The cancelling of Klinghoffer

As a left-wing, liberal Jew, there is one subject I rarely discuss in private, let alone publicly, let alone in a blog.  The Israel/Palestine situation is heart-breaking, anger-making, painful and divides Jews all over the world.   Violence cannot and never will be the answer.  The hatred on both sides fills me with despair. Of course,  fear of the other, intransigence in opinion and belief in the rightness of the cause is not confined to Israel/Palestine, but because of who I am, because the bus journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful in the world and because people I love live in that tiny country, it feels personal.  Of course it does – I’ve never hidden either my Jewishness or my political beliefs, but part of my history – my personal history – lives there.

Today, the Metropolitan Opera said this:

“After an outpouring of concern that its plans to transmit John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer might be used to fan global antisemitism, the Metropolitan Opera announced the decision today to cancel its Live in HD transmission, scheduled for November 15, 2014.”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, says the following:

“I’m convinced that the opera is not antisemitic. But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe.”

For those who don’t know, The Death of Klinghoffer deals with the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Front) and subsequent murder of wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer.  The opera is devastating on many levels;  difficult and challenging as the greatest art is and should be.  Since its first performance, Adams has been vilified by both sides, being accused of being both antisemitic and anti-Palestinian.  Or rather, pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli.  In my opinion it is neither.  It is raw, it is grief and despair. It doesn’t romanticize terrorism in the slightest – I often wonder how many of those baying for its closure/banning have even seen or heard it?

I had the privilege of recording the soundtrack for Penny Woolcock’s superb Channel 4 film of Klinghoffer – I was singing with the London Symphony Chorus at the time.  John Adams conducted his own work and we recorded just days after 9/11.  No-one who was there will ever forget how it felt to record Adam’s beautiful, heartbreaking score at that time.

Mr Gelb says he is convinced that the opera is not anti-semitic.  However, he is also convinced that to transmit the performance would be inappropriate.  I’m not sure how that works.  How can you be convinced of those two things at once?  And the bigger question – if you are staging it at all (which of course you should) why should the rest of the world be denied the opportunity of making their own minds up?

I am not denying for one second that there is rising anti-semitism across the world – similarly who can deny that there is anti-Muslim feeling across the world?  But how can censorship of great art be the answer?



What is the difference between an opera and a musical?

I’ve had three singing teachers.  The first was a Bel Canto specialist, an opera term meaning ‘beautiful singing’ in Italian.  I stopped going to him after he stuck his fingers down my trousers and told me it was a secret technique to help me access my emotions and therefore I wasn’t to tell anyone.

My second teacher was a woman at drama school who ruined my voice for years until I found the wonderful Penni Harvey-Piper who completely changed the way I sang by basically teaching me American music theatre singing crossed with opera technique.  Never looked back from there.

In the Indie on Saturday, David Lister’s column contained a piece about the head of English National Opera’s announcement that ENO will be staging some musicals alongside operas.  David Lister largely approves of this, but says: “It’s a move always certain to have detractors among opera-goers.”  It’s also got one detractor here and I say this having spent much of my career to date in musical theatre, but also singing opera for odd recordings and in workshops.  I am very fortunate that I can do a pretty good cross-over, but in no way would I consider myself an opera singer.

Which brings me to the problem of opera houses doing musicals.  I love ENO and I’ve seen some of the best opera productions there – Peter Grimes, Death of Klinghoffer, Nixon in China, Rodelinda, etc etc.  I will draw a veil over The Passenger, but kudos to them for giving it a go.

Some musicals work well in opera, which is David Lister’s point.  Bernstein’s fabulous Candide, for example, is pretty much an opera anyway.  But I’ve seen two opera houses have a crack at Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd.  Opera North was acclaimed by many, but not by me.  The difference between the musical theatre performers (Beverley Klein as Mrs Lovett for example) and the pure opera singers was jarring.  It didn’t work.  Imagine Sir Donald Wolfit trying to do a sitcom.  Worlds not so much colliding as passing one another in bemusement.

And as for the Royal Opera House’s execrable attempt… well, those of us who were there still speak of it in  hushed tones.

The best Sweeney I ever saw was at the National Theatre, with Alun Armstrong and Julia Mackenzie.  Not everyone in the cast was the best singer, but god did they know how to perform Sondheim.  And it’s not about how well you sing.  It’s not about making a lovely noise.

