My Pop Life #226 : Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead


LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

We hope that you choke
That you choke
We hope that you choke
That you choke
*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part One

January 1996

Almost exactly a year since I first took NYD public, pitching it to Suri in the Atlantic Bar before jetting back to LA for one last month to write the screenplay. I suppose I have spent 6 to 8 weeks of the year since then writing and re-writing the script.  On Monday I delivered the official 3rd draft (actually the 6th but that’s how it works).  On Tuesday producer Steven Cleary left a message on the ansaphone saying “I need to edit this draft so would you please send me a disc so I can show you what I mean – it needs to lose 6 or 7 pages”.  I was so furious that I didn’t even reply for two days and Steven eventually called Suri to ask where I was. When I eventually returned his call he was in a temper and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t send him the disc.  He is becoming quite irritating. We still haven’t got a contract even thought the money has been agreed. Mine is 2 & a half % of the budget, minimum £30K, max £75K, 25% of producer’s budget at back end.

At each script meeting the project – my baby – is placed on the table between Steven, producer, Suri, director and myself, writer.  We take it in turns to cut it, twist it, pull it, open it up, mend it, wound it, kill it.  In this way it gets better because it gets stronger.  Once the 3 of us have punched it in the face a few times, stabbed it and held it underwater until the bubbles stop, why then, it has become almost invincible…

July 1996

I have no desire to write the next draft – officially – believe it or not – the 3rd draft (I know) despite the eight I have written so far.  I actually have 5 separate drafts on the hard drive (we are pre-computer and pre-internet here) but Clear-eye felt I had only written two. I was repulsed by this betrayal having been writing this film now for 18 months, and as a result my interest in the screenplay has almost vanished. (See My Pop Life #75).  I no longer give a shit about the story or the characters, couldn’t care less whether the film is made or not, whether I’ll be involved or not. I feel totally drained of juice, enthusiasm, interest, buzz, creativity.

December 1996

A million pounds has evaporated – indeed, it was never there in the first place.  A next draft in the offing. I read the 1st draft again recently thinking in my arrogance that it would be better than the “3rd draft”.  It wasn’t.  The screenplay has steadily improved since it was first thought of, and can improve again.

Steven Cleary has moved house, been burgled, and had a baby (Stephanie has) as he attempts to sew Granada/Rank into the deal.  Suri now committed to “A Respectable Trade” with the BBC until April – as are Jenny and I.  NYD slips back to autumn 1997…

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A Respectable Trade…

October 1997

Ten months later and Steven is married.  Granada and I are still negotiating my contract – I am now to be credited as co-producer separately from screenplay. They have a clause about giving any new writer credit on the screen – ‘screenplay by Ralph Brown and…’ well bollocks to that.  I’ve been stalling them anyway as I am not that happy with the whole set-up.  The last draft was met with silence. I eventually received a copy of my script typed up by Steven’s secretary, edited by Steven. Which was, as you can imagine, quite hilarious.  Irritated by these developments, I kept my cool and sold Steven on a new draft based on a book review I had read in Bristol ‘The Importance of Disappointment‘. He bought it.  I rewrote the character of Veronica going back to draft 5 for the structure.  This of course annoyed everyone, but that’s the current draft and battle will be resumed when there is Money On The Table and not before.  I have refused all requests for script meetings this summer.  Simon Channing Williams is still interested and I am meeting him this Thursday October 9th.

I felt at this point and others that script meetings were being used to create energy when there was no movement on the money front.  Rewrites to keep us all energised.  Slightly patronising, sometimes useful, more often just chewing over stuff which had been shaped perfectly well.  When there is no movement on the money let’s get Ralph to write another draft. 

