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Working for a maniac: A test of passion

by Dean Craig

I knew early on that I wanted a career in filmmaking. The trouble was I had absolutely no idea what to do about it. In the UK, unless you happen to be directly related to someone in the film business, it feels like some kind of impenetrable Freemasons club.

So, once out of university, I sent my CV and covering letter to every film company in the UK I could find saying that I would do “anything” for “no money.” After months of silence and numerous fruitless following up calls, I was edging towards despair when I got a call out of the blue from the office of a film producer just coming off a recent success who was looking for someone to “help out.” Finally, I had an “in.”

That first morning, I headed excitedly to meet my new employer. I’d randomly met Tim Bevan once and was expecting a similar kind of suave, handsome, mogul. As I entered the office I was struck by the sight of a man who looked like he’d just crawled out of a bush.

‘M’ (as I’ll refer to him for the sake of anonymity) was about forty and had the ramshackle appearance of a man who’d taken less than thirty seconds between waking up that morning and leaving the house. He had a huge scab on his cheek that he informed me without hesitation was the result of a cancerous mole he’d just had removed, but which didn’t seem to deter him from chain smoking Marlboro cigarettes (reds, not lights), and downing coffee so strong that it looked like thick black mud. It was nine in the morning and he was already at defcon 1.

He explained that he needed someone to do some “shit-kicking” for him, and I assured him that sounded “great,” even though I had no idea what it meant and in fact was extremely worried about the possible connotations. I was soon to discover that what he actually did mean was that I was going to be employed as a kind of nineteenth century page boy.

My schedule was pretty much as follows: I’d arrive at his house early in the morning, let myself in, make his alarmingly strong coffee that would probably kill a normal man, take it to him in bed and wake him up with it, each time hoping beyond hope that I wouldn’t walk in to find him naked on top of the sheets with a morning erection. As he was moving house at the time, I was assigned all manner of menial house-related tasks from putting together an Ikea chest of drawers to clearing out a wine cellar full of old bricks, sharp pieces of pipe and broken glass. “This is hazardous,” I whined. “I don’t even have any gloves. I’ll cut my hands to pieces.” He told me to just do what I could, then I could “fuck off” for the day.

‘M’ already had an insanely manic personality but still chose to add to it with a prodigious consumption of illicit substances. He’d emerge from his office with white powder on his nose, or on his clothes, and then pace around the office shouting, often in search of our sweet, soft-spoken office manager, who he seemed to have it in for. He’d often call me and bark down the phone, “Where’s that stupid fucking cow?!” She cried every day.

Strange as it may sound, I did sometimes enjoy his company. He had great stories, and his utter disregard for social niceties could be funny and refreshing. But it could also be painful. On one occasion we were in his car while he proceeded to have a screaming argument on the speakerphone with his estranged wife about all kinds of personal issues in their relationship, while I sat in the passenger seat awkwardly looking out of the window trying to pretend that I wasn’t listening, especially when the discussion came round to intimate details that I could really have done without ever knowing.

I used to come home exhausted wondering what anything I’d done that day had to do with making films. Finally, I realised the answer. Jobs like these are a test of our passion.

Anyone would like to work in the film business, but to make it a career you need to feel like it’s the only thing in the world you can do and therefore be willing to trawl through broken glass to get there.

I realised that I must want this with every fibre of my being, otherwise, like any sensible person, I’d have left after five minutes.

I knew that the onus was on me to draw what I could from the experience, and with that in mind I hassled ‘M’ to let me read some scripts. During any spare moment, I would read and write reports and, when I could, deal directly with writers.

About six months into the job, a shouting argument with ‘M’ about the inoperable security lock on his car brought our producer/shit-kicker relationship to an abrupt end. But by this point I’d written enough script reports that I was able to apply and get a job doing the same for Working Title Films, and actually Tim Bevan.

As expected, it turned out to be a much more civilised experience, with little to no shouting. But I had to admit that part of me missed ‘M’ and his insanity. Even all these years later, I still feel a strange kind of love for the man, partly for being such an unapologetically eccentric maniac. But mainly because he’ll always be the person to have given me that precious first point of access into this bizarre but wonderful world.

Dean Craig

About Dean Craig

Dean Craig is a British screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. His script DEATH AT A FUNERAL was made into three different feature films (UK, US & Bollywood), whilst other credits include A FEW BEST MEN, CAFFEINE, and OFF THE HOOK (a TV show for the BBC). His new film MOONWALKERS is currently shooting. You can follow him not really tweeting very much at all at @deancraig

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