Adrian Wootton, currently Chief Executive of Film London – and former Director of both Broadway cinema right here in Nottingham as well as the British Film Institute – is back in Nottingham on February 6th to give a talk on author Graham Greene, who lived and worked in the city for a short time. Wootton has been a fan of Greene’s work for some time, and our writer Christina Potamousis spoke to him to find out exactly why Greene’s works have been so well loved, and to find out more about Wootton’s illustrious career.
Christina Potamousis: You have been working on a book on the subject of Graham Greene. What initially attracted you to him and to his work in particular?
Adrian Wootton: I have been an admirer of Graham Greene’s since I was a child initially through his work as a screenwriter of films like The Third Man and movies like This Gun For Hire and Brighton Rock. Then as a teenager I started reading his thrillers and went on through his entire canon from there. I was attracted by fact that Greene was a very English writer who conjured for me a vanished world of London in between and during world wars and also wrote about exotic places in Europe and far flung outposts of empire. I was also seduced by the intrigue of his espionage stories , the intensity and desperation of his characters and their tragic romanticism .
CP: What film adapation of Greene’s work is your personal favourite, and why?
AW: In terms of adaptations, Brighton Rock – the original version – is hard to beat because of it’s great script, superb performances and the style and atmosphere that Boutling Brothers brought to it. Leaving aside the trio of fantastic Greene/ Carol Reed collaborations, I also like some of the early American “film noir” adaptations like This Gun For Hire. Also there is a much neglected hidden gem made in 1957 by director Ken Annakin called Across The Bridge based on a Greene short story and I believe Neil Jordan did a great job adapting arguably Greene’s greatest novel The End of The Affair.
CP: Why is it that Greene’s work translates so well to cinema?
AW: Well unfortunately there are quite a lot of mediocre adaptations but at their best the movies translate the strength of his characters, the unique atmosphere of “Greene-land” and the power of his romantic, exotic and often politically or morally charged stories.”
CP: The new adaptation of Brighton Rock, starring Sam Riley, has been relocated to the 1960′s. The previous adaptation, in 1947, remained loyal to the book’s setting in the 1930′s. What is your opinion on the shift of time in the new film? Do you think it will work?
AW: I think Rowan Joffe has done a great job , writing and directing this new version and the shift in time works well adding a fresh context which allows for a more contemporary relevance to modern audiences. I also believe that the film looks wonderful courtesy of some brilliant cinematography and that the casting is great.
CP: Greene was known to be a devout Catholic, which recurs in his work and is thought to have derived from his time in Nottingham. How did Catholicism shape his private and creative life?
AW: Greene converted to Catholicism in his four months in Nottingham in 1925/6 in order to marry his devoutly catholic fiancé Vivien. Greene eventually separated from Vivien and their two children in the 1949s but they never divorced . Greene was a complicated Catholic as some of his greatest works are explorations of faith and morality versus romantic love , political expediency and simple happiness. Greene considered himself a poor catholic as he certainly didn’t live his personal life by his religions moral standards, but he had an ongoing relationship with faith. In later life one of his greatest friends was a Spanish priest who he occasionally travelled with – he even wrote a book (Monsignor Quixote) drawing on these experiences”
CP: Many of Greene’s contemporaries in the literary world looked down on Hollywood and on cinema in general as a lower art form. What do you think attracted Greene to the cinema, inspiring him to write the screenplay for The Third Man and become more involved in Hollywood than any other writer of his time?
AW: Greene loved movies from a very early age (he talks about watching them as a child in The Rex cinema in Berkhampstead) and he saw the potential of cinema as an art form. Going to movies inspired his writing. He was a very good film critic and he grabbed the first opportunity to start writing screenplays. He didn’t really get involved in Hollywood as he didn’t really have anything to do with American film versions of his work (which he largely despised ) but was very happy with money they brought in. His happiest period was working with Carol Reed and they enjoyed fantastic success – especially with The Third Man in 1949. After this although he carried on working on films for another 18 years he was never really happy with outcome
CP: Nottingham has had something of a legacy in film history, including recent stars like Shane Meadows. What is your favourite event or moment from your time working as the Director of Broadway Cinema? What were the highlights of your work there?
AW: For me my proudest achievement was actually opening Broadway itself and I am delighted it’s gone from strength to strength .
