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Michael White and The Holy Grail

I’ve just been watching The Last Impresario on Imagine (BBC1), a film about Michael White, the theatre and film producer. Michael was the exec producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and he invested 50% of the budget. I liked Michael very much, and we worked well together. We eventually went on to do other things. such as a production of Woody Allen’s The Bluebird Of Unhappiness. He was incredibly helpful on the Holy Grail, because when we had a terrible preview of the film, Michael didn’t panic but helped to put up the additional money to redo the soundtrack. He was cool in the face of seeming disaster. Here is how I describe it in The 7Th Python:

The Disastrous First Screening

It was one of those evenings when Python flopped. – Terry Jones

Back in London, we worked hard to produce a cut of the film that we could show to the other Pythons and the investors.

The preview took place on October 1 1974 at the Hanover Grand Preview Theatre in central London. We had invited about 200 people, including most of the investors. This screening was one of the worst film experiences of my life.

Every screening has a certain mood that you can feel in the theatre, and the mood at the end of that screening was certainly pretty grim. People weren’t responding, they weren’t laughing the way they should have been. There was laughter at individual scenes, but no sustained build-up. The main problem was that the sound effects were too prominent. Because the comedy is quite slight, the jokes need to have a context in which they work, and if you overwhelm them with sound, they will just get drowned, which I think is what happened.

This was the first time that either of the two Terrys had ever done this kind of film sound mixing, so it’s very easy to try something which doesn’t work, and at that point it can all be thrown away, can all be redone. But someone who doesn’t know the technical side, might think looking at it, “God, this is it, and we’ve got to live with what we’re currently seeing,” which of course is not the case. A certain amount of inexperience may have led people to think it was a disaster which couldn’t be repaired.

Afterwards, there was a feeling of “This is a mess, what have we let ourselves in for?” I think there were people who probably felt the film was a lost cause. And it’s
very easy, when you’re in a position like this, to panic.

Eric Idle walked out halfway through the film; everyone else stayed to the bitter end. There was polite applause at the end. (Michael) White and (John ) Goldstone (executive producers) didn’t speak to the Pythons.

Here is how everyone remembered the event, in David Morgan’s book, Monty Python Speaks:

TERRY JONES: Terry G. had done the dub, and you know what it’s like when you’re making a film: you’ve got two or three sound editors working away for months and months building up wonderful, incredibly thick soundtracks. It started off everybody laughing at the beginning and then after a while just nothing; the whole film went through [with]
no laughter at all. And it was awful, I was sitting there saying, “It
just can’t be unfunny.”

JOHN GOLDSTONE: We’d already spent all the money by then and couldn’t quite go back to them and say, “Can you put up some more because we’d like to refinish it?” So we had to go to a bank and borrow money against personal guarantees to make up the difference.

TERRY JONES: So we went and redubbed it and as soon as anybody started talking I just took all the sound effects out, all the atmosphere, everything. I went through the entire film doing that, and that seemed to help, it was something about the soundtrack filling in all the pauses.

TERRY JONES: Neil Innes’ music sounded quaint, it didn’t have an epic
feel to it. And we’d run out of money by that time, so I went along
to De Wolfe Music Library in London and just took out piles and
piles of disks and just sat here at home trying out music to it, trying
to get something to work. So it felt like what you needed was really corny, heroic music.

NEIL INNES: The Arthurian themes were too thin with the instruments we had available- two French horns, two violins. Terry rang to say we can’t use the music because it’s just not strong enough. The 12 piece orchestra couldn’t cope with the 120 piece orchestral sound that the film required. Artistically it was a better solution to go to a library to get epic music. We would never have had the money to record that size score. I wasn’t that disappointed. I understood it. If it was my film I would have made the same choice.

