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An Interview with Tony Klinger, Veteran Producer, Writer, Playwright, Filmmaker

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2015

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Let's kick this interview off by talking about the very early days of your career in the film business: I've read somewhere that you already worked as an assistant director on the TV show The Avengers at the tender age of 16 - so do talk about your first steps in the industry for a bit, and about your experiences on The Avengers?


I was thrilled to get the job with The Avengers, I was about 16 or 17 and had already worked as a runner and a third AD on a couple of films, Penthouse and Up the Junction, both directed by Peter Collinson, and I had worked summer jobs as an assistant projectionist, very junior assistant editor, more of a pos cutter to satisfy the censor and also about a year as a general dogsbody with a fancy title for a company that had contracts for various other companies such at ATV, the BBC and the Ministry of Defence, making training films, sports documentaries, and general information shorts. It was terrific on the job training for me and fitted into what my family demanded of me, that I should know everyone's job fairly well soI could do my own job properly. Because of that I ended up doing every job in the film industry except make up and hair and the craft positions, which I would have been hopeless at. When I got to The Avengers I was interviewed for the job and they asked me what didI want pay-wise, and I was still very dumb and related it to my previous lowly position and not whatI was being asked to do, soI said £14 per week and you've never seen a man say yes so fast. He nearly shook my hand off! Little did I realise that the other third assistants were getting double my basic. But I worked my butt off and was always in the studio first and left last, so before the end of the first month I was earning a fortune in overtime, so much so that the union guys, who were very strong in those days, pegged my hours for the benefit of the other workers and filled out my overtime sheet without me ever seeing it or making a claim. I was earning so much thatI didn't have time to spend it and then some guys arrived from New York and warned me that I was earning at the same level as the producer and banned me from coming in so early and told me to leave when we wrapped for the night. I tried to tell them that would mean no one was going to shepherd the other units out onto location every morning but they wouldn't listen so I did what they told me and the first day the second unit didn't turn the camera until about 11 or two hours or more later than usual, so they saved on my hours and it cost them a fortune paying for the extra time for everyone else on the unit. But again it was terrific fun and a great experience and you learned watching people like Brian Clemens turning out those scripts so professionally and an excellent unit working like a machine, most of the time. I also got to watch some terrific and varied directors either on the way up or on the slippery slope because we were the very best of slick British television of the era. I had a million experiences during that year, which was mostly wonderful, and I owe a special nod to the late Patrick McNee, known to millions as Steed, because he was so kind and supportive, even if he could be a little strange. 


When talking about your early days, we probably also have to talk about your father, producer Michael Klinger - so what can you tell us about him, and in what way has he influenced/inspired you?


I recommend anyone interested in my late father, Michael Klinger, should take a good long look at the Michael Klinger Papers website created and curated by Doctor Andrew Spicer from the University of the West of England from the archive we donated of my father's filmwork. Andrew also recently wrote an award winning book entitled The Man Who Got Carter about my father and I've shot most of the film of the same name. Dad was instrumental in establishing what a British independent film producer was and it was largely thanks to his success that the British indie film industry survived the huge slump of the 70's through which he kept raising money and making films, and some of those films, like Get Carter, Repulsion, Cul-de-sac he doesn't get the credit he deserved because people might prefer to poke fun at the fact that he also made a wide range of films. As you can see I'm enormously proud of dad, and all his achievements who, as much or more than anyone else, created the British indie film producer.

Dad came to the film industry from the totally opposite direction to myself having been an engineer during the Second World War and then having to find a way to make some money because he was, like millions of others at the time very much a bright working class boy, having been born in Soho from immigrant parents, his dad was a tailor's presser, so his first years he didn't even have his own bed and had to share a mattress thrown over the presser's table with his older brother. He really fitted the profile of an American film producer more than his British contemporaries. People always made the mistake of under-estimating his intellect and that was a huge mistake. He had total recall, was enormously literate and was always top of his class. He was also a great dad and probably the best script editor I ever met. I don't think it was an accident that he made so many memorable films.


Back to you though: When it comes to filmmaking, you seem to have done it all, producer, writer director, and whatnot - so what do you enjoy the most, what could you do without, and why?


