Kino-Eye, Little England and Cannes ’96
When Ray Brady and Chris Read from Kino-Eye Films asked me to develop ‘The Truth Game’ into a screenplay, I honestly thought my film career was about to take off.
Ray and Chris, along with their friend and business partner, Jim Crosbie, had caused quite a stir in the media in 1994, with a film they financed with their student loans while studying at the London College of Print and Design.
‘Boy Meets Girl’ was a micro-budget psychological horror film, which had been championed by Hamish MacAlpine at Metro Tartan films, Stuart Cosgrove at Channel 4 and the Guardian’s senior film critic, Derek Malcolm.
This resulted in Kino-Eye becoming the most talked about independent UK production company, virtually overnight, before most people even knew what the internet was.
However, the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant ‘Boy Meets Girl’ a video certificate, spuriously claiming that it glorified violence.
In reality, it powerfully portrayed the horror of sadistic torture through the eyes of a womanizing bastard, who is drugged, kidnapped and murdered by a female serial killer.
Refusing to be beaten, Kino-Eye took legal action against the BBFC, applying to the High Court for their decision to be reversed.
This action was significantly bolstered by a highly successful media campaign, during which Ray was interviewed by multiple newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, alerting the public to the blatant and unjustified censorship of ‘Boy Meets Girl’.
Nevertheless, Kino-Eye eventually lost an expensive legal battle with the censors. The Metro Tartan UK distribution and the Channel 4 broadcast deals collapsed as a result, leaving bills the company had no realistic hope of paying.
Understandably, Kino-Eye were desperately searching for an overtly commercial project to recoup their losses. When they stumbled across ‘The Truth Game’, it seemed perfect:
A funny and contemporary, London-based romantic comedy, easy and cheap to shoot, with no personalities attached who they couldn’t control. At least in theory.
Two years before the BBC made the genre-defining, twenty something British TV series, ‘This Life’, Ray thought the play had genuine originality, strong dialogue and a few utterly hilarious moments.
In all honesty, I thought Ray and Chris were cool as fuck and I was deeply flattered that they wanted to work with me. I also instinctively knew that I was heading into unchartered territory. Just the way I like it.
The initial plan was to shoot the script as it was, set over three nights in the same location, with all the original actors.
However, by the summer of 1995, as we broke our own box-office records in another three-week run at The Birdsnest, it became obvious that the script needed further development.
From July until September, I worked on the screenplay, while Ray and Chris looked for the money to turn it into a film.
I edited a lot of cringe-worthy dialogue and made some notable embellishments. Nevertheless. the structure remained the same – one location over three nights.
Both Ray and Chris loved the re-writes and thought that the new script would work just as well on screen as the old one did on stage.
By March 1996, Kino-Eye had managed to raise £17,000 from private investors in the City. Not enough to finance shooting ‘The Truth Game’, but enough to make a vox-pops-tv spectacular about British culture,
In ‘Little England’, sixteen twenty somethings, half actors, half non-actors, spoke for one minute on ten subjects, ranging from sex and drugs, to love and hate.
I was cast as one of the actors and I also got to write my own script, on which I was assisted by one of my oldest mates, the incomparably funny Peter Wills.
Blue Screen in Shoreditch
We shot everything in a single day at Kino-Eye’s studio in Shoreditch. Everybody delivered their lines directly to camera, in front of a blue screen, so other footage could be placed in the background during the edit.
However, by the time it was my turn to perform, it was the middle of the night, when most of the crew had already been working for twelve hours.
Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent me from putting in an adrenaline fulled performance, in a show which was eventually picked up by Channel 4 and screened during the ‘graveyard shift’ in the summer of 1997.
An Agitprop Success
London’s Evening standard reviewed ‘Little England’ thus:
“Innovative rampage through youth culture.”
Whist The Times called it a:
“Polemical blast against established notions of English culture.”
