costuming them, but when you come to the practical matter of designing costumes that somebody actually has to wear, move around, be able to lift their leg, then a whole different set of parameters comes into play."

It’s like the problems with the Vampirella costume.
"Well, I’m a big fan of Durham Red."

Is she going to be in Strontium Dog?
"Let’s just say that she’s in the Strontium Dog universe. I think Durham and Johnny are terrific partners, but whether she’s going to be in the movie I don’t know. Because John Shirley hasn’t officially started work. I think John has been working, but this is all subject to contract. The contract’s on the verge of closing as we speak."

Do the writers have freedom to use all the established characters within each universe and/or to invent new ones?
"Oh, I should think so."

So they could give Johnny a new sidekick if they wanted to?
"Absolutely, because I think what you’re talking about is a very different artform. When you look at a comic series, you see this medium: eight to ten pages in a weekly strip, going over six or eight weeks or whatever it takes to tell the story. It’s exactly like a serial or a part-work. But you know, if you do a serial in the sense that you keep bringing the character back week after week, you never bring your story closure. You keep it suspended, unresolved. Now, that’s fine for the TV series continuations that might be possible spin-offs, but the artform of movies demands bringing a story to closure. There has to be a climax, there has to be a denouement, you have to send the audience out having the feeling they’ve had a complete experience. You can’t jerk out the rug from under them at the last minute and say, ‘The story’s not over. You’ve got come back again.’

"But obviously when you get into a television series, a whole new set of script parameters then apply, where you have a situation in which you have what’s called the long story. Like in The Fugitive: is he going to find the guy with one arm? Then you have the specific episode story which you have to bring to closure. Look for example at the soap opera techniques that Steve Bochco refined with Hill Street Blues. Or LAPD Blue. Rolling stories: that’s much more similar to a comic, but in each story there has to be an element that comes to closure. Because otherwise the audience isn’t satisfied. I remember just recently I was really annoyed because I was watching this really terrific episode of Star Trek: Voyager. That show is remarkable. The writing on that show is truly excellent. The great American shows are great because of the quality of the writing. But anyway, I got to what I thought was going to be the end of the show, and it turns out that it was part one of a two-part thing. And the vagaries of satellite broadcasting was that the second part was going to be shown at a time and a day when I couldn’t see it. I was very cross because the story hadn’t resolved for me.

"I think you have to be aware, when you’re trying to spin a character off into a series. Those are very good examples of the different demands of the different forms that the characters are going to be transformed into. They’re moving into major motion picture. With regards to Bad Company and Rogue Trooper - those are theatrical. Cable movies, with regards to Strontium Dog and Outlaw; with the potential to spin off. We have some interest in Robo-Hunter - I think Sam Slade’s terrific - and also ABC Warriors. All of that is possible now."

A lot of the 2000AD universes are interlinked. If somebody has the rights to ABC Warriors, do they also have the rights to Ro-Busters or Nemesis the Warlock as well?
"I think they would probably want to take the characters in that instance and try to avoid cross-examination, violating the rights of the creators, although I think they’re all Pat Mills stories. But I think all of this is possible. We’re at very, very early stages."

When will these start shooting, best case scenario?
"We’re hoping - and maybe this is wildly optimistic - but I’d like to think that we could get two of them into production in 1999. I know that John Shirley has done a lot of thinking about Strontium Dog, so he’d be ready to go into screenplay pretty quickly. I know that Michael Cowan has a particular writer in mind to do Rogue Trooper. I know they’re in discussions with Lloyd Fonvielle for Outlaw."

Spice Factory are talking of Michael Hurst to do Rogue.
"That’s right. But a lot of this is subject to contract."

Let’s move on. I was watching Glitterball last week. 
"What? Where? How?"

I have the video from the '80s. Who were the Children’s Film Foundation?
"Well, they’re a very interesting organisation, which I think is mutating to stay alive in the changing media marketplace. They originally were the beneficiaries of some of the funds from the Eady Fund. The late, lamented, much missed Eady Fund, whereby there was a tax on cinema tickets, much as there still is in France. So people going to the cinema to see American movies were subsidising the indigenous film industry. I think it should come back, myself. When I made my two films - I did The Battle of Billy’s Pond and Glitterball - in the middle-to-late '70s, they still had the funding resources that they could make the films. And with the demise of the Eady Fund that was no longer possible.

