Monday, 26 June 2017

The Living Daylights, at 30

The Living Daylights, the fifteenth James Bond film in the official EON series, opened in the UK on 30th June 1987 (following its premiere on the 27th).  It was directed by John Glen (the fourth in his eventual five-film run), produced by Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson and written by Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson.  Peter Lamont was the production designer, John Richardson supervised the visual effects and John Barry wrote the score.
In Autumn 1985, as scriptwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum began work on the new James Bond film, Roger Moore confirmed he wouldn’t be returning to the lead role (a lot of the criticism directed at A View To A Kill had centred around his age - he was 57 when he made it).  Producer Cubby Broccoli, his stepson and co-producer Wilson and daughter Barbara (promoted to assistant producer) therefore had to find a new Bond and also decide what direction to move the series in.

Early plans were to make a prequel.  A screenplay, going back to Bond’s roots, was written that Broccoli liked but felt wasn’t right - “no-one would be interested in a younger Bond,” he said at the time, “they wanted what they were used to, just bigger and better.”  He did, however, like the re-introduction of the Soviet assassination section SMERSH (featured prominently in the novels Casino Royale and From Russia With Love) and the concept of Smert Shpionam ('Death to Spies').  This tied in with the short story The Living Daylights (wherein Bond acts as a sniper to protect a Soviet defector), which was originally published in the first issue of The Sunday Times Magazine in February 1962.  Building around that (it forms the first 15 minutes or so of the film), Maibaum and Wilson created the rest and, in keeping with changing public opinion, made Bond less of a womaniser than he was before.  As they wrote, the search for the new Bond began in 1986.

Sam Neill was screen-tested and though he impressed Wilson, director John Glen and Barbara Broccoli, Cubby passed, keen to pursue Welsh-born Timothy Dalton.  He’d originally been considered in the 60s, when Sean Connery left though he turned down the part in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) as he thought he was too young.  He tested again before Live And Let Die (1973) and, with Roger Moore being indecisive, For Your Eyes Only (1981) and was well liked but unavailable, now in America making Brenda Starr (1989).  The next option was Pierce Brosnan, who Cubby had met on the set of For Your Eyes Only, when he joined his wife Cassandra Harris and Broccoli for lunch (she played Countess Lisl in the film).  In the meantime, Brosnan had landed the lead role in the TV series Remington Steele which, in 1986, had just been cancelled by NBC.  After a three-day screen test, Brosnan was offered the role but news of EON’s interest in the actor prompted NBC to renew the show and Brosnan, under contract, had no choice but to finish the last series (as it was, only six episodes were made before it was cancelled for good) - he was “devastated” but, as history has shown, he would get another chance further down the line.  Cubby’s wife Dana suggested trying Dalton again, as the actor had now finished filming and was available.  A fan of the novels, Dalton accepted the role after Cubby assured him the new film would take the character back to the style of the early Connery era.  The official announcement was made on 6th August 1986.
from left, Maryam D'Abo, Timothy Dalton, Caroline Bliss
Maryam D’Abo became the new Bond girl, playing Czech cellist Kara Milovy.  She had previously auditioned for Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill (Fiona Fullerton got the part) and impressed Barbara Broccoli, who suggested she audition for the new role.  Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe was cast as General Koskov, Joe Don Baker as Brad Whitaker (he would later appear as CIA agent Jack Wade in the Brosnan Bonds) and former dancer Andreas Wisniewski as Necros.  The KGB general set up by Koskov was originally going to be General Gogol (a recurring character through the Roger Moore-era) though Walter Gotell (who played him) was too ill to handle the major role and, instead, appears briefly at the end of the film (his last appearance in the Bond series).  A new character, Leonid Pushkin, was created and played by John Rhys-Davies.

With the new, much-younger Bond, Lois Maxwell didn’t return as Miss Moneypenny (after being in every film in the series to date), replaced by Caroline Bliss.  Desmond Llewellyn did return as Q and this was the first film since Goldfinger (1964) to have Bond’s equipment briefing take place within Q Branch.

Principal photography began on 17th September 1986 on the Rock of Gibraltar for the pre-credits sequence.  The Land Rover was filmed on the same short stretch of road, which was MoD property and not open to the public, though it went airborne at Beachy Head in the UK.  Sky divers B. J. Worth and Jake Lombard (who’d worked on the series since Moonraker (1979)) undertook the parachute jump at Gibraltar and the C-130 Hercules used in the sequence, marked as a Royal Air Force plane, actually belonged to the Spanish Air Force - it was later used in the Afghanistan sequences with Russian markings.  Dalton made a good impression on the crew during the two weeks it took to film the sequence, eager to be as physically involved in the stunts as possible - it is often quite clearly him and not a stuntman clinging onto the Land Rover.
Filming on Gibraltar.  2nd unit director Arthur Wooster is in the blue jacket at the back, on the walkie-talkie
Production moved to Pinewood Studios on 29th September to film the fight scene, over three days, as Necros infiltrates Bladen’s Safe House before relocating to Stonor House, which provided the exteriors.  When the production moved to Vienna, in early October, a press conference was held introducing the world press to Timothy Dalton as the new Bond (and his discomfort at the attention is clear to see on the DVD documentary).  Location filming in Vienna took in the Cape Deme, the Reisenaad Big Wheel in Prater Park (as used in The Third Man (1950)) and the Musikverein concert hall.
The villains of the piece, from left - Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe)
Setting up in Tangier, Morocco in late October, Brad Whitaker’s house was a combination of the Forbes Museum of Tangier as well as his Palais Mendoub.  At the start of November, work began at Ouarzazate, Morocco, for the desert fight scenes (including an impressive foreground miniature for the bridge sequence) and the Soviet Air Base.  The model unit, under John Richardson, also filmed there alongside the first unit.  At the same time, in the US, B. J. Worth and his team were filming the aerial sequences with the C-130, including Worth and Lombard hanging on a bag at the plane’s open cargo door.
John Richardson, on location in Morocco, with the miniature C-130 Hercules
Production returned to Pinewood at the end of November and on 11th December, while filming the Q Branch scenes, there was a royal visit.  Prince Charles fired the rocket from the ghetto blaster, while in a staged photo call, Princess Diana hit him over the head with a sugar-glass bottle (an act apparently instigated by Jeroen Krabbe). The C-130 fight sequence was filmed at the studio with the actors then, in mid-January, the crew shot the Aston Martin sequences in Austria.  Filming completed on 13th February.
John Glen directs Timothy Dalton
The Living Daylights was the last Bond film to be scored by John Barry (who also makes a brief cameo, as a conductor).  Following the success with Duran Duran co-writing A View To A Kill, Barry collaborated on the title song with Pål Waaktaar of A-Ha.  The collaboration wasn’t harmonious, with the band and Barry not seeing eye-to-eye and he later described the working relationship as like “playing ping pong with four balls.”  The song, whilst not as successful as Duran Duran’s, reached number 5 in the UK charts and due to differences of opinion, the band’s preferred mix appears on their 1988 album Stay On These Roads.  However, in a 2006 interview, Waaktaar said, “I loved the stuff he added to the track, I mean it gave it this really cool string arrangement. That's when for me it started to sound like a Bond thing".