Without doubt writing is the most fun for me. I realised I wanted to be a writer involved with film from about the age of 8 whenI got to watch some Cadburys and Nestle chocolate and had to write an essay for their competitions. I won one for my age group and tied for first in the other and the prize was a lot of chocolate and a visit to the chocolate factory. Delicious. I've never really evolved from being a writer wanting chocolate. But as a child who didn't know how to become a professional film writer I went at it with some perversity and good fortune. My way through was logical since I soon understood that no one was going to buy my screenplays or even read them so I had to also be the filmmaker. That evolved into my working on my own projects from the age of 17 at nights and weekends while I was also working for other people as various forms of gofer. That way myself and my then colleague and friend, Mike Lytton, could "borrow" various kit and facilities and work overnight when security was sleeping. I don't think we slept much for a few years but we drank a lot of coffee, played football down the corridors to keep awake and smoked an unhealthy number of cigarettes, none of which I would recommend as good for your health. Directing for me was just a means of getting my words or ideas on a screen, and producing followed because I didn't like not getting my fair share of what my ideas generated financially.


I've read somewhere that you have turned down an offer from your father to produce the Confessions ...-series of raunchy comedies - you just have to talk about that point in your life for a bit!


I was making a film called Extremes and we were due to move our shoot from London to Glasgow. I spoke with my father who said we should break our train journey where he was shooting Get Carter in Newcastle and to buy a book for the train journey and then we could talk about it when we arrived. I did what he asked and it was a very funny book but not the kind of book I would have bought for myself. When we got to Newcastle and checked into the hotel dad asked me whatI thought of the book and would I like to work with him on it as either the executive producer or producer with Greg Smith. I was shocked, and I reminded him that I was an award winning documentary film maker and I couldn't possibly involve myself with a sexy comedy. He said there wasn't anything so terrible about beautiful naked women and laughter but I was pig-headed and wouldn't listen. So I turned down the offer and, as you probably know the Confessions ... series was created and very ably produced by the late lamented Greg Smith with my old man as executive producer. Dad would happily remind me that it was films like the Confessions ...-series that paid for films like Get Carter or Gold or Shout at the Devil - and he was right and I was being a stupid immature toss pot!


Your first big success as a producer was probably the The Who-documentary The Kids are Alright - so you of course have to talk about that movie for a bit! And what made you eventually release a book, Twilight of the Gods, on the making of this movie?


The Kids are Alright was the film which was largely a nightmare to make but a great deal of fun to watch, and I guess it was that experience that made me write the book about making the film, it is a warning to any aspiring film maker, that unless you really are passionate about making films don't get involved because everyone in the creative industries is either a fucking maniac, a clown, an ass licker, a genius or a loser... sometimes if you're lucky you get to run into a decent human being who is competent but usually they're the grips, or the sparks, people without an ego big enough to house an elephant! I'm ranting, but if you read the book, which I think was objective and a life lesson, you will see many of the people involved could easily have come straight from a casting session of one of those strange Federico Fellini films. We were all behaving a little freaky through the filming. Strange isn't it? Someone told me they loved a film I produced with my dad, Riding High, with Eddie Kidd, which was basically a really fun film to make, except for normal production issues, but it was a good time, but the film was nowhere near as good as it should have been for a multitude of reasons, whereas The Kids are Alright came out pretty great despite it being a nightmare to make. I thought it was worth putting down the history for others to understand the process and the reactions have been fantastic to the book so on that level it worked. To be honest it also served another purpose. WhenI started writing the first draft, immediately after production, it got some of the poison out of my system. I didn't want to become cynical or hateful because I felt abused by anyone; I have never felt a victim nor do I want that victim mentality. After writing the first draft I put it away for reflection for a very long time and my subsequent drafts were more considered and I hope objective. The film has stood the test of time and is probably a very good picture of a period and a mind set that we can all enjoy.


Another film of yours you just have to talk about is The Butterfly Ball ...


