Back in ’97 I blagged my way into directing an ITV miniseries based on my novel Oktober. I say blagged, because that’s pretty much how it happened; at an opportune point I inserted myself into the process in such a way that everyone assumed everyone else had signed off on it. To quote producer Lynda Obst, if you make it a game of “Mother, May I?” the answer is always going to be no.
By then I’d written a certain amount of TV but I’d never been to film school, no BBC training course, didn’t have a showreel that would stand professional scrutiny. In one big step I was at the helm of a three-country shoot with a budget over two and a half million. It was challenging, terrifying, exhilarating. Fortunately I was surrounded by some terrific professionals, and even those who’d formed a low opinion of my abilities gave 110% to the work.
For my part, I learned as I went. I overthought my shot lists and gave too little attention to the actors. Some stuff worked out better than I’d dared hope. Other stuff, I really wish I could go back and do right over. But there it is.
Our cinematographer was the late Bruce McGowan. Liverpool-born, his previous credits included Letter to Brezhnev and female boxing movie Blonde Fist. Bruce had a gentle, subtle touch with lighting and, I’ll be honest, he sometimes drove everyone up the wall with the time he took to get it just right. Every day he showed up convinced that he was going to be fired. All through the day, the ‘sparks’ would grumble. Every night he sent magic off to the lab.
Oktober was filmed in 16×9 widescreen on Super-16 negative stock, from which two versions were transferred. The show was broadcast in the old ‘fullscreen’ format – then already well on its way out, but that’s ITV for you – while the widescreen master tapes went into storage, never to be seen until now. The distributor wouldn’t wear the expense of technical checks for foreign sales or DVD licensing.
But my involvement with Stan Lee’s Lucky Man has meant working with Carnival again, and it’s been an opportunity to pursue this old obsession. Here, for the first time – albeit at YouTube quality – is a short sample of Bruce’s work as it was meant to be seen.