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The man with Kaleidoscope Eyes
How a valiant attempt to get the story of Syd Barrett onto the Big Screen has ended... for now
By Rick Karhu
When Ted Shuttleworth began work on a screenplay about Syd Barrett in 1991, he believed he had struck upon a cinematic hidden treasure. What movie-goer wouldn't be able to sympathize with some aspect of Roger Keith Barrett's sad, strange, and sometimes wonderful trip through the rock-n-roll machinery of the mid-60s? Syd Barrett's tale was archetypal, the lost and wandering artist trying to find some sanity and stability in a constantly moving and insane world around him. Who hasn't felt like that from time to time?
But as it so often happens, life and art can imitate each other to an uncanny degree. The screenplay about Syd Barrett suffered a fate not unlike that of its chief subject: put through the entertainment wringer so to speak and ultimately banished to what may be a permanent state of limbo. Ironically (and, some might say, not unlike the situation with the real Syd) it is Roger Waters who helped bring about this fate.
By way of introduction, Ted Shuttleworth was born and raised in New York City. After graduating from film school, he started a career in advertising and, curiously enough, lucked into a job working as Harrison Ford's assistant on Presumed Innocent. Afterward, he moved to Los Angeles, working for Warner Brothers, and later, for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment as a feature film development executive. Since then, he has ventured into writing for television, earning writing credits on hit shows such as NYPD Blue and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
He took some time out of his doubtlessly busy schedule to answer some questions regarding the evolution and eventual fate of the screenplay about Syd Barrett.
Spare Bricks: What is the title of the script? What was significant to you about that title?
Ted Shuttleworth: The script was called Crazy Diamond. I mean, what else?
SB: When did you begin work on it?
TS: In 1991, I think, I first came across Syd's story in excerpts from the late, lamented Nick Schaffner's book Saucerful of Secrets that appeared in Musician magazine. I was only a casual Floyd fan at the time and never really remember hearing any of their music pre-Dark Side of the Moon. So I came in totally fresh to the idea and I was just fascinated--hooked. A friend in New York City found an import copy of Anderson & Wilkinson's great Crazy Diamond book and I ended up spending a few thousand dollars (unnecessarily, as it turned out) optioning the presumed "film rights" to the book. What I wanted was something that I could point to to tangibly legitimize my status as a producer. I mean, I was an American, in my 20's, in a low-level job at a studio with no credits. I had never even been to London! All rather nervy, I suppose, and so I thought these "rights" would help. They didn't.
SB: How long did it take to complete the script?
TS: Well, see I wasn't writing at all in '91. I wanted to produce. I corresponded with Pete Anderson, one of the Syd biographers, and he and I tried to put a script together. But I didn't write, as I say, and Pete had never tried writing screenplay or even, I think, fiction before. And so it all kind of dissolved and I got divorced and the whole idea languished for some time, though I always kept researching the story--on my own, for fun. I devoured books on Syd and the Floyd, the various bootleg videos and recordings that are around. The First Trip film, the American Bandstand I got from some guy I met, the great Look of the Week tape I got from Vernon Fitch. And then there were the Peter Whitehead films I went to a screening of and I learned a lot from Days in the Life, a book by Jonathon Green that I highly recommend. And more Syd stuff continued to appear--Lost in the Woods is a great book. I just couldn't get enough of these things. When I finally started writing myself, I did a quick feature script first, just to see if I could do it--if I could finish and not lose my nerve--and then I started to tackle Crazy Diamond, which I would say took a full year to write (part-time, of course).
SB: Where were you living at the time it was written?
TS: Here in LA. Not the most suitable locale (a small flat in the Cromwell Road would have been nicer I suppose!) but you know, none of that really seems to matter much. Everywhere is somewhere, as the great Lennon used to say. It's where you are in your mind that counts.
SB: What inspired the idea to write a script about Syd's life in the first place?
TS: Very good question and one I'm not sure I have a complete answer to. In the broadest strokes, I think we all grew up with rock-n-roll and we all dreamed of becoming a start and going on that "fame ride" --the money and the tours and the girls and the drugs... and did I mention the girls? And so that seemed universal to me and Syd did that, did it for the rest of us, if you like. I also think that Syd got sucked in like so many of the rest of us by the images of what that rock star life is supposed to be like. He had spiritual problems, a spiritual malady perhaps. He felt unloved and needed to prove himself and I think he thought that fame and money and popular success would resolve all those feelings, which of course they don't. Syd was a seeker from early on (Sant Mat) lest we forget, and he loved all that I Ching and Tarot--the occult. So I think Syd's problems were spiritual in nature and he tried to fix them on the material plane and didn't handle the disappointment well--which I feel great empathy for.
I mean, I live and work in Hollywood and I certainly had an image of what this life was going to be like and forget it. You know, it's not like they tell you it is in Premiere. So I connect with him on that level, and then there's the idea of not reaching one's brilliant potential, which carries so much pathos, and the romantic view of Syd dancing out there on the edge between creativity and madness and falling off the other side. And of course he's not dead in the physical sense--not an OD or casualty of a car wreck (unless you feel that's analogous to the 60s). It's "artistic death", which is a lot more interesting in dramatic terms and in a way much, much sadder.
