THE MAKING OF THE THING

HOLLYWOOD – In our ‘The Making of…  Series’ we turn our attention to the classic science fiction/ horror remake: John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The Idea

John Carpenter had wanted to make another Science Fiction film following his debut Dark Star in 1974. He made Escape from New York in 1981 and then immediately started work on The Thing I Like About You, a musical comedy written by Burt Lancaster’s son Bill Lancaster. Kurt Russell, who had just finished working with Carpenter playing Snake Pilsen in Escape, was immediately cast as the shoes salesman who becomes hopeless involved with a millionairess and a Sheik. It was obvious to Russell that Carpenter wasn’t inspired by the story:

To begin with, he immediately had us move the production from New England to British Columbia. Before we knew it all the women and the musicians got fired and the script was changing every day. It soon became obvious  that John had an old Science Fiction film in mind but everything was on the hoof. The funny thing was – if you’ll excuse the pun – the title didn’t change. And in fact the first full cut of the film still had the title card the The Thing I Like About You. It was actually a note from a Universal Exec that had us abbreviate it.

Production

Filming in sub-zero temperatures was a challenge for the cast and crew as John Carpenter revealed in his autobiography ‘Everything Looks Like a Nail’:

We would film from seven in the morning and go into the night. But the next morning I would find Kurt Russell had frozen solid. At first we rushed him to hospital but the doctors assured me that he was perfectly preserved and no damage had happened. Apparently it happens all the time in Canada. So it became a thing. We’d send a guy to Kurt’s room an hour early so he could defrost Kurt. Then we’d film and that night Kurt would freeze again. Someone suggested we should move him to room with heating, but what with the freezing and unfreezing Kurt didn’t have to eat for the whole shoot and we saved a lot of money on rice and beans.

The special effects to create the monster were particularly difficult. Stan Winston was called in to do some work:

Most of the work was done before I even got there but there was one particular creature they couldn’t get right. And they were very pushed for time. This was described in the script as a dog. Now I assumed the dog had been taken over by the alien, so that’s what I created, but when I showed John he said no it has to look more like a dog. I went away, had a think and then did it again. By the third or fourth time, I decided as a joke just to show him a real dog. He said that was perfect and in the end that’s what appears in the film. Just a dog!

The ending of the film proved particularly difficult and John Carpenter was forced by the studio to shoot an alternative ending which has Kurt Russell waking up and realizing the whole thing was a dream.

Reception

The film was released in a double bill with E.T. and proved to be both a financial and critical failure. Vincent Canby in the New York Times complained that his seat wasn’t comfy and the popcorn he was given was slightly stale, whereas Roger Ebert wrote: ‘Watching John Carpenter’s The Thing, I had this air current on my neck. I don’t know if it was the air-conditioning or what but by the time I came out I had this really sore neck. It was irritating.’

Now the film is a cult classic and the air-conditioning has been fixed.

The Thing was released in 1982.

For more of The Making of… CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF ALIEN

HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our celebrated Making of… series, we look at the behind the scenes drama that went into the making of Ridley Scott’s Science Fiction Horror film “Alien”.

The Idea

Dan O’Bannon had been writing Science Fiction scripts for some time. He had scripted and had a small part in John Carpenter’s debut movie “Dark Star”, but O’Bannon wanted to branch out and make a realistic drama about truckers driving across America with a cargo of coal. He wrote to his agent John Stutter:

Dear John,

Please find enclosed the treatment for the new screenplay “Alan”. The story is simple. A trucker called Alan is taking a cargo of coal across America. I see this as very much “Convoy”, but with coal and not as escapist as that film. Let me know what you think.

However, Sutter had not properly read the treatment and his note to O’Bannon was apologetic.

Dan,

Sorry to tell you this but I just glanced at the title of your treatment and got straight onto the phone with Fox. I thought the title was “Alien”. I think it was an ink smudge. Bad news, when I read the treatment I thought it deadly dull. Good news, Fox are sold on having a script from Dark Star writer Dan O’Bannon entitled “Alien”!

A disgruntled O’Bannon got to work and he re-used several characters from his coal convoy story along with the grungy feel he had been aspiring to but he resolutely refused to add an Alien which saw the script taken out of his hands and given to Ronald Shusett who added the Alien. Walter Hill’s production company got involved and a British commercials director who had just made an atmospheric Napoleonic drama called “The Duellists” was also interested.

