Scarecrow City

Bill Baggs

Tell us about 'Scarecrow City'

Having stated that audio was to be our first market it didn't take long for us to get round to this venture into things visual..

Alan Lear put together a video script for us. I re-read the story recently reminding myself of the detail. It was interesting reading.

The basic idea revolved around two alien villains (played by Gary Russell and Barry Killerby) who had set in motion a plan to take over earth. They had released an infected flea that was busily infecting the 'down and out' community of Mill Town (?) and turning them into zombies. Nick Briggs played the good guy, a character called Arthur Mowbray. His life is turned upside down when he starts to investigate the sudden increase in down and outs but finds instead that he's being followed by Gallowrath, another alien visiting earth trying to help. The significant bit to the story and what would have potentially led to more Mowbrary adventures was established when Gallowrath gets killed. Her soul is transplanted into Mowbray's brain and he then adopts her personality and the personality of the hundreds of other souls that she'd absorbed in the past. Thus leaving Mowbray confused but with many powers. Not bad for someone who started out as a humble librarian.

We had a lot of help from Dirk Maggs who lived local to us in Winchester. Dirk is now well established in the audio drama world, but back then he was an enthusiastic film maker.

The project was reliant on Nick Briggs' skills - playing the lead, directing and re-writing. I learnt a lot from him on this project. One dramatic moment that sticks in my mind was from the rehearsal period when Nick was illustrating anger to two of the younger members of the cast. He really blew his top at them, big time. I think they had been winding them up over a period of time and he wanted to show them that commitment was a very important thing.

Fond memories: Good weather. The two rubber masks soaking in my parents bath cos we'd used vaseline, instead of K-Y jelly - Vaseline eats latex - we hadn't realised this until the masks started melting during the filming. Putting a porridge mixture onto the face of a policeman who was playing a zombie. Listening to Gary Russell explain why we'd crossed the line' in terms of camera angles'. Sitting a swamp of mud waiting to grab Nick B's leg.

Nightmare bits: Having to work with Southampton Technical College - they seemed to have a policy of non-encouragement. Making a hash of my dealings with some of the crew. Sorry! Rolling a Land Rover 360 degrees and watching Paul Lunn float like and astronaut in the back - I though I was going to die, heaven knows what was going through Paul's mind.

Nick Briggs

You played Arthur Mowbray in 'Scarecrow City', was this a fun part to play?

It was fun. But the whole project was nightmarish and ill-fated. But Bill was determined. It was a very useful experience. It taught me not to be too ambitious on a small/no budget. We didn't know Gary had leant Bill money to do it. Bill wouldn't tell. He got all secretive. He can be a bit like that sometimes. Although I think he's grown out of it now. He was very young at the time, only about 17... And there he was shouting at people for staying up too late. What a little monster!

Anyway, it was a great experience. You learn so much by practising... and this was very much a practice run.

Who wrote 'Scarecrow City'?

Alan W Lear (Cloud of Fear, Minuet in Hell, Enclave Irrelative, Planet of Lies).

Why was it renamed 'Gentafil'? (spelling?)

Gentothil, I think. Some naff idea I had about Scarecrow City sounding really stupid. There was an incomprehensible word in the script that was something like Gentothil, so I changed it to Gentothil and there you are. I think it might have been the name of an alien species or something. Can't remember.

Why did this fine video project never get a release?

It wasn't fine, it was crap. Because it was never properly finished. There is a rough edit of it that Bill put together for fun. It's terrible. Only really worth watching in a 'holiday video' context.

Anything else happen that was fun at this early stage?

Bill wrote off an expensive landrover during shooting and nearly killed someone. Very amusing. Shame it wasn't on tape. I got off with the girl who made the alien masks. She's a very important person in tv design now. Fleur Whitlock. Very talented.

Why did Liz Knight not continue as Ria?

Liz Knight was not the slightest bit interested in being in these plays. Bill and I had cast her in Scarecrow City from the drama course at Southampton Technical College. She had a natural talent for acting, but I found her increasingly irritating to work with. By the time we'd finished Scarecrow City, I think neither of us wanted to see each other ever again... She was not interested in Doctor Who, so I think she thought we were all a bit mad and sad. She might have been right!

Gary Russell

Tell us more about the villain you played the part of in Scarecrow City?

Scarecrow City. Oh God, I watched that about three weeks ago ironically enough (bar the middle section which Bill lost!) God, it's awful! I was hidden under studded leather (very hot, very kinky) and a fab latex mask made by Fleur Whitlock, who is now very successful in the TV industry as a set designer on The Bill. I remember she made a cast of my face and I freaked out. I'm not claustrophobic, but that terrified me. I funded most of the film, but Bill paid me back eventually. It was fab to do. Nick was mad as Arthur Mowbray, Liz Knight was excellent as the heroine and Barry Killerby, who later played Cuthbert in the AVs and is now extraordinarily rich cos he's been Mister Blobby since day one, was the other (and far better) alien. He got the head movement and voice right. I just sent it up rotten. I died well, I know that. Getting shot in the back and throwing myself down an incline. I was well protected by the leather 'n' studs. Actually, it was enormous fun to do we were kids with new toys. David Rowston was our cameraman, and he was great. I can't remember a day going by without him and Bill ready to kill each other, but nevertheless, it worked. The only drawbacks were the dodgy interior sets and the poor woman, Roxy I think she was called, who played the alien woman. She never really 'went for it' as you do if you're doing SF. Bill ended up editing it on low-band umatic in black-and-white cos we never got the colour balance consistent on the shooting days. A lesson. Amateur films that end up in monochrome rarely start out that way. 'Oh, it's arty' usually means 'Oh, we buggered the colour balance up'. As I said, I've got a copy, but there's fifteen minutes (quite important ones) missing from the middle cos Bill lost it. You know how you're mum always shows your prospective girlfriends pictures of you as a baby? I show Nick's prospective girlfriends Scarecrow City. Oddly enough, he never thanks me.

Why didn't Scarecrow City get a release?

Because some of it isn't there and it really in unwatchable except to those who made it