Had an interesting day today at the Archive Screening Event at the School of Art in Margaret Street. We showed several Pebble Mill dramas: A Touch of Eastern Promise by Tara Prem, A Box of Swan by Alan David Price and Fellow Traveller by Michael Eaton. Tara Prem and Michael Eaton were able to join us and it was fascinating to hear from them about how the dramas came about.
Fellow Traveller is set in the McCarthy era in the US, when many Hollywood film makers were blacklisted for their Communist sympathies. Some screen writers who couldn’t write in the States resorted to working for British television, particularly ITV’s highly successful Robin Hood series. Fellow Traveller is the story of a Jewish writer: Asa Kaufman, who flees to Britain and writes several Robin Hood episodes.
Michael Eaton wrote Fellow Traveller as a speculative script which he sent to HBO. The BBC had apparently already turned it down. Two weeks later HBO asked him to come across to the States. He said that going there was like having a masterclass in script writing. He was told that what he’d submitted was a two Act drama, and what it needed to be was a three Act drama – he hadn’t come across the three Act structure before. The original version finished with Asa Kaufman finding out how he had been betrayed and by whom, but unable to do anything about it. He then had to write a third Act where Kaufman confronted Leavey, which gave a much more satisfying conclusion.
Fellow Taveller was a three way co-production between HBO, BBC Pebble Mill and the BFI. It was shot on 35mm film, and had some theatrical release before being transmitted on BBC 2. It was the only TV film made at Pebble Mill. HBO apparently needed two different versions – one shorter and without any of the scenes containing nudity or sex, and one longer than the BBC version with some additional scenes in. Greg Miller, who edited the film in Soho, told us about how HBO had become quite demanding about their different versions quite late in the day. Michael Wearing produced the film and Philip Saville, who had worked with Michael Wearing on Boys from the Blackstuff, was the director.