The Guinness Book of Film (1998)
This was a gig I stumbled into via a Parafax colleague who was already contributing pieces. He’d been given Duck Soup (1933) to review and knew I was a Marx Brothers fan, so I ended up penning it on his behalf. I then realised that this could be an additional source of income, and was taken on as part of the team. The work was split between standard 100-word entries and longer ‘Guinness Choice’ pieces for the film of the year. I’d forgotten how much I contributed until checking my files, but it turns out I wrote eight ‘films of the year’ and a whopping seventy-five standard entries. However, given my bent towards golden oldies, there were fewer and fewer films I felt I could write about cogently with each passing decade, and I was struggling to find anything that piqued my interest after 1993. Don’t blame me; blame Hollywood. The conceit was that we had to pretend we were writing at the time of each film’s release. There was nothing here to trouble Messrs Halliwell or Maltin, and some of the selections were dubious at best (in what universe is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the best film of 1971?), but it provided useful experience of tailoring the word count to very strict specifications. It was also the first time I received a credit in print – which is always a thrill, especially when my surname is spelled correctly. Here is a catholic yet representative sample.
Towards the end of my stint at Parafax, the video database company, we began to dabble in retail. In order to promote the stock available, we would write a short promotional article every couple of weeks on a particular theme, including hyperlinks to the video that could be purchased. So, to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock’s centenary, I wrote a two-part biography promoting everything of his that was then available on VHS and the emergent upstart DVD. Some of these were written quite straight, others were slightly facetious, and I doubt we shifted many videos as a result. However, it made a pleasant change from paraphrasing the blurb on the back of inlay sleeves, and gave me my first (albeit limited) experience of trying to catch a customer’s attention and convince them to part with their money. Just a year or so later I was doing this on a regular basis for Book Club Associates; it all adds up… These pieces are listed chronologically in reverse order (as far as I can remember it).
When freelance work at the Book Club Associates dried up I had a stab at writing some television-related pieces, in the hope that I might find work at a listings magazine of some kind. One potentially interested employer did get back to me several months later, but by then I had relocated to Italy to teach English. This is an eclectic selection, but there are traces here of the style that would emerge in both the later screenonline biographies and my more tongue-in-cheek CST blogs. Dates are approximate; it was a long time ago…