Below are the links to a couple of articles by Margaret Leclere which appeared in The Spectator magazine and make reference to The Lost Son, a piece by Richard Brooks published in The Sunday Times in 1999, and an interview with Eric Leclere dating from the same year.
On July 4th 1999, the following piece by Richard Brooks (The Sunday Times Arts Editor) appeared in the Sunday Times Culture section:
Screenwriter hates his movie. So what's new? With The Lost Son - which stars the bankable Daniel Auteuil - quite a bit. The movie, directed by Chris Menges, was released last week. Screenwriter Eric Leclere thinks it stinks. Mind you, so do quite a few of the critics.
Eight years ago, Leclere - French-born, but living in Britain - wrote a short story about a detective's search for a missing person. It didn’t get anywhere, so he adapted it as a screenplay and sent it to Menges. He, in turn, contacted Scala, one of the brightest British film companies, and the cogs began to turn. But then Leclere's script was handed over to another writer Mark Mills, for further "tweaking". And this is where things began to turn ugly. Leclere and his wife Margaret - who also worked on the original screenplay - were both horrified by the changes. They felt the script had moved from being a detective story into one that spent too much time exploitatively toying with child abuse - an accusation rejected by Scala.
Whatever the case, the movie went into production. And in the meantime, Leclere developed his original story as a novel. Not surprisingly, his publishers Serpent's Tail wanted to put details of the movie on the front cover. But Leclere was having none of it, and brought out the book at his own expense. So there are now two very different Lost Sons, apparently by the same man. Because oddly the disgusted screenwriter has allowed himself to remain named on the movie, not just as screenwriter but also credited as "from an original idea by Eric Leclere..."
The following is what Leclere had to say about it in an interview that took place back on October 7th 1999.
Question: So, how
did you feel about the Sunday Times piece?
Leclere: It’s amazing how many inaccuracies can fit in a confined space. And bad will.
L: Perhaps bad will is not quite what I mean. But the "not surprisingly" here, the "getting nowhere" there, and the way the
story's wrapped up. The only thing the guy who wrote that thing seemed concerned with is questioning my character. When you think
of the people involved, to do something about the story only to pick on the screenplay writer/first-time novelist is, well... I mean,
the publisher aside, did you see the poster for the film? You should count the number of producers, executive producers, companies
and financial institutions who put their brains together to bring you the film The Lost Son. From the Oscar winning director to the
Arts Council of England, it makes for quite a list. But it seems more sporting to gun for the disenchanted writer. Huh. I wish it
had made me feel important or something, you know? As if the film experience and leaving my publisher was not bad enough. At the time
I could have done with being left alone.
Q: Did you do anything about it?
L: Like what?
Q: Like contacting the journalist to complain?
Q: Why not?
L: For the same reason I'd ignored his calls before he wrote his thing. Although, actually, I did get in touch with
him. He'd emailed me a few questions. Fluff not really worth answering. I emailed back that as far as The Lost Son was concerned,
it was my opinion that the £2m the producers received from the Arts Council was used to commit intellectual rape. Or something to
that effect. Can’t remember the exact wording. Anyway, he didn’t use it. He gets one line from me and doesn’t use it. I wonder why?
Waste of time.
Q: Is that why you didn’t complain? You thought it would be a waste of time?
L: No. Not really. I’d just come out of
hospital at the time. Bad chest pain. I’d also just been put on pills. They didn’t know what was wrong with me so anti-depressants
seemed like a good idea. Anyway, I was out of it. And it’s not as if I’d ever dealt with the press before. Just couldn’t deal with
Q: Sorry to hear that. Are you better now?
L: No. Right now I’m on strong painkillers. And still don’t know what’s wrong. But thank
you for asking.
L: It’s all right. I don’t want to talk about it.
Q: Right. Well, what about the film then?
L: What about it?
If what was written is inaccurate, what exactly happened?
L: It’s a very long a story.
Q: But it is fair to say that you disowned the
Q: Why? What went wrong? And why did you keep your name on it if that's the case?
L: What went wrong is really not
for me to say.
L: No. From the day Margaret and I signed away the option to the original screenplay, we were never informed
of anything at all to do with the production. In fact, and this might be a first in the history of British and French cinema, once
work was in progress, we were refused the right to meet anyone from the Anglo-French production team.
Q: I’m sorry? Are you saying
that you actually never met the producers?
L: Apart from what could be described as a quick courtesy meeting over a cup of coffee just
after we signed with Scala, that’s right.
Q: How come?
L: You better ask them that. They never really explained. But I guess, since
we were alive and well, contracted to do two new drafts and living within a couple of miles of Scala’s London offices, someone somewhere
must have decided there existed a very good reason not to meet or discuss our work with us.
Q: So you actually never met anyone from
Scala, IMA, the Film Consortium, France 2 Cinema, er… Sarah Radclyffe Productions, le Studio Canal +, the Arts Council, Film Four,
France 3 Cinema or The European Script Fund?
L: Is that the full list of people credited on the poster?
Q: No. Not quite. But...
Well, as I said, we were granted a courtesy meeting just after signing. It took place in a café one morning. Sarah Radclyffe and the
director were there. And one Amanda Posey who at that time was employed by Scala. Everybody was in a hurry to get somewhere else.
