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Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

Si nous aimons rire d'un certain cinéma déviant, nous sommes très loin de mépriser les hommes et les femmes qui s'y sont impliqués ou compromis. Il nous a ainsi paru enrichissant de faire raconter le nanar et son univers par les gens qui l'ont vécu de l'intérieur. La diversité des intervenants et de leurs réponses nous a rendu encore plus proches du cinéma que nous aimons : vous découvrirez, au fil des entretiens que ces différentes vedettes ont bien voulu nous accorder, des informations précieuses pour le cinéphile et le cinéphage, des anecdotes cocasses et, en esquisse, le portrait attachant de personnages souvent hauts en couleur.
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Thomas McKelvey Cleaver (page 2)

What are your memories of Roger Corman?

Roger is probably the smartest guy I ever met in the business. When one looks at the talented people who can call themselves graduates of the Roger Corman Film School, it's clear that if Roger had never existed the business would have had to invent him. It's sad that he is no longer active nowadays, because young film makers don't have that chance to demonstrate what they could do.

You have mostly written scripts specific to "B-movie" genres, such as horror, erotic or post-nuke stories. Did you have a specific liking for it or was it just what you were hired to do?

They were the things I had the opportunity to do that paid the bills. The screenplays I have written on my own have ranged from a World War II flying movie about the official creation of heroes, to a contemporary political thriller set in France, to a Vietnam screenplay based on my own experience and those of guys I talked to over the years, which was once called "The best unproduced Vietnam screenplay in Hollywood" by American Film. We are currently close to going into production (maybe!) on a World War II "what if" that's in the tradition of movies like "The Guns of Navarone" that mixes real history with fictional history so well that many people who have read it thought I had discovered a real event (sorry, it's just the product of a well-informed imagination). I'm also in the middle of writing a screenplay about the war in Afghanistan, with a writer who did all the research first-hand as a soldier stationed with the Afghan National Army.

Like in some other artistic domains, there is a huge gap between "what one would like to do" and "what one actually has to do to make a living". Wasn't it a bit frustrating sometimes?

It's been highly frustrating. Everything I have ever sat down and written as a "like to do" has gotten optioned, many of them still are, and then has never been produced. I was very close to going to the Philippines to make "In The Year of the Monkey", my Vietnam screenplay when the 1988 writer's strike intervened. By the time the dust settled, the money had departed to other projects. Most of the things I write on my own are serious subjects and there is no possibility of creating a video game, or a series of sequels, so the Hollywood widget-makers don't see them as real commercial opportunities.

There is this strong fascination for cinema that makes so many people dream about making a living as an actor, a filmmaker or a script writer. Speaking as a man with an experience in the film industry, what basic advices and warnings would you give to a young wannabe-script writer?

Be a reader. Too many young would-be writers nowadays can't read well and thus don't like it, and reading is the study of publishable writing. It's simple: if you can't read you can't write. I would also tell a young would-be screenwriter to go out and buy a camera and learn to be a photographer - learn to see a shot, learn to compose a shot. Movies are stories told with pictures, and if the writer can't suggest the pictures, it doesn't work. Most screenwriters fail on the ability to put pictures into words. Also, screenwriting isn't writing - it's carpentry. A good screenwriter is like a draughtsman - able to provide the plan. Screenplays aren't literature - if you want to write literature go write novels. I'd also suggest that they go out and experience some life before they start writing so they have something to say, but that seems to get in the way of the widget-making that passes for movie-making nowadays.

I had the good fortune to spend two years of having weekly lunches with Billy Wilder in his later years. He left me with two solid rules: if it doesn't interest you, it won't interest anyone else, so please yourself first. And: if you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

According to the IMDB, your last script was made in 1997. Do you still work actively in the film industry? Could you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?

I do work in the film industry and haven't done anything else. I have worked in production development, and been a supervising producer on a few cable shows where I have launched the careers of a couple of younger writers. I've also written some screenplays for hire in recent years that have yet to be made but are still "in development." And I have three active projects right now, as I have mentioned above. There's still hope that a couple of the "want to do" movies will get made.

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