This was the first Bond film to feature a different song, If There Was A Man by The Pretenders, over the closing credits and they also contributed the song Where Has Everybody Gone, heard through Necros’ Walkman in the film.

There is a lot of classical music in the film - none of which is included on the soundtrack album - including Mozart's 40th Symphony in G minor (1st movement),  Alexander Borodin's String Quartet in D major, the finale to Act II of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Dvořák's cello concerto in B minor and Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.
The Living Daylights premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 27th June 1987 attended by the Prince and Princess Of Wales before going on general release on 30th June.  As this was the 25th anniversary year for the Bond series, a TV Special - Happy Anniversary 007 - was produced as part of the promotional campaign.

Lunchbreak on set, with Cubby Broccoli, Timothy Dalton and that bloody cello!
The villains in the film repeatedly use vehicles and packages marked with the Red Cross, which angered a number of the societies who wrote letters of protest.  The British Red Cross attempted to prosecute the filmmakers and distributors but no legal action was taken, though a disclaimer was later added to the film.

The film was generally well received critically, mostly for bringing back a sense of realism and espionage to the series, though some - such as Roger Ebert - commented on the lack of humour.  It took $11.1m in its opening weekend in the US (more than doubling the take of The Lost Boys, released on the same day) and went on to gross $191.2m worldwide.

I like the film a lot - Dalton made a good Bond, they cut back on the one-liners (the funniest moment is where Kara is desperate to retrieve her cello but Bond is adamant they don’t have time - we then cut to him waiting for her) and the action is more vicious and dynamic.  Having said that, there is the whole cello case sequence which apparently took three days to shoot - John Glen came up with it and only convinced the others by sitting in a cello case himself to prove it would work.  I still don’t think it does.

The Living Daylights proved to be the last Bond film to use an original Ian Fleming title until Casino Royale (another reboot) was released in 2006.
At the premiere of The Living Daylights, from left - Maryam d'Abo, Timothy Dalton, Barbara Broccoli, Cubby Broccoli, Dana Broccoli and John Glen

Inside The Living Daylights (DVD documentary)

Monday, 19 June 2017

Things We Leave Behind

I'm pleased to announce that my second collection, Things We Leave Behind, will be published by Dark Minds Press and launched (alongside Laura Mauro's excellent novella Naming The Bones) at Edge-Lit in Derby on Saturday 15th July.
cover art by Neil Williams (Mr Stix is there on the back cover)
This second volume of short stories (following Strange Tales, which was originally published in 2003) features eighteen tales spanning the length of my published career to date (the earliest here, All The Rage, appeared in 1999).

It's been a pleasure working with Anthony Watson & Ross Warren at Dark Minds on this (I approached them back in 2016 to see if they'd be interested and was nicely surprised that they were), though Ross continually mocks my two-spaces-after-the-full-stop technique.  Searching through my back catalogue was fun, the editing process was interesting (re-reading a story that's seventeen years old and having to resist the urge to re-write it all is hard) and the cover (with art by Neil Williams) is perfect (and it's good to see Mr Stix make an appearance).  To top it off, Johnny Mains offered to write the introduction and that was the icing on the cake.

Where I've blogged about the stories before, the link will take you to that post.

first published in Unhinged Magazine Issue 4, 1999

first published in The Fourth Book of Terror Tales, 2010

first published in Hauntings, 2004

first published in AltDead, 2011

first published in Ill at Ease, 2011

first published in Shoes, Ships and Cadavers: Tales from North Londonshire, 2010

first published in Fogbound from Five, 2012

first published in Darker Minds, 2012

first published in Hauntings, 2012

first published by Spectral Press (Chapbook #7), 2012

first published in Ill at Ease 2, 2013

original to this collection

first published in Urban Occult, 2013

first published in For the Night is Dark, 2013

first published in Anatomy of Death, 2013

first published in Darkest Minds, 2015

first published in The Grimorium Verum: Volume 3, 2015

original to this collection

"Mark and I have an uncomplicated friendship. We met through Facebook, both probably crowing over ratty old paperbacks, which we both have an affinity for, and met for the first time at Alt-Fiction, Leicester 2012. We had a beer or three, had a great chat, and became firm friends. We always talk guessed it…old ratty paperbacks. I love it when life is simple and you don’t need to talk about anything else except which author wrote what book about bubonic maggots eating spleens from a cabal of cannibal nuns…"
- Johnny Mains, from his introduction

With a range of stories, from quiet horror to gleefully gruesome, I'm very pleased with the collection and I hope - if you take a chance on it - that you are too.

