Hardware, Dust Devil & The Island of Dr. Moreau
The case study of Richard Stanley
(Originally appeared in The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook)
Q - I don't want to dwell on Hardware or Dust Devil too much because it's Dr. Moreau... that I am most interested in, but as back history, how did Hardware come about?
Richard - I made some obscure shorts in South Africa and wanted to make a feature. I had designed Hardware as a commercial film, a simple script, the only time I have written anything that unambitious. I actually set out to create a series of reliable clichés, a catalogue of scenes like gas explosions followed by a cliffhanger sequence followed by a shower scene. It's riddled with it. It was mostly shot in the Roundhouse in Camden with the very beginning shot in Morocco for a week.
Q - How long did it take you from writing Hardware to getting the finance?
Richard - Like most things in life it was a series of flukes. It was very sunny and I wrote it very fast, with very little thought. As a result it was short and to the point. It was also made at a time when I was chronically disillusioned with what I was doing, making cutesy music videos with kids and animals. So I decided to go to Afghanistan and make a front line war documentary in order to try and shake things up and do something real after all these fluffy animals, which was a catalytic decision because all the Hardware stuff happened when I was in Afghanistan. Through a series of flukes, the script found it's way to Palace and Steve Woolley optioned it, which was a problem because I was in a middle of a war in Afghanistan.
Q - Why did they want to make it?
Richard -There were a lot of Aliens clones at the time, they all seemed to involve a lady locked in a warehouse in the dark, menaced by a monster which you see very little. Palace got a lot of money from some bizarre sources, but at the end of the day the principal source was Miramax, who wanted a quickie Aliens/Terminator kind of thing for £800k rather than $100m. But Palace wanted an Aliens/Evil Dead knock off that they could own wholly, as Evil Dead had been a huge hit for them. I don't think it would get made now as people are looking for very different projects.
Q - How much was the budjet and did you make any money out of it?
Richard - It cost £800k and I got £12k up front for the original script, nothing since.
Q - And anyone reading this book can go and rent it now?
Richard - Yes, it is widely available despite the fact that it is now owned by Walt Disney!
Q - When did Dust Devil happen?
Richard - Almost immediately. As a script it pre-dated Hardware by about seven years as I had already tried shooting it in South Africa on 16mm. It was written as a cheap movie that could be shot easily in South Africa, as it involves three people in a car and a big landscape. I was in a very bad way at the time and again, had to sign the script away to make it for the money. At one point I was homeless, sleeping and living under the table in the production office.
Q - After shooting, it all started to fall apart?
Richard - Things were pretty disastrous through the post of Dust Devil because Palace had been forced into extinction and PolyGram, who had bought Palace, had no interest in Dust Devil at all, I don't think they even knew they owned it. I worked for years to try and get the Head of Film Entertainment at PolyGram to actually watch the movie, which I was never able to do. I just could not get anyone from that company to look at the film, so I did something that blew my chances at further employment in the film industry forever. I sought the original investors of the film and I went back to David Aukin at Ch4 and some of the other individuals who had stakes, and got their permission on paper to do whatever I could to try and recover the negative of the film and attempt to make delivery. The distributors had never received a master tape and no negative had been cut, it just wasn't completed so it couldn't even be shown. It had just ground to a halt for three years because of the complicated bureaucracy after the collapse of Palace.
Through the support of David Aukin at Ch4, we managed to get back the negative, the cutting copy and the audio. Then we were in a position to edit but of course we couldn't get any investment to do so, as it was a corporate tangled mess, so I just had to finish it myself and I ended up spending £44k that I don't have. We lost scenes because we couldn't get the actors back to do ADR, and we couldn't get the optical effects that had been planned, so all this made it a much 'artier' movie than was intended. So many times the decisions made in the cutting room were forced because we just couldn't make something work due to a lack of resources. We had to make macabre plot decisions to get from one place to another.
Q - How did you feel about the way that the movie turned out?
Richard - I am happier with this movie than I am with Hardware. I think that Dust Devil has got more going on in it's head and probably works better for a wider section of the audience. Hardware tends to alienate everyone above a certain age on account of the very loud soundtrack, the gore and the very fast cutting.
Q - I heard there's more than one version of Dust Devil?
Richard - Yes, there are radically different versions. There are 45 minutes of different footage between the cut that Ch4 put out, which is my version (as is the PolyGram tape), and the other common version. Thanks to Dust Devil's fractured release, it ended up in different lengths and versions all over the world. There are at least two other mutant versions, one of which played in Italy under the title Demoniaca, which is 82 minutes long. It's almost another movie made from the same rushes as mine.
Q - So after Dust Devil you had to move onto The Island of Dr. Moreau?
Richard - Yes, I had to sell Dr. Moreau as fast as possible to get myself into production to survive.
Q - So the pattern that we are getting here is that you started off as a broke filmmaker and you consistently find yourself getting screwed in order to pay off how you have been screwed previously?
Richard - It's called debt bondage. I do not feel that at any time it was ever my decision to make any of the movies I made, although I don't regret them.
Q - So what was your role in The Island of Dr. Moreau?
