Marlon and Me - How I got started
Way back in 2001 Marlon Brando appeared in The Score, his last film before he died. The producer of this film was Bernie Williams, who passed away in December 2014. It just so happened that, at the time of The Score, I was also working with Bernie on a sequel to his 1985 movie, The Bounty, with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins.
I should explain – In 1990 I heard of a proposal to cull a herd of wild bison in Canada because they supposedly carried brucellosis and TB, and it was being spread to cattle destined for the United States meat market. I wrote a short piece about it, which went out on the BBC World Service at the time of the Gulf War. It bump-started my writing career, and from that point on I worked on documentaries in the UK. I was fortunate enough to have an actor friend, Stewart Bevan (who had been in Dr Who in the early 70s and later Emmerdale) and he introduced me to Norrie Maclaren at Tartan Television. Norrie had been an assistant to Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon and then briefly on The Shining, and I learned a lot from him about writing for TV and film. For the next few years we developed many projects together.
Move forward a few years and Stewart suggested I talk to Stephen Walters. Stephen had worked with the great director David Lean, amongst others, and on The Bounty, produced by Bernie Williams. Stephen recommended I talk to Bernie about an idea Stewart and I had to follow the story of the Bounty mutineers after they arrived on the island of Pitcairn. Stephen gave me Bernie’s phone number in LA, and I called him. On the strength of that one phone call I found myself working for him.
At that time Bernie was making a film called The Score, with Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando. Frank Oz was directing. Brando was being extraordinarily difficult and the script was unfinished. I heard stories about a scriptwriter being shipped in to write at vast cost and they still they hated the script. Eventually, Ed Norton stepped up and completed it, and Bernie took over direction, although he was never credited. Half way through shooting Bernie gave The Bounty sequel to Marlon Brando. Brando of course had played Fletcher Christian in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Fitting then, that he should pronounce on the newest offering.
Marlon loved it. He told Bernie it was a winner. Bernie talked to Anthony Hopkins, and he agreed to a cameo. The proposal went to studios in Hollywood. I expected to get very rich – well okay, not very rich, but certainly pay the bills. It never happened. Hollywood didn’t want another film about ships and the high seas. Even after Master and Commander came out, it didn’t want to reprise Mutiny on the Bounty. The sequel entered ‘development hell’, which is where it has been ever since.