Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Brian L. Porter

An Interview With An Author and Screenwriter

Brian L. Porter is an English author with the publisher, Creativia
and screenwriter for Thunderball Films.
As I have gotten to know him, I have learned more about his fascinating life and career.  I thought it would be an interesting blog post to interview Brian, focusing on his unique literary perspective as both an author and a screenwriter.

Hi, Brian!  To start our interview, I wanted to ask you, in your own words, how you’d describe yourself?
Hello, Julie. Well, I’d describe myself as being rather ordinary, a family man; I live with my wife and two step-daughters, and our ten rescue dogs. I also have a grown up son who has just made me a grandfather for the first time, thanks to the birth of a beautiful baby girl. Due to illness, I don’t get out much and my disabilities are one of the reasons I began writing some years ago, as a form of therapy. I love watching soccer and am really looking forward to the World Cup, taking place in Brazil in June of this year. Apart from that, I do of course love to read, and apart from that, my passion is our beautiful dogs, who have nearly all been abused or neglected in some way before coming to live with us, and who now form part of our family.

Do you feel like you have a specific writing genre and if so, why?  Does it differ from your preferred reading genre?
I’m fortunate that I write in my preferred genre, which I would describe as a meeting of thriller/mystery with a touch of history included for good measure. My Jack the Ripper trilogy, and Behind Closed Doors are all set firmly in the late 19th century, and my other novels all tend to be murder/mysteries which have their roots usually set somewhere in the past.

How old were you when you published your work for the first time?  What was it?
I suppose you could say I was 8 years old when a piece of my work was published for the first time. I remember writing a short story called The Lion, and my teacher was so impressed with it she sent it to the local education authority, which included it in a magazine they produced annually, featuring outstanding work from the senior schools in the area. I suppose I was very privileged to be included in that magazine, though I didn’t realize it at the time. As an adult, I came to writing quite late in life, when, as a long time sufferer from chronic depression, a nurse suggested I took up writing poetry as a form of therapy and of expressing my inner thoughts at the time. I tried it and people seemed to like it and I was encouraged to submit my poetry to various magazines and publishers. I was astounded to find that my poetry went on to appear in over two hundred poetry anthologies and magazines, and I even won a Poet of the Year award under a pseudonym! A friend then saw an advertisement in the library for a short story contest and said I should have a go. I didn’t win the contest but found I had a flair for fiction and went on to have dozens of my short stories published in magazines and anthologies produced by various publishers. Eventually, the lure of the full length novel took hold and I spent months trying to think of a storyline, until my son suggested Jack the Ripper as a basis for a book, knowing that I had spent over thirty years studying the case, and his suggestion soon took hold and I began researching for the book that would become A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper and its subsequent sequels, Legacy of the Ripper and Requiem for the Ripper. I think my mind was finally made up when a publisher friend, who had published my poem A Study in Red, told me he would love to use it as the opening lines of a book. He never got to use it, because it became the framework for my novel.

Do you have a favorite book or script from your body of work and if so, what is it and why is it your favorite?
My personal favorite has to be Behind Closed Doors. After writing my Jack the Ripper trilogy, and diversifying into other subjects through my subsequent novels, I felt a very strong need to return to Victorian England. While watching a TV documentary about the early years of the London Underground transport system in the 19th century, I was instantly inspired to create a new story based on the railway, and after a lengthy period of research into the workings of the old Metropolitan Railway, Behind Closed Doors took shape. The central characters in the book, Inspector Albert Norris and Sergeant Dylan Hillman were actually based on aspects of my own personality, the first time I had attempted to project my own self into the characters of one of my books. From the reception Norris has received, I believe it was a successful strategy. Norris is very ‘human’, a man with personal demons to fight, a secret in the past, all of which he contends with as he fights against the criminal classes of Victorian London. Hillman, by contrast appears as the calmer, less excitable half of the pairing, which seems to work wonderfully together, and I have never enjoyed writing a book as much as I did Behind Closed Doors, and perhaps the feeling I had for the characters and the story I created have helped make it as successful as it has been so far. In fact, I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have contacted me to ask if the book is based on a real life incident, and no novelist can ask for more than the fact that people actually believe my fictional work to be a true story.