Butterfly Ball was based on great music by Roger Glover and visual representations and poetry from the book of the same name by Alan Aldridge. I was hired to make this film and I was probably 23 or 24 years old, so I knew enough how to make a film, but wasn't really strong enough to fight my corner as I should have done. We had a budget, which I remember was just over £60k which was sizeable for that kind of film in that time. We were going to film the concert at the Royal Albert Hall with all the musicians and then film staged inserts. We were engaging the lady who had designed the costumes for Tales of Beatrix Potter, we had a large group of dancers who were going to rehearse for a week and a bunch of other great stuff. The day before we were due to shoot I was called into a meeting at the Albert Hall and was told my budget had been cut from 60 to 16k and we didn't have permission to shoot Vincent Price [Vincent Price bio - click here] perform the poetry and I shouldn't film any of the rehearsals because we no longer had permission from the musicians union. I should have walked, now I would but I wanted desperately to get the film made, so instead of the great costumes we hired crappy stuff from a fancy dress shop, instead of top actors to perform we got friends to dress up and do their best and we somehow got a film made on the cheap and crept over the finishing line. We wanted to sharpen it up and reduce its length to 60 minutes but we'd signed a distribution contract that demanded a 90 minute film so that's the version that went into the cinemas. All told I still feel proud that we got it made and have to look at it as a life lesson. I still get comments, some great and some not so great about it after all these years and I think this is the first time I've every really explained what happened. Even people like Roger Glover didn't know what was happening and that might also have been a product of the bitter in fighting there was between some of the management of Deep Purple at the time which money wise probably had a lot to do with why the money issues came up at the last minute. But like my dad always reminded me thereafter, "you can't put a credit on the screen saying the costumes are rubbish because..."


Any other movies of yours you'd like to talk about?


I'm credited as associate producer (line producer) on Shout at the Devil starring Lee Marvin and Roger Moore, but I actually pretty much produced the film with my father. He suffered a heart attack when we were in the early stages of production in the african jungle. It was a very tough series of locations, with a nightmare director having a torrid love affair problem, and financiers who were not sometimes providing finance. I was worried for my father, who swore me to secrecy because he was worried what would happen to the film, the insurance and the finishing of it if anyone knew he was incapacitated. My mother was naturally very anxious so we hid how ill he was from her also. It was dramatic and traumatic. Because we were also making a huge film in four countries, Malta, South Africa, Germany and the UK. I had to hold it together and pretend everything was fine and we also had huge currency fluctuations, sometimes 10-20% and we had an incredible inflation rate, something like 20% in that year, to cope with, plus the money for the production was not appearing as anticipated. My father was ill and heroic, and I think I did pretty well and we got a pretty impressive film out of it, and I still can't believe we did it and no one ever realised what we'd pulled off. It was only a pity that the director wasn't more able because that film could have been really epic and we missed that opportunity. But once the actor Charlton Heston said to me in an interview a very wise few words, art by definition is imperfectable. That film was a documentary called The Festival Game and I think that was one of the best documentaries about the Cannes Film Festival and was one of the most played documentaries in British cinema history of the period with something like 1,400 playdates. I was proud of having made that film at 19 and that was a great fun period for me working with my then colleague and friend, Mike Lytton on films like Extremes which were really ground breaking stuff.


with Michael Caine

Any future projects you'd like to share?


Presently I am working on the next theatrical production of my recently premiered play, A Tired Heart & the C, which opened last month for a short initial run and got great critics and we even managed to scrape a modest profit without any marketing spend or any promotional activity. There's a great pay-off to that, we originally received, in error, the returns for Othello, which was on at the same theatre before us, and it turned out we did better than that, so I think it's legitimate for us to feature the line "the play that beat Shakespeare" on our posters! Anyhow I wanted to see how my new play performed in the raw, and thanks to a terrific crew and very talented actors I had a great first theatrical experience. Now I'm working on the next and bigger production of that play, and on two others, one a big musical piece of theatre together with my old friend and colleague David Courtney, but we're not ready to announce any details on that. I am also directing and writing the film about my father called The Man Who Got Carter and although the focus is dad, it's about the passion and story of independent film production and how crazy you have to be to tread that path, to which I plead guilty. We have already shot the interviews with people like Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney and many others and now we are into the VFX and feature recreation drama sections. It's grown into a bigger project than I'd envisaged because we've gone about it more like a documentary drama so what we discover has influenced what we film. I am writing and producing the film Just a Boy which is an ambitious and uplifting feature film about the life and times of Richard McCann who, when just 5 years old woke up one morning to discover his mother had gone, murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper, his first victim wasn't just Mrs McCann but the entire family. Their lives fell apart, drugs, violence, prison was the background to Richard growing up until one day Richard decided his life didn't need to be that way. It's a film that shows what you can do with love, determination and drive, it's Rocky without the boxing. Last but not least I have my next novel due for publication early next year, and its title is Under God's Table and it couldn't be more current or topical, it's the story of two boyhood friends originally from Iraq, an Arab and a Jew who grow up to become deadly enemies living, loving and fighting across our world. This follows my first novel, The Butterfly Boy, which was published last year.


