I had wanted to read Jimmy Sangster's memoirs of his 50 years in the film business when they were first published in 1997, but never managed to get a copy at the time or track them down on Ebay or the like. So when I belatedly discovered that they had been reprinted last year, I immediately ordered a copy.
The key feature of the memoirs is that they are no-nonsense, completely without pretensions or delusions of grandeur. This is summed up by the phrase Sangster has chosen for his title: Did they want something that does the job or something that goes that bit further?
The book itself falls into the latter camp: If you're just one of those horror fans who wants to know about Sangster's Hammer years and not interested in what he did next, well you can skip that stuff.
To do so would be a shame, however. You'd only get half the Sangster story, which is punchily and amusingly recounted throughout, and wouldn't see the continuities and contrasts between the British film industry in the 1950s and 60s and the US television industry in the 1970s and 80s.
The bottom line in both cases was the bottom line: Resist the temptation to write something you cannot afford to actually shoot. The main difference was that with Hammer the relationship between writing something and then having it filmed was closer. There was a lot less bullshit and deal-making than in Hollywood. It was just the ways that Hammer and Hollywood worked.
The problem the aspiring screenwriter may have here is that Sangster is very much talking about the past. Hammer, in particular, is no more. But these are his memoirs, after all, and not a “how to” manual.
Anyone with an interest in business of filmmaking will learn something from them nonetheless, even if this is often by reading between the lines and of what not to do. Everyone will certainly be entertained by them, Hammer aficionado or not.