All of your novels are being adapted into movies.  How did you move from being novelists to being Thunderball Films' Chief Screenwriter and a Co-Producer of their movies?
Well, the story behind this is itself almost like a Hollywood movie. Around six years ago, when A Study in red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper was riding high in the Top Ten Paperback Bestsellers in its category at Amazon UK, I received an email completely out of the blue from someone who said he was a film producer, and asked if the publisher or I owned the motion picture and subsidiary rights to the book as he was very interested in adapting A Study in Red into a motion picture. Of course, I didn’t believe him and thought this was a case of someone playing a joke or a prank on me! My initial reply was very cautious and it took three days of constant emailing by Mario Domina at Thunderball Films to convince me he was serious and ‘the real deal’ During those three days, I researched the film company as much as I could and struck pay dirt when an author friend in L.A. told me she had heard of the company and knew where their offices were, so at last, I knew Thunderball Films was a real entity! A week of intense negotiations followed until I signed the contract that began my introduction to the world of movies. As I soon learned, the movie business moves very slowly, and only the really big name studios produce, film and release movies within a year or two, so began a long learning curve, working closely with CEO of Thunderball Films, Mario Domina. Mario had a strong regard for my writing, saying I wrote ‘visually’ so the reader could mentally ‘see’ the action taking place, and so making my books easy to transfer from novel to screenplay, and so he asked if I would like to jointly write the screenplay with an experienced screenwriter, which led to me co-writing the screenplay for A Study in Red with Andrew Jones. As time went by, and I worked closer with Mario, he saw something in me that I hadn’t found in myself and before I knew what was happening, he rewarded me for my behind the scenes work on the project by making me as Associate Producer. Sadly, illness and disability began to take their toll on me and I disappeared into a deep and lengthy period of depression, for over a year, linked to my physical problems, and I almost gave up entirely, withdrawing totally from those closest to me. Eventually, Mario Domina proved to be the staunchest friend I’ve known, helping me to come back from that very dark place and slowly bringing me back to something approaching myself once again. When he then announced that he wanted me to be his screenwriter and would pay for me to learn the craft and everything I’d need to know to fulfill his ‘dream’ for me, I could hardly refuse, and so embarked on a  new learning curve that helped me in more ways than anyone could ever imagine. In time, I began to write for Mario, first working on the script for Legacy of the Ripper, and then helping to develop new ideas for future movies, including Annie Chapman, Wife, Mother, Victim, and The Marfleet Murder Mystery, both based on forthcoming books by Mike Covell. Mario brought me in to the real decision making process, and I found myself helping to select actors for various movie roles, finding a new talent in producing individual short synopses of specific roles in order to explain the requirements of the roles to prospective actors. Mario and I then came together to co-create the new TV Series, Jack the Ripper-Reality and Myth, and the pilot screenplay, again penned by me, and featuring John Nettles and Mischa Barton, is now in the hands of various TV networks, under consideration for serialization. For these and future projects, including the dramatization of my other novels, and also including Dracula’s Demeter by Doug Lamoreux and The Skullenia trilogy by Tony Lewis, I have been appointed as Co-Producer, another step up the ladder, and again, thanks to Mario bringing me more and more into the overall decision making process and organization and layout of the various movie projects. I am proud to say he has also put great faith in me by trusting my decisions on whether to accept certain projects for dramatization and I currently have a number of books on my list for consideration. So, as I said earlier, my unexpected rise within the movie industry took me by surprise and could have been written as a screenplay in its own right!

You have so many projects happening.  How do you make time to write when you have such a hectic schedule?
Funny thing is, Julie, due to my physical disabilities I can only spend a short time each day at my computer, maybe 30 minutes to an hour a day, so whatever I do has to fit into that very narrow time frame. It’s difficult to try and fit in what I want to do, but I have to be sensible and know my limitations, so maybe do a bit of one thing one day and something else the next. Because of my depressive nature I must never overdo things or I can very easily reach a point where my mind actually switches off from everything and I kind of implode, so it’s extremely important to stick to doing what I know I can do within my physical and psychological constraints.

What is your creative process?  Is your approach to writing a novel different from how you tackle a screenplay? 
It’s very different, Julie. A novel is, if anything, much easier to write because as a writer, you are writing to please yourself and your readers, whereas the whole process of writing a screenplay is completely different. With a movie or TV script, you are writing ‘visually’ with the minimum of dialogue as a film needs to be visually driven rather than dialogue driven. It’s what the viewer sees on the screen that has the greatest impact, so a screenplay has to be written with that premise in mind. Bear in mind that the author can write a two hundred, or a four hundred page book if he wants to, but the screenwriter has to fit the story into a limited time span, bearing in mind the average length of a movie, and a TV script is different again, because, in general a TV movie or production will need, in general, to be shorter than a full length feature film. So, I think you can now see that novel writing and screenwriting are two very different disciplines and require a totally different approach from each other.

