There’s a movie in the works of the George Harrison Tribute Concert, which took place Nov. 29 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Harrison’s old friend David Leland, who directed the star-studded stage show, also laid the event down on film, with the help of a remarkable collection of British cinematographers. The key cameraman was Chris Menges, whose credits stretch from “Kes” through “Local Hero” and “The Killing Fields” to this year’s “The Good Thief” and “Dirty Pretty Things.” Others included Roger Pratt, fresh from lensing “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and Barry Ackroyd, who shoots Ken Loach’s movies.
Together they filmed not only the concert itself, but also the three weeks of prep. Eric Clapton led a stellar group of musicians, including Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, in fresh interpretations of Harrison’s songs; Ravi Shankar unveiled a new composition written during the rehearsals; and Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle ran through some classic Monty Python material. Their rendition of “The Lumberjack Song” featured an unannounced guest star. In the chorus line of Mounties, unrecognized by the audience and the reviewers, was Tom Hanks.
Leland, who made “Checking Out” for Harrison’s HandMade Films and shot the Travelling Wilburys videos, is in the midst of shooting interviews with Harrison’s friends, and also has access to a wealth of archive footage, much of it never shown publicly before, from his widow, Olivia, who is the driving force behind the project.
“We’re still tentative about how we might use all this material,” Leland says. “There is a wonderful film we could make out of it which would find a life in cinemas, because we shot it with a very filmic look.” But he suggests the footage could also be cut together differently for a TV special — initial conversations are under way with U.S. players such as HBO — and again for a DVD release. All proceeds will go to Harrison’s charity.
Frears circles Elvis conspiracy
Most big-name directors develop their own material these days, which makes Stephen Frears a rare beast. He floats, unattached, between movies, teaching at the U.K.’s National Film & TV School, tracking likely scripts and signing up when they are ready to go. But the fact that he won’t formally attach himself to development projects doesn’t mean he stays out of the process. He and his script editor Jan Fleischer, a fellow NFTS tutor, do a pretty thorough reconstruction job on any screenplay Frears is seriously considering. That’s what is happening at the moment with “The Importance of Being Elvis,” which looks like being his next movie.
Written by Chris Bradshaw and Roger Payne, pic is the story of Brian from Newcastle, who claims that for many years he was Elvis Presley. This conspiracy comedy is based on the premise that when Elvis was serving in the Army, he was shot in the throat by a crazed fan and could no longer sing. So his manager, Col.Tom Parker, with the collusion of the U.S. government, found an impersonator to replace him. That, the script suggests, explains why the post-army “Elvis” became so uncool.
Project is being developed by two young Brit producers, London-based Manuel Puro and L.A.-based Paul Kewley. Working Title Films is helping out, based on its long-standing relationship with Frears (dating back to “My Beautiful Laundrette”), and has a first look. Frears, a huge Elvis fan, had been looking to do a more traditional biopic of the singer, when he came across this skewed version.
His latest film, the seamy London thriller “Dirty Pretty Things,” opens Dec. 13 in the U.K. The Elvis movie would mark a characteristic change of pace and tone for a director who has always varied his game between grit and gloss.
The Empire (Theater) strikes back
United Cinemas Intl. is celebrating broken house records at its flagship Empire Leicester Square theater with its first crack at the James Bond franchise.
The Empire got “Die Another Day” because the Odeon Leicester Square, its neighbor and arch-rival that had been the exclusive West End launch pad for the Bond franchise, was committed to “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” much to the disgust of Eon Prods.
The Empire’s tills rang up $605,000 in the first week, including previews. That was a best ever tally for the Empire, but because it has 300 fewer seats than the Odeon, it didn’t match the $660,000 earned by previous Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough” at the Odeon.
However, UCI agreed to let Fox book the movie into the nearby UGC Haymarket as well to make up the deficit, and that extra gross of $57,000 tied “Die Another Day’s” B.O. with the West End figure of its predecessor.