The ROH production pointed this up perfectly.  You could see them thinking ‘oh how hard can this be?  It’s not exactly Wagner, is it?’  Well, guys, let me tell you, musical theatre is bloody hard work – yes I know, so is opera, but at least you don’t have to do it 8 shows a week, every week.   And it’s not just the stamina required, it’s the stylistic understanding of another genre – and most importantly, respect for that genre.  If you think you’re slumming it by singing one of the greatest musicals ever written then perhaps you should put a dep in.

Having said all that, I was fortunate enough to be standing directly behind Bryn Terfel in the opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd at the Royal Festival Hall concert performances of the musical.  He had his back to the audience, head down right next to me as we’re sending our terrifying top Cs into the stratosphere.  And then he turned round and that voice belted out ‘Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…’ It was stunning, not only because he can sing like a god, but because of his total commitment to the piece.

So – good luck ENO.  I have no objections to your doing musicals, and even less objection to being in one of them, so long as it’s done with the respect that it deserves from all concerned.


Music as transformation

A close family friend died today, very unexpectedly.  I’d known her for years, and music was a shared part of our knowing, as her husband sang with the Zemel Choir, a mixed-voice Jewish choir that has been part of my life since I really knew what music was.  My father was Concert Manager for 25 years, and the whole Eckman clan (Jewish Von Trapp Family Singers) have sung with Zemel.  My mother and niece still do.  My father died 21 years ago.  It hurts to write that, even now.

This afternoon, I went off to run a workshop at a homeless centre.  I wasn’t looking forward to this at all, partly because I wasn’t in the singing zone and partly because last week’s session had been a shambles.  Fortunately, following a – shall we say stern – email from me, things were different this week.  Chairs set out, heating on, floor cleaned, Clavinova back in place,  support staff member present and, most importantly, participants who were up for anything, including a rhythm lesson, lots of improvisation and some harnessing of their inner hippie.

I’d chosen the music carefully (i.e. planned a whole two hours in advance instead of as often happens, in the car or the train down when I haven’t had time to think about it.  Honestly, it’s always fine.  Really it is.)  I wanted to cheer myself up.  We’d been doing some work on Ravel’s gorgeous, magical opera L’Enfant Et Les Sortileges, but I wasn’t in the mood  for it today, so I went for the sunny, flowers-in-your-hair Aquarius from Hair  and Gershwin’s equally sunny, joyous, I Got Rhythm.  They both went down a treat, and at the end of the session I was dreading, I went home buzzing with its success, but more importantly, with music.

Music is so much a part of my life that I don’t often listen at home.  When I do listen, I try to do so with attention, not as an adjunct to something else. Unless it’s baking, since nothing says chocolate brownie like Seth Lakeman.  Next month, I perform my first gig with the inspirational charity Lost Chord, which sends musicians and singers into dementia care homes.  The training day for this was in a Jewish care home in South London and was gut-wrenchingly, heart-breakingly hard and also beautiful.  Any of the residents could have been members of my family.  I sat with a lovely man who actually remembered our family bakery in Edgware, although he couldn’t remember that he was 91 that day.  “How old am I?” he asked.  “How old do you want to be?” I replied.  “21.”  So he was 21 every time he asked the question.

The residents loved the concert – they recognised songs, they danced, they laughed, wept and clapped.  As part of our induction day, we had to come up with a ten-minute performance.  I’d chosen Jewish songs, ones that I’d sung with Zemel, that are part of my history, and theirs.  They joined in and cried and danced.  It was lovely, apart from the mortifying  moment when I said: “I’m sure you’ll all remember this one…”

The more time I spend running workshops, the more I realise how astonishing music is.  It bonds people in different ways.  It is memory and emotion and feeling.  It can lift you out of sorrow, it can take you away from the fact that last night you slept on the streets and will do again tonight.  For a couple of hours, you can be somewhere else, with jazz, opera and musicals.  I’ve done Britten and Sondheim, Gershwin and Elvis.  I’ve watched people sob as I sing something that reminds them of who knows what?

It’s not the same as doing a musical, a play or a gig.  It’s endless challenge and thinking ahead all the time in case something’s a bit shit and you need to change it before they get bored/fall asleep/go for a fag. But the music glues it all together.

There are people in the world who never listen to music, don’t get it, don’t like it.  Too bad for them.


Another reason to despise the Mail (as if I needed one)

When I realised I hadn’t blogged for a while, lo and behold the Daily Mail gave me the perfect subject, as it so often does.

Reading the Mail is like reading a foreign language, since it bears no resemblance to anything in my paper of choice (the Indie, if you would like to know).  A journo friend always reads it, because she says she needs to know what the enemy is saying and she is right.  This is what the enemy says today:

“A murderer, a drug smuggler and a child molester were allowed to star in a West End-style show inside a high-security women’s prison.

Twenty inmates featured in the £180,000 production of Sister Act, the Musical at HMP Bronzefield in Surrey last month, the Mail can reveal.  The show was put on as part of a’rehabilitation’ project designed to turn inmates away from crime.”

I know all about this show, as I auditioned for it last year and was extremely sad not to have got the job.  The organisation behind it is the extremely well-regarded charity, Pimlico Opera, and several of my friends have taken part in their shows in other prisons.

This is what they say about what they do:  “The public debate about the purpose of prison and whether it can reduce re offending is rarely out of the news. A New Philanthropy Capital survey shows re-offending costs the taxpayer approximately £13.5 billion a year and that engaging prisoners actively in arts projects could as much as halve expected re-offending rates.  A truly excellent piece of music theatre before a paying public with a cast largely made up of prisoners is the heart of the project.  Prisoners are rehearsed for six weeks full-time and they reassess their abilities and begin to think differently about themselves and their future… Prisoners see working towards a larger common good is uplifting and that hard work and discipline bring about great rewards.  Confidence, energy, teamwork, positive thinking all contribute to rehabilitation and social integration.  The project is a springboard for dialogue between prisoners and the public who are astonished by the talent they see…”

There you go.  They are ‘allowed to star in a West End-style show’.  Or are they working towards a larger common good?  At a time when prison libraries are under threat, and the idea of rehabilitation is laughable in the eyes of the Mail, isn’t it vital to find some way of stopping re-offending in as creative and positive a way as possible?
Yeah, get me the do-gooding trendy middle class arty leftie.  Soft options, pretty costumes for drug-smugglers and murderers.  To the low-life Mail reporters and their bosses, artists are food for insults and photos of actresses wearing a dress that might not suit them.  Or who might have had some work done.  Or who dare to speak up on topics that are not about the arts, or that are about the arts.  Either way, we are privileged whiners – a bit like how the Mail and Gove see teachers.
Rehearsing a show is bloody hard work.  No, it’s not as hard as being a nurse, or a paramedic – or a teacher – but it’s bloody hard work, even for those of us who do it for a living.  Imagine what it might be like if you don’t.  If you’re a prisoner, suddenly faced with the energy and discipline required of an artist wanting to put on the best show they possibly can.  And the choice of Sister Act in a women’s prison is pretty inspired; a feel-good (much as I hate that phrase) show, with some great songs and things to say about living in a community.  Delores, the lead character, is the girlfriend of a gangster and has to hide out in a convent to stay alive.  She’s not a saint, she’s not Maria from the Sound of Music.  She’s made questionable choices and probably turned a blind eye to quite a lot before she enters the witness protection programme.  People (including Mail readers and journos) lapped up Sister Act, and why not?  There’s nuns in it, so a bit religious, there’s gospel singing and comedy and morality.  Putting that show in a prison… like I said, pretty inspired.  Pimlico have also done West Side Story and Some Like it Hot.  The RSC is renowned for taking Shakespeare into Broadmoor.  In what world are these initiatives a waste of time and money (not taxpayers’ money, by the way)?
Oh, and just so you know, Daily Mail,  Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attended a Pimlico show in 2012.  She stayed behind to talk to each of the prisoners afterwards, a group photo was taken and all the prisoners received copies.
If the Mail disapproves of Pimlico Opera, what must it think of multi-award winning arts charity Streetwise Opera, which works in the homeless sector?  This is what Streetwise says:

“Streetwise Opera is an award-winning charity that uses music to help homeless people make positive changes in their lives. We do this through a weekly music programme in 10 homeless centres across England and Wales and by staging critically-acclaimed opera productions starring our homeless performers.

Our productions, (‘Awe-inspiring’, 5 stars The Times) platform the skills of our performers in a professional arena, showing them that whatever life throws at you, you can achieve great things; underpinning these productions, our workshops are a dependable source of creative activity in lives where everything else can be changing.”

