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Alien

This last weekend I had booked myself a ticket to see Terry Rawlings, a film editor who was giving a talk about his 50 years of work in the industry. The talk was taking place in Colchester and we planned a day around visiting the town to do some shopping and, as the talk was due to start around 3ish with a showing of Alien at the end, it was going to be a pretty long day for everyone. To keep the ladies off the street in the evening, I got them two tickets for ‘Dark Shadows’ at the local Odeon and trotted off to the Signals art centre.

Alien editor Terry (who was a very entertaining speaker) began with explaining how he got into the industry. He told a similar story to one I’ve heard before when talking to industry veterans, that people getting into film would be taken on in an apprentice position and then moved around different departments while learning on the job, you would pickup skills rather than be taught in a school and if you had any skill in one area you would most likely end up there. He talked about his early work as a sound editor and mentioned many of the films he’s worked on like ‘The Jokers’, ‘Bedazzled’ (Pete and Dudley) and ‘Women in Love’ (yes, the one with Oliver Reed wrestling butt nekkid) before working with Ridley Scott on the Duelist and then breaking into film editing with working on ‘The Sentinel’ then his first full editor job which was ‘Watership Down’. At this point he knew what we wanted to hear so started to talk more indepth about Alien. There was roughly around 40 people there and it was an obvious demographic, a few ladies but mainly male, youngish age (do I really think late 20’s/early 30’s as young? Jeez i’m getting old) and one guy even had a ‘Last Exit to Nowhere’ nostromo t-shirt. He talked about his early meeting with the producers (who mainly quizzed him about Watership Down) and then talked about how the film was shot and edited. One interesting thing he mentioned was that the film looks like its in slow motion the whole way through, there are lots of long movements with the camera and it drifts slowly around the ship and the mood builds slowly throughout but its very slow.

Someone asked him if he thought the newer cut of the film (from around 2003) added much back to the film and he admitted he hadn’t seen it but he remembers some of the bits being filmed. He talked about Ripley finding the cocooned crew with Dallas strung up but still slightly alive being not important to the story. Killing Dallas when he begs her could be seen as a mercy killing but I take his point in that its a diversion that doesn’t push the tension of the film as he said that she was in the process of blowing the ship up anyway. He made a good comment about directors cuts in general which is something that I’ve heard before, they are the bits that are cut out not to shorten the run time, but to make the story flow better. Often these bits are stuck back in just to make a selling point for the DVD but they also make the story clunky and I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of buying a DVD just because it has extra material in it but how often are they really the version the director wanted? He said he was once sent a copy of Alien which has every single sweeping added back it, all the crappy quality sections in there that don’t add anything to the story. The two films he said the directors version are actually the version the director wanted are ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Legend’. I Don’t think anyone would argue over the first but the second one is something I would have to reserve judgement on until I’ve seen the directors version. ‘Legend’ is a film I have trouble with as while its visually rich and has some wonderful characters in it (Tim Curry’s Darkness is iconic) I struggle with Tom Cruise in it. He seems so out of place. I remember seeing it many years ago on TV when BBC 1 showed ‘Krull’ then straight after BBC 2 had ‘Legend’ I was more taken with ‘Krull’ and it has stuck with me longer. Coincidentally Derek Meddings (another of my heroes from my yoof) worked on ‘Krull’ and Goldeneye was his last film while Terry worked on Goldeneye as well.

Alien ScriptAt the end of the talk he produced an A4 red covered book which contained his original shooting script of Alien and allowed us to look at it and while many people seemed to be gripped in some bizarre form of religious mania, I wasn’t impressed. No really I wasn’t. Nope. Not at all. Awww who am I kidding, I held… no I cradled that thing like it was made of the finest gossamer.