As meetings go, this was no more than a “Hi-there-nice-to-meet-you-and-goodbye” twenty minutes or so kind of affair. We’d gone to
it thinking we’d discuss the script, exchange some ideas about how to go about the first rewrite. Team work, you know? We were just
about to start on the first rewrite, so keen and dumb. Instead, if I recall correctly, we discussed how well Camden School Girls do
in the world and were handed a piece of paper with about ten lines listing five points about the script and told to go home to edit
down the original as much as possible. The idea was we’d meet again once this was done. It seemed fair enough. The script was much
too long. We interpreted their casual approach as a good sign. After all, during the negotiations, I’d opened the door for Scala to
buy the screenplay outright on a couple of occasions. But they turned the offer down, saying they wanted to work with us. We believed
it, not least because the script had found its way to Scala and Radclyffe through Menges. So we thought, or we thought they thought,
there existed a strong director-writer team.
Q: Wasn’t this the case?
L: All we knew was Menges told us he liked the script. And since
Scala had elected to buy an option on it and attach him as director, it was fair to presume that they too liked it and all was well.
This seemed good enough at the time. But it’s not as if we had a special relationship with Menges.
Q: You had never worked together
Q: So the screenplay Scala optioned was not a collaboration between yourselves and the director...
L: No. Absolutely not.
We’d never met the man until a week or so after we sent him the script of The Lost Son.
Q: Sent… You sent him the script unsolicited
L: Not quite. It was one of those things. We’d sent his agent another script. Menges had liked it, called to let us know it
wasn’t for him but did we have anything else he could have a look at? As it happened, we did. The Lost Son. Only, it wasn’t quite
ready for showing yet. When it was, a few weeks later, we sent it and within a matter of days he came to see us. “I want to direct
this as my next film,” I remember him saying. It was strange but sweet. Having just spent over a year writing the screenplay on faith
alone, to get this kind of reaction from its very first reader was like a dream. There were problems of course. The script was a raw
first draft and 237 pages long, much too long by industry standards. But we agreed it could be edited and shortened. We had no agent
to negotiate contracts. But with an Oscar winning director wanting to direct our work, we believed that would quickly be remedied.
The main thing though was Chris Menges liked the script and wanted to direct it. After years of struggling writing screenplays on
spec in the wilderness, the future suddenly looked bright.
Q: I see. So when did things go wrong?
L: I don’t know. With hindsight, I’d
say almost immediately perhaps. But maybe not.
Q: What happened?
L: Well, we - and not for lack of trying - failed to find an agent
and decided it couldn’t do any harm to let Menges take the script around to producers. So we did nothing with it. Margaret had other
work to get on with and I set out to write the novel. Unlike what was written or implied in The Sunday Times, I didn’t start the novel
because the script was getting nowhere. Far from it. To do the novel had actually always been my original intention. I’d only done
the script because I thought the story which I’d already written as a 70 page outline would make a good film and, were there any,
I could use the money to finance the writing of the book. The fact is I’d been toying with this project for many years, first started
The Lost Son as a novel as long ago as the mid ‘80s, an endeavor I’d abandoned only because I felt – and was told – that at that time
my English was not really up to it.
Q: You’re French and yet you wrote the novel in English?
L: Yes. I always felt it was the only way
it would work. Don’t ask why. It’s instinct. Probably because Lombard is French and living in London and… Never mind.
Q: Okay. So,
you started the novel?
L: Uh-huh. Some kind people lent us a cottage in North Wales, others helped with money and moral support, and
in about three months I wrote three chapters which were sent to 10 agents and 10 publishers. By then, Menges had gone silent, so it
looked like things had either gone wrong or he’d lost interest in the whole thing. It happens a lot in the film world. It didn’t matter
though. Of the 10 agents who got my chapters, 10, or those who bothered to reply, turned me down. Of the 10 publishers, two, Serpent’s
Tail among them, eventually got back to me positively. That was good. There I was, some French guy writing a few chapters in a foreign
language and... It felt good. Looking back, I should have stayed up in the Welsh hills and not talked to anyone until the book was
finished. Instead, soon afterwards I got back in touch with Menges to share my good news. He’d liked the script, so, it was like…
Well, perhaps I thought he’d be pleased for me, you know? I never found out if he was but that’s when, in the Sunday Times arts editor's
words, the cogs began to turn. All of a sudden, the phone started to ring. Menges’ agent let us know there was a good script somewhere
within the screenplay of The Lost Son we’d sent her client. Sarah Radclyffe had to tell us how great she thought the same script was.
And before we knew it, Scala productions called to say they wanted to option the screenplay and get us to work on it. Strange time.
All of a sudden, from nothing, I was suddenly facing the possibility of signing a book and film deal. The future looked bright all
right. All that was needed was an agent to deal with the usual negotiations and paperwork. This turned out... Well, a few were tried
again with the good news but just like before, we failed to interest any of them in taking a percentage of our potential future earnings.
You approached agents to let them know you had publishers interested in a book in progress and a film producer waiting to option your
screenplay and they turned you down?
L: Isn’t that funny?
Q: How many did you try?
L: Don’t know. Another ten perhaps. Fifteen? The thing
was we’d already been rejected by quite a few and there was no point in trying them again. But we didn’t even make one single meeting.
Even Menges’ agent passed. Later, it turned out, apart from Menges of course, she would have two of her clients working on the screenplay.
