Interview: Andrew Ellard

We e-mailed DVD Associate Producer Andrew Ellard, on the off chance that he might provide us with a little interview. He agreed, and wasn’t put off when ‘little’ expanded to ‘fucking huge’. We send Andrew lots and lots of hugs and kisses for all his help, and his intriguing and honest answers.

What’s your favourite forthcoming DVD feature, and are there any that haven’t turned out as well as you’d hoped?

Favourite of the forthcoming is easy ? the documentaries. All Change (Series III) and Built to Last (Series IV) are the best DVD extras to date ? it?s what we might have done with Launching Red Dwarf on Series I if the allocated budget would have stretched that far.

There?s nothing that hasn?t turned out as well as we?d hoped, exactly ? although Launching is a good example of how the budget can restrict you, and that?s always tricky. I thought Doug was great in the interview he did for Series II. The new docs are the next evolution of that interview ? getting everyone in, on the record, telling funny stories, crushing some myths?It?s what I and II should have had, but couldn?t.

Who were the most helpful and entertaining interviewees, and are there any great moments we ought to look forward to?

They?re all really interesting. Robert Llewellyn gives amazing interview ? if you watch out for anything, watch out for his sound effects masterclass. Descriptions of engines, effects, costuming ? they all come with Llewellyn THX! Craig was impressive, too. I?ve said this before, but the information in that man?s brain is incredible ? he just stores data. I?d be half way through question one, and he?d be off ? and answering questions two through eight at the same time.

Great moments to look out for?it?s funny, all three come from Built to Last. The full anecdote detailing Paul Jackson?s arrival on-set to direct White Hole had us falling about. But the discussion on race in Dimension Jump ? after it was decided not to have Danny play a slobby cleaner ? and on the media?s approach to war after Meltdown are two of the more serious bits. They?re funny shows overall ? everything from the dog food to the space mumps is covered as well ? but it?s nice to show that Red Dwarf has a brain as well as a funny bone.

Was Rob Grant approached to contribute to the DVDs?

Of course. We always ask, though he?s always declined so far. He has previously said that he?s got new things he?d rather work on and be known for ? his new novel, Incompetence, is my favourite of his solo books by far, by the way.

We were hoping to include extracts of the Backwards Talking Book, and he gave us his blessing, but ? as with Last Human ? these had to be dropped at the eleventh hour and 59th minute when it became clear that the rights to both had moved to a different publisher and out of our current reach. So neither will be used for III and IV ? though it?s possible that we?ll revisit that next year.

Has there been anything that you’ve wanted to include on the DVDs so far, but couldn’t?

Red Dwarf U-S-smegging-A! I would have tortured cute, fluffy animals to get hold of that. It?s a real curio, whatever you think of the final product. The casting?s interesting, the script has a lot of great one-liners ? but I think fans will always be glad that the show was never remade across the pond. But it?s unlikely to make a DVD release of any kind, especially as it?s something that was never intended for broadcast or distribution.

The raw effects footage for the first two DVDs was edited down by a fair amount. Is this the case for the Series III and IV DVDs, and why did you decide the unedited version was too long?

Doug watched the long cuts for I and II and suggested it be taken down to a more watchable, less tedious running time. Which is what happened ? it was still comprehensive. The shots in the show, plus some unseen bits. What was left on the cutting room floor would only have been padding ? yet more attempts at the same shot. We?d have loved to add more minutes to the running time for extras, but everything we include has to be there for a reason.

That?s a balance thing. Some criticise something as being filler ? the music cues, say ? but others are pleased that we included them. Nothing?s on there for no better reason than the running time. The book chapters aren?t promotional (they weren?t really in the shops at that time anyway), they?re designed to show an alternate perspective on the show?s you just watched. And to give everyone a chance to hear Chris doing the cast?s voices ? which is probably reason enough.

I did see a thing asking why there weren?t more Smeg Ups ? especially given how early we finished. But the truth is that there really aren?t any more, and we finished very, very late. (A lot happens after editing ends, and a day later would, genuinely, have lost us our release date.) I?ve been through lots of the raw footage, and there are lots more, ?Sorry I forgot my lines? moments. But none that are funny, or clever, or interesting. The two Smegs tapes that came out comprise all the outtakes of any note whatsoever, and in that respect the DVDs will be equally complete… except, okay, for that ?Souper? one, which was my fault ? it was there in the edit, but it… fell off.

Sorry, wandered there. Raw FX-wise, Series III and IV will be much the same. We got stuff in there you won?t have seen before, plus everything from the shows. Again, not much is missing ? but there are only so many failed takes of a motion control beauty pass that anyone can take. The new bits are really interesting, though ? we get a better look at the garens on Justice World, for example.

