Film writing

John Hurt

British film production

David Puttnam

Bill Forsyth

Peter Greenaway

Professor Colin Young

Yiddish Cinema

Film writing

Following my star

My well-worn copy of Truffaut's series of interviews with Hitchcock conducted in the 'Sixties'

My well-worn copy of Truffaut's series of interviews with Hitchcock conducted in the 'Sixties'

My film writing starts in Soho Square, London, in the early Eighties. I am looking into a shop window that displays different bits of film equipment for hire. I am checking out the elements that make up a movie and have moved to the City to try and get a job as a film runner. I stay on various people's floors, earn money driving vans for an agency and my constant companion is a book on filmmaking based on interviews with Alfred Hitchcock by François Truffaut (director of 400 Blows and Jules et Jim).

Joining me at the Soho window is an intense, bearded guy whose eyes seem to be figuring out the links between the audio recorders, cameras and microphones. He speaks first: "I think that cameras are going to get smaller". Soon you will be able to make big films on 16mm as good as they look on 35mm". He seems to be a knowledgeable amateur which seems to be a good match for me, the enthusiastic amateur. I ask if he wants a drink.

It turns out that Carsten is a daring Dane. His job is to help construct grain silos which require him to scale hundreds of feet a day with little protection. He earns sufficient danger money to need only work for half the year, spending the other half travelling and getting into scrapes. He obviously doesn't spend all of this spare time in trouble, it's just that his stories seem to focus on mishaps and how he manages to get out of them. His latest misadventure must have been pretty serious as a few days before he meets me he has adopted a new London surname. It will stick with him for the next thirty years as everyone, apart from his parents, will know him as Carsten Islington.

I talk to Carsten about my film book and about how François Truffaut wrote, critiqued and eventually edited the great film magazine Cahiers du Cinema before turning his hand to film making. I want to write for film magazines but don't know where to start. This is a challenge for Carsten the hustler and he soon works out a plan. I should sign up for a film festival and he will write the letter of verification from a Danish film magazine. The Edinburgh Film Festival is our target and true to his word he blags me a place.

That summer I am an accredited festival goer with access to all areas backstage. I have my own locker, get given press packs every day, can sit in on all the discussion groups and see as many films as I can fit in a day. This doesn't find an outlet for my writing as the downside for working for a fictitious magazine is the lack of publishing opportunities. Within a few months though, my immersion in the film world will have given me names and confidence.

Dominic and Carsten meet up again in Copenhagen, 2000

Dominic and Carsten meet up again in Copenhagen, 2000

My first published article is in Chaplin, a highly respected Swedish film journal. The editor is enthusiastic about a piece on the setting up on Channel 4 and how this will kick start a new era of British film making. I have found my niche writing about British films and the goings on behind the scenes. I write about 20 published articles over five years for international film magazines and have fun meeting movers and shakers in the British movie business. I do get to make a documentary film of my own (more about that elsewhere) and get published in Cahiers du Cinema, many times. So in a small way I did manage to follow in Truffaut's footsteps.

As for Carsten, he managed to turn his hustling skills into a legit career. For a time in the 'Nineties he closed transmission on Danish TV every night by telling viewers about his adventures. He continues to exploit his storytelling skills by touring clubs and theatres with his adult-only tales. And he captivates children around the Danish-speaking world of Iceland, the Faroes and Danish peninsula revealing the secrets of trolls. Trolls are big in Scandinavia and if you're curious to know more about them then Carsten's your man. If you speak some Danish visit to see if he is performing a gig near you.

Click alongside to read some of the interviews/articles I wrote in the 'Eighties'.