Quite a few of your movies/documentaries have rock music themes - pure coincidence or is there a story behind this?


Music drives me and always has. I can't really separate the narrative from the words and music because it's as universal a language as film and maybe more so. It crosses borders, and it's emotion turned into sound. It was always that way for me so it was natural that I would find music as a driver in my career. Something about this passion must have made its way into the group consciousness of the business because I have always been offered a great deal of musical film type work. Strangely enough I also receive a steady stream of compliments about my music sound tracks of the films I made. Some of them go back to the earliest work I did, and that's nearly half a century because I started as a boy! And some of those soundtracks were for films that had no recognisable musical theme. That plus I always battled to get great music on all my films even when there was no budget. I well remember trying to convince Supertramp to license me the rights about six tracks for my film Extremes. They were even more poor than us and they would come and watch the various cuts of the film and kept saying they weren't getting the buzz, until eventually they did get the buzz. We did the deal for about £300, and then their manager called us back and said they had a problem keeping up the payments on their van and the drum kit so if we could pay a further £500 or £600 we could have a half share in the publishing of those tracks. We didn't have any money, because it worked out that our fee for making the film made into a weekly salary was about £10 a week each. We went  cap in hand to our financier and distributor, Barry Jacobs at Eagle Films and begged him to put in the extra money because we knew the tracks were great and we stood to have a half share of the half share and he threw us out and told us to f... off! Those tracks became pretty well known since that was a bit more than half of the album Crime of the Century. I  could go on with a million stories like that, good and bad, but the major thing music gave me was a canvas on which we could paint our stories onto film and that remains a signature for everything I do, even the play we just premiered had a great soundtrack.


You've also made quite a few music videos during your career - so do talk about those for a bit, and how does shooting them compare to making a feature film?


Tony with 'Honest' John Plain and band

The first thing that should be different about making a music video is that it should give you the freedom to innovate and experiment, if it doesn't do that it can become very boring very fast. How many ways can you film a guy playing bass guitar etc? It can get very repetitive. So you have to go where the music takes you and be prepared to confront the musicians and their management and the record companies if you really believe in your vision. If the band is big it becomes more about you and them working together to find a theme and an idea of how you want to express their musical concepts through the visual medium. That collaboration should be exciting and fun and can be very wonderful. It's the smaller musical acts with crap management that are the biggest pain because they express their insecurities with paranoia and a general lack of new ideas. They also want million pound videos for ten quid. I'm not saying that you can't do wonderful things for a variety of budgets but sometimes small and intimate is better than thirty ladies bumping and grinding. Great lighting and original settings are usually better than a second division version of what some giant act has shot for a fortune. My videos have always been dominated by what the musical artist is wanting to express and I, in turn, can translate that for them visually. That is still exciting for me but the stars have to be in alignment for me to want to do it purely because I became very selective and only want to work with artists who excite me musically and nowadays that is also hampered by the fact that the industry isn't able to spend as generously as they did to promote their artists. In the end it was about you doing a great job with great artists so they could sell millions of records, take away the last part of that equation and you have a problem all down the line. We had a part of one of the companies we ran that made juke box videos, hundreds and hundreds of them, but our entire fee for a three or four minute single was pennies, well not literally pennies, but near enough. We treated it as a breeding ground for new production and directing talents, something real that they could wet their creative teeth on, but as a self-sustaining business, no way. So the occasions for me to make music videos has shrunk but as you can tell that's ok because I am pretty busy elsewhere.


