The Oldie

Murder on two coasts


SIR: I sympathise with Bruce Beresford and his struggles with Hollywood executive whims (Spring issue). In 1979, I was commission­ed to write a major TV movie called Murder on the Metroliner.

The Metroliner was in those days a high-speed train running between New York’s Penn Station and Washington DC. I came up with a script – about two trains on a collision course – that everyone was happy with, and they decided to go ahead.

However, I couldn’t resist saying to my producer, ‘Look, why don’t we stop pretending we’re going to shoot this on the East Coast? You know that’s going to be so expensive the network’s going to want to switch it to the West Coast. Why don’t I just set it between Los Angeles and San Francisco?’ He agreed.

‘Impossible,’ said the network. ‘There

are no direct trains between LA and San Francisco, never mind high-speed ones.’

A few days after I’d delivered my script, I got a call from the producer. ‘You were right,’ he said. ‘The network wants to re-locate everything to the West Coast.’

‘But I thought there were no direct trains between…’ ‘Invent one.’ So I invented the Coastliner, changed a few place names and other references, and everyone was happy. Briefly.

The only stretches of track suitable for our main action sequences were on the East Coast.

The production wound up having West Coast-type billboards and other bits of décor constructe­d alongside the East Coast track to ‘cheat’ for the West. Connecticu­t cop cars and police helicopter­s were repainted to look like California­n ones.

It added a completely unnecessar­y fortune to the budget. But, as a director friend of mine said, sometimes Hollywood executive thinking is so off-the-scale nuts that all you can do is stand there and gawk. David Ambrose, London SW7

 ?? ?? ‘No, no, no! Two bangs, a thump, a bang, then you come in with the F# minor 7th flat 5!’
‘No, no, no! Two bangs, a thump, a bang, then you come in with the F# minor 7th flat 5!’

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