But that was still in the future then. In the end, we negotiated the film contract ourselves with the help of a solicitor. It took
months, but we got there. As far as the book was concerned, it was much easier. I more or less signed what Serpent’s Tail wanted without
looking at it. I guess I could have gone with a bigger publisher, but being inexperienced, I felt a small independent publisher would
look after me better than a big one, and I didn’t want to shake the tree by arguing about contractual clauses. All I really wanted
was for my book to be published, you see. I cared about the film, but the book was the real thing. In part that’s why I’d been prepared
to sell Scala the script outright, just so as not to be distracted with the film, to work on the book while the going was good. In
any case, book and film weren’t connected at all. And one deal was not dependent on the other. I was even using different names for
each. I was Eric Leclere for all the film stuff and Eric Reich for the book, which was also the name I intended to get published under.
Reich was my father’s name, I very much wanted my first book to bear his name. But to get back to the film, I only signed with Scala
and agreed to work with them because of their we want to work with you and what I believed was Menges’ understanding of the script;
that is, apart from the fact he liked it, that in view of the subject matter he understood the script was too fragile to be hacked
through or cut to less than 140-150 pages. I thought we had an understanding about that. That it would be in everybody’s interest
for the film to be good rather than just conforming to industry standards. It seems I misunderstood. Or is it a case of just being
stupid? As someone probably said somewhere sometime, “why struggle for the stars when happiness and riches can be found sitting on
L: If you could raise £6m on a writer’s creation by making a few phone calls, filling out a few application forms
and saying “yes, sir” to everybody, would you let considerations for that writer or his opinion of what should be done with his work
stop you? What if the only thing between you and making a film was its writers’ feelings and sense of responsibility? Would you, out
of loyalty or respect for the writer or his work, walk away from an easy deal? Look for a better harder deal elsewhere, one where
the conditions were right for the writer?
L: That’s right : er... Some people call it the reality of the film industry. The
only reality in any industry is the people that make that industry. It is not written in stone that a film script should be no more
than 120 pages long or should have its story completely surrendered to the requirements of the first soup merchants who turn up with
ready cash. Just imagine entrusting say your car to an auctioneer only to find out they sold it well below its value to the first
person to turn up. Ah, I hear you, but at least it got sold... I think... I believe, if you like a script, if you are intent on making
a good film of it, you ought to fight for that script. You ought to look after it. You ought to care. Like everything else, good films
don’t make themselves. It takes someone to care somewhere along the line. Sure, compromises are often necessary for the greater good.
But there should be a line you should never be prepared to cross; that is to sell the script and its author or authors cheap in the
name of expediency. What does that make you? At best, it amounts to negligence. One of the problems with most people in the film industry
who don’t write but who play with and profit from writers’ work is that, when they do happen to like what they read, they also often
have no idea why it is that they like it. You can’t blame them. It’s perfectly normal. But still, because they like it and think films,
stars and big bucks, they get confused and make that funny mental leap of thinking that they really understand whatever it is they
like, and then of course feel free to mess around with it. Then, some other producers actually look at screenplay writing as an exact
science. Or if they don’t, they make a good job of having you believe they do. It’s all about 3 acts / 90 to 120 pages good, everything
else bad. The funny thing is that if you try to argue with them that if what makes a good screenplay could actually be explained and
bottled film-making would be a risk-free occupation, if you’re lucky they might just look back at you with worryingly blank gazes.
As my father used to say, “You can’t argue with imbeciles”. As far as the people involved in the decision process that accompanied
the making of The Lost Son are concerned, having never met any of them, it’s not for me to comment on their intellectual faculties.
Let just say that the production team lacked passion, or on the evidence, saw the screenplay firstly as a money raiser.
Q: What makes
you say that?
L: When we completed the first rewrite, bringing the script down to 169 pages, we were led to believe everyone was upbeat
about the project. In editing the original 237 pages to a more manageable length we’d tried, and felt we succeeded, not to damage
the overall concept and feel of the piece. By this I mean we took great care to preserve what we felt made the thing work, you know?
What had made people take notice and want to get involved with the script. At first it really seemed the other folks involved shared
our feelings and enthusiasm. The news on the phone was good and as I said, upbeat. But then, for reasons that were never explained,
the producers and director met without us and let us know they had no time to see us. They’d decided we should get on with the next
draft and even tried to make us accept to do it for free - they called that writing an “interim” draft. The only specific order we
got; bring it down to 120 pages or thereabouts. No discussion, no meeting, no concern for the writers opinion or feelings. I think,
even by the movie industry’s standard, this is highly unusual. Whether they like it or not, producers do usually meet the writers
of works in progress.
Q: What did you do?
L: At first, wondered what to make of it all.
Q: The money question aside, couldn’t you have
got on with what they asked? Tried to bring your script down to something close to what they required?
L: The problem was not the
money. You see, with the first rewrite, we’d sent a note addressing amongst other things the length problem. We had our own ideas
as to how to cut the screenplay and yet keep it good. We suggested getting rid of one of the principal characters, an American called
Emily who Lombard met during his LA trip. She worked for an agency looking after abused children. We weren’t that keen to get rid
of her, she was good if perhaps not very original and she helped move the plot forward, but it was a matter of a tradeoff. We wanted
the film to be made and be good, so if losing her would do it, well, it was for the greater good. Anyway, the suggestion was dismissed
out of hand on the phone by one of the producers' assistants. Since none of the producers would meet us, we couldn’t put the case
for it and were left baffled by what was happening. The sad thing is though, had we done what we wanted and gone ahead with our idea,
I reckon we might just have managed to get the script down to their magic 120 page length without doing too much damage. It would
have been a different film, but I reckon still the same story. Actually, when it came to the book, I did get rid of the character.
