Back in early July 2018 my friend (and talented cameraman) Patrick Tyndall and I drove into the English countryside to visit a gorgeous, secluded cottage to meet a film legend. Slap bang in the middle of the hottest and longest summer I can remember in the UK (not that I travel abroad extensively from March to November each year, so I often miss the sun here!), we entered the charming property to find our interviewee sat in a comfy chair in his conservatory, a few little dogs scampering around at his feet.
Robert Watts, a 60 year veteran of the film industry had agreed to give us an hour of his time to chat about his lengthy career. I’ve grown up watching Robert in a number of documentaries from the original 1980 making of Raiders to the brilliant Kevin Burns Star Wars documentary of 2004 “Empire of Dreams”. Robert always came across as a fun interviewee in those docos. And I can now tell you, from the horses mouth that this is indeed true.
Paddy and I had a blast chatting to Robert. In fact our only regret was not being able to have longer with him.
Anyway, I’ll let the Robert (via the video) do the talking…
As a fan of both Star Wars and Monty Python for the vast majority of my 40 years, I was surprised and delighted to read, back in the mid 2000’s in Michael Palin’s diaries 1969-1979, that those two worlds of the famous collided on more than one occasion. On one particular night this celebrity friendship led to a third unexpected megastar encounter with… The Rolling Stones! – On a side note I have a tenuous link to the Stones myself, having been born in Dartford, the Stones being our most famous “export”. My dad even remembers being in the Cubs while a Scout member and BB gun wielding Keith Richards hid up a tree taking pot shots at the younger targets below.
Anyway, back to Carrie and that megastar crossover story…. You see in 1979 during the production of The Empire Strikes Back, Carrie Fisher rented one of Eric Idle’s properties. 41 Carlton Hill, London to be precise. During that stay Carrie recounts one particular night:
“I was staying in Eric Idle’s town house in St. John’s Wood—that’s near St. John’s Wort, only more depressing—and Eric had just come home from filming “Life of Brian” in Tunisia. He brought this drink that he said they gave the extras so they’d work longer. I called it Tunisian Table Cleaner.”
“…Eric called down and said, ‘The Rolling Stones are here!’ They were recording two blocks away. And I came down and it was all of them. As a rule I’m allergic to alcohol, and Harrison doesn’t really drink either. But I called Harrison and said, ‘Get over here. This is ridiculous!”
“And we had a really early call the following morning, but you have to measure the fun – Rolling Stones, or early call? Rolling Stones, or early call? And we decided on both. I wonder how he remembers it. But that night, there was a makeshift party.”
“And they’re a partying bunch of guys, and though I didn’t drink at the time, to be kind of amenable, or whatever, I drank. I used to say I’m allergic to drinking, and this would have been a demonstration of that. And we stayed up pretty late. Charlie [Watts], that one, he didn’t have a lot of facial expressions. He’s like the Darth Vader of the Stones.”
“I remember that we never went to sleep.”
“That morning we shot our arrival at Cloud City, where we meet Billy Dee Williams. And it’s one of the very few times in the series both Harrison and I smile. To this day, Eric is proud as a papa of his impact on the trilogy.”
Behind the Scenes on Cloud City
Carrie and Harrison having a rare smile together
Michael Palin remembers that same night in this entry from his diaries –
“Saturday 6th June 1979:
In the evening to a party at Eric’s – given by Chris Miller (Chris looked after the house while Eric was away) for Carrie Fisher (the heroine of Star Wars), who is renting El’s house while she works on a Star Wars Sequel at Elstree.
Carrie looking very small and delicate, her soft, pale skin a refreshing change from the butch aerosol-spray healthy look of most Los Angeleans. She doesn’t know anyone, but is straight and funny at the same time, and we have a mutual line of chat belonging to the select band of Saturday night Live hosts. She is currently ‘going with’ Paul Simon…”
Carrie “going with” Paul.
