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Interview with www.filmfocus.co.uk November 2005 (questions and intro by Daniel Chant)

Danny King, born in deepest, darkest Slough and raised in leafy, lovely Hampshire, has carved out a reputation for being one of Britain’s funniest and darkest writers. Before he achieved success through his books, he did a dozens of diverse jobs, from hod carrying to house breaking, model railways to naked models, and met many of the characters that would later appear in his stories along the way.

His first novel, The Burglar Diaries, was published in 2001 to great critical praise and was followed by the equally excellent Bank Robber Diaries, the sadistically perverse Hitman Diaries and the down-right-dirty Pornographer Diaries (arguably a semi-biographical piece of work). His most recent crime novel, Milo’s Marauders, was published in August this year by Serpent’s Tail.

The dark humour and morally ambiguous tales King writes are as hilarious as they are thoughtful and we can honestly vouch that he has yet to disappoint, continuously writing captivating page-turners which demand frequent re-reading.

Now, with The Bank Robber Diaries having been optioned by Coracle Films partners, Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher, for a live-action feature and The Hitman Diaries recently landing a production deal with Mad Dog Films, we sit down with the talented writer to discuss novels, crime, films and vampires.

Firstly, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

My pleasure. You said there’d be sandwiches?

Your career includes catering to vastly differing audiences, we’re relatively sure that the readers of Model Railway Enthusiast are a little different to those of Club International and Mayfair, just some of the titles you worked on. How do you approach working for a specific audience?

You leave it as late as possible, until the designer’s screaming for copy, then quickly rush off something and nine times out of ten they’ll accept it, no matter how bad it is, just grateful to have some words to pad out the pictures with. Actually, Model Railway Enthusiast was five days a week of regurgitating press releases and attending model railway exhibitions. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to suicide/serial murder and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. At the same time, one of my best mates, Clive Andrews (there’s almost always a character called Clive in my books in his honour – usually getting the shit kicked out of him) worked in the next office on Park Homes & Holiday Caravans. His job was even more soul destroying than mine, so I’ve made the hero of a forthcoming novel White Collar the editor of Caravan Enthusiast. It’s my tribute to really crap jobs.

Your written work has frequently been compared to that of Guy Ritchie and his infamous cockney universe of comic book villains (as featured in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) but how does that make you feel and, more importantly, what do you think differentiates the two?

Guy Ritchie’s movies have been very successful, so it’s always flattering to have comparisons drawn with someone so popular, but I didn’t set out to jump on that particular band wagon. Both Burglar and Bank Robber Diaries were written before I ever saw Lock, Stock, and since all the comparisons started coming out I’ve tried to go the other way and move away from the archetypal flash London geezer characters. It doesn’t do any good though, I set Milo’s Marauders in a small town in Hampshire and all the reviews still came out and said the book was about a load of Cockneys sticking up a supermarket. Really? In Hampshire? Surely that should be Hampneys? I think people just need to pigeon-hole your stuff in order to know where you sit in the greater scheme of things, so inevitably I get pigeon-holed with Guy Ritchie, The Sweeney, Minder and so on, but I don’t mind really. I’m in good company.

With two of your novels under option to be produced into live-action features, how closely are you involved with the production and casting of the films?

Fairly closely with Hitman, but not at all with Bank Robber. I’ve met the guys from Coracle just the once, only in passing as it happened, when I looked out of the pub window, saw Jason Flemying walking past and ran out to introduce myself. But I’ve seen their script and it’s pretty close to the book and looks in good shape. As for Hitman, I meet with Martin Malone (Mad Dog Films) quite often for a drink and wrote the first draft of the script for him. He’s subsequently taken it on and written second and third drafts and we’re batting it backwards and forwards between each other to try and get it into the best possible shape, but at the end of the day it’s Martin’s project so he’ll have the final say, but he seems to be doing a fine job too and staying faithful to the original story too.

Rumour has it that Britain’s own Jason Statham is to play a part in The Bank Robber Diaries adaptation. Could you confirm this and, if so, shed some light on which character the mighty bald-one is to play?

I heard that rumour too but I have no idea if it’s true. If it is, I don’t think it’ll be one of the main characters, unless he agrees to drop his Hollywood fees and work for luncheon vouchers and porn mags.

Obviously, as with all translations, there will be differences between the original subject matter and the adaptation. How much artistic licence are you allowing the producers to apply to your ideas?

It’s the other way around actually, it’s how much input they allow me. Once they pony up the dough, they can happily cut me out of the loop altogether if they like, and this has happened in the past. A previous company optioned The Burglar Diaries with the intention of making it into a movie, appointed their own script writer, met with me once and vetoed pretty much every idea I put forwards on the grounds that it was their baby. I read the script and it was truly awful. The story was still there but for reasons best known to themselves, they’d rewritten every last joke in order to stamp their own authority on the movie. And these guys weren’t the sorts of guys you’d have big laughs with down the pub on a Friday night. Luckily, if not surprisingly, it never got made and now The Burglar Diaries has been optioned for a sitcom by the BBC, only this time around, with yours truly writing the scripts. At the end of the day, it’s a hard old thing to do trusting one of your books to someone else, but you can’t kick up too much of a stink otherwise you just end up getting cut out of the process altogether. If you want to take their money, you have to hand it over.

It’s safe to say that your books aren’t for the faint of heart, they’re laced with profanity and, sometimes, uber-violence so are you having to water them down for the screen?