I wanted to see if... That’s a way in which I suppose what happened with the film affected what I put in the book.
Q: There is no character
called Emily in the American section of the released version of the film. But there is an Emily in England. How...?
L: I know. In
our version the English character was called Rhian. At some stage the producers must have got one of their hired hands to do exactly
what they’d prevented the original writers from doing. They got rid of the Emily character. Giving her name to another character was
not our idea though. But nor was it our idea to turn Lombard into a French Bruce Willis.
Q: Right. But I don’t understand. Did you
not go on to write a second draft?
L: We did.
Q. Oh. Then why didn’t you do what you thought best for your script? Why didn’t you cut
the character yourselves if...
L: Because it is when the producers refused to meet us to discuss the work that the future stopped looking
bright. It kind of began to look as if all they really cared about was the property The Lost Son. As if they couldn’t care less about
its original writers or the long term life of the project. I don’t know. But it didn’t feel right. It sure wasn’t good for morale.
In the end, in spite of our repeated requests, we never got to meet them. What we got though, and this only after we agreed to sign
a document in which we agreed to do more work for no more pay in the future if so required, is their accepting to pay us for our contracted
2nd rewrite and a visit from Menges who turned up with a list of suggestions for cuts. At that point, I should have walked away. Only,
I didn’t have what it took. I thought about it, felt like it, but couldn’t do it. Desperate men clutch at straws, they say. Well,
I tried to convince myself that maybe things would work out. I didn’t really believe it myself, but it wasn’t too difficult to pretend
I did. So what if they don’t want to meet you to discuss your work. You know? Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe those guys
know what they’re doing. Maybe there are things you don’t understand. Maybe, if you try to meet their demands and deliver a great
second rewrite all will change for the better. I mean, they had to know that of all the parties concerned we were the ones with the
most to lose. To us this wasn’t just another project in the factory line. To us this was our first sold original screenplay. If things
went well it would put us on the map. And then, there was the book I’d interrupted to work on the script. If the film turned out to
be great, or let’s just say turned out to be good, it wouldn’t hurt it at all. They had to know that. They had to know how important
this was to us. That we could only want what was best for us and therefore for the script. It’s just amazing the mind games you can
start playing with yourself when desperate. When those people made it abundantly clear that they cared little if at all for our opinion
about our own work, I should just have walked away. Instead I played good boy and was rewarded by being given the sack. I don’t like
to say it, but maybe, for behaving like such a coward, I deserved it.
Q: You were sacked?
L: Yes. After delivering the second rewrite.
We still hadn’t met anyone from the production side. Still had not been allowed to discuss things. And, by the way, as yet, we'd never
heard even one word of complaint or criticism of our work.
Q: So why were you sacked?
L: We weren’t really told. I could tell you why
I think we were sacked, but it wouldn’t be a good idea. Maybe some other time.
Q: Could they have not liked your second rewrite?
I guess so...
Q: How long was it?
L: 138 pages. And it incorporated most of the director's suggestions for cuts. And of course, the
Emily character was still there.
Q: What about you? Were you happy with it?
L: All things considered, yes. And not just because it had
been hard work.
Q: Did you get any feedback from it at all?
L: We did. From the director and his wife. They each left messages on our
answerphone leading us to believe things were good. “You must be exhausted… You can pat yourselves on the back,” I recall Menges saying.
Huh. Woof woof...
Q: What about the producers?
L: The producers never shared their feelings with us.
Q: So what reasons were you given
for your dismissal?
L: None. We were supposed to at long last meet everybody on a Tuesday. On the Monday, Nik Powell of Scala called
to let us know everybody else had just met and it had been decided that our coming the following day would just be a waste of our
Q: Didn’t you ask why?
L: Apparently the script was still too long.
L: And nothing. They’d decided we didn’t want to work
on our own project anymore. The reality of that particular section of the film industry really hit home when an hour later Margaret
called Menges to tell him about Powell’s call and ask what was going on. Yes... Sorry about that, the man said.
Q: How did you feel?
L: Even criminals, no, serial killers, are given a chance to defend themselves before being condemned. Or to look their judge in the
eye. I guess those people must have thought we were very thick-skinned or something to behave like that. They must have thought we
were very tough. Or if not, that we really didn’t care about our very own project. Or deserved the treatment.
Q: What happened after
L: Three of four months later I wrote to my publisher to let him know things had not gone well with the film people and that
I had just returned to work on the book. I got a one line postcard: So the film is no longer a racing certainty...
Q: So that was the
end of your involvement with the film?
L: As its writer, yes. But it didn’t go away. There were many more bad surprises still to come.
Including the worst one of all, the final shooting script .
Q: You didn’t like the shooting script?
L: I don’t think it properly reflects
my work or intentions. Really, it amounts to an easy if not morally questionable adaptation of the original. But I guess everybody
thinks I would say that. The bitter scriptwriter, right...
Q: What did you find so bad about the shooting script?