“The two heroes of Star Wars are also there – Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford.
Hamill is chirpy and is dressed like a delivery boy. Harrison for looks young and alienated. he would look over his glasses at us if he had any. As it is he moves broodingly around – like a a famous man might do if he knew how famous he is.”
UPDATE: Eric Idle – the man himself – just replied to my tweet in which I asked him “how well do you remember that night?”:
@jamieswb Very well. I tell the tale of ruining that scene! Carrie picked it up from me bless her. She was so damn funny,
UPDATE: It suddenly occurred to me today to check in Alan Arnold’s brilliant book, Once Upon A Galaxy – A journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes back. On that day, 6th June 1979 the whole crew were in shock as Second Unit Director John Barry had suddenly died. There is no record for that following morning.
The Beatle(s) connection is separate from the above, but just as surprising. In fact before today I didn’t even know it existed. In 1978, with the Star Wars cast at the top of their powers, Carrie Fisher appeared on “Ringo”, a TV Special starring Ringo Starr “as a both fictionalised version of himself, and as his fictional half-brother “Ognir Rrats” (Wikipedia). In in the sequence they sing a duet – “You’re Sixteen” in what has to be a special brand of awkwardness previously reserved only for “The Star Wars Holiday Special” of the same year. The “music video” even contains some Terry Gilliam-esque animation (by Linda Taylor), almost bringing us full circle back to Eric Idle.
The above quotes from Carrie are culled from the following three articles –
Many of my friends and family won’t understand why I am grieving for somebody I never met, but I’m sure you’ll agree that our heroes come in different shapes and sizes.
To me Carrie as Princess Leia was a shock to the system. I was about 5 years old. She was incredibly gorgeous, but also courageous, forthright and intelligent. She ran the show!
“Look, I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on, you do as I tell you. OK?”
“Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way”.
Wow. I was in love.
She helped boys like me understand that women deserved positions of authority as much as, if not more than many men. Goodness knows what an inspiration she must have been to little girls! (Insert shot from 2014 of my then 6 year old daughter dressed as a stormtrooper but also Princess Leia…In disguise…On a special mission).
Later as a teenager, Star Wars returned to my life and again and I saw Carrie in a different light. I hunted for every film Mark, Carrie and Harrison starred in on VHS. I saw Carrie in The Blues Brothers, Under the Rainbow, When Harry Met Sally etc… All the time wondering if women as sharp, sexy and clever as her really existed. (I found out later when I met my wife). Always enjoying her on screen and off screen persona. Interviews with Ruby Wax, Clive James and Sarah Greene, proved that she was just as spunky, if not more so than her on screen persona.
In the late nineties I also became aware that she was a script doctor on several big movies. Her dislike of Lucas’s clunky dialogue clearly gave her the training she needed to become a master of writing lines for her friends movies. I later read two of her books and became enamoured with her once again.
My daughters now aged 11, 8 and 2 all know who Princess Leia is. The feisty one in the white dress. The one that killed Jabba the Hutt for enslaving her. The toy with “two little bumps on side of her hair.” – That’s the two year old.
Just before Christmas (me now into my 40’s… and 35 years into a Star Wars obsession) I was reading Carrie’s inner most thoughts about her time on Star Wars, aged 19. Always funny, always self deprecating. Always able to cut through it all yet still unable to fully believe how great she really was.
Carrie’s inherent courageousness showed itself again in c2010 when she appeared in a documentary about bipolar disorder. A condition from which she suffered terribly. She never hid her problems. Her honesty is undoubtedly one for the reasons that mental health continues to be a subject more readily discussed.
I also loved her attitude in her late 50’s, advising the new female protagonist of the Star Wars universe, Daisy Ridley, to “not go through the crew like a wild fire”. Hilarious as always. “If my life wasn’t funny, then it would just be true, and that’s unacceptable”.