Secondly was all the editions of Shots in The Dark we managed to stage. I also owe many great friends of mine to my time at Broadway – such as the wonderful Nottingham scriptwriter Michael Eaton – with all the filmmakers and writers who came from all over the world to attend (such as Sam Fuller, Quentin Tarantino, Don Westlake, James Ellroy).
In 1995 we beat of fierce international competition and staged Bouchercon the world mystery convention and thousands of people attended.
CP: The Graham Greene event at Broadway that you’re speaking at is being hosted by the Screenlit Festival, which celebrates the role of the writer in the cinema. What other writers, be they screenwriters or authors that have been adapted, are you a fan of?
AW: ScreenLit is a great event and I’m delighted to be involved in it. A list of favourite screenwriters would be long though. From Elliott Stannard to WR Burnett, Ben Hecht, Tom Stoppard, Richard Curtis and Peter Morgan among others. As for novelists: all the greats from Charles Dickens – who never saw cinema but has been adapted more times than anyone else (and whose 200th birthday celebrations I am involved in for 2012) – to those who also wrote scripts – Eric Ambler, Raymond Chandler,David Goodis and many more
CP: Having worked as the Director of the BFI and Film London, you must be well-versed in the latest and greatest– what recent films have you been impressed by?
AW: I think there are a lot of exciting filmmakers throughout the world at the moment producing diverse and challenging work. In British terms we have very firmly established names like Leigh, Loach, the East Midlands own Shane Meadows, Tom Hooper who just directed The King’s Speech, Christopher Nolan and so on .
Internationally I love lots of Italian filmmakers but especially Paolo Sorrentino , director of Il Divo, as well as Jacques Audiard in France for things such as The Prophet, and the American film maker Deborah Granik for Winters Bone.
CP: I can’t help but mention your role in showing Reservoir Dogs at the Broadway’s Shots in the Dark Festival. Tarantino was later quoted as saying that Nottingham is one of his favourite cities. At the time, what was your impression of the film, and of Tarantino as a budding young film director?
AW: Quentin and I met at a couple of other film festivals when Reservoir Dogs was just being shown for the first time. We liked many of the same movies and so I invited him to come over to Shots which he did first in 1993. Then the following year we did the surprise British Premiere of Pulp Fiction just weeks after it had won the PalmD’or in Cannes. We had a blast in those two years, Quentin was a lovely guest , full of boundless enthusiasm and knowledge of the movies. I have seen Quentin over the years since and he remembers those visits with real affection.
CP: Finally, having been involved with so many esteemed organizations in the film industry, what advice would you offer to a passionate film enthusiast or student who aspires to advance their career in the industry?
AW: Working in film is a real joy and a privilege . It’s also incredibly tough to do as it’s not really a big business , it’s heavily concentrated in London and there aren’t many jobs to be had. It really depends what you want to do .
For example maths graduates or those involved in computing science could have chance of going into post production or special effects as there are opportunities there but otherwise in the more traditional, distribution production and exhibition sectors( never mind film criticism which in this day and age is likely to be a hobby!) there are only a very small amount of jobs going at any one time.
Of course people do get work but it’s often a long road. You need to see as many movies past and present as possible , learn as much as you can about the film industry, consult all the industry websites you can (especially Skillset – the sector training council – which has a careers advisory section) but also to local organisations like Broadway and East Midlands Media (without driving them mad), try to get work experience of some sort and if you are wanting to get into production , so work on short films if you get a chance.
Think about post Graduate courses if you can earn enough to do them , do other relevant courses in disciplines that provide you with skills that sector requires i.e. Distribution is all about Marketing, PR and sales so training and or experience in them is definitely useful.
Be prepared to start at very bottom, work part time and or for very little , and work very hard to get a foot in the door . I wrote freelance film criticism worked at start for nothing in a cinema ( now sadly gone in Birmingham)and then was a full time front of house manager in cinema whilst doing my post graduate degree in daytime.
Over time with luck , persistence and hard work I did get a foot in the door and it’s been a privilege to be part of the film industry ever since. So it does happen but you just need to be realistic and very focused.
Adrian Wootton’s “Graham Greene and the Cinema” will take place at Broadway on Sunday February 6th 2011 at 1pm