L: Since I didn't
see the film they released, I don’t know what they ended up doing with the opening scene. But in the shooting script I read, what
happens is we meet Lombard busy spying on an unfaithful wife begging her lover to Fuck me ‘til I fart. This remark brings a smile
to Lombard’s face and he feels compelled to repeat the woman’s words. Next thing we know, he blackmails the same and sells her his
silence with an I just saved your marriage, lady punch line. You see, that’s how we find out he's a private detective. He was watching
the woman on behalf of her jealous husband. And now he’s doubling his income by saving the jealous husband from the painful truth
and the wife from... Well, I guess someone thought that kind of twisted corrupted attitude would make him look cool, smart, streetwise,
dangerous and exciting all at once. Maybe every woman who’s ever been or ever thought of being unfaithful to her husband is supposed
to immediately like him at this point. Never mind what the film is about. Never mind anything really. As I wrote to Menges after reading
this, I don’t know if starting a story with Fuck me ‘till I fart shows a lack of ambition, talent or is just a clever stab at taking
a short cut to immortality. What I know though, is that whoever came up with this great opening clearly did not understand the Lombard
character or what the screenplay was about. And to underline the point, just in case one is left in any doubt, very soon after that,
long before they make Lombard teach kids to kill in the name of good triumphing over evil, he is also made to wear nicotine patches...
I mean, maybe they should have gone all the way with the hard new man waiting to burst out routine. I don’t know, he might have been
made to contemplate joining New Labour perhaps... As a French critic wrote in a review of the film, La connerie bien pensante... Doesn’t
Lombard go to a delicatessen and buy a toy submarine for his fish at some point?
Q: You’re not responsible for that?
fish and delicatessen...
L: The fish, yes. The toy submarine and delicatessen, no. Huh. As if… But I’d rather not talk about the script’s
ins and outs. You better read my book if you want to get an idea of what the original screenplay was like. It’s a much better reflection
of what we gave Scala than the film they actually ended up making.
Q: What about Daniel Auteuil's performance? The critics generally
praised his portrayal of Lombard.
L: I read Mr. Auteuil came to England several months before shooting began to learn English in order
to play the part. Of all people, I’d have thought that he at least would have got in touch with the original writer. There you have
a Frenchman who doesn’t speak English coming to England to learn English in order to play an English-speaking Frenchman who lives
in England written by a Frenchman who also lives in England and does speak English and... I think I don’t want to talk about Mr. Auteuil.
Okay… So, if you are so disgusted with the film, and went so far as to disown it, why did you keep your name on it?
L: Huh. I tell
you what, why don’t we go on speaking about Mr. Auteuil after all, eh?
Q: No. You must realise people might wonder about this. It looks
odd. One could easily jump to the conclusion that you only really disowned the film because you were sacked. In the circumstances,
you couldn’t really blame anyone for at least wondering if that was the case, don’t you think?
L: Yes. I read the Sunday Times piece
L: Look, a year or so after sacking us the way they did, having in the meantime ignored our letters and calls and kept
us in the dark about what was happening to our project, out of the blue the producers called to invite us back. I said no.
called you back and you said no?
L: Uh-huh. It turned out the writer they’d replaced us with had just either jumped or been given the
push after concocting 6 or 7 drafts based on ours. The point is that I’m not upset and I did not disown my work because I got the
sack. I wish. And at that point in time, since I had no way yet of knowing what they’d done or would do to my work, I most definitely
wasn’t yet thinking of disowning the film. But I was indeed very upset about the way these people had seen fit to get rid of us in
the first place. Yes, sir. Angry. Absolutely. And I still am today. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who enjoy
being lied to and betrayed. Or being treated with open contempt. Even writers.
Q: I don’t understand. If you cared about your screenplay,
why didn’t you go back to work on it when they gave you another chance to do so?
L: By then, I had no reason to trust those people.
If they wanted me back after what had happened, they should have tried to entice me to return, indicated that things were going to
be different this time round. Or apologised even, you know? Like shown a little courtesy perhaps. But no. They’d kicked the dog away,
now needed it again, whistled for it and I guess expected it to hurry back panting, tail wagging and ever so grateful. Only, this
dog wanted a bone. Some kind of enticement. It goes like this. It’s one thing to allow someone into your house only to find out that
once in there alone with you they try to rob you; it’s another altogether to let them in a second time round on nothing but trust.
As it happened, it’s questionable whether their invitation was for real. There most definitely was no apology or attempt to entice
us. It was almost as if we were supposed to have learnt our lesson and could now be openly told what to do. Basically, we were told
that the price to pay for coming back was to agree to take on board some of the now departed writer’s ideas, and, more significantly,
for better or for worse, to wrap up the story within the magic 120 pages. No, sorry, by then I think it was 110 pages. This was unacceptable,
not to say humiliating. It also amounted to reducing writing and the sharing of ideas to making sardine cans. By then, since it also
turned out that they’d secured their stars and most of the budget on the basis of our last rewrite, you’d have thought the producers
and director would have given us some leeway rather than carrying on wanting to cut at the thing any which way until it could be made
to fit neatly into a hole. But again, no. The saddest thing about this is... Well, for a writer without scruples and a basic IQ, indiscriminately
cutting a screenplay without concern for its essence or soul is probably one of the easiest thing to do. Especially when the people
who pay you to do it don’t care or don’t know the difference between a book and a bus stop. It wasn’t easy to say no. But I think
it would have been much worse to have agreed to destroy my own work or jumped onto the director’s and producer’s laps. But guess what.
Some people have called me stupid for thinking like this. Isn’t that funny? Sometimes...
Q: I see. Who exactly approached you with
the invitation to go back to work on your script? The director? Chris Menges?
