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Former cinema editor and now freelance film writer Brian Pendreigh will talk about his career and love of film – as well as his own book The Man In The Seventh Row – at NessBookFest in Inverness on Saturday

By Margaret Chrystall

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AS a former cinema editor of The Scotsman, writer Brian Pendreigh has great Scottish film stories woven through his own life story.

But if you were to make a film of his life, you would have to start with Brian’s almost Technicolor childhood memories of films he saw growing up in Edinburgh.

Brian Pendreigh, his talk double-billed with a screening at NessBookFest.
Brian Pendreigh, his talk double-billed with a screening at NessBookFest.

His own book, The Man In The Seventh Row And Related Stories Of The Human Condition, stars Roy whose life takes a surreal turn. He finds himself being sucked into the action of films he fell in love with when young, including The Magnificent Seven, Blade Runner and Braveheart.

As a reader, you have to decide whether Roy’s experience is real or imagined.

And the ongoing mystery of Rosebud in his life – the name a crucial clue at the heart of classic film Citizen Kane – will keep you guessing until the third short story that ends the book.

Brian shares his first experience of being on a film set.

“All the stuff about The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie was true,” he said.

“My dad took me to see it being made.”

In the book, Roy plays an extra in the film Braveheart.

Brian might not have – but he was in the frame for unique insights into its making and its success, gaining best picture Oscar in 1996.

“When I was cinema editor I knew the person who ran the local film locations office and they told me a guy was over from America wanting to make an epic movie about William Wallace.

“His name was Randall Wallace and this was his second visit to Scotland.

“On his first, he had gone to Edinburgh Castle, had seen the statue of William Wallace there and thought ‘That guy has the same name as me’ and began to research the life story.

“I had thought myself that Wallace’s story would make a great film.

“So we met and talked about possible locations. Back in those days you needed a lot of money to make a movie. You couldn’t CGI hundreds of people in a battle either. You needed hundreds of people on set.

“I thought ‘This is never going to happen, it is just so expensive’.

“So I thought nothing of it until Alan Ladd Jr – the son of Hollywood actor Alan Ladd and a film executive who ran United Artists – was moving on and was given a ‘golden cheerio’ from the organisation. He could pick two scripts to take with him as a project and one was Braveheart.

“The next thing I knew, Mel Gibson had picked up the script, read it and wanted to direct it.

“Suddenly it became a goer with Paramount and Columbia, I think, getting together to jointly finance it.

“I had an ‘in’ with them because I had been in close contact with Randall Wallace and though I was never on the set of Braveheart I did get to the Oscars.”

Though the way Brian tells it, it almost didn’t happen...

Brian Pendreigh will talk about his book and his career writing about film.
Brian Pendreigh will talk about his book and his career writing about film.

There was no accreditation for Scottish press, but he argued with the film Academy that Braveheart was a Scottish movie.

“I thought ‘It’s not going to happen’, but messaged Mel Gibson’s office.

“And then I honestly don’t know what happened, but I got a phone call in the middle of the night at two or three in the morning on my landline – ‘It’s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here, we’ve got a place for you at the Oscars, you can be backstage and in the interview area, the entrance – wherever you want.’

“The film had been up against Apollo 13 that year and every time the two had gone up against each other as the award ceremony went on Apollo 13 won, apart from best picture!

“I’d felt the odds were wrong, with Braveheart five to one against for that category.

“So though I don’t think I’ve ever bet on the horses, I had a bet on Braveheart to win!”

Brian's book The Man In The Seventh Row, fiction incorporating many golden real film memories.
Brian's book The Man In The Seventh Row, fiction incorporating many golden real film memories.

While he was out there for the ceremony, Brian tracked down some Scots in Hollywood to interview for articles, including Ronald Neame, who lived out there and had directed The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie – taking Brian straight back to one of his earliest significant film experiences, being on the film set as a youngster.

Having written a book about Mel Gibson – who later starred in the Scottish-set movie of Hamlet, it was Brian who first suggested in an article in The Scotsman – later speaking to Hamlet director Franco Zeffirelli whom he had got to know – that Dunnottar Castle would make a good location for Elsinore in the film. And it did!

For the idea for his next book, Brian has turned back to his beloved films, this time Westerns, for inspiration.

Outlining the story to you, Brian sounds like a film director scoping out what will be the opening scene of an epic movie.

“I’ve written the first two paragraphs,” he laughs.

Brian will speak about his life in film and about his book, The Man In The Seventh Row and will also sign copies and take questions at NessBookFest on Saturday at Eden Court at 7.30pm.

Keep up with Brian on Twitter: @BrianPendreigh

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