This story is about my project in 1984 to make a low cost Riviera Movie with my friends from the Monaco Drama Group.
The black background fades into a sun just rising over the Mediterranean sea. In the distance a helicopter is approaching. Cut to a shot from the helicopter looking down as it approaches the Monaco Heliport. Cut to a shot from the ground as the helicopter lands. A businessman exits the helicopter and briskly walks into the arrival lounge. He is met by a smartly dressed woman, they hug. Outside a dark Range Rover with tinted windows awaits. They board the car and it drives down the road. The shot pans back from the rear of the car to reveal the buildings and mountains glinting in the sun behind Monaco. . . . . . and that’s how our movie was to start. Cost so far – ZERO.
The year was 1982, I was a 25 year old computer hardware support engineer living and working in Monaco. See my “Local Radio and Me” post for more of my history at that time. I have always loved watching TV. Back in the UK I often looked at a film or TV series and felt I could have made up a better plot. This lead to writing becoming one of my on/off hobbies. I guess in this case you could call them screenplays. They were very rough plot outlines for movies. Remember this was ages before computers so when I say writing I mean writing – on paper. Often they became more like programming flowcharts as I tried to describe how the characters would interact. Writing it out in words became a bit drawn out.
I was now living in Monaco surrounded by all these amazing props like boats, Ferraris, helicopters, Riviera views, Casinos and nightclubs. Not like my old home in a Yorkshire village at all. I soon began to dream up plots. It’s easy to dream.
Slideshow : 1983 Monaco, the Heliport, Auron ski station, 2020 Monaco Port
Somewhere along my path I joined the amateur Monaco Drama Group. I didn’t really spend much time on stage, but I did become totally fascinated with the behind-the-scenes part. Apart from the weekly play readings the group produced a full-on play once or twice a year to be performed, in front of a royal audience, at the actual professional Theatre Princesse Grace. This was a big deal and we even had a professional director, John Bromley, come down from London to manage the whole thing.
As I loved my cameras I soon became the official photographer for the group. This eventually turned into the official videographer when I purchased my first portable VHS camera/recorder. I think over the years I filmed and edited 3 full performances to make souvenirs for the cast and crew. Remember this was before computers so the editing was done using 3 home VHS recorders. I dread to think what the quality was like as, in those days, it soon disappeared when copying tapes. One day I will dig them out and try digitize them.
Slideshow : A collection of my Monaco Drama Group photos during rehearsals and productions at the Theatre Princesse Grace (circa 1983)
So by 1984 I knew a group of actors, I had found some fantastic props and I had my trusty video recorder. At the end of one of the play reading evenings a group of us were drinking mucho beer and the conversation turned to my plots and flow charts. Robert, (sorry I forget his surname) was really interested. It turned out he could write dialogue, songs and poems. At first we planned to write a play to be performed at a group play reading night. This quickly evolved into a movie. A movie that we could make with no money. In our wildest, drunken dreams we figured one day we could use the movie as a proof of concept to finance the real thing for Hollywood. . . . .
Slideshow : Robert, Giselle and me during the back stage days, Robert and Sarah singing – don’t ask!
We soon ironed out the basics of the plot. The hard work would of course be writing the details into an actual screenplay we could film. The details were to be driven by our ideas of how to best use the local resources we could find. People, actors, were easy as in the Drama Group we had all sorts of keen people from youngsters to 90 plus. We had the whole of the French Riviera and local ski stations as our backdrops so the locations were quickly sorted. Strangely enough the helicopter was also easy. In those days a taxi from Monaco to Nice airport was the same price as a ticket on the helicopter. Both Robert and I travelled a great deal for work so the whirlybird to the airport was our usual method of transport and as it was business, travel was paid by our employers. Taking a camera along to film would be easy.
I knew lots of people from our local village pub, Flashmans, (see “Local Radio and Me“) and a large number of these worked for really rich people. These rich people had some amazing toys like fantastic apartments, yachts, Ferraris etc, etc. Between my accountant friends and my au pair friends I figured there would be some way we could film on yachts and with supercars with or without their owners’ actual permission. As an example one of the au pair girls had full use of a superb Range Rover to take the kids to school and another friend was a captain on a 50m Super Yacht which didn’t move much as the owner was never around. Almost everyone I approached was very open to the idea and even some of the rich people wanted to be in it. Almost mystically we even came up with a plan to use a 16mm camera instead of VHS.
I don’t remember much about the final plot. It was 36 years ago! I know that Robert was to play the lead. He acted in the plays and reminded me of a short version of Tom Selleck. Robert was the guy in the helicopter I mentioned at the start, and his girl friend, Sarah, was to play his love interest. He was to play a business man who was also a part time jewel thief, not so original so far. He was to steal a necklace from a local mobster, played by a well built Italian friend. We figured that stealing things from a mobster would not, in real life, involve the Police so that made our script easier. I did actually know Andre the Monaco Policeman, he took me to shoot at the firing range once, but I thought asking to borrow his car and Police stuff might be going a bit far.
Anyhow, in my plot, Robert accidentally loses the necklace when someone picks up the wrong briefcase. It becomes more complicated when his girl friend pretends to be kidnapped by the mobster wanting it back. Of course the audience don’t know she is pretending until the very end. They also don’t realise until the very end that she was actually in love with the mobster’s son. They had set Robert up so they could escape with the necklace at the end. This, of course, was only one of the endings we were kicking around. We also had a variation with Robert and the young trophy wife of the mobster escaping together.
We planned lots of atmospheric filming trying to make the best use of the Riviera and as many people as possible. Romance, deception, a chase through Monaco and a twist at the end. Our movie had it all.
We had way too much fun planning our chase scene. In principal Robert was to be pursued by two toughs through the back streets and alley ways of Monaco. We would use pretty much anywhere, we could have them run in business suits without being stopped by the Police. The intent was to film lots of short fast segments then edit it all together in an exciting way. We planned to film from fixed positions, moving cars and a boat. Remember this was 20 years before the GoPro appeared so we couldn’t just stick a tiny camera on a pole. One problem with chases is how to end them. We wanted Robert to escape, but how? In those days the Monaco harbour was a U shape with two sea walls closing off the open end. At the end of the sea walls were Red and Green lighthouses. The plan was for Robert to be chased along the wall towards the lighthouse. A long shot would show he was doomed as the path was a dead end at the lighthouse. This would cut to a sea level shot as Robert neared the end. Seconds before he was caught my friend Nico would appear around the corner in his powerful boat. Robert would climb aboard and they would speed away out to sea, followed first by our camera boat and then by a long shot from high up on land.
Another set of scenes we had fun planning was the restaurant/party stuff. We had a couple of times when people were to be filmed drinking and talking. Luckily one of our friends owned a restaurant in Monaco. Our plan was to have a party there at the end of filming. Although it would not be the actual end of filming, as the night itself was to be filmed. The owner was happy to provide his restaurant providing we showed the name prominently in the film. All our cast would come along in formal dress and mill around while we filmed. To keep our costs down they would be buying their own drinks! We thought that by moving people and furniture around we could film scenes for several parts of the movie without them all looking like they were done on the same night!
Robert and I worked hard on this over many many beers knocking it into shape. Then, before we could complete even the screenplay, Robert’s job suddenly moved him to New York for an extended time. The project came to a crashing halt. Unfortunately I never found anyone to take his place so that was that…..
Some time after the movie project fell apart I had a call from a friend who knew someone who wanted a video making. They asked if they could propose me for the job. Never being one to miss an opportunity I said yes please do. This was yet another example of the Monaco Village effect I mentioned in my “Local Radio and Me” post.
My potential new video client called me and told me she was looking for someone who knew about video. That sounds like me, I told her. She invited me to her apartment where I was introduced to her gorgeous daughter Nikki. Nikki and her partner Maurice were in a music group called Coup d’Etat (I think) and they were looking for someone local to help them make a music video for their “Fight the Vice” track. This was brilliant, an actual video project – I was in.
With them was their manager from London, Gordon. He explained he wanted to do some filming of the band out and about which they could take to London to edit and lip sync to the music. They had some home video equipment but I think mine was better so we decided to use that. They already had a photographic studio booked in Cannes, but wanted to know if I could suggest any outdoor places to film. I had lots of ideas. Eventually we decided on an old quarry above Monaco and the tiny back alleys of La Turbie.
First we decamped to the quarry. Luckily my video equipment had built in batteries so power was no problem. We played the music from a cassette radio while Nikki and her partner Maurice sang and jumped around the rocks with their instruments. Having exhausted the rocks we moved into La Turbie and repeated the process up and down the small alley ways. Gordon carried the music while I was loaded with the video gear. Up and down the alleys we went until our batteries were flattened.
The next day we went to the studio in Cannes. What a magic place. They had backgrounds, lights, ladders, mirrors and all sorts of odd boxes. This was a proper studio with everything except the photographer. Real electricity meant we could film all day till we dropped. This was fun. I had a great time.
Slideshow : An assortment of photos I took during our music video shoot in the Quarry and in the Cannes Studio.
After the music video shoot life went back to normal, work and family. Over the next few years I made all sorts of videos with our children, including a couple of music videos with them miming. In 2013 I started my YouTube channel mostly with stuff I have filmed then set to music.
I took an interest in Time Lapse photography and made many videos of Monaco using this speeding up technique. The yachts during the Grand Prix and the weather movements were my particular favourites. I was really surprised when, in 2015, Endemol, a well known TV production company called me up and asked if they could use one of my Monaco Weather sequences. I agreed and after some signing they used it in a “Weather Terror – Brits in Peril” programme that was shown on Channel 5 in the UK. As you can see below unfortunately Channel 5 squashed up the image just as my credit came on screen. Oh well.
Below is the video that Endemol liked. In fact it was one of my very first Time Lapse Weather videos.
My money spinning YouTube career never really started, or has not started yet! In the old days once your channel had passed 25,000 views adverts could be placed and money made. Just as I passed through 25,000 views they changed the rules! Now the criteria is based on loads of subscribers, which honestly for me is not going so well as I only have 42.
I continue to add to my YouTube channel now and again. Recently I even tried being in front of the camera. Below is my channel introduction video which, after my speaking part, has an awesome compilation of “best bits” – enjoy.