L: Oh no. We’d never heard from him again after his sorry
about that. For all we knew he wasn’t involved with the project anymore. It was Nik Powell from Scala who called. He who’d call a
year earlier to let us know we didn’t need to come to meet the team. You must give the man one thing though, he does do some of his
dirty work himself. Oddly, after his invitation was turned down, perhaps as if he’d somewhat expected it, he apparently made some
kind of apology for not having been very good up till then... What do you know, eh?
Q: Right. You still haven’t... When you finally
decided that you would disown the film, why didn’t you take your name from the credits?
L: Huh…I wanted to remove my name from the
credits. I would have removed my name from the credits. I most definitely envisaged removing my name from the credits. And so did
Margaret. We would have liked this film to come out without writers. You know Mel Brooks’ line in the film The Producers: Next time
I produce a play, no author! In my opinion, The Lost Son’s author had been all but killed off by the time the thing reached first
day of photography, if that makes any sense. Still, it couldn’t be done.
Q: Why not?
L: We... By the time it came to deciding on the
matter, things had happened or come to our attention which made it look like it might be a bad move. It’s... There are such things
as sequel rights, etc. Whatever we felt, by then it seemed wise for us to keep our names on the thing. And to fight with Scala’s lawyers
for the “original story by” credit mentioned by the Sunday Times’ man. They weren’t even going to give us that, you know?
Q: You make
it sound sinister.
L: No. There’s nothing sinister about it at all. It’s just that it had become a choice between claiming what we
felt was ours or quietly walking away and letting other people possibly claim sole authorship of our work. They’d - well in our opinion
anyway - damaged our property. There was nothing to be done about that. It’s standard practice for producers to make scriptwriters
waive their droit moral over their work. This is non-negotiable, means your hands are tied if changes which you might disapprove of
are made to your story, which really means that from the moment you entrust your project to a producer you basically start living
hoping you didn’t misplace your trust. Anyway, since they’d also given co-authorship of our work to another writer, we felt like we’d
better keep a foot in there, so to speak. I mean, I actually care about Xavier Lombard, you know? It had come to feel like we weren’t
going to do ourselves any favours by removing our names from the thing. On the contrary. Who knows? By then, right or wrong, I’d come
to think that not many people involved with The Lost Son would have been too sorry if we’d taken our names off the film and quietly
disappeared. After all, they had their ready-made and willing writer to parade as the sole author.
Q: It still sounds sinister.
shouldn’t. It’s just that by then the whole thing felt like poison. There had... A week or so after declining Scala’s invitation to
return to work on the script, we’d opened Screen International to read that one Ronnan Bennett claimed credit for The Lost Son. He
was the guy they’d replaced us with and who was now gone. No mention of us. Then, when first day of photography came, no one told
us, but this may have had something to do with the fact that we’d passed on Scala’s suggestion that we should accept a deferral on
what we would be owed that day. Huh, after what they’d... Later still, this time in Variety, we’d come by chance on a piece now crediting
one Dan Weldon, son of Fay, with writing The Lost Son. Again, no mention of us. Again, we protested, and again we were told it was
a mistake. Maybe so, but I wonder, where do journalists get their information? I mean, they don’t just pick names from the sky. Do
they? Where was I...? Yes. And there had been Scala’s unilateral decision to share our writers’ credit with Mark Mills and not give
us an “original story by” credit. To our amazement, making a mockery of their role and giving themselves the right to overrule writers
contracts without even reading them, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain backed Scala all the way on this when we protested only to
have Scala tell us to take the matter to them if we were unhappy about it. I resigned my membership of the Writers’ Guild. And then
it turned out, I can’t remember how we found out since no one was talking to us and we weren’t being invited to previews of the film
which by then was being shown around, that the £2m given to Scala via the Film Consortium by the Arts Council had been green-lighted
exactly two weeks after we’d turned down Scala’s offer to return to work on the project. And in the course of those two weeks what
screenplay had been submitted to the Arts Council? One credited to Eric and Margaret Leclere and Mark Mills. On finding that out,
I have to confess feeling somewhat suspicious. It certainly felt like poison.
Q: I don’t understand.
L: Well, having just lost a writer
called Ronan Bennett who did six drafts based on our original, the producers call us. Would you like to etc. etc? We pass. Then, within
the space of two weeks, Scala has sought and hired a new writer who delivers a new draft good enough to be read and assessed by the
Arts Council who then goes on to grant it £2m. We’re talking two weeks here. Mark Mills is clearly a producers’ dream. Given the same
opportunity, we sure couldn’t - nor it appears could Ronnan Bennett - receive, read, digest, substantially edit, proof-read and return
a script ready for a £2m grant in two weeks, let alone in the time he actually had to do it in between being hired and the script
landing on the Arts Council desk with time left for them to read, discuss and accept it.
Q: Perhaps... Are you sure Mark Mills was
hired only after you declined the job?
L: Unless what I was told by the producers were lies, yes, I’m sure.
Q: Then... Are you saying
it is impossible to read, edit and deliver a script in less than two weeks?
L: No. Of course not. I may have wondered about it for
a while, but clearly, it is possible. I guess a little pride might be involved here. Or is it jealousy? I wouldn’t mind being able
to... But then again, looking at what was done. No, what was really disturbing about this business was that the screenplay sent to
the Arts Council gave Mark Mills co-authorship of the work, that Scala had unilaterally decided to share our credits with him. It
didn’t smell right. I don’t think they should have done this. In my opinion, since even what they ended up shooting is obviously substantially
based on our original, an “edited by” or “adapted by” credit would have been a much fairer reflection of Mr. Mills’ contribution to
the project. Also, at that time, The Lost Son was still legally our property.