Pre-Production

The key to the film was thought to be the creature of the title and Jim Henson, the puppet master who created the Muppets, was called in. Following Ridley Scott’s instructions to ‘go dark’, Henson produced the face-hugger, the fetus and the final creature in one 48 hour bout of creativity. However, fearing for his child friendly reputation he hired Swiss artist H.R. Giger to present the work as his own, a decision Henson would bitterly regret for the rest of his life.

Production

Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright,Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto were all cast after Ridley Scott got stuck in a lift with them in a Casino in Las Vegas and was impressed by the way they reacted diversely to the claustrophobic emergency. In keeping with the sense of immediacy Scott attempted to maintain a sense of spontaneity throughout the fourteen week shoot which took place between July 5 and October 21, 1978. Scott gave the actors only selective pages of script and would frequently spring surprises on them. The chest-burster scene was so disturbing that Yaphey Kotto pissed himself with fear. Harry Dean Stanton recalls:

The urine was everywhere and we were skidding around on it and almost falling on our asses, but Ian and John came from the British theater tradition and so they carried right on. And that was the take that Ridley used. Some of the looks of disgust on Veronica’s face for example, are because of the urine on the floor as much as the special effects.

Later filming the final sequence, Sigourney Weaver would shit her pants, though this was later revealed to be a prank she played on the rest of the cast and crew.

Reception

The advertising campaign for Alien was widely seen as one of the most successful of the late 70s although there is some controversy about who came up with the final tag line. Salman Rushdie claimed that he was the author and Gabriel Garcia Marquez said the line was his own. Scott settled the argument when it was revealed that Julian Lennon, son of Beatle John Lennon used to say to his father every night before he went to bed, ‘Remember dad, in space no one can hear you scream’ which would cause some of John Lennon’s most violent ‘bad trips’. The film was deemed a success and in 1987 the library of congress hired a video cassette of it and forgot to take it back the next day, which is considered by some to be the highest mark of honor.

Alien was released in 1979.

For more of The Making of… CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE TRIP TO ITALY (PART 2)

LONDON – Following on from PART ONE (Click here), we conclude the making of The Trip to Italy, considered one of the most difficult films ever made.

Michael Winterbottom:

Rob became very impatient with the film making process. For us to get the Batman meal we needed them to talk and eat for seven hours straight. They were both going out to vomit and then coming back again. Rob’s Michael Caine impersonation just wasn’t working, so at one point we decided just to get Michael Caine to come in and do ADR for us.

Steve Coogan:

To be fair we did use Rob’s script for the Batman dinner.

MW: Rob also wanted to have sex in the film as a way of making his character more interesting, but now it was Rob who was insisting on realism.

Rob Brydon:

The way I saw it was that if I was going to carry my own bag in the getting to the hotel scene, then when it came to the lovemaking I was going to damn well do that as well.

SC: He just became this egotistical monster. God knows what his wife is going to make of it when she sees the film. I mean it was very awkward.

MW: By the end of the production neither Rob nor Steve were talking to each other. As we moved south to Rome and then Naples, the weather got better but we increasingly had difficulty with organised crime. Some of the scenes were interrupted by gunfire and had to be totally redone. Also Don Cicco, a local heavy threatened to have Steve and Rob both assassinated if we didn’t include his son in the film. We quickly wrote a subplot in which Steve’s son comes to meet them and cast Don Cicco’s son.

SC: He didn’t speak a word of English so we just spoke around him and then over dubber everything. Which of course meant that along with being forced to use sections of Rob’s script that all the spontaneity of the original idea was totally gone.

RB: They didn’t just abandon my script they pissed on it. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. They took the script and in a scene reminiscent of  Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut they pissed on the script. That’s when I stabbed Steve.

MW: They had been fighting since the beginning. Physical fighting. They would kick each other under the table as we were filming. It was like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, we had to put a wooden board to divide them under the table. But after the screenplay pissing incident, Rob actually stabbed Steve with a knife. We were re-enacting the revenge scene from The Godfather: Part 2 and Rob used a real knife.

SC: I felt what can only be described as a ‘stabbing pain’.

MW: We rushed him to hospital and fortunately we managed to get him stitched up. The scene worked perfectly so I kept it in, as a dream sequence. It became obvious though that the two couldn’t work together again.

SC: Not only will I never work with Rob Brydon again, if I ever have the opportunity to do him harm, I will do him harm.

RB: I don’t know why we shouldn’t do another one. We are after all artists and I’ve already started working on the script. I see a series like the ‘Road to…’ movies.  The next one is going to be called The Trip to Afghanistan.

