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review 2020-01-14 11:08






THE GALAXY BRITAIN BUILT: The British Talent Behind Star Wars

David Whiteley

Foreword By Robert Watts: Star Wars Production Supervisor And Producer

Publisher: BearManor Media
Release date: December 11, 2019




David Whiteley's exploration into the behind-the-scenes British talent involved with the Star Wars franchise was first made public in a 1917 60-minute documentary broadcast over BBC television. Google the title The Galaxy Britain Built, and you'll hit on the YouTube and BBC trailers, videos, and interviews conducted by David Whiteley promoting the film throughout 2017 and especially 2018.


If you explore any of Whiteley's online videos or his new BearManor Media book, you'll quickly learn how proud he is to have been born on May 4, 1977, known to fans as Star Wars day. So, in his opinion, he grew up with the franchise and became devoted to investigating how so much Star Wars work took place in Elstree Studios in North London. Why London and not Hollywood? Costs. The studios didn't want to invest too heavily in a science-fiction film as sci-fi hadn't been big box office for them.


As it turned out, the British talent who worked on the films on the smallest of budgets and the tightest of schedules were just what the project needed, especially in terms of costumes, props, and sets. The results were so outstanding that lucas returned to Elstreet again and again, using as much of the original talent as he could retain.



Whiteley's book chronicles to beginnings of the British work in the hot summer of 1976 through undreamed of sequels produced decades later. The stories are built on interviews with participants even the most devoted Star Wars aficionados might not have heard of: These include Robert Watts, Les Dilley, Nick Maley, Roger Christian, Peter Beale, Gareth Edwards, Colin Goudie and Louise Mollo.


All of those involved contribute so many anecdotes about how the Star Wars mythos came to be. For example, Roger Christian tells us, "We called it the laser sword because we were British! I knew the lightsaber was the Excalibur of this film! I

knew it would be the iconic image . . . I went to Brunnings on Great Marlborough Street in London, whom we rented all our film equipment from: photography, anything we needed, and I’d buy equipment there. I just said to the owner, ‘Do you have anything here

that’s unusual, or stuff that might be interesting?’ He pointed me over to the side of the room. He said, ‘There’s a load of boxes under there, I haven’t

looked at those for years, go and have a rummage through.’ And it was the first box, it literally was covered in dust. It hadn’t been out for, I don’t

know, fifteen or twenty years. I pulled it out, opened the lid and there was tissue paper and then when I pulled it open . . . out came a Graflex handle from a 1940s press camera. I just took it and I went ‘There it is! This is the Holy Grail.’"


The Galaxy Britain Built is page-after-page of such nuggets and revelations. I imagine many diehard Star Wars fans will have heard many of these stories before. But I doubt all of them


Without question, you got to be a serious Star Wars fan to one degree or another to want to dive into this book, no matter how much you think you already know about the production history of the saga. It's a fast read as we get one short chunk of one interview, then another, then another, and so on. I definitely had a feeling I was taken behind the sets and scripts and actors to see how a galaxy far away had been built with a deepened sense of just how collaborative moviemaking is. If that sort of stuff is your cuppa tea, then David Whiteley's book is just for you.


This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Sun. Jan. 12, 2020:



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review 2019-03-19 21:13
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (Hunter)
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star - Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter (real name Arthur Gelien) was only vaguely known to me as an actor - his movie acting career was essentially over before I became aware of such things, and his TV appearances were too infrequent and minor to register. However, his name came up now and then, as I grew interested in figure skating culture and history, as a fairly long-term partner of Ronnie Robertson, perennial silver medalist and quite possibly the greatest spinner of all time (check out youtube if you don't believe me). Hunter skated competitively himself a bit in his youth, enough that he was cast (with Dick Button!) in a Hans Brinker movie. After this biography was published in 2005 - and again after it received publicity with the release of a documentary about him in 2015 - I also learned to link his name with that of Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall, and other closeted Hollywood leading men.


