Peter James’ prolific status as a novelist and his remarkable past is to become the focus of a new documentary by local filmmaker Stewart Buck. Just as James’ novels immediately evoke memories and images of Brighton, Sussex, so Buck aims to recreate the atmosphere of this unique and varied city that has inspired the writer.
Buck began his foray into directing with a small college project that exploded into a fully functioning production involving a professional crew who were willing to work for nothing and a budget of nearly £4000. Smokescreen (2004), a psychological drama concerning a man who has a crippling fear of cigarettes as a result of a dark childhood, became Buck’s calling card and led to his involvement in the production and post-production on a number of other projects. Now, however, Buck is taking on the responsibility of organizing this new documentary on Peter James’ life and work, a task that includes tracking down a number of famous interviewees and shooting in countries such as Germany and Canada. Even when the filming is completed, Buck still has to convince film and television companies to hop onboard and supply additional finance to complete it.
The documentary will highlight the culture of Sussex and Brighton in particular, so I asked the director what fresh ideas he might be able to bring to the presentation of the area:
GE: Why is now the time for a documentary on this Author?
SB: Now is exactly the right time for this document. Peter James is going through a resurgence with his literary work as a crime novelist. Before, his novels were more paranormal in theme, but his work is beginning to reach a more universal audience thanks to a recent advertising campaign by publishers Macmillan, for his first in a series of crime novels, Dead Simple. His life story reflects his deep interest in the scientific and paranormal and it is this thread that ties the biography elements together.
GE: Where have you gathered your crew from?
SB: The crew is gathered from all different sources, from working on previous projects, to university friends through to relationships built over the past few years with other filmmakers and professionals.
GE: What assistance, if any, have local film councils or companies offered?
SB: I haven’t publicly spoken about it till now, but sponsorship and local companies may well play a part securing other avenues of finance in the near future.
GE: How have you prepared for the documentary — funding, arrangements, locations etc, and have you had to make alterations/allowances/sacrifices for problems?
SB: I tend to over prepare. Preparation is the most important aspect as it’s the cheapest. But there will always be something you’re unprepared for while on set/location that you have to deal with on your feet. There’s lots of co-ordination involved. If you want to make the best film you possibly can with the best people you can get, you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot as an individual. Once you get a good idea you need to eat, sleep and drink it. That’s the bottom line. I tend to deal with as much myself as possible e.g. producing/directing/all of the above mentioned in your question. It’s a good way of learning the ropes! Generally when your starting out in this industry there is no one else to deal with it anyway.
GE: Have other filmmakers influenced you stylistically?
SB: Only subconsciously. In my opinion it’s important not to be influenced too much in your work if you can help it. I don’t like to use the word much but it’s important to present things as originally as possible for it to stand out.
GE: How will this documentary be different or unique?
SB: In the presentation of images. We want to reflect images in close approximation to words jumping out of his books on screen. We are also emulating the most memorable images of Brighton from film, TV and photography, for example Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. We are also trying to present a definitive take on Brighton itself.
GE: Will the culture and/or community of this region be reflected in the documentary or is it purely a focus on James himself?
SB: Significantly so. Brighton acts as a character throughout the whole film. Brighton is to Peter what Maine is to Stephen King, so it is important for us to put that across in the documentary.