SB: How many revisions did you do before showing it around?
TS: That went quite quickly. I got a first "pass" through the script, showed to maybe 2 or 3 people, made some fairly extensive changes and then everyone seemed to like the result. So I had a pretty good time of it in that respect, but as I say, 12 months to get to that "first" draft. It was a lot of work.
SB: How many times did you pitch the script to producers before it was picked up? And what was the general reaction to doing a film about a relative unknown like Syd Barrett?
TS: The last question is really the most important. When I had a script to show I called friends and asked them to read it. And the response was tremendous in terms of people's interest and admiration for the script. There was a guy who line produced for Francis Coppola who loved it, and a former boss at Amblin, who tried (unsuccessfully) to get the Spielbergs to take the project on. But they passed, as did so many others, because there just aren't many producers and production companies in LA--in the US, really--who are in the business of making a film like Crazy Diamond.
I heard people talk about how obscure the subject is and I would always argue that it's no more necessary to know who Syd is to get into this story than it was to be a big Christy Brown buff before going to see My Left Foot, which is absolutely true, I think. This is a British co-production-y, European kind of film--a Handmade Film if there ever was one (shame they're not still making pictures) and I am apparently stuck here in Hollywood and that is a problem.
SB: Were any of those pitches "close but not quite"?
TS: Yuck, brings back some painful memories. I remember getting a call from the guy who produced Sid and Nancy one day. He had read the script on a plane and said he really wanted to do another Sid and Nancy and that this was almost another Sid and Nancy but that the script lacked a more definitive point of view. And this was a disappointment to me.
I had worried while writing the script, as I say, about the hurt feelings and sensitivities of the Barrett family, etc. Certain that I would need their cooperation and that they would read the script at some point, I purposely pulled a few punches in telling Syd's story, and deliberately steered clear of some of the darker and more controversial stories that surround him. And this, I think, is what this producer was talking about, an area of the script he found lacking. Too bad, too. He could have been great.
SB: The feelings of Barrett's family notwithstanding, do you think it would even have been artistically valid to concentrate on some of those darker moments in Syd's story?
TS: Oh without question, and this is yet another advantage in fictionalizing the story, and I have gotten more into this in rewrites. See, I think when you're going to get into the stories of Syd's violence... etc., it requires you to take a tougher and more definitive stand on what one believes happened to Syd, which I suppose is still an area of some debate. Certainly his old friends. I've spoken over the years with Peter Jenner and a few others who knew him, they all tend to disagree. I mean, I think he was schizophrenic and his disease came on in his late teens/early 20s as it classically does, and I think that Syd was going to have problems even if he hadn't been an artist and he hadn't had fame. So to me he's not really an "acid casualty" at all, in that oddly romantic sense, though that's a contributing factor that can't be denied.
I had a conversation on a plane once some years ago with Timothy Leary when he was still alive--you know, things like this used to happen, I'd be working on this Syd story and wondering what the hell am I doing writing this crazy, obscure biography, and I'd suddenly be seated next to Timothy Leary in coach! He essentially denied that acid had any negative qualities or side effects at all, but he was dying when I met him and looked almost like a walking corpse, so I didn't put a lot of credence in what he was telling me. Anyway, to answer your question, yes, sure. Syd's darkness is an essential part of his persona and I admit to having had a secret agenda to put some of that stuff in later... in later drafts. But we never got that far, did we?
Now, last thing since you mentioned it, if I can get on a soap box for a second, I would like to ask aloud why on earth Syd--Roger Barrett--does not have a doctor and is not, by all accounts, receiving any real medical treatment at all. I read those interviews in Fish Out of Water with Rosemary Breen, and I was just devastated to hear how Syd lives, particularly since his mother's death, and the denial that seemed to be going on about his condition. All that "he's not schizophrenic, he's just unusual...", you know, and the idea that he showed up at the Wish You Were Here session as a joke because Syd is such a fun guy, I mean, does anyone buy that?
It seems to me that this is a man with a very serious but very treatable mental illness, and there are a great many very effective drugs available that might well be of help to him. Why isn't this guy on medication? Where are his doctors?
SB: Who finally picked the script up and how?
TS: I was working with an agent who got the script into Scott Free, the company owned by Ridley and Tony Scott. And they loved it over there, and Ridley read it and thought it was great and a deal started coming together. Separately, I had gotten to know Peter Medak (The Ruling Class, Let Him Have It) and Peter wanted to direct. He and Ridley were old pals as well, and so the deal was that Ridley would executive produce, Medak would direct, and a company called Intermedia would finance. We started talking about when to shoot and a few preliminary casting ideas were thrown around.
SB: Do you recall what names were discussed for any particular roles?
