I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography. I was very glad later when I was directing that I wasn’t in the hands of a cinematographer and hoping that he would do it well. I would know what he was doing, and we could discuss how that scene would look. It was just lucky in a way that I didn’t go to film school and just learned all this on the floor.
My proudest moment was one afternoon in Nic Roeg’s study when he patted me on the shoulder and said, Very good. Very good! He was referring to my screenplay, a script for a short film which I had persuaded my producer Roeg should direct. He was my favourite director, after all, if you removed Alain Resnais from the equation (I treasure a lovely letter Resnais wrote to me explaining he couldn’t meet me because he was shooting a film. I completely understood). I had written my film for a certain actor and this was my second, exhausted tilt at the windmill. And Roeg had agreed. I was stunned. It was a work which needed someone who understood imagery but wouldn’t be hamstrung by it, liked a fluid camera and was comfortable dealing with humorously dark erotic drama. Who else? He had learned his craft working on some of the most beautiful films of the Sixties as cinematographer, including Doctor Zhivago (which he quit because he needed more freedom than Lean would allow), Casino Royale, Far From the Madding Crowd and perhaps crucially, Petulia, which is a kaleidoscope of visual and narrative montage honed to a smooth entirety. I took a look at all the walls lined with books (an entire shelf on the Kabbalah, courtesy of Eureka), many photos of his ex-wife and muse Theresa Russell (although I wasn’t sure that they had divorced), and of their sons, one of whom was about to model for Harper’s Bazaar. His current reading included The Sexual Life of Catherine M. It was on top of a stack of books on his desk which looked down onto the street – Miranda Richardson (who went on to star in Puffball) lived opposite. He had recently met with a former colleague of mine to discuss making a feature script based on Ivanhoe – that company had had two different takes on the material but the boss wanted the lesser of them. Roeg shared my very low opinion of both the project and this bottom of the barrel individual (who was fronting for a very famous director) so we had even more ground in common as well as a shared love of the original novel. When my producer showed him some artwork for my prospective film he dismissed it and just pointed at the script, and said, It’s all there. The greatest compliment I could ever receive. I had grown up watching Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now (very late at night) and I read about Bad Timing for years before I could see it: that film alone shaped my view of cinema and a lot more besides: I was completely obsessed by it and was amazed to discover I wasn’t the only one (see the video clip below of critic Mark Cousins when he introduced it on BBC2’s Moviedrome). His AIDS public service ads voiced by John Hurt terrorised my generation as kids. His films swamped my brain: I adored his gleeful wit, his painterly freedom and his narrative ease, which belied complex character and depth-charged psychology. These mosaics of memory and meaning dominated my own psyche. Roeg’s son wanted a huge amount of money upfront for his father, the producer went nuts, my film never got made for reasons never made clear to me and my leading man is currently playacting in a jungle. I weep at the thought of all the talentless goons churning out dross over the past twenty years while Roeg struggled for finance to make any project that matched his majesty. What a remarkable, transgressive, fascinating filmmaker he was. I just worshipped this man who fell to earth. I am devastated by his loss.