January 20th 1998

We appear to be in pre-pre-production. A small shared office on the 17th floor at Granada on the South Bank with a beautiful view over the Thames and London.  I saw the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament today while chatting to Suri about Barry Ackroyd who seems to be shaping up as the DP.  Good.  Kathy Burke seems to have fallen through as an idea as she is slated to shoot David Kane’s movie at the same time .  Shame.  She would have been perfect as Shelley.  We have a casting director – Jane Deitch who worked with us all on A Respectable Trade.  An open audition is planned for Feb 11th in the Theatre Royal Brighton for prospective Jakes and Stevens (lead characters in the film, two 16-year old boys).  Very exciting stuff.  Tomorrow is the Premiere of Up’N’Under in Leicester Square with Mums Dads Brothers Sisters coming.  Interview with Andy Oliver at GLR in the afternoon, then Thursday up to Hull for the Northern Premiere.  Hoorah !

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

(in keeping with the bellyaches and gripes herein I merely note that my agent failed to negotiate my name on the poster)

February 1998

IMG_3661

IMG_3659

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Great week in Brighton with Jane and Suri and Jenny going to schools and drama groups then holding an open casting at the Theatre Royal then another at Granada Studios in Manchester.  500 kids turn up in Brighton – we are overwhelmed but manage to see them all.  The quality is low, but the hunger is fantastically exhilarating.  Highlights of the week were : 1. Varndean – great class with lots of talent and very strong potential ‘Jake’, 2. The Academy – almost all young girls (12-15) who blew us away with their improvisations and their production of the Orestia – all credit to their teacher Mel, 3. Going back to Priory in Lewes to audition the 6th form – some talent here too.  Great production of Guys & Dolls by Blatchington Mills School at the Gardner Arts Centre and disappointment at Falmer and Shandy Stage School which was in fact quite Moonie-like and spooky.  A very enjoyable week indeed – spoiled for Suri only by the local Argus headline “500 queue to audition for Ralph’s film”.  He is very competitive, silly thing.  Jane was wonderful with the kids, spoke her mind, and we all loved her and her husband Mark who came down to help at the Theatre Royal.  The hunt for ‘Steven’ goes on.

March 3rd

Bad day.  Suri has gone seriously paranoid about me and refuses to invite me to casting sessions or casting discussions with Jane.  Shoot planned for 4th May, time spent worrying about snow, ski-ing, avalanches.  Today Suri manages to disagree with everything I say, regardless of what it was about – contrary to the Nth Degree.  Very disturbing indeed and all thoughts of collaboration, friendship, protecting my film go out of the window.  I meet Charles Steel who is our Associate Producer (friend of Steve Cleary) who is great, friendly, positive, lovely.  We get on immediately.  Steve is in Paris talking to potential French co-producers, and doing a workshop for Arista.  We need him full-time now. I spend the day looking through Spotlight – the whole thing – and run up my shortlists for the principal cast.  This is what Jane and Suri did on Friday.  I simply do not understand why Suri would not want me in one of these discussions.  I cannot get my head round it at all.  I can only assume that he is really insecure and needs to flex his status as much as possible.  He is behaving like any weak director who feels threatened by a writer. He is also perhaps (as Catherine Wearing suggested) a stick-in-the-mud, rather inflexible about how he works and how he has always done it, ignoring our relationship and my experience in film because in some way to change his working method is to undermine him. I am deeply worried about Suri for a number of reasons – not least of which is that he is now going out with Nikki again who does not approve of NYD, or doesn’t like it, and with whom he spends as much time as possible rather than on the film.  This will get increasingly irritating as we go into pre-production (starting Monday) and fucking outrageously annoying while we shoot.  Oh dear.  I start to take the sanguine long view, I start to plan my short film, my next full-length screenplay and the rest of my life without a good friend who has become an arse.

8th March Sunday night

Life has become empty without New Year’s Day in it.  I made one call to Suri the next morning – paged him “I WON’T BE IN AGAIN THIS WEEK. DO YOU WANT TO SEE MAN UTD GAME WITH ME?”.  He called back immediately said he couldn’t see the game and we had a chat about things, tried to improve the atmosphere and I think we were both relieved. Cleared the air. But the truth is he doesn’t need me now. He has work and so does Nikki. She will help in increasing his confidence which i good but there’ll be no more cosy chats over a big spliff.  It’s a shame but I really have to let it all go.  I feel as if I am going mad. Gwen (o seed – gwaine in patois) in Los Angeles brilliantly understood it all as an authorship problem and and insecurity/potency problem to be resolved through authorship and advised me to breathe the air and wait.  Good advice.  I need to start writing again, something new, and more than that I need to spend a week getting stoned out of my face.

