It started with an email from Bill Baggs of BBV, asking me if I would like to write a short comedy extra for the Auton 3 DVD. I suggested Westlake would be ideal to make the film and after seeing some of our work Bill agreed. I then co-wrote the original script with John Isles, preferring to write comedy in a team and having worked successfully with John before. Following on from the original Auton Diaries by Paul Ebbs, the film picked up the story of an Auton actor who found fame with BBV. The first version of the story was much simpler, basing itself around a reporter interviewing the Auton in his palatial garden. Various scenes appeared in flashbacks. Gradually though, thanks to Kevin Hiley’s input the script became more ambitious, involving many more locations, including a plastics factory and a recreation of the famous Auton high street invasion.
I took on the role of the Auton, although my voice was eventually dubbed by Alistair Lock, who had played the same role in the original. Nigel Peever generously gave up an evening to play the BBC executive, who had changed from a mere suit in the first draft, to a cartoon fascist. The Westlake repertory filled out the cast in multiple roles. Andrew Crines bravely stepped into the role of the Auton for the climatic plummet, filmed against a green screen, when I forgot to turn up!
Bill wanted this film to be a kind of closing chapter on an era of BBV, so the original ending parodying “Pop Idol” was replaced with a more dramatic, poignant conclusion. Manchester Museum of Science and Industry very kindly allowed us to film in their power generation exhibition to provide the impressive factory backgrounds. Bill’s own cameo was filmed in his attic, which was dressed up with BBV props and merchandise. Probably the most troublesome prop was not the Auton’s hand or the Nestene globe, but Mildred the shop dummy. It proved very difficult to obtain one, until John's persistence paid off.
The high street was filmed in Huddersfield very early on Sunday morning when virtually no one was about. By contrast the park scenes caught later in the day attracted a small crowd as the Auton sat with his mistress on a bench, but I were unaware of them in the mask until afterwards. All in all, we had fun making this film which we all hope you enjoy.
Gareth Preston - The Man In The Plastic Mask
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