The book will be available as both paperback and ebook editions.

Monday, 12 June 2017

A Literary Festival and me...

The first Earls Barton Literary Festival, organised by Carolyn Palot-Watts, ran over this past weekend, the 10th and 11th of June and thanks to my good friend Sue Moorcroft, I was asked to participate - chuffed to be invited to my first ever Lit Fest, I readily agreed.
Reading from The Mill - picture by Sue
My talk, which began at 2.15, was called “How can you write what you know when you write horror?”.  At the time I suggested it, some months beforehand, I thought it was broad enough that I could think of something smart to say and, late last week, I finally figured out what that was going to be.  That didn’t help my nerves - and nor did the fact that I had all morning on Sunday to worry about it.  Using my novella The Mill as the basis, I worked through the idea of how using real life - elements of my own and locations that are local to me - within my horror story grounded the supernatural elements and made them seem (hopefully) more believeable.
We - Alison, Dude and myself - arrived at the home of my event co-ordinator Mary Brown on time, we introduced ourselves and she took us up to the venue, the Parish Church Halls.  I was settled in the main area, a largish room with a small stage and Dude helped me figure out where I'd best be sat.  Mary & I chatted and she told me, in anticipation of our meeting, she'd read The Factory and, while it wasn't her normal thing, had enjoyed it (which was nice).  Even so, nerves started to eat at me, not just that I’d forget everything and spend the whole hour staring at my notes thinking “what the hell does that mean?” (assuming I could read my own hand-writing) but also that nobody would turn up.  Thankfully, they did.
Taken by Alison, this shows Sue taking the picture of me at the top of the post.  My co-ordinator, Mary, is sitting on the edge of the stage
At 2.15, Mary did her ‘house keeping’ duties (toilets are here, emergency exit is there, books are for sale on that table) and I set off.  I was lucky enough to have a decent sized audience, luckier still that they listened attentively (especially to my readings) and as the time wore on, my confidence grew and I even threw in some funny bits (which got laughs).  My timing of the speech was a bit off - I finished about thirty minutes into my scheduled hour - but there were some great questions and I loved them, especially since they allowed me to go off on tangents (which, if you've talked to me in real life, you'll know I tend to enjoy doing).  A question about the genre community got me talking about FantasyCon (I think the Grand Hotel in Scarborough gets more gothic every time I describe it) and I also managed to tell the story of the time I stood up at the book launch for Tourniquet Heart and read my short Up For Anything (and the disgusted groan that elicited from Paul Finch).  All too soon, it was 3.15 (I finished off the session with my Portugese ghost story, which you can read here) and that was it - people came up to thank me and chat, I sold and signed some books, Dude came and sat on the stage to help me and my paying audience seemed happy, which was wonderful.

We then retired to the Swan pub (where my writing group meets) with Neil & Donna Bond, for a chat and a drink and it was the perfect way to finish.

I wrote an afterword to The Mill, which you can read here.

Sue's event, held in the Methodist Church on Saturday morning, was a fascinating talk entitled "my route to number one".
The programme, featuring me and Sue.  I didn't grow up in Rushden...
It was a terrific afternoon and, for all my nerves, as soon as I finished I wanted to do it again.  Well done to Carolyn and her team and I hope this proves to be the first of many literary festivals in Earls Barton!

Monday, 5 June 2017

Star Wars At 40 (part 6) - Production Design

For the sixth entry in my Star Wars At 40 celebrations thread, I thought I'd look at the design work which not only elevated the film but also shifted the way sci-fi would look forever afterwards...
The Millennium Falcon, showing off the design work on the hull
Until the 1970s, most sci-fi films tended to see the future as looking pristine, a trend that was bucked by Silent Running (1972) and Dark Star (1974).  Going into Star Wars, George Lucas wanted everything to look like it worked and had done so for a long time, introducing a 'used future' concept where rebel ships looked secondhand, well-used and beaten up against the clean designs of the Imperial ships.

“The Star Wars future was not showroom shiny but dented and rusty, as if it had hard use on the back roads on innumerable galaxies. Lucas told an interviewer during production in England that the Apollo capsules may have looked brand new when they soared away, but it was clear when they returned that the interior was littered with candy wrappers, empty Tang cans, and other trash, just like the family station wagon.”
 - Charles Champlin - George Lucas: The Creative Impulse

Whilst previous films had hardware that looked as if it had been built at the same time, Lucas wanted a “a future with a past”.  He told John Barry, his production designer, that the Millennium Falcon should look like a ship from 2001 “that had aged two hundred years”.

“George wants to make it look like it’s shot on location on your average everyday Death Star or Mos Eisley Spaceport or local cantina,” Barry told American Cinematographer magazine in 1977.
The design team, 1976 - from left: Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley, John Barry, Bill Welch, Norman Reynolds
After a recommendation from Production designer Elliot Scott, George Lucas travelled to the Mexico set of Lucky Lady (1975), which was written by his friends Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz (who also did a polish on the Star Wars script).  There, he met Production designer John Barry and set dresser Roger Christian and was so taken by the sets that he offered them both a job.  "He looked at the set and couldn’t believe it wasn’t real,” Christian told Esquire magazine in interview.  Once finalised, the design department was made up of Production designer John Barry, Art Directors Norman Reynolds and Leslie Dilley and Set Decorator Roger Christian.  Norman Reynolds defined the job roles in an interview with the BBC.