Q: What do you mean? Had the producers not purchased
it from you?
L: They had an option to do so but had not exercised it yet. When original works are concerned, this is usually only done
on first day of photography. According to their lawyers, Scala acted honorably and within the law, even if to all intents and purposes
The Lost Son was legally ours and our contract with them clearly stated that in case of dispute over the credit the matter would have
to be referred to the Writers Guild for arbitration. Let me tell you, legal or not legal, and artistic and courtesy questions aside,
it was very disturbing news to find out they had circulated and raised funds on our work with another writer’s name as author on the
title page without even bothering to tell us about it. And not just because it felt wrong. I mean, how could we even complain, eh?
Refer the matter for arbitration? And then, what about the Arts Council? How come they’d okayed £2m to a project from which the owners
and creators had been sacked and treated in the way we had? Didn’t they ask any questions? If they did, were they even told what had
happened to the writers and owners of the work? And did they care? I’d still like to know. When we tried to find out, all we got was
a letter saying something like sorry but can’t divulge confidential information. Hey. We aren’t just the artists here. We’re the owners
of the damn thing you put £2m in. Shouldn’t you want to hear from us? Well, apparently not. Just like the European Script Fund. Or
whatever that lot calls themselves these days. And you ask me why in the end I kept my name on the credits? With that kind of thing
happening with my name on the thing, just imagine what may happen if I took it away.
Q: What’s that about the European Script Fund?
They too wrote me back a sorry-but-confidential-information letter.
Q: What were you inquiring about?
L: Whether or not the producers
had put in an application for development funds for The Lost Son before we’d actually exchanged contracts. Just wanted them to confirm
the date. Again by accident, we’d just learnt the producers had actually applied to them for money which they subsequently received
several weeks before we’d even completed negotiations. We’d didn’t know about it. Nobody had ever told us about it. So, for all I
know, on the day we entrusted our project to the producers, they had already raised money on what was really our intellectual property.
Is that legal?
L: Yes. According to Scala’s lawyers, it is. Anyway, it must be, because when I brought the matter to the European Script
Fund’s attention they did nothing about it. No comment. Who are these guys, huh? Whatever. This is the realm of soup merchants. To
come back to what matters here, the screenplay and what happened to it, perhaps this little story helps shed some light on things.
I think it clearly illustrates that right from the beginning, indeed even before the beginning, before we’d even exchanged contract
with them, and in spite of their we want to work with you, the producers and I guess the director were keeping things from us, most
certainly weren’t working with us. They were already working with what was still our property, but not with us. That is perhaps what
really matters here. You asked me earlier what went wrong with the film. Well, maybe there is your answer.
Q: Yes… Earlier on, you
mentioned the Writers’ Guild, said something about them making a mockery of their role, overruling writers’ contracts and you resigning
your membership. Do you care to elaborate?
L: Sure. My advice to anyone who writes an original screenplay and gets a producer interested
in it is, whatever you do, don’t sign anything incorporating the Writers’ Guild as arbitrators in case of credit dispute.
that a little...
L: I don’t think so. No. If you want to look for extremes, have a look at the Writers’ Guild of
Great Britain’s arbitration guidelines. This is year 2000 time. All over the place the movie industry is huge. Screenplays, which
are the foundation on which most films are built, are written every day and, now we’ve got word processors, by more and more people.
Like everything else, sometimes they are written for gain, sometimes to satisfy egos and sometimes out of love. Scripts can also change
hands for ridiculous amounts of money, be fought over and, like The Lost Son did, become vehicles affording a good living to a great
many people for a given time. Sometimes, once brought to the screen, they can also represent a source of expression or pleasure for
hundreds or thousands of people. Sometimes, they’re commissioned by producers. Sometimes they come as the result of a genuine collaborative
process. And sometimes, they are the end result of a lot of hard work and sacrifice by one single person working on faith alone. Always
though, the damn things have to be written. And then, if a film gets made and is acclaimed, the director, actors and producers get
the credit. If it’s bad, then the script is mentioned. Whatever, at the end of the day, the only thing a writer has is his credit
on the screen. And what is the Writers’ Guild’s attitude to screenplay writing? It appears that, unlike a novel or a play, or even
a magazine article for that matter, the Writer’s Guild doesn’t think a screenplay, never mind its size or merit, should be considered
source material. That is to say that, just like happened with The Lost Son, if you spend a year or two or for that matter a couple
of weeks developing an original idea into a fully blown screenplay, according to the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s guidelines,
anyone can make a few changes or cuts to your work and claim equal authorship. In other words, if Shakespeare’s plays were called
screenplays and I came along and say rewrote Romeo and Juliet so that if fitted neatly into 90 pages, I could peddle the result around
as “Romeo and Juliette” by William Shakespeare and Eric Leclere. In other words, screenplay writing is not really recognized as a
valid literary form by the very people supposed to look after writers. Or, as far as screenplays are concerned, there doesn’t really
exist a distinction between adapting, editing and actually writing an original story. As a guy trying to write, I don’t know if this
is ridiculous, sad or offensive. Everything else you write, if someone comes along and messes with it, or as the case may be improves
upon it, a distinction is usually made between the originator of the piece and the other party. Not in the movies though. Write an
original screenplay, let the producers name the Writers Guild as arbitrators in case of credit dispute in the contract you sign, and
you better hope you chose the right producers, or else, apart from the pain you might feel at what’s being done to your story, you’ll
probably also find yourself watching your original credit dissapear and if you complain be told something like Well, sorry, but your
own guild thinks it’s all right. So what’s the problem, eh? This is not just unpleasant and baffling. It can have terrible consequences
if your pay, as it often is, is linked to whether or not you retain sole credit. It can also of course be used to dissuade original
writers from thinking of removing their names from the final credits as a visible protest; do so and you’ll just disappear while he
or she who collaborated with the producers will get the loot, so to speak. Let me say it again, if you’ve written an original screenplay
and someone puts a contract under your nose, first try to get a clause securing sole screenplay writer in there, and if you fail,
whatever you do, if you care or are worried about what might be done to your work and name, don’t rely on the Writers’ Guild of Great
Britain to come and help you when things go wrong. They won’t be there. As I found out, even producers’ lawyers can hide behind them.
