Show People: If the cap fits, she'll wear it: Caroline Thompson

DUSK IS falling just beyond a western outreach of the M25, the gloomy hum of which you can hear in the background. The accent of every voice places the speakers inside that ring road. The scene is puddle-spattered Pinewood, last refuge of the British film industry, and we are standing, believe it or not, on the very spot where Gotham City used to be.

The current set, a rather less imposing courtyard and stable, is for Black Beauty, adapted and directed by very nearly the only American on the premises (the others are the producer and the horses). Her name is Caroline Thompson. She wrote the screenplays for the hits Edward Scissorhands and The Addams Family, but this is her first time in the director's baseball cap.

The dilemma for Thompson, as for all writers who are given the chance to direct their own work, is this: 'If you're driving a car and there's a bunch of pedestrians cramming the street, you holler at the pedestrians. And when you're a pedestrian and the drivers are all behaving like maniacs, you holler at the drivers.' So what do you do when you're both? She is, she says, respecting her own script far less than would any other director. 'People have told me: 'Next time somebody else directs something that you've written you'll be easier on them.' I say: 'Absolutely not.' I'm perfectly capable of hypocrisy.'

Thompson was here last year for the filming of her adaptation of The Secret Garden, which was directed by Agnieszka Holland. A critical hit in America, it opens here this week. After that, 'Warner Brothers asked me if I would do an adaptation of Black Beauty and I said that I would love to if I could direct it.' They took their time but they said yes, bringing Thompson into the swelling sorority of big-time women directors.

If you take her career as an accurate guide to how to write scripts, be successful and stay sane, it would seem that all you have to do is ask. The Harvard degree in ancient Greek is strictly optional, the formative visit to Disneyland at the age of eight perhaps less so. She was born in Washington DC, 37 years ago, the daughter of a teacher. By the time she moved from her native East Coast to Los Angeles she had under her belt a spell in journalism and a gothic novel about a mother who is revisited by her aborted foetus. Penelope Spheeris, who has since found fame with Wayne's World, wanted to direct it. 'I said: 'You can have an option on the book for a dollar if you let me write the script with you so I can learn about that.' So that's what we did. She never did make it, but it attracted attention.'

In a town full of writers who make a living from projects that never reach the screen, Thompson had undergone that dispiriting experience for the last time. Two more of her scripts are in the can, both full-length cartoons, Homeward Bound, which comes out in a fortnight, and Nightmare Before Christmas, produced by Tim Burton, which is featured in this month's New York Film Festival. Thompson was first teamed with Burton by their agent in the days when his CV largely consisted of Pee Wee's Big Adventure. They hit it off.

'He had an image from a drawing he had done at high school, and a name, and the name was Edward Scissorhands and the image was of a guy with scissors instead of hands. Instantly, I understood the metaphor and went home and wrote the script in about three weeks. He went on to do Beetlejuice and Batman and I was sure he would never come back to do Edward but he did. We asked for very little money up front but complete control and it worked. I never had a studio meeting. We made the movie we wanted to make.'

She has found having total control something of a culture shock. 'I'll be there sitting and thinking and talking to myself as I do at my desk at home and I'll turn around and there's 150 people behind me. I spent the first few weeks red in the face. I've been in my room alone for 20 years.'

It is tempting to draw an analogy between the figure she cuts - under that cap and copious night-shoot clothing, she has a brittle, waif-like appearance - and the characters she has been writing about. 'Stories that I love are always about the outsider, and it can be an absurd outsider like Edward Scissorhands, it can be a child like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden, it can be a horse like Black Beauty. I mean the world isn't made for these creatures and I'm very moved by the creatures for whom the world is not made.

'My stories are essentially all the same and I think that's true of any writer. It's only in retrospect that you realise it, of course. It's not as if you sit down and say: 'How am I going to tell the outsider story this time?' One finds oneself in the middle of these adaptations thinking 'Why am I doing this?' and then I realise it's this tale again - the innocence of going blindly into the world like Edward Scissorhands did and discovering the grubbiness underneath.'

Her success excludes her from any comparison with those of whom she writes. One group, though, from which she is a voluntary outcast, is her own sex. Doesn't she feel she bears a torch for women in Hollywood? 'I don't carry a gender banner, much to the disappointment of some of my sisters. I think it's a great advantage being female in Hollywood. The skills required for survival in Hollywood are the female skills - manipulation, cunning and flexibility. It's the men I feel sorry for. I think they're completely at sea, but for us it's a perfectly natural arena.'

'The Secret Garden' (U) opens Friday at Warner West End (071-437 4343) and around the country.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before