Only a tad. The word “fuck” appears in The Hitman Diaries about 300 times so we’re having to trim that back a little in order to fit in some of the story, but other than that, what you read in the book you should see in the film. Naturally, in order to squeeze a 280 page book into normal feature-length movie you have to cut back and amalgamate as you go along otherwise the audience would never get out of the cinema. But I don’t really look as my books as violent. They are, but that’s not their intention. First and foremost they’re meant to be funny, and often the more extreme the scenario the bigger the laugh. So when my hitman, Ian Bridges, goes out on a first date with expectations of love and happiness, it makes me chuckle that by the end of the night he’s killed seven people and is having to dig his date’s teeth out with a crowbar so that he can get rid of her body. For me, this isn’t violence, this is just funny.

Are you worried that the films might turn out to be disappointing?


What kind of films do you enjoy watching and which do you count as strong creative influences to your own work?

Favourite film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Really good story. Brilliantly filmed and full of great scenes. I also just saw Double Indemnity at the NFT and also thought it was fantastic. Made in 1944 but probably the best movie on anywhere in London last week. Mostly, I like films with great stories and great dialogue. Special effects and A-list actors are all well and good but if you haven’t got a story, you haven’t got a film. The following are a list of films off the top of my head I love and which have probably helped influence my writing: The Long Good Friday, The Shawshank Redemption, The Lavender Hill Mob, most of the Carry-Ons, The Dirty Dozen, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Thing, Fight Club, Casablanca. Laurel & Hardy, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and pretty much anything by Hitchcock. I also saw Team America, World Police last month and thought it was brilliant.

We hear that you have recently written a horror screenplay, Reign of Blood, that you are currently shopping around producers; could you tell us a little about the story and what inspired you to write it?

The story goes like this, once every ten years, all of Britain's vampires have to get together for their once-a-decade meeting. There are ten of them in all, from all walks of life and every part of the country and they take over this remote farm house to discuss territories, settle disputes and catch up, etc.

Halfway through the meeting though, the house is surrounded by a special forces unit that tracks and kills vampires. They think they've cornered just one, not realising they've actually stumbled upon the entire lot, and the whole thing turns into a bit of a shootout, what with the special forces trying to keep the vampires pinned down until reinforcements can arrive and the vampires trying to escape before daybreak. It's your classic siege horror movie, only this time we're cheering for the monsters, because I like my baddies.

I wrote it keeping one eye on the budget (single location shoot, limited cast, no one turns into bats, etc) in order to try and make the whole package as attractive as possible to producers/investors. The smaller the budget, the greater the chance there is of getting something made, so here’s to hoping.

Personally speaking, I’m really pleased with the script. It’s got a simple idea, a lot of action and some good funnies in, even if I do say so myself, so please film companies form an orderly queue here and make me an offer (all cheques should be made out to CASH for accounting reasons).

A horror story is a vast difference from your published novels so was it a conscious effort to avoid being pigeonholed as “Lock, Stock…” literature?

Not really, horror was my first love and I grew up on Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and Creature From The Black Lagoon on BBC2’s Saturday night double-bill of horror when I was a kid. And horror’s generally accepted as a good starting genre when writing/making your first film. Just look at the number of directors/film makers who launched their careers with low-budget horror flicks.

Horror is something that, at the moment, Hollywood is latching onto with big, sharp claws by remaking every horror film from the past few decades, most of which have been laughably bad. What’s your opinion on the remake trend and, if given the opportunity, what would you like to remake and why?

Remakes have been around for as long as movies. The 1931 versions of Frankenstein and Dracula were not the first films of either story so I don’t think we can get too sniffy about subsequent versions when the very iconic classics that purists love to venerate are both remakes themselves. However I agree, most remakes do make you wonder why they bothered, but I think there are probably two main reasons there are, and always will be, remakes; financial and technical. Financially, remaking a movie that’s already widely known usually guarantees you audience figures and a certain return. It’s a safe bet. And technically, advances in special effects almost necessitate the remake of certain films. And horror lends itself particularly well to remakes, though again, I agree, most are utter pants. That said, one recent remake that I thought was outstanding was Dawn of the Dead. Fantastic movie.

Given the differences between writing for the page and writing for the screen, which is your favourite?

At the moment, writing for the page, probably because I’ve yet to go through the entire movie process and see a screenplay I’ve written actually make it onto the screen. But I like writing full stop and try to do something every day, whether it be books, screenplays or anonymous threatening letters to my neighbours. I just enjoy it.

So, what’s next for you? More novels? More screenplays? Or both?

Lots next. The next three novel are all written, Milo’s Run (a sequel to Milo’s Marauders), School for Scumbags (think Harry Potter meets The Dirty Dozen) and White Collar (man in a crap job starts fancying his secretary) and I’m a quarter of the way through Blue Collar (bricklayer meets posho girl and convinces himself he’s not good enough for her).

Hopefully The Burglar Diaries sitcom will get greenlighted some time soon so I can get on with that and next year I’ve got a stage adaptation of The Pornographer Diaries coming out. I’ve written the stageplay for a theatre company in Salisbury (The Bootleg Theatre Company) and they’re hoping to put it on there and in London some time next Autumn.

Well, thanks for answering our questions and all the best for the films! Trust us, we’ll be watching very closely!

No problem. Now, what about these sandwiches?