TS: Um...well, there was a good bit of disagreement about which way to go. Peter Medak, as I recall, had worked at some point with Jude Law, pre-Talented Mr. Ripley, of course. Even before Gattaca. I saw some tape on him, I think, and wasn't really convinced either way. Hardcore Hollywood "we-need-to-get-a-big-star" types were pushing the idea of someone like Johnny Depp, who I just thought was great, you know, but maybe too old by then. Syd was so young, 20, right? A child, practically, and I think that's a really important thing not to lose sight of. I was personally in favor of sending the script to a young Australian actor named Noah Taylor, who I'd seen in The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, which is really great, and of course in Shine. He just seemed really interesting to me, but of course not a well known famous name. Not the kind of guy who attracts scads of investors.
SB: How far into production was the film before everything fell through?
TS: Taken together, two things happened. Intermedia is run by two guys--partners--one of which loved Syd, loved the script, and was extremely enthusiastic. But his partner (perhaps it's better not to use names here) did not share this enthusiasm. He thought it was a rock-n-roll movie, a cult movie and (much worse) a Pink Floyd movie. He didn't think anyone would go or care and just didn't want to make it.
At the same time, Medak insisted that I send the script to his old pal, Roger Waters, whom he was sure would love the script and help us with the production. Peter and Roger had been friends since they met backstage at a Floyd show in, I think, 1972. The band had seen Ruling Class and actually sent a car to bring Peter to the show so they could meet him. Peter and Roger later worked on sketched out ideas for a Dark Side of the Moon film, which Peter still has and showed me one day, and they always stayed in touch. (As it was, Peter shot all that flying hospital bed footage shown in the original Dark Side of the Moon shows. Good bit of trivia there.)
Anyway, I should never have allowed it, but Roger did get the script and he called Peter from the fucking Billiard Room or wherever a week or so later and he was pretty adamant about his objections to the project. He said that my script glorified Syd, which is fair, but said that Syd was basically "useless from the start" and "never did much of anything in terms of the band". Roger further said that everything he has to say about the subject of Syd "is in my film of The Wall" and then began issuing threats, saying that he would sue me, sue the producers, and told Peter Medak that if he continued to work on the project that their friendship would be at an end and Roger would never speak to him again.
And so this is where things really started to fall apart. I had lost my financing with Intermedia, the Scotts cooled off as a result of that, and Medak got scared as well. He still really wanted to make the film. I could see him weighing the chance to make a great picture against his valued friendship with Rog, but important momentum was lost and things failed to rekindle. Crazy Diamond began to sink.
SB: Can you provide Spare Bricks with any excerpts from the script?
TS: Not sure if it's a good idea to publish an excerpt on the web. I'm thinking probably not... but I'll certainly send a copy to any legitimate film biz folks who might see this and have an interest.
SB: Sounds like you still harbor hopes that the film will be produced at some point.
TS: As Crazy Diamond, I think there are problems. There are issues of fact that Roger alluded to that, even though I didn't have a good experience with him, are legitimate. You know, I wasn't there, but even the people who were disagree. That's always going to be a controversial area. There are the feelings of the Barrett family to consider, without question, and I always agonized over the potential that this film might increase Roger Keith's (he's not "Syd" anymore, but you knew that) visibility and cause him pain. He's got to be protected from that in every way possible, though I saw this project as being something that would be financially beneficial to him without requiring his personal participation in any way.
But when Velvet Goldmine came out 2 years ago or so, I had a revelation. What I saw on that screen was an Iggy Pop-type character who looked like Iggy and talked like Iggy and sang Iggy Pop songs but was called something else and was not, at the end of the day, actually Iggy Pop. And I felt that sort of fictionalization, and the artistic license that it affords, would work extremely well for my Syd project. So I reworked a lot of the story last year and changed all the names (no more Syd and Roger, no more Pink Floyd) and I actually think it works even better.
The script is now called Kaleidoscope Eyes and takes this main character (called Ian Holley) on a tour through the UFO and the Middle Earth, out on the road with the Hendrix Experience and a lot of the other things that defined Syd's life. So it's Syd without being Syd, and psychedelic London and rock-n-roll, creativity and madness, without, specifically, Roger Waters and the Floyd. I have great hopes for this project and see no reason why Kaleidoscope Eyes, which I would hope would still feature many of Syd's songs, cannot be superb. All British and European producers are invited to contact me and give it a read.
SB: Do you have any favorite parts of the script that you would have particularly loved to have seen on film?
TS: Oh yeah, sure. There's a great 14-Hour Technicolor Dream recreation (expensive!) which really climaxes Syd's artistic ascendancy. It's his shining moment, the performance he can never duplicate. And that's a really cool scene, thanks in large part to the documentarians who captured the event on film. Everybody's dressed in all those period clothes and it's all a swirl of light and sound and the band takes the stage at dawn. As the performance continues the camera floats out and over the crowd, through a window, and out onto the street, where a perfectly ordinary day is in progress.
Nice moment, I always thought, certainly commenting on the limited scope of whatever psychedelia was.
Rick Karhu is Editor of Spare Bricks. Special thanks for Ted Shuttleworth.