Thursday, December 11, 2008

The crossbow/nudity story

(given a post of its own now, for the purposes of neatness)

So, I was working at Waterstone's in Canterbury, about eightish years ago, and came down from lunch only to have Paul Grigsby, who was writing a novel about a frog, thrust a piece of paper at me.

'Some bloke said you'd agreed to make a film with him,' he said, sounding rather doubtful.

'Hmm', I said, because I had absolutely no recollection of such an event. But I rang the phone number on the piece of paper, and got chatting to a man with a Kentish dialect, who seemed reasonably certain we'd had a big chat about fantasy novels, and scripts and so on, around the SF section of the bookshop, the previous Saturday. This sounded quite likely, and indeed in many ways, my impact on the lives of the humble folk who entered my section of the bookshop must have been somewhat akin to a meteor: a flash in the sky, a single moment of visual brilliance, the sonic impact of my latest insight ('yeah, the early Dragonlance books were okay, but they went off the boil after the second trilogy, I reckon'), and a hushed silence as the life-changing moment passed - but is the meteor aware of the lives it's changed forever? No. I suppose also it's been smashed to bits by that point, but right up to then, the comparison holds.

Any-old-way, Kent Man was having a film meeting over at his house for a weekend, and asked if, bearing in mind my previously-expressed, if now utterly forgotten enthusiasm for the project, I fancied meeting some of the other participants.

I said yes, for a laugh, and that weekend was met at one of Kent's more bleakly remote train stations by a man who looked exactly like someone who repaired television aerials for a living. This insight was backed up by the van he was driving, which advertised his television aerial repair business on the side, and when I got in, proved to be full of spiky metal bits, which could have been bits of television aerials, or could have something else entirely. I chose not to investigate too closely, which with retrospect, might have been an error.

It turned out I was the first person to arrive, so was shown a preview of the work done so far, which turned out to be not exactly a film, in that it was shot on handheld video. In it, ninjas in cloaks jumped out of woods, men with swords and cloaks jumped out at other men with swords, and haunted-looking women in cloaks peered furtively from between trees, presumably wondering where all the ninjas had got to. Occasionally, dialogue threatened to break out, at which point Kent Man would fastforward the video to get to the next bit of action, which suited me fine.

Not that I was taking much of this in anyway, because the front room of Kent Man's semi-detatched home was festooned with medieval weaponry, the reflected light of the television glittering off so many buffed and shining claymores, maces, morningstars and daggers, I could barely make out a thing. Pride of place above the wooden television cabinet were two curved Japanese swords on a special wooded stand that, I'm pleased to say, was carved to look like another sword. The weirdest thing was how the layout of the semi was almost exactly the same as my parents' house in Cornwall. If I'd won the lottery at around fourteen, then had my parents shipped overseas so I could decorate any way I wanted, this was exactly how it would have looked.

However the on-screen events were showing no sign of coming to any kind of conclusion. In fact, the pace seemed to be picking up somewhat, with the cast now decamping to what appeared to be some kind of small electronics warehouse in the woods, where ninjas now had the opportunity to jump out of doorways, while the haunted-looking women could now peer furtively out of actual windows.

'We'll put the turrets and stuff in post-production', said Kent Man idly, in a manner that suggested adding post production turrets was but the work of a moment for one such as he. 'Might put some magic effects in as well, like fireballs and stuff'. I nodded wisely, and at this point, the other contributors appeared. Their faces and voices are lost to me now, in the mists of time, although I do remember Kent Man's wife bringing a tray of teas and coffees round in that slightly absent way I'm sure is present in the spouses of the more cosily middle-aged serial killers. They know hubby has a little hobby, but they also know better than to ask for too many details.

Once Mrs Kent Man had left the room, we were able to look at footage from the previous weekend, in which the hero (who I think was one of the cloaked men with swords) had to seduce the wife of a prominent baron, or possibly a ninja, or perhaps the owner of the small, woodlands-based electronics warehouse. The wife was a fairly large woman in her late forties, wearing one of those sort-of-Middle Ages dresses, and a rather blank expression on her face, which turned out to be for the best.

'None of these people are professional actors,' said Kent Man proudly. 'That's Enid, who works down at Tesco.' On screen, the hero sat Enid down on a large bed, which had been carefully laid out with a medieval-style duvet, looked briefly at the camera for guidance, and then began unlacing her top.

'Hmm', I thought to myself. 'Righto'. But he kept on unlacing, and then suddenly the top half of the dress was hanging down, and it became increasingly apparent that Enid was wearing no support garment. The hero placed his hands upon Enid's mighty charms and began a seduction technique that involved a sort of listless kneading the like of which I have never seen before, although to be fair, I gave up watching Big Brother quite early on. The kneading continued for some time. Enid's expression did not change at any point.

