FILM / The British are coming (home): You're a British director. You're a hit. You're invited to Hollywood. You're stitched up. You're not alone

Bill Forsyth and Mike Figgis have both vowed never to work in Hollywood again. They are the latest in a long line of British film-makers to be lured there by the promise of artistic freedom and big budgets only to find their creativity stifled by the studios' commercial imperatives. Forsyth has horror stories to tell about Being Human; Figgis about Mister Jones. Both have a familiar ring.

Hollywood has a perverse relationship with British film directors. Hollywood wants the idiosyncratic vision of people like Forsyth, Figgis, Neil Jordan and Stephen Frears; the British directors want Hollywood's money. Hollywood expects the directors to make profitable movies, the directors expect to be allowed to make the films they want.

Disaster usually ensues. Some British directors - Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne, Ridley and Tony Scott (all, intriguingly with backgrounds in advertising) - have prospered in mainstream Hollywood movie-making. Others, like Pat O'Connor (Stars and Bars, The January Man), have withdrawn hurt; or have simply disappeared - whatever happened to Malcolm Mowbray, who decamped to Hollywood after directing Alan Bennett's A Private Function?

The Edinburgh Festival is the only opportunity audiences in the UK have had to see Forsyth's Being Human, starring Robin Williams, on the big screen. Warners, who financed the dollars 20m film, have no immediate plans to release it in this country. In its short run in America it attracted reviews - some good, many bad - but no audiences. The surprising thing about Forsyth, 47 and the director of the quintessentially Scottish films Gregory's Girl and Local Hero, is that he went back to Hollywood for Being Human when he had already come a cropper there in the late Eighties with Breaking In, his amusing film about an ageing safe- cracker. 'I had to fight so often with the backers that in the end what we got was a bastard child that none of us wanted. I wanted it darker, bleaker. They wanted it brighter, more uplifting, cornier. I got the ending I wanted but I lost on virtually every other thing.'

Forsyth conceived Being Human while editing Breaking In. He had a choice between European and American money, but when Robin Williams came on board to play five different people called Hector in five different historical periods, Forsyth plumped for Hollywood and a dollars 20m budget. Filming began in Scotland in 1992 and it became immediately apparent that there was a fundamental difference of opinion about it.

Forsyth recalls: 'For me, this film was about the fact that for individuals nothing changes and nothing ever will, whether you're a caveman or a lawyer. The studio thought experiences do change you and so Hector would get better as he went along.' He sold it to Williams as a mainstream movie. 'It became a running gag. Whenever we had trouble he would say, in a Scottish accent, 'It's OK, it's a mainstream movie'.' Preview audiences didn't agree.

Forsyth is peeved that the fate of the film was decided by these previews, but he should know better. Neil Jordan, snapped up by Hollywood after Mona Lisa, suffered with High Spirits, a cross-cultural farce originally conceived as a sort of Celtic Midsummer Night's Dream. 'The thing got mangled,' he said at the time. 'The previews were used as a pretext to make a different film to the one I'd intended.' Ironically for Jordan, the film was such a success Paramount gave him a bigger budget and total freedom to make We're No Angels with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn. That bombed. (Jordan redeemed himself back in Britain with The Crying Game, and is back in the firing line in the New Year with the big budget Interview With The Vampire.)

Stephen Frears came unstuck in Hollywood with the dollars 55m Accidental Hero, after happy experiences with both Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters; it was the perfectionist antics and script adjustments of Accidental Hero's star, Dustin Hoffman, which caused problems. Frears was hospitalised with a heart complaint, and retreated to Britain to make Roddy Doyle's The Snapper for television.

At least Frears got to retreat: Mike Figgis was 'removed' (his word) from Mister Jones. Figgis, 46, made his striking film debut with Stormy Monday, then went to Paramount for a happy second film, Internal Affairs. It helped revive Richard Gere's career and in return Gere asked Figgis to direct Mister Jones, which he was intending both to produce and star in.

'It was a humiliating experience for me, knowing the ship was sinking and hoping to get into harbour in time,' says Figgis. Conceived as a dark love story between a patient and a doctor in a lunatic asylum, it 'went through three or four reshoots, eight or nine writers, three editors and four composers'.

Figgis was replaced after months of disagreements. 'The studio wanted a smoother love story. Prince of Tides was their benchmark. I was thinking One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Eventually it became about committees - I couldn't talk to individuals and committees would make suggestions which became orders. It's lonely if you're an English director in Hollywood. If things are going great well you're great but if you're fucking up their film . . .' Gere, as producer and star, backed Figgis as best he could. 'Richard fought for the film. But never forget if you live in the Hollywood community and depend on it - which I don't - then the pressures to toe the line are very strong.'

Figgis came back to England to make a contemporary version of Rattigan's The Browning Version, which received its premiere at Edinburgh. His next film is Leaving Las Vegas, starring Nicholas Cage, a low budget independent, shot on 16mm, which starts filming in early September. Some of it will be shot in downtown Los Angeles - 'which is as near to Hollywood as I want to be'.

Meanwhile, despite protestations that he will never make a film again, Forsyth is back in Glasgow planning another collaboration with the producer of Gregory's Girl and its star, John Gordon Sinclair. 'Oh I say that after every film. If the movie had been a blasting success I wouldn't have felt any different. The sap is rising again but only to make my kind of film. I want to film poems. Being Human is a very expensive full- length poem, whereas most Hollywood films are industrial objects and I don't want to make them.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum