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Q&A: Writer Allan Scott talks “DON’T LOOK NOW”

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On Monday, May 11th the fine folks at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto have booked award-winning screenwriter and producer Allan Scott as their special guest at their ongoing “Books on Film” series. As most more informed FANGO readers might know, Scott wrote the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s chilling story DON’T LOOK NOW, for what would become the legendary same-named Nicholas Roeg directed horror classic starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie; Scott would go on to work with Roeg several times, helping sculpt a dynamic, dark and strange body of work. DON’T LOOK NOW (which has been recently set for a remake) is always worthy of discussion and praise, and FANGO was honored to have some time with Scott in anticipation of his TIFF appearance.

FANGORIA: You were not the first writer to adapt Du Maurier but DON’T LOOK NOW is one of the greatest cinematic representations of her work. How did you become attached to the picture?

ALLAN SCOTT: I had done some work on a film with the unlikely title of THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN. DON’T LOOK NOW was described as having elements of John Osborne (the first “angry man” who wrote LOOK BACK IN ANGER), and an American producer living in London approached Chris Bryant and I to write a draft script.  We weren’t even sure it was possible at first; it was a very slender story about a middle class couple going on holiday to get over the (unspecified) death of a child. But it did have a great punch line.

FANGORIA: The use of red is vital in the film. Was that conceit on page or was that Roeg’s vision?

SCOTT: The use of red was devised by Nic Roeg. The astonishing flashback montage at the death of Donald Sutherland’s character was suggested by the editor, Graeme Clifford.  Film is a collaborative medium.

FANGORIA: Can you explain why you thought it necessary to include the visualization of the daughter’s death? It is not in the story.

SCOTT: We felt the story needed to be set up better, giving John Baxter (Sutherland) a hint of second sight and shocking the audience into full empathy with the couple.  There’s a cut from Julie Christie’s scream to the whine of a drill cutting into stone in Venice.  The cut was written into the script.  Film is, of course, a collaborative medium.

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FANGORIA: Your work with Roeg led to a happy collaboration. Do you consider DON’T LOOK NOW the finest?

SCOTT: You always love your injured babies.  My work with Nic included CASTAWAY and COLD HEAVEN which I loved a lot, the latter an attempt to prove that if Spielberg could make you believe in aliens saying hello to Francois Truffaut, then surely we could get them to believe in our leading character’s vision of the Virgin Mary. We were wrong.

Nic and I share much the same tastes, except in movies.  If he raves about some movie, I can be fairly sure I won’t enjoy it or vice versa.  Who knows why, but we both laugh a lot and we both think ISIS should go back to being called ISIL as originally, so that we can make jokes about vagisil. The only way to bring about the collapse of a fascistic terror organization is to laugh at it.

FANGORIA: Any comments on what I consider one of the most undervalued of your films together, CASTAWAY? What a strange, beautiful, haunting film…

SCOTT: The strange thing about CASTAWAY was that– like all my collaborations with Nic– the script was finished before he came in on the project. And he transformed what was written by bringing all his own interests and obsessions and grafting them on to the movie. He is a genuine auteur, taking someone else’s vision and turning it into his own.

While we were shooting CASTAWAY, I wrote another script about a man stranded on a deserted island which we thought we’d shoot right afterwards, in the event we never made it. But you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between that script and Zemeckis’ CAST AWAY. For a reason I cannot fathom, our CASTAWAY has never been released on DVD.

FANGORIA: Another very underrated film in your cannon is 1988’s APPRENTICE TO MURDER. Another great Donald Sutherland performance. Can you speak on this now unfortunately obscure drama?

SCOTT: My friend Ralph Thomas, who directed of THE TERRY FOX STORY, asked if I would fix a somewhat curious screenplay and I did my best. Donald was amazing, as were all the performers. It was shot in Norway, to where Nic and I would return a few years later to shoot sequences for THE WITCHES. I haven’t seen it for such a long time that I’m not sure I can comment fairly. I remember Donald’s obsessive religionist as being a vivid performance.

FANGORIA: Your career is fascinating and tinged with dark themes. Do you watch many films? Are you attracted to dark cinema or horror films?

SCOTT: I can’t say I’m especially attracted to “dark themes” but powerful emotion often derives from dark subjects, and powerful emotion is surely what good movies are all about. When I was a child growing up in a small town in Scotland, there were five or six movie theaters within bicycling range of our house. Each showed two movies and they changed three times a week, so that was six movies per theater times five theaters.

Yes, I must have watched 30 movies a week right into my teens. Nowadays I try to keep up and am an avid moviegoer. As a member of the academy, I also get DVDs of all the films released in the year. I am a movie’s best audience.

For more on the TIFF “Books on Film” event, go here.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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