Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My adventures with Stephen Fry

The (probably) final installment of the Harry Potter series is almost upon us, unless Warner Brothers has worked out a way to subdivide HP7 Pt 2 into twenty new films that each take place in real time and will be slowly released over the next sixty-eight years. It seems an appropriate time to write about a different nerdy kid with an awkward home life, who discovers that the reason he doesn't fit in is because he's really a magical boy, with a magical father he didn't know about.

Last year, I made a feature film titled Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins. When I say I made it, I merely wrote, directed, edited, co-produced and financed the picture. A team of about thirty-odd skilled and conscientious individuals of varying levels of experience made it with me. If you didn't like it, it's all their fault.

BSATCOP (as it has become known) is the ultimate example of cross-platform entertainment. It could not have existed ten years ago. It's an Australian feature film inspired by a throw away gag from a podcast of a BBC Radio review of a film which is itself based on a book which is derivative of another film series based on a different series of books. Have you gone cross-eyed yet?

In a number of different ways, it represents the high point of my career thus far. I was involved in every aspect of production - from writing the screenplay to producing the soundtrack to taking most of the production stills. I even have an ill-advised cameo as a student. The thing I'm most proud of is that narrating the opening segment of BSATCOP is my boyhood idol, Stephen Fry.

I spent a significant part of my adolescence attempting to be Stephen Fry, or at least a cross between him, James Bond and Pete Townshend. Eventually I realised that I was never going to be a 6ft 4 gay Oxbridge intellectual, but retained my admiration for Stephen's many talents, and particularly his instantly identifiable voice.

Stephen Fry came to Australia to shoot a segment of his (still to be aired) documentary on language for the BBC in July 2010. He filled in his spare time by performing two sold-out one man shows at the Sydney Opera House. Without the aid of a script, he expounded on subjects both autobiographical and obscure. As he took his bows at the end of the evening, I arose my front row seat and handed him an A4 envelope containing a copy of the screenplay and a note. It read something along the lines of:

I am the kid who's making a movie out of the gag from the Kermode and Mayo show. Would you consider narrating it? I have recording equipment and can come to you.

I expected to hear nothing more of it, but two days later, I opened up my Inbox to discover this note:

If you can be at the Park Hyatt at 3.00 this afternoon I’ll do your recording for you with pleasure. I’ve got a 2.30 meeting which should be over by then - we can either do it in the bar of the Hyatt which is usually quiet and empty in the afternoon, or in my room, tho there seems to be daily drilling nearby from some work going on!


I gathered my audio gear and bounded off into the city, arriving with just enough time to sit in the bar and get really nervous. At 3.02pm, a tall man with a bent nose bounded up to me and shook my hand.

Terribly sorry I'm late. I like your blazer.

I'll let Stephen pick up the story.

He was a very shy, very sweet man. We managed to get the hotel to close a bar, and he brought along his recording equipment and I did my best.

Those are two adjectives that have never been applied to me before or since, but may well have characterised my behaviour at the time. My fondest memory of the whole afternoon was this exchange:

So how long is the film going to be? Is it a short film?

Oh no, full length. Probably about 75 minutes.

But how are you paying for this? You're a young person, surely you don't have any money.

[At this juncture, I resisted the urge to make a joke about credit card fraud]

Stephen's business partner Andrew Sampson enters the room.

Andrew, this is Jeremy Dylan. He's the King of Australian Country Music.

That about made my year.

This was the most enjoyable of what became a litany of my long-held fantasies indulged - have my words read out by Stephen Fry, start a rock'n'roll band, have a film premiere at the Dendy Newtown, get one of my films reviewed by Mark Kermode, etc.

Unless I wind up with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Paul McCartney in my next film, it can only be downhill from here.

If you want a bit more elucidation on how this film came to be and how we managed to make a feature film for $10,000 in under a year, have a look at this video documentary:

If you think the film's worth checking out, buy a copy from benjaminsniddlegrass.com