“The Production designer," he said, "comes up with the ideas for the sets and does some of the drawings and sketches. The director will have some ideas of his own, as was the case with George Lucas, who had some of his people in the U.S. come up with some sketches as well. The final execution of the sets is the responsibility of the production designer.  The art director...helps execute the designs because sometimes the designer has to travel to see the various locations. [An Art Director is basically] the production designer's right-hand man.”
John Barry (left) and George Lucas examine photographs from location scouting expeditions
The designers started work on the film before it had been approved by 20th Century Fox, with Lucas covering expenses from his American Graffiti (1973) earnings.  For four months, the team worked in a studio in Kensal Rise, London, trying to figure out how to make the film and since the project had so little money (the eventual design budget would be $200k), Barry directed his team to use as many ‘found’ objects as they could.
Blueprints - from top left clockwise - Blockade runner corridor, R2-S2, Millennium Falcon cockpit and landing gear
At the time, some thirty years after World War 2, old Rolls-Royce aircraft engines were obsolete and being sent to scrapyards.  "Nobody wanted it,” Christian said in interview.  “They sold it by weight, I could buy almost an entire plane for £50 so I went around Britain buying up scrap aircraft, jet engines — all sorts of stuff. Out of that we did most of the set dressing.”

The added advantage was that the aircraft parts not only saved time and money, they added great complexity to the designs.  “We bought thousands of pounds worth of aircraft junk and took it to pieces,” said production designer John Barry in interview.  “You can imagine the complexity of drawing that would have to go into making those very complex sculpted forms. But when you just take apart a jet engine, you get wonderful things.”

“I taught the guys how to break [them] down,” said Christian, “and we made bins of different objects. They learned how to identify things that might look good on set.”

Working closely with Ralph McQuarrie, Barry embraced the idea his environments needed to look like real places and infused his work with striking architectural designs, focussing on function rather than creating elaborate, futuristic looking structures.  In total, 30 sets were produced for the film and the production took over all nine of the soundstages at Elstree Studios, whilst the massive Yavin-4 hangar set was built at Shepperton Studios (the exterior for which was filmed at Cardington Sheds in Bedfordshire).

For Tatooine, Barry used the environment as his design.  Since the summer heat is so intense in Tunisia, the locals live in caves cut into the sides of huge pits and Barry took advantage of this, using the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata as the Lars homestead.  It therefore felt real because it was real and he repeated the process with Ben Kenobi’s dwelling.
Set dressing in a real location - the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata, Tunisia
He also apparently enjoyed working on the Death Star as it suited his preferred minimalist style, allowing him to create environments of power that were appropriately cold and stark.  Taking inspiration from an aircraft carrier, the walls were painted matte grey and inset with grid patterns to help light the set.  The black floors were highly polished and allowed Gil Taylor, the director of photography, to “pull back and make the spaces feel expansive without compromising their functional intent as hallways.”
Three views of the Death Star corridors
The Cantina was imagined as a combination of a Casablanca bar and a turn-of-the-century chemistry set.  Barry said, at the time, “All the bar equipment in the cantina, those are all the combustion chambers from jet engines, which we sprayed with a metallic gold process and put light in the bubbles and all the rest. But they have an interest, because somebody’s worked over it and some intelligence has gone into them, so they are far more interesting than anything you could have made from scratch in the time available.”
A key part of the design aesthetic were what George Lucas called ‘greeblies’, which are basically items of fine detailing to make a surface - of a prop, set or costume - appear more complex and therefore more visually interesting.  They also add a sense of scale to models (ILM described them as “guts on the outside”), hence the Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyers are covered with them.  There is a possibly apocryphal tale that Tunisian customs asked what part of C3PO’s costume (listed as ‘assorted greebles’) was.  They were told “Something that looks cool but doesn’t actually do anything.”
Top - John Barry sketch of the Millennium Falcon
Bottom - the set, including a lot of greeblies
The Millennium Falcon was one of the most challenging sets to design and decorate, but benefited greatly from the scrap greeblies as once-pristine walls and doorframes were covered with pipes and parts, giving the ship a functional, well-used look.
top - Han Solo (Harrison Ford) - and bottom - Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) - in the Falcon gun turrets
(note how 'busy' but perfectly functional the walls look)

Whilst C3PO was originally sculpted by Liz Moore and finished by Brian Muir (as I wrote about here), Roger Christian supervised the construction of R2-D2 working from designs by Ralph McQuarrie and Norman Reynolds.
left - George Lucas with the Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley & Bill Harman prototype R2-D2
right - George Lucas and John Barry (far right) measure up the R2 legs for Kenny Baker (centre)
Christian and Les Dilley hired a carpenter called Bill Harman who’d built props for Monty Python - "he was brilliant - you could give him anything and he’d make it work.”  The body was made of marine plywood, bent around a frame they’d built with an old 1940s lamp fitted on top; Christian carved prongs for the front and more aircraft greeblies were attached.  After tests with 3ft 8” actor Kenny Baker, the design was approved and R2-D2 was built for the production by Tony Dyson of The White Horse Toy Company.

Even so, creating the droids went to the wire and Reynolds has since admitted to finishing C3PO’s hands the night before shooting began in Tunisia.  “We had the glove part of it and metal tips for the fingers, but it needed to be made to look authentic.  Adding those little 'greeblies' made it all finally came together.”

Top - Anakin's lightsaber, as given to Luke
Bottom - Obi-Wan's lightsaber
The iconic Star Wars weapon is, of course, the lightsaber.  Whilst a huge part of the appeal was the sound (by Ben Burtt, subject of a future blog-post), they looked fantastic too and were put together by Roger Christian, based on designs by Ralph McQuarrie.  Several mock-ups were rejected and, under pressure to have the props ready for Tunisia, Christian visited a camera-shop the production used and asked if they had any spare parts.  Directed to some old dusty boxes, he found “several Graflex flashgun handles. They were perfect, heavy, and had a red button for firing the flash.  I just sat in my office with superglue, stuck a T-strip round the handle, put a D-ring on the end and stuck on bits from a pocket calculator. It was weighty and it looked beautiful. I think I made it for about £8."  The lightsaber emitter at the top of the sword was another greebly, a balance pipe from a Derwent engine.

