Red Riding is a trilogy of movies based on a quartet of novels by David Peace. The books (and films) are fictionalized accounts of the investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper, a brutal serial killer that stalked the Yorkshire area of England in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Screen Rant was present at the launch of the films in London and interviewed writer Tony Grisoni (Tideland and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas) along with various other UK bloggers.
This is part 2 of a Screen Rant Interview with Tony Grisoni below (if you missed part 1, you can find it here).
Did the three directors have much interaction with each other or did they look after their own thing?
It was a team effort. The whole thing was very much a team effort right from the beginning in that everyone spoke to everyone else. Everyone was aware of two more of these films going on at the same time. Having said that the idea was always that they should have the freedom to make the film they wanted to make. So you have them on very different formats. You have 1974 which is on 16mm. 1980 is shot on 35mm and rather beautiful 2:39 format and then 1983 shot digitally, but beautiful digital. Someone could have shot them on a phone. The idea was to have that open. They all have very different tones. They all feel like different films – you can sense that and again what goes through them are those characters. Again, I think structurally if you become involved in the characters everything else falls back. That’s why I follow stories.
What was the hardest thing about adapting the novels into a screenplay that works?
What to leave out! The novels are so full and they are such full on experiments. David uses all kinds of different styles of writing. You’ll feel like you are reading American detective fiction at one stage all the action is pushed through on dialogue without any stage direction – I call it stage direction – prose. Then he’ll go to stream of consciousness where there is no punctuation, you get blocks of text on a page. It is very full on and I was spoilt. These novels were gifts. The other thing was, which was quite amazing, I was getting total freedom. I didn’t have someone saying “Oh can you do all the outlines and treatments?” and all that kind of stuff which when you do, makes you kind of bored before you start – it’s like homework then. So, I just ploughed in.
Fortunately, because I got a main character leading the first one, a main character leading the second one and then two characters, what’s great is that you tell the story from their perspective so you only know what they know. You cannot know anything outside and that gave me a really solid framework. So you only stay with them. That was like the sheet anchor that helped me stay on course. Then I just waded in and started writing a very long first draft of it that I then pared down. The main difficulty was that.
The other thing was that the books are written where they ask more questions than are ever answered. Part of the darkness of the books is that some narrative strands kind of disappear off into the darkness – you know and you can never know everything. There was a woman employed whose job it was to take those novels to pieces and she gave me cross referenced charts. I have cross references – a bit like Eddie. It’s not a mistake that that happened. It’s probably from David Peace’s plan when he was writing the book. It’s to try and piece together the whole tale. So I had all these cross referenced charts, I had people all the way through different years. It doesn’t all add up if you sit down, but it does add up. But we had to uncover all that so we knew what we were dealing with. Then I think with the screenplays they had to be a little more tied down than the novels but I didn’t want to do it too much otherwise you destroy the feeling of them. That was pretty tricky. I was lucky that someone was willing to sit down and take characters and events.
There were lots of emails between me and David Peace in the lead up to me writing and then he came over here and we had a six hour meeting. We had six hours and I just grilled him, “Why did they do that? Why did that character go there?” “In 1974 you said that this character did this. Of course the poor guy this was all past for him, so he had to start digging again, but he was really, really generous and always very helpful. If he knew the answers he’d tell me. If he didn’t he’d try and find out and if it didn’t quite add up then we’d have conversations about what might be the story.
Did you have to do much research for the screenplays?
Well, there’s two things about that. One is that David’s research is so intensive and the books are full of it, but yes I did. I would go back to particular news stories. For instance, take the Ripper investigation I went through that to find out how the police tackled that. I spoke to a few people who were around. I did some research, but I’ve got to tell you – he starts with research. We tried to speak to the West Yorkshire police but they didn’t want to talk about it.
How happy where you with the cast as there are some big names in there?
How could I not be happy with that cast! I was just knocked out by that cast.
Did you picture any of them when you were writing the screenplay?
No none of them. When I am writing they are just sort of characters in my head. I don’t put faces on them at all. So when the casting starts to come together it adds another level to it. I’d be tempted to mention particular names, but I dare not to because they were all so good. As soon as I think of one name I think of four more.
At what point were the directors brought in? Was that before you’d finished the scripts or before you had even started?
They came in after we had locked off the scripts. They weren’t completely locked off because that would have been kind of daft. I’d started in early 2006, by the beginning of 2007 we had three scripts. We had been through about 2 or 3 drafts. We went though three drafts of ’74, 77 and ’80 and two drafts on ‘83. Then the directors started coming in. Having said that I met James Marsh in Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh Festival and we’d just met and started talking and enthusing. The woman who was doing the development of the scripts knew him and had been working with him, so he started to become attached to these projects way before anyone was officially being approached. He knew the material and because we were in touch he stuck his flag in 1980 really early and wouldn’t be kicked off it.