"So what they’ve been doing recently is get involved in the development of projects. They were involved in the early development of the Borrowers television series. That’s what they do. The new Lottery Commission people regard them with some affection and I think the true nature of their relationship is yet to be defined. Because: what they do, nobody else does."

Was Glitterball made as a second feature, because it’s only an hour long? 
"It’s about an hour. They made it and they showed it in cinemas as a Saturday morning picture, which still existed then. There were these cinema clubs where people would go and they’d watch the movies on Saturday mornings. So I don’t know whether you can call that a second feature; it was a Saturday morning picture kind of thing."

Nobody makes hour-long movies. 
"No, not any more. Except, of course, television."

Did you get in FX guys to do the sequences of the ball rolling around? 
"We made the film, an hour-long 35mm movie, for £56,000. For my alien, I couldn’t afford soft, cuddly, fuzzy creatures with arms and legs moving around. I couldn’t afford even reptilian, semi-turtle-looking creatures. So we hit on the idea of a very simple - easy to animate - ball."

A ping pong ball? 
"There were three different kinds of ball for three different kinds of motion. A ping pong ball, yes, which you can manipulate with an air-line. An off-camera air-line will blow a ping pong ball away quite quickly. Or a wooden ball, which bounces downstairs differently than a ping pong ball bounces. And a steel ball - we got a big ball bearing and sprayed it with paint - and that was the hero ball. We’d use it for a close-up or sometimes we’d do the stop-frame animation with it. Then there’s a guy who did the Wombles television show. Barry Leith was the animator on that and he animated the ball. The intergalactic stuff and some of the other big stuff was done by the crew of special effects people, lead by Brian Johnson, who were at the time working for Space: 1999.

"We went over and saw Gerry Anderson, and said, ‘You know, Gerry, we can’t afford to put together a special effects team but would it be possible for us to borrow your team and have them do some effects for us?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ He didn’t charge us a penny. He said, ‘Just deal with the crew and pay their overtime.’ I’ll always be very thankful to Gerry; he was very helpful and a true gentleman. So we had Brian Johnson, who then went on to do Star Wars and a bunch of other things, building the mother ship and the little ship with complicated folding hatches and stuff like that."

Where did you find your child actors? 
"When you’re acting with children, you have to go through a process where you go to the acting schools and sometimes you find a lot of them are very highly trained so they come on in a more stage-bound fashion. Or you go to acting clubs like Anna Scher’s Children’s Theatre where you find the kids can be very relaxed on stage and give a very cinematic performance. Or school clubs. Ben Buckton, who is now a very successful violinist with a string quartet, we found in a school drama club that the casting director knew. And it turned out that he was the son of somebody that I knew at the BBC."

How long had you been directing when you made Glitterball
"Well, I went to the London International Film School and did a bunch of movies there, student exercises, some of which went to film festivals. Then right out of film school I begged, borrowed and cadged some cameras and some friends and we went to Chicago and made this documentary called Chicago Blues. I had Tak Fujimoto as one of my cameramen, who went on to shoot Silence of the Lambs and basically everything that Jonathan Demme makes. And Terry Bedford who became a very talented cameraman and went on to direct movies and television commercials. He’s back in television now. And we had a great time making this documentary that the BBC then bought. I then started directing at the BBC: both documentaries and some dramas."

What series were you working on? 
"Horizon. Omnibus. Review - which prefigured Arena - with the late James Mossman. Arena, when Alan Yentob was the producer there. A bunch of shows like that, and I did a kind of drama up in Yorkshire. Then I had this idea and wrote a script and got it to the Children’s Film Foundation. They liked it, and that was The Battle of Billy’s Pond, the first one, which I went off and made. Then I came up with the idea of Glitterball the following year and we made that."