I have been privileged to be a workshop leader for Streetwise Opera since 2004.  Challenging, humbling, surprising – working for Streetwise has fundamentally changed the way I work in other areas of the arts.  Saying that I work for Streetwise Opera has opened doors to a number of other organisations who recognise it for the inspirational model it provides.  I have seen the change in the people we work with.  Streetwise has helped to reconnect people with their families, end their substance and alcohol abuse and restore self-esteem and confidence to one of the most marginalised sectors of our community.  As one Streetwise participant says: “Being homeless means that for many people I don’t exist.  With Streetwise Opera, I do more than exist.  I live.”

Daily Mail-bashing is like an Olympic sport for many of us.  But every time a blinkered, ill-researched, sensationalist piece of shit like this article is published, it diminishes not only those who work to make a difference, but everyone who reads it.

The one about singing with Danny Elfman (part the first)

I’ve done some jobs in my time.  These include singing Christmas carols in a Dubai shopping mall  (a blog in itself), producing a charity gala starring Hugh Jackman (before he was Wolverine), Richard Wilson, Annette Crosbie, Paul Scofield and the Fabulous Tiller Girls and the worst piece of acting I have ever pulled off — a Roman senator in a fringe production of Camus’ Caligula.  I actually feel queasy thinking about it now, twenty years on.

But in October last year, I toured with Danny Elfman.  Danny Elfman!  Did I say, Danny Elfman?  It wasn’t only me; there were 45 of us singing ooh aah, the BBC Concert Orchestra, an angelic and terrifyingly composed boy soprano and Helena Bonham Carter.  When Christopher Dee, chorus master of the Maida Vale Singers and a great mate of mine rang to drop that little nugget into the conversation: “Hi Shaz, how are you, fancy touring with Danny Elfman?”, it took a while to sink in.  “Gosh,” I said, or something like it.  “That’s exciting.”  The more I thought about it, the more exciting it became.  Were we actually going to sing Edward Scissorhands/Batman/Alice?  His music for the Tim Burton films were so much part of my geek landscape that it seemed inconceivable that the other MVS wouldn’t be as excited as I.  And some were – Facebooking variants on ‘OMG, Danny Elfman’.  But when we arrived for the first rehearsal, I was frankly stunned by the amount of people who said they’d not only never heard of him, but had never watched a single Tim Burton film.  How could this be?   How could anyone alive not have seen Nightmare Before Christmas, or listened to the theme from The Simpsons?  “Oh, did he write that?”

VIP choir

We were handed our music, some of us treating it as holy writ until we actually opened it.  As expected, plenty of ooh aah, with occasional made-up Latin-sounding words.  And no cues.  None.  Lots of 85 bars rest and then an expectation that you could pick, say, a high C out of the air at the right moment.  Columbia Artists (DE’s management) and, presumably DE himself had booked us from the circling shark pool of other singers, so cocking it up wasn’t an option – certainly not for long.  The charming and patient Marc Mann, DE’s official choir trainer, wearing a trademark flat cap and increasingly tense expression, attempted to fast-track us to competence before the orchestral rehearsal that afternoon.  A mood of controlled hysteria hung in the air as we sang/bluffed our way through Mars Attacks! (ee-oh, ee-oh) and the angelic but tricky Scissorhands notes.  Then we hit Beetlejuice.  Remember the singing in that?  No, me neither.  Marc put it to one side to worry about later, a bit of a mistake.  By the end of the three-hour session, there were two pieces we hadn’t even looked at, Beetlejuice being one.


After lunch we joined the BBCCO, visibly enlarged for the occasion.  John Mauceri, American maestro and fully deserving of the title, looked like the Central Casting version of your favourite uncle/young granddad.  Silver-haired, funny and unflappable, even when faced with a click track, film clips to time everything to, full orchestra and a group of singers who’d only laid eyes on the music that morning.  We immediately adored him.

And then the orchestra started to play;  the world lit up – I was in a Tim Burton fairytale.  The first thing we did was Sleepy Hollow – lovely score, not too shabby singing.  We glanced at one another.  Might we actually pull this off, with the Royal Albert Hall gig in two days’ time?  Batman was up next, a true “OMG!  Batman!  By Danny Elfman!” moment for me.  The piece we all fell for was Alice’s theme from Alice in Wonderland – not the best Burton film, but god, how we loved singing it.