On hearing the news that she’d had a heart attack and after seeing the outpouring of love from fans around world, I assumed she’d recover and we’d get to hear her acerbic voice cut through it all again. Regaling us with her addictions to Coca Cola and certain medications. But also to finally give her the chance to see how much we all loved her.
That day of course never came and all we have are our memories. Good memories. Thanks Carrie. May the Force be with you, always. X
A couple of years ago I was interviewed by documentarian Donna Davies for a her forthcoming film, Fanarchy, about how film fans were taking control of the movies they love. Donna and her cameraman travelled from Canada to my house to conduct it. Although it didn’t make the final cut, Donna has kindly allowed me to post it here on my site. So here you go.
During the production of my Jabba documentary short, Slimy Piece of Worm Ridden Filth, I was put in contact with Toby Philpott’s colleague and Jabba’s right hand man. Literally, his right hand man, puppeteer Dave Barclay. Dave helped us, along with Toby (Jabba’s left arm), Mike Edmonds (tail) and John Coppinger (animatronic engineer) to reconstruct just how it was inside that filthy Hutt. And of course it couldn’t have been done without the amazing work of Eletrographica aka Pete Starling, who rendered all that information into a multilayered illustration (below).
Dave was so impressed with the Jabba doco that he asked if I would consider doing one on Yoda. Dave aged just 19 in 1979 was involved in building and puppeteering Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back. After a few email exchanges, Dave kindly found time between his work on The Muppet Show for an interview.
I’d gone from using only archive interviews in my full length Filmumentaries, to doing some of my own audio interviews with cast and crew, to doing longer interviews with one member of the crew for individual short docos. This time I wanted to push things on. I wanted to shoot the interview in an interesting setting. And thanks to my talented and kind colleagues in the TV industry, that’s what we managed to do.
Dave kindly offered the use of a property in London. Another friend offered his West End flat. But I was interviewing a Yoda puppeteer, I wanted something relevant to the subject matter. Not just a pretty backdrop. Though I was immensely grateful to their kind offers. So I spent a while wondering where we could shoot. Did I know anyone that had a Yoda replica? A Yoda toy collection even? Was there a movie museum nearby with some Star Wars items? Then it dawned on me. Madame Tussauds London had an ongoing exhibition of Star Wars characters. Maybe I could somehow convince them to allow us to shoot there. Unlikely, but worth a try. A quick search for their press office contact details and within a day or two they had agreed just that! I must thank Nicole Fenner and Madame Tussauds for their kind hospitality and enthusiam.
So my colleagues and I met Dave outside Madam Tussauds on a cold and wintery January afternoon. A short wait and we were in. And there he was, the little green fellow. Kermit. No wait, Yoda.
My cameraman buddy set up his Sony FS7 and Canon 6D. I sorted out the mic’s for Dave and myself (thank you eBay for a couple of bargains and to my Patreon supporters who helped me pay for them) and my pal Tony set up the lights that I’d been kindly loaned by my main employer. It’ all about connections people.
Dave and I chatted about his puppeteering parents, his beginnings in the film industry, his experiences on set with Yoda and Mark Hamill. His lead puppeteering of Jabba in ROTJ and his career beyond Star Wars. Dave has been involved in so many seminal films. Films that were not only entertaining to us as kids (and still are as adults) but films that lead the way in his industry.
Next week I’ll be releasing “Dave Barclay. Do or do not. There is no try”. I hope you enjoy it.
I work in television, mostly on the coverage of Formula One Grand Prix. Occasionally I get to say “hi” to a celebrity, but in Silverstone this year I was fortunate enough to have a short exchange with one of my heroes, George Lucas. I told him what an inspiration he’d been to me. I genuinely wouldn’t be doing what I do unless I’d seen Star Wars a kid. I also told him that I’d made some films about movies myself. I didn’t go into any more detail for fear of sounding like an over excited fan (despite my cool exterior). “Oh that’s great” he said, and wished me a good race day.