Kane and the egg scene from AlienInside the pages was a collection of notes, scribbles, crossings out and production information about the film. Several of the pages even had bits of (now brown and flakey) sellotape holding scraps of paper over them. Some had huge sections crossed out and one guest asked what the notes about scenes that came after Ripley went to sleep at the end are in reference to. Yup, there was a mention at the end just before the end credits to a set of shots/scenes which had been removed from the script. Terry explained that a number of pages are different colours which represented amended pages and that the last few pages all had different colours. He had never had a copy of the first draft so he didn’t know what those scenes could have been. GRAAAAAAAAA! There was something there at the end and only in the the fevered dreams of the collective geekdom can we begin to imagine what it was.

kane and eggKane page two

Alien film editor Terry and scriptWhile most people looked up the chestburster scene, talked about Veronica Cartwright screaming and about blood squirting all over the place, I went for Kane finding the egg. For me thats the point at which the film changes its tone as it goes from sci-fi into horror along the lines of the old dark house style film it mimics. Kanes natural interest in the egg is what drives the story for me and its a part of human nature in everyone even though a little voice in out head (or in this case its Dallas over the radio) is telling us “no, don’t do it”. Time for a slight diversion here but many years ago I met Alan Bryce who was a visual effects artist living in retirement that I had written to. I was trying to get into the VFX industry anyway I could and was writing to anyone who’s address I could find to try and get a lead. He invited me to his house where, as a wide eyed teen, I saw several awards for the films he had worked on and heard a few legends from his working days on films like the early Dr Who films (with Peter Cushing), Superman and his tiny speaking role in ‘Empire Strikes Back’. Alan had been part of the on set effects team and talked at length about the making of the scene when Kane peers into the egg as he had been underneath the egg with a pair of marigold gloves on. Glued to the gloves was bits and pieces to mimic the shape of the facehugger and filling the egg was all the slop and tripe from a local abattoir. The only way to get his hands in and out of the egg to move the legs around was through a rubber valve they built into the bottom and when pulling his hands out he got a huge face full of guts. He was also the first person to tell me the now legendary story about nobody knowing about the chestburster. One thing he did tell me which have never heard from anywhere else is that John Hurt was in a huge amount of pain due to being in a rather uncomfortable harness under the table. To keep him happy he was fed a steady diet of cigarillos and wine. By the time they came to film the chestburster sequence he was too pissed to know what was happening.

Terry also said that the facehugger model was stored in his fridge every night. Alan had already told me that the legs of the prop had shellfish superglued into them to provide the twitch when they had the electrical current run through them on the autopsy table on the ship, but I can only begin to imagine the smell that must have had after a few days under hot studio lights.

The music for the film was scored by Jerry Goldsmith and Terry, who had worked in music editing, cut together a temporary track from some of Jerry’s previous work. The studio liked some of that music so much they actually used it in places rather than the music which was written specifically for the film. The end score over the credits is Howard Hanson’s 2nd symphony and the studio even preferred that, which Terry added as a temp track over Jerry’s piece, much to Jerry’s disgust.

Terry also spoke of his time on Alien 3 which I have to admit I do like, while I like Aliens I’ve always found it to be a little too gung ho for my tastes as i’ve grown older and Alien 3 tried to bring some of the mystique back to the franchise. He said that the studio had given David Fincher a huge budget but had little faith in him as it was his first film. He was constantly being plagued by the studio and in the end they ran out of time resulting in the slightly choppy final edit. The studio attempted to remove a few key points (Golic releasing the alien from the trap being a prime example) and the final result was a mess so it wasn’t until sometime later when it was given a chance to be sorted out and the story being polished more before it made sense. While its still slightly disjointed I still think the film shows much of Fincher’s dramatic film making skills and several scenes stand out really well. Ripley walking into the mess hall with a shaven head, bright walls and long stares from the inmates is a wonderful example of how to make an entry.

Other films mentioned included Blade Runner (he was the main editor, but because it was being edited in the US and the union wouldn’t let him work on it in a studio, he had to do much of his work in a motel just outside the studio. His assistant (another union rule) was apparently not very good), Legend (cut from a 2 hour runtime to 90 minutes and Jerry Goldsmiths music was replaced by Tangerine Dreams), The Saint (in the original version the main female lead is killed off at the end of the 2nd act leaving the final act to be fueled by revenge. the studio loved it until the test audiences hated it then the studio hated it and it had to be recut which removed a huge battle at the end) and Goldeneye (the first Bond film with the editor mentioned on the poster thanks to Terry’s insistance).

At the end of the talk I had a chance to say thank you and I also got an autograph (faaannnnboooooyyy) on the ticket for the talk. Sadly I had forgotten to bring one of the many Alien books I have, but at least I’ve got something to remember it all by (as well as this rambling post). Ducking out at the end I ran round to the Odeon and managed to grab a ticket for the same showing of ‘Dark Shadows’ as the other two. Down come the lights, on come the trailers and up pops the trailer for Prometheus… a perfect tie in to the days events.