We had some very heavy meetings over the next few days, a post mortem to see if we could bring this dead film back to life. Michael White was very supportive; he didn’t panic and I was glad that I had kept him involved in the production. In the end we remixed the film, bringing down the level of the sound effects to let the dialogue punch through, and added the mock heroic library music score. We knew there was a good film buried there, and if we went back and remixed it, we’d have a funny film. The next screening was very positive. Now we knew the film was very good, it was very funny, it was working well. I think everyone was very happy with it. So it was really night and day.

If the Pythons had not owned the film, the director (or directors) would probably have been replaced at that point, or at least told to stay out of the cutting room. But the structure I set up meant that even through a disaster, the two directors had the time (and we had to find the extra money) to let them correct their initial work.

Everyone benefited from the great success of the film, and thirty years is plenty of time for memories to blister and fade so that some of the Pythons seem to have had a bout of amnesia concerning who raised the money – and much else. The two Terrys, Graham and Michael all knew what my role had been, but Cleese and Idle had no involvement with the setting up of the film, so had no idea as to what I had done for them. This became a real problem when their management changed, and (their former manager) Anne Henshaw was no longer there to keep alive that memory.

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December 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

(Eric) Idle Musings

Eric Idle hates me. The reason is not difficult to find. I sued him and the other Pythons for trying to reduce my royalties from Spamalot and the Judge decided in my favour. After the trial he called me a loser, an idiot and a twat. This is very odd, since I should really hate him for having forced me to spend over 7 years pursuing this stupid case, which caused me many serious problems- poor health, financial woes, great stress. Yet he hates me. Here is what he said during his cross-examination:

Tom Weisselberg (my barrister): Do you think that your position in these proceedings –
Eric Idle: Yes.

Weisselberg: — is being inspired by, I will put it bluntly, a dislike of Mr. Forstater?
Idle: I am hopeful that I am trying to be as honest as far as I possibly can be and that my dislike, as you put it, of Mr. Forstater does not influence my honesty in reporting to you the answers to your questions.

Weisselberg: Do you have a particular animus against Mr. Forstater, Mr. Idle?
Idle: Only recently.

Weisselberg; Is that because of the fact of these proceedings?
Eric Idle: It’s ingratitude.

Idle seems to have ingratitude always on his mind.

But he didn’t just call me ungrateful, he also said of his fellow Pythons, “I’m making them money, and the ungrateful bastards never thank me. Who gave them a million dollars each for ‘Spamalot’?” So ingratitude must mean, for Eric, that people who have helped him become a multi-millionaire have failed in their duty to constantly thank him for allowing them to do so.

Idle says I am ungrateful because I did so well out of Producing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so I shouldn’t complain if the Pythons decide to try chisel me out of Spamalot royalties. My taking them to court was a form of ingratitude. Funny, I thought I was just standing up for myself.

Weisselberg: Mr. Idle, it is right, is it not, that since Spamalot has made so much money there has been a fair amount of publicity as to which Python thinks that they have had the better of the financial deal?
Idle: We have squabbled since we first met. We are brothers, we are children, and we are comedians. But we love each other and we get on very well. The press does like to exaggerate these things and I have emails from John Cleese only yesterday.

Weisselberg: You have complained that some of the other Pythons have been ungrateful as to the amount of money that you have managed to generate for them.
Idle: I may at some times and — I have been promoting this thing since 2004, so I have answered a tremendous amount of questions and there is a selection of responses that have been selected.

Weisselberg If you look at Bundle D3, p.1047 one sees in the paragraph on the subject of money: “He is candidly regretful about his decision to hire a lawyer to represent the Pythons’ interest in Spamalot. Over a recent lunch with Observer writer Simon Garfield, he pointed out” – that is you – “that with a third share the others are being paid over the odds without doing very much”. Is that something that you said to the Observer writer, Mr. Idle?

Idle: It reflects possibly a bitterness I was feeling at the time. Insofar as I gave them Marcia Brooks, my lawyer, because I was concerned about conflict of interest, and she negotiated against me the highest percentage that has ever been received in Broadway history. Normally they would have been entitled to X% and John du Prez and I had to settle that they would take Y%.