Then yesterday, one of my friends in the F1 circus said he had given George one of my business cards at Monza. Yes, George is a regular visitor to F1 events.
My friends report of the encounter – “I know people probably do this all the time, but there’s this guy Jamie and he’s hugely talented and has done some amazing docs on the Original Trilogy and he’d be so honoured if you’d just check out his stuff. Here’s is his card”. Imagine what he’d have said if I paid him! “Ok cool, thanks so much” replied George.
So Mr. Lucas, if you haven’t lost that business card and you’ve found your way to my site. Please check out the Full Videos section and take a look at what I’ve produced. Then if you have time, please pass this on to JJ, Kathleen and your old friend Steven. Thanks.
During my visit to the BFI with Toby Philpott (see below) I was also lucky enough to speak with Garrick Hagon about his role as Biggs Darklighter in Star Wars (1977). Garrick kindly agreed to an interview a few weeks later. This is the result!
Back in December 2014 I was planning to purchase tickets to attend a British Film Institute screening of the Original Star Wars Trilogy in London. Unfortunately I missed the release date and the event was also instantly sold out! I made a brief reference to this on Facebook and Toby Philpott, who I’ve know for some years now, kindly offered me his “plus one”. With this came access to the green room, where on the day I also managed to have conversations with Anthony Forrest, Garrick Hagon and Paul Blake. Sandtrooper, Biggs and Greedo to you and I.
During the fun proceedings and screenings I suggested to Toby that we do a short interview about his experiences on Return of the Jedi as one of Jabba the Hutt’s puppeteers. He kindly agreed. So a couple of weeks later in mid January 2015 we spoke a length over Skype. It was soon apparent that this interview would be better suited to a longer, but still mini, documentary.
My friend Pete Starling who made those amazing posters for Raiding the Lost Ark and Inside Jaws agreed to work on a more accurate illustration of how Jabba was worked by the puppeteers. We were soon all in a Facebook chat group along with Animatronic Engineer John Coppinger and Toby’s fellow puppeteers Dave Barclay (right arm and lipsync and Mike Edmonds (tail). Thanks to fantastic input from all, we were able to piece together just how Jabba worked and finally debunk the lazy drawing that was shown in The Making of a Saga, Lucasfilm’s official doco from back in the day. I hope you agree, Pete did an amazing job!
Scott Burrows kindly offered to do a Jabba animation showing an over enthusiastic Toby-operated tongue licking Carrie Fisher. His pitch of a funny Terry Gilliam style animation turned out better than I could have imagined.
So with all the pieces put together, including a last minute stop motion animation effort also by Pete Starling, I was able to make Slimy Piece of Worm Ridden Filth – Life Inside Jabba the Hutt. Pete’s young son even managed to make an appearance on the closing credits, albeit in disguise! A really funny way to finish things off.
Kevin Pike worked not only on Back to the Future, but also on Return of the Jedi. We spoke about his work on the Location Special Effects on the 1983 film. Back in 1982 Kevin was in Yuma Arizona for the Sarlaac scene as well as in Crescent City, California for the Endor scenes. This is a short interview about his experiences. This is the first video produced that was supported by my Patreon account. If you donate $3 or more then you also get an extended audio version of the interview including the bits where I talk!
For some time now, several people have suggested I get my projects crowd funded. But given the nature of my filmumentaries (the unofficial and non copyrighted nature that is) I couldn’t really go down that route.
So the solution was to change the type of projects that I do. Whilst I am continuing to pursue getting my filmumentaries into the sphere of officialdom (I currently have three routes developing, albeit slowly), I thought I would start a Patreon account to get some smaller projects under way.
Much in the same vein as my interview with Kevin Pike, I intend to use the connections I’ve made to release standalone interviews, approximately one per month (no more than that). These interviews will be audio, but augmented in the usual Filmumentaries fashion.
If you would like to support me in this endeavour, please visit my Patreon page. Thank you.