Do you prefer writing books or screenplays and why?  Does your style in which you approach writing the project affect how you feel about it?
They are both so different, Julie that I would find it difficult to choose between them. Perhaps the best way to put it is that the novels represent more of ‘me’ and, therefore, provide a great sense of fun and achievement, taking an original idea and turning it into a book that people will (hopefully) enjoy reading one day. With a screenplay, the challenge comes from trying to get inside the original author’s mind, to try and envisage how he was thinking as he wrote it, so as to be able to present it as closely to the writer’s original concept as possible. At Thunderball we always try to keep as close to the original story as possible, without using too much adaptation and creative license, but there are times when I have to take out certain scenes or sections of a book as they are not totally relevant to showing the visual impact that a screenplay requires. An original screenplay, such as I have just completed for the pilot episode of the TV series, Jack the Ripper – Reality and Myth, gives me the opportunity to be more creative by producing a script from scratch, using my own thoughts and ideas to create the screenplay from within my own mind, very different from adapting a book, so how do I answer the original question? I enjoy both challenges and each gives its own degree of satisfaction. Perhaps the freedom that goes with novel writing just shades it, but not by much!

What was harder for you, getting a book deal or being hired to write a screenplay, and why do you think it was more difficult? 
Without doubt, getting a book deal was far the harder of the two to achieve. Basically, because I never went looking for a movie deal, that came to me out of the blue, as I’ve already explained. With my books, the process was a long and tedious one. A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper was turned down by approximately twenty-six UK publishers, many of whom said they liked it, but had no room for it in their current slate of projects. One day, a friend suggested that as I had access to the internet, I ought to try submitting the book to U.S. publishers. Lo and behold, the book was accepted by the first U.S publisher I submitted to. Sadly, that publisher went out of business before the book could be published, but the lady who had edited it for the publisher, Lea Schizas, believed in the book so much that she personally sent it to Double Dragon Publishing in Ontario, Canada.  With her recommendation, it was accepted right away, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, I have never submitted my work to any UK publishers, who seen to be almost a closed shop, in that it’s more a case of who you know rather than what you know, and they seem to give priority to ghost written ‘autobiographies’ by ‘B’ list celebrities and ‘tell all’ books by ex-criminals, as they think that this is what the buying public wants. Until recently, all my books were published in Canada or the USA, and now, Creativia of Finland has become my publisher of choice.  They have produced some superb second editions of a number of my books that have gone out of print due to the original publishers having gone out of business, as well as taking on board some of my newer, unpublished work.

Screenplays are a distinct style of writing, just as writing books is.  Do you feel like your writing is better because you have experience both as a novelist and as a screen writer?  What challenges has this posed for you, if any?
Writing in the two disciplines has, I’m sure, made me a better all-a-round writer. Most of the challenges associated with writing in two very different formats have, I think, been covered in my previous answers, but of course, it is often difficult to manage the time I have available in order to work on more than one project at a time, which is often a necessity. So, I do my best to spend a little time on each so that both can progress together, albeit slowly at times. It’s kind of a tortoise and hare scenario, whereby I take things slowly and get there in the end.

It seems to me that when you write a book, you are really in charge of it all.  Your editor will have potential suggestions or changes for you, but ultimately, it is like your baby.  Would you agree with that?
Totally agree, Julie. The fact that I’ve also worked as an editor for two publishers also makes me acutely aware of what my editor will be looking for, and I do make sure I proof read and self-edit my books before sending them to my publisher, though, knowing that every publisher has their own way of doing things, I am always open to the suggestions and corrections/alterations made by my publisher through their own editors. It’s also why I would never look at self-publishing, as it is far too easy for self-published authors to ignore the need for tight and effective editing and some self-published books tend to give modern writers a bad name, as there are so many poorly edited and produced self-published books on the market today. A traditionally published book should at least have received some form of professional editing and proof reading before going to print, and so in the main represents a far more professional finished product, and it is important for authors to remember that their book is just that, a product that they want the public to buy in numbers, and so the better they can make it before it is released, the more chance they have of achieving success with it. That way, your ‘baby’ has the best chance of a good start in life.