25th March

A horrible fortnight.  After faxing my forthright casting comments up to Jane Deitch a silence ensues for over a week.  I later learn that this is when I am betrayed by all.  Granada want a star name in the Veronica part and I am not invited to offer my opinion – first betrayal.  It will be embarrassing for Pippa (Granada producer) if I’m there because I’m married to Jenny, for whom I wrote the part of Veronica, and who is under consideration.  This all starts to stink bigtime bigtime.  I spend a week being furious and gutted.  Wednesday I lunch at Quo Vadis with Fiona McGloughlin my new acting agent but not before Ian Amos (my Literary Agent) beckons me quickly into his office to inform me that he is leaving ICM to set up a music agency.  Oscar Wilde springs through my mind – to lose one agent is unfortunate (Michael Foster having left in December) – to lose two looks rather like carelessness.  Over spinach leaves and stuff I tell Fifi my whole life story for some reason and explain why writing is so important to me. I go to the Production Office where Suri is busying himself with something or other and we greet and hug stiffly. “Do you still hate me?” I ask like an ingenue. “No” he replies, but it ain’t right.

Steve and I go downstairs for a meeting where he tells me that Suri needs a clear run at the casting and it’s the area which is causing the most problems and I tell Steve that I understand the authorship issue and that’s why he’s insecure and precious but no – it turns out that Marianne Jean-Baptiste is being sent the script for the Veronica part (at least she’s black I think to myself) and Granada insist and Jenny won’t get a look-in – although this doesn’t transpire until much later.  The writer always dies three times intones a frankly unsympathetic Steve Cleary doing an unpleasant dirty job, or rather half of it, that Suri hasn’t the balls to do himself.  It is an awful moment.  I am left in the canteen of LWT with a knife protruding from between my shoulder blades.

The next few days are spent analysing this turn of events and the extra piece of information that Sting has been sent the screenplay for the Mr Diamond role.  I discuss with Jenny.  We shred blankets with our teeth and smash crockery and karma is summoned and charlatans and cowards and the knife is still there.

IMG_3654

Fuck me I want to kill someone now.  This feeling persists all weekend as Conrad and I go to watch Barnet 2 Brighton 0 and singalongahoolie with the Albion away contingent which is therapeutic.

On Sunday I decide to send Suri my pain, all wrapped up in love.  A fax to his house.  We wait three days for the reply but in a strange way I feel calmer.  I know he must reply.  I call mutual friends Meera and Shekhar and discuss.  Shekhar is brilliant and I love him.  He promises to “have a word with Suri”.  I feel as if I may have miscalculated many times over with Suri, particularly in relation to my friendship with the man. This hurts the most – the possibility (!!) of being wrong in a personal judgement haunts me terribly and I keep pushing it to the back of my mind, but I cannot help thinking that Something Is Up and Suri cannot face me, cannot talk to me, would rather I wasn’t there probably.  I think every day about turning my back and walking away, letting three years three years or more of my life be colonised invaded changed altered crucified sold out massacred a droned infant keeps appearing in my mind. I feel perhaps I should help to hold its head under the water until it stops breathing.  But to date it has refused to expire.  And I cannot leave yet.  New projects appear in front of me and I grab at them for sanity as I must – Groucho meetings twice a week with young writers, cinematographers, directors, friends.  No solace there though.  The monkey must be faced down.

