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Nevermind the comet, what about the eclipse?

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Yesterday, was a different day for lots of reasons and one where ‘Eclipsed’ played large.

For starters, I went to a private screening in Soho of a forthcoming movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren.  I have done this before but always with a link to my son, Tom, the star of the story that I called – how tom Holland eclipsed his dad.UK Premiere - The Impossible

At the screening was an array of people who all feature in the book. This being a BBC films production – and the BBC being the company who first bought my novel, Only in America – I encountered some familiar faces and was forced to make a few swerves.

Until one BBC executive sat next to me. Awkward. Especially when it transpired that he knew nothing of my story and didn’t know anything about Tom and what he has been up to. I felt very small and insignificant. But I’ve been blogging…

I went from the screening straight to Claridges Hotel to do a gig and this is definitely not a normal thing for me. I have been to Claridges once before and it features large in my memory and particularly in my story – how Tom Holland Eclipsed his dad – because it was my first ever screenplay – THE FALDOVIAN CLUB that set me on my path to Hollywood (on-going and increasingly rocky) and where I met for breakfast a formidable lady called Ileen Maisel.

Yesterday evening, entering the beautiful hotel with such memories in my mind – who should I bump in to but the lady herself – Ileen Maisel. We chatted fondly and I told her that she featured in my book. My book? How tom Holland eclipsed his dad? Surely you’ve heard of it? She had no clue. But I’ve been blogging…

Below is the extract from my book about this encounter at Claridges all those years ago – it is one of my favourite pieces in the book and I hope you enjoy it and laugh along at my pain…

 

I will only give a potted history of The Faldovian Club before getting back to Tom. The first draft came in at two hundred and seventy-seven pages long. This will mean nothing to most readers until I explain that ideally a screenplay should come in at around the hundred-page mark: one-fifteen, one-twenty, but never two hundred and seventy-something. Based on a minute of screen time per page, I was proposing to make a light-hearted comedy film that would run close to four and a half hours and so it was remarkable then that my big-hitting agent at the time bothered to wade his way through it. He had Hugh Grant and Chris Evans in his stable of thoroughbreds and I was his new stable boy. He had seen my show in Edinburgh in 1994 and signed me on the spot.

But I was a quick learner and this was just my first draft with as many as a hundred to come. Each one was better and shorter than the last, and each time I would finally write ‘FADE TO BLACK’ and imagine my Oscar speech! No one does enthusiasm and delusion quite like me.

Even more remarkably, there was immediate interest in my film, an epic comedy set to run for an hour longer than Gandhi. Nikki had married well; her funny little husband was on his way to Hollywood.

The producer in question was a lady called Eileen Maisel and to me she was the real deal. She was American. She was Jewish and she wanted to meet me for breakfast. At this point in my life, the only people I had ever met for breakfast were my family. Plus, she wanted to have breakfast with me at Claridges no less. At the time, I was more of a Sausage McMuffin kind of guy.

Way before the luxury of Google images, when I arrived, I had no idea who Eileen was, but I still picked her out instinctively. She reminded me of Rhea Pearlman of Cheers fame, barking orders at the hotel staff fluttering about her. She recognised me, which shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. After all, I had been the Edinburgh Best Newcomer only two summers before. My screenplay (tome) was on the table in front of her as I sat down and we exchanged a quick hello. The sofa was too deep and sitting back, I practically lay flat on my back which was not a great start. She was tiny, much smaller than me, but being a Claridge’s regular, she knew and was perched on the edge of the sofa. I dragged myself upright and noticed that she had an air of seriousness about her. And then she said the following words, and I quote, ‘Great story, but why the fuck is it so long?’

I floundered a little and said something about knowing that edits would be needed. No big deal, just a few trims here and there. I just need to cut out the odd three hours. If my acknowledgement appeased her then she didn’t show it as a waiter hovered nervously. This being a breakfast meeting, clearly we needed to order breakfast. Ms Maisel was having her usual, so the waiter was just waiting on me. I cast my eye across the menu. What happened next is something I am struggling to explain, but I need to recount accurately because it gives an insight into my odd world and offers some texture for this story.

The menu was pretty standard stuff – fresh fruits and posh muesli, onto pastries and from here, up to the usual cooked fare: bacon, eggs and various other options and accompaniments – but in my panic, I plumped for kippers. Nothing remarkable about this, I suppose. I like kippers but this is not why I chose them. I chose the smoked herrings because they are not easy to eat and I thought that ordering them might demonstrate my sense of composure and confidence. I actually thought that ordering kippers would impress Eileen. Sure, I could have gone safe and just had a Danish. But no! I went for a dish that is difficult to eat and carries a reasonable level of danger also and because of this, I reasoned that this meant Eileen would take me seriously. Here is a man so assured that he has time to bone a fish in the most important meeting of his life: a man who is surely on his way to becoming a film maker.

His script is way too long and it probably doesn’t really have legs, but you know, there’s just something about this writer… He ordered kippers at breakfast. I mean, who fucking does that?

This is all completely ridiculous, I know, but there we are. It is all true. Welcome to my harmless but peculiar inner workings.

Unsurprisingly, the kipper ploy failed because, despite my drastic culling and rewrites, Eileen’s interest quickly waned. But there was still life in the Faldovian Club yet, because after Eileen came Jan.

Jan was very different from Eileen. He was man, Dutch. He was at Ginger Productions and charged with firing up their film division. Chris Evans owned Ginger. He was King Midas at the time and it made sense that he wanted to touch anything and everything. The film slate at Ginger was clean and The Faldovian Club hit Jan’s desk at just the right time and now it was a lean one hundred and ten pages long and fighting fit. Jan loved it and called me in immediately. Like most Dutchmen, he was almost seven feet tall and yet we still saw eye to eye. He was buying an option in my film and he was going to produce it. I have had more important meetings since but I am wiser now and more understanding of film and so I know not to get excited anymore, ever. But back then when I met Jan, I was still Dom from Kansas on the yellow brick road and I cannot remember ever being quite as excited in my life.

I literally flew out of the Ginger offices in Golden Square and called Nikki immediately with my extraordinary news. ‘Quick, phone an estate agent, we’re moving to Notting Hill’. I bounded and bounced the couple of miles to the London Studios on the Embankment. My exuberance was infectious and even passers-by seemed to enjoy the energy I was emitting. I was booked to do the audience warm-up for The Clive James Show. Full of adrenalin, I burst into the production office determined to tell anyone who would listen that my days of being a warm-up man were over. Everyone congratulated me warmly. Hollywood, Dom, that’s great news. Well done you. Clive, though, was much more circumspect. He explained that an option means bugger all and it certainly didn’t mean that my script was getting made. He added that over the years, he had made a fortune from various options, but this didn’t sweeten his message very much and so I decided to ignore it. What the hell does Clive James know anyway? We’re talking about the arts and he’s an Australian. EXTRACT END

 

And the best thing about meeting Ileen yesterday – she remembered the kippers!

You see…

 

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