After screening the eighty minute show to an eclectic crowd at Soho House, I received generous praise from everybody I talked to about my performance.
The general consensus was that my ten minute-long sections of surreal and political character comedy were “hilarious” and “mercilessly cutting”.
I especially enjoyed performing the section on ‘art’, which I did as Arse Carson from the Wooster Sauce Theatre Company, reprising the role I played during the infamous Degree Festival at the Phoenix in Leicester.
I’m happy to say that the comic set-piece was just as popular on television, as it was in the theatre.
Sleepless Nights and Cannes ’96
In the run-up to the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, I attended a meeting at Kino-Eye’s office, in a basement at Spittalfields Market.
Ray and Chris told me that they were planning on making the trip to the festival and that I should go with them. However, they also told me that the script still needed extensive work.
Night and day for three weeks I worked on a new draft. Instead of being set over three nights in one location, it was now set over three months in over seventy locations.
Once completed, I took as many copies as would fit into my rucksack and headed for Heathrow, almost missing my flight to Paris. I hadn’t even had the time to proof read the script before printing.
After seventy two hours without sleep, I landed in Paris and had to travel all the way across the city to the Gare Du Nord, to catch the sleeper train down to the Cote d’Azur.
However, in a cabin full of vociferous Japanese tourists, with more hardware than Panavision, sleep was not really an option.
In At The Deep End
I arrived in Cannes looking like I had died some hours earlier and I was greeted outside the train station by Ray and Chris.
Some meetings had already been set up for that afternoon, so they took me to queue for my first accreditation as a film industry professional.
By then, it’s fair to say that I was smelling even worse than I looked. Ray said that I would probably frighten the executives into giving us the money to make the film. If only it had been that easy.
Some time after two in the afternoon, I was sitting on a balcony in the Carlton Hotel, with Ray, Chris and an extremely powerful Hollywood executive from the Samuel Goldwyn Company.
After telling the executive that Kino-Eye had made a couple of “small, art-house films” that he “wouldn’t be interested in”, Ray handed the pitch to me, for the purpose of warming him up to the idea of acquiring the US rights to ‘The Truth Game’.
Before I had even opened my mouth, the exec put on a pair of Ray-Bans, just as the sun was obscured by a large cloud. Ten painful minutes later, we left a copy of the script and never expected to hear from him again.
If truth be told, my virgin pitch felt vividly reminiscent of the death I died at Up The Creek, the first time I did stand-up in a London club.
In other words, it was a painful occasion which I never wanted to experience again.
However, we did have some successful meetings. Several companies seemed very interested in the project, including indie giants, Miramax, and UK distributor, Winchester Films.
In addition, Hollywood schlock-meisters, Troma Films, expressed an interest in buying the international rights to ‘Boy Meets Girl.
I also attended my first market premiere, when we were given passes to get into Troma’s latest release, ‘Tromeo & Juliet’, as well as the launch party afterwards.
The movie was introduced by legendary Troma boss, Lloyd Kaufman, who proclaimed that it was the best Troma film ever made. By all accounts, he says that about every Troma film.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help liking Lloyd and his ‘fuck you’ attitude toward the establishment. Despite never having been a fan of schlock-horror genre.
Cruising, Pitching and Partying
For almost a week we cruised every pavilion on the Riviera, where we held impromptu meetings with other producers and networked like crazy.
In the evening we mostly headed to the Petit Carlton bar, where many of the Brits went to unwind. Invariably, I would end up pitching to anybody with an American accent.
One night I met Jake Cashill of Gotham Films in the queue for the toilet. By the time he got to the cubicle he had already asked me to send him a script.
On our final night we managed to crash the coolest freebie of the festival – the MTV Party.
In a borrowed tux I managed to regale and offend in equal measure, as we mingled with some of the most powerful people in the international film industry. We literally drank the bar dry.
In another queue to take a piss towards the end of the party, I was forced to listen to man, who looked almost exactly Chuck Norris, talk complete arse-batter about how “only Americans know how to make movies”.