Top - Han Solo's blaster (prop)
Bottom - the original Mauser gun
George Lucas had a specific idea for the style of the Star Wars blasters and said in interview, before the film was completed, “I’m trying to make props that don’t stand out. I’m trying to make everything look very natural, a casual almost I’ve-seen-this-before look.”  What he didn't want was something that resembled the Buck Rogers style of ray-gun.  Roger Christian suggested adapting real guns, since they’d look used and natural.  “We could afford to do it that way, plus they worked, you could fire them and get the  recoil on-set, and not have the actors going, 'Beep beep'.”

“We went to one of the big weapon-hire companies that had endless rows of arms and armour," John Barry said.  "George, Roger Christian, and I got together a lot on those things. Rather than have your slick streamlined ray guns, we took actual World War II machine guns and cannibalized one into another.”

Han Solo’s iconic blaster, for example, started life as an antique broom-handled Mauser pistol.  Christian fitted it with a rifle telescopic sight, a custom mount and modified the barrel with a flash hider from a German M-81 machine gun.  Greeblies were added to the magazine block and the base to make it look more complex.

Christian wrote a 'memoir', Cinema Alchemist, which details his work on Star Wars and it's very informative and in-depth.  My review of the book can be found here.

At the 1978 Oscars - from left:
John Barry, Norma Reynolds, Greer Garson &
Henry Winkler (presenters),
Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian
In my opinion, George Lucas chose his collaborators well, none more so than the design team and the little kid version of me loved what they did, accepting the look readily.  By taking ‘found’ items and adding detail, they created a world that was realistic, lived-in and something altogether different that, crucially, hasn’t aged the film at all - it looks as fresh now as it did 40 years ago.

The design team of John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley and Roger Christian shared the 1978 Academy Award for Best Art Direction.  You can read John Barry's speech here.

Harrison Ford on the Millennium Falcon set

John Barry was born in 1935 and trained as an architect, entering the film business as a draughtsman on Cleopatra (1963), while his first film as production designer was Kelly’s Heroes (1970).  Stanley Kubrick offered him a job on his never-completed film Napoleon then hired him again for A Clockwork Orange (1971).  Whilst working on Lucky Lady (1975) he was approached to work on Star Wars and, following that success and his work on  Superman (1978) and Superman 2 (1980), he was offered his own film, Saturn 3 to direct.  Unfortunately, he fell out with the star Kirk Douglas and was sacked, replaced by Stanley Donen.  Lucas hired him as second-unit director on The Empire Strikes Back but on 31st May 1979, two weeks into filming, he collapsed on-set and died at 2am on 1st June from meningitis.

Norman Reynolds was born on 26th March 1935 and began his career as an assistant Art director on Battle Of Britain (1969), before becoming Art director on The Little Prince (1974).  He performed the same role on Star Wars, Superman (1978) and Superman 2 (1980) before moving on to Production designer with The Empire Strikes Back (1980).  He stayed with Lucasfilm for Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Return Of The Jedi (1983) and retired after making Bicentennial Man (1999).  He also directed two episodes of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories - The Pumpkin Competition (1986) and Gather Ye Acorns (1986) - and was 2nd unit director on The Exorcist III (1990) and Alive (1993).

He won two Academy Awards - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and Best Art Direction 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Leslie Dilley and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for four more.
He won one BAFTA - Best Production Design 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Leslie Dilley and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for one more.

Leslie Dilley was born on 11th January 1941 and started his career as Art director on The Three Musketeers (1973).  He worked with John Barry on Lucky Lady (1975), which led to him becoming Art director on Star Wars and Superman (1978).  He was Art director on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), An American Werewolf In London (1981), moved up to Production designer with Bad Medicine (1985) and still works in the industry.

He won two Academy Awards - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and Best Art Direction 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Norman Reynolds and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for three more.
He won one BAFTA - Best Production Design 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Norman Reynolds and Michael D. Ford)

Roger Christian was born on 25th February 1944 and worked in the art department on Oliver! (1968).  After working with John Barry on Lucky Lady (1975) he became set decorator for Star Wars and worked as Art director for Alien (1979) and Life Of Brian (1979).  He moved into directing with the short Black Angel (1980), under the mentorship of George Lucas and still directs.  He also served as 2nd unit director for Return Of The Jedi (1983) and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999).

He won one Academy Award - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and was nominated for another.  His second short film, The Dollar Bottom (1981) was nominated for a BAFTA.

Esquire magazine
Laurel & Wolf Spotlight on John Barry
Den Of Geek
Skywalking, by Dale Pollock
George Lucas: The Creative Impulse, by Charles Champlin
Star Wars Modern blog
Star Wars insider interview with Norman Reynolds
Star Wars: The Blueprints, JW Rinzler
Cinema Alchemist, by Roger Christian

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here

Monday, 29 May 2017

Frenzy, at 45

Frenzy, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 52nd film as director, opened in the UK on 25th May 1972.  It was produced by William Hill, written by Anthony Shaffer (from the novel by Arthur La Bern) and the director of photography was Gil Taylor.  Syd Cain was the production designer, Albert Whitlock supervised the visual effects and John Jympson was the editor.

After the brutal murder of his ex-wife, down-on-his luck former RAF pilot Richard Blaney is suspected of being the ‘Neck Tie Murderer’, a vicious serial killer terrorising London. With the help of his friends, Blaney goes on the run, determined to prove his innocence.

In 1970, looking for a new project after Topaz (1969), Sir Alfred Hitchcock was given a copy of Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern and he later told journalist Rebecca Morehouse “I was attracted by the market [scenes] and by the central figure, an Air Force man who is always a loser. Today is the day of the non-hero, isn't it?”  Excited by the novel and its location, he pitched it to Lew Wasserman and Edd Henry at Universal over a lunchtime meeting and they agreed to make it, on a $2.8m budget.

