It’s the late 1970s and 20-something Christopher Fowler is a film freak, obsessively watching lousy films in run-down fleapit cinemas. He longs to be a famous screenwriter and put his dreams on the big screen. And so he heads for Wardour Street, Britain’s equivalent of Hollywood.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, about my years working in London’s Wardour Street in the film industry:
Ten Things You Should Know About Film Premieres
Film premieres in the UK are much slicker affairs than they used to be. Never ones to go in for subtlety, distribution companies once staged embarrassingly literal publicity stunts for their films until Hollywood executives stopped them. During the premiere for ‘Hair’ at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road the unimpressed audience was pelted with flowers, while the ushers were made to wear beads and long wigs that made them look like crazy old tramp-women. For the megaflop ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ we were encouraged to attend on roller skates, but the theatre had a steeply raked floor and everyone fell over. The distributors thought carefully about the latter, putting ‘music’ and ‘England’ together and coming up with a Morris dancing display outside the cinema. The premiere of the killer-rodent movie ‘Willard’ was preceded by a giant red-eyed rat being driven about London on the roof of a window-cleaner’s van, while the vomit-inducing ‘Mark Of The Devil’ had its logo printed on sick-bags.
More recently, the ‘Sex And The City’ premiere party housed its four leads in mocked-up movie sets separated by white picket fencing, like a kind of movie stars’ petting zoo. ‘Come on, we’ve stroked Sarah Jessica Parker, let’s go and feed Carrie-Ann Moss now!’
- Allow an extra ten minutes to find the way in. The entrances to film premieres are more carefully hidden than the train to Hogwarts. Most premieres are made unglamorous by having hordes of flak-jacketed guards and steel barriers everywhere, so it looks like you could be attending an arms fair.
- Forget glamour. Remember that this is England and it will be chucking it down. If you overdress, you’ll find everyone else in puffa jackets except the invited cast. These days, premieres are set-dressed like theme park rides and you have to negotiate your way around singing dwarves or dancing trees.
- Approach the red carpet slowly. Don’t race up it at a terrified gallop. Hopefully it won’t be foaming – for a couple of years, red carpets were cleaned with industrial soaps that frothed when it rained, ruining everyone’s clothes. Most of the attending audience will have nothing to do with the film industry at all – premiere tickets are like Monopoly currency, traded to ad agencies and insurance companies in return for favours.
- There’s a sweet spot near the entrance to the cinema where all stars stop and slowly turn to their fans. It’s where the camera that shows footage inside the auditorium is situated. Ushers will try to move you past it. Don’t let them. This is your chance to be seen.
- Never get bunched up at the bottleneck around the stars’ photo-call. You may end up standing on the back of J-Lo’s gown, and she really doesn’t like it. Stars can be forgiven for being in strange moods at premieres. They have no idea whether they’re in Leicester Square or China, and just follow their appointed PRs around like little ducks.
- Watch the people behind the barriers to see if you know anyone. If necessary, plant someone there. At one premiere I was greeted by a fan of my books. My excitement at being stopped on the red carpet for an autograph was mitigated by him saying, ‘I’m the only one here who knows who you are.’
- Stars are now expected to work for the public. The days when a celebrity could throw a strop and ignore the crowds are over. If Tom Cruise is attending the premiere, get ready for a long wait while he wanders around Leicester Square being filmed on fans’ mobiles for at least an hour. No sense of urgency, that man.
- Once inside, you will find a bottle of water and popcorn on your seat. This is not a courtesy but a necessity, because you’re going to be here for hours. Before the film starts you’ll have to watch a series of horrendously embarrassing interviews conducted outside for about an hour by an 11 year-old yoof presenter you’ve never heard of. He will ask Bruce Willis, visibly weary from visiting 17 countries in 5 days, things like ‘Are you excited to be here?’
- The director will then arrive onstage and tell everyone how excited he is to be here. He’ll introduce his cast, who will talk about the brilliant godlike genius of the director and the incredible life-changing experience of working with him. (This will be for the movie ‘Battle Gnomes 4’). After that, none of the cast will be able to find their way off-stage without help. No matter how slick and big-budget the film, there will be much fumbling with the curtains. This used to happen every single time until around 2011, when they finally cracked the problem. Although it occasionally still happens.
- At a royal premiere, you’ll find the cinema filled with fresh flowers and grenadier guards. Presumably the Queen thinks all cinemas are like that all the time.
What the Critics Say
Film Freak is Fowler’s brisk, chatty memoir… His writing is peppered with trenchantly funny film references. Fowler’s gifts are those of a performing raconteur more than a cultural essayist – but he’s so entertaining, moment by moment, that you readily accept this deal.
– Daily Telegraph –
A master storyteller, he slips deftly from fiction to fact: I’ve rarely read a better analysis of the movie business…This is a beautifully written and often hilarious book.
– Sunday Express –
a natural autobiographer, charming, funny, perceptive and mercifully free of the usual egomaniacal windbaggery…. I was so smitten with this book that I read it through from cover to cover in one sitting. At times, I found myself laughing loudly and lengthily. Above all, though, I was moved.
– Daily Mail –
An homage to pre-digital cinema, an elegy for a vanishing London of almost half a century ago and a tribute to friendship, gonzo-style. Two thumbs up for this triple-billing.
– Financial Times –
He’s written a roomful of books, including the Bryant & May series of crimers, but his memoirs are just as much fun… Hugely entertaining this.
– Sunday Sport –
This is the sort of book that should be prescribed as a pick-me-up on the NHS…Film Freak is gold-plated writing: uproarious, then dark, and surprisingly moving. Above all it’s a fabulous evocation of a London, and a way of life, now almost gone for ever. *****
– Mail on Sunday –
Dazzlingly funny and evocative . . . conjures up a world before corporate suits took over, when rubbishy films played all day in smoke-filled cinemas and stars would do a quick advert for a wad of cash. It’s also the most tender and genuine story of a bizarre and complicated relationship . . .anyone who loves film and brilliant writing should invest in this slice of British culture
– Daily Mail –