'Meep,' I said quietly, then the hero looked sideways at the camera, and suddenly we were back to ninjas.

'Well that's just more of the same,' said Kent Man, turning off the television. I sat frozen in my chair, aware of the other people sitting next to me on the sofa, and wondering what exactly was going to happen next. What actually happened was Kent Man telling us the rest of the story, which apparently we were only a third of the way through. There was one big baddy to turn up yet, in a manner that involved time travel, possibly using items rigged up from the electronics warehouse. This opened up a whole new series of events linked together by the phrase 'and then', which was to be used approximately a thousand times in the next sixty minutes.

'The thing is,' I said, when Kent Man paused for breath, 'I've sort of got to be getting back.' I didn't dare look at the people next to me on the sofa, in case they were already winding soft velvet ropes around their hands, while eyeing up the nearest edged weapon. Kent Man shot me a terribly disappointed look, but was kind enough not to question this, and we went out to his van.

We didn't talk much on the way back to the train station, although we had one last touching moment just before I got out the last television aerial repair van I would ever exit.

'The thing is,' said Kent Man, with a touching shyness, that still makes tears well up in my eyes, 'We need a baddy for the next bit of the story. And he's supposed to be a bit sort of... dashing, and everyone I know has short hair. So how would feel about, you know, taking on the role?'

There passed a horrible, horrible moment of silence while I shuffled through the one million excuses I had started preparing around the time the first ninja had leapt out of that first clump of saplings.

'I'm sorry,' I said, finally, 'The thing is, I've got a Bob The Builder episode to write, and I just don't think I'm going to have time for projects of this scale. Thank you very much for asking though.'

And then Kent Man played his trump card.

'I've got a crossbow,' he said. 'It's in the back of the van. Do you want me to get it out?'

I thought about it. Kent Man hadn't just thrown this thing together. His sales pitch was so designed to hook into my very soul I wouldn't even have had to consider it, were it not for Enid's blank dead gaze that haunts my subconscious still.

'No thank you,' I said firmly, and walked away forever.


JonnyB said...


I don't know what to say except: 'bravo'.

James Henry said...

Thangyew. That was such a weird day. 'Enid' wasn't really called 'Enid' of course, I've forgotten her real name. But every other part of that day came flooding back after watching that music video.

You see, I really love fantasy novels and D&D and stuff, but when that's you sole cultural influence, I think you go a bit mad.

Anonymous said...

It's entirely possible that may be the best story I've ever heard. I need more - I need to know how Kent Man's epic ended. Can I rent it, do you think?

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of Ireland's greatest martial arts movie, Fatal Deviation?

Boyzone's Mikey Graham stars as one of the bad guys. I imagine his audition being akin to yours...

ScroobiousScrivener said...

That reminds me quite a lot of a certain Z-grade video called Dragon Fury, which I maintain is the Worst Film Ever Made. It's a kung fu time travel flick. With a busty sidekick, and a villain in a flapping cloak. And the line "we only have 16 hours left to save the world... but first, you need to rest and have sex!" (Ok, the first bit of that quote is probably a leetle bit muddled with Flash Gordon, but the second part is word perfect, I swear.) For reasons never explained, use of the time portal required everyone to remove their shirts... except the villain, who of course went through flapping cloak intact. (Otherwise how would you know he was the villain?)

I recommend this video. Sort of.

James Henry said...

Oh man, 'Fatal Deviation' looks awesome. You know, I'd rather a single one of these films that a thousand I Am Legends, or Indiana Jones and Pot Noodle Of Whatever.

Salvadore Vincent said...

Did it turn out that he was Peter Jackson and you'd turned down the opportunity of a lifetime?

James Henry said...

I would love that to have been true.

Salvadore Vincent said...

This has brought back suppressed memories of me being picked up from a railway station a few years ago by someone hoping to get his own children's TV series off the ground.

But instead of swords and sorcery it quickly became clear that religion was his thing, so instead of showing me a video of a woman getting her norks mashed he showed me a picture of the face of Jesus which he claimed had magically appeared on a blank piece of paper (presumably that magic being the magic of an ink-jet printer).

My goal for the meeting (always have a goal in mind when you go into a meeting, kids) changed from "Get a commission to write a pilot script" to "Get out of here alive and not in a burning wicker effigy".

Anonymous said...

Obviously your mother never told you not to talk to strangers!

Jayne said...

I read this for the crossbows but am now also haunted by Enid. Also the listless kneading...

Sylvia said...

ooh - lots of life lessons there, James....