Hitchcock decided it would be best to make the film in London with an all-British cast and rang playwright Anthony Shaffer, whose Sleuth was then a hit on Broadway, to ask him to adapt the novel.  After Shaffer (who originally thought the call was from friends playing a joke) agreed, the two men met in New York in January 1971 to discuss the adaption, before going to London to scout locations, looking over Hyde Park, Leicester Square, Piccadilly, Oxford Street, Bayswater, Hammersmith and Covent Garden Market.

The script meetings continued throughout February and several parts of the novel were cut back, such as the court scenes, or excised altogether, such as Blaney's escape to France.  In addition, Hitchcock insisted on using phrases from his childhood (spent in London), as Shaffer explained to Donald Spoto, “[he] was intractable about not modernising the dialogue of the picture, and he kept inserting antique phrases I knew would cause the British public a hearty laugh or even some annoyance.”

The downbeat ending of the book was changed to a more satisfying conclusion and Hitchcock and Shaffer added a recurring theme of food, along with biblical references to the Garden of Eden and Original Sin. The part of Chief Inspector Oxford was also enhanced and light relief added during mealtime scenes with his haute cuisine interested wife who was busy carrying out culinary experiments.  Although Shaffer wrote the screenplay on his own, which was completed well before filming began, Hitchcock had a firm idea of where he wanted the story to go and co-wrote the 55-page treatment the 160-page script was based on.
Mrs Oxford (Vivien Merchant) serves up another delight for Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen)
Casting for actors and crew began in May and Hitchcock renewed some old professional acquaintances.  Cinematographer Gil Taylor had been clapper-boy on Number Seventeen (1932), sound mixer Peter Handford worked on Under Capricorn (1949) and Elsie Randolph (who plays Gladys the hotel clerk) had appeared in East Of Shanghai (1931).

Hitchcock cast seasoned British actors for the other roles, recognised in the UK but relatively unknown in Hollywood at the time.  Alec McCowen (Chief Inspector Oxford), Barry Foster (Bob Rusk), Billie Whitelaw (Hetty Porter), Anna Massey (Barbara Milligan), Vivien Merchant (Mrs Oxford) and Barbara Leigh-Hunt (as Brenda Blaney) from the stage were joined by TV stars Bernard Cribbens (Felix Forsythe), Michael Bates (Sergeant Spearman), Clive Swift (Johnny Porter) and Jean Marsh (Monica Barling).  As he had with Psycho (1960), where Norman Bates is much older than Anthony Perkins, Hitchcock cast the much younger Jon Finch as the anti-hero Richard Blaney (who, named Blarney, is nearly fifty in the novel) though when he later openly criticised the script to journalists, Hitchcock was close to recasting.  He wanted Michael Caine for the Rusk role but the actor turned it down (“I don’t want to be associated with the part”) - Hitchcock had seen both Foster and Billie Whitelaw in Twisted Nerve (1968).
Bob Rusk (Barry Foster, on the right) helps out his old friend Richard Blaney (Jon Finch)
With regard to the look, Hitchcock told Gil Taylor he wanted “a realistic nightmare, rather than a ‘Hammer Horror’” with Covent Garden as the backdrop, referring back to a selection of Vermeer paintings.  The son of a Covent Garden merchant, Hitchcock was keen to film at the market and, perhaps aware its working days were numbered (it remains a thriving tourist part of London today), to document it too.

Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, had flown to London intending to spend a few weeks in England before embarking on a European tour with their daughter Patricia and granddaughter Mary.  After a weekend break to Scotland, Alma suffered a serious stroke and was treated at Claridge’s Hotel by Hitchcock’s personal physician.  She recovered enough to watch dailies with her husband and Barry Foster said later that Hitchcock awaited her reaction “like a schoolboy, showing his homework to the teacher.” Alma flew home to Los Angeles in October to receive further treatment.
Hitchcock on the Thames
Filming began in the last week of July 1971 with assistant director Colin Brewer heading the second unit, as well as handling many of the first unit set-ups for Hitchcock, who was suffering badly with arthritis.
Hitchcock in Covent Garden with Gil Taylor (centre) and Colin Brewer
Filming progressed smoothly and though a lot of the exteriors were filmed around Covent Garden, plenty of other London locations were utilised including Tower Bridge and County Hall (for the opening sequence), the Coburg Hotel on Bayswater Road, Hyde Park and the London Hilton on Park Lane.  Brenda Blaney’s flat is in Ennismore Gardens Mews and her matrimonial agency is at Dryden Chambers (since demolished), just off Oxford Street.  Filming also took place at New Scotland Yard, Wormwood Scrubs and St Mary Abbot’s hospital and the production was granted permission to film inside the Old Bailey the first full weekend in August.  The interiors were filmed at Pinewood Studios, with sets often on stand-by to serve as ‘weather cover’.
Hitchcock with Anna Massey

Hitchcock puts in his traditional cameo appearance during the opening scene at County Hall, where he’s in the middle of the crowd wearing a bowler hat.  Teaser trailers showed his dummy floating in the River Thames.

The final three weeks of filming were taken up with the complex sequence on the potato truck and principal photography ended after thirteen weeks on 14th October, though the second-unit worked for another week.

The celebrated tracking shot out of Rusk's flat, which is as stunning now as it was then, was filmed using a camera dolly since the steadicam wouldn’t be invented for a couple of years.  The interior was filmed at Pinewood Studios, the exterior (the edit masked by a passing porter) at 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.
During the shoot, Hitchcock was reportedly happiest when filming around Covent Garden, a place he hadn’t visited in decades but where he’d spent time with his father.  Anna Massey later said, “It’s a brutal film, but full of things Hitchcock loved - like food, and London - and it’s a very loving portrayal of Covent Garden market.”