The Trip to Afghanistan will be released in 2016.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE TRIP TO ITALY (PART 1)

LONDON – Despite its apparent luxury, Michael Winterbottom’s Trip to Italy was actually a highly fraught production and for the first time the principals discuss what became known as the ‘the most difficult film ever made’.

Michael Winterbottom:

The first film was done in 2010, and originally it was a TV series which we then edited together as a film. We were very happy with the result and it was easy to do. There was good food, and Rob and Steve got along well. There was no script and so we just let them develop their characters and improvise. The idea of doing the same again but now in Italy felt like getting paid to go on holiday, but it soon all began to go horribly wrong.

Steve Coogan:

I’d worked with Rob and enjoyed his sense of humor and so I was very keen to make the sequel, but the moment we arrived in Italy things began to go wrong.

Rob Brydon:

I knew that Steve and Michael were both looking at this like a holiday, but I was deeply unsatisfied with the original film. I thought it was facile and I blamed the improvisational technique so this time I wrote a script.

MW: The script was five hundred pages long. Even if we had wanted to shoot it, which we didn’t, we would have gone over budget and over schedule. We’d still be there now.

RB: I don’t think they even read it.

SC: I didn’t read it.

MW: So already there were disagreements about how to proceed. We arrived in Piedmont and the weather was atrocious. It was the worst rainfall in the history of the region.

SC: It rained and rained and rained. Most of the outdoor shots you see were green screen. And the food was just disgusting. I hate pasta and Rob is allergic to garlic.

RB: At one point, I get out of the car and I get my bag. Now, what you don’t understand just watching the film is that that bag is actually full of my stuff and is quite heavy. Michael insisted I carry it myself, for realism he said. Something you understand that as a top flight comedian, I’m not used to doing. And Michael would insist on doing take after take after take. Sometimes as many as three takes.

MW: Rob became very impatient with the film making process. For us to get the Batman meal we needed them to talk and eat for seven hours straight. They were both going out to vomit and then coming back again. Rob’s Michael Caine impersonation just wasn’t working, so at one point we decided just to get Michael Caine to come in and do ADR for us.

SC: To be fair we did use Rob’s script for the Batman dinner.

MW: Rob also wanted to have sex in the film as a way of making his character more interesting, but now it was Rob who was insisting on realism.

RB: The way I saw it was that if I was going to carry my own bag in the getting to the hotel scene, then when it came to the lovemaking I was going to damn well do that as well.

SC: He just became this egotistical monster. God knows what his wife is going to make of it when she sees the film. I mean it was very awkward.

MW: By the end of the production neither Rob nor Steve were talking to each other. As we moved south to Rome and then Naples, the weather got better but we increasingly had difficulty with organised crime.

The Making of The Trip to Italy will conclude shortly.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE WILD BUNCH

HOLLYWOOD  – In the latest of our ‘Making of…’ series, we look at Sam Peckinpah’s unusual move into romantic comedy: The Wild Bunch.

The Idea

Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make a realistic Western for years, but following disputes on Major Dundee and his firing from The Cincinnati Kid the controversial director found himself relegated to television. Here however he plotted his return and when he was handed a screenplay for a Romantic Comedy entitled A Bunch of Wild Roses which already had William Holden and Elizabeth Taylor attached, Peckinpah seized the opportunity. Shifting the caper to Mexico, Peckinpah guaranteed he was away from the supervision of the studios and began with the aid of screenwriter Walon Green. Green notes:

Every day we would shave Elizabeth’s part. Just a line here and there then a scene. She had a house with Richard Burton in Mexico at the time so she was really looking forward to the film, but it soon became clear that her part was getting much too small. When she pulled out, we had what we wanted and we changed the title to The Wild Bunch of Roses, though we fully intended to leave off the last two words of the final cut. The aristocrat who falls in love with his son’s governess became Deke Bishop. And the film became the Western that Sam had always meant to make.

Production

Sam Peckinpah wrote to his mother to describe the difficulties:

Hi Mom,

Still in Mexico trying to get this God Damned film made. Excuse my French. This assholes (sorry) just don’t know violence. They only know violence from crappy John Wayne Westerns where someone is shot and a trickle appears from between their fingers if at all. I want them to blow holes in each other. Blood should gout out and there should be the real image of what projectiles can do to flesh and bone.

Dear Samuel,

That sounds nice. How is Elizabeth Taylor. Is she as pretty as she is in the glossies?