How did Ace Rimmer – A Life In Lamé come about, and are there any plans for similar features in the future?

Again, it?s about keeping things relevant. Ace has become a pretty iconic Dwarf guest character, and we couldn?t let that pass without comment. I wrote a script for Hattie?s Holly that played almost like an I Heart Ace documentary ? akin to those I Heart 1983 things. We shot the Hattie section and planned the clips, but it was all kind of linear. In the edit Doug felt it was all a bit slow and conventional, so he came up with a much whizzier structure. And cut out all the crap gags.

A couple of weeks ago, a feature called ‘MAROONED – EXTENDED’ appeared on the BBFC website, which runs at sixteen seconds longer than the episode itself. We assume that this has been done to obtain a 12 certificate, rather than the 15 which was given when the episode was first certificated. However, we’re interested in what the extra footage comprises. What the hell is it?

Well deduced! Yes, of course, Series III should be no higher than a 12 certificate. The material doesn?t rate any higher, but the rules say that material cannot be re-assessed in the same form. It has to be a fresh cut, and we?ve come up with a version that adds a little something but will definitely not upset anyone. The BBFC have been very good about working with Ross McGinley and us to work out a solution to this, but we didn?t want anyone to be at all unhappy that we?d meddled with the original episodes again. Marooned ? Extended was an idea intended to keep everyone happy. We just added an Easter Egg to the end, after the credits have faded?but no, I won?t tell you what it is.

Any news on the exact release date of the Region 2 Series IV DVD?

Not yet. It?ll be February, probably equivalent to the last release, but I can?t give you an exact date as yet. Brace yourself for a shameless plug ? keep watching reddwarf.co.uk.

After the surprise cover to Series IV, what are your plans for subsequent covers?

Undecided. Mock-ups have been created ? we haven?t got CG artwork done yet, but it?s worth recolouring existing backgrounds as a test. Doug hasn?t made a definite decision on Series V-VIII, so I don?t want to say too much. Series V is likely to be the SSS Esperanto, though ? underwater, a Cyan-type colour.

What sort of things can we expect to see included as Easter Eggs?

I?ve just been reading your website ? you?ve complained that we tell people the Easter Eggs exist at all! Now you want me to blow the surprise completely? :-)

Seriously, I?m not going to tell you what most of the eggs are ? I?ve given away where one is already! ? but I will admit that the easiest to find are also the most predictable content-wise. The cooler ones are tougher to track down…

How did you initially get the job at GNP?

It?s the same old, hoary story I?ve told before ? do you really, really want to know? Here?s the one-sentence version: Having written loads for BTL I ended up as editor, and almost immediately got a call from GNP, who liked what I was doing, to write for their website. The longer version has more jokes, but is generally too dull for anybody to actually bother reading.

Is it literally the best job in the world, or what?

It?s so demanding, and for that reason it?s a job that leaves me incredibly fulfilled. I?ve always loved the show ? I joined the Fan Club after Series V went out in 1992, when I was 16. So it?s a programme that?s been around me my whole adult life, and now I?ve been able to write for characters online and even put words into Holly?s actual mouth! Very few writers have been allowed that privilege. Doug said I should do a commentary for the next DVD, seeing as I know everything about the show, that I?ve finally found a use for all this useless knowledge!

The downside is the exposure. People ? only four, but still ? know who I am, and I love hearing how great the DVDs are or how good they think some of the merchandise is. But you can?t please everyone, and any criticism really hits you. In a way I?d rather make my mistakes more quietly ? say by writing daytime TV drama that only 12 people see and nobody runs a fan site about!

Obviously I?d like to be working on my own shows or films. Before I got my agent, I sent out DVDs of my Doctors episode along with a writer?s commentary track ? which I really liked recording. And obviously there are always scripts being worked on. But I?m not going anywhere until the Dwarf DVDs are done ? after that, and the film will be out by then, too, I hope I?ll still stay around, still smeggin?, in amongst working on my own stuff.

How much of the website content are you responsible for?

I write all the text ? the news stories, Toaster and Flibble pieces, articles. I also Photoshop all the images, pick the layout, all that stuff. The redesign which was based on Chris Veale?s DVD ship hull image was built by me, graphically ? but from a programming point of view, I gave up on that kind of thing around about the time I was trying to make games for the Spectrum in Basic. We had, as you know, a company who coded the original site, and now we have a freelance programmer ? who?s also a big Dwarf fan named Andy, just for confusion?s sake ? who takes my text files and jpegs every week and turns them into pages. We couldn?t have got this far without him.

To coin a phrase: Andrew Ellard, thank you very much!

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