I quite enjoyed most of this autobiography. It is neither morbid nor thoughtless (the blond good looks of his youth do not indicate a brainless bimbo). The details of the staged romances with up-and-coming actresses like Natalie Wood are told matter-of-factly. There is definitely a hint of self-pity in his recounting of the way the studios treated him, but it's no more than you'd expect, and it's clearly mitigated by the older actor's understanding that he had a very good ride in the jet set era, financially and in terms of lifestyle. He name-drops like mad, of course, and we'd expect nothing less. And a warning to readers of the e-book/Kindle version - the photo section has been shunted unceremoniously to the end of the book, without any sort of table of contents entry, but it is there. The photos are interesting, though small in their e-version, and the beefcake ones, aimed explicitly at the female population, provoke admiration and wry smiles at the same time.


There were moments when I didn't much like Mr. Hunter, from his own account, though they were relatively few. One of those was his entirely uncalled-for use of "fag" (twice) to describe certain hangers-on in his social circle when he was at the height of his financial success. Yes, yes, I know, re-appropriation, but this was clearly a dismissive use, and perhaps not unexpected from a man whose conventional masculinity was his major selling point. And perhaps this usage might not have grated quite so much when the book was published, 13 years before I read it.


Those interested in the shenanigans of the Hollywood studio system (Hunter and Natalie Wood were the last actors put under those famous long-term contracts), and the creepy world of agents, with sidelights on the spaghetti western scene in Italy and the world of Hunter's real passion, raising and training horses for show-jumping, will find lots to interest them in this book. Those interested in salacious details of the lives of actors like Rock Hudson (for whose career Hunter is convinced his own was sacrificed) and Tony Perkins (with whom he had a relationship for a while) will have to look elsewhere, since this is a man of the mid 20th century after all.


Recommended as a useful counteractive to the official Hollywood narrative of the time, for its unexpected little additions to figure skating history (he has nothing but good things to say about Dick Button, by the way), and as a rather interestingly reflective late-life autobiography of someone you might consider to be a bit of a Salieri; a mediocre career (and he knows it) but still celebrated.

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review 2014-05-10 18:05
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star - Tab Hunter,Eddie Muller

Rating: 3* of five

<B>The Publisher Says</b>: Welcome to Hollywood, circa 1950, the end of the Golden Age. A remarkably handsome young boy, still a teenager, gets "discovered by a big-time movie agent. Because when he takes his shirt off young hearts beat faster, because he is the picture of innocence and trust and need, he will become a star. It seems almost preordained. The open smile says, "You will love me," and soon the whole world does.

The young boy's name was Tab Hunter: a made-up name, of course, a Hollywood name and it was his time. Stardom didn't come overnight, although it seemed that way. In fact, the fame came first, when his face adorned hundreds of magazine covers; the movies, the studio contract, the name in lights all that came later. For Tab Hunter was a true product of Hollywood, a movie star created from a stable boy, a shy kid made even more so by the way his schoolmates both girls and boys reacted to his beauty, by a mother who provided for him in every way except emotionally, and by a secret that both tormented him and propelled him forward.

In <I>Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star,</i> Hunter speaks out for the first time about what it was like to be a movie star at the end of the big studio era, to be treated like a commodity, to be told what to do, how to behave, whom to be seen with, what to wear. He speaks also about what it was like to be gay, at first confused by his own fears and misgivings, then as an actor trapped by an image of boy-next-door innocence. And when he dared to be difficult, to complain to the studio about the string of mostly mediocre movies that were assigned to him, he learned that just like any manufactured product, he was disposable "disposable and replaceable."

Hunter's career as a bona fide movie star lasted a decade. But he persevered as an actor, working continuously at a profession he had come to love, seeking and earning the respect of his peers, and of the Hollywood community.

And so, <I>Tab Hunter Confidential</i> is at heart a story of survival of the giddy highs of stardom, and the soul-destroying lows when phone calls begin to go unreturned; of the need to be loved, and the fear of being consumed; of the hope of an innocent boy, and the rueful summation of a man who did it all, and who lived to tell it all."