The biggest difference between music video production and feature film production is the ability to express a narrative either with brevity or over 90 + minutes. Everything is bigger and to a degree more cumbersome with a feature, the schedule, the budget, the cast, the locations and the crew. You appreciate that it also costs more, takes longer and is infinitely more complex on a feature. I enjoy that challenge on a feature much more because I see myself primarily as a storyteller and there are bigger stories to tell in feature films. It's also like the difference between eating fast food or a great three course meal. It's nice to enjoy the odd Big Mac but you get better nutrition in a good restaurant. That brings me to the last big differentiator and that's this, if you make decent, honest films they can resonate over time whereas music videos are generally disposable entertainment with no longevity. I genuinely enjoy it when people talk to me about some of the features I've been lucky enough to be involved with.


I've read somewhere that despite all the movies you've made you see yourself as a writer first - so do talk about Tony Klinger, the writer, and about your books!


I touched on my past (Twilight of the Gods), present (The Butterfly Boy) and future books (Under God's Table) and the scripts I'm working on at present for my plays and films in development or in production and when I think about it I guess I have writing diarrhoea! I can't stop, I have a writing compulsion. More seriously I enjoy writing and consider myself a professional writer. Being a professional writer means you write to a schedule, and do so pretty much every day, and you do so as a paying proposition. I started writing when I was about 8 years old as I indicated in the tale of my entering some essay writing public competitions and that made me realise that this was the life for me. I was offered my first book publishing deal when I was 17 and I turned it down because it didn't seem to me that £2,500 was a lot of money to write a book that would probably take me 6 months to a year to write, what a shmuck I was! Mind you if I'd accepted that deal it could have turned out that I'd never have become seriously involved in film making and I've loved that life and had some fun and a little success. You can always ask the if question and that can drive you crazy. So I got back to writing books with about a 40 year gap which was more than a slight detour but who knows, maybe that's the way it was meant to be. I'm really enjoying the writing of the books and the reactions to them, but not so much the experiences I've had with publishers. Perhaps its just the publishers I've been encountering or maybe I need a proper book agent, but then again sometimes you need a bit of luck to find the perfect publishing partners.


You also have to talk about your project, the Be Creative Directory, and the philosophy behind it!


I formed Be Creative Directory - - to enable fellow creative people to expand, share and communicate to other creative people their vision and their passion. It has a few thousand free members and is available for anyone in any creative sector. I would love to have more people help us move this concept forward!

Early next year we launch a spin off concept that creates event or training days for corporations through the creative medium to make them accessible for everyone.


Writers, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?


I very much admire the Coen brothers and have done since they arrived on the scene. They really can do the lot and do so in a meaningful and honest way. They've got so much talent in every area of writing, direction and production it's scary. Of course you have to admire the sheer brilliance of Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Steven Spielberg, Frank Capra, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Fellini, and some of the time my dad's old sparring partner, Roman Polanski. When you get to writers I don't know if you mean screenplay writers or writers in general, going on the latter first, you have to include people like Shakespeare, Zola, Salinger, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Heller, and there are a million others I admire but these and a few more I love. Less numerous are the screenplay writers and they are less obvious because they are, many a time, not given free rein, so they can be less constantly excellent in their output. I'd list Robert Bolt, Woody Allen, Mike Leigh although he doesn't write screenplays like anyone else, but he is totally original, Billy Wilder, Paddy Chayefsky, the Coen brothers again, I.A.L. Diamond, Barry Levinson. That's a pretty stupendous list of talented people with original things to say in a manner that will always resonate.


Your favourite movies?


Remember you didn't ask for the best films but the ones which are my favourites. It's impossible to have a big enough list and also you get to be god like, not that it matters either way, but here goes: Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, the Laurence Olivier Henry V, 2001, Some Like it Hot, Schindler's List, Lawrence of Arabia, Cul-de-sac, Fargo, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Gentleman's Agreement, The Grand Budapest Hotel.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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I don't think I want to add more discomfort on the people who made films that I might really deplore. No one, not even the biggest schlockmeister sets out to make crappy movies, but sometimes it can happen to anyone. No one gets it right all the time. But what's the point in our enjoying their pain?


Your website, Facebook, whatever else?




Facebook fanpage:


Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


You might like to check out the Creative Den which readers might find interesting and useful...


Thanks for the interview!


Special thanks to Richard S Barnett, founder of IIWYK!!!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...


Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!


Bauliche Angelegenheiten
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Michael Haberfelner


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