In interview, Anthony Shaffer said, “An old chap made his way up to Hitchcock at the market...and said, ‘I remember your father here, in all this mud.’ Hitchcock was delighted, took the man for an expensive lunch and had a long talk to him about his dad.”
Hitchcock, at Pinewood Studios, works with Barry Foster (left) and Alex McCowen
The film also included this incredible Albert Whitlock matte painting of Covent Garden - the only 'live' section is the space between the green door and the truck.

Hitchcock returned to Los Angeles on 26th October and he and John Jympson created the rough cut of the film during November.  The editor then flew back to London to supervise post-synching of the dialogue and Henry Mancini began work on the score.

Best known for Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) and the Pink Panther series, Mancini had also scored The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and Touch of Evil (1958).  He told Catherine Scott of The Guardian, “‘Frenzy’ is very low-key picture about a neck-tie murderer, and what I have done is to just cut off the orchestra round middle C. There is none of the screeching, high, intense sounds that would be thought a little melodramatic today. It is very sparse... there's not a lot going on, but what there is will, I trust, sound pretty spooky.”

Hitchcock attended the London recording sessions in mid-December and then rejected the completed score outright.  Mancini later said, “he decided that it didn’t work, [he felt] the score was macabre, which puzzled me because it was a film with many macabre things it in. It wasn't an easy decision to accept, and it was crushing when it happened...”  Unlike his acrimonious split with Bernard Hermann over the rejected score for Torn Curtain (1966), relations remained amicable and Mancini mentions in his autobiography that Hitchcock sent him a case of Château Haut-Brion magnums.

Hitchcock then hired British composer Ron Goodwin, providing him with thorough instructions and notes regarding the new score.  The recording sessions for this took a week, beginning Monday 31st January 1972.  By mid-February, Jympson had edited in Goodwin’s score and the film was sent back to Los Angeles where small adjustments were made before the end of the month.

Due to the content - it’s the first Hitchcock film to show nudity and the sex killing was very strong for the time (it still is, to be honest) - this was the first of the director’s films to receive an ‘R’ rating in the US and an ‘X’ in the UK.
Hitchcock in Cannes
Frenzy was shown, out of competition, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1972 where it was hailed as a “late-career masterpiece”.  He’d been worried - as hard as it is to believe now, there were people at the time who believed Hitchcock was becoming irrelevant - but the critical praise buoyed him.  At a screening in Paris, Francois Truffaut (a great fan and terrific director in his own right) said the Hitchcock touch was much in evidence and that the old master was “still experimenting”.

Alma, with the dummy Hitchcock head 
The trailer also features Hitchcock, in amusing mood.  “This,” he says, “is the scene of a horrible murder - it’s the famous wholesale fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden. Here, you may buy the fruits of evil and the horrors of vegetables.” At that point, a foot sticks up out of a potato sack.

The London premiere was held on 25th May 1972 and critical reception was generally very good though several complained it was distasteful.  One of these was Arthur La Bern who wrote, in a letter to the editor of The Times, “Sir, I wish I could share John Russell Taylor's enthusiasm for Hitchcock's distasteful film. The result on the screen is appalling.”  The issue of the films graphic nature was discussed widely and both the US and UK censors had required minor cuts to the murder sequence (though Hitchcock and Shaffer had toned down the violence from the novel).

By this time, Alma had recovered sufficiently well that she was able to accompany Hitchcock on the publicity tour which lasted well into the year.

Frenzy received four Golden Globe Award nominations - Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score - but didn’t win any.  It ended 1972 listed at number 33 in Variety’s “Top 50 Grossing Films of the Year” list, with a box-office take of $4.8m.  On a budget of $2.8m, to date it has earned over $21m.

Happy anniversary, Frenzy.  As Bob Rusk might say, “lovely...”

sources: Locations
About time magazine
Once Upon A Screen
Covent Garden: Frenzy

Monday, 22 May 2017

Just For The Holidays - an interview with Sue Moorcroft

As regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve been friends with Sue Moorcroft for a while (we met in 1999 when I joined the Kettering Writers Group) and it’s been my pleasure to interview her several times (you can read them here, here and here).  Last year, as part of her 2-book deal with Avon, she published The Christmas Promise (I wrote about the launch here) which became a Number One Amazon Bestseller (and none of this sub-category business for Sue, this was in the general chart) and I was really chuffed and proud of her.

Just For The Holidays is her second Avon novel and it was published last Thursday.  A summer tale, set in France and England and featuring the holiday from hell, it’s an excellent read and I would highly recommend it.

Sue’s a great Con-buddy (most of my UK horror writing chums will have met her at FantasyCon or Edge-Lit) and to help celebrate her latest publication, she & I sat down at The Trading Post to have a chat.

MW:  So how did you end up coming along to FantasyCon (her first one was WFC in Brighton, in 2013)?

SM:  At the time, I was teaching creative writing a lot more than I am now. I was invited to the Historical Novel Society conference and I not only enjoyed it but found it helpful when working with students writing books set in the past. You’d always seemed to enjoy FCon so I thought I’d repeat the experiment for the speculative genres. I hadn’t anticipated enjoying it quite so much!

MW:  What was your impression of the horror genre and those people you met in it?

SM:  Very friendly. This was perhaps covered by you knowing just about everyone there (it seemed like) but I was made welcome. I was also bowled over by the creativity but I suppose those who write in the speculative genres need to be highly imaginative. I enjoyed the general wit and humour, and the support people exhibited for one another. I know the horror genre has had its fair share of friction and commotion on Facebook but, from my experience, it hadn’t transferred to the conference.
At FantasyCon York, 2014 (which I wrote about here)
I am at the bottom of the pic in the centre and from left; Steven Chapman, Neil Williams, Sue, Stephen Bacon, John Travis, Terry Grimwood, James Everington, Steve Harris
MW:  I always think it’s nice to see how people who don’t normally read in your genre have embraced you and what you write.

