Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Burning (and) Interview With... Peter Lawrence.

This will be a mix of a movie review and interview.
I was lucky enough to get a QnA session with the co-writer of this 1980's slasher film, Peter Lawrence.
I'm very pleased to be able to bring this QnA to you, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did setting it up.

As you can tell by the poster, the movie in question is The Burning.
Didn't see the movie? You say? Well, by the end of this review I'm hoping you'll want to.

This poster just screams 1980's horror film, right?

And like any good horror film it has to have it's stars-on-the-rise.
Who better than Holly Hunter?

Well, how about Fisher Stevens, and Jason Alexander? Yep, Jason Alexander (George Constanza from Seinfeld) in in the picture above.
He hasn't changed much, hey?
Fisher's in the grey and red shirt, by the way.

Here's a more recent image of Fisher.

Here's the movie trailer

The Burning is pretty much your standard 1980's horror/slasher, and so is good for a night-in. The fact it has a young Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Jason Alexander makes this interesting also.
Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any movie novel, DVD, Blu Ray, or VHS copy of this movie. However, if you know of one can you please let me know?

In the meantime, check out the QnA with co-writer, Peter Lawrence!

I'm afraid you will find no startling wit and wisdom in these replies, but ...
1. The Burning has become a cult film. What initially drew to you write horror?

I never had a particular desire to write horror and of the 30-odd screenplays I've written since THE BURNING (some on commission and some on spec.), I think maybe four are in the general field of horror and another couple in that area of brutal action which spills over into horror.

I simply loved to write and was lucky enough to sell the first idea I completed, which was based on the true story of an intensive care nurse who was murdering her patients - and taking bets on the time it took them to die! I wrote this as ANGEL OF DEATH, which eventually got made as TERMINAL CHOICE - a real butchering of the original screenplay. The end result bears very little resemblance to the concept, which included a pretty interesting moral dilemma which made the story marginally more than just another slashing heart-stopper.

A great friend of mine, Tony Maylam, who directed THE BURNING - and was due to direct ANGEL OF DEATH - brought me in to THE BURNING to work with him on Bob and Harvey Weinstein's original idea. In fact - and I'm embarrassed to admit it - I knew nothing about slashers and believed, at first, that I was writing a Hitchcock-style piece. As you know, Hitchcock's great skill was to make the audience imagine what remained unseen - far scarier than anything you can show because the human mind has a wonderful capacity to scare the gonads off itself. A slasher, of course - and this was especially Harvey and Bob's view - shows everything it can, and more.
2. What is your writing process, and how did this alter due to being a co-writer?

I hate to be this ordinary, but my writing process is just ... to write. Len Deighton used to say, when begged for writing advice, 'Get yourself a piece of paper and a pen.' Actually, I think he said 'pencil.'

I rarely start a piece without an outline which at the very least gives me the beginning, middle and end three act structure. But it may be no more detailed than that. Sometimes, of course, and particularly with complex stories, you have to prepare a more detailed step outline. That applies, too, when you're working on commission - but, even under commission, I try to get as much freedom as possible. I'd rather have to write several drafts which take the story in various directions, than stick rigidly to a dictated outline.

From that outline stage, I write the first draft as fast as I can because I've found that when you have one- to two hundred pages in hand there's no way you're going to abandon! If you do, those pages are wasted effort and wasted time. So you'll do anything to knock them into shape. This is a much more productive course, for me, than to agonize over the first few pages ... writing and rewriting and never making any real progress. Remember Michael Frayn's TIN MEN (I think that was the book) ... whose protagonist writer never got beyond writing and rewriting the cover blurb that described himself. That procrastination is death to all writers and to be avoided at all costs.

Hence ... WRITE ... it's the only activity which defines a writer.
3. Did you spend time on the set of the movie? Starring such big names as Holly Hunter, and Jason Alexander, what was your experience with them?
I scouted all the locations with Tony and with Bob and Harvey while we were writing. I was there in pre and casting and I think I stayed a couple of days into the shoot but by that time I wasn't having a lot of fun and I had other projects to work on. Sometimes, it's hard to watch your script being turned into a movie. You would make different choices. Of course, they might not be the right choices! Better, on the whole, to walk away and let the director direct ... not second guess ... not put yourself through the discomfort of hearing an actor change your dialogue (which of course is great) to his or her version (which of course sucks). On the other hand, sometimes I'm hired to be on set, to rewrite dialogue or even scenes as we go along - and that's cool.

Those stars were all very young and amenable then. Very pleasant to work with and grateful to the Weinsteins and Tony for their break. I have always been surprised that Larry Joshua didn't make it much bigger in the business. Tony and I wanted to write a one-man show for him, in which he played the young Marlon Brando, James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Larry had that kind of presence and potential. I last saw him, I think, in DANCING WITH WOLVES.
4. Do you have any current projects in the works you would like to promote?

I'm putting the finance together to direct my own screenplay, FISHING FOR CROCODILES. Set in Southern Central Africa, as Northern Rhodesia became Zambia, it's a coming of age adventure about two African kids, one black and one white, who make an impossible journey from the North West Province of Zambia to Lourenzo Marques (as it was then), in Mozambique, to meet their idol, Sam Cook. I can tell you more if you're interested. It's a UK/South African co-pro and we have about a quarter of the money committed. Need another $2.5 million. Very exciting project which I believe will have a huge audience - much as indies like SLUMDOG or GREEK WEDDING.

Also writing another horror pic with my long time friend and sometime writing partner Chris Trengove. Tentatively titled LOOM. We also wrote BLOOD RANCH, which has always had amazing readers' reports but never quite made it. He lives in the UK and I in California, so it's an interesting process but it works well because we've know each other way too long and can second guess pretty accurately.

And I have a very interesting kids CGI show ... TIDE HIGH ... in development. A TV/internet cross-platform project.

Plus and plus and plus! Always have a lot of stuff out there and up in the air. One I should mention is THE THIN GREEN LIE (working title) a wild pastiche of environmental polemic and zombie movie. It's great! Always makes me smile to think about it - plus it has a really serious underlying intent. A terrific combo - I hope - of entertainment and provocation ...
5. Lately it seems that horror film have been altered due to CGI, as opposed to stop motion and puppetry work in the 1980’s. How does this affect the writing process?
When I began to write movies - and remember I was usually involved in the production and the raising of finance - we had to bear in mind the cost of achieving whatever we wrote. That's one of the things that made animation - when I got into it in the mid 1980s - so so wonderful: whatever you wrote you could put on screen. Well, with the falling cost and increasing sophistication of CGI, we can achieve all kinds of things which, back then, would have taken millions and millions in stunts and conventional EFX.

Take THE THIN GREEN LIE, for example. We have a series of totally whacked out zombies emerging from a toxic lagoon ... a lot of effects and nonsense ... yet we can bring this in for less than $5 million. Thank you, digital film making ...

Happy to talk about anything you want to but have to move on for the moment.

And flattered, really, that you're even interested.

So there you go. Pretty interesting, hey?!
I hope you enjoyed this blog. It's a little bit different to what I usually do, and if you have any questions or comments about this, please let me know.
What did you think of this review/interview? Please comment, or email me directly at
Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. "Whacked out zombies emerging from a toxic lagoon"... sounds awesome!