A lot of people have commented on Glitterball’s similarities with ET
"That was five years later. Inbetween the two times, I had worked as second unit director on Empire Strikes Back, and I showed George some of my films. I showed him the science fiction documentary I made for Omnibus called It’s Fantastic! It’s Fatalistic! It’s Futuristic! It’s Science Fiction! I loved that film because I got a chance to meet a bunch of really wonderful and exciting science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Damon Knight, Ray Bradbury, people like that. And I showed him The Glitterball, which George liked. And then when I saw ET I kind of recognised certain jokes. When you do a film with the Children’s Film Foundation, you sign all your rights away, so there was no way I was ever going to benefit or anything. But I think the Foundation had a copyright attorney look into it.

"You know, whether Steve saw it before, I have no idea. But I guess the potential jokes and gags and situations that you think of when an alien comes to visit and maybe hangs out in a garden shed, then goes rummaging around in a refrigerator - the certain kinds of jokes that you can do there are finite. So, much later, when Spielberg was in London doing Raiders, we had a mutual friend in the producer Robert Watts, who I had met on Empire Strikes Back, and I gave Robert a copy of The Glitterball to give to Steve. Steven - I call him Steve; I’ve never met the guy - looked at it and sent me a very nice note saying that he liked it and ‘admired my economy … the narrative compression’ that we were actually able to get through the story in an hour."

As second unit director on Empire, which scenes did you direct? 
"Well, Peter McDonald did the snow scenes in Norway, and I came on board once they got back to Elstree through the tragic death of a wonderful guy called John Barry who was the production designer on the first film. I knew John through mutual friends like Tony Craft[?] and I was as shocked as anybody when John died so quickly. He got a form of meningitis which killed him very quickly, like within a day. So the crew is shattered and I happened to be in Elstree looking through publicity photographs for a movie that I did called They’re Coming[?]. And I went to the set to visit my friends. Chris Menges who had shot Battletruck for me in New Zealand, as well as a documentary. He did an extraordinary job shooting Chicago Street for me for ATV. Amazing film: Chris is an extraordinary cinematographer and a truly gifted operator. And David Garfath and Madelyn Most: a lot of the camera crew were friends of mine.

"So I went to say hello and they were extremely downcast, and when they told me I too was upset because I’d known John and he was a real gentleman. They said, ‘Oh, what are we going to do? We have so much work and we don’t know which director we’re going to get?’ And I said, ‘Listen, if I can be of any help, let me know.’ So I got a phone call from Robert Watts and I came down to the studio the next day again to meet Gary Kurtz and Irvin Kershner, and I started the next day and did it for four months. I thought it would be a four-week job and it turned out to be a four-month job. I got the nicest compliment from George Lucas who said to me: ‘Harley, your unit’s not the Second Unit, it’s the Other Unit.’

"They were shooting so much stuff because there were just so many sets to get through on that movie. What would happen is that Kershner would come onto a set, stage a scene, block it, shoot the key angles, get the performances he wanted, then he would have to leave that set to move onto another set. Which left me with all the actors shooting side angles, anything with a window that had to have a blue screen, back angles through a window, anything that had a special effect. There was a sword fight that had to have squibs. If you remember the famous sword fight between Luke and Darth Vader, my unit did most of that because of the time it took. Every time the lightsabres touched the railings and there was a discharge of sparks, those squibs - as they’re called - had to be individually set. So for take two, you had to wait while they reset the squibs and rebuilt the set if anything had broken. So it was a very time-consuming process, so it fell to our unit to do all the shots that were time-consuming, difficult, involving stuntmen.

"Like a lot of the acrobatics of Luke when he was fighting Darth in the carbon-freezing chamber, the orange, glowing set. Those were particular stuntmen: sometimes they were wired, sometimes they weren’t wired, sometimes they used trampolines. So there was a lot of time-comsuming set-up time, becuse when you’re working on stunts and special effects, the last thing you want is for anyone to get hurt. You take the time it takes to get it so it’s safe. Likewise with the blue screen shots. There were days when we had about thirty brutes, the old-fashioned carbon arc lights, burning to try to get the correct exposure to get the perfect blue screen. Because George wasn’t interested in doing any substandard work. It had to be perfect. We had to take the time to do it perfectly. It was a great experience."