Suri eventually replies to my fax.  (damn I wish I had it, or could even remember what I wrote !) He had to, and for his own sense of worth, had to invite me back.  But the worst is yet to come.  On Thursday 19th March we hold a workshop in Varndean School for the creme of the Sussex kids.  It is a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing off the sea when I pick up Jane, Suri and Theresa from the station.  I had arrived early and bought myself a nice wake-up coffee, after all it is 8.45a.m.  As my now full Jaguar swings round the Seven Dials roundabout my cappucino tilts karmically into Suri’s lap and he is drenched with hot coffee.  The rest of it ebbs away into the carpet and we both apologise – me for burning his leg and wetting his trousers – he for not saving a drop of coffee as it emptied onto the floor – a snap decision made in shock and anger I felt.  We arrive at the school and run through the workshop.  The kids are fantastic and I am really proud of them – original, individual, colourful.  Some fine actors stand out and I have my first inkling of problems with Jake and Steven as Suri doesn’t like the boy who stands out for Jane & I.  We lunch in a pub, we continue in the afternoon. It is a very successful day although perhaps without leading contenders (except the aforementioned Joe).  I drive Suri to the station via my house, which is empty.  We roll a joint and smoke it.

He then informs me that he has met Marianne Jean-Baptiste and she is heavily pregnant but that Granada have insisted she is cast in order to raise the money for the film.  I feel instinctively wrong about all of this. First I am neutralised, then excluded, then Jenny is cast aside. All out of my viewing.  A kind of defiant skulking quality appears in Suri – apologetic, but Marianne will be “terrific”.  I can scarcely contain my shock and disappointment (at him and indeed at myself for not seeing it earlier, years earlier, for why indeed had I asked this man to direct my screenplay?  Because I trusted him, because I felt that he would understand the material and the vibe of the story, that we were friends.  But no.  We never were.  In fact, just before the contracts were signed I changed my mind about everything and decided that I would direct it myself.  I called Suri and told him so.  He was furious.  He said he would initiate another project which would be his version of this story.  I said he could do what he wanted and we left it there.  But for SOME FUCKING REASON I changed my mind the next day and surrendered to someone else’s ego and sacrificed my story, my screenplay and my marriage to my woman to this worm of a human being who now held my finest hour in his grubby little hands the utter fuckwit) and indicate as I had done to Steve a week earlier that the other grown-up characters should be cast first, in deference to me, so that we can see where we get to vis-a-vis names, money-raising names.  Kathy Burke as Shelley, James Wilby as Robin, Paul McGann as Mr Diamond – then the way is clear for Jenny to play Veronica.  But no.  To head straight for this part and secretly cast it so obviously against my wishes is a high level betrayal which everyone has colluded in.  When we get back to the pub Jane asks Suri if he is “all right”.  I am the bully.  I am not asked if I am all right.  In the great scheme of film-making it is less important.  I start to believe, to realise, that Suri has not actually fought for Jenny to be considered.  It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t there was I?  Despite it being in my contract as associate producer that I am to be invited to all meetings etc etc.  I was carefully neutralised at the critical moment.  Suri’s weakness becomes immediately transparently apparent.  The way he switched so quickly, isolating me.  Jenny suspects that he wanted Marianne all along which is quite possible, but then he shouldn’t have said to me IN FEBRUARY (oh yes, quite recently) that he wanted Jenny to play the part.  There is no one better in England to play it.  No one.  I start to think long term again.

I have to for my sanity.

The bubbles come out of its mouth and its legs are kicking

I’ll never do this again

Ever

Suri is not

in fact

my friend

At this point Jenny and I had a series of extremely painful and raw heart-to-hearts which I did not diarise in any way.  They are private conversations.  They are about how much we mean to each other.  They are about her (and my) public humiliation at the optics and the actuality of what is happening.  They are about how we survive these betrayals without resorting to murder.  We question everything that we are doing, have done, will do.  What is the point of it all?  We – the idea of we – is under serious attack.  Who is betrayed?  Who is fighting?  Who is hurting?

We are being rent asunder.  

*

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill
Such a chill

And you can laugh a spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace
We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Andrew Brown
    Sep 25, 2019 @ 05:46:43

    I’m amazed you got through all this, you can feel the raw pain just reading it… Betrayal is brutal… But you came through it…xx

    Like

    Reply

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