Richard - The script was the only asset I had on the table and I had exhausted my supply of ready to go screenplays that were lying around. Moreau had been a long cherished project that had been kept in a box for ages, and at the time I had to try and sell it in order to save my ass. I ended up in a situation, where I did not have any political power as one would like to have in order to stay in control of a project. You don't go from nothing to $75m, you simply can't. One needs a bankable mainstream movie behind one, otherwise one can be removed very rapidly from the equation. I was going into a situation, where the figures were such that I had no way of negotiating my position, they had no reason to deal with me. The only reason I survived beyond the scriptwriting stage to reach the production, was because Mr. [Marlon] Brando liked me. I had insisted that I should at least meet him before they got rid of me and I somehow managed to engage with him enough to stay on the project, which lasted eight months. I lost touch with the project the minute Brando no longer kept an eye on things.
Q - Right from square one you knew that you were going to be ditched at some point, so you were just holding on? Was it like a bad girlfriend relationship that you know is going to end, but didn't know how or when it was going to end?
Richard - I suppose so, but all my relationships are a bit like that...
Q - When they optioned the screenplay, were you doing re-drafts? Was it up to you to turn it into the American film they wanted?
Richard - The reality was that I am not American an I do not have a great grasp of what it is to be an American audience, so I couldn't deliver that.
Q - So they took it from you and gave it to another writer?
Richard - Well, at this stage they didn't, because it was still optioned to Ed Pressman and Ed is a reasonable guy, who is capable of making decent creative decisions. Another writer, Michael Herr, got involved, a brilliant writer who I have would have killed to get involved with. Michael is extremely cynical of Hollywood and refuses to go there, he lives in total seclusion up in New York State, Syracuse - you need to get a snowcat to visit him (laughs). He did extremely good work on the Moreau script and we worked very closely. I believe that the screenplay that he turned out is one of the best screenplays that have ever been through my hands, I have not read anything better and that is what brought Brando on board. However, not one word of that draft was used in the final film.
Q -Were you attached as the director?
Richard - Yes.
Q - At what point did you realize you would be fired?
Richard - There was no single moment when it was clear, things were heading for a disaster. Brando had been through a lot of bad luck, a film had fallen apart midshoot, his son was sent to prison and his daughter committed suicide. His problems were so bad that mine were clearly insignificant and I really could not phone him up and say 'excuse me, I need your help'. Things really collapsed when Brando didn't arrive, which was the moment when the people in charge began their major re-think. I had script notes arriving in reams - 'change this, delete, delete, delete, change that', just a relentless amount. I remember sitting naked on a tropical beach in the middle of the night feeding script notes to the fire (laughs). So things were obviously going wrong and soon after the guys arrived to formally remove me.
Q - Did your agent not fight?
Richard - I was naive at the time and my agent had other vested interests. I was part of the package, just not a very important part.
Q - Are there any shots in the movie that you directed?
Richard - No, although we did shoot some very nice helicopter work at the beginning, which they could not use because the script and cast changed so much that they could not match them.
Q - How long were you directing?
Richard - Four days, most of which was sitting in trailers waiting for it to stop raining. Mostly people talked on cellphones to lawyers and agents, it was not really shooting as such.
Q - Did you meet John Frankenheimer, the new director?
Richard - Not as far as he knew (laughs). He never expressed any desire to meet me, so I never attempted to explain who I was. I was an extra disguised as a dogman and I am actually in the film.
Q - How did you do financially?
Richard - They paid me enough so that I will never have to live under anyone's table again. I was given a sum of money and told to leave, which is pretty much how it happens.
Q - What do you think of the movie now?
Richard - The sad part is that it is a great story by H.G. Wells, which has been made several times and now you just have to park the New Line Dr. Moreau next on the shelf with the AIP Dr. Moreau, Sergio Martino's Island of the Mutations, the original Island of Lost Souls and chalk it up to history as one more duff remake of the same story. I suppose it also demonstrates why all the other versions didn't quite work, maybe it's just a story that can't be translated to the screen.
Q - What is your feeling towards Hollywood now, would you go back?
Richard - If I got the chance I'd go back, one has to deal with it. It's a ruthless industry and some of the businessmen I've experienced are violent people, who will do anything to get their way.
Q - How do you make a living now?
Richard - Not easily. People have cottoned on to the fact that I and my former associates are prepared to go to places, that are outrageously dangerous and shoot nice rushes for them. I've just been to Haiti, and soon I will be doing something on the slave trades in Sudan.
Q - What advice would you give to a new filmmaker, who is starting up?
Richard - The only way to learn about movies is to shoot them and then to watch them. Keep the film going through the camera and playing with the sound and stuff, don't just stand around talking about it. There is a weird kind of magic, that is around when you are trying to make movies. It's like the old adage about riding a horse, if you get thrown off, get back on and keep going.
I've had a lot of problems with other people taking control over my master negatives, sometimes simply because I left them in a facilities house, where I thought they would be safe. Sleep with your masters under your bed, if you have one. It is your investment. People lock them in vaults and store them padlocked in fallout shelters - they are very, very valuable. Whoever controls the master, controls the movie.
For filmmakers like ourselves, the main problem is the lack of a distribution network for our films. How many low budjet films have been made and not distributed, even when people want to see them?
I cannot think of a single case of anyone, who has actually been happy because of the film industry. Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa, who attempted to cut his own throat after Kagemusha and only survived because he was found in his hotel room by the maid, Kristof Kislowski, who died young - I mean you have to be extremely good at what you are doing, otherwise you will end up miserable, dead or divorced. Ultimately movies are not life. It's a bit like spending your whole life obsessed with the reflection of something, like a cracked mirror in the rubbish dump. It could be quite beautiful and quite trippy and contain elements of truth, but at the end of the day, it is actually not reality.