The blog of the ancient mariner

No blog posts in a while as I’ve been trying to sort out many bits and bobs, I’ve also been trying to get my head around last weeks sailing trip and have spent a couple of days putting together the following post from my hazy memories of the trip.

Monday 30th April 8:15am found me in a cargo container taking my clothes off. Not all of them, just enough to get my sweaty cycling gear off and into something more civilised. I had arrived too damn early for my lift down to London and the office was still shut so I had to change in one of the containers near the back door. Swinging a bag of clothes and a sleeping bag around on my back while cycling in was tricky enough but trying to get changed in a container which had weird liquids on the floor was a challenge. A small group of staff slowly formed around 8:30 and two group of us jumped in a pair of cars destined for St Catherines Dock in London, site of the Oyster private show which had been there for the last few days.

Our mission, to bring back one of several yachts that had been there on show.

The day was spent packing up boxes and storing away the props which had been used to dress several of the yachts so it was mainly wrapping up things in bubble wrap and then carrying boxes to a waiting van. The weather was glorious, a hot sunny day with a little wind but there was a problem as we had been planning on traveling back that night (lock out was due at 7pm) but force 8 gales had been forecast. One of the crew said we could leave but we would be sick. Blunt but to the point. The general consensus was to stay at St Catherines and enjoy the evening, which was made up of eating “beast” sized pizza at the Dickens inn and watching Man City drum Man United 1-0 in a game of that footy thingy.

The plan of coming back overnight meant we had sleeping kit and would be spending the night on a yacht, we still did this and I spent the night in what can best be described as a coffin. The front cabin is a double sleeper and I managed to bag this when stowing my gear. Clambering up onto the high bed (it has room underneath for storage so they are a bit high up) I found the skylight was about a foot from my head and the rain was pummeling it like mad causing a drumming sound to echo around the small room. While I do like the sound of rain, it was a little weird hearing it so close and when I pulled the blind over the skylight the room was plunged into total blackness… not a single ray of light from any source seeped through the doorway, skylight or any other part of the room. I’ve never been claustrophobic but I did begin to understand why Poe was fixated with the fear of being buried alive. I couldn’t see my hand infront of my face and finding the shelf to put my glasses down was a case of gently feeling the edge of bed then working upwards. Turning a light on would have been obvious but this was far more interesting, fumbling around in a pitch black coffin. Gawd un bennit.
I don’t know if it was being in a new place or just the whole mood (read as over excitement) but I had a bit of trouble dozing off at first so kept putting the light on and reading some Hunter S Thompson that I had brought with me, sadly all that did was make me feel weirder… but no bats.

The next morning was an early(ish) start with us setting off around 7:30 to lock out of St Kats and head into the Thames, this is where it got interesting as all of a sudden I found myself looking at Tower Bridge from a rather low angle. We started motoring along and I spent an awfully large amount of time suppressing a giant giggling fit. I was probably grinning like a loon even with the cruddy weather which brought a mass of low cloud and mist to the morning. Most of the tall buildings had their tops removed as the mist seemed to bring a low ceiling down around us and adding a slightly sinister atmosphere to the day. London fog? Naaah, just rain but almost Jack the Ripper weather.

Passing sights of London included the Cutty Sark and the O2 dome which looked like some huge Cyclopean beast squatting next to the river with giant horns protruding from a misshapen head as it watched us sliding passed in the gloom.

Theres little noise along the river other than the lapping of the water as it slops against the side of the boat, the main noise was the constant throbbing of the engine as we traveled under motor power for most of the trip. We spent a couple of hours traveling out of London along the Thames and the buildings slowly changed from flats and offices into more and more industrial complexes. We saw giant container ships sliding in and out of the industrial areas and as they moved around us it we difficult not to be intimidated by these giants that dwarfed us, while tiny figures would appear on their deck, glance at us and then vanish out of the rain.

We moved further out into the Essex Flats where the depth gauge would tell us that there was less than a meter below us but looking around there was nothing on the horizon. A flat expanse of water that could easily be the deep sea with no features other than shadows moving in the distant mist that could have been passing ships or easily have been something coming up from the depths to sink down again without making a sound.