So, how does it work when you have to collaborate with so many people the way a screenplay demands?  How do you approach the flow of ideas and who has the final say in things?  Is it you, as the screen writer who has the ultimate say, or is it the film’s director?  How does an actor’s improvisation get incorporated in to that picture then?
It’s a real challenge, and great fun working with producers, production managers, artists and so on, as of course, what I write includes various directions as to how the scene will be set, directions on what will happen in the scene and where it will be located, etc. It differs from production company to company, but in mcase, my screenplays pretty much is the final word, as before it is finalized, the Executive Producer and I will have gone through the screenplay in detail and incorporated any changes he feels are required to trim or improve my script, much in the way an editor would suggest changes to a book. Once the film begins shooting, the director will of course have ideas for improving the way the action develops and might make small changes to the scenes as he goes along, but he wouldn’t actually change the screenplay. An actor doesn’t have any license to improvise, but may sometimes make a suggestion as to how he/she thinks they might act out a particular scene, or change the wording of a passage of script to better fit his or her own way of speaking. Again, this doesn’t mean the actor makes any changes to the actual screenplay, merely adds their professional input into a particular scene or section of dialogue.

Today, are you where you thought you’d be five years ago?  Has anything completely taken you by surprise and if so, what?
I never even dreamed, five years ago, that I’d be where I am today. I have to say that I certainly wouldn’t be here without the support and absolute belief that Mario Domina at Thunderball Films has shown in my abilities over the years. His belief in me initially took me by surprise and each time he has moved me up the ladder in terms of writing and production has been another new and delightful surprise. It would be true to say that he has proved to be a real mentor and his belief in my books and his ability to take my suggestions and ideas on board has allowed me to develop talents I would never have recognized in myself, and bring them to the surface.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now? 
I hope that, five years from now, I will simply be happy, and that my wife and family can share in that happiness. I’m not a materialistic person so money itself is not my chief motivator in life. If I’m still around five years from now, maybe I could hope for some small improvement in my health, which would be more important to me than any amount of money, but the prognosis for that is not exactly promising.
If you could have done anything differently in your literary career, what would it be and why?
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have changed a thing, Julie.

Apart from your writing, do you have any other passions in life?
My wife and I are ardent dog lovers, and over the years we have rescued many abused and neglected dogs, and we currently share our home and our lives with ten wonderful rescued dogs, all of whom we consider part of our family and who give us the kind of unconditional love that only dogs can give. They nearly all have real stories of heartbreak and previous cruelty they could relate, if they could talk, and so we see it as our mission in life to give them the care and the love they all deserve in equal measure.

Brian, thank you for taking the time to talk to me and for giving us an insight into your life and your writing.
You’re very welcome, Julie. Thank you also for wanting me to talk to you and giving me the opportunity to talk about myself and my life. My best wishes go to you and to all your readers, and hope to ‘see’ you all buried in the pages of one of my books one day or maybe sitting in a movie theater enjoying something I’ve played a small part in bringing to life on the screen.

Just click on the photos to launch a link to Brian L. Porter's webpages

ADDITIONAL WEBSITES:
FOR NEWS ON THE MOVIESThunderball Films Media Page
BRIAN's FACEBOOK FAN PAGE -https://www.facebook.com/groups/fansofbrianlporter/permalink/672053692856068/
BRIAN's "A Study In Red" PAGE - http://astudyinred.webs.com/
BRIAN's "Inspector Norris" PAGE - www.inspectornorris.webs.com
BRIAN's "Glastonbury" PAGE - http://glastonburythenovel.webs.com/

Click on image to go to Brian's Purple Death page

5 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful revealing interview. It lets me get to know the man more thoroughly. I only know Brian through the Internet but I must say he is one of the most determined and dedicated people I've ever met. I am totally excited about his successes. He deserves it. And though I am not in a position to rescue animals, I know Brian has a heart of gold and that pleases me no end. I'm pleased to know him in that regard as well.

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    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comments! It has been an honor to get to know Brian and I found his career to be inspirational! He is such a talented person and so strong! Thank you for your support!

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  2. I loved this interview, knowing more about Brian and how things came together. Others like myself can only admire your hard work and dedication--overcoming obstacles and continuing to write and be productive and successful is so inspiring. The talent was always there, I am certain. It was inevitable for others to notice. I'm glad they were persistent! As for the rescue, Brian knows I call him St Francis of England. He deserves the title. Thunderball Films has discovered a fine talent indeed, What a great interview, thank you Julie and Brian!.

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    1. Thank you, Carole! It was a great interview to be a part of! Brian is so talented and such a charming personality! I have a lot of respect for him both professionally and personally! I plan to post more about his dog rescue efforts as well!

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    2. Great idea! and it helps the dogs and that is so important to him. :)

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