Britt's interview with Ryan

Who could be termed Thomas's adoptive mother, Britt Allcroft kindly shares her views on the Magic Railroad
- Correspondence with Ryan in 2007

Britt Allcroft is a creative spirit with a vivid imagination, and a canny businesswoman to boot.  While often criticised for her later involvement and "meddling" with the works of the Reverend Awdry, it has to be remembered that Britt Allcroft is responsible for turning Thomas and his friends into the global phenomenon that they are today - reaching places that the Railway Series books were previously unable to do:  Presenting the beauty and life of the Island of Sodor to a modern-day television audience, and capturing the imaginations of millions across the globe.

Ultimately, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which was due to be her greatest triumph, turned out to be her biggest downfall.  As we all know and was publicised quite heavily, following the performance of Magic Railroad at the box-office, particularly critically, she was asked to stand down from her position in the Britt Allcroft Company, which ultimately led to the takeover by HiT Entertainment.  Britt made this reply to us some days ago with regards to her thoughts and feelings behind the Magic Railroad.  Although her message is brief, it is warm and heartfelt:

Dear Ryan,

Here is my follow up to my first e-mail to you.

Yes- we did shoot the May 19, 1999 version of my screenplay for Thomas and the Magic Railroad and yes, I did- with my editor Ron Wisman- complete an edited version along with a temp track.

I believe you are correct in saying that I am not the one now who could give permission to screen this director’s cut although I am still researching this issue.

I can tell you that I would very much like this to be seen and also to be there if it ever happens.

I’m glad you understand the important difference between supposition and facts!

In this connection, I couldn’t have wished for a finer ensemble of actors than those who brought the characters to life. Both Doug Lennox and Peter Fonda created great scenes and I know of no rivalry between them.

That’s it for now.

My best to you,

Britt Allcroft

During production, Britt's faced some controversy over the handling of Magic Railroad; particularly surrounding questions on how the late Reverend Awdry would feel about the film had he survived to see the final product.  It would be true to say that the events and setting of the movie were not the world that the Rev. Awdry had set out for his characters and events, nor were they entirely similar to what anyone was used to before, particularly not fans who were unfamiliar with Shining Time Station.  But this, was Britt's first chance to showcase the world she'd created for Thomas and his friends.

Granted, this toy world and Americanised setting weren't to the appeal of the audiences or critics, but it was ultimately Britt's chance to shine.  I honestly feel she would have done well had the original script for Magic Railroad gone through to the big screen.  The ultimate flaw of the film had to be the fact that it suffered at the hands of last minute editing prior to release, and the patches that were made to cover up the damage done obviously weren't strong enough.  In the end, a number of people took the film at face value and Britt was the one who unfairly suffered.

As a consequence, Thomas lost a great ally as a result, and someone who still cares very much about where the world's favourite little blue steam engine.  I live in hope that one day she gets her wish and the "Director's Cut" is finally allowed chance to finally be screened; if only to show the world what could have been her Shining Time...

Very recently, we had the honour of getting a second and fuller reply from Britt in regards to her thoughts and feelings on the Magic Railroad film.  We'd like to take this opportunity to thank her for taking the time to write such a heart-felt and full response, as well as for her kind comments regarding our research and interest:

Dear Ryan,

Here are some more thoughts and memories about Thomas and The Magic Railroad.

It was a challenge to consider making a Thomas movie.

I liked the length of the short film stories for television and was well on my way to completing 130 of them. I loved working with the storytellers and the composers, sitting with the editors and guiding the mixing of all the elements into the final blend of sights and sounds. Each story felt like giving a present to every child in the world who loves Thomas. It was fun to write the stories and to try to make sure that each story ends in a comforting atmosphere.

When I began the Thomas journey in 1980, I was very sure that the television stories would have to take into account that children might not have a grown up watching with them. I wanted, metaphorically speaking, to hold each child’s hand and wanted the stories told in an extension of the way that, in an ideal world, they might be told with a story book at home- child and grown up cuddled up together with the grown up explaining any of the difficult bits.

So I chose one voice instead of a cast of characters and have always used the word “storyteller.” I think “narrator” is much too distant sounding. But the vision of making a film that all the family could enjoy- kids anywhere from 2 to, say, 8 and their grown-ups- would be worth three years of my life to make real.

I did wonder, though, how a child between 2 to 5 would be able to sit in the cinema for an hour and a half without getting bored and restless.

The movie would need a story structure with lots of interesting moments within the context of the big story.

This was the genesis of moments like…

The little boy who carries a goldfish bowl. This idea came about because this kid turned up on the Isle of Man as one of the extras. He was very photogenic and I asked him to walk down the street and past the girl with pink hair. In real life she was a member of the art department and you’ll see her in the film on a ladder painting. The goldfish moment carried through to the scene with Mr. Conductor in the station.

Sometime during the shoot, I spotted a carrot that a crew member had left on the studio floor and came up with the rabbit scene.

As to the main story- I always knew what would inspire me and what I wanted to communicate.

All the children in the world who have ever sent me letters or drawings or told me of their love and belief in Thomas and his world- they inspire me. So did all the children who grew up knowing Shining Time Station and believed (and still do!) that if they could just buy the right ticket, they would find their way to Shining Time.

It seems to me that children know that magic exists- it is all around us even if we cannot see, hear or touch it.

