Tonight I’m excited to be seeing Steven Berkoff in conversation at Brighton’s fantastic arts event ‘The Space’. Hidden away in the back streets of Brighton, ‘The Space’ run by Wayne Imms is one of the gems in Brighton’s art scene. Wayne regularly manages to attract high calibre guests for a close contact, 1 to 1 conversation which is often revealing and inspiring. For example, last month alone the guests were BBC comedy executive Jon Plowman (the man behind Ab-Fab and League of Gentleman) and only Fat Boy Slim himself, Norman Cook. Alan Parker, Barry Norman, Barry Cryer, David Morissey, Mark Gatiss, Deborah Landis, Gary Kurtz and Jed Mecurio are just a few names from the top of my head who have appeared at ‘The Space’. I’m really excited to see Steven Berkoff because I was lucky enough to work with him back in 2011, and the time on set was so intense (& brief) that I never really got a chance to say ‘thank you’.
Usually, when I finish directing a movie I take time to send personal cards to each of the cast and crew thanking them for their support; but my experience on ‘Strippers Vs Werewolves’ was so awful, that the basic joy of thanking my hardworking allies was removed from me. As the film students, that I regularly lecture to, will know all too well… what was supposed to be a bit of B-movie, grindhouse, FUN - really wasn’t. The released version of the film had nothing to do with me (my name is even spelt differently at each end of the movie and neither is correct), and none of the scenes were edited the way I intended. In fact, as my students know, I actually use Berkoff’s scene in SvW as an illustrative point of the importance of the edit. I show them the producer’s released cut and then I show them the same scene from my original director’s cut; the usual reaction is one of disbelief that the footage is from the same scene let alone the same moviem such is the huge gulf in quality (in my favour you cheeky sausages!).
Of course, if you’re not one my friends you might be asking…’well… why was a terrible version of the film released, when you made such a great one?’ - Well, that would be to open the can of worms of film industry disillusionment. I mean… why would producers release a terrible version of the film… when I could deliver my directors cut? Oh… you mean the producers who didn’t accept my attempts to deliver the cut? The producers who removed the drives from the edit suite (on learning I was coming in to see the editor, having been fed up of having my 8-weeks of (post-shoot) emails and phone-calls asking for involvement and payment ignored). Those guys? The same producers who didn’t pay me for pre-production, commencement of principal photography? Completion of principal photography? Or… here’s the killer… the delivery of the directors cut? Those guys? Funny that they should then release the film without my cut or involvement. Ahh… I’m getting a bit too carried away, but if you don’t think you should rely on my word… why not read about it these guys in more detail here in the Hollywood Reporter.
Anyway, the scene is an excellent tool for my film students. The script said ‘Large Dark Warehouse’ so obviously the producers gave me a ‘Small White Pub’ right by a main road (oh the joy of sound). It was a set-piece scene of the film, but… I was given only a day to film it. If you know anything about filmmaking you know it takes longer than the longest time you’d think of, then throw in Werewolves (x3). Each werewolf is a minimum of 2-3 hours in make up… BUT… we only have 2 make-up peeps working their proverbials off… so each werewolf is only available on a staggered basis. We also have gun-fire, so that escalates the amount of time anything takes tremendously for safety and logistics. Then throw in that I only have Steven for 9am (or was it 9:30?) until 16:15pm when he has to go because of his other commitments. So I can only shoot on whatever is available to me and that means it all becomes a directional jigsaw of camera placements, lighting turn-arounds and werewolf availability. And then I have a magnificent actor such as Steven, who has full knowledge of the amount we have to film, wondering why we’re not getting on with it! Instead, I was waiting on werewolves (the fabulous Martin Compston, Marc Bayliss and Joe Egan) to be drip-fed to me. In case I’m not expressing myself well enough, I want to make it clear that I love my make-up guys, Cesar Alonso was one of my greatest allies on that shoot, and they were knocking it out of the park and speedily… but what could they do under those conditions? I could never have pulled it off without the support of the camera team under David Meadows, the lighting guys, Tim and Adam and my art dept, Sophie Wyatt and Felix Coles. I’m now in danger of not naming all the wonderful allies I had on that film despite everything we were up against, so to them all I say ‘thank you’.
Anyway, back to Steven. I had long been an admirer of his (probably for the things he’s least proud of like Octopussy, Rambo II, Beverly Hills Cop and one of my favourite Sci-Fi movies ‘Outland’, in which he has a small but incredibly intense scene) so I was quite nervous to meet him. However, I have to say that Steven was most courteous, willing to help and understanding on the day of my predicament. He gave me a couple of performance scares though - Take 1 - was in Irish. Take 2 - was Glasgow… but by take three we settled on the more ‘producer-friendly’ EastEnd gangster accent… which I think disappointed him as a predictable choice. One of the great things about Steven’s performance is his consistent use of inconsistency. He enjoys the performance and taking it to an extreme, trying out new avenues of expression… and in my own little way, he gave me that brilliance with his ‘this little piggy went to market’ dialogue in my film - which I hope you enjoy, if you can stand the violence, the swearing and the werewolves.
I guess the final thing to note is that this was a working directors cut, not the final release print, so the sound was from on-camera mics and not the sound departments lovely dedicated machines - and I did the sound design etc myself.. as it was supposed to be just a tool in the process of making the film. But I offer it here, as I’m pretty proud of it… just watch it in the dark, on a big screen… and not on a school bus.
Tonight, I’m going to see Steven again and I’m going to thank him properly for being one of the highlights of my career so far, even if no one has actually seen the film I made… and even though he might possibly… just possibly… leave the film off his Spotlight entry. Thank you Steven.