Were you working with the principal actors? 
"Oh absolutely. Everybody. Obviously when you do a side angle, it’s still got to be Harrison’s profile, it’s still got to be Chewbacca or Tony Daniels, who I bumped into on the street a couple of days ago. He was doing some looping on the new movie."

Why didn’t you work on Jedi
"I was in New Zealand. I can’t remember exactly the timescale of where I was but I actually had to leave about three or four weeks before the second unit actually wrapped. I talked to George and he basically said, ‘Fine’, because I had the opportunity to direct Battletruck in New Zealand. So I went down to New Zealand to do that and it took the better part of a year. I visited the sets of Jedi out in Arizona. Harrison filled me in on his experiences on Blade Runner and things like that."

Was that when it was still being disguised as Blue Harvest
"I don’t remember, but it could have been. It was a great team of people and I’ve stayed in touch with Gary Kurtz ever since. Any Star Wars fan would be insanely jealous of the R2D2 cookie jars which the crew were… well, not given, but there was a limited run of these cookie jars in the shape of R2D2. Everyone on the crew signed up for them. I didn’t keep any bits of the set."

Were your bits updated for the Special Edition? 
"The Special Edition of Empire? Nothing struck me as being majorly redone because I think the big changes were done in the first film, where they had a chance to redo a lot of the early effects on the first Star Wars and they replaced Jabba the Hutt. Most of the changes are in that one. The clean-ups and the wrap-ups in the subsequent films; I think by then the technology was pretty damn good. So there was a bit of reworking but fundamentally the shots were the shots."

Battletruck was part of the post-Mad Max 2 genre of the early ‘80s. 
"Well, there was a certain zeitgeist and it was pretty funny because the film won the jury prize at the Avoriaz Festival when it was still a science fiction festival. George Miller was the chairman of the jury. So George and I sat down once and I said, ‘I haven’t read your script but we set our script in Australia because… blah blah blah.’ And we basically agreed that certain ideas were just in the air at the time. He was very complimentary about the film. What’s extraordinary is it’s not a post-apocalyptic story, it’s a post-economic collapse story. The film opens with the oil fields of Mesopotamia burning and the world economy which was so dependent on oil goes backwards.

"Well Mesopotamia is the area that is now called either Iraq or Kuwait. So when we’re talking about the oil fields of Mesopotamia burning, we’re talking about Kuwait burning, and of course we had all those extraordinary images from the Gulf War. I actually called up Roger Corman who distributed the film in America and I said, ‘Roger, you really ought to re-release this movie.’ Because it’s all about how society regresses to kind of western times in a world that is suddenly without oil.

"After Battletruck, I did a couple of movies in Hollywood. I did Black Moon Rising with Tommy Lee Jones. The original script was written by John Carpenter and then there were several other drafts subsequent to that, one by Desmond Nakano and one by Bill Gray. And dialogue polishes by Tommy Lee Jones who is an extraordinarily good writer. In fact when you see Tommy Lee Jones in a movie, most of the time he’s scripting his own lines. Then I went up to Canada and did a movie called Malone with Burt Reynolds and Cliff Robertson and Lauren Hutton and the lovely Cynthia Gibb.

"After that, it was back to England to do Dream Demon. I got a phone call the other day from a horror writer by the name of Nick Royle. ‘Funny you should call,’ he said, ‘because we were just watching Dream Demon the other night.’ He had some friends round and he just wanted to show them the opening sequence. He just wanted to see their reaction to the big surprise in the opening sequence. After Dream Demon I went back to California and worked on the development of the Rogue Trooper movie. That was three years, just working on that, going back and forth, because we really thought that it was going to take off. It was a big commitment of time and resources, and in the end, when you’re dealing with a major studio and a major producer who might have 50 or 100 things in development, it was not high priority for them. Which was a great pity.