Weisselberg: I think the terms of the deal are confidential. Certainly I have understood that they are.
Idle: Then forgive me, I just breached confidentiality inadvertently.

No matter how wealthy he becomes, it never seems to give Idle any contentment. He once called one of his tours The Greedy Bastard Tour and one wonders in this instance where is the border between comedy and truth?

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November 18, 2015 at 10:54 am 2 comments

Why I Wrote the 7th Python – Part 1

In 2012-13 I was in court with the Monty Python group over my share of royalties from Spamalot and other spin-off income from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had this share of royalties because I Produced the film. After the trial ended I felt unable to write about the 7 frustrating years of this legal battle. But after about a year, my friend David Cohen suggested I should try to recount it. By this time I felt sufficiently distanced from the events to take that look back.

7 years is a very long time, and it represents what is termed a ‘little life’. For example the Chinese believe in 7 year cycles of life. so that the ages 7,14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 70, 77, and so on represent important stages in life, in which significant physical and emotional changes take place. So I wondered what these 7 years had done to me. I wanted to review how I dealt with this emotional rollercoaster.

Luckily, since 2001 I have been keeping a journal, and I had reflected during 2005-2013 about the stressful situation I found myself in. I was curious to read through those journals to see what I had been thinking, and to examine how I coped with that stress. I have quoted extensively from my journals in the book.

I also had the lawyers’ correspondence and the transcripts of the trial, so I could review the whole transit of the case from beginning to end. I could trace it from the first email to the final Judgement, and everything in between. I wonder how many real lawsuits (as against fictional ones) have had this kind of scrutiny. It was a bit like performing an autopsy, a forensic examination of all the elements that went into the case: the dispute with the Pythons’ managers, the lawyers brought in to argue it, my appeals for help to Michael Palin, a failed mediation, my unexpected meeting with Palin in a Soho street, the Pythons’ witness statements and their appearance in court (something which I never believed would happen), the witnesses, the barristers, the Judge and then the press. The transcripts are particularly revealing. 

When I read through the journals, I realised that the 7 years had at least done me one good thing. I could see that in preparing for the case I had to review in detail the events surrounding the 1974 production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I split from the Pythons in 1975, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they split with me. This split was not on the surface acrimonious, and in fact the split was not communicated to me officially for a couple of years. I had to work it out for myself. But the fact that I was no longer involved with them left me feeling betrayed, since the film was a huge success and went on to become the most successful independently produced film ever made in the UK. It has made around £ 30m in profit and the Pythons have each received about £ 2m from the film. It was my work which helped to create this wealth, and this feeling of betrayal stayed with me for many years, gradually losing its power. I was forced to look again at this break-up, and I could see, from a new perspective, how the events actually played out. This allowed me to re-evaluate what I thought was a failing on my part, but which I could now see was really a mutual kind of naiveté. I was pleased that I now understood what had really happened and could stop blaming myself.

This freeing myself of blame, of thinking that the break-up was my fault, is very liberating, since I was dogged with that feeling (albeit much diminished over time) for all these years. I now feel a kind of re-birth, that these events have freed me from some kind of barrier or obstacle in myself, and I now have the opportunity to continue to create books or films with a new energy and a new creative freedom. This book is therefore the first flourishing of this new freedom. Having discovered what had actually happened, I felt the need to communicate these ideas, and to use the book as a recognition of the catharsis that I had achieved.

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November 13, 2015 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

The 107th Python

7th Python title 2

Who is the 7th Python? Certainly not me. Neil Innes or Carol Cleveland are the only two deserving of the name. Of course given how brutally Eric Idle treated Neil Innes over the Rutles’ aborted relaunch, being a 7th Python seems to be a poisoned chalice (or Grail). In his Witness Statement during the trial John Cleese wrote, “Mark Forstater wasn’t even the 107th Python. He has a better chance of being the 4th Kennedy brother.”