Hi Mom,

Yeah, she’s a swell gal, but she’s not in the film no more. The problem is no one understands what I want. I need to treat time differently. When something violent happens to you, your whole perception of time changes. I keep trying to get the actors to act slowly, so that they look like the whole thing is happening at a different speed. It works quite well, but when one of them falls over of course they can’t help falling at a normal speed. Damn it! How am I supposed to solve everything? Sorry, ma I have to go and get surgically drunk.

Dear Samuel,

Why don’t you just film them at normal speed and then slow the film down. Wouldn’t that work best? You’ll need to film it at a different speed so the quality of the image remains sharp. I’d say  a multiple camera set up with cameras working at 24 frames per second, 30 frames per second, 60 frames per second, 90 frames per second and 120 frames per second.

Hi Mom,

I wish you’d not interfere with the technical side of film making that you clearly don’t understand. We have all the actors on wires now so that when they fall we can lower them slowly. Problem solved. You women!

Reception

The critical reception of The Wild Bunch was generally positive, though the film’s scenes of graphic violence dominated early reviews. Vincent Canby wrote:

There’s this bit right, where Ernest Borgnine gets the Gattling gun and he goes ‘RATATATATATATATATATAT!’ and like the Mexicans are going ‘Arrrgh’ and then this kid shoots P’Kew! and Borginine’s like ‘Urhhh’ and someone else shoots and goes P’Kew! But Borgnine still has the Gattling gun and it goes ‘RATATATA!’ ‘RATATATATATATTATATAT!’

The Wild Bunch was released in 1969.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF PLAYING FOR KEEPS. PART 1

HOLLYWOOD  – In the latest of our Making of series a film that was considered ‘much better than anything Stanley Kubrick did’: Gabriele Muncino Playing for Keeps.

Italian director of such visionary misspelt classics as The Pursuit of Happyness and Severn Pounds, Gabriele Muncino invited Studio Exec on set and behind the scenes, in this the first part of our seventeen part series: The Making of a Modern Day Masterpiece: Playing for Keeps.

The Idea.

Muncino: When I got involved was… let me see… about four years ago. Initially the script was called The MILF Man and we had Dennis Quaid involved, but everyone was saying Quaid’s such an asshole. And I was working with Will Smith and he told me I had to see this breakfast cereal called ‘porridge’. It was great and on the cover was this Scottish man. I said who’s that? And everyone was like, that is Gerard Butler.

Gerard Butler: They’d seen my porridge box work and I knew they all hated Quaid so I was quite confident about getting the role. But before we started filming I though I’d better get into character. Now Gabriele had said something to me about I should be a real beef cake. But he’s Italian and he has a really strong accent so I thought he said I should eat a real lot of cake. and so that’s what I did. And trifle.

Jessica Biel: Initially the script was quite offensive towards women. My understanding was that originally it was called MILF Men and had Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as a pair of fun loving abortionist who have fallen on hard times and so set about ahem, creating some business.  I know. Then Wilson tried to kill himself and then Quaid came on board and everyone was like, fuck no. Not Quaid. I’ve never known anyone in Hollywood to inspire such passion.

Muncino: So we changed the title, got rid of the abortion angle, added a kid and then made it more with it, but we’re ready to go and someone at the studio calls. You have to have Quaid. I couldn’t believe it. After all we had said, after all we had been through.

Dennis Quaid: So Gabriele and Gerard come over and they are just the sweetest people ever. One of them’s Scottish, the other is Italian. Guess which is which. Gerard was unsure about his role and he was considering the sequel to 300, which was called 150, a prequel really. And he told me he’d only do the film if I would be on hand to ‘mentor’ (I believe the word is), mentor him. Of course, I agreed.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

HOLLYWOOD – In our new series ‘The Making of…’ we go behind the scenes, using previously unseen letters, diaries and documents, of a major motion picture landmark of cinema. This week The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Idea

Sergio Leone had always wanted to make a film about a treasure hunt. Growing up in Mussolini’s Italy, treasure hunts were actually banned by the Black Shirts, as were blue shirts, yellow shirts and salmon pink trousers. So following the success of his first two ‘Dollar’ films, Leone brushed off an old idea he had been toying with for years. Three rogues during the American Civil War  all go in search of an evasive wagon of gold. He provisionally entitled it Il Magro, Il Grasso, Il Marito, which translates as The Thin, the Fat and the Husband. He wrote to Dario Argento, a young film critic at the time and wannabe film director, and explained his idea:

The idea of my western is the purest concept I have come up with, now that I’ve run out of Akira Kurosawa films to copy. I’ve based it on an old Italian folktale my grandmother used to tell me. The thin man is always alert and wily, but the fat man is more charming and gregarious and everyone helps him, but the married man is the best because wherever he goes his wife follows him shrieking loudly. It is going to be very funny. Claudia Cardinale will play the wife I’m sure. Or Sophia Loren!