My daughters puffin that came with her to visit the HMS Dauntless had snuck into my bag the day before, obviously his taste for big boats needed to be satisfied again and he took a turn (or should that be tern?) on watch.

I also managed to get my grubby mitts on the wheel for a while, probably because we had got our far enough for me to not hit anything. I WAS grinning like a loon at this point.

After not managing to crash into anything (mainly because there was nothing to crash into) the autopilot was engaged and watching that do its thing was weird. The wheel judders left and right in a slightly alarming manner as it holds it course against the tide but manages to follow a list of waypoints that had been entered into its little mind. The weather also started to pick up with what actually looked like blue skies peeping down at us.

Sailing on we started to head towards a large sandback scattered with dark shapes which moved around in erratic ways and as we drew closer we could see it was large group of seals splashing around the water line. We drew closer and watched from quite a close distance as they splashed around watching us. Their huge rubbery bodies flopped around and some ventured into the water and heads would pop up and glance in our direction before dropping back below the surface but none had the nerve to come close to the boat.

We spent a few minutes watching before setting off again, by this time it was late afternoon and the heat of the sun combined with the lack of sleep and drone of the engine began to affect me and I started to feel sleepy. I dozed under the bimini and opened my eyes a few times to see things like the giant sea based wind farm off the Essex coast (bit annoyed with myself for not taking some pictures of that) but mainly just dozed quietly until around the time we reached Felixstowe. The boat was turning into the mouth of the river Orwell where the twin towns of Felixstowe and Harwich sit on either side, it was being hit sideways on by some strong winds and was rocking quite badly. I’m afraid to say that at this point I lost my lunch over the side. I’ve tried to put it down to dozing so that made me lose the horizon and my sense of balance, it could also be I took too much sun and the whole event was too much for my tiny mind but whatever the reason it didn’t last long. Once I had got it out of my system I was fine and back to snapping the sights.

At this point I managed to take another turn at the wheel but my nerve broke when a small boat thought it would turn towards us and sail directly at us. I was guided around him but started to struggle to see the nav bouys so gave up and let someone else take over. A short ride down the Orwell brought us to the bridge and our final destination.

All in all the journey took around 11 hours to make and was a wonderful experience (with one minor bump) that I would enjoy doing again… just not right now. I need to let my land lubber legs get back to normal.

There is a big old mess of photos online in my picasa web gallery.

Days cycled to work: 74
Days driven all the way to work: 0
Days sailed to work: 1
Days driven half way to drop the car off at the garage to have a service: 1
Days tramped along in snow and ice: 2

Vinnie Jones and the toast

Ahhhh Vinnie Jones, legendary nutter. hes doing the rounds again because of some videos for the British Heart Foundation but around half past 2005 I was working at AWC and was working as a video editor. One of our clients at the time was Bosch and they had Bosch blue which is big powertools, they had secured Vinnie Jones to be the face of their big butch man tools for a year and it was nice to work on something which wasn’t Jewson related for a while. The original idea dreamt up called for Vinnie to be using the tools to be building a coffin and if you didn’t use the tools he would put you in it. Mr J was required to turn up at some location for filming and also for photography for the magazines, ads, brochures etc that had been planned. Allegedly he turned up late, demanded toast, swanned around a lot then they got on with it. I can’t confirm this as I didn’t go to the shoot but the creative director and one of the designers (not that i’m mad about it) did. The photographer did a good set of shots but when it came to the video he got out some crappy low cost mini DV cam which was like a home camcorder and no audio gear. As it was shot in some huge hangerlike affair there was a butt load of echo on the tape when I got it and spent most of my time banging my head against the desk while listening to it.

I did a first edit and we originally edited the video without the voice at the end but Bosch said it was too dark and sinister so we added the voice to add some comedy and rather that get someone in or pay for a VO it’s my voice at the end. Yes I star in a video with Vinnie Jones… well star is a bit of a stretch but I’m in it ok. Good enough for me.

Vinnie was becoming famous around this time and X-Men 2 was due out, we had some mad plan at one point to turn up at the premiere wearing Bosch stuff but nothing much happened with that.

What made me thing of this is all the stuff about Vinnie Jones doing the BHF video and I edited a number of BHF videos while at AWC.

Here it is with me at the end in my staring role.

Days cycled to work: 4
Days driven: 0