"Then what happened is I got a phone call from Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, who I had met originally at the Sitges Festival through the people at Palace who were releasing Evil Dead. And Sam and Rob asked me whether I’d like to go back to New Zealand and do the pilot for the Hercules series, a two-hour movie called Hercules and the Lost Kingdom. They did four two-hour movies in New Zealand. This was the pilot script but Bill Norton shot the second script first because there was still some script development work they wanted to do on the pilot episode. Amazon Women was shot first and I think goes out first sometimes, even though there’s a bit more of the origin story in the pilot episode. So whether the pilot’s the pilot because it was written as the pilot, or is not the pilot because it wasn’t shot first: other people can split those hairs, but it was written as such. Then I did a couple of episodes of the first season and I did an episode of the first season of Xena.

When Hercules started it was a radical departure from standard TV fare. 
"I think Sam and Rob had a great concept. They wanted to do the characters from Greek myths in a way that Sam refered to as ‘non-toga’. This was going to be a non-toga version. They didn't want to get trapped in any of those Charlie Schneer movies where the Greek gods are presented on Mount Olympus with olive leaves or laurel leaves or whatever they put on their heads. So they went for this slightly fantastic, imagined, primitive world where anything could happen. And of course they looked at various places for locations and New Zealand was perfect becuse it has an extraordinary, other-worldly quality about the landscape. And there aren’t pylons and roads everywhere; it’s still very much an unspoilt country.

"And of course Sam and Rob are huge fans of Hong Kong martial arts movies, so they’ve really done an incredible, in-depth study of some of those sequences and analysed the way that some of those techniques can be applied to episodic television. As you may or may not know, some of those Hong Kong-style movies take a very long time to shoot, because of the time it takes to do stunts safely and carefully and effectively. A lot of it is wirework which is very time-consuming work. So this is kind of a stylisation of the Hong Kong-style fights which became the imprint or the stylistic signature of the show, that kind of fantastical action."

Was it planned as TV movies which would lead to a series? 
"They had the commission from the network and from the studio, Universal Pictures, to do four two-hour films as part of something called the Action Wheel. That was basically the studio testing about half a dozen ideas for long-running series. Each of those potential series got this budget to make a number of movies, some of which came off and some of which didn’t. But the one that clearly was the star of the show was the Hercules films which then got commissioned very quickly to go to series. Then, when they came up ith the idea for Xena, they didn’t even go to pilot; they just said yes right away. It’s created a new genre, there’s no question of that."

Have you done any recently? 
"No, I had to move back from New Zealand but I’ll be going back there soon to do a new series that I’m involved in, which is called Ivanhoe, The Dark Knight. It’s a kind of sword and sorcery X-Files in which we take the characters from the Ivanhoe book - Ivanhoe caught between the love of two women and fighting Prince John and trying to raise the ransom for King Richard - and also introducing some really wonderful other characters of our own creations. Such as Friar Bacon - Roger Bacon - who as you know was an early alchemist. He actually lived fifty years after the time when Walter Scott set Ivanhoe, so we just pulled Bacon back into that time zone. Bacon was an early alchemist who died during one of his experiments when his lab blew up, and accounts refer to him being ‘carried away by a red, winged demon’ - which could have happened! This is being developed by TVNZ, Television New Zealand, and a producer called Terry Marcel.

"A writing partner of mine, Mark Ezra, and I did the script at the end of last year. It’s being set up at the moment and we’re hoping actually to shoot the two-hour pilot before the end of the year. We haven’t cast the leads yet so we might have to push it back into the early part of 1999 but of course, as you know, the weather in New Zealand is upside-down. So we’re still in the summer, so we can come back in January and have the best weather of the year. We’re probably going to use the cameraman that both Terry Marcel and I worked with in Lithuania who does a remarkable job.

"We’re very excited about it because we think we have a new and original take on this material, because we’re not going down the Herc and Xena road. Too many people have chased after those shows to imitate them, and of course, why bother looking at an imitater when you can look at the original Herc and Xena shows because they do them so well? So Ivanhoe, The Dark Knight is a whole different take on that particular genre. We’re not doing Hong Kong-style fights. It will be much darker than Hercules and more sword and sorcery. Which I do think is coming back in a big way, with Peter Jackson, also shooting in New Zealand, getting the commission to do a three-part version of Lord of the Rings. It’s being financed through Miramax and New Line Cinema. He’s got $130 million to make three movies.