I thought of calling the book The 1/7th Python since the court case was about my 1/7th share of Spin-off income, mainly Spamalot, but in the end I decided to stick with the 7th Python since that is one of the arguments my lawyers used in court. Neil Innes says this title will annoy Eric Idle no end. He adds that the book performs a public service.

November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

The 7th Python – blurb

This is the back cover copy for the new book:

Lights, Camera, Lawyers
If you want to know what a tooth and claw legal battle is like
If you want to discover something revealing about Monty Python. and see their darker side 
If you want to know how to make a movie without giving the financiers all the rights and keep creative control in every known – and unknown – universe in perpetuity

 You should read The 7th Python

  “This book will annoy Eric Idle for years to come.” Neil Innes, composer.
 
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a great, original comedy and the most profitable independent film made in the U.K. If you’d invested £1,000 in it, you’d have made £130,000 back. With more to come.

As a young man, Mark Forstater produced the film. He set it up so that the Pythons had total creative control. Each Python also made many millions. Mark got over 5 % of the profits. Everyone was happy – well as happy as John Cleese could be before he started therapy. Then golden icing on the cake: Eric Idle hit on the idea of turning the hit film into a musical. Spamalot was a smash. Spamalot was also cashalot for everyone involved and it should have been for Mark.

But the Pythons, or their managers, or their lawyers, or the gorilla in their collective unconscious, decided Mark didn’t deserve so much. No one used the word ‘deserved’. It was a question of how lawyers, accountants and managers re-interpreted his contract. Back in 1974, it had been amended by hand. Lawyers poured over these squiggles as if they were holy writ – apt since we’re into the Holy Grail. 

Forstater decided he had to fight the battle of his life. After 7 years of struggle it came to court, where the judge, the lawyers and the Pythons were all Oxbridge men. Forstater, an American, had gone to Manchester. Yet he won. If there were a Nobel Prize for Bitching, Eric Idle would be proud to win it. In revenge he called Forstater a loser, an idiot and a twat. The twat, however, has now decided to speak.

An original, lively and at times moving account of the inside story of one man’s battle against the mighty Python.

November 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm Leave a comment

A Review of I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp

Rudolf Reder- Belzec Survivor and Witness

Rudolf Reder- Belzec Survivor and Witness


JC review I Survived

September 28, 2015 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

The Real Deal- Why Exercise is Good For You

Exercise is good for you because it makes you feel good.
How does it do this?

1. Open Air – It gets you outside rather than in a gym
2. Movement – Your body likes to move, your body wants to move
3. Pulse Rate – Movement increases your heart rate
4. Blood Flow – Your heart pumps more blood
5. Circulation – The blood flows all over the body, into the extremities (for males, the penis is an extremity)
6. Oxygen – The blood carries oxygen into your cells, nourishing them
7. Alive – You feel alive, vibrant
8. Good – You feel good

And it costs nothing

August 16, 2015 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

PRESS RELEASE- I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp

It’s taken a long time, but at last we are launching the new book:

BOOK LAUNCH

DEATH CAMP SURVIVOR’S STORY
LIVES ON OVER 70 YEARS LATER

Title: I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp

Author: Rudolf Reder, with a memoir by Mark Forstater

Genre: Second World War/ The Holocaust

Publisher: Psychology News Press

ISBN: 978-090-763337-2

SRP: £8.99

Date of
Publication: 26th March 2015

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp

TIME: 1942

PLACE: Belzec, occupied Poland

It was March 1942. The Second World War had been going on for already twoand a half years. Across Europe, there had been a continual rounding-up of communists, gypsies, Jews, homosexuals and other so-called ‘undesirables’ for even longer. The term ‘concentration camp’ had become a byword for the ruthless efficiency of the German Nazi machine.

But nothing could have prepared the world for the process that was about to get underway in South-East Poland. The concentration camp at Belzec was to become the very first Nazi death camp. This was the world that Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew from the nearby town of Lvov, found himself thrust into.

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp is the harrowing and extraordinary story of the extermination camp at Belzec, Poland. Belzec is not an instantly recognisable name like Auschwitz or Dachau, and yet some 650,000 Jews and gypsies perished there in just a few months.