SM:  I agree! There are a few who give me cautious smiles as if to say ‘What are you doing here?’ but with no ill will. Well … I do always feel I’m a handicap when it comes to CurryCon. I love curry but it’s spiteful towards me and I feel guilty when people change their choice of restaurant to accommodate that.

MW:  What do you enjoy about conferences and conventions?  Any tips for people who’ve always wanted to go to one but never plucked up the courage?

SM:  I love being with other writers. It’s like finding your tribe. You can talk and be understood. For example, I don’t find myself trying to put over what I do to promote a book on Twitter to someone who doesn’t read, write or tweet. When I attend the talks and panels of others I’m always interested, always prepared to expand my knowledge.

Sue’s con tips: 
If you’re not keen on going into big gatherings of people you don’t know, try and make friends on social media with people who are likely to attend. That way, you have reason to go up and shake hands (everyone wears name badges). Better yet, speak to them on social media and tell them you’re new and they’ll probably agree to meet you and introduce you to others. It’s only a tiny barrier and you’re soon over it.
Take money, especially if you like alcohol.
Wear comfy shoes. (The first year I was to attend FantasyCon I asked on Facebook what the shoe code would be. This would have been a valid question at a lot of conferences I’ve been to but was met with ‘Um, wear some?’)
Take more money, for books.
Just kick back and enjoy it.

MW:  Back when we were in Kettering Writers, we hatched this plan to swap genres for one story.  Did you still fancy doing that?

SM:  It didn’t work well, did it? We each got half way through a story and lost interest. I did find my story recently and I enjoyed what I’d written but realised it was going nowhere. I wasn’t interested enough in the genre to have that light bulb moment so I’ll probably file this idea under ‘too busy’, if you don’t mind!

MW:  Your new book, Just For The Holidays, came out last Thursday and, as you know, I love it.  Where did the idea come from?

SM:  Thank you! A friend told me about her holiday from hell. I immediately asked to be allowed to use the premise of a single woman being roped in to help her newly separated sister on a family holiday. It was a couple of years before the idea came to the top of my pile but then I just had to focus the vague premise and make it work. Luckily for me, there were several conflicts – Leah’s single and husbandless by choice yet she ends up looking after her sister’s children and husband. She barely speaks French and she’s in France. The sister, Michele, though her marriage is over, is not only pregnant but experiencing health problems. Alister, the husband from whom Michele is estranged is hurt. The children are distraught. Alister asks to be allowed to come on the holiday as he paid for the gîte before the split and he and the children are unhappy apart. Leah tries to bail but Michele doesn’t let her … That’s enough material for any novelist, I think!

Sue at Sywell Airfield
MW:  How enjoyable was the research?

SM:  Very. I not only spent four days with a friend who lives in Alsace but was taken up in a helicopter, which the pilot pretended to crash (more properly known as autorotation). It was awesome. NB There is a forced landing in the book – he didn’t just show me the autorotation manoeuvre on whim.

MW:  Did you find the process different from writing The Christmas Promise?

SM:  The actual process of writing? Not really. I’d been on a course run by Robert McKee, the screenwriter, just before I planned Just for the Holidays so I probably paid more attention to questions such as what the characters want consciously and whether it’s different to what they want subconsciously. (I find the best answer to this is ‘yes, it is different’.) I wasn’t pushed for time when I wrote Just for the Holidays. Now that my publishing schedule has tightened up I am taking more risks with the first draft and have adopted the ‘write quickly, edit slowly’ approach.

MW:  How did it feel hitting the top of the chart and becoming a genuine Amazon Best seller?

SM:  Wow. It was truly amazing. I’d been euphoric enough when The Christmas Promise entered the top ten. When it got into the top three …! It stayed at either #2 or #3 for quite some time but when I finally saw it at #1 I had trouble believing my eyes. I literally screamed. I broke into a sweat, I began to shake, I cried (tears of joy, of course!). And then I went onto Twitter to tell everyone. My editor had beaten me to it so we had a joyfest. Others came on to congratulate me, I texted my agent. And after a while I remembered to tell my family. It stayed at #1 for about five days in the week before Christmas and it definitely made me like Christmas more than usual.
At FantasyCon Nottingham, 2015 (which I wrote about here)
from left; Stephen Bacon, Steve Harris, Sue, me, Neil Williams
MW:  Does the success of The Christmas Promise set up an expectation for you, with regards to Just For The Holidays?

SM:  Yes, there is that. But you can look at things in two ways. Negatively: ‘Wow, I’ll never do that again. We’ll never beat that. Nothing can ever live up to it.’ Or positively: ‘It might happen again! We have the last success to build upon! Amazon has the contact details of everybody who bought The Christmas Promise so can send them all emails about Just for the Holidays!’ I choose to be positive but I’m a realist so I know I can’t take a single thing for granted.

What both The Christmas Promise and Just for the Holidays did was set up was a great working relationship with Avon Books UK.

MW:  So what’s next for you?

SM:  I’ve sent in Give Me Till Christmas to my editor, which is scheduled for publication for Christmas this year. And I’ve begun (just) my summer 2018 book, provisionally entitled The Summer of Finding Out. Those two books are the first of a new three-book deal – and I’ve just signed the contract!

MW:  Congratulations on the new contract and, as I've just read it to critique, I can say I was very impressed with Give Me Till Christmas and I'm sure your fans will love it!

is published by Avon Books UK, HarperCollins

The #1 bestselling author returns for summer! Grab your sun hat, a cool glass of wine, and the only book you need on holiday…

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

A glorious summer read, for you to devour in one sitting - perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Trisha Ashley.

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