Casting

Despite his initial wish for Claudia Cardinale to play the married man’s wife, the role proved so difficult to to cast that the script was changed and the film retitled Il Magro, Il Grasso, Il Scapolo: The Thin, The Fat and the Bachelor. Thoughts turned to Clint Eastwood who – although his relationship with the Italian director was difficult – was still keen to make one last contracted film. Leone wrote to his American star:

Clint, I have a lovely role for you. It is perfect. You will get to wear that hat you like. You know the cowboy one! Yes, I knew that would bring a cheeky smile to that cheeky face. The role is Il Grasso, he is a gunfighter, but his real love is blueberry pies. Oh, he eats so many. The audience will see a whole new side to you, but listen you must put on some weight. I would say quite a few kilo. Fifty at least.

Clint responded cautiously:

Dear Sergio,

I read the script and it is a good one. I’m just not sure about my character. May I suggest that instead of being fat he is relatively slender. And instead of being garrulous, he is a man of few words. And instead of eating pies, he squints and shoots people. remember when you wanted me to wear that frogman’s suit in Fistful of Dollars, you remember telling me ‘A Poncho!? That’s ridiculous!’ but who was right in the end. Trust me on this.

Production

Now called Il Magro, Il Buono, Il Brutto (The Thin, The Good and The Ugly), the filmmakers moved to Franco’s Spain which would stand in for the US West. Eli Wallach, who had never worked with Leone before, was cast as The Magro. He wrote home to his mother:

Spain is nice. Hot as you’d expect this time of year. Clint is very quiet. A fitness nut, but you know. Nice. The film looks like being a bit of disaster. I’m clowning around as best I can but frankly I don’t understand the script, I don’t understand the direction, the story. Lee Van Cleef is here playing the Thin. I swear to God it’s a stupid film. Yesterday, Sergio made us stand around in a cemetery all day while he filmed our fingers and then the bridges of our noses! Europeans!

Post-Production

With the film complete all that remained was to add the score and overdub the dialogue. Clint told Roger Ebert in his documentary Clint and Sergio:

Sergio didn’t speak English and I spoke no Italian. And the script was often a mess. We knew roughly the scenes, but he didn’t have the dialogue properly translated or translated so badly that it was meaningless. So Sergio would just get us to count up to a number out loud. You count to 7 Clint, now Lee you count to 5, now Clint to 3 and so on. Then we’d overdub with actual words.

Ennio Morricone had completed the score early but the last touches were required the iconic ‘AIIIIAIAIA’ that would begin the score and the film. This was provided accidentally by the Maestro himself when he closed the piano lid on his own fingers. The sound of his shriek of pain had been inadvertently recorded and by looping it and manipulating it electronically Morricone added a strange and comic vibe to the film.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was released in 1966.

for more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

BARRY MARBLES ON THE MAKING OF STRAW DOGS








Barry Marbles worked for forty five years in the British film industry, working his way up from tea boy to gaffer, via key grip. And now he is prepared to let you in on the behind the scenes of what he personally has never called the Dream Factorium. This week he lifts the lid on one of the most controversial films of the seventies: Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.


When Mr. Peckinpah came over to England he was famous for two things: slow motion violence and hating women. It also turned out he didn’t like men none to much neither. 

I was preparing the lighting rig inside the cottage where much of the film was done and it was very complex. There were quite a few of us on the job and in comes Mr. Peckinpah wearing a bandanna and shouting and hollering all sorts of profanity. The air turned quite blue. And this in front of the apprentices. 

So I stood up and I said, ‘Mr. Peckinpah, I shall be needing you to lower your voice.’ 

Of course, that set him off even worse and he started effing and jeffing and calling me all the names under the sun. The air turned quite blue. So very gently I took his hand as if to shake but then quick as a light I slapped it on the kitchen table and drove the Philips head screwdriver right through the back of his hand effectively nailing it to the wood.  Oh, he did scream and rock about and beg and scream again, weeping and begging me to stop grinding at it the way I was doing. 