Numbers easily become blurs. Six million dead in the Holocaust – impossible to imagine. To give some grasp of reality: the number of those murdered in Belzec exceeds the number of people who live in Glasgow. It is more or less the number of football fans who go to Premier League matches every week; everyone at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, Anfield and more….. gassed to death……

One man, however – Rudolf Reder – escaped from Belzec and gave an account of the camp. Mark Forstater has tracked it down and it is the centrepiece of his book, a detailed and horrifying description of a truly dark death machine.

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp presents Reder’s account of everyday life and death in Belzec and his miraculous escape. Forstater explains how he found the story, why it matters – and why it matters to him.

Nearly every Jew and gypsy who ended up in Belzec died in the gas chambers within two hours of their arrival.

Reder managed to survive for four months for an ironic and macabre reason.He was an engineer and useful to the Nazis in and around the camp. Moreover, he was the only man with the skills needed to repair the tank engine which produced the lethal carbon monoxide gas that was responsible for the brutal deaths of so many. After four months of incarceration Reder was taken to visit his home town of Lvov nearby to collect spare parts for the camp. Fortuitously, three of his guards went for a drink and the fourth fell asleep in the truck. Reder seized his opportunity to escape and was hidden by his former housekeeper who he eventually went on to marry.

Mark Forstater introduces Reder’s account and adds a personal memoir. He tells how he learned about the Holocaust growing up in America and how, in his search for his Grandfather’s roots in Poland, he discovered Reder’s witness statement and through it the fate of his own long lost relatives.

With comparatively little known about Belzec, unlike the other two death camps in Eastern Poland at Sobibor and Treblinka, but with the enormity of the crimes committed there in mind, Forstater increasingly believed that Rudolf Reder’s story, harrowing though it is, should be heard in the outside world. And his own heart-rending reflections, brought to life in his engaging and poignant memoir, go a long way to helping square the circle and humanise what is a story of dehumanisation.

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp is an important addition to the literature of the Holocaust.

Mark Forstater is best known for his work as a film producer on some thirty films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He is also an author, having published books on philosophy and spirituality that include The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga, The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca and The Living Wisdom of Socrates.

An American originally from Philadelphia, Mark lives in London. He has been married twice, has four daughters and three grandsons.

I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp is published by Psychology News Press and is available at £8.99 from reputable bookshops, online at http://www.amazon.co.uk , from the dedicated website http://www.isurvived.org.uk/ or direct from the publisher at http://www.psychologynews.org.uk .

For further information please contact: Nigel Passingham
+44 7795 02 42 72

Nigelpas@live.com

February 26, 2015 at 10:32 pm Leave a comment

From: The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao – Part 2

Qualities Of The Sage

The ancient teaching says, “The sage is entirely peaceful, so his mind is evenly balanced and at ease. This even balance and ease appears in his serenity and de-tachment. In this state of balance and ease, of serenity and detachment, anxieties and anguish don’t affect him, and no harmful influences assault him. His Te, or power, is complete, and his spirit continues undiminished.

The life of the sage can be compared to the action of heaven, and his death is the transformation common to all things. In his stillness his power is the same as the Yin, and in movement his actions are like the Yang. He takes no initiative in producing either happiness or calamity.

The sage responds to the influences acting on him, and moves only when he feels the pressure. He acts only when he has no other choice. He discards knowledge and memories, and merely follows the pattern of his heaven-given nature. Therefore he suffers no calamity from Heaven, no attachment to things, no blame from people, and no disapproval from the spirits of the dead.

The sage’s life seems to just drift along;
his death seems to be a resting;
he doesn’t have anxious thoughts;
he doesn’t make plans;
his enlightenment is hidden;
his good faith isn’t contrived;
he sleeps untroubled by dreams;
he wakes untroubled by cares;
his spirit is simple and pure;
his soul is never weary.