I then fell in love with the theremin, a DE staple, iconic in 50s SF film, The Day the Earth Stood Still and of course, Mars Attacks! (don’t forget the !)  I badly wanted one and immediately checked out the price on eBay.  Imagine one of those in a Streetwise Opera workshop.  The woman playing it, Lydia Kavina, is one of the world’s leading theremin players and was taught by Leon Theremin, the cousin of  her grandfather.    Did you know that the theremin was originally invented for Russian-sponsored research into proximity sensors?  No, me neither.  I stalked Ms Kavina throughout our time together as she patiently answered my stupid questions and suffered my puppy-eyed adulation every time she stroked her hands up and down the crazy, fabulous instrument.

Back in the rehearsal, just when we thought we were home free, John Mauceri said: “OK, let’s look at Beetlejuice.”  We looked at it.  And that was all we did, pretty much.  Hardly a note, hardly a pick-up.  45 singers mouthing like fish.  Astonishingly, no-one appeared to notice, or if they did, were too polite to say anything.  We finally got it right at the RAH gig which was fortunate.

DE turned up the following day, nervous as hell, not having performed live for almost twenty years.  Black-coated, bright red hair, pale skin and geek-chic glasses, he looked exactly as expected.  Then he sang ‘What’s This?’ from Nightmare Before Christmas (having sung the role of Jack Skellington in the film) and another OMG moment.  Everyone cheered and he smiled for the first time.  We immediately adored him too.

During the break, I was sitting on the stairs outside the studio, looked up and saw Helena Bonham Carter.  She drifted by, wearing a black net dress, black lace-up boots and looking like a star.  She smiled at me.  I smiled back.  Then, naturally, I tweeted about it.  She was performing Sally’s Song from Nightmare, just for the RAH gig.  Now she’s no singer, let’s be honest, but it looked great and she is whoppingly beautiful and married to Tim Burton, so who cares?  Love her.

The RAH gig had been sold out for some months and the roar that went up with every piece played was spectacular.  Film clips and Tim Burton’s own hand-drawn sketches were being shown behind us on a huge screen; we craned round to see, although I had been warned by several of my ‘dog-watch’ friends that the dog in Frankenweenie dies not once but twice, so when the sweet, sad music started, I stared resolutely ahead, trying to think of something else.  For I will not watch any film where a dog dies, as many of you know.  I still cried, though, because I knew the dog died.

2013-10-10 17.49.09

The films that got most screaming adulation were Mars Attacks! and Batman, but when DE stepped on stage it suddenly became a stadium rock concert, or perhaps the Second Coming.  He was fabulous, flawless, hilarious as he sang Jack’s Lament, What’s This and Oogie Boogie Man (look it up).  A cry of “I love you Helena” came up from the circle as HBC came on, and she smiled and waved and was also fabulous.  At the curtain call, Tim Burton came on to join them and the place erupted.  By this point, even the ‘Who is Danny Elfman?’ brigade of the MVS were cheering.  “This is the greatest moment of my life,” he said as he received a triple standing ovation.  And it wasn’t over yet, for the next morning, we were off on tour.

World Premiere

The one about Abbado

1985.  I’d just left drama school, wondering if I’d ever get a job.  I was temping, having been ‘encouraged’ by my parents to do a secretarial course which left me with a typing speed of 90 wpm – extremely desirable for a temp.  I was fortunate enough to have music-loving parents so had grown up in a house which was filled with it, from classical to musical theatre and our favourite Sinatra.  So I loved classical music from an early age, although I grew out of my Wagner phase after standing through the entire Ring Cycle at the Proms one year.  The Wagner phase came after my wanting-to-be-a-nun-after-seeing-Jesus of Nazareth phase – hands up those of you who also wanted to be the bride of Robert Powell.

Anyway.  I found myself at the Barbican one evening, for a performance of Mahler 9, part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s “Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century” series.  I’d progressed to Mahler from Wagner, and was enjoying him far more.  And then Claudio Abbado stepped out onto the platform and something extraordinary happened.  Magic happened.  Understanding, joy, awe, tears happened.  And at the end, the silence went on for minute after minute, because who would willingly break that silence?  Who would want to be the one to drag us back from transcendence?

I left in a daze, and the following week auditioned for the London Symphony Chorus, because Abbado was the LSO’s principal conductor, which meant that the LSC would sing with him.  And I had to sing with him.  The first concert was Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, a notoriously tricky piece both vocally and rhythmically.  Before tutti rehearsals, there was always a piano rehearsal with the conductor, just the chorus, chorus master, accompanist and conductor.