That hurt. I don’t know. Possibly they’re great at protecting the interests of mercenary writers with powerful agents who parasite
on other people’s work. Personally, having thought about it a lot, I’ve come to wonder if what happened to The Lost Son could have
occurred had the producers not banked on the Writers’ Guild sanctioning their actions. It should have been made a little more difficult
for them to sack writers without ever even bothering to meet them to discuss their work. When informed of this, the Writer’s Guild
expressed no opinion. It should have been made just that little more difficult for the producers to give authorship of our work to
another writer while, aside from everything else, we were still the screenplay’s legal owners. When informed of this, and of the European
Script Fund story, the Writers’ Guild expressed no opinion. It should have been a little harder than it was for the producers to share
our credits when our contract specifically stated that in the event of the film being substantially based on our work, which it is,
we should receive sole writing credit. The Writers’ Guild was not interested in our contract, clearly believes it has the right to
revoke of ignore writers’ contracts, and when told of this clause, expressed no opinion. Rather, it simply stated that its arbitration
decisions are final and binding. And I think the Writers’ Guild and its panels of invisible and unaccountable judges should not give
itself the right to refuse to meet or listen to writers whose lives, livelihood and professional future they are about to affect with
their final and binding arbitration rulings. As I said above, even psychopathic serial killers are given a day in court. Many people,
I have learnt, consider screenplay writers to be writers for hire, or to put it another way, to be the whores of the writing world.
For my part, having seen first hand how fast some so-called writers are willing to run when the movie people call, I better keep my
thoughts about this to myself. Anyway, this is beside the point. The point is, I think, that by endorsing the view that material written
specifically for the screen does not constitute source material, the Writers’ Guild, apart from indirectly sanctioning what in my
view amounts to intellectual theft, actually actively encourages producers to treat the writers of original screenplays as just that:
whores for hire. And so what, you may ask? And you might be right. Yes; so what? So this perhaps; whether film writers should be called
whores or not, to buy a willing prostitute’s service does not give you the right to rape or kill that prostitute. Even where prostitution
is illegal. Well, it’s not illegal to write and yet, it seems, it is perfectly all right to commit intellectual rape on original script
writers. Ask me again what went wrong the movie The Lost Son and I might just say that I mistakenly signed a contract which I thought
afforded me some protection as a writer because it incorporated the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. I guess, we all learn from our
Q: Well, that was interesting.
L: Was it?
Q: Yes. What about the book then? Why did you leave your publisher? Would...
I don’t want to talk about the book. I especially don’t want to talk about why I left my publisher.
Q: Why? Earlier on you said you
were going to publish under another name. Why didn’t you?
L: I don’t want to talk about it. It makes me ill.
Q: Right. What about the
book itself. Would you like to talk about the book of The Lost Son?
L: Aside from the fact that it is about a man called Xavier Lombard,
that I found it very hard to write and it’s a lot better than the filmbased on my original screenplay, no, I wouldn’t like to talk
about the book.
Q: Okay. You’re writing a second book around the character Xavier Lombard. Is that right?
Q: How is it going?
Do you expect to finish it soon?
L: I don’t know. It’s going. Slowly. I’ve had to stop smoking and miss it very much.
Q: Your health?
Q: Did you smoke as much as Lombard?
L: No. Not quite.
Q: Right. Is there anything else you’d like to say before
L: Yes. I’d like to read you the first few words of The Arts Council lottery film funding guidelines. It goes like this: “The
Arts Council Of England’s Royal Charter gives it a responsibility to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice
of the arts...” Etc. etc. Well, to be honest, I don’t come from an artistic background. Nor could you really say that I come from
a non-artistic background. Really, I am from what most people would probably call bad stock. So I might not be the best placed person
to talk about the arts. Only, I’d just like to say that in The Lost Son’s case, it is my opinion that the £2m from the Arts Council
did not help improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts, unless of course treating artists and their work with
disdain can be interpreted as a step towards the advancement and improvement of the arts. I would also like to add that I find it
worrying that a state institution backing the arts should become the main investor in a film venture and yet show no concern for what
happens to the writers of the screenplay or for that matter appear to care about what is being produced. The Lost Son is just a little
story which was meant to make a good film. It doesn’t really matter as such, nor do any of the people involved in its production.
They’ll soon enough all be forgotten and in the end, most of us are in it for a living. State institutions though, as the guidelines
I just read indicate, should be motivated by a sense of responsibility.
Q: Okay. That will do.
L: Yes. All the best to you too.
Copyright © 1999-2015 Alibi Books (uk), All Rights reserved