Inevitably, I felt drunkenly compelled to take exception to his disparaging remarks. In earshot of about a dozen other men in DJ’s, I told him to “shut the fuck up.” You could have cut the silence with a hunting knife.
He stared at me in abject disbelief, as if no living soul could ever have spluttered words to him and realistically expected to live longer than another ten seconds.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly apologetic, given that I am [and always will be] a Geordie, it was at my very first Cannes and I had downed enough Jack Daniels to kill a horse!
Then somebody tapped me on the shoulder. A short, stocky guy from New York half-whispered that I just fucked with ‘The Fixer’. I shrugged and said that I didn’t care if he was “Frank fucking Sinatra”, he was still full of shit.
Chuck suddenly lurched towards me. For a split second I thought he was about to kick me in the nuts, so I got ready to defend myself. Instead, he smiled out of the corner of his mouth and said: “You got balls, kid.”
After the toilet door slammed shut behind him, there was palpable relief in the urine-fused air, then spontaneous laughter.
I was then informed that the man I just told to “shut the fuck up” fixes delicate problems for Hollywood studios, when they don’t want to get the police involved, or leak it to the media.
More of an enforcer than a hit-man, but the kind who looked like killing wasn’t really a problem to him.
I sincerely wish I could lay my hand on my heart and say that was the last time my drunken Geordie mouth got me into trouble. But I’d rather live with that than censor myself when I know somebody is full of shite.
The End of Kino-Eye
Not long after we arrived back in London, Ray left the company at his own behest to pursue other projects. However, from that point onward the writing appeared to be written on the wall for Kine-Eye Films.
Over the next three months, Chris, Jim and I collected a file full of rejection letters from most of the companies who we had pitched to in Cannes, which quickly became very depressing.
It seemed like everybody hated the script and the gap left in the company by Ray’s departure became much more apparent. All of sudden, we all realized that we were short of an experienced film director.
Then, completely out-of-the-blue, the head of acquisitions at Miramax in New York faxed us a ‘firm interest’ in the US rights for ‘The Truth Game’, saying that we should let them know when the film is ready to screen.
My initial vitriolic excitement was easily dampened, however, when Chris reminded me that this still meant that they were not willing to finance the film.
I had so much to learn, of that there was no doubt, but I have since learned that any written interest from a heavyweight U.S.distributor should be taken very seriously indeed.
A Choice I Had To Make
Just before Christmas ’96, Kino-Eye unexpectedly presented me with two contracts: one made me a director of the company; the other required me to sell the worldwide rights to TTG for a quid.
Without hesitation, I decided to retain control of the film and produce and direct it myself.
I didn’t have a clue where to start, but leaving the company was the first step, which I did without animosity or bitterness on either side. Somewhat inevitably, Kino-Eye Films was wound up shortly afterwards.
However, I know in my heart that there would have been a completely different outcome for all concerned, had the BBFC granted ‘Boy Meets Girl’ a video certificate.
A Stage-Bound Screenplay
For the whole of 1996, I struggled over a third draft of the script. By this time, I was becoming so bored with the whole thing that I could barely tell a bad line from a good one.
No matter how much work I did, nothing could change the obvious fact that the play worked much better. In other words, the screenplay was failing because the story is stage-bound.
The only possible cure for my ensuing creative lethargy was sinking my teeth into a brand new project. However, I then started suffering from writer’s block, which took weeks to shake off.
All of a sudden, I had arrived at a critical crossroads and I wasn’t sure which direction to head in, for the very first time in my life.
How the fuck did I expect to produce, direct and act in a feature film, when I had very little experience of any value in the film industry?
There is no doubt that the odds were stacked against me. I was an unknown comic / actor / writer / producer / director, with no formal training and very few contacts, no Ox-bridge education and no rich relatives to rely on for financial support.
Needless to say, I never considered giving up for a nanosecond.