The trouble is that we grow up and sometimes it is hard to see, hear or touch anything that isn’t stressful, noisy or harsh. But deep down that liberating sense of wonder still stays within us… if only.

Children live in a fast forward world but they still need storytelling that is gentler, more lyrical and leaves room for their imagination.

Yes, it was my original idea to make Lily the storyteller and that she would be revealed as Lily grown-up at the end of the story. One generation passing on to the other their knowledge of magical experiences- just as Burnett Stone is at last able to share his experiences with Lily.

Lily’s words at the opening and the ending of the story have been in my head for a long time.

“I believe that most folks- like yourselves- understand that on a train journey, great adventure may never be very far away and that long after the sound of a train whistle has vanished, its romance will be safe in every human heart- whatever age, whatever the time…. Most folks are happy to know this- sadly, a few are not- which is a pity because that’s all it takes to cause a lot of trouble to some of the most precious things in life… This is a story about: trains; folks who were far apart; and a railroad that brought them together- as they were meant to be.”

And finally, as Thomas puffs away into the sunset, “Sometimes, all it takes is a little train to remind us that magic is timeless, and always worth the hope of its existence.”

In mythical stories there must always be antagonists as well as heroes. P.T. Boomer and Diesel 10 are the antagonists. I had considered the fear factor when I created Boomer but was fine with his presence in the movie just as I was fine when, as a little girl, I would go to see British panto and love to hiss every time the baddie appeared. Like the panto baddie, Boomer is the villain you love to hate.

Doug Lennox is the perfect Boomer. He brought a good dose of humour along with menace. .

I felt honoured to have Russell Means as Billy TwoFeathers in this movie. He brought tremendous spiritual power to his scenes- I would like to share many more of them with audiences.

Didi Conn in real life is the Stacy that she portrayed- fun, loving and brimful of enthusiasm for the curiosities of life. I would like audiences to see more of her scenes too.

Now some thoughts on Grandpa Burnett Stone.

Prior to production, I carried out many months of research on many aspects of the story as written in the screenplay you have come across. This research included time spent in classrooms of seven to nine year old children.

It was significant how important grandparents were to so many children- either in the sense of wanting to see grandparents happy, reunite one with the other or the longing to meet the grandparent they only knew through old photographs. Burnett Stone is very important to this story- he embodies the love story between himself and Tasha, the emotional shutters that have closed him out from connecting to the magic in life and the possibility that happiness can be found again.

Lily is the one who together with Thomas helps Burnett on his journey back to happiness.

Peter Fonda was my dream choice to play Burnett and I thought he was wonderful in scenes that no audience has ever yet seen. Peter put so much work into his character and was such a caring member of our company (his word for all us cast and crew).

Three months before the movie was due to be released we had to do an audience testing which was carried out on a boiling hot day in a shopping mall in the suburbs of Los Angeles. As a result of this testing I was requested to delete many of the scenes from the film. This I had to do although it made me very unhappy.

As to the original director’s cut- while I would love to see it screened someplace, sometime, I don’t know if the necessary master film elements still exist with which to do that. I was talking to the editor Ron Wisman this morning. His comment to me with a chuckle was “It would take a couple of shovels of gold dust Britt- but you and I could do it!”

The last thing that I would want anyone to see as a result of this revival in interest would be a few scenes picked out by somebody else and just tagged on the end of the existing movie.

I think it’s also worth saying that I know of many families who are very fond of the existing film and of many good reviews as well as the poor ones but of course I would love to have the opportunity for everyone to see the story of the script that you have found.

Thanks for your passion and commitment. I extend this to everyone who is contributing to this Magic Railroad site.

That’s it for now.

All best wishes,

Britt Allcroft

P.S. I’m relying on you not to edit this letter- everything that I’ve said is equally important to me and I wouldn’t want it to look otherwise. Best, Britt
Out of respect and gratitude toward Britt and her efforts, as requested no single word has been ommitted from this touching letter.  We hope it will encourage more people to sign our petition, and encourage Sony to release Magic Railroad (if the Master Copies are still in existence) the way it was meant to be.
Britt would also like to set the record straight on some aspects of the production, and asked to have the following correspondence put up:

Dear Ryan,

I was catching up with the Magic Railroad website yesterday and I want to comment on a couple of comments made by David Axelrod.

I chose Ringo Starr because of his great voice as a storyteller. When I first heard his voice, he was on a TV chat show and I wasn’t in the room so I didn’t even know who he was until I walked into the room and looked at the screen.

Also, whilst I respect the music of the Beatles, I don’t recall ever choosing to listen to it whilst we were editing. Whilst I love music, when I am working the only time I listen to it is when I’m writing or when I’m listening to music being used for a production soundtrack.

The overall conditions at Lansdowne were tough. Toronto had a lot of production at that time and I recall we were housed at Lansdowne- a converted factory- because all the other studios were full.

All the production was storyboarded in advance with many production meetings both before and during the shoot, along with daily checks of all the shots.

Steve Asquith and Terry Permane had been with Thomas since day one back in ’83 so- whilst we had simultaneous shooting going on two stages side by side and were under considerable pressure- Thomas was looked after at all times.

The crew on the Thomas stage were magnificent despite the fierce temperatures. Film making at its most challenging for the filmmakers.

With all good wishes,

Britt Allcroft

All are welcome to visit Britt's website to check up on her past and current projects.