"And Michael Mann, who is another alumnus of the London International Film School , and you know his work I’m sure - Heat and Last of the Mohicans and a lot of wonderful films - Michael’s just bought the rights to the Dungeons and Dragons game. So he plans to do a sword and sorcery adventure. So we see some huge Hollywood enterprises gearing up to get back into sword and sorcery and we’re hoping to be there first with our sword and sorcery X-Files. Which brings me back to sword and sorcery, because Milton Subotsky asked me to do Thongor in the Valley of Demons, which would have been the first sword and sorcery movie in a long time and even have pipped Conan at the post. This was around 1980. We had Wilfred Singleton designing and we had some really great special effects guys. We were building monsters and the sets were about to go into production, then I got a phone call. I can tell you exactly when it was. December 1979, I got a phone call from Milton Subotsky, telling me that Universal, who had allocated $17 million, which was a reasonable budget in those days, had pulled the plug because another production had spent our budget."

And that was? 
"Heaven’s Gate. Heaven’s Gate spent the entire production budget of United Artists, and one of the films that got hit was Thongor in the Valley of Demons. It was a really neat script and we had some fabulous designs. Tony Pratt was production designer and did a great job. It was going to be terrific. So the idea of coming back to the genre of sword and sorcery after all those years will bring back that particular story to closure for me anyway."

I understand it’s fairly primitive out there in Lithuania shooting Robin Hood
"Yes, it’s not a Hollywood studio. But the Lithuanians are lovely people and try really hard. And there’s a team of people who are being trained up by the production who are good at their jobs and their English gets better every year. The key thing is to make sure the scripts can be accomplished and I think that Fred Weintraub and Tom Kuhn are smart enough to know how to do that."

It always seemed to be the poor relation of the genre. 
"I think what happened was they had a little bit of difficulty finding their particular niche, and what we’ve seen in England is they’re actually playing it as a daytime show - Saturday mornings, Channel 5 - and I think it’s probably doing fine there. I knew Fred from way back and he knew that I’d done Herc and Xena shows and he asked me to come out because they were setting it up. I did some of the early episodes and I had fun, I enjoyed being in Lithuania. But the shows are international co-productions so they were edited in France and for whatever reason the directors never went from Lithuania to France to edit the shows. So my shows were never put together in the way that I envisioned."

Lithuania is a strange place to shoot. 
"I think when they began work there, it was an extraordinarily cost-effective production base. But what’s happened is: the longer they’ve stayed, the more it’s coming up to standard international or European rate. But it was just a studio facility that they could get a hold of; there was a very co-operative studio management and a whole base, in terms of electricians and grips and things like that. It was actually quite fun because the first season especially was a very international enterprise, because the special effects guys were from America, the stunt men were Russian, the script supervisor was French, the cameraman was Hungarian, the sound man was English - Harry Brooks - and the directors were both English and some American. But if you were an American director you had to have an English domicile, because they had to qualify as being a European production."

What was a film you did called The Ruby Ring
"It was a very sweet movie. It was the Showtime Thanksgiving Special ‘97, and it was one of four movies that Hallmark made in Scotland at the end of ‘96, beginning of ‘97. It’s based on a book called The Ruby Ring by an Irish writer, and it’s a fantasy about a girl who makes a wish and unfortunately that wish comes true. Because she finds herself propelled back in time and living in a Scottish castle as a scullery maid. And she’s lost her ring which enables her to magic her way out of this time that she’s been trapped in. The head groom, played by Rutger Hauer, gets ahold of the ring, so the question is: how can she get it back? It was absolutely delightful.

"Working with Rutger was a treat, and there was the lovely Samantha Bond and Judy Parfitt and some young actors and actresses. Christian Anholt played the son of the family and Emily Hamilton played the girl, and her friend Emma Culloch. Wonderful young actors and I had an absolutely delightful time up in Scotland. We had a little bit of CGI special efects during the time transition scene, but they remained very modest. We didn’t go too crazy. But I’m very pleased with the way things worked out, and it had a good response in America over Thanksgiving, and kids seemed to like it, and when it’s going to show in this country I have no idea."