<B>My Review</b>: Memoir of 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter, his Southern California sun-kissed boyhood, his coming of gay age, and the effects of being part of the star-maker machinery of Hollywood as it existed at that time on a modestly talented, very very pretty boy. It's obvious that Mr. Hunter paid attention to the business of Hollywood...he gives a real and thorough account of the whys and wherefores of the last gasp of the studio era's decisions.

Not as salacious as some, and a whole lot sweeter than most. Mr. Hunter says very few unpleasant things about others in his memoir, and is in fact so generous to his exes that I wonder how large a role the Algonquin legal department played in the setting of the tone. Either that or this is one of the NICEST old stars ever born. The photos are all nicely chosen to illustrate Mr. Hunter's textual points. I liked this book, but I don't think anyone not interested in Hollywood, gay Hollywood, or the Fifties would do anything more than yawn through a Pearl-Rule 50pp.

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review 2013-11-18 19:45
Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy, by Brian Sibley
The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy - Brian Sibley,Ian McKellen

I love books like this. I've always loved learning about how things are made and for any film I'll always want to hear all the in depth stories about - not the actors - the lighting, the set dressing, the art director's planning, the weird issues the props manager had, the problems of the wigmakers - all of that stuff. To me that's the meat and bread of the film itself - the background stories of all the little parts and tiny details that are vital to making a movie look amazing.


This is a re-read because I've had the book awhile, but thanks to that being years ago I'm not remembering most of the random details. So I'm enjoying this all over again.


Though I focus more on the technicians, I have to note that many people in multiple departments repeatedly mention and compliment Viggo Mortensen. He cared for his own costume (mending it himself when necessary) and even when allowed to carry a prop sword insisted on carrying the "hero weapon" (jargon for the actual, full weight sword seen in closeups) at all times. Mortensen was not only doing this so that his movements would be more realistic - it has much to do with getting into character and the actor's experience of becoming a character (see: Method).





Forward: Sir Ian McKellen

Prologue: The Long-Expected Party

Lucky Man

In the Cannes

1. Workshop of Wonders

The Man Who Builds Trees

2. Locating Middle-earth

A Hall Fit for a King

3. Setting the Scene

From Bag end to Barad-dur

4. It's a Small World

Lost in Lothlorien

Light on Rivendell

5. Department Store for Middle-earth


Penman in Middle-earth

6. Regal Robes and Girl's Big Frocks

The Hat in the Bin

The White Lady of Rohan

7. Waging the War of the Ring

Extra-Special People

8. Hobbit Hair and Wizard Whiskers

The Grimness of Grima

9. Making Faces

The Body on the Floor

Talking to Treebeard

10. Filming a Masterpiece

Hobbit Talk

Aspects of Aragorn

11. Adding the Magic

Massive Achievement

Capturing Gollum

12. Knowing the Score

On the Theme of Fellowship

Epilogue: An End and a Beginning





Random quotes - and since there's always so much attention paid to actors and the actors' experience, I tend to prefer focusing on the many working behind them to get that look. So note that there is a lot of actor information and some interviews in the book, I'm just not quoting that.



p. 19-20, Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop:


...Then, unlocking a door, he leads me into a room lined with glass cases stuffed with bizarre creatures and strange, sometimes grisly objects. It brings to mind those collections of grotesqueries found in crumbling Victorian mansions or in the freak tents that were once an irresistible attraction of American carnivals.


I spot a frog dressed in combat gear, a rabid rat-monkey, a demon-possessed rag doll and a worm with an old man's face. "These," says Richard, "are our past lives!" He sniffs. "And that smell is the unmistakable aroma of rotting foam-latex!"


p. 25, Tania Rodger, also of Weta:


..."You quite often get better results - and a lot more fun - from using your brain to think how to do things. We discovered, for example, that you could make very convincing innards from squeezing foam-latex leftovers into gut shapes, which were baked in the oven and then dressed with golden syrup and food coloring."


p. 38, filming at Mount Sunday, the Edoras, stronghold of the horsemen of Rohan:


...The five kilometers of road alone took a local contractor three months to build: the grass and topsoil were carefully lifted and preserved; the road surfacing was laid using gravel dredged from the local rivers. At the conclusion of filming, all the gravel would then be scraped up and deposited back into the rivers, the original earth relaid and the tussocks of grass replanted. As with all the locations used in the film, there was the weighty knowledge that whatever extraordinary transformations a place might undergo, as much effort, time and money would be required afterward in order to return the location to its natural state.


p. 45, Dan Hennah, Supervising Art Director, Set Director:


..."We often finished a set only an hour or two before the start of filming. I'll never forget the Glittering Caves: we'd worked through the night to achieve a very particular look, and we were still painting as the crew walked in the door. There we were, frantically throwing handfuls of party glitter onto the wet paint as the cameramen finished off their cups of tea and started setting up. Making magic happen is never easy."


p 51, Dan Hennah again:


..."Everybody will tell you about the weather," he laughs, "floods and freeze-ups; days when we were snowed in and others when we were rained out. We built an entire set beside a river in Queenstown for the Fellowship's landing at Parth Galen and before the film crew could arrive, the river rose fifteen meters and washed the whole thing away!"


p. 116, Peter Owen and Peter King on the difficulty of hair and making up Elves:


..."Some had long hair of their own that we could dye or bleach," continues Peter, "but we had to be terribly careful: too much fussing around with hair styles, or too much makeup, and you're halfway to drag queen time!"


"That was the difficulty," says PK, "To begin with, they looked as if they had been made up to look like Elves, rather than as if they were Elves. We had to find a way of conveying their 'otherness,' their sense of immortality, and yet at the same time make them as real as the Rohirrim or the men of Gondor."


p 162-3, Peter Doyle, Posthouse, on "digital color grading":


"Peter Jackson wanted The Lord of the Rings to have 'a painterly look' that stayed close to the conceptual art for the film. So what we're doing - and it's the start of a new trend - is extending the art design by digitally manipulating the imagery: we can alter the contrast and change the brightness, pull out certain hues and twist specific colors."


For the scenes in Hobbiton, Peter Doyle has transformed the stark Southern Hemisphere light of the location into a softer, European look with plenty of strong, clean colors. In contrast, for the scenes shot on the Moria cemetery set, he has reduced the reds and pushed the blues to convey the coldness of the mood.


Peter is currently tinkering with the light cast by Gandalf's staff and helping to illuminate the wizard's face, which was seriously overshadowed by that broad-brimmed hat. He is also planning effects for the rest of the film: "The predominant colors in Bree will be dirty golden yellows, edging towards green; Lothlorien will be blue, swinging into pastel shades of lavender; while Rivendell will have a crisp, clear Alpine light. 'Painterly,' yes; but not painting: that's the secret."


I can not tell you how hard it is to get light onto the faces of people who are wearing hats. Both in video and in photographs. Really, really tough, indoors or outdoors.


Also this minute adjustment of lighting really brings home how the finished product of the three films is an artwork and nothing near reality - even the very light itself in the exterior, on location shots is no longer New Zealand's.



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review 2012-07-21 00:00
Much Ado About Nothing: Branagh Screenplay - Kenneth Branagh,William Shakespeare This edition is the the tie-in for the Kenneth Branagh movie, so it is the movie script - some of the play has been cut. It includes photos of the shot, including the names of the horses the men rode.Much Ado is my favorite Shakespeare play and I could write a wonderful essay about it (I did in college after all). Kenneth Branagh, however, says it best in the introduction:"In short, the play presents a whole series of emotional and spiritual challenges that we - young, old, male, female - continue to face when we love. And all throughout this comic debate about everything and nothing, there is life-giving, wisdom-bearing, humour and warmth. The piece is harsh and cruel as people can be. It is generous and kind as they can also be. It is uplifting but never sentimental. It 'holds the mirror up to nature' and allows us inside its wonderful warts-and-all world of human nature, to understand and perhaps even to forgive ourselves for some of our oft-repeated follies". (Branagh on page xvi).To which I say - WORD.
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