Empty and selfless, calm and detached, the sage is in harmony with the qualities of Heaven.”

Therefore the teaching says, “Sorrow and joy are distortions of virtue; goodness and evil are transgressions of virtue; likes and dislikes show a failure of the mind. So for the mind to be free from sorrow and joy is to have perfected virtue. For the mind to be unified and unchanging is the perfection of stillness. To be conscious of no opposition is the perfection of emptiness. To have no attachment to external things is the perfection of indifference. And to have no feelings of dissatisfaction is the perfection of purity.

If the body is overworked and not rested, it becomes worn out. If the spirit is used ceaselessly, it becomes weary, and when weary, it becomes exhausted.

It’s the nature of water, when not mixed with other things, to be clear, and if not disturbed, to be level. But if it’s blocked and can’t flow, it won’t preserve its clarity. This is an image of the virtue of Heaven.”

To be innocent and pure, free from all contamination;
to be still and uniform, never changing;
to be detached and do nothing:
this is to move like Heaven and nourish the spirit.

Now the person who possesses the finest sword preserves it carefully in a box, and doesn’t dare to use it, because it’s considered the peak of perfection. But the subtle human spirit is even more perfect, and it radiates in all directions, flowing on without limit, rising to heaven above, and circling round the earth beneath. It transforms and sustains all things, and cannot be represented by any form. We call it the Supreme Harmony.

It’s only the Tao of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the Spirit. When this Tao is preserved and not lost, you become one with the Spirit and in this ethereal communion, you’re in harmony with the orderly operation of Heaven.

There is a proverb which says, “People consider gain to be the most important thing. Scholars – fame. Those who are wise and able value ambition. But the sage prizes essential purity.’

Therefore simplicity implies no mixing. Purity means the spirit is not impaired. It’s the one who can embody simplicity and purity whom we call the Real Person.”
(15.2)

September 10, 2014 at 6:42 am Leave a comment

CrowdFunding the New Freud Film

Writer-director David Cohen and I (with the massive help of Richard Cobelli) have just launched an Indiegogo page to help fund The Escape Of Sigmund Freud. We uploaded two videos- the first a pitch video in which David and I sat in his conservatory and talked about the film and how much we wanted to raise (£ 300,000 out of a million pound budget), and the second a short teaser trailer in which actor John Kay Steel plays Anton Sauerwald, the Nazi who was meant to make Freud’s life hell, and instead helped him to escape Vienna.

It’s a remarkable true story, and we feel very good about it. We have a solid script and the excellent David Suchet to play Freud. We hope to cast other fine British actors (and one German to play Sauerwald). Shooting will take place in London, Poland and Vienna in the early part of 2015. 

I believe that the film has the potential to be a very powerful story about the Shoah (the holocaust). It’s an unusual story in that the ‘good Nazi’ who helped the Freuds was in fact a dedicated follower of Hitler. He was not putting on his belief in the Nazi regime and the Fuhrer, but believed deeply in the Nazi ideology, This is what makes the story so fascinating. Why did this deep-dyed Nazi go out of his way (and in fact risk his career and life) to help the Freuds?  He couldn’t explain his actions, and what is even more telling, Freud himself had no idea why he did it. This is the mystery at the heart of the film.

A strange friendship grew up between these two unlikely buddies. What always astounds me is the fact that Sauerwald made a trip to London in 1939, just before the war broke out, to see how Freud was settling in, and to check that all the art works he had helped pack and ship actually arrived in good condition.  On this occasion Freud was recovering from an operation for cancer of the jaw (an illness he had for many years)  and he asked Sauerwald if he would drive Freud’s Viennese surgeon to London to do a remedial operation.  And he did.

Please take a few moments to visit the Indiegogo site, and if you would like to see this film come into existence, then make a contribution – big or small – and help us to get it made. Whether you contribute or not, could you take 5 minutes and share the information with anyone who you think would find it of interest.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-escape-of-sigmund-freud/x/7931764

June 17, 2014 at 10:26 pm 1 comment

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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