‘It happens quite quick in real life, doesn’t it sir?’ says I.


After that we had what I would call an understanding and the rest of the shoot went very smoothly.

ON SET: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK


April 3rd, 1979

George had come down with a bad cold and for three day’s straight he’d been existing on a diet of malt liquor and Night Nurse. He’d never been much of a drinker and I was a little worried about his mental state, so I told him to take the afternoon off and go get some shut eye.

The next morning I was on set bright and early and asked where George was at but nobody had seen him hide nor hair of him since yesterday. I poured myself a cognac and prepared to send out a search party when I got a call from NASA mission control at Cape Canaveral. They said they had George in custody and could I get over there right away and collect him.

Five hours later I’m escorted to a holding room on the base and find George wrapped in a sheet surrounded by Star Wars action figures. He’d arranged them all into various sexual positions and was currently ramming C-3PO into the back of Princess Leia and making lewd noises.

The officer in charge told me they’d caught him trying to board a rocket with a sackful of toys and, when they asked him what the hell he was doing, he said he wanted to release his little children into outer space. Then he started crying and begging forgiveness for destroying some place called Alderaan.

I explained to the officer that George had been self-medicating and he’d been under a lot of pressure lately. He said he understood and this wasn’t the first time he’d had to stop a director from attempting to commandeer a space shuttle. Apparently 12 years earlier Stanley Kubrick had got as far as initiating the launch sequence before he was apprehended.

I said I’d send everyone on the base a ticket to the premiere and get Carrie Fisher to come over and play a benefit concert if they would release George and keep what happened under wraps. The officer said no problem and so I gathered up the toys, took George by the hand and made a hasty exit.

After that day I never saw Lucas with a drink in his hand again. As for me, well, that was the day I started taking three valium before breakfast instead of two. 


ON SET: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK


April 3rd, 1979

George had come down with a bad cold and for three day’s straight he’d been existing on a diet of malt liquor and Night Nurse. He’d never been much of a drinker and I was a little worried about his mental state, so I told him to take the afternoon off and go get some shut eye.

The next morning I was on set bright and early and asked where George was at but nobody had seen him hide nor hair of him since yesterday. I poured myself a cognac and prepared to send out a search party when I got a call from NASA mission control at Cape Canaveral. They said they had George in custody and could I get over there right away and collect him.

Five hours later I’m escorted to a holding room on the base and find George wrapped in a sheet surrounded by Star Wars action figures. He’d arranged them all into various sexual positions and was currently ramming C-3PO into the back of Princess Leia and making lewd noises.

The officer in charge told me they’d caught him trying to board a rocket with a sackful of toys and, when they asked him what the hell he was doing, he said he wanted to release his little children into outer space. Then he started crying and begging forgiveness for destroying some place called Alderaan.

I explained to the officer that George had been self-medicating and he’d been under a lot of pressure lately. He said he understood and this wasn’t the first time he’d had to stop a director from attempting to commandeer a space shuttle. Apparently 12 years earlier Stanley Kubrick had got as far as initiating the launch sequence before he was apprehended.

I said I’d send everyone on the base a ticket to the premiere and get Carrie Fisher to come over and play a benefit concert if they would release George and keep what happened under wraps. The officer said no problem and so I gathered up the toys, took George by the hand and made a hasty exit.

After that day I never saw Lucas with a drink in his hand again. As for me, well, that was the day I started taking three valium before breakfast instead of two. 


ON SET: MAKING JAWS

HOLLYWOOD – I remember when Stevie Spielberg first came into my office with his script. It was called Amity then. I read it as he played pin ball, whooping and hollering and full of energy and vim. 

‘Well?’ he asks.
‘I like it,’ I tell him. ‘The peaceful seaside community, the cop from New York, kids Karate chopping fences. It’s great. But I got one word for you: Shark!’
His eyes lit up. I gave him a novel I’d read, Godawful piece of trash but there was a shark in it: Jaws by Peter Benchley, who I knew because of his father. A week later back comes Stevie, script rewritten. He shoots some hoops in the yard while I read. The cop’s son befriends the lonely shark and they have adventures. ‘You didn’t read the book, did you?’

He shakes his head. ‘I looked at the cover, briefly,’ he admits.
‘Okay,’ I tell him. ‘We need a severed head, a bitten off leg and a great score by Henry Mancini.’
Well, two out of three ain’t bad. 

(This extract was taken from the forthcoming book Lunches with Assholes: How Films Get Made due out for Xmas