Was that the last thing you did? 
"Since then there was the second season of Robin Hood, and then I’ve been doing The Professionals. There were some episodes shot in South Africa, some shot here and some shot in North Carolina. I did one here and one in North Carolina. These are high-energy, high-action, very slick shows. Working with Edward Woodward was a complete delight, and the two young lads are fun and the young Canadian lady that plays the third new agent is great. Her name is Lexa Doig and she’s a kind of Scottish Filipino, originally from Canada. The style is very hut-hut-hut: a lot of action, very fast, trying to be a hip show. I think some territories are showing this already, but my two shows aren’t even finished. They haven’t done the sound yet. I heard that they’re just picking the sound on now."

What stuff is in development? 
"Any day now I might get the phone call to go to Canada and start pre-production on Pilgrim, which is the hallucinatory crime thriller written by Peter Milligan. Peter and I have been developing this one for a number of years, almost made it three times now, and we think this is a lucky time. It’s going to be a Canadian/UK co-production, we’re shooting it in British Columbia and probably do some of the post back here. Basically, the way to  sum up this movie is if you imagine a Parker novel; I don’t know if you know the books of Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. He writes as Richard Stark when he writes things like... the Boorman movie Point Blank was based on a Richard Stark novel called The Hunter. It was one of the first Parker books; he’s written 16 of them. As you know, Bill Gibson just remade the first one, Payback. Well, imagine a Richard Stark novel on acid, and that’s basically what we’re trying with Pilgrim.

"I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Pete Milligan’s work as a comic writer. One of his most famous series, which he wrote for three years, was called Shade the Changing Man. That was always leaping back and forth in time and space and dimensional shifts. Pete does that really well and he’s given our character a particular kind of problem. He has to cope with it and figure his way out of the mental maze that he’s in. So we’re very excited about that. Pete and I have done a number of things together. Pilgrim was the first, and then we developed something for Ileen Maisel at Paramount when Ileen was running Paramount UK, which was kind of a take on Death Takes a Holiday, which in fact somebody has now remade. We had a go at it and it was an interesting script but somebody got there first.

"What I did was I spoke to the people at the Children’s Film Foundation and they were very complimentary and said that my two films, The Battle of Billy’s Pond and The Glitterball, were two of the best films that were ever made for the Foundation, and what did I want to do in this genre? I said I’d go away and think about it and come up with a book because I didn’t want to start from scratch. Both The Glitterball and Billy’s Pond were originals and it just takes so long with an original. So I went to Dillons, to the Young Persons section, and I saw this wall of books. It was like: how do you start? Over there in the left-hand corner and read your way across? So I did some research and found some people who really know the area well. There’s a BBC programme that deals with children’s books, and I actually did some research and went into the prize-winning young people’s books for the last ten years and that focused it down much more.

"Then I started doing some reading and the one guy whose work leapt out at me was Melvyn Burgess. Melvyn who just recently won the Guardian Prize for Junk, which I understand is going to be a television series, about young people getting addicted to heroin. He had done a book earlier that had been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. It’s called An Angel for May and that is another kind of time-shift story. But that’s not the important part; the important part is the relationship between two youngsters, two sub-teens, and the girl is autistic. It’s such as extraordinary book, such a moving book, and really I guess it’s about the power of love.

"There are certain technical problems: when you’re dealing with any kind of time-shift story like that, there are difficulties. You get into loops and paradoxes. So I gave it to Pete to read and he not only loved the book but had a way of fixing the problems. He’s good at these kind of metaphysical dilemmas. I suppose you could say that’s true of Pilgrim too: Jack Pilgrim has a metaphysical dilemma. So Pete is currently scripting. We’re expecting the first draft by the end of the month, and we’re very excited about getting it together.

"The question will be how to finance the movie in England which is a family movie. Because no-one makes children’s films any more, it’s all family films. The time-base, where we go, where the boy ends up back in, is a Second World War setting. And suddenly that seems very topical. This is not quite as heavily special effects oriented as The Borrowers, it’s just an incredibly powerful, well-written book. Pete’s outline for it is very effective and we’re all excitedly waiting to get started. The Spice Factory guys are going to be involved in that too and help put it together."