During my time with the LSC, I sang with (clang, let’s drop these names): Leonard Bernstein, Colin Davis, Riccardo Muti, Antonio Pappano, etc etc.  But none of them, despite their brilliance, was Abbado.  Because Abbado was the one I worshipped, from his artfully floppy hair,  signature cashmere sweaters slung casually over his shoulders down to his immaculate probably-Italian shoes.

When Abbado walked into a piano rehearsal, you could feel the energy ramp up – not from him, he was so quiet we could barely hear his instructions to us, and more often than not, these would be in the form of grunts – but because the magic always happened.  For the chorus, in any case.  The orchestra were a little less enamoured, for those very reasons.  He also conducted without a score; a risky proposition for both conductor and orchestra.  But because he never looked down, he was always looking at us.  Or at me, obviously.  Of course he looked at me, I adored him, why wouldn’t he?

Oh those looks…  The ‘I have just ascended to heaven thanks to the string playing at the end of (insert Mahler symphony here)’.  The ‘I asked for a diminuendo, and you have given me braying donkeys, I am now a broken man’.  Or as one ex-LSC member put it today “The look of utter, inconsolable anguish when some phrase or other wasn’t exactly as he wanted it,” as though we’d killed his puppy, or the ghost of Mahler.

And the gestures.  He didn’t need words – finger to the lips and we were as pianissimo as he.  Praying gesture at the end of a concert and it was as though the gods of music were praying with him.  We toured Amsterdam, Paris and Lucerne with him and the LSO, performing Mahler 2.  Every night was revelatory.  I think we all knew how lucky we were to be working with him, but now, years later, it all comes back, as we share memories and thoughts.

Abbado always championed contemporary composers and was a passionate believer in bringing young people into music.  He pissed some people off.  He inspired far more.  Everything was about the music, so you felt as though you were hearing it for the first time, every time.  I hope he’s having some brilliant conversations with Mahler now.

Artistic conversations I would like to think happened

1.  Johnny Depp to Tim Burton (both of whom I think are brilliant)

Johnny Depp: Tim, Tim, I’ve had this idea about Willy Wonka – I’m going to make him sound exactly like Michael Jackson!  Well, maybe not exactly, because that would be a bit too weird, even for us, and also might get us sued, but what do you think?

Tim Burton: Cool.

Johnny Depp:  Tim, Tim, I’ve had this idea about how to do Sweeney – I mean we both know I can’t actually sing, right and, you know, Sondheim, but if I did it like Bowie, maybe the audience would forget I can’t sing and just go: ‘Doesn’t he sound like Bowie?’.  What do you think?

Tim Burton:  Cool

Johnny Depp:  Tim, Tim, I’ve had this idea about the Mad Hatter… So what if when he’s being kind of normal-mad he sounds a bit like Prince Charles but when he gets his mojo back… wait for it… he has a Scottish accent!  I mean, I can do a Scottish accent, so why not?  Makes as much sense as anything else in the film.  What do you think?

Tim Burton: Cool

2.  Peter Jackson to Guillermo del Toro (both of whom  I think are brilliant)

Peter Jackson:  Hey, Guillermo, I’ve been thinking…  There’s no women in The Hobbit.  And we’ve got loads of pointy ears left over from Lord of the Rings, so why don’t we just invent one?  Pretend it’s in a lost appendix that only we’ve been allowed to see.

Guillermo del Toro:  Great idea.  What do you think of this – I’ve just bought myself a hybrid car which actually sounds like an elf name, so we could twist it round a bit… and you get… Tauriel.

Peter Jackson:  Brilliant!  What shall we do with her?

Guillermo del Toro:  Um.  Ninja warrior elf maiden?  Haven’t had one of those before.

Peter Jackson:  Nice.  Oh, and another thought.  Aidan Turner.

Guillermo del Toro: What about him?

Peter Jackson:  Unfeasibly beautiful.  Why we cast him as a dwarf I have no idea, but there you go.  He falls in love with her, we throw in a few jokes about how he’s too tall and handsome for a dwarf and that’ll divert attention from all the other dwarves only having about three lines between the lot of them.  Unless they’re James Nesbitt.

3.  Danny Strong (screenwriter of The Butler) and best friend at the end of a night’s drinking

Best friend:  I bet you can’t write a screenplay that manages to make the American civil rights movement really, really boring.

Danny Strong:  Bet I can.